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Your Peace of Mind Dealer
O'Mara rips Cuomo's transit board veto
Special to The Odessa File
"Over the past several years we've built a strong case for this action, which has been reflected in the fact that this year it finally received nearly unanimous legislative support. Governor Cuomo's veto ignores the realities facing the ability of our localities to provide a service our residents absolutely depend on for many necessities. We need to take steps to ensure the long-term operation and viability of public transportation systems throughout the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions, and across Upstate New York.
"For thousands upon thousands of Upstate residents, these systems provide critical links to jobs, medical appointments, school, shopping destinations, and other necessities. Our public transit systems also stand as cornerstones of regional transportation networks vital to economic development, job growth, anti-poverty and housing initiatives, energy and environmental conservation. Governor Cuomo has put this challenge off for another day. That unfairly and unacceptably keeps Upstate public transportation systems at risk."
Appeals Court rejects hotel tax challenge
Special to The Odessa File
ALBANY, Oct. 27, 2016 -- The New York State Court of Appeals has let stand a prior ruling that vacation rentals may be taxed along with hotels and motels -- upholding Schuyler County’s local hotel tax on vacation rentals and other tourist facilities.
The court issued the order Thursday, denying a motion for leave to appeal filed by Thomas Schneider, owner of “Seneca Lake Vacation Rentals,” and thus letting stand a June holding from the Supreme Court, Appellate Division, that the Schuyler County Treasurer properly applied the four percent local tax to those properties
In 2014, the Schuyler County Treasurer found that Schneider owed $6,100 in back taxes under the "Schuyler County Hotel or Motel Room Occupancy Tax Law.” Under that local law, Schuyler County imposes a 4% local tax upon the rent for every occupancy of a room or rooms in a hotel, motel, bed and breakfast or tourist facility having one or more rooms in the county. The purpose of the tax, officials say, is to promote local tourism and to enhance the local economy.
Schneider, a resident of New Jersey, had argued that his properties were exempt from the tax as “bungalows” under regulations of the State Commissioner of Taxation and Finance. He sued in state court to overturn the treasurer’s findings, but his lawsuit was dismissed. He then filed an appeal to the Third Judicial Department, Supreme Court, Appellate Division.
In the previous appeal, Schneider’s attorneys, Schlather, Stumbar, Parks & Salk argued that the properties could not be taxed because they are furnished and do not provide housekeeping, food or other common hotel services.
Representing the County Treasurer, Schuyler County Attorney Steven Getman argued on appeal that the state exemption was specifically limited to state-administered taxes, not locally administered hotel or room taxes. The local tax, Getman said, more broadly defined hotels and motels to include “bed and breakfasts” and “tourist’ facilities,” such as bungalows.
In its decision, the Appellate Division ruled that the State Commissioner's interpretation does not apply to the locally administered tax. The court noted that other local taxes, including the City of New York’s, did not exempt bungalows and that the definition of "hotel" in the enabling statute was expansive enough to include bungalows such as the properties owned by Schneider. Therefore, the Appellate Division stated, the prior decision upholding the treasurer should be affirmed.
In addition, the Appellate Division rejected Schneider’s argument that the retroactive imposition of the tax against his property was unjust. Schneider had been operating his vacation rental business for approximately five years, but had never filed a tax return with the county treasurer’s office, due to his belief that the “bungalow exception” excused his doing so.
In July 2016, after the Appellate Division ruled against him, Schneider’s attorneys moved the Court of Appeals for leave to appeal to that court. The county attorney opposed.
On Thursday, the Court of Appeals issued an order denying Schneider’s request to appeal. It also imposed $100 in costs.
The Court of Appeals decision, Getman explained, means that the prior decisions upholding the county’s tax become final and binding.
Today’s order can be found here: https://www.scribd.com/document/329120066/Schneider-v-Schuyler-County-Order-Denying-Appeal-2016-10-27
The prior decision being appealed (and upholding the tax) can be found here: http://decisions.courts.state.ny.us/ad3/Decisions/2016/521671.pdf
Schneider’s motion papers can be found here: https://www.scribd.com/document/329120068/Schneider-v-Schuyler-Motion-Leave-to-Appeal-2016-07-14
The county’s opposition papers can be found here: https://www.scribd.com/document/329120067/Schneider-v-Schuyler-County-Response-2016-07-26
Forest Service provides hunter safety tips
Special to The Odessa File
HECTOR, Oct. 26, 2016 -- With rifle season fast approaching, Forest Service officials on the Finger Lakes National Forest (FLNF) are encouraging the public to use extra caution and to be visible and mindful of their surroundings in the coming weeks. Saturday, November 19 marks the opening day of the white-tailed deer hunt in New York, a lifelong tradition for many New Yorkers and visitors to the Empire State.
Suicide ends Predatory Sexual Abuse trial
Special to The Odessa File
WATKINS GLEN, Oct. 13 -- The defendant in a Predatory Sexual Abuse trial in Schuyler County Court committed suicide by gunshot Wednesday morning in Montour Falls, bringing the trial -- which had been scheduled for closing arguments that day -- to an end. It also terminated plans for a second, related trial on Child Pornography charges against the same defendant.
The Schuyler County District Attorney's office, in a press release, said that Timothy R. Kelly, 57, of Watkins Glen was being tried on two counts of Predatory Sexual Offense Against A Child in a trial that started last week. Kelly had also been charged by a Schuyler County Grand Jury with "numerous counts of Possession of Child Pornography," which were severed from the Sexual Offense counts into a separate, future trial under a ruling by presiding Judge Gerald Keene.
Judge Keene, the Tioga County Court Judge, was handling the trial "due to a conflict for Schuyler County Court Judge Dennis Morris," the DA's press release said, adding:
"On Wednesday, October 5, 2016, a jury was empaneled after nearly 150 potential jurors were selected. The prosecution, handled by Schuyler County District Attorney Joseph Fazzary, presented its case from Wednesday through Friday last week. Fazzary rested his case Tuesday morning after calling 11 witnesses, including a sexual assault nurse examiner, two DNA witnesses from the New York State Police Forensic Investigation Center in Albany, and an expert on child sexual assault from New York City. The defense called three witnesses on Tuesday, October 11. Timothy Kelly did not testify.
"(Wednesday) morning, shortly before summations were to commence, DA Fazzary was informed that he needed to immediately contact Schuyler County Sheriff William Yessman. Upon doing so, he learned that the defendant may have committed suicide. Fazzary took defense attorney James Baker of Ithaca to the remote scene where the suicide had taken place (off of Rock Cabin Road in Montour Falls). After the body of Timothy Kelly was positively identified by his lawyer, Fazzary and Baker returned to the courtroom to advise Judge Keene. The jury was discharged and both cases against Timothy Kelly were dismissed.
"Kelly's body was discovered by a bow hunter in the area after he heard a gunshot."
Suit against Corning, Schuyler dismissed
Special to The Odessa File
ROCHESTER, NY, Oct. 12 -- A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by the family of a man who froze to death after fleeing law enforcement officials.
Plaintiffs Charles Harrison and Kathryn Harrison filed a complaint claiming that the Schuyler County Sheriff’s Department and City of Corning Police Department violated their rights and the rights of their deceased adult son, Joshua Harrison, in connection with a police chase that ended in Joshua Harrison’s death.
According to the Schuyler County Attorney's Office, court documents showed:
"On the night of February 5, 2015, Joshua Harrison was involved in a motor vehicle accident in the City of Corning that caused damage to another vehicle, and then fled from the scene. Corning police officers attempted to pull the car over. Joshua refused to pull over and kept driving. The officers pursued Joshua out of the City of Corning and into the County of Schuyler, where members of the Schuyler County Sheriff’s Department joined in the pursuit.
The County Attorney's office continued:
"On November 25, 2015, Plaintiffs commenced their action. On January 22, 2016, the City of Corning Defendants filed a motion to dismiss. On January 25, 2016, the Schuyler County Defendants also filed a motion to dismiss. On March 8, 2016, Plaintiffs filed an opposition to Defendants’ motions to dismiss, and a cross-motion for leave to amend the Complaint. On May 24, 2016, the court heard oral arguments on the motions.
"Ruling Friday, October 7, 2016, Charles J. Siragusa, United States District Judge, held:
"-- The proposed Amended Complaint does not allege sufficient facts to plead a substantive due process violation by any defendant.
"-- The officers spent approximately two hours attempting to locate Joshua. The officers attempted to track Joshua through the snow using a canine officer.
"-- Joshua actively evaded the officers by hiding in wooded property. There was no indication of anything preventing Joshua from either surrendering to the officers, seeking shelter, or telephoning an acquaintance for a ride. The officers could not have suspected that Joshua would choose to risk freezing to death rather than face questioning concerning a minor traffic accident.
Accordingly, the County Attorney's office noted, "the court dismissed the complaint." It added that "the complete decision can be found here":
Schuyler among counties named drought-disaster areas
May be eligible for emergency loans; officials weigh in
Special to The Odessa File
ALBANY, Sept. 1, 2016 -- Governor Andrew M. Cuomo has announced that 24 counties across Upstate New York -- including Schuyler County -- have been designated as a natural disaster area by the federal government as a result of this summer's drought.
These designations mean that farmers in those areas may be eligible for assistance, including emergency loans, from the United State Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency.
State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball, state lawmakers and other farm leaders will be conducting on-site assessments of farms affected by the drought, while the state works closely with Cornell University expert hydrologists and climate professors to help understand and study the outlook for recovery.
Said State Senator Tom O'Mara: "I commend Governor Cuomo and the federal government for declaring 24 counties in Upstate New York a natural disaster area due to drought conditions. Many of the counties are in the 58th Senate District, which I represent. As I drive through my district every day, I see how this drought has negatively impacted many of my farming constituents. Although we've seen some rain recently, the majority of the growing season has passed, which leaves farmers with low performing crops this year. This disaster declaration is the first step in getting farmers who live and work here the help they need and deserve."
The disaster declaration is based on reporting of crop loss to the federal Farm Service Agency and a D3 designation by the U.S. Drought Monitor. The federal government declared 15 counties as primary natural disaster areas and an additional nine counties as contiguous disaster counties. In addition, several other counties in the state are also requesting primary disaster declarations.
The federal government also named nine counties in the Finger Lakes, Western New York, the Southern Tier, and Central New York as contiguous disaster counties. They include:
In addition, the Governor's office said, the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets under Commissioner Ball will continue to work with its partners in monitoring the drought situation and its effect on New York farms in these and other counties across the State, including in the North Country, Capital Region and on Long Island. The Department will also tour affected farms in Western New York, the North Country and the Southern Tier.
Officials weighed in as follows:
United States Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack: "Our hearts go out to the farmers and ranchers affected by the drought in New York. President Obama and I are committed to ensuring that agriculture remains a bright spot in our nation’s economy by sustaining the successes of America's farmers, ranchers, and rural communities through these difficult times. We're also telling New York producers that USDA stands with you and your communities when severe weather and natural disasters threaten to disrupt your livelihood."
Photos in text: From top: Governor Andrew Cuomo, State Senator Tom O'Mara, and Agriculture and Markets Commissioner Richard Ball. (File photos)
Fed grant, loan to help on WWTP project
Special to The Odessa File
SCHUYLER COUNTY, Aug. 29 -- Montour Falls will receive a $500,000 federal grant and a $695,000 loan to assist with relocating and rehabilitating the wastewater collection systems for Montour Falls and Watkins Glen as part of continued efforts to redevelop the area from the Seneca Lake waterfront in Watkins Glen to the village of Montour Falls, Congressman Tom Reed announced Monday.
“This is a great step forward for the people, the economy and the environment of Schuyler County and everyone near Seneca Lake," said Reed. "We care about helping everyone call the region home for generations to come and by investing in our wastewater treatment systems we are making it easier to achieve that goal.”
Reed's office said "the money is coming from Congressionally appropriated funds designated to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development programs. The loan term is 38 years at 1.625 percent interest."
The project was originally developed in 2012 to encourage economic development and environmental preservation along Seneca Lake in Watkins Glen. Degraded infrastructure systems, including the wastewater treatment plants in both Watkins Glen and Montour Falls, are causing environmental concerns in the region.
"This latest award is a testament to the value of partnerships to accomplish what was previously thought to be the impossible," said Schuyler County Administrator Tim O'Hearn. "The new regional wastewater treatment plant is the first phase of Project Seneca and will be the largest initiative in County history. The vision and tenacity of local leaders coupled with tremendous state and federal support have made this possible. Schuyler County is extremely grateful for Congressman Reed’s support."
