Superintendent of Highways Norman Sutherland and the Town of Highland

Mary Yamin-Garone

These days Norm Sutherland, superintendent of highways for the town of Highland, may be asking himself, “Is this what retire meant?”

That’s because for Norm, a funny thing happened on the way to retirement. He chuckled as he began to explain.

“I worked for the highway department for 30 years. For 25 of those years I was deputy superintendent. I retired for three months in 2003 and hated it. The superintendent resigned because he relocated. It was January and they [the town] needed to hire someone so I submitted my name and I got the job. From that point on, my men have been forcing me to stay.”

And stay he did. Norm has been highway superintendent for five years and shows no sign of going anywhere anytime soon.

Norm has resided in Highland for all of his 61 years except for “when I served in the Army from 1967 to 1968. I was in the 25th infantry division in Vietnam.”

He has been married to his wife, Mary Ellen, a science teacher, for 30 years. They have two sons, Norm, 26, and Nick, 24, both of whom are in the construction field. Norm is an engineer for Servidone and Nick is employed by the laborers’ union.

Being responsible for maintaining the town’s roads, buildings, parks, cemeteries and the constables’ cars (yes, they still have constables), doesn’t allow Norm too much time for himself. When he does have “free” time, you can find him woodworking or hunting.

“I have been hunting white tail deer and big game locally since I was 16,” he recalled. “My woodworking is mainly a hobby — furniture, cabinetry, things like that.”

With plans for a new home for the highway department nearing fruition, Norm admitted he’s not thinking about retiring any time soon. When that day does come, however, he would like his work to speak for itself.

“I would like to be thought of as someone who did the best they could and who was respected by his crew.”

On the Job

The highway department’s facilities include a 90 by 40 ft. building built in 1962 that serves as its garage. The structure also houses Norm’s office — all 10 by 6 ft. of it — and some of the department’s equipment. There also is a 140-ton salt shed that measures 16 by 20 ft.; two small storage sheds and a loader shed.

“We are in the process of planning a new, larger shop that will have nine bays versus the five we now have,” Norm explained. “It has been in the works for several years and the plans are nearly complete. Hopefully, the job will go out to bid in the spring.

The department’s new digs will be located behind the town’s senior center, away from the brooks that currently surround the facility.

“Being next to a brook is a bad place to be,” Norm opined. “There have been several floods over the past few years and during one of them all of our equipment had to be moved to the grocery store parking lot.”

As superintendent, it is Norm’s job to maintain the town’s 84.1 center lane miles of road — 5.27 of which are gravel. That translates into seven plowing routes that take about three hours to complete.

This winter Norm and his men found themselves battling more ice than snow.

“We had some terrific ice storms. Those storms are very expensive because the materials — the sand and salt — cost so much.”

During an average winter the highway department uses about 1,000 tons of salt.

“Since our shed only holds 40 tons we haul from the county’s bin once our supply is exhausted. After the storm, we replace the salt in our shed so we can start the first round from there the next time. Doing it that way works better for us. Before, when we would go down to the county bin, all their trucks would be coming in simultaneously creating a backlog. That’s when we decided to use our salt bin to get us started.”

Norm depends on his crew of six full-time employees to serve the town’s 2,500 residents. His staff includes Daryl Barnes, deputy superintendent; and Jeff Barnes, Rob Robertson, Chris Halverson, Jim Morabito and Tom Ebias, all of whom are machine equipment operators/mechanics.

Norm has nothing but praise for his men and doesn’t hesitate to give credit where credit is due.

“I can’t say enough about my crew. They are all good guys, real go-getters,” he exclaimed. “They jump right in and do whatever it takes to get the job done. Some of these men have been with me since I became superintendent.”

Under Norm’s watchful eye, the town of Highland’s highway department functions on a total operating budget of $789,460, which includes salaries and benefits for employees and an annual CHIPS allocation of $61,338.

Staying within that budget is one of the most challenging parts of Norm’s job.

“[Sometimes] it’s difficult to get everything done with the money we have. Our budget increases every year but not by much. It’s still a stretch to pay for the salt and sand in the winter and to pave the roads in the summer. This year I had to put more money in the budget to accommodate the rising cost of fuel.”

To help get the job done, the department uses a modest fleet of equipment that includes:

• 2001 Cat 416 backhoe

• 1991 Case 621 loader

• 1971 Galion grader

• 1953 TD 14 bulldozer

• 1980 Dynapac roller

• 1970 1 ton roller

• 2001 20-ton equipment trailer

• 2001 International tractor mower

• 2006 sweeper broom

• 2007 Morbark chipper

• 1984 Ford L-8000 single axle truck

• 1992 and 1994 International 2574 single axle dump trucks

• 1999 Dodge pickup

• 2001 Freight Liner tandem axle

• 2004 Dodge pickups

• 2006 International 7600 single axle dump truck

When it comes to purchasing new equipment Norm relies on bonds.

