Highway Superintendent Jamie Durant and the Town of Bombay

Fri January 01, 2021 - National Edition
By Lori Lovely


If you don't get an answer when you call the Town of Bombay Highway Department, be patient. Highway Superintendent Jamie Durant doesn't have a secretary to take calls and he may be out plowing the 62.16 lane miles in the town or the 25.56 miles in the county. Or he may have popped over to his farm, which is just a quarter-mile from his office, to check on his cattle.

“One benefit of the job is that I can check on things when I need to,” he said.

He even designed one of the three plow routes to go by the farm so he could keep an eye on his cows, especially during birthing season in January, when cold weather could be detrimental to a newborn calf.

But rest assured that Jamie is working hard and has his town's best interests foremost in his mind. Without a secretary to handle the paperwork, the dedicated superintendent spends many hours in the office, organizing for the next town meeting or doing the bookkeeping in preparation for payroll or one of many other tasks that fall on him to complete.

Keeping It in the Family

Jamie became superintendent in 2011 after his brother, the then-superintendent, left to go back to construction work.

“When my brother resigned in June, the deputy took over,” Jamie said.

The town board advertised the position, but they also went to Jamie to gauge his interest. It wasn't an outlandish move, and it wasn't based on nepotism. Not only was Jamie the former republican town chairman, having served on the board, but he also did repair work for the town in his shop.

Jamie grew up on a dairy farm, where his father raised Holsteins. After finishing high school, he took a job as an auto mechanic at the Ford garage and got training in electronics. He bought one and a half acres of his dad's farm, where he put up a house and garage to work on cars. When his business enterprise thrived, he hired three mechanics and bought a couple tow trucks.

After his dad retired in 2000, Jamie purchased the rest of the farm. Now totaling 210 acres, the farm is home to registered Red Angus and registered American British White Parks beef cattle. Jamie had had enough of twice-a-day milking: no more dairy cows.

Jamie breeds and shows in several beef classes, starting with the January yearling and calf classes. He's gone as far as Wyoming, South Dakota and Iowa to purchase quality Angus to breed. The White Parks are a rare, polled and docile breed — one of the oldest breeds in the industry.

But when the town approached him about finishing his brother's term, Jamie said it was “one of those days when nothing was going right.” A $20 tire change ended up costing him hundreds when the tire sensors failed and he agreed to appease an unhappy customer by replacing them. There were other considerations, including the fact that he was paying for his own health insurance and, as a self-employed business owner, had no retirement fund.

“It was time for the next chapter,” he decided. He was appointed highway superintendent in October 2011. Looking back, he said he's glad he took the job. “Things happen for a reason.”

His background in mechanical work and business management is an asset in his role. Being on the town board and understanding the budget, expenditures and appropriations — in addition to the relationships he forged on the board — are added benefits that make him a good fit for the position.

His two-year term expires in January 2022, at which time he thinks he'll run for re-election. Even though he has always run unopposed, he takes nothing for granted and is humble about his chance of winning another term.

Bombay

In a town with a population of 1,300, though, Jamie is unlikely to have a lot of competition for the position. The small town on the Little Salmon River, just 5 mi. from the Canadian border, has a general store, a post office and a museum situated in a duplicated old railroad station, but not a lot more. Both the slipper factory and the t-shirt factory moved. The main employers in the area now are the three state prisons (one maximum security, the other two medium security), the casino, the Alcoa aluminum plant and the school.

Part of the Macomb Purchase of 1791 (and originally named Macomb) by a land speculator when the state of New York first offered the former Iroquois territory for sale, the town of Bombay is a small hamlet that was settled in 1805 and incorporated in 1833.

It was eventually named after the birthplace of the wife of Michael Hogan, an Irish ship captain who traded in East India and married a woman from Bombay, when Hogan bought 20,000 acres north of the Adirondack Mountains. His son once served as town supervisor before being appointed as a judge and later elected to Congress.