Photo in text: Congressman Tom Reed (File photo)
Palmesano applauds new law
Expands pool of eligible organ donors to 16-, 17-year-olds
Special to The Odessa File
ALBANY, Aug. 20, 2016 -- Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I-Corning) says he is pleased that the governor has signed into law a bill which will expand the pool of eligible organ donors by including 16- and 17-year-olds.
Palmesano co-sponsored the legislation.
“I applaud the governor for signing this important bill that will save lives," said Palmesano. "This legislation expands the pool of eligible organ donors by allowing people to sign up to make a life-giving choice when they turn 16. It puts us in line with 47 other states and gives hope to countless New Yorkers.”
Added Aisha Tator, Executive Director of the New York Alliance for Donation, a statewide non-profit dedicated to ensuring that every New Yorker waiting for a transplant receives one:
“On behalf of the approximately 10,000 New Yorkers waiting for a transplant, we want to thank Assemblyman Palmesano, his colleagues in the legislature, and the governor for taking this important step toward saving and improving lives through organ and tissue donation. With the passage of this legislation, New York joins 48 other registries, including Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, in allowing individuals under the age of 18 to document their wish to be an organ and tissue donor."
Palmesano noted that he and his colleagues still have a lot of work to do to promote organ and tissue donation in New York State. In 2015, more than 500 men, women and children died waiting for a life-saving organ transplant. Nearly 10,000 New Yorkers are currently awaiting an organ transplant, more than 1,500 of whom have been waiting longer than five years. He said that while need is high, only 23 percent of New Yorkers are registered organ donors, placing the state 51st in the country ahead of only Puerto Rico. The national average is 50 percent, and Montana, the nation’s leading state in organ donation registration rate, is at 87 percent.
New York's numbers "are simply unacceptable," said Palmesano. "We can, and must, do better.”
It is particularly troubling, he added, because choosing to donate can make such a dramatic impact.
“A person who donates at the time of his or her death can save up to eight lives and impact up to 50 others,” said Palmesano.
“The issue of organ donation is very personal to me. My sister was a two-time organ transplant recipient, so I have seen firsthand how organ donation can impact someone's life. She was lucky to receive a transplant. Until I became a member of the state legislature I did not realize how abysmal New York's registration numbers were and how many people have been waiting for a life-saving organ transplant. This legislation is an important step forward to help save lives all across our state.”
Photo in text: Assemblyman Phil Palmesano speaks at a press conference with other officials regarding the state's Organ Donor efforts. (Photo provided)
Crestwood alters storage plan
Would eliminate butane; opponents still not convinced
WATKINS GLEN, Aug. 8 -- Crestwood Midstream announced Monday that it has notified the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation that it is "voluntarily modifying its proposal to store propane" in abandoned salt caverns at its US Salt facility north of Watkins Glen -- reducing the amount of gas to be stored, among other mitigated measures.
But opposition groups -- Gas Free Seneca, the Finger Lakes Wine Business Coalition (FLXWBC) and the Seneca Lake Pure Waters Association (SLPWA) -- said in a press release that they still are not satisfied.
The Schuyler County Legislature Monday night approved a resolution supporting the revised plan at its regular monthly meeting, a press release from Crestwood said. The Legislature resolution -- passed 6-2, with Legislators Van Harp and Michael Lausell opposed -- noted that the Legislature, which in 2014 approved the storage plan, had obtained agreement from Crestwood on the changes due to oppositional circumstances:
--"well-organized opposition to the project based on perceived public safety threats centering around transportation and the overall scope of the project"; and
Those modifications, which the resolution said were agreed to by Crestwood, include -- according to a letter to Administrative Law Judge James T. McClymonds at the DEC from the law firm of DLA Piper:
--"Elimination of Butane; and Reduction of Propane Storage Capacity by Almost 30% from 2.1 Million Barrels to 1.5 Million Barrels (Only Propane Would be Stored in Caverns.) (See Letter to the Editor regarding this on Forum)
"Now, therefore, be it resolved," the related Legislature resolution says, that "through its submissions and compliance with all regulatory requests, including its most recent agreement to change the scope of the Project," Crestwood "has adequately responded to all legitimate community concerns and that the caverns to be used for LPG storage are well-suited for such use; and be it further resolved that given all of the information supplied to the DEC (in the past) supporting the Project and the time which has elapsed since the application was submitted and public hearings held, the Schuyler County Legislature hereby requests that the DEC finalize its review and make a final determination and issue the permit requested."
Gas Free Seneca -- in a joint press release with the FLXWBC and the SLPWA -- offered strong reservations and a critical suggestion, saying "private negotiations between Crestwood and the Schuyler County Legislature are not enforceable" and that it was urging Crestwood "to submit a formal amendment of its application so that the changed terms can be memorialized in binding permit conditions subject to review and comment."
The new Crestwood proposals, added Joseph Campbell, President of Gas Free Seneca, "are effective admissions that we were right about the original proposal all along: it's not safe, it threatens the Watkins Glen State Park, it's too noisy and ugly, and it's generally inconsistent with the character and brand of the Seneca Lake communities."
Beyond that, the press release said that in addition to negatively impacting Crestwood's property tax assessment and "the number of jobs created by the project ... the risk of cavern collapse, fire, explosion, pollution ... and a spike in the salinity of our drinking water all remain."
"So," said Campbell, "we are still being asked to accept the risks inherent in gas storage and transport, but with even less benefit to the county."
Added Will Ouweleen, secretary of the FLXWBC: "The bottom line is that the Finger Lakes Region does not need to be the sacrifice zone for gas industry export. It will not significantly benefit the region, (and) we are being asked to accept all of the risk with none of the reward."
Photos in text: Legislature Chairman Dennis Fagan (top) and Gas Free Seneca President Joseph Campbell. (File photos)
Note: A Letter to the Editor from Mr. Campbell takes exception to the propane storage reduction claim. Forum.
Senator Chuck Schumer speaks to officals outside the Schuyler County Office Building after the news conference. Board of Elections Commissioners Joe Fazzary, left, and John Vona are in the background.
Schumer visit touts legislation
Bipartisan federal effort targets 2 dozen synthetic drugs
WATKINS GLEN, July 29 -- U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer, the afternoon after he had a front-row seat at the final night of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, arrived at the Schuyler County Office Building Friday for a press conference announcing legislation he is helping push that would make nearly two dozen synthetic substances illegal.
The goal, he said, is to create "a federal hammer" to counteract the introduction of these drugs, including K2, before they spread farther. Their movement, he said, has been rapid, from New York City up to the Southern Tier. The legislation -- bipartisan in nature, he said -- would give local police agencies more tools to combat "this scourge," created by "chemists who cook up batches of synthetics from China and other places." It should pass quickly, he said.
On hand for the press conference, held in the Schuyler County Legislature's chambers, were various law enforcement personnel, including Schuyler County District Attorney Joe Fazzary and Chief Assistant DA Matt Hayden; Steuben County DA Brooks Baker; Watkins Glen Police Chief Tom Struble; representatives from the Chemung County DA's office and Schuyler Sheriff's office, and several other uniformed police officers.
As with many of Schumer's visits -- this was his 18th over the years to Schuyler County -- he brought with him a theme, and in this case a warning that such legislation is needed to combat the constantly shifting landscape of synthetic drugs, whose makers "have been a step ahead of" federal enforcement efforts for years. This legislation would make 22 chemicals -- including powerful forms of fentanyl -- illegal and thus easier to block.
"These dangerous, often deadly substances leave our emergency rooms bulging with stupefied users with zombie-like symptoms -- and this is a sign of what's to come if Congress doesn't act quickly," said Schumer. "Banning these drugs quickly will help the feds step up their game ... so that we can help stem the tide of synthetic drug use here in New York State and across the country."
Said Fazzary, who hosted the gathering: "I applaud Senator Schumer for being on the forefront of public safety when it comes to synthetic drugs like K2 and Spice. These chemically altered herbs and compounds are as dangerous, if not more, than any illegal substances that have been sold on the street in our neighborhoods for the last 50 years ... Adding these compounds to the federal ban list can only enhance public safety and will give law enforcement a greater tool to combat the surge of overdoses from these drugs."
After the news conference, Fazzary spoke outside the building to Schumer about the challenge faced by law enforcement in handling the multitude of arrests and court cases created by the ongoing protests over the proposed storage of LPG and current storage of methane in abandoned salt caverns west of Seneca Lake. Schumer, noting that the protesters are probably from outside of Schuyler County (most of them are), said he would look into it. Asked what that might mean, Fazzary said he wasn't sure, but that it might involve help from another source such as the state Attorney General's office.
From Schuyler County, Schumer -- who noted that he was seated in the front row of the New York delegation at the Democratic convention, and that the event "went very well" -- headed for Herkimer and another meeting with constituents.
Photos in text:
From top: Schumer makes a point while Watkins Glen Police Chief Tom Struble watches in the background; Schuyler County DA Joe Fazzary, left, and Schumer shake hands; Schumer passes by his picture on the Legislative Chamber's wall.
Court conducts 4 meth-bust arraignments
Special to The Odessa File
WATKINS GLEN, July 14 -- Four people involved in the three-country meth bust on May 4 and 5 were arraigned in Schuyler County Court Thursday. In addition, guilty pleas were entered in a separate meth case and in a burglary.
Ronald I. Lafever, 37, of Beaver Dams was arraigned by County Judge Dennis Morris on two counts of Conspiracy (a Class B felony and an A misdemeanor). Lafever, represented by counsel, entered a plea of not guilty and was remanded to the Schuyler County Jail in lieu of $5,000 cash or $10,000 bail bond. The District Attorney's office said the court also addressed charges of Manufacturing Methamphetamine 3rd Degree and Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance 7th Degree against Lafever, the result of a search warrant executed at his residence on May 4.
Deanna M. Lewis, 33, of Montour Falls was arraigned on two Conspiracy charges (a Class B felony and an A misdemeanor). She is the wife of Jack Lewis, who was also arrested in the meth sweep. She is represented by Attorney Paul Corradini. The District Attorney's office said she also faces a felony burglary charge for an alleged theft from Walmart. Her cases were adjourned to August 18 for further proceedings.
Chelsa M. Hojnoski, 26, of Bath and Tammy L. Snell, 38, of Montour Falls were each arraigned by Judge Morris on two counts of Conspiracy (a B felony and an A misdemeanor). Both entered pleas of not guilty, and their cases were adjourned for further proceedings.
Nine other defendants from the meth bust were arraigned in county court on June 29.
In separate cases:
Eugene Gilbert, 52, of Syracuse pleaded guilty to Burglary 3rd Degree (a Class D felony) for his part in a theft from Walmart. He is due to be sentenced on July 28 and is facing 1.5 to 3 years in prison. The DA's office said Gilbert and a co-defendant entered the Watkins Glen Walmart in January and stole a significant amount of baby formula. They were apprehended by the Village of Watkins Glen Police Department shortly after the theft occurred.
Robert A. Stevens, 22, of Montour Falls pleaded guilty to Unlawful Manufacture of Methamphetamine 3rd Degree (a Class D felony). This was unrelated to the large meth bust. Stevens and another man, Eric Storms, 43, were arrested in mid-March at a residence on CR 14 near Catharine Corners where a meth lab was discovered. Stevens is due to be sentenced on Thursday, July 21. He faces a prison sentence of one-and-a-half years.
SWCDs awarded state funds to assist
Special to The Odessa File
ELMIRA, July 12 -- The Chemung and Schuyler County Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCD) have been awarded a combined total of $587,885 to work with local
Special to The Odessa File
SCHUYLER COUNTY, June 29 -- The Schuyler County Sheriff’s Office has arrested a Burdett, NY man on charges relating to the unlawful manufacture of methamphetamine.
9 from meth bust arraigned
Not guilty pleas entered; bail set for 'kingpin'
WATKINS GLEN, June 29 -- Nine people swept up in a meth bust by police in early May were arraigned Wednesday in Schuyler County Court -- with bail set at $75,000 cash or $150,000 bond for the man District Attorney Joe Fazzary has called the case's "kingpin."
That man, Scott L. Kennedy, 39, of 44 Campground Road, Beaver Dams -- whose home police have said was an active meth lab and where meth manufacturing items and several vehicles were seized -- was in court in his orange Schuyler County Jail jumpsuit. He had been held without bail since a litany of charges were leveled against him.
