Highways Superintendent & Public Works Commissioner Brian Sherman and the Town of Shelter Island
Sondra Rossi – Profile EDITORIAL ASSISTANT - April 2023
Brian Sherman's job is extremely diverse — he serves a dual role of superintendent of Highways and Commissioner of Public Works on a unique location: an island town.
On any given day, he may be working on a highway project, a project in the recycling center or be involved in building a new office for the town or village, before ending the day out on the water with the town boat because one of the buoys got loose. The next day could involve working on a project for the composting center and finishing the day with a mowing project.
Luckily for Brian, he had good teachers in his predecessors.
"The first highway superintendent I worked for was Frank Klenawicus," he said. "He came from a contracting background, and he taught me how to operate machines. As a kid growing up, I had baled hay with him. When he became superintendent, he held the job for about 20 years. But he had a contractor background before becoming a highway superintendent and he shared a lot of that contractor knowledge with me.
"The next superintendent I worked with was Alfred Kilb. He was a carpenter by trade, and he taught me an entirely different set of skills. The next superintendent I worked with was Mark Ketchum. Following Mark was Jay Card, who was a retired police officer. From Jay I learned the importance of organization and policy. He updated all the policies and procedures that we work with now.
"I have learned from each one, and with my own knowledge and experience from 30 years on the job, I have been well positioned to be successful as Shelter Island's superintendent of highways. As is the case with many highway superintendents, I kind of fell into the job. I was close to retirement and the current highway superintendent resigned. I took an interview with the town board, and they appointed me the position. The following year I ran for office unopposed and was elected."
Brian's first year in office was 2019 and his current term expires Dec. 31, 2023. Each term is a two-year term. For the position of superintendent of highways, he is elected; for the position of commissioner of public works, he is appointed by the town board. He started working for the highway department in 1989 and in 1992, he moved to the solid waste department where he became foreman.
There are a lot of challenges that come with running a municipality on an island, including the logistical fact that unless you own your own boat, everything has to come on to the island via ferry and leave the island via ferry. The two ferry crossings — from either Greenport, Long Island, or North Haven, N.Y. — are connected by New York State Route 114, which crosses the island.
There is a very limited amount of building supplies/materials available. Basic vehicle repairs can be done, but anything that is complex has to be shipped off the island.
"Being located on an island we try to be as self-sufficient as possible," Brian said. "That is particularly the case with the maintenance and repair of our trucks. We do not want to put a truck or vehicle on the ferry to go to a repair shop unless it's absolutely necessary. So, our own mechanics take care of all town vehicles including police, ambulance, town cars, town buses, highway equipment, recycling equipment and town boats.
"Our equipment fleet is now kept pretty well up to date. That was not always the case. Decades ago, our rule of thumb was to replace a piece of equipment when it was no longer operable. Our last superintendent worked with the town board to put a better plan of action in place and today our fleet is pretty much up to date."
Some of the more recent excavating and earthmoving purchases have been a Kobelco excavator, a Hyundai loader, a Gehl tracked loader, as well as a Gehl wheeled skid steer loader. All of those were purchased from All Island Equipment in Babylon, N.Y.
"Gary Wade, the owner of All Island Equipment, and his brother Darrell, have done a fantastic job of getting us the equipment we need at very low prices and the equipment they are getting us is very reliable. I believe I have only seen their service truck over here once."
Shelter Island's Mack trucks and Kenworth trucks came from Gabrielli Trucks located on the Mainland. The town currently is in the process of purchasing a Freightliner truck from Long Island Freightliner that is being equipped by Trius Equipment with a hook body, a couple of boxes and a plow.
Shelter Island does lease some of its equipment, including a new Mack tractor, a new Hyundai loader and three Kenworth dump trucks. Its fleet is under a continuous updating system, and they just ordered a new hook-lift truck with containers that they can drop on the shoulder of the road and load.
"Loading a container sitting on the road will be much easier than trying to load a truck body with items like brush and tree limbs and will do less damage to the truck body. We are also in need of a tractor with a cab and boom mower. The one we currently have is on its last legs."
