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Duane Black will challenge incumbent Hewlett for Brasher highway superintendent

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BRASHER FALLS - A 55-year-old contractor from the North Lawrence area plans to challenge the incumbent for the highway superintendent’s post in the town of Brasher, and he says the town’s decision to move forward with building a million dollar highway garage pushed him into the race.

Duane Black of County Route 55, Brasher, just outside the hamlet of North Lawrence, is looking to unseat Larry Hewlett as Brasher highway superintendent, a position that Mr. Hewlett has held since the turn of the millennium.

Mr. Black recently filed a petition on the Independent line to challenge the incumbent, a Democrat, for the position and feels his previous experience makes him a good fit for the post.

“I’ve been a private contractor for 15 years with a construction business. I also have a two- year degree from SUNY Canton,” Mr. Black said. “I’ve got a journeyman card from the state of New York. and am a certified millwright. I’ve got 33 years working with General Motors, Alcoa, and paper mills in Potsdam. I also have a commercial driver’s license Class A so I can drive any vehicle.”

Mr. Hewlett has been the town’s highway superintendent since 2000. Mr. Black explained that he has been urged to run for the position in the past.

“There’s been a lot of concern in the community, and people asked me to run four years ago. I guess people have had issues or problems with the town of Brasher and elected officials there,” he said. “There’s a lot of talk of building a new garage. That’s what issues that I’ve heard about. I haven’t been in there personally to look at it, but it can’t be all that bad since it’s been there for a long time.

“People in Brasher asked me to run because they weren’t happy with what was going on there. I’m just hoping to help out.”

The current town garage located in Helena was purchased from the St. Lawrence Seaway for $1 in 1958, and they had to build the foundation and walls for the steel building that had served as a storage shed for the Seaway.

The building is not big enough for the highway department’s vehicles, hot air furnaces are hanging from the ceiling and some of the walls are crumbling and have needed repairs, Brasher officials said.

A salt shed and sand are also kept at a separate location owned by the town on Meyers Road, meaning highway personnel have to travel from the town garage to that site every time they need to load up.

Town officials purchased 5.35 acres of property from Leon Dishaw on County Route 53 in Helena for $35,000. The building project will be financed using money the town receives from the casino gaming compact rather than financing the project as an additional burden for taxpayers, according to Supervisor M. James Dawson. They currently have about $590,000 set aside for the project, which is estimated to cost around $1.2 million.

Mr. Black said he has been doing work on the town of Moira’s highway garage and thinks this would only be a benefit if he is elected highway superintendent.

“I’m putting a whole new face lift on the garage in Moira. We’re doing the whole new building at a tenth of the cost of that new building, the one they want to spend $1.5 million on, in Moira, which is 14 miles from Brasher,” he said. “I am more than qualified for the position. I am going to benefit the town and hope to help out a lot.”

Mr. Hewlett, 43, Maple Ridge Road, Brasher, is nearing the end of his third term and said he has enjoyed his tenure but also has some unfinished business to take care of.

“The employees I’ve had have been great to work with. I enjoy what I’m doing and the people in the town are good. I just enjoy what I’m doing. Am I perfect? No, I’m far from being perfect, but I think my time is best for the town,” Mr. Hewlett said.

“Overall, we’re trying to keep equipment up to goal, it’s tough in these times to do that. I’ve got some more stuff to do. I’d like to have the town barn built. This barn I have here now has been here since the ‘50s, and I’m hoping to bring us back to the 21st century. If we can afford it, we will try a newer type heating system. That’s what we’re shooting for, but we’re waiting to hear back about prices with fuel versus wood pellets. We’re looking at wood pellets now but it could be something different.”

Mr. Hewlett also noted that he has only three full-time employees and one part-time person. Most towns the size of Brasher have five employees, he said.

Mr. Hewlett said his career path led him to the highway superintendent’s post.

“I worked with construction with Seaway Timber for 12 or 13 years before I came here. I learned a lot with those people. I’ve lived in this town my whole life, and I’ve been around equipment and trucks pretty much my whole life,” Mr. Hewlett said.

As far as the future is concerned, Mr. Hewlett sees one primary issue facing the department.

“The cost of everything, particularly trucks. Trucks are now around $200,000 plus,” he said. “(Some issues) are replacing the equipment. I don’t want to have to get all this new equipment with raising the taxes. I’m stretching my trucks out for longer (time) now.”

The election for the town of Brasher’s highway superintendent position will be held in November.

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