Kennedy and each of the other eight defendants appearing Wednesday pleaded not guilty to the charges against them. Seven of the eight beyond Kennedy face Conspiracy 2nd Degree and Conspiracy 5th Degree counts, which officials have explained means each is accused of possession of more than two ounces of meth. In addition, one faces a misdemeanor possession count.
Each was arrested in connection with a multi-day sweep in Schuyler, Steuben and Chemung counties following a five-month investigation led by a New York State Police Special Investigations Unit. Search warrants -- fueled with information derived by eavesdropping on the phone at Kennedy's Beaver Dams residence -- were executed on May 4.
In each case Wednesday, Fazzary mentioned "intercepted communications" used by authorities in building the cases. The cases of each of those arraigned Wednesday were interconnected, said Fazzary.
In order of their appearances in court, the other defendants included:
--Jack L. Lewis III, 38, of Montour Falls, also facing an unrelated violation of probation charge, and held in jail since his arrest. Bail was set by Judge Morris at $20,000 cash/$40,000 bond, covering both the meth and probation counts. Lewis was represented by Ithaca Attorney Joseph Joch.
--Bryon Schwartz, of Veteran Hill Road, Horseheads, represented temporarily by Attorney Matt Hughson pending appointment of regular counsel. Bail of $10,000 cash/$20,000 bond -- the bond was posted by Schwartz -- was continued at the same amount by Judge Morris (right) after DA Fazzary noted that the defendant had turned himself in.
--Tammy L. Palmer, 40, of Beaver Dams, represented by Ithaca Attorney Ed Kopko. Fazzary suggested bail of $10,000/$20,000, but after Kopko argued that his client was the mother of two and employed, and no flight risk, the judge continued her ROR -- whereby she is Released on her Own Recognizance.
--Melissa M. Whitney, 51, of Beaver Dams, represented by Lockwood Attorney Sarah Soutar. Whitney is out on bail, which the judge continued.
--Jamie L. Iocco, 38, of Corning, represented by Corning Attorney Christopher Tunney. Bail set by a lower court, which she posted, was continued. A request was made for a pretrial conference, but Fazzary said an immediate one wasn't advised. "We haven't talked about an offer yet, (so) I don't know that (a meeting) today would be very fruitful," he said.
That, in fact, pointed up the expectation that most of these cases will, in keeping with the norm, end up with plea bargains. Fazzary said well over 90 percent of cases in the state end up that way.
--Daniel M. Celelli, 46, of Painted Post, represented by Ithaca Attorney Robert Lalonde. Celelli has been free on his own recognizance, a status that Judge Morris continued without objection from the DA.
--Quinton Harrison, represented temporarily by Hughson pending appointment of regular counsel. He had posted bail of $12,500/$25,000, which Morris continued. The age and residence of Harrison were not immediately available.
--Terry L. Champion, 46, of Bradford, represented by Waverly Attorney Todd Miller. In addition to the Conspiracy counts, Champion faces a misdemeanor charge of Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance, 7th Degree. He was present in a drab green jumpsuit, courtesy of Steuben County Jail, where he is being held on other charges in lieu of $10,000/$20,000 bail. Judge Morris set bail on the Schuyler charges at another $15,000/$30,000.
Defendants from other cases related to the May 4th roundup will appear in court for arraignment on dates in July, Fazzary said.
Photos in text: District Attorney Joe Fazzary (top) and Schuyler County Judge Dennis Morris. (File photos)
Judge tosses Hansen charge, says Phillips action 'not lawful'
Cites constitutional rights; lawsuit against district looms
WATKINS GLEN, June 13 -- Watkins Glen Village Justice Connie Fern Miller has dismissed a refiled misdemeanor trespass charge against Kristina Hansen, saying the order by Watkins Glen School Superintendent Tom Phillips upon which it was based "did not have a legitimate basis" and is not "lawful," not to mention that it was "procedurally defective."
The charge was leveled against Hansen on April 28, as a followup to a violation-level charge that came with her arrest by Watkins Glen Village Police on March 21 as she arrived on school district property to attend a School Board meeting. She was met on the sidewalk by Phillips, who ordered her to leave. When she protested, he had her arrested by two village patrolmen standing at the ready nearby.
In her 12-page ruling, dated June 9 and made public June 13, Judge Miller found that:
-- Phillips should have let Hansen into a meeting March 11 that precipitated her arrest 10 days later. The March 11 meeting, with four School Board members present, should have been open to the public.
The ruling, said Hansen, "clearly debunks any claim of lawlessness on my part. It should be concerning to all citizens that I was arrested three times."
Hansen's attorney, Ray Schlather of Ithaca, termed the judge's ruling "very emphatic" and "a very clear statement about constitutional rights" and about the "ill-conceived, ill-implemented and unconstitutional" nature of Phillips' order leading to those three arrests.
While the charge in the third arrest -- which came May 4 when Hansen attended the tennis match on school grounds -- was dismissed by Miller on May 19, the judge had done so "without prejudice," meaning it could be refiled.
But "I can't imagine any further criminal charges" in the case now, said Schlather. "This ruling was a clear declaration of constitutional issues. If there is an attempt to enforce anything further under that letter -- or so-called order (issued by Phillips) -- we will add monetary damages and possibly punitive damages to our lawsuit."
That suit, notice of which was filed in mid April, is being brought by Hansen against the Watkins Glen School District, Superintendent Phillips, School Board President Kelly McCarthy, the Village of Watkins Glen and its Police Department, and in a minor fashion against the two March 21 arresting officers.
Schlather said he would be meeting shortly with Hansen to further discuss the suit, which he said was helped by Miller's ruling. "We are claiming in the suit that (Hansen's) constitutional rights were violated," he said. "Judge Miller has validated those claims.
"We will proceed full steam ahead."
How it started:
Hansen, a frequent district critic, tried to enter a meeting of school staff on March 11 at which Phillips was presenting an update on finances and jobs -- on the "state of the district," in the words of School Board President McCarthy, who attended that meeting with three other members of the Board ... which constituted a quorum of that seven-member body.
Hansen, stopped at the building's entry point by Phillips, made it into a vestibule separated from the building's interior by locked doors. She refused to leave until escorted by police called to the scene. Phillips later, in a written memorandum, effectively banned her from school buildings without his written permission -- which led to her arrest 10 days later as she approached the School Board meeting without such permission.
The charge lodged in that arrest -- a violation -- was later dismissed by Judge Miller "for facial insufficiency of the Accusatory Information." It was done so "without prejudice" to a refiling, which indeed followed. Hansen was re-arrested on April 28 on a trespass charge that had moved up a notch to a misdemeanor.
A motion to dismiss was issued that day by Attorney Schlather, but Judge Miller gave the prosecution, led by Seneca County District Attorney Barry Porsch, time to respond, which Porsch did at a Village Court session on May 19. Miller then said she was providing time for Schlather to respond if he wished, and that she would subsequently issue her ruling -- which she now has.
Hansen, meanwhile, was arrested a third time on May 4 when she attended the high school tennis match on Watkins Glen school grounds -- a charge dismissed by Miller on May 19, again "without prejudice," leaving the possibility (now doubted by Schlather) of a refiled charge. Again, the Accusatory Instrument in that case -- which also charged misdemeanor trespass -- was not drawn properly. Attorney Schlather explained at the time that the arresting officer, Jordan Walrath, did not have sufficient knowledge of the Phillips edict and did not accordingly supply a supporting deposition, presumably from Phillips.
Any forward movement that might have been entertained by Phillips or Watkins Glen police in that case appears to have hit legal shoals in view of Judge Miller's 12-page ruling. It takes to task the superintendent's order against Hansen -- issued after that March 11 confrontation -- as "not 'lawful,' in the manner of its issuance, its basis, purpose, scope or implementation."
About that March 11 session:
The ruling notes the attempt by Hansen to enter the school building near the district office on March 11, how she was met by Phillips at the outer door, and how he prevented her from entering beyond the vestibule. Inside the building, at the staff meeting she wanted to attend, were four School Board members.
"The Court takes judicial notice," the ruling says, "that the Watkins Glen School Board is comprised of seven members, and that four members at a meeting would comprise a quorum. The Court concludes, on the basis of the NYS Open Meetings Law and Education Law, that regardless of the declarations of Mr. Phillips and Mrs. McCarthy that the meeting was 'not open to the public,' it should have been. Ms. Hansen was within her rights in requesting and attempting to attend the 'State of the District' address scheduled to be given at this meeting."
The ruling added: "It is true that defendant, Kristina Hansen, circumvented the security system of the school building when she entered into the lobby area by following persons who used their 'key card' to open the outside doors. However, it is obvious to the Court that if Ms. Hansen had followed 'security protocols' by ringing a buzzer and using the intercom system 'to state the reason for her visit' (as described by both Mr. Phillips and Ms. McCarthy), her efforts would have been futile, as she would have been refused entry. While the Court does not condone her method of entry, under the circumstances, it appears that she utilized the only practical course of action available to her in her attempt to exercise her right to attend what should have been a public portion of the meeting.
"The Court expressly finds, based on statements of both Mr. Phillips and Ms. McCarthy, that no students were threatened or endangered by defendant's actions, as they occurred on a day when regular classes were not in session. As the surveillance videos clearly show, Ms. Hansen entered the lobby area of the school building without breach of the peace, disruptive behavior, or physical contact with any person. The only 'disruption' was wholly on the part of Superintendent Phillips, who can clearly be seen confronting Kristina Hansen in an aggressive fashion, flailing his arms, shaking papers in his hand, and repeatedly pointing to the door. In contrast, Ms. Hansen kept her hands at her side, spoke only when it appeared she was asked a question, and waited patiently for the police to arrive after she was denied permission to enter through the second set of locked doors."
She was escorted out by two officers, but not charged.
Phillips' letter to Hansen, sent by certified mail, followed, in which he stated: "If you have a need to visit a school or district office you must request permission from the Superintendent by stating the specifics of the need to come to the district, including time necessary to complete any business. Before coming to school, wait for the Superintendent to grant permission in writing. Written permission must be presented at the time of admittance to the building."
However, Judge Miller's ruling went on as follows: "The order/letter issued by Superintendent Phillips did not have a legitimate basis. It appears to have been an overreaction to a relatively benign infraction of school rules by a citizen who reasonably believed she had a right to attend" the meeting along with a quorum of the Board of Education. "Furthermore, the issuance of the Superintendent's letter/order was procedurally defective," failing "to comply with the requirements of Penal Law ... as it was not 'personally communicated' to defendant," but instead sent by mail.
"The letter itself," the ruling said, "is ambiguous and vague as to whether it purports to ban Ms. Hansen from 'school grounds' as asserted by Mr. Phillips in his Supporting Deposition, or whether it applies only to entry into a school building. Reading the letter as a whole ... it appears to restrict entry only in a 'school or district office' (i.e. a building) ...
"Per Mr. Phillips' Supporting Deposition, he confronted Ms. Hansen on March 21 at about 5:37 p.m. and had her arrested, on 'the grounds' of the High School. She had not entered into any building. Inasmuch as the conduct which led to defendant's arrest did not even violate the terms of the letter sent to her, the charge of Criminal Trespass, Third Degree, could be dismissed solely on those narrow grounds."
But there was more.
"The Court," Miller added, found that the prosecution failed to show that "enforcement of the order/letter issued by Superintendent Phillips" would not "unlawfully inhibit or circumscribe the defendant from engaging in constitutionally or statutorily protected conduct ... The blanket restriction issued by Superintendent Phillips was clearly unlawful in that it purports to bar Kristina Hansen for all times and all purposes from public school property. It does not matter that Mr. Phillips left open the possibility that she could be allowed into a school building with his written permission ...
"No citizen of the United States, the State of New York or the Watkins School District needs to ask 'permission' of anyone in order to exercise her constitutional or statutory right. Furthermore, no person in authority should have unlimited and arbitrary control to decide when 'permission' will be granted."
Judge Miller added that Hansen "unquestionably ... had a legitimate reason, purpose and business for being on school property on March 21," the day when she was arrested en route to the School Board meeting. She was, per the law, "licensed and privileged to be there," said Miller, "unless she defied a lawful order not to enter or remain." The Open Meetings Law, she said, is clear that "meetings 'of all (school) boards shall be open to the public.'"
The ruling continued:
"The letter/order issued by Superintendent Phillips unduly infringed upon defendant's protected statutory right to attend a school board meeting. It also curtailed her exercise of federal and state constitutional rights, including freedom of movement, assembly and speech. Furthermore, the order" -- if permitted to stand -- "would have a 'chilling effect' on defendant's (and others') exercise of those rights ...
