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Highway Superintendent Roger LaBombard and the Town of Chateaugay

Mary Yamin-Garone - PROFILE CORRESPONDENT - August 2023

Nate Harrigan of the town of Chateaugay highway department performs roadside mowing along a town road. Roger works a dozer for culvert repair after recent flooding. The highway department’s salt storage holds 5,000 yards of sand and salt mix and another 3,000 tons as needed. Recent flooding caused widespread damage throughout the town. The town of Chateaugay highway department crew works to repair a culvert after flooding on July 2, 2023. Recent flooding caused widespread damage throughout the town. Of the town of Cateaugay highway department (L-R) are Jesse Monette, HEO; Ken Otis, HEO and mechanic; Michael Doyle, MEO; Nate Harrigan, laborer; and David Hersey, laborer. The Chateaugay Recreation Park has three pools and 50-ft. by 200-ft. dance hall with a kitchen. The highway department’s cold storage facility is approximately 50 ft. wide by 100 ft. long. Jimmer LaBombard of the town of Ellenburg helps to install culvert pipes after July 2, 2023, flooding. A local trucking service helps replenish the stockpile of item 4 gravel that was used during the flooding of July 2, 2023. The town of Chateaugay highway department’s main workshop has seven bays with a breakroom and office. Seen here is just some of the damage caused by flooding on July 2, 2023. Lori Rowe, highway department secretary, and Roger go over a grant that she recently wrote up. Roger and his wife, Donna.

Roger LaBombard, superintendent of highways of the town of Chateaugay, is a straight shooter, dedicated, hard-working, in your face (in a good way) kinda' guy. Not one to shy away from controversy, Roger is known for speaking his mind and getting things done.

This down-to-earth man takes great pride in what he does. He loves his family. He loves the town where he grew up and he loves getting up every morning and doing his job.

Born and raised in this history-laden town, Roger is a 1983 graduate of North Adirondack Central School in Ellenburg. Roger worked construction for Murnane Associates for 15 years.

"I worked as a laborer for several years before going into the heavy equipment field," he said. "The road grader was my main thing, but I ran an excavator and a little bit of everything. I'd get laid off in the winter but never went on unemployment. I always found another job working in the woods."

He also cut telephone poles for a Canadian outfit called Salomon Brothers.

"I did that for the year of the ice storm that changed our lives up here. We were without power for two to three weeks here in Chateaugay, located on the tip of the Canadian border. That's where it got hit the hardest."

That storm was what got Roger where he is today.

Picking Up the Pieces

Roger worked for the village of Chateaugay as an operator for four years.

"The town had an opening, so I went to work for them from 1998 to 2016," he said. "That was the year of the big ice storm in the North Country. People were trapped in homes. We had to cut our way in to get them and then cut our way out. There were people from New York City, Sullivan County and the National Guard. They were all stationed at the fire station and the highway garage. Power poles snapped and roads were impossible. Trees were coming down right behind you as fast as we were trying to get the residents out."

How long did it go on?

"The storm itself lasted four or five days," he said. "It just kept raining and freezing. The cleanup took months. We listened to it on the Watertown scanner. You could hear the freezing rain getting closer. You knew it wasn't going to be good. We were trying to put the sand down as fast as we could. It was unreal how fast it was icing up. An inch was on trees and power lines."

All in a Day's Work

Roger says wanting to be highway superintendent was in his blood. "My dad worked as a foreman for Clinton County for 36 years. I knew the ropes a little bit."

So how did he end up behind the super's desk?

"I worked for the town for 18 years before I became highway superintendent. I decided to run for the position when my former boss retired. I still love to plow snow, put in pipes, grade roads and operate heavy equipment. I still perform all those duties today as a working supervisor and enjoy every minute. You don't realize all the behind-the-scenes responsibilities you have from paperwork to budgets. It can be challenging to balance as a working superintendent."

Family First

Roger and wife, Donna, have been married for 36 years and have one daughter.

What does she say about her husband after all these years?