“Generally, the [town] board sets up a bond with a five-year payment schedule. Now I have two trucks on bond with three years of payments left. When that bond has been satisfied, I can replace another piece of equipment for the same amount of money. The board hasn’t put a cap on that amount yet. Now it’s $200,000.”

What happens if something breaks down in the meantime?

“Then I go begging,” Norm confessed.

Fortunately, today’s equipment has come a long way. Life spans are longer, thereby requiring repair less often.

“I remember when the [highway department] was really antiquated. The trucks are much better than they were years ago,” Norm recalled. “The trucks are more operator-friendly and more efficient but maintaining them isn’t always easier. Vehicles are so technical that sometimes you have to bring them back to the dealership to get things done. Nowadays everything is computerized. Unfortunately, our department is too small to have all the computer equipment we would need.”

Each year, the highway department uses its CHIPS money to pave the town’s roads.

“Paving projects are constant. We don’t have a set number of miles we try to pave each year. One year we T & L [true and level] certain roads, going along with blacktop and leveling off the road. The following year that section of road is sealed with stone chips then another section is done. We T & L about 3 miles and strive to seal 10 miles of road every year.”

It’s not all roadwork for Norm and his crew. Four floods swept through the town between 2004 and 2006. As a result, the highway department took the necessary steps to prevent similar disasters.

“The town incurred a tremendous amount of damage from those floods. Homes were lost along the river and most of River Road was destroyed. Thanks to FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency], we were able to replace many of the town’s small, older pipes with larger ones over the course of one summer. They [FEMA] were a godsend in our being able to complete the work. I know people have had problems with them in the past but if you complete the required paperwork you make out all right.”

Those floods also gave Norm his proudest moment as highway superintendent.

“It felt great to be able to help residents during the emergencies, which we did by repairing the roads quickly. That was the big thing. That holds true in any emergency, even a snowstorm. Our job is to clear the roads so people can get home and get on with their lives.”

What does Norm enjoy most about being superintendent?

“Getting together with Sullivan County’s 15 other superintendents. Each month we meet at a different restaurant in a different part of the county. We also attend highway school in Ithaca every June to learn about new laws, finances and road building concepts.”

In addition to the highway department’s new headquarters, another project Norm would like to see come to fruition during his tenure is surfacing the town’s two remaining dirt roads.

“Doing that involves a variety of steps. First, the roads must be upgraded and paved. We also would have to widen the roads, build the base up with crusher run and pave over the top. The process could be completed in one year if we had the money but right now I’m robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

About the Town of Highland

Eighteen crystal clear lakes, numerous trout streams and 10 mi. of the scenic Delaware River are only the beginning of the town of Highland’s spellbinding beauty and attraction.

The township is known for its rich history, including the Minisink Battleground County Park, site of the Revolutionary War battle and the world’s first suspension bridge, the Roebling Bridge.

Bald Eagles can be found making Highland their winter home. Spring, summer and fall find the town of Highland alive with campgrounds, canoe and raft liveries, hiking and biking enthusiasts and others enjoying the wonderful amenities nature provided this community. Brand new theater traditions are being created in the summer residence of New York City’s North American Cultural Laboratory. Wonderful antique shops, grocery stores and restaurants are open all-year to serve the needs of residents.

The town of Highland was created by an act of the County Board of Supervisors on Dec. 17, 1853.

The town of Lumberland was subdivided into the present day towns of Lumberland, Highland and Tusten because the traveling distance for town meetings was too great.

The town takes its name from highland ridges above the Delaware River. It was first inhabited by the Lenape and the trappers of Minisink and Mamakating. Colonial period hunters, trappers and lumbermen were drawn to Highland because of its streams and lakes, dense hardwood and conifer forests and wild game.

On July 22, 1779, the Upper Delaware’s only major Revolutionary War battle was fought on the plateau above Minisink Ford. The battle was fought between the colonial militia of Goshen, which suffered a devastating defeat against a group of Indians, and Tories commanded by Mohawk Chieftain Joseph Brant.

Highland was settled sometime after the war toward the turn of the century. The former hamlet of Lumberland Post Office, now Eldred, was established by 1814.

Provisions for educating the children of the inhabitants were made shortly after the first settlement in the town. The first store opened in 1828 and the first tavern in 1830.

Barryville developed with the construction of the Delaware and Hudson Canal (D&H Canal) in 1828. A blacksmith shop, a gristmill and a broom handle factory were established in Barryville shortly thereafter. Later a glass factory opened that made molded glass.

The town grew with the canal, providing a large maintenance area and supply depot for its canals. Between 1827 and 1898 the D&H Canal carried coal from the Moosic Mountains of Pennsylvania to the coal markets of New York City.