Located in Franklin County north of Adirondack Park, a 6-million-acre mountain region famous for its 46 high peaks, with a range of outdoor recreation, Bombay isn't far from the St. Lawrence River. The Dwight D. Eisenhower Lock, just a few miles away in Massena, offers an observation deck to watch the massive cargo vessels pass through.

For those who feel lucky, the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino also is nearby, offering slot machines, table games, entertainment and dining. It's so close, in fact, that while the casino itself is part of the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation, the parking lot is in Bombay.

The reservation has a population of approximately 3,300 people and is adjacent to the Akwesasne reserve in Ontario and Quebec, Canada. Because the entire community is considered one unit, there are 7 mi. of unprotected border that allow residents to travel freely across the international border. The reservation gained fame as the setting of the Tom Swift children's book series in the early 1900s and the 2008 movie Frozen River.

The Mohawk comprise one of the original Five Nations of the Iroquois League based in present-day New York and Pennsylvania. The land they occupy was part of the 1796 Treaty with the United States; they consider it a sovereign nation and dispute the town of Bombay's claim to jurisdiction.

However, after the Tribal government adopted gambling in the 1980s, it entered into an agreement with the state that allows the tribe to operate slot machines in exchange for splitting 25 percent of the profits between the state, Franklin County and the towns of Bombay and Fort Covington, in addition to St. Lawrence County and its towns of Brasher and Massena. The town of Bombay typically uses its casino-compact money on road repairs, recreation upgrades and to help fund the fire department.

Work By the Numbers

Jamie makes efficient use of an operating budget of $212,152 ($63,124 of which comes from taxes and $77,902 from CHIPS — although they got only 80 percent of the funds this year due to COVID-19). While that may seem like a limited budget to some municipalities, he's pleased about knowing how much he has to spend, unlike in his personal business, where income can fluctuate and is never guaranteed.

Nevertheless, he is frugal with the funds. Fortunately, the bridges are maintained by the county, there are no water or sewer facilities to maintain, and the general fund pays a subcontractor to mow the parks and cemeteries and maintain the buildings and grounds.

An additional money-saver comes in the form of shared service agreements with nearby towns. Sometimes they borrow equipment from each other for special projects or they might do blacktop projects together.

Budgets really come into play with the fleet. When Jamie realized that they used their dozer only about 10 hours a year to put up sand, he sold it. “I'd rather see taxpayer money go to better use.” When he needs one now, he either leases or borrows one.

It's about the only piece of equipment he leases. The town owns the rest of the fleet and the highway department maintains it all in-house, which saves a considerable amount of money.

“Before I started,” Jamie said, “they spent $80,000 to $100,000 a year on repairs and maintenance.”

To stretch his budget even further, he's working on a game plan for rotating the fleet.

“I'm trying to figure out how long we can run the equipment,” he said. “Our oldest plow truck is a 2011 International 7600 series tandem axle. It will go up for sale next year.”

In a couple more years, he anticipates selling the 2013 International, and a few years after that, the 2015 model. “The tractors, backhoes and the loader should last 10 years,” he said.

The rest of his fleet includes:

• 2014 International mini dump truck

• 2017 John Deere 624 front-end wheel loader

• 2017 backhoe

• 1998 John Deere 778 road grader

• 2016 M5-111 Kubota front-end tractor for mowing

• 2017 L5460 Kubota front-end tractor for mowing

• 2022 Chevy 3500 series pickup

Payroll doesn't take a big chunk out of the budget because there are only two full-time employees besides Jamie: his brother, Aaron, the former superintendent, who came back as deputy superintendent, and Derek King. The three of them work Monday through Friday, 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the winter; summer hours are Monday through Thursday, 6 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Building

The three-man crew works out of a garage built in 1958, but the town currently is in the process of building a new garage and salt storage shed just a mile and a half away. The work was let to bid and the contractor began doing ground prep, but work is largely at a standstill due to COVID-19 and the budget shortfall as a result of not receiving much compact money with the casino closed during the pandemic. However, it's one of Jamie's goals to see the new garage built while he's in office.

