Winter is coming, and Jack Hayes is worried. The Ulster County legislator representing District 8, who lives in Gardiner, has been watching that big puddle on Route 208 just north of the Route 44/55 intersection grow and grow all year, through dry-weather spells as well as wet. “It hasn’t always been there,” says Hayes. “It has gotten significantly worse in the past year.” Hayes suspects that the source of the wet spot may be a leak in the New York City Water Supply Aqueduct infrastructure, which runs parallel to Route 208 for part of its length. “There seems to be seepage continuously,” Hayes observes. “It looks like it’s coming from the hillside, and the hillside is the Aqueduct.”
In fact, the spot in question — right near the entrance to the Ireland Corners General Store — may well be the point where two Aqueduct tunnels cross: a major one 200 to 300 feet deep, carrying a significant portion of the city’s water supply from the Ashokan Reservoir, and a smaller, shallower pipeline bringing water down from the Shawangunks to feed local municipal systems. “I believe there’s an intersection there,” says Hayes, noting that it’s difficult for the public to obtain access to maps of the water supply system. “I don’t think they want people to know. It’s a security issue.”
Hayes estimates that the affected stretch of Route 208 is submerged under an eighth to a quarter of an inch of water at all times, with the southbound lane more heavily impacted. He says that he has observed southbound traffic veering into the oncoming lane to avoid the puddle, and he is concerned that this will become a more serious driving hazard as freezing conditions begin to prevail. Moreover, the spot is located just before the Ireland Corners traffic light, where southbound cars are typically braking as they approach the intersection, so an increase in traffic accidents can likely be anticipated there this winter. The hazard is compounded by the high volume of traffic entering and exiting the General Store’s parking lot.
In his capacity as a member of the County Legislature’s Law Enforcement & Public Safety Committee, Hayes has seen this sort of problem before: in the Town of Wawarsing, where the leaking West Branch Tunnel has caused residents innumerable headaches due to sinkholes, well contamination and saturated septic fields. Accordingly, Hayes has recently written to the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) to request an investigation of the Route 208 seepage issue. Other public agencies, including the New York City Department of Environmental Protection and the Ulster County Traffic Safety Board, would also be involved in planning and executing a solution to the problem. “I am concerned that if the Route 208 water seepage in Gardiner is connected to an Aqueduct leak, there is absolutely no emergency response planning for a catastrophic failure,” Hayes wrote in his letter to NYSDOT director William Gorton.
“Hopefully we’ll get a reply from DOT soon,” says Hayes. “It’s obviously something that needs to be addressed.” In the meantime, motorists would be well-advised to exercise extra caution around the Ireland Corners intersection — especially when that mercury dips down below 32 degrees.