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Highway Superintendent Alan VanWormer and the Town of New Baltimore

Lori Lovely – PROFILE CORRESPONDENT - June 2024

  (Photo courtesy of the town of New Baltimore highway department)
The town of New Baltimore highway department participates in the Cornell Hook and Ladder Fire Company Community Day. Highway employee Gene VanAlstyne installs one of the department’s free Magic Minus Zero spray systems on a 1997 International plow truck. Seen here is the town of New Baltimore highway department’s recycling center. The town of New Baltimore highway department’s sand and salt storage facilities. The department’s undercover salt storage capacity is approximately 200 tons. The town of New Baltimore highway department facility. Alan attends events such as the 2024 Advocacy Day at the N.Y.S. Capital on March 6. The department’s 1997 International plow truck awaits the next winter storm. The town of New Baltimore highway department’s 2023 and 1996 International tandem-axle haul trucks. The town of New Baltimore highway department crew (L-R) are Forman/Deputy Superintendent Scott VanWormer, HMEO Bill Spurdis, HMEO Ron Sherman, HMEO Tim Mayo, HMEO Billy Rider and HMEO Gene VanAlstyne. The crew cleans up some storm damage on Honey Hollow Road. The crew performs culvert replacement on Sawmill Road prior to paving. The crew performs culvert replacement on Sawmill Road prior to paving. The town of New Baltimore highway crew works with the crew from the village of Coxsackie DPW to disassemble a backstop and fencing that New Baltimore Highway Superintendent Alan VanWormer was able to get donated to the town for the use in one of their parks. The town of New Baltimore highway crew works with the crew from the village of Coxsackie DPW to disassemble a backstop and fencing that New Baltimore Highway Superintendent Alan VanWormer was able to get donated to the town for the use in one of their parks. Seen here are two of three trucks that were given fresh new paint jobs, in house by the highway department’s knowledgeable employees. Seen here are two of three trucks that were given fresh new paint jobs, in house by the highway department’s knowledgeable employees. The crew performs ditch cleaning and shoulder removal on Dugway Lane.

As part of a family known for its history of community service, there's little surprise that Alan VanWormer ran for highway superintendent in his hometown of New Baltimore in 2019.

His father and brother had volunteered for the local fire department — as did he prior to becoming highway superintendent. In addition to serving as a volunteer fire fighter for nearly 40 years, he also worked as a 911 dispatcher for Greene County.

His father worked for the town as a heavy equipment operator for 28 years and several of his cousins worked for the town. His youngest brother, Scott, currently serves as deputy superintendent/foreman of New Baltimore.

"I sought the position because I really want to work for my hometown," Alan said, referring to the town of New Baltimore in Greene County, with a population of 3,226. "I enjoy working for the people."

Places, Pastimes

New Baltimore's highway superintendent has spent all of his 57 years in the area. Once home to the Mahican, the area became home to Dutch and English settlers around 1713. New Baltimore was created from the town of Coxsackie in 1811 by an act of the New York State Legislature.

Before officially becoming a town, the region was rife with mills and farms, from the hamlet on the Hudson River to settlements such as Medway, Grapeville, Stanton Hill and Staco. Farming played an important role in the 19th Century: in 1875, there were 248 farms with 33,882 acres under cultivation. Between WWI and WWII, New Baltimore was second in the county in acreage dedicated to fruit production.

The Hudson River has always played an important part in the town's economic growth. A natural bay on the river's west shore was the site where farmers and millers unloaded cargo. Due to the commerce on the waterway, hotels, retail stores and other businesses sprang up in town. Shipbuilding and repair were commonplace in the region. In the mid-19th century, the Baldwin family built more than 150 barges, ferries, tugboats and other watercraft. Once powered refrigeration appeared in the mid-1800s, ice harvesting was added as a local business, with nine ice houses in New Baltimore.

Today, the Hudson River attracts tourists, who enjoy sightseeing cruises and nearby hiking trails, such as the Hannacroix Interpretive Trail, which runs along the Hudson River. Alan enjoys deer hunting, camping and spending time at his family camp in Wells, N.Y., with his wife, Joan, and daughters, Desirea and Nicole.

"The Adirondacks is my happy place," he said. "I can drink coffee, look at the lake and forget about everything."