Once the new garage is finished, the existing building will be used for storage. The town currently is leasing storage, Jamie said, but those buildings are for sale, and if a buyer turns up, they could be looking for space in a hurry. Until it's built, they'll continue using the existing 100-ton salt building and keep sand outside.

Other buildings include the town office, which serves as the food pantry once a month, and the recreation park community center on the Little Salmon. That facility includes a soccer field, volleyball court, ball diamond and walking path — all built with compact money.

In Jamie's office, the equipment is basic: laptop, copier and fax machine. He uses two-way radios or cell phones to communicate with his crew, but said he prefers the radios. In fact, they come in handy because cell service can be spotty, and even more so during a winter storm. He notifies the general public of road closures through the 911 system via radio. “We had a big snowstorm a couple years ago. I told 911 about road closures and flooding. We use radios to communicate with the fire department and 911.”

Projects, Goals, Accomplishments

In addition to his desire to complete the new garage, Jamie focuses on road maintenance and getting the roads brought up to standard. He hopes to widen them all to 20 ft., complete ditching and cut brush along them.

He also wants to turn more gravel roads into paved roads. There are 7.09 gravel town miles and he hopes to make a certain percentage of them paved each year. But there's a hitch. The Amish community in the area use steel wheels on their buggies. “They're hard on the blacktop, so I'm working with the Amish, but those roads may stay gravel.”

During the winter, he likes to keep the roads clean. He designed three plow routes — one for each of them, he said — to help people get to work. Each route takes about 2-1/2 hours, but he'll spend extra time to hit the main arteries more often for the bus drivers and others who need to get to work early.

That's just one example of his dedication to the community. As a business owner himself, Jamie understands the need to respond to residents and address their concerns. “I know that their concerns are important, so I treat them as I want to be treated.”

Rollin' With Life

There is no best day or worst day for Jamie, who said of life's ups and downs, “you just gotta' roll with it.” Doing his job satisfies him every day: “fixing roads, making roads safe in the winter, working on community projects like the parking lot for the ball diamond…”

He will admit that his least favorite part of the job is paperwork. He'd much prefer to plow snow, even if some days he has to “white-knuckle it and look for a fence post to stay on the road.” He also likes running the equipment and doing earthmoving jobs.

But it's no secret that the heart of this highway superintendent is on the farm.

“It doesn't get easier as you get older,” he said, “but anything to do with the farm is very rewarding. I look forward to the relaxation of getting on the tractor and making hay. If I could make enough money on the farm, I would do just farming.”

Because the farm isn't making a lot of money, he considers it a hobby instead of a career. Nevertheless, he takes enormous pleasure in showing the cattle he has bred and raised, working with a black and white paint horse he rescued three years ago and in restoring farm equipment. His memberships in the Red Angus Association, American British White Park Association and the Antique Tractor Club are a testament to his interests, just as his memberships in the Franklin County Highway Superintendent Association and his position as former member of the fire department (as first assistant chief) document his professional life.

Jamie's son, Josh, is a sheriff's deputy in Tennessee and his daughter, Meggie, is a phlebotomist in Vermont. Closer to home is his best friend, Charlie, a wild coy dog who formerly lived in an old car. The 15-year-old dog is known in the area because he was often spotted walking down the middle of the road on his way to the garage to wait for Jamie to finish work. “I don't know how he never got hit. I bought a reflective collar and put his phone number on it. I used to get calls, but now everyone knows Charlie.”

If Charlie isn't coaxing him back to the farm, Jamie can be found diligently fulfilling his duties as highway superintendent and taking care of his community, whether he's plowing snow, repairing machinery or doing the dreaded paperwork. P

This story also appears on Superintendent's Profile.




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