Superintendent of Highways Gael Appler Sr. and the Town of Marlborough

CEG Staff

While the 2011 hurricane season was leaving its marks up and down the east coast of the United States, Gael Appler Sr., town of Marlborough superintendent, was remembering another hurricane, in another year.

“We had a lot of tree damage and water damage,” Appler said of 1999’s Hurricane Floyd. “We got all the roads open within one day, but the cleanup took about two or three weeks.”

This year’s Hurricane Irene also caused damage in the Ulster County town.

“Right now my department will be about a quarter of a million dollars just for cleanup and repair,” Gael said, adding that they were awaiting news of any FEMA money they would be receiving as reimbursement.

All in a Day’s Work

The town of Marlborough’s highway department handles just about “everything in the town. Roads and all the signage in the towns. We have so many diverse duties to keep the town running,” Gael said.

This includes 59.48 mi. of paved of road.

“We took a couple bond issues in 2003 and again in 2006. They were way behind in roads when I came here. We did 18 miles of road that probably had not been paved in 30 to 35 years. We restructured them and repaved them. That was 7 million dollars worth of bonds.”

While the department is not responsible for any bridges, it is responsible for a few culverts, including a couple that are “pretty big,” Gael said.

“We rebuilt one. One of them got damaged in the 2005 floods and got a little more damage on it during Irene. We closed it for one day.”

If Gael had his way, he’d replace dozens of others.

“We have a lot of old concrete culverts in the town. Then they wanted to widen the roads so they stuck pieces of pipe in it. I probably have a dozen of those I would like to replace. I don’t think that will happen anytime soon. Those culverts were made out of Rosendale cement. They are pretty hard.”

Gael’s department is responsible for all kinds of brush cutting and has its own chipper. It also mows along roadsides and the landfill area.

“We leave that for the winter time, but last winter was not very cooperative, so we are a little bit behind on that, but we are hoping to catch up. We do brush cutting on the sides of roads and parks. They have part-time people for the park, but we do the heavy work like a tree down.

“If [trees are] in the road, then they are ours. We don’t bill anyone, even if it’s on someone’s property that fell in the road,” he added.

No Such Thing as a Snow Day

The town of Marlborough has nine snowplowing routes, which take an average of two and half to three hours to clear. Last year the highway department was called out approximately 25 times.

“In the wintertime, anything goes. 24 hours a day sometimes. I am on the roads myself if I hear snow is coming. We have a big commuter community that is driving into New York City, so to accommodate them, we are always looking out for early morning snowstorms. We can’t wait until there are 2 to 3 inches on the road,” Gael said.

The nine large trucks and two smaller dump trucks use a combination of sand (60 percent) and salt (40 percent) in the higher elevations; three routes just use salt.

“I bring in one part-timer in the winter, because of the snow and ice events. He actually has his own route. We have some steep areas that the trucks can’t get to fast enough on their own routes, so he jumps on those and gets those done,” Gael said.

Away From the Job

When he’s not working as superintendent, Gael enjoys spending time with his family at a cabin in the Catskills.

“I go camping with my family, my kids. They enjoy going hunting and fishing. My kids are 35 and 32. They are not kids anymore. My wife Janice and I have been married since 1974.”

Before becoming superintendent, Gael gained work experience at both the fire department and working with his brother Carl’s oil, propane and blacktop business.

When Carl decided to sell his business, CM Appler and Sons, Gael turned his sights to the superintendent’s position.

“Seventy percent of the job was management. You could acquire skills as you go along as long as you have basic common sense, the rest of the skills you can acquire over time,” Gael said. “I always been in some kind of management position: handled money, budgets and everything else.”

Gael also has been president of the Ulster County Association of Superintendents of Highways since 2004.

“We meet nine months out of the year and we have three dinners. We get together and discuss everyone’s problems. We bring someone in from the state like from the CHIPS department to give us an update on that. We interact and help solve each other’s problems.”

Two More Years

Gael has been superintendent since 1998 and will run — unopposed — when his current term expires in November.

Except for one election when he’d been in office approximately six years, Gael has consistently run unopposed. He attributes that to the good job the department’s staff does.

Gael’s staff includes nine roadmen, one mechanic and a secretary.

“I never had a secretary [before Cathy Wilklow joined the staff five years ago.] My deputy [George Letchus] used to do it, but he retired. No one else wanted to step up and do the job, so I convinced the town board that the highway department needed a secretary. I don’t know how I got along the first 10 years without her,” Gael said.

The town’s current deputy, John Alonge, has been Gael’s deputy for the past six or seven years.

“He was here three years before I got here,” Gael said. “I couldn’t run this organization without him. He and all my men are good guys. [The staff has the] ability to do what is asked of them; they have a can-do attitude.”

Gael also is a firm believer in the Cornell Local Roads Program (CLRP), which provides training, technical assistance and information to municipal officials and employees responsible for the maintenance, construction and management of local highways and bridges in New York State.

“I love it,” Gael said. “I like the theory of training your personnel, because you are spending tax money. I think it really offers some great services. We learn good techniques and how to spend the taxpayers’ money wisely. I think it really helps.”

All of Gael’s personnel attend the training program, including his secretary.