Making Changes

With his predecessor set to retire, Alan first ran for a one-year term to complete that term. Then, he had to turn around and run for a full four-year term. His current term ends in 2027, and the superintendent speculates that it might be his last, dreaming of retirement, himself. If he does retire at the end of this term, he hopes he left the town better than he found it.

Alan has unquestionably updated the department. Prior to his first term, nothing in the highway department was computerized. All maintenance records, POS and vouchers were done with pen and paper. Today, thanks to the forward-thinking superintendent, all vehicle maintenance records are computerized.

"This was something I started when I took over as highway superintendent," he said. "Equipment and tool inventories are also computerized, along with purchase orders. None of this was computerized prior to me being elected."

He keeps a record of all files on a thumb drive, which he takes with him "in case fire burns up everything," so they won't have to start from scratch.

Another innovation he initiated is the two-signature system. When he was elected, only one signature was required on POS and vouchers, but Alan believed it was better to have a back-up. Requiring two signatures renders increased accuracy and accountability.

He's far from finished with upgrading and updating the department.

"The fleet needs updating," he said.

While he currently has a new single-axle all-wheel-drive dump truck on order since 2021 (delayed due to supply issues), his wish list includes a new mower tractor, newer trucks and additional attachments for the department's skid steer, such as a sweeper and a mill head, or rebate head. That provides a smooth transition between the roads and driveways, he said.

"The town board considers that more of a ‘want' than a ‘need,'" he said, with a slight note of annoyance, leaving him to borrow one when he needs it.

His fleet consists of:

  • Tandem-axle International dump trucks — 1996, 2023
  • Single-axle International dump trucks — 1991, 2013
  • International 4300 plow trucks — 2011, 1993, 1997
  • Oshkosh plow truck — 1985
  • F350 pickups — 2011, 2023
  • F350 dump trucks — 2006, 2017
  • Massey Ferguson tractor with boom mower — 2005
  • Champion grader — 1982
  • John Deere 544K loader — 2010
  • John Deere 310 backhoe — 2010
  • John Deere 85G excavator — 2017
  • Bobcat 5770 skid steer — 2021
  • Bandit brush chipper — 1998

The highway crew performs 99 percent of the vehicle and equipment maintenance, with a regular grease and service schedule.

"Almost everyone on our crew has mechanical skills — some more than others, but everyone is willing to step up, pitch in and help wherever they can," Alan said.

That crew includes six full-time HMEOs, starting with the deputy superintendent/foreman (and his brother), Scott. Others on the crew are:

  • Bill Spurdis
  • Ron Sherman
  • Billy Rider
  • Tim Mayo
  • Eugene VanAlstyne
  • Hugh Sterrett, HMEO (part-time)
  • James Meade, mower operator (part-time)

"I am very fortunate to have a crew that works well together, gets along and respects one another," Alan said. "My foreman/deputy also happens to be my brother. He has been employed by the town for 28 years. It's very comforting to know if, for some reason, I can't be at work, the department is in very capable hands."

Crew hours are 6 a.m.-3:30 p.m., Monday-Thursday and 6 a.m.-10 a.m., Friday. The crew works out of a 40-ft. by 80-ft. main garage built in the 1940s, with some later upgrades, a 16-ft. by 24-ft. fuel storage garage and a 50-ft. by 100-ft. pole barn storage garage for trucks and equipment.

Road Work

"We have almost every mode of transportation running through the town, including CSX railroad, NYS throughway and US Route 900," Alan said. His responsibility, however, is primarily focused on the town's roads.

With his fleet and a dedicated crew, Alan has managed to pave or chip seal all the dirt roads except approximately 1 mi.

"We pave at least 2 miles of road each year," he said. "The first thing I did when I took office was get rid of the dirt roads, either by paving or stone-and-oil. Dirt roads take so much money to maintain."

Alan credits his CHIPS allocation of $311,000 (nearly one-third of his total operating budget of $940,970) for being able to do so much paving. As deputy superintendent for eight to 10 years before assuming the top role, Alan did most of the paperwork for the department, including monthly reports and CHIPS applications, so he's able to make the most of this allocation. He was even able to carry over some CHIPS money to use for paving approximately 3 mi. of road next year.

Paving work is never done. Of course, he wants to pave more roads.

"We'll continue our annual road paving projects," he said. "There's much needed, but I feel as if we are starting to get ahead of the game and hope we can continue."