"I admire the heart and soul he has for his job and employees," she said. "It's inspiring to see the pride and satisfaction in any work task he tackles. I consider myself and our township lucky to have such a down-to-earth person who goes beyond any hour of the day or season. The motivation he has for his employees is something anyone from the outside would be envious of. He encourages them to succeed and strive to be the best at their workplace.

"Long term, our township will have a generation of employees that he's instilled a strong skill set and work ethic, which is something that doesn't happen overnight. His time and patience have been a big part of this. I've learned a lot from him over the years from operating equipment to building things. It's incredible how he never wants me — or anyone else — to feel like you have limitations. He'll tell you if it's something you want to learn, it takes time and patience. I know he'll be committed to teaching me."

In his spare time, Roger loves spending time with his wife, camping, boating and fishing on Lake Champlain. He also runs a maple sugar operation with his father.

"My grandfather made maple syrup, so we got into it. When he passed away, we bought the place and land from my grandmother and continued making the syrup. It's a small operation compared to some of them today, but it's growing. It's going to be my retirement."

When asked about that retirement, Roger claims it's too early to tell. "I'm running for another term. I haven't been thinking about it too much. I'd hate to retire and turn everything I've accomplished over to someone else. I like things the way they are … for now."

The Department

According to Roger, the town's facility was built in 1978. "From my understanding, the prisoners from Camp Gabriel helped build it. It's closed now, but that was the exact location up near Saranac Lake."

It also includes:

  • a seven-bay garage,
  • a parts room,
  • a fabricating and welding room,
  • an office, and
  • a breakroom

"The salt building was built in 2011. It's 75 feet wide and 175 feet long. It holds 5,000 yards of sand and salt mix and another 3,000 tons as needed. We also have a 40-foot wide by 100-foot long cold storage building that's used to store equipment inside."

As the highway department's "top dog," Roger is responsible for maintaining the town's 54.90 center lane miles of road; 12 of which are gravel. That translates into three plow routes that take approximately three to four hours to complete. That doesn't include plowing 39.14 lane miles for the Franklin County highway department.

"When I first started with the highway, we ran two people in a plow. Then we went to one person and a plow, which changed things. I run two shifts in the winter and three on days and two on nights. I've been running it that way since 2008. The boss before me started it and it seems to work well."

Together, Roger and his five-man crew serve the town's 3,100 residents. His staff includes MEO Mike Doyle, HEO Jesse Monette, HEO mechanic and deputy Ken Otis and laborers Nate Harrigan and David Hersey, who are in the process of getting their licenses.

"They're the type of crew where you don't have to babysit them. When I send them out to do something, they do it. I like it when the public tells me I have a good workers. I can give them a task and not have to micromanage them. They know what needs to be done and they work well together as a team. They make me proud and accomplished. I remind them of it often. I still like to jump on equipment when they let me."

Under Roger's guidance, the town of Chateaugay's highway department runs on a total operating budget of roughly $1,400,000 that includes $300,000 from CHIPS and PAVE NY plus Extreme Winter Recovery money.

To fulfill its responsibilities, the department uses a convoy of equipment consisting of:

  • 2020 International HX plow truck
  • 2019 International HX plow truck
  • 2014 Western Star 4700 plow truck
  • 2008 International 7600 plow truck
  • 2017 John Deere 624K
  • 2017 Hyundai HW180 excavator
  • 2015 Sakai SW502 roller
  • 2007 Komatsu D31EX dozer
  • 1996 John Deere 772BH grader
  • 2022 John Deere 6105 E tractor for roadside mowing
  • 2012 John Deere flex wing mower

Roger tries to do as much as he can in-house, such as transmissions and tires "except for any computer work. We can't do that. We have to send trucks out now and that's expensive depending on what's wrong. It's $2,000 just to put it on the computer to find out what's wrong. We pretty much run a new fleet to keep them in rotation and under warranty. That way, we don't have big bills."

What about budgeting for new equipment? "I budget $250,000 for new equipment every year whether I get it or not. Unless it's a year when we're going to replace a truck. Then I budget $300,000."

The department ordered a new plow dump truck for 2024. Roger would like to try and stay in a six-year rotation on the plow trucks if he can. "I'd also love to have a new grader as my piece of dream equipment."