"The charge of Criminal Trespass, Third Degree, pending against Kristina L. Hansen, is hereby dismissed on the merits. So ordered."
Photos in text: From top: Kristina Hansen and Attorney Ray Schlather; Attorney Schlather; Hansen's first arrest, on March 21 on her way to a School Board meeting; Hansen's third arrest, on May 4 at the WGHS tennis courts; School Superintendent Tom Phillips; School Board President Kelly McCarthy, and Schlather with the media. (File photos)
Van Etten man draws 4 years in meth case
Special to The Odessa File
WATKINS GLEN, June 10 -- A Van Etten man was sentenced to four years in state prison on June 9 after pleading guilty in Schuyler County Court to meth-related charges.
Jason A. Miller, 32, pleaded guilty to Unlawful Manufacture of Methamphetamine in the Second Degree, a Class C Felony, and Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Fourth Degree, a Class A Misdemeanor.
In addition to the four-year sentence, imposed by County Judge Dennis Morris, Miller was assigned three years of post-release supervision.
Miller was arrested in the Town of Hector on Feb. 27 by the Schuyler County Sheriff's Department, which said a search of his vehicle resulted in the seizure of components of a meth lab and about $2,400 in cash. Miller forfeited the cash to law enforcement as part of his negotiated plea.
Reed: It's time to back Trump
But says the GOP nominee's words are 'problematic'
WASHINGTON, June 8 -- With the primary season over, Congressman Tom Reed (R-Corning) -- in a press release from his office -- is calling on Republicans to unite behind presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump "to defeat Hillary Clinton." But while not stated in the press release, he is also calling Trump's remarks regarding a federal judge "problematic."
The press release makes no mention about the controversy swirling around Trump over what many perceive as racist remarks he made concerning Judge Gonzalo Curiel's ability -- as a person of Mexican descent -- to rule fairly in two class-action civil lawsuits brought against Trump University for (as one columnist put it) "allegedly using predatory marketing practices to sell worthless real estate classes." Curiel, born and raised in Indiana, failed to issue a summary judgment in Trump's favor -- although the motion in one of the cases is still pending.
Trump has said Curiel is "a hater of Trump" who is likely to rule unfairly because of Trump's calls for construction of a wall between the United States and Mexico. "He's Mexican; I'm building a wall," Trump has repeated several times.
The press release instead quoted Reed as saying that Trump's "history as a deal maker proves he can help us achieve" needed change, adding that it is time "to unite and move forward. With Donald Trump in the White House, we can work together" to reach "commonsense, fair solutions" regarding poverty, the economy, and jobs.
It also quotes Amy Hasenberg, Tom Reed for Congress spokeswoman, as saying: “Our nation and our district cannot afford to have anyone who has helped further the Obama agenda" -- a reference to Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, and to the opponent for Reed's Congressional seat, Democrat John Plumb.
When asked by email whether Reed considered Trump's remarks about the judge to be racist -- many journalists and politicians have said they are -- and if the Congressman condoned them, Hasenberg referred to a story stemming from a recent conference call with reporters. It was written on the WBFO radio website -- WBFO being Buffalo's NPR news station.
"Obviously," Reed is quoted as saying, "the comments and the rhetoric are very concerning to me, just as we've expressed concern with other rhetoric that Donald Trump has issued. This is another example of something (where) we disagree with his tactic. As Donald Trump has demonstrated, he's his own candidate. We've always expressed some concern about his rhetoric, and this is additonal rhetoric that I have concern with. To challenge a judge based on his personal background is problematic."
Photo in text: Congressman Tom Reed (File photo)
Scalers Alvin Walker (white helmet) and Dustin Karius unfurl the American Flag in front of a rock face overlooking the Watkins Glen State Park gorge entrance.
Flag unfurling at Glen State Park signals opening of trails at 6 Finger Lakes parks
WATKINS GLEN, May 25 -- The American flag was unfurled along a rock face above the entrance to the Watkins Glen State Park gorge Wednesday morning to symbolize the opening of the park's trails and those in the five other parks in the state's Finger Lakes system.
The flag was unfurled by two members of the Finger Lakes State Park Scaling Team, a group of people charged each year with removing loose stones and growth from the rock walls of the park system to help ensure the safety of the millions of summer visitors to the region.
Head of the team is Sonny Howard of Watkins Glen, who said the idea for utilizing the flag as a symbol of the park openings came from photos in the 1930s that showed a flag fronting a rock wall near the gorge entrance. Back then, he said, the flag was left up for the tourist season, but the practice apparently ran into complaints about flag desecration.
Fred Bonn, regional director of the Finger Lakes state parks -- on hand for Wednesday's unfurling -- said the flag would be removed from its perch by day's end, and that there are no plans to leave it up any longer in the future, although he hopes to see the flag ceremony repeated as a symbol of the park openings and -- through the participation of scalers -- a reminder of the need for safety in the parks and the importance of heeding signage.
The two scalers -- among a team that has been working for the past six weeks to make the park system safe -- were Dustin Karius of the Hector area and Alvin Walker of Romulus. In interviews afterward, they acknowledged that the flag ceremony was "great," with Walker saying plans for it started last year -- on "how to rig the flag, who was going over ..."
"It was pretty simple," Karius concluded.
The ceremony, which attracted scores of onlookers, will be different in the future if only because the paved parking area where people gathered to watch will be changed in the next two years to green space, part of a $6.5 million state project which, said Bonn, will enhance the visiting experience.
The green space will include a small amphitheater and improved educational displays on the park's human history and natural and geologic features, including a touchable model of the gorge, and a new overlook at the base of the gorge where people with mobility challenges will be able to enjoy the waterfalls.
The entrance area will include a new visitor welcome center where park staff can provide information about the park, and where the Watkins Glen Area Chamber of Commerce will have a counter to provide information about other attrractions in the region.
Construction is expected to begin this summer, with the renovation complete in time for the 2018 tourist season.
Meanwhile, the focus was on the season-opening flag ceremony Wednesday, with three other members of the team atop the rock wall, 186 feet above the gorge entrance. They were helping guide the ropes used to control the flag.
"This has great potential for an annual event," Bonn said, noting that the Watkins Glen State Park alone had 860,000 visitors last year, and has "a good chance of setting a new record this summer."
A ceremony like Wednesday's, he said, "is a good oppotrunity to remind people that the parks are open" -- parks that include Stony Brook, Robert Treman, Taughannock Falls, Buttermilk Falls and Fillmore Glen, and which collectively attracted 2.2 million visitors last year.
Each has a rich history, and the flag ceremony, Bonn said, "is a great opportunity to recreate a practice" from that history, one from many decades ago.
Photos in text:
From top: Finger Lakes Parks Regional Director Fred Bonn with TV reporters; scalers Alvin Walker, left, and Dustin Karius; the back of a team member's t-shirt; and Scaling Team Coordinator Sonny Howard.
Fire Academy gets federal training funds
Special to The Odessa File
MONTOUR FALLS, May 20 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats) welcomed Friday’s announcement that the Frederick L. Warder Academy of Fire Sciences in Montour Falls has been awarded $500,000 in federal funding to provide enhanced training for first responders in incidents involving crude oil and other ignitable liquids.
Another Hansen dismissal; action on April motion delayed
WATKINS GLEN, May 19 -- One case against Kristina Hansen was delayed and another was dismissed Thursday in Watkins Glen Village Court. Meanwhile, Hansen's attorney announced that the lawsuits announced against the Watkins Glen School District, the village of Watkins Glen and its police department related to the first Hansen arrest on March 21 will be filed in June and seek "substantial monetary damages."
Hansen -- first arrested March 21 when she tried to attend a Watkins Glen School Board meeting after being banned from district buildings by Superintendent Tom Phillips for trying to attend a staff meeting on March 11 and refusing to leave the entry vestibule -- was facing two charges Thursday.
One was a refiling of the initial trespass complaint after the first one was dismissed by Village Justice Connie Fern Miller for insufficiency. The other was a different trespass charge leveled May 4 when Hansen was removed in handcuffs by a police officer from the school grounds while watching a varsity tennis match.
The refiled charge is still active. A motion to dismiss was filed by Hansen's attorney, Ray Schlather of Ithaca, at their last court appearance, on April 28. Miller had given the special prosecutor in the case, Seneca County District Attorney Barry Porsch, until Thursday to respond, which he did in writing upon arriving 20 minutes late for court. Miller granted several days for Schlather to study the response and reply if desired before she rules on the motion to dismiss.
The second charge -- the one from the tennis court -- was dismissed by Miller "without prejudice," meaning it can be refiled (like the March 21st one was) if the "accusatory instrument" is drawn properly. It was deemed insufficient Thursday, Schlather later explained, because the arresting officer, Jordan Walrath, did not have sufficient knowledge of the Phillips edict and did not accordingly supply a supporting deposition.
If the matter is refiled by police, that deposition would likely stem from Phillips regarding his edict. But Schlather said the ban on Hansen by Phillips did not, in fact, call into account the school grounds -- only the buildings thereon.
A copy of the Phillips edict provided to the media reads: "If you have a need to visit a school or a district office you must request permission from the Superintendent by stating the specifics of the need to come to the district, including time necessary to complete any business. Before coming to school, wait for the Superintendent to grant permission in writing. Written permission must be presented at the time of admittance to the building."
Schlather tried repeatedly to push that point to Justice Miller Thursday, but she said it was not the time to do so. As he explained later: "I wanted the prosecutor to know that any effort to recharge is, in our view, harassment." It is time, he added, for the school district "to back off and let (Hansen) exercise her constitutional rights. She has been deprived of her rights under the color of law by people who should know better."
The lawsuit -- which also names Superintendent Phillips and Board President Kelly McCarthy -- will proceed in June, said Schlather, and will target any law enforcement actions against Hansen and anybody "complicit" in the cases against her. The monetary damages sought will be "sustantial," he said, but he declined to provide any dollar figure.
"This has gone too far," he said. "Even if we accepted the validity" of Phillips' order against Hansen, "and we don't, it does not constitute a violation of its terms to watch a tennis match."
As for Hansen, she said she has "no intention of ever asking for permission" from Phillips for anything. And when asked if she had voted on the school budget and board election Tuesday, she said she had.
She had entered a district building without permission sought or granted, and exercised her constitutional right to vote, she said.
And she did so -- perhaps surprisingly, given recent history -- without drawing a rebuke, a police officer or handcuffs.
Photos in text: Kristina Hansen with her attorney, Ray Schlather, after Thursday's court appearance; and Schlather answers reporters' questions.
Meth arrest total reaches 17
From news reports
Hansen not-guilty plea entered as Schlather moves to dismiss
Village Justice Miller wants prosecution response by May 19; will rule then
WATKINS GLEN, April 28 -- Kristina Hansen was arraigned Thursday in Village Court on a second trespass charge lodged against her following her attempt to attend a March 21 Watkins Glen School Board meeting. Her attorney, Ray Schlather, entered a plea of not guilty for her, and she was released on her own recognizance -- with a motion for dismissal hanging in the air, filed by Schlather and awaiting a prosecution response.
Village Justice Connie Fern Miller did not outrightly agree with dismissal this time, as she had on a previous trespass charge against Hansen that was of the violation variety. This one, involving the powers of school officials, is a misdemeanor.
Miller said she would wait to rule on the motion -- which calls for dismissal for both "facial and legal insufficiency" and cites case law and open meetings law provisions that Schlather says trump the trespass charge -- until the prosecution can respond, as long as it does so within 20 days. The judge indicated a ruling was coming before or at a court session on May 19, with or without attorneys present -- meaning arguments could be provided either orally before Miller, or beforehand in writing.
Asked afterward if he was disappointed with the delay, Schlather said no -- that presenting a motion at arraignment was an unusual move, and one the judge wanted the prosecution to have time to absorb and respond to.
In releasing Hansen on her own recognizance, Miller noted that there was no bail "since you have appeared here twice voluntarily with your attorney." At that first appearance, on April 7, Miller had dismissed the trespass violation charge without prejudice, meaning a new charge could be filed that appeared more pertinent to the facts of the case.
Schlather said after the arraignment that he had not received the latest accusatory instrument -- with a supporting deposition of Watkins Glen School Superintendent Tom Phillips -- until Thursday, and that having now seen it believes "this case should not have resulted in re-arrest. The School Board or Superintendent can prevent" certain actions by people on the school campus, "but have no right" to prevent members of the public from attending public meetings such as the March 21 School Board session.
