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November 27. 2012 8:17PM

Court to weigh in on Auburn work zone fight

AUBURN - A dispute over the town's traffic and work zone rules has set the Auburn Police Department and the board of selectmen at odds in what one participant called a "tit-for-tat" situation that the district court will ultimately have to settle.

There is a paragraph in Auburn's road work regulations that allows the town and the road work companies it hires some leeway in how they handle traffic at work sites, exempting them from most of the requirements so long as they keep up some kind of minimum traffic control.

What the two parties dispute is the extent to which the town is exempt - specifically when the town is required to call in a police detail to direct traffic and when regular traffic flaggers are sufficient.

The controversy began when the Auburn Police Department issued a summons against Advanced Excavating and Paving, the town's contracted paving company, on Sept. 13. The Allenstown company had been using their own flaggers instead of a police detail to direct traffic at a work site on Rattle Snake Hill Road, the practice the department believes to be a violation of the town's work road traffic ordinances.

The board of selectmen, however, countered that under the ordinance, the company was exempt because they were a town vendor doing town work. On Oct. 1, the board voted unanimously in support of Advanced Excavating and Paving, affirming their belief that the company was exempt from the rules the police department claims they broke, and thus that the summons against them was issued wrongfully.

On Oct. 26, Capt. Gary Bartis sent a letter to the town administrator and board of selectmen, notifying them of a second incident with the same circumstances. In it, he asked them to "take some action to stop this tit-for-tat situation that seems to be growing out of control."

The board discussed the letter at their Nov. 5 meeting, where it was decided that they had settled their position with the vote on Oct. 1.

Both parties believe the same paragraph in the rules, Section 6.2 of the Town's "Traffic Control in Construction Work Zones" ordinance, justify their positions. The section reads: "The Town of Auburn shall be exempt from the provisions of this ordinance when performing construction work on its own streets and bridges, either contracted or with the Town of Auburn Road Agent. However, the Town will adhere to the minimum type of work zone traffic control outlined in Appendix A and Appendix B."

The police department believes that the company failed to meet the "minimum types of work zone traffic control" and that roads such as Rattle Snake Hill Road are specified as requiring a police detail. The board believes that flaggers were sufficient, and perhaps even a "high level" of traffic control beyond what was required.

Ultimately, it is the 10th Circuit District Division Court in Candia, which will hear the case on Dec. 17, that will have to decide precisely what the ordinance means. Both parties expect their decision on the Advanced Excavating and Paving case will set a precedent that will determine how the ordinances are enforced in the future.

bclogston@newstote.com

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