Lightning Round

What's your favorite part of the job? "Working with the men, helping the people in the community and making the roads safer. I also enjoy going to highway school and meeting other superintendents."

Least favorite? "Budgeting and endless paperwork."

Most frustrating? "Getting everything in line for blacktopping and it rains for a week."

The most challenging? "Keeping the plow trucks running in the wintertime with all the new pollution filters on them."

Biggest accomplishment? "The pickleball court."

Biggest disappointment? "When COVID hit. It changed the state. It changed the world. A lot of new guidelines were put in place. We don't have the training we had before COVID. We used to do a lot of hands-on training. Now, everyone wants to use Skype. I find with the workers, hands-on training is better than Skype or doing it over computers or from the TV."

Surprised you the most? "How quickly my budget disappears."

Most memorable job experience? "Working on the cold storage building with my men. Setting rafters in 20-degree weather and wind blowing. Not one person complained, and we got the job done."

Most difficult? "There's not enough time in a day. Employees can't get time off in the winter and trying to work around giving their vacations in the summer and getting all the work done."

Most important part? "Making sure my men go home safe and the roads are safe for the public and the school buses with the little ones on them."

Most rewarding? "When someone tells you that you did a good job and I get to tell them it wasn't me. My men did the job."

Best day on the job? "I have many, but the best one was putting down 2,200 tons of blacktop with my men and a neighboring town in 12 hours."

Worst day? "We were blacktopping at about 3 p.m. when our blacktop paver broke down and we still had 240 tons of blacktop in the dump trucks. Also, when Hurricane Katrina came up the east coast."

Proudest moment? "Completing the recreation park in 2000."

What would you like to say to your crew? "They make me what I am today. They're the reason I want to come to work every day. If I didn't have a good group, I wouldn't be working today."

Projects? "The town has a seasonal road we're trying to work on and make it a full-time road. We have taxpayers buying land and wanting to build on their property. I'd also like to install a 20-foot by 200-foot culvert."

Last but not least, what's been your proudest moment (so far)? "Every day, I give the men a job to do and at the end of the day, they all take pride in what they've done. They go home feeling appreciated."

Final Thoughts

Like most highway supers, when it's all said and done Roger wants to be remembered for "doing a good job, helping people and keeping the town roads safe."

What more could the townspeople ask for?

About the Town of Chateaugay

Chateaugay is a town in Franklin County. As of the 2010 census, the town population was 2,155. The name is derived from a location in France, which was applied to a local land grant. Within the town is a village also named Chateaugay. The town is located in the northeastern corner of the county.

The first settlement took place in 1796. The town was formed in 1799 before Franklin County was established, from parts of the towns of Champlain and Plattsburgh. By 1802, Chateaugay comprised most of Franklin County. Subsequently, its territory was reduced to form other towns. The town of Malone was set off from Chateaugay in 1805. When Franklin County was established from Clinton County, part of Chateaugay remained in Clinton County. The town of St. Armand was taken off in 1822 and placed in Essex County. The remaining three towns derived from Chateaugay remained in Franklin County: Bellmont (1833) and Franklin (taken from Bellmont in 1834) and Burke (1844).

Chateaugay was the hometown of Orville H. Gibson, who founded the Gibson Guitar Corporation in 1902. He died on August 21, 1918, in St. Lawrence State Hospital, a psychiatric center in Ogdensburg.

In 1856, a tornado demolished more than 100 structures in the town. In 1868, the community of Chateaugay in the center of the town incorporated as a village.

Since 1934, the McCadam Cheese Cooperative (founded in 1876) has made cheddar cheese in Chateaugay.

The Chateaugay–Herdman Border Crossing was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2014 as the U.S. Inspection Station – Chateaugay, New York.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 49.8 square miles, of which 0.01 square miles or 0.02 percent, is water. The northern town line is the international border with Canada (Quebec), and the eastern town line is the border of Clinton County. U.S. Route 11 is an east-west highway crossing the central part of the town. New York State Route 374 is a north-south highway intersecting U.S.-11 at Chateaugay village. The Chateaugay River, a tributary of the Saint Lawrence River, flows northward through the town from Lower Chateaugay Lake. P