The town's equipment inventory includes:
- CEC Road Runner screening plant;
- (4) Chevy dump trucks;
- Kobelco excavator;
- Eager Beaver trailer;
- Diamond Z horizontal grinder;
- (3) Kenworth trucks with dump bodies;
- 4 Recycling balers;
- (3) Chevy Silverado 2500 pickup trucks;
- Hudson skid steer;
- Mack tractor trailer;
- Cat IT28G loader;
- Hyundai 955A wheel loader;
- Cat 450C backhoe; and
- Cat 938H.
Like any other township, within the town there are county roads and state roads. But, because of the isolation of being an island, the Shelter Island township often finds itself having to clean up the roads after a storm and doing basic emergency repairs. It also handles all of the snow removal for the county and state and are reimbursed, accordingly.
"We have four plowing routes, and during an unlikely snow event a full loop takes about four hours," Brian said.
The town has 114 lane miles of roads of which 99 are municipal, 10 are county and 4.8 are state roads. All of those roads are maintained by the town of Shelter Island. There is only one bridge on the island that they are responsible for.
Shelter Island used to do its own paving with an old-fashioned box paver. It was slow and it was wasteful, but those were the days when asphalt was very inexpensive, Brian said.
"Bear in mind that every load of asphalt must come over on the ferry. It has just worked out to be far more economical for us to contract out our paving.
"Currently our roads are in pretty good shape, and we really have to keep them that way. Our temporary residents who come in from the city are pretty demanding. Not just if there is a pothole in the road, if there is water or debris in the road, believe me we hear about it."
Supply, Worker Shortages
Supply change shortages have been a challenge. Brian used one example of road paint. He is unable to get road paint to highlight the lines on the roads.
Because of the isolation of the island, getting any kind of skilled labor projects completed is difficult. There is a shortage of skilled tradesmen to begin with, very few of them live on the island, the demand for that kind of work is very high and as a result they can demand their own price. So, getting even the smallest type of minor home repairs done can be a major problem.
"The cost of living is pretty high on the island," Brian said. "Homes are quite expensive on the island, which creates its own set of challenges when it comes to hiring employees."
Currently, there are 16 full-time crew members: Dave Clark, highway foreman;
Albert Labrozzi, highway/bay constable; Ray Congdon, mechanic; Aidan Mysliborski, mechanic; Brett Page; Mike Mitchell; Martin Hunt; Ken Lewis; Robert Brewer; Wesley Congdon; Ron Jernick, solid waste foreman; Mike Gulluscio; Mike Reiter; Anthony Reiter; Nick Ryan, Public Works; Ron Anderson, Public Works; Debbie Speeches, secretary; and Amanda Gutiw, secretary.
There are seven part-time crew/staff members, including cleaning personnel Giovanna Ketcham, Linda Cass, Tracy Gibbs, Debbie Brewer and Lauren Sandwald; and solid waste's Max Maksym and James Thilberg.
COVID Creates Population Surge
In the summertime, a lot of what Brian's crew is involved in is keeping the beaches clean and the garbage picked up. Summertime big crowds have always been a big issue for Shelter Island, but it's become even more complex with the onset of COVID: many people who used to come and go are now staying. Where typically the island's population would go from 2,700 to 10,000 in the summertime, as a result of COVID there is now approximately 3,500 year-round residents.
"People that would normally never show up until summertime were showing up in March. We had far more people on the island in the middle of a contagious disease health crisis than we were used to having at that time of the year.
"One of the first things that people started doing was getting rid of stuff out of their houses and putting it out on the street and expecting it to be picked up. Our department was already stretched to the max and we had no idea if the stuff being put out could be potentially contagious or not, and we weren't getting great guidance from the CDC on what protocols to do. But we managed to pull together and work our way through it.
"Every department, whether it was our EMTs, our firemen or the people working in our recycling department, were working in a situation where you were never sure, at least at the beginning, if you were safe or not. It was my job to try to find every possible protocol to make sure that they were as safe as possible. All of this while we were completely overwhelmed with extra people on the island."
For the highway department, another issue was road maintenance. According to Brian, it's critical for the summer crowds to leave as its virtually impossible to do any kind of road maintenance until the crowds have dispersed.