“She pays the bills. She has to understand what she is paying. It’s good when she takes phone calls that she knows what is going on.

“Ever since I came here, I started going to the courses to educate myself and learn about the business. I am a Road Master II. I have a few other guys that are Road Master II’s. Five people have achieved Road Master I and only need a course or two to hit Road Master II status.

“Some of the younger guys I knew when they were kids. They get the job done and they do it right. They don’t mind that I train them. They like to go to these courses. I really have an educated and positive staff.”

Facilities and Funding

The town of Marlborough’s garage, which was built in 1955, serves as the department’s headquarters.

“We have four double bays,” Gael explained. “We squeeze all of our equipment in those bays, including our plow trucks. Our offices are attached to this. There are no other offices or anything.

“The town hall is attached to our garage. The ambulance corp. kind of folded up a few years back and they donated that building to the town for a town hall. They are talking about doing some refurbishing here. We need new doors.”

The salt shed, which was constructed in 1978, holds approximately 1,600 tons of mixed product and 300 tons of salt off to the side.

The department has an annual operating budget of $2.5 million and currently holds $789,000 in bond debt.

“We have to juggle around when we need equipment and stuff. The only thing we have coming up is our loader which is 18 years old. I am anticipating in a couple or three years needing one of them. That will probably go for $160,000 or $170,000.

“Right now [when we purchase trucks] we purchase the chassis off of the state bid. It all depends on the options they give you with the state bid. Now you have quite a few options, as long as you don’t go over 18 percent of the base cost of the chassis. So they give you enough options.”

If the OGS institutes a one-size-fits-all program, Gael said they would have to go through the bid process, which he said will cost more time and more money.

Keeping People Happy

Keeping the 8,300 residents in town happy isn’t always easy, according to Gael.

“Here we are at the banks of the Hudson. We have a lot of drainage issues. People don’t understand we are not totally responsible for water issues. They sometimes want you to do the impossible or spend a lot of money to solve a problem of a mud puddle in their driveway. If they come up out of New York City, where the city takes care of everything, they don’t understand it.

“We get plenty of phone calls, especially after the hurricane we had. I just refer them to the proper agency. That’s all I can do. Sometimes they get mad if we take too long to get to a job that needs to be done. I have to calmly explain to them that we have limited manpower and the guys do take vacations. It’s hard sometimes. They think you are a private company where you can hire extra men when you are busy, but we are not.”

But he’s not complaining.

“I like the whole job, because we are always accomplishing something. We are always doing something positive within the township, whether we are cleaning up the streets, or sweeping the streets or whatever. Everyday is different. I like that. We are always accomplishing something everyday; that is what I like about it.”

One of the most recent accomplishments is the installation of swales on the side of the road to combat drainage issues.

“We took a spreader that goes on the back of a truck, you know a belt spreader to fill in the shoulders,” Gael explained. “We took that and modified that on our Bobcat and made a shoot and a drag on the right hand side and make black top swales and make them uniform and we make them fast.”

About the Town

of Marlborough

Located only 65 miles north of New York City, the town of Marlborough consists of the hamlets of Milton and Marlboro.

A trip around the town of Marlborough, the southeastern corner of Ulster County, covers old Indian trails, passing flats where corn and pumpkins were grown, meat and other produce were brought to the docks in Milton for shipment and grains to the numerous mills for grinding.

The fruit growing region was settled for the most part by English people from Long Island and Westchester counties. From the time of the earliest known settler, Dennis Relyea, who came to live on Capt. John Evans’ patent, 1694, at Old Man’s Kill, on what is now Marlboro Mills, and of Captain Bond who settled on the grant given him in 1710, an increasing number of settlers came to this section particularly from 1750 to 1830. In the period 1913 to 1923 a large number of Italian people, attracted by the terraced hills of grapes reminiscent of their native Italy and by favorable prices for fruit, bought property here.

The general farming of the early days has been replaced by the more specialized fruit growing. Apple seedlings had been planted on the Old Hall place as early as 1760.

The Marlborough Presbyterian Church, the first of the town’s 11 churches, dates from 1764. This was followed by the Milton Methodist and the Lattintown Baptist Churches. The Quaker meeting from an early date, the Catholic Churches Missions in 1865, the Episcopal churches and Amity Chapel have all had part in the community.

The two new school buildings, the Marlboro Central High School and the Milton Grade School, built as a result of centralization are modern in every way, offering opportunity to all the children of all the people. These schools and the Lattintown School are the descendants of the two early schools, the Lattintown and the Turnpike schools, built before 1795. Several other schools both public and private have paved the way for a modern school system.

Marlborough named after the Duke of Marlborough, was once part of the territory bought from the Indians by Gov. Dongan in 1684. This land was granted by patent (afterwards annulled) to Capt. John Evans, Sept. 12, 1694.

Marlborough, Plattekill, Newburgh and New Windsor formed the Highland precinct of Ulster County in 1743, but in 1772 the New Marlborough precinct was formed from the Marlborough and Plattekill portion and was first called “Town" in 1788.

In 1800 the boundaries of the Town of Marlborough were defined as at present.

(Town history courtesy of Ancestry.com) P

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