If a person were admitted to such a meeting and was "disruptive, then certainly there are things (school officials) can do," said Schlather. "But the Court of Appeals has spoken clearly on this issue. It's not a lawful order."
Phillips issued a ruling that Hansen needed his written permission to be on campus following an attempt by Hansen to attend a staff meeting at the school on March 11 attended by, in addition to faculty and staff, four members of the School Board. She was met at the outer door by a gesticulating Phillips telling her she had to leave, but she refused, saying later she was reacting to what she deemed as his bullying attitude. She was ultimately escorted from the entrance vestibule by two police officers, but not charged.
Ten days later, emboldened by an opinion from the State Committee on Open Government's executive director, Robert J. Freeman, saying nobody could be prevented from attending a public School Board session without a court order, Hansen approached a Watkins Glen School Board meeting, only to be met on the sidewalk by Phillips, who ordered her to leave school grounds. Standing nearby were two Watkins Glen village police officers who arrested and handcuffed her when she tried to argue her right to be there.
Lawsuits against the school district, Phillips, Board president Kelly McCarthy, the village, its police department and the arresting officers were subsequently announced through Notices of Claim prepared by Schlather's firm on behalf of Hansen. Unspecified monetary awards will be sought -- which reportedly would be covered by insurance.
But Phillips, in concert with police and the Special Prosecutor in the case, Seneca County District Attorney Barry Porsch, soon filed the new charge against Hansen, leading to Thursday's arraignment. Porsche left court immediately after Thursday's session, without comment.
Hansen, following her court appearance, was transported to the Schuyler County Sheriff's Office by Schlather, where they met with police officers for fingerprinting as part of the arrest procedure effected with her voluntary appearance at the Municipal Building, site of the courtroom. She had been ordered to report for arrest in an email sent to her by Police Chief Tom Struble a week and a half ago.
Schlather, speaking both after the arraignment and after the fingerprinting, remained optimistic about the case, saying he will come to Watkins Glen again from his Ithaca office "if necessary" for further court proceedings, "but might not have to" -- if Justice Miller were to dismiss the charge based on written arguments.
If she were to do that, he said, "this is over." But another appearance in court depends not only on her ruling, but on "what they (the prosecution) file" (in response to his motion), whether they prefer oral arguments, "and if I come up with something unusual, different ..."
He let the thought hang there.
Photos in text: Attorney Ray Schlather talks to the media after the arraignment; a sign in the Municipal Building points the way to the courtroom; and Hansen, second from right, leaves the Schuyler County Sheriff's office with Schlather (left) and friends after she was fingerprinted there following arraignment in the Municipal Building.
Legislators table EMC vote
Plan has evolved; council won't be abolished, but reduced in size
WATKINS GLEN, April 11, 2016 -- The Schuyler County Legislature, scheduled to vote on a resolution that would rescind the 1974 Local Law that created the Environmental Management Council, tabled the resolution Monday night after a public hearing at which speakers were overwhelmingly in favor of the EMC.
But the tabling move -- while a reaction to the audience as well as to the lobbying efforts of Legislator Michael Lausell -- was seemingly also in keeping with alterations in the plan that have occurred in recent weeks. While the rescindment move (as introduced in the form of another Local Law last month) is likely to be passed in the near future, things have changed on the EMC front.
Since the Legislature meeting in March, the plan to replace the EMC with a subcommittee of the county Planning Commission has evolved into a plan to revamp the EMC into a body similar to the existing one, but with a smaller membership and with term limits.
Legislator Carl Blowers (pictured at right) told the audience of about 30 people Monday that the lawmakers had listened in March to the protests of EMC members and their supporters, and subsequently decided in committee to discard the plan to make the EMC a subcommittee. Now the plan calls for an organization that would report to the Legislature through the Planning Director. It will have different by-laws which, said one official, comport with changes in the law since the EMC was first formed in 1974. "So much has changed," said the official, "that it's better to wipe the slate clean and restart."
The matter of membership will be flexible at first, with existing members continuing until the conclusion of their individual two-year terms. Terms were approved by the Legislature in the past, as they will be in the future. And the proposed six-year term limit under the proposed, revised EMC might be raised to 12 years, as suggested by Legislature Chair Dennis Fagan, who pointed out that 12 years is applicable to county legislators and the county Industrial Development Agency. "I would be okay with that," he said.
Yet to be worked out: whether terms would be for two, three or four years.
Eventually, the EMC (under current plans) will be 12 members instead of the current 25, with half of the membership picked by the Legislature and half suggested by outside sources but approved by the Legislature. The goal of the current EMC has been to have representation from every town and village, but that will evidently not be the avowed goal of the new organization.
Until about four or five years ago, one official explained, the EMC was a contract agency under the auspices of Cooperative Extension. That arrangement ended when Extension funding was cut. Since then, the adjustment period has resulted in some friction between EMC and county officials.
Monday's tabling move, introduced by Lausell, was supported by all but Legislators Blowers and Phil Barnes. Lausell said it leaves the Legislature time to consider the comments of the people attending Monday's session, held in the County Courtroom to handle an audience too large for the legislative chambers.
Officials explained afterward that the postponed vote could occur at next month's meeting or the month after -- the farthest point at which a tabled resolution can still remain active. A proposed Local Law establishing the revamped EMC is likely to be introduced next month, with the vote approving or rejecting it following in June after a public hearing. The proposed by-laws for that unit are expected to be ready soon, and posted on the county website.
Many of the speakers Monday seemed focus on the reduction of the EMC into a subcommittee as discussed in previous months -- not on the revised plan. News of the changes had not evidently reached all of the EMC supporters and members.
But one constant among several speakers was the term limits, which county legislators seem intent on imposing. Speakers said it made little sense to limit terms of people who during their tenure would gain important information and contacts relating to environmental matters. To limit their terms, it was argued, would be to limit valuable sources of information. Said one: "If you diminish the EMC, you diminish yourselves."
However, in the end, EMC members seemed satisfied with the flexibility shown by the Legislature -- with the delay in action and with the alterations in the EMC plan -- although term limits will remain a matter of contention.
Photos in text: From top, Legislators Michael Lausell and Carl Blowers; EMC Chair Kate Bartholomew addressing the Legislature; and Legislator Mark Rondinaro.
Trespass charge dismissed
Schlather: Lawsuits coming against school district, cops
WATKINS GLEN, April 7, 2016 -- The trespass charge lodged against Watkins Glen School District resident Kristina Hansen when she tried to attend a School Board meeting on March 21 was quickly dismissed by Watkins Glen Village Justice Connie Fern Miller in Village Court Thursday afternoon.
"It was dismissed outright," said Hansen attorney Ray Schlather of Ithaca, who was sharply critical afterward of the school district's role and said that his law firm plans "to commence legal action in State Supreme Court in Schuyler County" against the district and School Superintendent Tom Phillips -- and possibly members of the School Board -- in the near future. He also said his firm is gathering information for a suit against the Watkins Glen Village Police for what he deemed an "illegal arrest."
Hansen had been taken into custody by Village Police officers Isaac Marmor and Jamie Coleman on the trespass charge on March 21when she approached the high school entrance leading to the School Board meeting room. A public meeting of the board was being held that night. Hansen was intercepted en route by Phillips, who ordered her off the school property, and when she protested she was arrested by the officers waiting nearby. Phillips' order to her was in accordance with a recent ban he had issued against her presence on campus without his written permission.
That ban had been leveled after a March 11 incident in which Hansen had tried to enter the school along with staff and School Board members for a briefing by Phillips on the state of the district. She said she felt she had a right to attend as a member of two school-related committees. But she was met at the door by Phillips, who ordered her to leave in a manner that she considered "bullying," and she decided to protest by staying in the vestibule inside the school entry near the district offices. She was ultimately escorted from the scene by two police officers, but wasn't charged. She was effectively banned from campus, though, by Phillips, without his written permission.
Later Hansen, in checking with the New York State Committee on Open Government, had obtained an opinion that said nobody could be banned from a public meeting, such as the School Board session was to be on March 21. She tried to explain that to the arresting officers standing by after Phillips had ordered her to leave, but they handcuffed her (see photo below) and took her to Village Hall for processing, anyway.
Hansen later obtained the legal services of Schlather, Stumbar, Parks & Salk, which led to Thursday's scheduled arraignment in a crowded Village Court. After dispensing with several other cases, Justice Miller called Schlather and Special Prosecutor Barry Porsche, the Seneca County District Attorney, to the bench along with Hansen, who had been waiting in the spectator area. Porsche was assigned the case by Schuyler County Judge Dennis Morris, Schlather explained, because Schuyler County DA Joe Fazzary had been excused due to a conflict of interest. The dismissal was issued "without prejudice," he noted, meaning Porsche could conceivably "refile" if he found "proper allegations."
Schlather didn't comment on that likelihood, saying instead that the dismissal was "due to insufficient circumstances" and issued "outright," the entire process taking mere minutes. "You can't be charged with trespass," Schlather said, "on property open to the public, particularly when the public is invited." Hansen, he added, "has the right to attend as a member of the public without restraint or impediment."
This country, he said, "is a nation of laws, not of people. And the laws allow people to attend public meetings. We can come and go" guided by "our constitutional rights. Our concern is, if personnel in the school district are able to get away with misconduct" concerning Hansen, "it can happen to anyone."
He said notice of intent to file a lawsuit against the school district and Phillips will be served next week or the week after, with the filing following in State Supreme Court. A suit against the Village Police will likely follow shortly thereafter, he added.
While monetary reward is the only one that can be sought in these cases, Schlather said, "the issue is not one of price, but of principle. The rights of Ms. Hansen as a member of the citizenry have been violated in a most egregious way." He declined to speculate as to the amount of monetary damages that might be sought.
Between now and the filings, he said, "we are gathering facts as to which members of the school district beyond the superintendent" might be named in the school suit. "The facts will determine how far down the chain" of district personnel his firm will go -- and which, if any, School Board members might be included.
In the meantime, he was asked, what happens if Hansen is arrested trying to attend another School Board meeting? She bypassed a chance earlier this week, cautioned ahead of time by police that she would be arrested if she tried.
"If she's arrested again," said Schlather, "then that would be another illegal arrest."
Addendum: When asked to comment on the court action dismissing the trespass charge and on the intended lawsuits, School Superintendent Phillips responded: "Please refer to the letter that was sent to The Odessa File from the Board President," Kelly McCarthy. "I don't believe you have published that letter."
Editor's Note: The March letter, a defense of the ban placed by Phillips on Hansen, and arguing the right of arrest based on that ban, felt excessive and too personal in its criticism of Hansen. Thus the decision not to run it.
Photos in text: Attorney Ray Schlather and Kristina Hansen after the trespass charge was dismissed; and the scene on March 21 when Hansen was led away by police.
The home near Catharine Corners that investigators say housed a meth lab.
2 charged in Meth lab case
CATHARINE CORNERS, March 17 -- Two men were arrested Wednesday when a suspected meth lab was discovered after Schuyler County Sheriff's Deputies responded to a report of a disturbance at a house near Catharine Corners.
"Responding deputies," said a press release from the Sheriff's Office, "discovered materials used in the production of methamphetamine," leading to the arrest of the two men "for Unlawful Manufacture of Methamphetamine in the Third Degree, a Class D felony."
Eric J. Storm, 43, and Robert A. Stevens, 22, were taken into custody at the scene, a residence they shared on County Road 14, just east of the intersection with County Road 15. That locale, known as Catharine Corners, is just south of the Village of Odessa.
The discovery brought State Police hazmat investigators to the house, which resulted in the removal of what deputies said was meth production-related materials. Odessa firefighters and Schuyler Ambulance personnel were present, too, as precautionary measures.
Storm and Stevens were arraigned and sent to jail in lieu of $5,000 bail or $10,000 bond.
Photos in text: Eric J. Storm (left) and Robert A. Stevens. (Photos provided)
Firefighters from Odessa were on hand during the meth-lab raid as a precaution.
WG Board has questions about State Park project's traffic flow
WATKINS GLEN, March 8, 2016 -- The Watkins Glen Village Board Monday night decided it wants more information regarding the traffic pattern changes planned with the renovation of the Watkins Glen State Park entry area this year.
Those plans were announced by state officials at a news conference at the Chamber of Commerce office last month. The project calls for relocating the existing parking area away from the gorge to a lot across the street, creating what is envisioned as a greener, more welcoming atmosphere at the park for the many tourists who visit each summer.
Both Mayor Sam Schimizzi and Police Chief Tom Struble said they thought the plan to eliminate the traffic light at the Park entrance and establish one nearby at 9th Street might not improve traffic flow, and might in fact worsen it. That, together with the pedestrian traffic coming from the parking lot across the street, seems to mean gridlock equal to or worse than it has been in the past, they suggested.
The mayor said he hadn't seen the actual plan, and would like to be able to do so, and to make any suggestions he saw fit. Struble said he too wanted more details, but that when he raised the matter at the Chamber news conference, "I felt we were put on the back burner."
If there are problems in the plan, Schimizzi said, "now is the time to do something ... rather than after the fact. Maybe we can try to get together with the park manager and get more information." Such a meeting, it was decided, would be pursued.
The board also:
--Approved a four-year pact with the Electric Department Employees Association, retroactive to June 1, 2014 and extending through May 31, 2018. Among other things, it includes 2% wage hikes this year and next.
--Expressed enthusiasm over a planned kayak guided tour business from the village launch near the Community Center off Fourth Street. It will be operated by Paul Deiseroth (pictured at right), who ran such an operation for a dozen years in Westchester and Orange Counties.
--Approved requests for the staging of the annual Cardboard Boat Regatta in June, and of the annual Seneca Lake Wine and Food event at Clute Park on May 21, contingent on Fire Department approval and proper insurance.
--Rejected a request for use of the Fire Hall for a wedding reception.
--Approved a request for use of the Community Center for a dance fitness class run by Marla Doan on Thursday nights, at a use charge of $35 for each one-hour session.
--Decided, in answer to a query by Movies in the Park organizer Sara Caldwell, that there can be fund-raising conducted during that weekly summer event, although any funds raised by games of chance must be approved by the Village Clerk's office.
--Acknowledged the community contributions of Rose Ciccone, who died Feb. 9. She served as a trustee on the Village Board, and was the moving force for years behind the Concert in the Park series that is still held weekly during the summer at Lafayette Park.
--Discussed the pending vacancy on the Planning Board created by the decision of Chris Bond, who serves as chairman, not to seek another term. An effort will be made to find a replacement.
--Decided to meet soon for the first of several budget workshops leading to adoption of a spending plan by May 1.
--Was reminded by Village Clerk Donna Beardsley that the village election day is Tuesday, March 15. Ballots will be cast from 12 noon to 9 p.m. at the Community Center.
Photos in text:
Top: From left: Trustees Laurie Denardo and Tony Fraboni, and Mayor Sam Schimizzi.
The Glen's 'No' vote will stand
WATKINS GLEN, Feb. 22, 2016 -- The Watkins Glen Village Board said at its meeting on Monday, Feb. 22, that it was standing by the vote taken by the board preceding it, back on August 24, 2014, opposing the Crestwood energy firm's proposal to store Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) in abandoned salt caverns near Seneca Lake.
Members of the board at that time were Mayor Mark Swinnerton, Deputy Mayor Scott Gibson, and trustees Tony Fraboni, Paul Clifford and Kevin Smith.
Members of the board now are Mayor Sam Schimizzi, Deputy Mayor Gary Schmidt and trustees Kevin Thornton, Tony Fraboni and Laurie DeNardo.
The summary of that earlier measure, in a document prepared by the village, reads as follows.
VOTING ITEMS -- August 24, 2014
Trustee Clifford stated that it may be misconstrued as conflict of interest if he were to vote on this matter, so he will abstain from the vote, but his personal opinion is that LPG storage is not the way to go because the risks are not worth the minimal number of jobs the facility would create. He also stated that he feels the resolution is more symbolic than anything else. Trustee Fraboni stated he was not in favor of the proposition and feels there is no benefit to the Village of Watkins Glen taking a stand on this issue. However, he did state that the Village does “hang our hat” on tourism and is not in favor of the Crestwood Project. Mayor Swinnerton stated that the Village’s opinions do matter and that taking a stand on behalf of the Village residents is what the Board was appointed to do.
Trustee Smith stated that he is in favor of industrialization, but has to vote on how the constituents would like him to vote and not on personal opinions, and the majority of them are against this project. Trustee Gibson stated that every business has risks and environmental issues, but looking at it from an economic standpoint, which is overwhelmingly tourism, this project does not seem to fit. The Mayor then called for a vote on the motion. The vote was as follows:
Photo in text: From left, 2014 members of the Village Board included, from left, Deputy Mayor Scott Gibson, Mayor Mark Swinnerton and Trustee Kevin Smith. All three voted against the Crestwood storage plan. Other members, abstaining, were Tony Fraboni and Paul Clifford. (File photo)
D.A.: Let's dismiss 111 cases
WATKINS GLEN, Feb. 18 -- Schuyler County District Attorney Joseph Fazzary, citing insufficient evidence, Thursday asked Town of Reading Justice Raymond Berry to dismiss 111 pending cases against defendants arrested for trespassing on property allegedly owned by the Crestwood energy firm along State Rte. 14 north of Watkins Glen.
However, nearly 260 other cases remain pending.
The cases stem from protests staged at the Crestwood gates in opposition to Crestwood's storage of methane in abandoned salt caverns and its proposal to store Liquefied Petroleum Gas in other caverns just west of Seneca Lake. Protesters warn of the possible contamination of Seneca Lake, which provides drinking water for tens of thousands of area residents.
Fazzary's office, in a press release, said the DA "has made his request to dismiss based upon his extensive review of hundreds of photographs, video, police reports and interviews with witnesses. His investigation has revealed that there is insufficient evidence to prosecute these 111 individuals for trespassing against Crestwood. In some cases he found that individuals had been arrested for trespassing at Crestwood's south gate. An examination of this gate, a survey map of the area, and interviews with New York State Department of Transportation officials, showed that the south gate is actually located on property owned by the State of New York.
"It was determined through legal counsel for the State DOT that it does not wish to pursue charges against these individuals for trespassing on State land.
"In other cases where arrests were made at the north gate, the evidence showed that these individuals were either not trespassing or it could not be determined if they were trespassing. In either event, the charges could not be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. Unfortunately, when many of these arrests took place, the "Posted" signs had been placed by Crestwood officials on land owned by the State of New York. Although the signs gave notice to potential trespassers that they were about to trespass, they did not clearly demark the line for police officials. That issue has been remedied."
The motion to dismiss the charges, the release went on, "is in no way intended to suggest that DA Fazzary supports the cause of the protesters. In fact, as required of his position, he takes no stance on either side of this issue. This decision is based solely on his evidentiary findings after a full and complete investigation."
The press release said Fazzary also told the court that he is "in all respects ready to continue with the prosecution of the nearly 260 cases which will remain pending if the court grants his motion to dismiss." His office, he added, is "ready for trial in each and every case not covered by this motion," and he asked the court "to begin scheduling trials of these actions."
In his letter to Berry, Fazzary also said that the dismissal of charges "against those arrested at the south gate only pertains to those charged with trespass. All cases charging disorderly conduct at that gate remain subject to prosecution," as do those cases charging disorderly conduct at the north gate.
Photo in text: District Attorney Joe Fazzary. (File photo)
A look at the park entrance layout, with parking across Franklin Street.
$6.5 million plan to transform Watkins State Park entrance
Parking to be relocated; new 'green' amenities planned
WATKINS GLEN, Feb. 11 -- Local and state dignitaries gathered Thursday at the Waktins Glen Area Chamber of Commerce visitor center for the announcement of a $6.5 million project at the Watkins Glen State Park -- to start this year -- that will relocate the existing parking area away from the gorge, creating a less congested and more welcoming approach to what is a leading Finger Lakes tourism destination.
The project, part of Governor Andrew Cuomo's environmental improvement vision, brought to the Chamber center Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, State Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey, State Senator Tom O'Mara, Assemblyman Phil Palmesano, Watkins Glen Deputy Mayor Gary Schmidt, and area Chamber of Commerce President Rebekah LaMoreaux -- each of whom spoke.
Among the other dignitaries present were Schuyler County Legislature Chair Dennis Fagan, County Administrator Tim O'Hearn, Watkins Glen Police Chief Tom Struble, and Schuyler County Sherlff Bill Yessman. Scores of other interested parties attended, along with various media representatives.
The State Park's main-entrance parking lot -- built west of Franklin Street in Watkins Glen -- will be returned as it once was to green space, and new park amenities will be created, including a visitor center.
Lt. Governor Hochul told Thursday's gathering that she is no stranger to the Finger Lakes -- that she and her husband have regularly visited area wineries and other attractions -- and said that to have the State Park gorge "in your backyard ... I hope you all appreciate it." She called the existing parking lot fronting the gorge "a little design flaw" that will be replaced with a green setting that will "take the park to the next level."
Added O'Mara: “One of the nation’s greatest state parks certainly deserves a grand entrance. We’re grateful to Governor Cuomo and everyone at the State Office of Parks and Recreation for this long-awaited enhancement to Watkins Glen State Park. We’ve been extremely proud here in the Finger Lakes region to have Watkins Glen recognized as the third best state park in America, and we’re appreciative to have a park entrance that’s a worthy welcome to all of the natural wonders awaiting the park’s hundreds of thousands of annual visitors.”
Commissioner Harvey said the traffic light in front of the park entrance will be eliminated, and that parking will be across Franklin street -- in space now occupied by a dirt lot and beyond. A string of properties from Franklin Street to Decatur will be utilized for parking purposes.
According to a press release: "The hardscape entrance to the gorge will be transformed into a more natural landscaped park setting. The area will include a new visitor welcome center where park staff can provide information about the park, and the Watkins Glen Chamber of Commerce will have a counter to provide information about other attractions in the region.
"Other improvements will include a small outdoor amphitheater and improved educational displays on the park’s human history and natural and geologic features, including a touchable model of the gorge, and a new overlook at the base of the gorge where people with mobility challenges will be able to enjoy the waterfalls.
"Other improvements include renovating the park’s existing concession/rest room building and reopening the “Indian Trail,” which has been closed for over 50 years.
Photos in text: An artist's conception of the park-entrance plan, as seen from above.; Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul; Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey; Chamber President Rebekah LaMoreaux presents a Finger Lakes monopoly game to Hochul; and State Senator Tom O'Mara (left) and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano.
A small outdoor amphitheater is part of the park's renovation/transformation plan.
Another look at the envisioned Watkins Glen State Park, near the front entrance.
Chief: We need community's help in fighting heroin spread
Union, salt reps seek new Village Board propane vote
WATKINS GLEN, Feb. 1 -- The Watkins Glen Village Board dealt Monday night with event requests, with department reports, with several resolutions, and with an attempt to sway its members in favor of Crestwood's proposed propane storage. But for sheer drama, Police Chief Tom Struble took center stage.
The Chief, asked by Mayor Sam Schimizzi about the extent of of heroin use in our area, called it "an epidemic" --weighing in on the very evening that a forum on the subject was being held at the Watkins Glen Elementary School auditorium.
That forum, alluded to by the Chief, drew about 30 people to hear speakers that included a couple of recovering addicts as well as Timothy J. Dewey, Senior Investigator for the New York State Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement. The event was sponsored by the Schuyler County Coalition on Underage Drinking and Drugs (SCCUDD) as a means to build awareness of the problem in the region.
And it is a problem, said Struble, that goes far beyond the borders of Watkins Glen, although the village was spotlighted this past week with an overdose fatality. "We're still working that investigation," he said.
Several people in the region have met the same fate in recent months, he said, including four in Yates County in the past month.
He said he has been meeting with other law enforcement officials to discuss the matter and hopefully devise effective countermeasures, "but I can't get into the nuts and bolts."
The problem is exacerbated, he said, by the fact that heroin "is easy to get" and is relatively inexpensive compared to prescription drugs. In addition, he said, it's being mixed with other ingredients, in particular the opiate Fentanyl, with increasingly dangerous results.
"It's a broad-spectrum problem," the Chief said, "and it's a community issue. If a resident knows about anything going on" involving heroin or other drugs, "come to us, to law enforcement. This is an uphill battle without community help."
In other business:
--The board was invited by a US Salt representative to visit the propane facility operated in Savona by US Salt's parent company, the Crestwood energy firm, to "become educated" regarding the safety of propane storage.
David Asbury, US Salt Maintenance Planner, told the board that with that education, its members might well reverse the vote of the previous village administration in opposition to the propane storage plan. Only one member of that earlier board has retained a seat.
Asbury was joined by David Marsh, business manager of Laborers Local 785 out of Ithaca, who pointed out to the board that the storage project, if approved by the state, will provide for more jobs -- in particular under a memorandum of agreement being worked out now by Crestwood and the Southern Tier Building and Construction Trades Council. He said that once that agreement is finalized, he might visit other municipal governments urging them to support the project.
Only the Schuyler County Legislature and the Town of Reading Board have given the project their blessing. A concerted effort by protesters has led to opposition votes by various governing units around Seneca Lake.
--The board gave its preliminary approval to a Seneca Swim at Clute Park on Aug. 20, and to the annual Italian American Festival at Clute on Aug. 12-14.
--The board heard from Code Enforcement Officer Greg Larnard that about 20 apartments on the second and third floors of the former Middle School have been spoken for as the facility nears its grand opening, and that construction of the Seneca Terrace Apartments near the Elks Lodge is proceeding, with the lower of the two buildings set for completion by late summer. Construction of the building higher on the hill will follow.
Photos in text: From top: Mayor Sam Schimizzi, Police Chief Tom Struble and labor representative David Marsh at Monday's meeting.
Getman named to County Attorney post
Special to The Odessa File
WATKINS GLEN, Jan. 6 -- The Schuyler County Legislature on Wednesday named Steven J. Getman to a four-year term as Schuyler County Attorney. The appointment passed unanimously.
Getman, a resident of Watkins Glen, had been serving as interim county attorney following the August 2015 resignation of Geoffrey Rossi. Prior to that, Getman served as assistant county attorney, responsible for juvenile and family court prosecutions.
He is a 1986 graduate of Cornell University, a 1987 graduate of Ithaca College and a 1991 graduate of Hofstra University School of Law. He has practiced municipal and criminal law since 1992. He also serves as an adjunct instructor of criminal justice at Keuka College.
Getman has named Kristen Hazlitt of Hector and Heidi Paulino of Ithaca as assistant county attorneys. Hazlitt has been with the office since 2002, concentrating on Social Services law. Paulino was named to fill the vacancy created by Getman’s promotion to county attorney.
Under New York State law, the county attorney is the legal advisor to county government in all matters involving official acts of a civil nature. The county attorney prosecutes and defends civil actions and proceedings brought by or against the county and also represents the County Department of Social Services in child abuse and other cases involving children and vulnerable adults.
Photos in text:
Top: County Attorney Steven J. Getman (Photo provided)
WG, Montour get $5M grant
SCHUYLER COUNTY, Dec. 15 -- Watkins Glen and Montour Falls will be awarded a $5 million grant to assist in the planning, design and construction of a Joint Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant that will combine the villages’ sewer systems to improve the water quality in Seneca Lake.
The funds were among $75 million in grants announced Tuesday as earmarked for 45 projects statewide. The grant program was created through the New York State Water Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2015 (WIIA) established as part of the 2015-2016 state budget. In addition to the grants, the state Environmental Facilities Corporation (EFC) provides interest-free and low-interest loans to communities to further reduce the cost of infrastructure projects.
Grant funds cheer SCOPED
Organization lists opportunities for use of URI award
WATKINS GLEN, Dec. 10 -- The Schuyler County Partnership for Economic Development on Thursday reacted with enthusiasm to Governor Andrew Cuomo's announcement that the Southern Tier Regional Economic Development Council (STREDC) is one of three New York State Upstate Revitalization Initiative (URI) winners.
As a URI winner, the Southern Tier has been granted $500 million to be allocated over the next five years to implement transformational economic development initiatives.
“We are very excited about this announcement and applaud the Governor’s decision in selecting the Southern Tier as a winning region,” said Jeff Confer, chairman of the Board of Directors of SCOPED. “This win validates the efforts that have been made to date in our region.”
As one of eight counties in the Southern Tier, Schuyler County has four projects that are in line for funding in the first year alone. These projects include (1) an Ultra Premium Beverage Center at the Schuyler County Business Park, (2) a Vineyard Reclamation program to provide low-interest loans to vineyards looking to upgrade to Vinifera grape varieties or re-plant abandoned vineyards, (3) the establishment of the Southern Tier Agriculture Education Fund, including a Viticulture NYS Certified Apprenticeship Program and (4) additional funding for the Watkins Glen-Montour Falls regional wastewater treatment plant.
In addition, Project Seneca’s efforts to continue the revitalization of the Seneca Lake waterfront and canalway were specifically identified as a “Signature Project” in Year 2 and beyond.
“This award will provide the additional resources that are critical for the betterment of the businesses and workers in our community,” said Judy McKinney Cherry, CEcD, Executive Director of SCOPED and member of the Southern Tier Regional Economic Development Council.
For additional information about the URI and projects within Schuyler County, visit the Project Seneca page of the SCOPED website: www.FLXGateway.com/project-seneca/uri
Photo in text: Governor Andrew Cuomo during a stop in our region in 2013. (File photo)
O'Mara trumpets 'big wins' for S. Tier in competitions
Area development councils win 2 of 3 grants at $500 million each
Special to The Odessa File
ALBANY, Dec. 10 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats) applauded today’s (Thursday's) announcement that the Southern Tier and the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Councils (REDC) are two of the three winners in this year’s Upstate Revitalization Incentive (URI) economic development aid competition.
Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara (File photo)
Board member: 'I'm done'
Discussion leads to walkout, resignation by Planning unit's Merrill
WATKINS GLEN, Nov. 19 -- A seemingly low-keyed Watkins Glen Planning Board session turned dramatic Wednesday night when board member Tom Merrill -- expressing frustration over the body's ineffectiveness -- said "you'll have my resignation" and "I'm done" as he rose and left the session before its conclusion.
Planning Board Chairman Chris Bond, when asked afterward if Merrill's action actually constituted a resignation -- one is required in writing -- said "maybe it was, maybe it wasn't. I'll reach out to him tomorrow, after he has a night to sleep on it."
Merrill confirmed Thursday afternoon, however, that he had submitted his resignation earlier in the day to Village Clerk Donna Beardsley and to Bond.
Merrill, with a background (like Bond) in engineering, was specifically upset by a board action Wednesday giving preliminary approval to a site plan calling for construction of two buildings at 135 Old Corning Road with three apartments in each -- to be built following demolition of a home on the nearly half-acre of land there.
The project is being proposed by Kirk Sorensen of Watkins Glen and Nathan Caplan, who has constructed apartments in the Waverly area. With them to explain the project in detail -- it was first brought to the Planning Board in October -- was Andrew Harding of AJH Design in Elmira Heights.
Merrill first was concerned about the parking planned at the apartments -- three-bedroom units that could be rented by the year, but might also be rented by the week. Merrill said that if the rental is short-term -- say for a race weekend -- chances are the seven parking spots shown on the design plans will fall far short of the need since short-term rentals often result in three or four cars per rental unit.
That argument resulted in an agreement to amend the plan to meet a minimum requirement of 12 parking spaces -- two for each of the six units. But even that, Merrill insisted, could be completely inadequate. The board was given assurances, though, by Caplan and Code Enforcement Officer Greg Larnard that there is room on the property to deal with such contingencies.
Merrill also raised the issue of engineering to meet the needs of storm sewer runoff, but was assured by Larnard that such an action is required only on parcels of an acre or more.
It was after the vote -- after the preliminary site plan approval, after the project planners had departed, and after Merrill had again raised the issue of storm runoff with Larnard, saying he was confused by the fact that such facilities as Burger King and Dunkin' Donuts had less than an acre of land but were each required to undergo a storm sewer engineering study -- that the evening turned dramatic.
Larnard -- saying he was willing to tell Sorensen and Caplan about the need for an engineering study, and then left the meeting, citing another appointment -- had just departed when Merrill raised the issue again and expressed a "frustration" with limitations within which the Planning Board operates, and complained that Larnard's actions tend to help developers and not the Planning Board.
Bond tried to short-circuit the discussion by saying that Larnard interprets the rules and regulations differently sometimes from the Board, but Merrill shifted subject, complaining that having given preliminary site plan approval -- leading to a public hearing next month -- "there's no way we can turn around now and tell them" they have to do an engineering study.
That, said Bond and Fazzary, might not be the case; that Sorensen and Caplan seemed amenable to change. And Bond suggested the board "do a little research" into the issue to determine definitively what the regulations require, and said that in any event, "the time for discussion was before the vote."
Merrill said he understood that, but was "frustrated with the whole level of what we can do as a board." (As Fazzary and Bond later pointed out, that frustration likely included a seeming inability to reach resolution on placement of a dumpster in the Franklin Street Plaza, and the failure of the board to get Dunkin' Donuts to complete a parking lot project that was started last spring.)
Further discussion between Merrill and Bond led Merrill to finally say "this will be my last meeting. I don't think we take it seriously enough."
"I'm sorry you feel that way," said Bond. "I take it seriously."
"I don't think the Village Board stands behind us," Merrill responded, adding: "I'm not trying to argue. You'll have my official resignation. I'm done."
And with that he walked out, leaving the board momentarily in stunned silence. Finally board member Jim Adesso spoke up. "That's why it's called a preliminary site plan review," he said, alluding to the possibility of changing the plan to include the engineering.
Added Fazzary: "I sense where (Merrill) is coming from. But I'm not sure he understands some of the things we're required to do ... He's frustrated that (a couple of businesses) haven't complied. But I'm not sure this was the time or place ..."
Noted Bond: Discussions regarding Planning Board frustrations are in the works. "I tried to say to Tom, we need to try to work those out. I tried to tell him this wasn't a productive way to do it. What other resolution could we have come to?"
Photos in text:
From top: Architect Andrew Harding explains the apartment plan on Old Corning Road; the Planning Board's Tom Merrill; and Code Enforcement Officer Greg Larnard.
A number of races on Election Day, Nov. 3
WATKINS GLEN, Oct. 28 -- The Schuyler County Board of Elections has provided a list of candidates on the ballot Nov. 3rd on the county level and in towns throughout Schuyler County.
To see the list, click here.
Jim Barrett works alongside Beach Road after the June storm. (Photo provided)
Responding to desperate times
Many workers pitched in to help clean up following June's storm, and one man in particular stood out, says the Soil and Water Conservation District.
(The following article was prepared by the Schuyler County Soil and Water Conservation District.)
WATKINS GLEN, Sept. 3 -- June of 2015 brought catastrophic flooding impacts to Schuyler County when 5 inches of rain fell in less than two hours. Damage from this event was vast and costly to both public and private infrastructure. The storm had widespread impacts, but especially focused its devastation in the Towns of Tyrone, Reading, and Catharine.
Flooding events have become more and more numerous annually in New York State. We have been very thankful that our County has fared relatively well until June's storm. However, with damage and devastation the storm brought something else to the forefront of our county -- resiliency, dedication, and a true shared services effort to help repair the infrastructure that was lost and in order to preserve our needed tourism season, but most importantly for the thousands of year-round residents who depend on it daily.
Our Town, County, and Village Highway Departments shined. Municipal boundaries didn't exist. The Emergency Management Department, our local fire departments and our Sheriff's Department all put forth a swift and immediate response.
The most cost-effective means to ensure that issues could be rectified in a timely manner was what mattered most. The area received many phone calls, many pieces of equipment, and immense amount of labor from all of the Chemung Town Highway Departments, the Chemung County Highway Department, the Chemung County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), and the Town of Wayne Highway Department, to just list a very few of those who came to our aid.
Within our own Schuyler County, the towns that did not feel as great an impact jumped immediately to the aid of those that did. Every highway department aided one another to help shoulder the seemingly impossible burden that lay ahead, making that burden more bearable.
The Schuyler County Soil and Water Conservation District focused its efforts first to assess damage, prioritize work, get permitting in place, and to obtain and utilize funding to assist with these efforts of rehabilitation. The next phase was to construct as many projects as possible to aid in lessening some of the burden. This would not have happened without the joint effort of support from all of our highway departments, and from one individual who is a true asset to the Schuyler County Soil and Water Conservation District and to our towns, villages and county: Jim Barrett.
Jim has been an equipment operator for nearly 40 years in Schuyler County, working much of that time for the Schuyler County Highway Department. More recently, over the last several years, he has worked as the seasonal equipment operator for the Schuyler County Soil and Water Conservation District. His talent and abilities are known throughout every highway department, not only in our county, but throughout the region.