One unique aspect of the job in the town of Shelter Island is managing the 40 boat landings and ramps. There is water access just about everywhere and water does damage and boat landings need to be maintained.
In addition to the boat landings, there is approximately 4,000 linear ft. of bulkhead that protects the shoreline. The bulkhead gets pounded by the ocean waters and virtually every year some section of that bulkhead needs to be replaced.
"We take care of waterways and the dredging of canals for safe navigation as well as buoys and channel markers," Brian said.
"Since being in office, we have replaced four different bulkheads at town landings; we like to try to replace one per year. We added another groin to one of the beaches to stop erosion, did a complete renovation and added ADA standards to one bathroom at the public beaches. We replaced the bathroom at the other public beach, and we are adding a pavilion structure."
Buoy maintenance is another unique job for the town of Shelter Island. Buoys have to be maintained and repaired. Sometimes they get hit by boats or get moved out of place; that's where the town's fleet of boats comes into play. A very severe storm can move the buoys.
There're not a lot of highway superintendents whose job includes golf course management, but the town of Shelter Island owns a nine-hole golf course with club house. The actual maintenance of the course is left up to a third party that rents the golf course from the town, but maintaining the club house, and bigger projects like tee boxes falls into the care of the town.
Shelter Island is approximately 8,000 acres in size and much of the island is protected wetlands and nature preserved marshland. Its 23 parks and preserved lands, which total more than 300 acres with trails that the public can use and enjoy year-round, are maintained by Brian's team.
Nearly one-third of the island is owned by The Nature Conservatory to be forever preserved in a wild state. The preserve has numerous nature and bird-watching trails.
Garbage Pickup, Recycling
The town closed its landfill back in the 1990s; its recycling center is designed to recycle virtually anything that can possibly be recycled, and its composting facility is put into play to handle anything that's biodegradable. The remaining solid waste that cannot be processed is loaded onto a 100-yard walking floor trailer that's put on the ferry and taken to the landfill in Brookhaven.
Garbage pickup is not provided to the residents, it's up to the residents to bring their trash and recyclables to the recycling center. At the recycling center there is a scale house with a computer system that runs and keeps track of everything coming and going.
Brian and his crew built a 120-ft. by 55-ft. cover over the entire recycling center to keep the people — and the recycling equipment — out of the weather.
"There was thousands of dollars' worth of equipment just sitting out there in an open lot. A $200,000 baling machine was getting exposed to rain and snow, so back in 2019, when I was in charge of that department, one of the first things that I did was get a $35,000 budget to put the whole operation under roof. Now, even on the hottest day you're stepping into the shade while you process your recyclables.
"We were one of the first towns on Long Island to cap and close their landfill back in the early 1990s. Now we bail and market our own recycled material. Plastic, metal, paper, cardboard, etc."
In total, the Shelter Island Public Works department receives approximately 9,000 tons of material a year, including municipal garbage, construction debris, recyclables, brush, stumps and leaves. The leaves are ground and from that the town makes its own compost, some of which is mixed with topsoil and is sold back to the residents.
A unique piece of equipment that Shelter Island owns, at least for municipalities, is a Diamond Z 4000 horizontal grinder, which is used for processing the collected wood, limbs and branches for the composting facility.
"For years, we stockpiled and hired a contractor to come in and do our grinding for us. But the stockpiling used a lot of valuable space, and we were always limited to the contractor's schedule. We purchased the Diamond Z model 4000, which is a tracked machine, from Construction & Industrial Supply in Lodi, N.J. Jack Moninger, president of the company, and his staff John Wright and Brian Hartensveld were great at selecting the right machine for our needs and the tracked machine was perfect. It literally drives down the rows of wood waste and creates our compost windrows for us.
"Another unique machine we have that some other municipalities use, but is not real common, is our own screening plant. We have a CEC Roadrunner that we bought from Atomic Truck and Lance Connelly in Fort Plain, N.Y. If you are going to make compost and do a lot of the other recycling things that we do a screening plant is essential."
Shelter Island also has its own hazardous waste facility that it runs every month
There also is no sewage treatment facility on Shelter Island, residents have their own septic systems and wells. There are a few small water and sewer districts on the island, but those are private.
Accomplishments … Goals
"In 2007, we built a new highway building with offices and workshops below. Upstairs are two offices, public bathrooms with showers and a storage room. Downstairs includes a 6,000 square foot mechanics shop with a vehicle lift and a 50,000-pound machine lift as well as the public works shop and parts room. The building is heated by recycled oil with radiant floor heat.
"In the highway yard, we have a fuel depot that holds 6,000 gallons of both gas and diesel, a 20 x 70 salt/sand storage building with a 200-ton capacity and multiple sheds for the storage of signs, cones, and work flags. In the shop we have a fabrication area with grinders and welders, a vehicle lift for small trucks, police cars and other town vehicles."
Brian and his staff also renovated and added insulation and air conditioning to the youth center building that was built in the 1950s, expanded the town hall parking lot, added kayak racks to all town landings and built the roof over the recycling center.
"Our town infrastructure is very old, and every time we fix or replace something it's a hassle because it opens up a can of worms.
"COVID, for example, we put all town employees behind glass, something that was never done before because this is a small town where everybody knows everybody. When we started to do the small renovations and put up glass for a protective barrier for the employees we ran into all sorts of problems because the buildings were so old and had been added to over the years.
"We are trying to talk the town board into a new facility for the future. There are seven HVAC systems in the town hall complex alone that cost a lot of money throughout the course of a year. If we could consolidate to a single building it would probably pay for itself."
A current project in the planning phase is planning an ADA Accessibility for the police department, which was built in 1932.
"There are certainly other projects that we would like to tackle, but there are so many disruptions in the supply chain we cannot get the materials that we need to properly do the jobs."
Shelter Island has a total operating budget of $3.8 million. Its annual CHIPS allocation is $236,000.
Family Ties … Future Plans
Brian Sherman was born and raised on Shelter Island and has lived there his entire life. He and his wife, Gina, have three children: Jessica, age 36, who is a nurse living in Summerville, S.C., with her husband, Troy, and two children, Benjamin, age 10, and Alexander, age 6; Taylor, age 26, an accountant who lives in Phoenix, N.Y., with her fiancé, Josh; and Isabella, age 22, who is a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army, currently stationed in Vermont.
Brian and Gina enjoy traveling, particularly to Daytona Beach, the NYS Fair and to visit their daughters. Recently, Brian and Gina purchased a motorhome preparing for the retirement that's not too far off in the future.
About Shelter Island
Located on the eastern end of Long Island in Suffolk County, N.Y., Shelter Island is nestled between the north and south forks of Long Island and is surrounded on three sides by the Shelter Island Sound and on the fourth side by Gardiners Bay.
The island was originally inhabited by indigenous people who were related to the same people who lived on the Long Island Sound at the time that the Europeans first visited the island. The tribe was called the Manhansset Tribe, an Algonquin speaking people who were related to the Pequot people of New England. Shelter Island was known by the Manhansset Indians as Manhansack-Aha-Quash-Awamock which means "Island sheltered by the islands".
Shelter Island was included in the original Plymouth Company Land Grant by James I of England in 1620. The island changed hands several times for potential colonization and in 1651 Stephen Goodyear sold the island to a group of Barbados sugar merchants for $1,600 pounds of sugar. At that time, Nathaniel Sylvester, one of the sugar merchants, became the island's first white settler.
Modern-day Shelter Island is largely enjoyed by people of significant means who enjoy a quiet, remote way of life only a little more than an hour away from the hustle and bustle of New York City. The celebrities who visit don't create any challenges, according to Brian.
"They come to Shelter Island to not be noticed. They tend to stay to themselves."
The island abounds with great fishing, clamming, osprey and golden forsythia. There also are ongoing issues with an overpopulation of deer and wild turkeys.
There are a few modern niceties that the residents do not have access to, such as no malls, no strip plazas, no fast-food restaurants. But there is a pharmacy, a book store, two hardware stores and a grocery store. There are a number of inns — no chain hotels — some casual dining, some fine dining, golf courses, tennis courts, a yacht club, and, of course, pristine beaches. There also is a wide variety of architecture from pristine Victorians on the hillsides overlooking the yacht club to ultra-contemporary architecture. P
(History courtesy of Wikipedia.com.)