The later development of the Erie Railroad (now Norfolk Southern) helped in the development of the resort communities of Yulan and Highland Lake. By the early part of the 20th century, the town’s major industry was catering to the summer visitors who traveled to Highland via the railroad. When the Erie Railroad ceased to carry passengers and the automobile became the main mode of transportation, Highland slowly emerged as a second-home community. Many persons began to purchase homes for weekend, vacation and summer use. Today, many people make Highland their primary residence while commuting to the New York metropolitan area to work.

Many of today’s residents are descendants of early settlers. The historical and architectural resources of Highland are rich and quite diverse in character. Among the most important are Locks No. 68, No. 69 and No. 70 of the D&H Canal, the Toll House, the Roebling Aqueduct, the Barryville Town Hall, the Barryville Congregational Church and Montoza Cemetery.

Locks Nos. 68, 69 and 70 of the Delaware and Hudson Canal (D&H Canal) are three of the 108 that once existed along the canal. The canal was used primarily for transporting coal by barge from the Pennsylvania mountains to New York City and extended from Honesdale, Pa., to Kingston, N.Y.

The canal was in active use from 1828 until 1898. The No. 68 and 70 locks are in good shape for historic interpretation. Lock No. 69 is thought to be largely intact, although its present owner filled it in 1981.

The Toll House stands on the New York side of the Roebling Bridge and was built somewhere between 1900 and 1905. This small, two-story structure served as the toll house for the Lackawaxen Bridge (Roebling Aqueduct) after the D&H Canal was closed. The Roebling Aqueduct is believed to be the oldest suspension bridge in America. Built by John Roebling, designer of the Brooklyn Bridge, it carried the D&H Canal across the river. After being used as an aqueduct for 50 years, it became a highway bridge in 1898.

The bridge consists of four spans, 132 to 142 ft., the widest to allow logging rafts to pass through. The bridge is a National Historic Landmark and a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. The National Park Service purchased and restored it several years ago.

The Barryville Town Hall is a relatively intact mid-19th century schoolhouse of typical form. It is built in the Greek Revival style with stucco-covered rubble stone incised to resemble cut marble blocks. The building was used as a schoolhouse from 1867 to 1960. The town is seeking funds to restore the deteriorating exterior walls and foundation. The building has been converted for judicial use and it has been made handicapped accessible.

The original Congregational Church in Barryville was organized in 1799, but the first church structure was not erected until 1835. Known as the Union Church, this structure burned in 1877 and was replaced by the present day structure in 1903. The church is no longer used for religious purposes, but its owner has adaptively reused it, preserving its historical integrity.

A cemetery behind the church is the resting place for several Confederate soldiers killed on July 15, 1864, when a train carrying 833 prisoners of war to the federal prison at Elmira, N.Y., collided with a coal train at Shohola. Nineteen guards and 51 soldiers were killed in the accident; some were buried along the tracks; the others were laid to rest in the Congregational Church Cemetery.

The Montoza Cemetery is located north of Barryville on Mail Road. It was laid out by John W. Johnson, a Barryville attorney who also wrote Reminiscences, a set of recollections of the early history of the area that has been published with the assistance of the town.

Stones in the cemetery date back to 1861 and some older ones can be found in the old Eldred Cemetery.

Other historical and architectural resources include the Eldred Congregational Church, St. Anthony’s Cemetery, the Chapin Estate Stone Arch Waterfalls and the Minisink Battleground and Monument.

Other points of interest include:

• Minisink Battleground Park: This hallowed ground is where many patriots fell in defense of an ideal liberty. The Minisink Battle Monument was erected on the site of the militia’s “last stand” and was dedicated in 1879 on the battle’s centennial.

• Hospital Rock: It was here, under the shelter of this rock, that 17 wounded patriots under the care of Lt. Col. (Dr.) Benjamin Tusten were overwhelmed and put to the tomahawk by the Indians and Tories of Joseph Brant.

• Sentinel Rock: Tradition has long held that this is where Joseph Brant’s final push into the heart of the militia’s defensive square began. It was believed that a sentinel standing guard was killed. More recent research, however, indicates that Brant’s final assault began from the northeast, not far from Hospital Rock. Sentinel Rock is believed to stand at the approximate southwest corner of the militia’s square.

• Indian Rock: This oddly placed rock also has an interesting history. It has long been suggested that at the end of the battle, Brant buried his dead under or near it, setting the rock as a memorial in its present position. No evidence has verified this legend. Indian Rock may have been deposited in its position when the continental glacier that once covered southeastern New York melted, but it is more likely that the rock was gradually pushed upright by the growth of generations of nearby trees, such as the one presently standing behind it.

(History courtesy of http://www.highlandnewyork.net.)

You can also view previous issues of Superintendent's Profile.

Jump to Profile: