Highway Superintendent Edward Adams and the Franklin County Highway Department

By Mary Yamin-Garone

You might say Ed Adams is the new kid on the block.

Within five months, he went from deputy highway superintendent of the Franklin County Highway Department to being the main man.

How did that happen so fast?

“I was working for an engineering firm here in Malone and was watching a rehab project that was going on,” he said. “Brad Broadmarsh was the superintendent at the time and looking to retire. We got talking and he asked if I'd be interested in taking the deputy's position for a while. Five months later Brad retired and I took over.”

Born and bred in this history-laden county in the “Adirondacks,” Ed lived in Malone until the fourth grade. That's when his family relocated to Vermont and where Ed stayed until the 10th grade. “Then my family moved back to Franklin County and I've lived here ever since.”

After high school, Ed went to work finishing concrete with his father. In 1993, he followed in his father-in-law Francis Wood's footsteps when he joined the Laborers Union Local 186 out of Plattsburgh.

“Frank was always a great source of construction wisdom to me throughout the years before losing his battle with cancer in 2011.”

Then in 1996, “I started working for Green Island Construction. At 20 years old, I worked my way up the ladder from laborer to pipe foreman to grade foreman and then to construction superintendent at somewhere around 30. Over the course of 20 years, I helped build and reconstruct state highways, interstates, thruways, buildings, new and rehabilitating existing airport runways and taxiways at multiple airports around New York, projects at the Albany International Airport, Watertown, Plattsburgh, Oneonta and Malone airports.

To keep the department moving, the county uses an extensive fleet of equipment.

“My father was what you'd call a jack of all trades ... mechanic, electrician, mason — and was doing some flat work, basically finishing floors on the Indian reservation. He didn't have time for it, so I worked with him for a while. Then I took over doing it for Front Point Construction. It was the opportunity I always wanted — to do road jobs and heavy highway construction. When Green Island Construction came into town in 1996 for a rehab project on Route 11, I showed up there every day for several weeks before I was hired as a laborer. I stayed with them until 2003 until they shut down. Basically, the owners split. One started Keko Construction and the other Green Island Contracting. I went with Keko.

“The traveling started to get old. I was gone for most of the time my sons were growing up. We had some work close to here but five out of 20 years would be about the only time I'd be close to home. I did that for a long time. After Keko shut down in 2014, I decided I didn't want to work on the road anymore and be away from my family.”

The five years before taking the deputy highway superintendent's position, Ed worked as a construction manager for different engineering firms. During that time, “I worked on a large municipal water project in the town and village of Champlain. Two water towers and nine miles of water line were installed. I also performed contract monitoring for Brookfield Power on some of their hydropower plant rehab project in Franklin and St. Lawrence counties.”

That's when everything changed.

Ed admitted he was interested in the top spot for several reasons.

“I spent many years working out of town across the state and away from my family. I was missing time with them. I wanted to work closer to home. I also enjoy a challenge and with 266 miles of county roads and 188 bridges, there would be no shortage of challenges. I knew that with my past experience, I could be a benefit to the highway department.”

Ed attributes his time building roads and supervising construction projects the best preparation for the job.

“Performing the responsibilities of a county highway superintendent, scheduling materials and labor for daily projects, working with a set budget and meeting important deadlines are all things I was doing every day as highway superintendent.”

In addition to being the highway superintendent, Ed also is the head of the transportation department.

“I knew it would be busy, but I enjoy it. It's a challenge keeping everything moving.”

Ed is husband to wife, Abby, and father to Benjamin, 27; Thomas, 22; and Addison, 7.

“My wife and I grew up in a rural area with a few neighbors and trees. We met on the school bus. Actually, we live in D'Wayne, N.Y., which is about 20 minutes south of here. Being up here, we don't have to live on Franklin County roads. That makes it easier for me because we plow those areas. With 160 lakes in the county, we like to take advantage of the hunting and fishing.

In addition, Ed “does a lot of carpentry work and cabinet building. Now I'm helping my youngest son build his first home. I'm also an avid motorcycle rider. Been riding since I was about four. Dirt bikes, too. In the past 12 years, I've had several different Harley Davidsons. My wife and I enjoyed riding until our daughter arrived.”

Ed also sits on the Franklin County Traffic Safety Committee.

The Job

The Franklin County highway department fits into a single 10,875-sq.-ft. garage. Built in 1948, it houses a 6,000-sq.-ft. storage building and approximately 7,000 sq. ft. of additional storage and a salt shed that holds roughly 600 to 700 tons. Ed also oversaw the construction of a 24 x 36 addition on the existing office space that's dedicated to the transportation staff.

“The county spends on average $100,000 in road sand and road materials, such as gravel, throughout the year. According to the previous superintendent, Franklin County owns 42-acres of land several miles from the garage. Some say there may be sand and gravel on it. There are also two sand and gravel pits on each side. Now we're getting ready to clear up piles and have a crusher come in so the cost of doing more projects will greatly decrease. We'll still have fuel costs and a limit on what we have for manpower but to have a good source of gravel will definitely give us an edge in the future. Not to mention the savings.”

As highway superintendent, Ed is responsible for maintaining the county's 266 lane miles of road. That translates into two plowing routes that take close to 1.5 hours to complete.

“Our highway department is responsible for snow removal at four cell phone tower access roads; the Malone courthouse; the county jail; the county 911 building; the county DSS building; all county parking lots; and 30 miles of county roads. The remaining 236 miles of road are subcontracted to other towns at a cost of $1,270,000.

“I'd like to do some paving. Not a full depth reconstruction but basically reconstruct the drainage ditches and then pave. Many times, you'll see different places where they just put asphalt down on a road but what's underneath is what carries that road. You're upgrading your sub-base. Me and my crew will do all the ditching and replace any bad pipes. I recently purchased a JetVac that will enable us to clean our pipes, assess their condition and replace the bad ones.

Ed also plans on flushing those pipes in order to maintain the drainage.

“We have to flush the pipes for the winters we have up here. They soak in and then they rot the bottoms of the pipes out. The big thing about a road is making sure you have a profile, which is positive drainage and usually a quarter inch to the outside of the road. Then you clean those ditches to get the water away from the road. If you can't clean your pipes, the water will stay and saturate. You sublimate underneath the asphalt and get some base. So, we have to be able to clean our pipes. That gives us the ability to properly assess whether they need to be replaced because you can't see the bottom pipe until it's brought out. As you can see, we've got quite a lot planned for this summer.”

In addition to caring for the roads, Ed also is responsible for the county's 188 bridges.

“That's basically because of all the mountains, rivers and lakes. It's something of a challenge in and of itself, not just the miles of road, but the bridges as well.

“Since I took over, I created another welding position. I moved up an existing employee who was a great welder. We needed him because when you're trying to build a bridge in house every year, you've got your welder and bridge crew on that bridge. When everybody's tied up on a bridge you're working on, you need to have another welder with a truck and the equipment to go out and take care of them. You don't have to shut down the entire operation because there's not a welder on the bridge.”

Ed's crew helps him serve the town's roughly 50,000 residents. Staff includes deputy Fred Willett; principal account clerk Allison Susice; and foremen Thomas Lauzon, Craig Demers and Shawn Welch. There are 27 full-time employees in the highway department and 28 full-time employees in the public transportation department some of which are full-time mechanics.

“After I was appointed by the Board of Legislators, I appointed Fred in part because of his 35 years with the highway department. He was the construction working foreman and was experienced plowing the county roads. Fred was planning to retire at the end of 2020 but agreed to stay on as deputy highway superintendent. His knowledge of the county roads and his experience has proven to be extremely valuable to our team.”

This superintendent knows the importance of having a good and loyal staff.

“One person can have all the knowledge in the world, but without the right team, you can't accomplish anything. Having the right tools, manpower, equipment and resources is the only way to achieve positive progress.

“It takes time to learn. That's the thing about being new to these guys. I've only known them for about a year. When you first arrive, you don't know what this person's good at. When I became superintendent, I knew those guys are like my toolbox. I know exactly what everybody can do. I know what this person is good at and what they may not be good at. When you come to a new job like this, it takes time to figure out which people are your go-to people for certain aspects of the job. I feel I've got a good handle on that now. That makes the job easier.”

Under Ed's direction, the highway department runs on a total operating budget of $8,097,304.31 that includes salaries and benefits for employees. It also receives an annual CHIPS allocation of $1,755,977.56; $400,819.35 for PAVE-NY; and $252,198.22 for Extreme Winter Recovery, including a new JetVac To keep the department moving, the county uses an extensive fleet of equipment.

“Our new JetVac truck will enable us to better maintain our culvert pipes and get the water away from the road. I also ordered a Sweep Vac unit that will reduce our manpower from an eight-man to a three-man crew when picking up sand from intersections in the spring. I'd also like to update another older plow truck this year. I'm looking at screen plants so we can generate our own road materials.”

Projects on the Horizon

Looking ahead, Ed has an ambitious list of projects he wants to complete:

• Two bridge projects — one is in the town of Chateaugay that will be done in-house; and a bridge replacement on CR28 on the Constable town line that's been bid, approved and started in April.

• Construction season 2021 — planning to pave approximately 12 mi. of county roads. This could be reduced with rising fuel prices affecting asphalt prices. Replacing two county-owned bridges. Also planning to perform culvert replacements, ditching and cutting shoulders.

• Construction completed on a 24-ft. x 36-ft. addition on the highway department office. The new office space will be used for Franklin County public transportation's office staff. This project was funded by an ACT grant and erected by highway department employees.

• Project first and foremost for this summer is opening the sand and

gravel pit. The property needs to be cleared and stripped. The highway department has the necessary equipment (excavators, loaders). Having the ability to generate its own material will provide the department with the road sand for ice and snow; cobble for lining ditches; and gravel. The average spent in recent years is $100,000. By having its own materials, the department will be able to increase the number of actual projects it can take on because of accessibility and financial savings.

• Work will begin on a 60-ft. x 90-ft. pole barn this summer. It will be used to shelter the 12 public transportation buses in the winter months. Franklin County Public Transportation currently utilizes the highway department's storage barn.

• Multiple roads will be paved this summer, including two roads that were started last year. The remaining sections of those will be completed this season. They are County Route 3 and County Route 27. The road crew will begin replacing cross culverts, cleaning existing culverts, clearing ditches and prepping a 2-mi. section of County Route 41. With the purchase of a JetVac truck, the department has the ability to clean and assess the condition of the culverts. With a proper road profile, water is shed off the road with clean ditches and culvert water can be directed away from the road and isn't saturating the subbase and subgrate under the asphalt. All of these contribute to getting more years out of the paved roads.

• Plans have been made to shim and pave in several different areas, build a pole barn and open the sand pit.

“Looking forward to the coming construction season, my goals are to continue to build a more universal crew with our younger operators and truck drivers becoming more comfortable on our equipment. I'd like to make some necessary improvements to our garage, such as replacing the metal roof and upgrading windows and doors. My overall goal is that when my time is done at the Franklin County highway department, the taxpayers will have a greater respect and appreciation for what everyone does here and they can see the quality and safety improvements we make every year.”

With all he does, what's Ed's favorite part of the job?

“I'd say it would be the challenge of juggling so many different operations in a single day and then, at the end of the day, knowing that “we” made positive progress. One person can have all the knowledge in the world, but without the right team, you can't accomplish anything, Having the right tools, manpower, equipment and resources is the only way to achieve positive progress.”

What would be a bad day for Ed?

“The ones that feel like you're stuck in the mud. Nothing seems to go right and you don't get anything done.”

What's the most difficult?

“No matter how much you plan, you can't change things. You can't stop equipment from breaking down. You can't change the weather. You've got 12 trucks lined up and you have the plant to yourself for the day. Then they tell you there's a 20 percent chance of rain. You get there at five o'clock in the morning and you're still there at four.”

That said, what's the most important part of being highway superintendent?

“At the end of the day, making sure the taxpayers and the roads and bridges are safe; that everybody goes home with their family; and I'm utilizing their money in the best way I can. That's really what I'm here for.”

About Franklin County

Franklin County is on the northern border of New York State. To the north across the Canada–United States border are the Canadian provinces of Quebec and Ontario, from east to west. As of the 2010 census, the county population was 51,599. Its county seat is Malone. The county is named in honor of United States Founding Father Benjamin Franklin.

Franklin County comprises the Malone, N.Y., Micropolitan Statistical Area. Much of Franklin County is within Adirondack Park. Within the border of the county is the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation, or Akwesasne in the Mohawk language. Its population was nearly 3,300 in the 2010 census. The people are linked by community and history with the Mohawk of the Akwesasne reserve across the river, spanning the border of Quebec and Ontario. The Mohawk have had authority under the Jay Treaty to freely cross this international border.

This area was long occupied by Iroquoian-speaking peoples. In historic times, a group of primarily Mohawks established a village south of colonial Montreal across the St. Lawrence River; they had been trading with French colonists and many had converted to Catholicism. They were the easternmost nation of the Iroquois League of Five Nations, known in their language as the Haudenosaunee.

After the English conquered the Dutch in the New York area, they established counties in 1683, in the eastern part of New York province and what is now Vermont. Both groups had settled primarily in Albany and along the Hudson River, a major waterway linking the upriver fur trade with the market of Manhattan. The first counties were very large in geographic area, taking in low-density populations. Gradually new counties were formed as colonial settlement increased, but most settlers stayed east of the middle of the Mohawk Valley, as the Iroquois nations controlled the lands beyond that. Historically the French, Dutch and English all traded with the Mohawk, the easternmost of these nations.

The area of the present Franklin County was part of Albany County when it was established in 1683. This was an enormous county, including the northern part of what became New York State as well as all of the present state of Vermont and, in theory, extending westward to the Pacific Ocean. This county was reduced in size on July 3, 1766, by the creation of Cumberland County, and further on March 16, 1770, by the creation of Gloucester County, both containing territory now in Vermont. On March 12, 1772, what was left of Albany County was split into three parts, one remaining under the name Albany County. Charlotte County contained the eastern portion.

In 1784, the name “Charlotte County” was changed to Washington County to honor George Washington, the American Revolutionary War general and later President of the United States of America.

In 1788, Clinton County was split off from Washington County. It comprised a much larger area than the present Clinton County, including several other counties or county parts of the present New York State.

Following the American Revolutionary War, the United States forced the Six Nations of the Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois Confederacy, to cede most of their lands in New York and Pennsylvania, as most had been allies of Great Britain, which had lost to the new United States. After the war, New York State sold off 5 million acres of former Iroquois territory at very low prices, seeking to attract settlers to develop farms and businesses. Land speculators quickly took advantage of the sales. Franklin County was part of the huge speculative Macomb's Purchase of 1791.

In 1799, Clinton County was reduced in size by the splitting off of Essex County. In 1802, Clinton County was reduced in size by a part of Clinton and two other counties being taken to form the new St. Lawrence County.

Franklin County Organized

In 1808, Franklin County was split off from Clinton County and organized. In the early decades many landowners basically were subsistence farmers.

In the late 1880s and 1890s, both the Delaware and Hudson and New York Central railroads were constructed into the town of Franklin. The Chateaugay branch of the Delaware and Hudson served the hamlet of Onchiota, which developed for the lumber industry. For more than 12 years, a major tract north of Saranac Lake was harvested and millions of feet of timber were shipped out from here.

The railroads carried the timber and products to market, and the industry flourished into the early 20th century until much of the timber was harvested. Several lumber mills operated in this area for decades, including Kinsley Lumber Company, Baker Brothers Lumber Company and one owned by the Dock and Coal Company. The latter mill was dismantled in 1917 and shipped to Florida to be used in the lumber industry there. The population declined as the lumber industry pulled out of the area.

The railroads also contributed to the town of Franklin becoming a destination for summer travelers. In the late 1800s, Franklin County was home to three of the largest resort hotels in the Adirondacks: Paul Smith's Hotel, Loon Lake House and Rainbow Inn. Due to the construction of highways and restructuring in the railroad industry, passenger service was ended to this remote area in the mid-20th century.

The history of Franklin County is preserved at the Franklin Historical and Museum Society in Malone.

(*History courtesy of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franklin,_Franklin_County,_New_York)P

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