But he also has his eye on new paving projects. Alan's crew is currently prepping Sawmill Road for paving and has plans of building a new parking lot at the 2nd District Park. "Currently, it's grass. Building it will cut down on our mowing," he said.

Money-Saving Innovation

Additional responsibilities the highway department takes on include mowing and maintaining four town parks and five cemeteries, cutting and trimming trees, cleaning ditches and removing shoulders, and snow clearing 63 lane mi. — all town roads. Of those roads, 62 mi. are paved. It takes three hours to complete each of the eight plow routes.

Approximately two years ago, Alan started combining liquid deicing agents with the sand and salt used to keep the roads traversable.

"Magic Minus Zero is a liquid magnesium and molasses mixture created by Innovative Surface Solutions that allows the salt to work at lower temperatures than untreated salt," he said.

Molasses in the mixture allows the salt to stick to the road surface and not bounce to the shoulders.

Until recently, they could use it on only a limited basis because they didn't have a large storage capacity. But in February, the highway superintendent made a post on his Facebook pages about the town looking for a 2,500-gal. plastic storage tank to store liquid deicing fluid.

"Within a couple of days, I received a response from a town south of us in Ulster County, saying that they had a tank they no longer used and if we could pick it up, it was ours at no cost," he said. "My crew and I jumped on this opportunity and went and picked it up. We are now able to store 2,500 gallons on site."

But that's not all.

"While we were there, the superintendent asked if we had any interest in some truck-mounted spray units. We of course said ‘yes,' and were given seven complete truck-mounted spray units at no cost."

With a little work by his crew, they were able to outfit four of their winter plow trucks with onboard spray systems to spray the sand and salt coming out of the trucks.

"We have been able to reduce our salt usage by about 25 percent," Alan said.

The department's undercover salt storage capacity is approximately 200 tons. With the liquid de-icing agent, that salt will go a lot farther.

Alan is so pleased with the results and the savings, he's planning to nix the sand in favor of pure salt next years.

"Sand is messy; we have to clean it up," he said. "The roads will be in much better condition with just the salt and deicer."

Plastic, Please

The roads also will be better supported by the plastic culverts the New Baltimore highway crew is installing. Replacing metal culverts with plastic ones saves money two ways: the upfront cost of plastic culverts is less than that of metal ones and, as Alan said, "Plastic lasts forever. We'll never have to worry about them again."

The 2-in.-thick plastic is lightweight, making it easy to put together and install. Another bonus is that they're smooth inside, unlike the corrugated metal culverts. This means debris is much less likely to get stuck inside.

Community Service

Another change Alan implemented was getting the town more active in the Greene County Highway Superintendent Association, of which he is currently the vice president. He will be stepping up to the presidency next year. He said he learns a lot and does important networking at the monthly meetings. He also attends the annual four-day highway school.

Not only does he have "a great relationship with all of the highway departments," working cooperatively with any town within Greene County, some towns from Southern Albany County as well as Greene County highway department, Alan has developed a good rapport with the community.

"I love community service," he said when talking about a "touch the truck" event the fire department held. He took some construction equipment to the event, allowing children to sit on it for photos.

Alan enjoys communicating with his community through social media.

"I have three separate Facebook pages: my personal one, another one called Alan's Road Report and a third one called What's Up New Baltimore."

End of an Era

Alan's best day on the job was when he was sworn in for his first term in office with all his family and friends in attendance.

"This job is a dream come true for me," he said. "I have the best, most experienced and dedicated crew a highway superintendent could ever ask for, and the support from my family and community has truly made this job worth doing. I love working for the people and hearing their positive feedback. The people are good to me and the crew."

After having been employed by the town for 34 years, the past five as highway superintendent, Alan is looking ahead to a different daily routine — one that includes traveling with his wife to warmer climes during the winter, where he won't have to deal with ice storms and snow plowing, or the politics of the job.

"At the end of my current four-year term, I am looking forward to retirement," he said. Visions of tropical islands, a cruise and simply taking off in the 40-ft. camper he and his wife own appeal to him.

Unlike his own progression from deputy superintendent to highway superintendent, it's unlikely his second in command will follow in his footsteps, as he reported that his brother is considering retiring at the same time. With the two Van Wormers gone, a long chapter of family dedicated to community service will come to a close. P