What stands out most about Jim Barrett is his selflessness. He sees a job that needs to be done and he finds a way to do get it done. He does this with a smile on his face and with one of the best attitudes you could ever have at work or in life. He helps with team morale no matter what the situation because his work ethic and attitude are infectious. If it means staying late to finish the job in a less costly manner, or to come in on the weekend, you don't even have to ask, Jim is there. The abilities he has shown time and time again on an excavator can only be mimicked by a handful of operators throughout the region, at best.
During these trying times over the last several months, Jim has worked literally with every one of our town highway departments, county highway department and even many Chemung County town and highway departments. The common theme you hear back from any of those folks he has worked with is gratitude and appreciation for making an impossible situation manageable and bearable. Jim Barrett has received formal letters of appreciation from the Schuyler County Legislature and Town of Reading, and informal recognition from another dozen municipalities in the region, and too many private residents to list.
With the assistance of many to make this possible, the Schuyler County Soil and Water Conservation District has stabilized over 18,000 feet of road ditch, nearly 6,000 feet of stream, and utilized over 9,000 tons of rock rip-rap, all accomplished in just the past few months' time. All 9,000 + tons of rip rap were set by Jim Barrett, and paid for with competitive grant funding obtained by the Schuyler County Soil and Water Conservation District. This again took a monumental effort of borrowed equipment, trucks to bring the material, operators to run loaders to assist with bringing the rock to be placed, and many individuals to provide the necessary hand labor to finish the jobs, all while each highway department worked on dozens and dozens of its own projects.
Again, one common theme existed -- "Whatever we can do to help Jim. If Jim is running the equipment, you can use whatever you need." These statements and many others were heard time and time again. Although the storm magnified this work, this is the type of effort Jim Barrett has shown year in and year out for the Schuyler County Soil and Water Conservation District.
There is still a great deal of effort that is needed ahead. The Schuyler County SWCD has applied for an additional $942,000 in funding through the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation's Water Quality Improvement Program to help bring even more funds to our region to assist with continued work and clean up from this challenging event.
When you see your local highway department personnel, take the time to thank them for their united effort. Each department has many dedicated workers that put forth this type of effort daily to help ensure the integrity of our stressed public infrastructure. Oftentimes they put their own safety aside to ensure our safety.
Photos in text:
From top: Jim Barrett operates an excavator along Beach Road; Kendall Hill Road in the Town of Tyrone before and after; Beach Road in the Town of Reading before and after. (Photos provided)
Members of the Concerned Residents of Reading at the pre-meeting press conference.
Reading board, residents clash
READING CENTER, July 9 -- A movement by a Town of Reading citizen group to generate opposition to Crestwood's proposed LPG storage met with tension and a brick wall at Wednesday night's meeting of the Reading Town Board.
The group, calling itself Concerned Reading Residents (CRR), has gathered 230 signatures of town residents in an effort to get the town board to express its concern about the proposed Crestwood energy firm's storage of millions of gallons of propane and butane in abandoned salt caverns on the west side of Seneca Lake, within the Town of Reading.
The town board, which the CRR group said first urged it in April to gather information on any opposition by residents, and which listened to a growing number of those residents at its May and June meetings, wanted no part of the subject Wednesday.
Town Supervisor Marvin Switzer said at the meeting's outset that "we're not going to have any comment on Crestwood tonight ... at all."
However, he permitted the submission of signatures gathered from residents concerned about the project, and listened while one resident, Gita Devi -- who operates a bed-and-breakfast facility on the nearby Altay Road -- questioned why the town had prohibited opponents from distributing a survey questionnaire at the town dump during operational hours.
Switzer said it was "a matter of safety" because vehicles move "in and out" of the facility. When Devi persisted, arguing that town residents have a right "to assemble" on town property, Switzer said the town attorney said otherwise, and "we're going with what he says." Devi again tried to debate the issue, but Switzer cut her off with "I'm not going to argue with you."
Town resident Tamra Jankowski then approached the board. She had been an organizer of a press conference preceding the board meeting -- a conference at which several residents spoke in opposition to the LPG storage plan and urged the board to express concern about the project to the state Department of Environmental Conservation and Governor Andrew Cuomo. Other muncipalities around the lake have done that and expressed outright opposition, they pointed out. The press conference ended with its participants signing such a letter to be sent to the governor, and with Jankowski being interviewed by a TV reporter.
In that interview, she said the CRR movement was born at the urging of the town board and because residents are "concerned about the health and safety of the community We don't even have a fire department. How do we respond" to an emergency should one occur related to LPG storage?
"And there are water quality concerns," she said. "This is a very very big project that needs an awful lot more research. If something goes wrong, it can go very very wrong."
Now, at the board meeting, Jankowski said she "wanted to update the board" on the CRR campaign and its increasing number of signatures. "We're kind of excited about that," she said.
"I thought," interrupted Switzer, "that we weren't going to (discuss that)."
When Jankowski continued her presentation, Switzer said she was "disrespecting our order" not to discuss Crestwood. A few moments later, with Jankowski still talking, Switzer slammed his hand on the table, stopping Jankowski and bringing the attention of those in attendance -- some 35 people -- to the front of the room.
"Enough! Switzer said, raising his voice.
Jankowski tried to interject: "I was just trying to get ..."
"You got our attention," said the supervisor, ending the discussion.
The meeting was over in 31 minutes, and Switzer, before heading toward the hallway outside his office, was asked why the Crestwood discussion was cut off.
"We've heard this for the past two months," he said. "The same people are here (tonight). I didn't see the comments changing."
When asked what the board would do regarding the project, he said it was "in a holding pattern. We'll wait to see what the state does."
The DEC decision on the storage project, under consideration now for years, is expected in the near future.
Photos in text:
Marvin Switzer listens to resident Tamra Jankowski, with Town Clerk Alice
Conklin next to him.
Meth labs are making their way into residential areas
Watkins arrest, says chief, underscores need for 'vigilance' by communities
WATKINS GLEN, July 8 -- Watkins Glen Police Chief Tom Struble points to the arrest on Tuesday, July 7 of a man in a Second Street apartment on a methamphetamine-related charge as an indication that the spread of meth labs is "a community problem" that requires "vigilance" on the part of residents in organized communities from villages to cities.
With the advent of a "one-pot cooking method," he said, meth labs are cleaner and less odorous than their country brothers normally associated with backwoods sheds and, often, with mobile operations where meth "cookers" drop the remnants of their trade alongside highways while moving from one locale to another.
The "substantial amount of paraphernalia" and the ingredients found in the apartment of Christopher S. Coy on the second floor of an apartment building at 117 East Second St. in Watkins Glen on Tuesday morning was indicative of a stable, established meth lab, Struble said, although nothing was being cooked at the time. The arrest was accomplished with a search warrant wielded by members of the Watkins Glen Village Police, Schuyler County Sheriff's Office and State Police Contaminated Crime Scene Emergency Response Team.
The raid saw law enforcement personnel close off Second Street, with most of them parking in the Guthrie medical facility lot directly across the street from the apartment building. Struble said that Coy, surprised by their arrival at his door, "put up a struggle," which led to a charge of Resisting Arrest on top of the primary charge of Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance, 3rd Degree, a Class B felony. He was arrested, arraigned and jailed in lieu of cash bail.
On hand to assist were members of Schuyler Ambulance and the Watkins Glen Fire Department, a representative of the Drug Enforcement Administration, and a representative from the District Attorney's office.
The felony sale charge stemmed from an incident "within the last month," Struble (right) said, which was part of an ongoing investigation into the meth trade in Schuyler County. "Obviously," Struble said, indicating the material that police found in the apartment, "further charges are pending. We'll inventory the evidence and go from there."
Coy, he said, has "no rap sheet with us," but had come to the attention of law enforcement as a person "who was possibly cooking at that location." Struble said he believes Coy has lived at that address "a long time, at least a few years. I think he kept to himself quite a bit."
The fact that an alleged meth lab was found in the village, the chief said, points to "a trend throughout New York State" where such labs are finding their way into populated areas, "even cities. The trend is toward urban and other residential" settings.
Meth has "become an epidemic," he said. "It's not going away unless communities and police work together." Residents, he added, should "be forever vigilant. If anyone sees something suspicious -- thinks there might be a lab -- they should call us and let us make that determination.
"I realize there's a fine line there, that people don't want to be nosy neighbors. But they should call us."
Photo in text: The apartment house at 117 E. Second Street. Coy's apartment occupies the front of the second floor.
Finger Lakes Region eyed as National Heritage Corridor
Gillibrand legislation would trigger feasibility study
Special to The Odessa File
PENN YAN, June 23 -- U.S Senator Kirsten Gillibrand announced Monday she is introducing legislation that would authorize the National Park Service to take steps toward designating the Finger Lakes region as a National Heritage Corridor.
If the legislation passes, the Finger Lakes will undergo the Feasibility Study Process to determine if the region meets the necessary standards to become a National Heritage Corridor. National Heritage Areas are designated by Congress as places where natural, cultural and historic resources come together to form a cohesive, nationally important landscape.
“I am honored that we are taking the first steps needed for the Finger Lakes region of New York State to be designated by the National Park Service as a National Heritage Area,” said Gillibrand in an appeararnce in Penn Yan. “It comes as no surprise to me or anyone who visits this beautiful part of our state, the Finger Lakes region deserves to be recognized alongside so many other historic landmarks and natural wonders as part of the National Park Service as a natural service area.”
“We are in an area that is rich in natural beauty with parks, waterfalls, hiking, boating. We are a destination tourism attraction,” said Ken McConnell, Chairman of the Finger Lakes Tourism Alliance Board of Directors. “These assets, combined, tell us a history of our area that is important to each of us, and it should be important to each of us that this area’s assets are preserved for future generations.”
Tourism is a $2.8 billion industry in the Finger Lakes and employs 58,384 people. Designation as a National Heritage Area has led to an incremental but substantial increase in tourism in other areas that have received the designation. There are currently 49 areas designated as National Heritage Areas. Each supports historic preservation, natural resource conservation, recreation, heritage tourism, and educational projects.
Founded in 1919, the Finger Lakes Tourism Alliance is recognized as one of the oldest destination marketing organizations in the United States. FLTA is an association of private-sector attractions, tourism-related businesses and county tourism offices working together to enhance and promote visitor businesses for the 9,000-square-mile Finger Lakes region.
Photo in text: U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (File photo)
Watkins Glen Mayor Sam Schimizzi, left, and trustee Kevin Thornton at Monday's meeting.
Board ponders streaming need
Considers curtailment, but opts for further study
WATKINS GLEN, June 16 -- The Watkins Glen Village Board Monday night discussed the possibility of ending its streaming coverage of board sessions, but decided to put off a decision until it can contact the company in charge of the program and ask what options might exist in its operation.
The issue had been raised once before, with possible termination based on the cost of the program -- an estimated $1,000 a month with only 20 or fewer area residents tuning in to watch on their computers. But as Ttrustee Tony Fraboni said, maybe the village wants to keep the program for record retention and archival purposes.
The suggestion that the streaming be eliminated and the sessions recorded and downloaded for later viewing was raised, but more information on the cost and bother of such a practice needed to be studied, trustees indicated.
In other business, the board:
--Heard from Boy Scout Alex Gibson, who presented a concept for an Eagle Scout project he is planning: the revitalization of Gifford Park near the downtown, used primarily now as the site of the village Christmas Tree each December. Gibson said he wants to enhance the park with a bench and a sign extolling the life of Stuart L. Gifford, a once-prominent Watkins Glen resident whose son, Thomas, a retired banker, recently concluded a long tenure on the Schuyler County Legislature.
Financing for the bench and sign is still in the planning stages, Gibson said, but might include fund-raising through an online service.
The board unanimously agreed that the plan was a good one, and gave its blessing for Gibson to proceed. He said he hopes to complete the project in September.
--Approved a special-event application for the upcoming Cardboard Boat Regatta at Seneca Harbor Marina, set for this Saturday -- to be preceded by a Harbor Lights festival at Seneca Harbor Park Friday night.
--Heard from several residents about damage in the village caused by the Sunday night storm, and assured them that village crews were doing all they could to effect repairs and would be meeting with members of the Schuyler County Soil and Water Conservation District to discuss further plans.
Mayor Sam Schimizzi said he appreciated all the work that the village crews, police, and fire department did in combatting the storm damage. "I was impressed with everybody," he said. "They did an awesome job."
Photo in text: Boy Scout Alex Gibson at Monday's session.
7 protesters arrested, bringing total to 279
Special to The Odessa File
WATKINS GLEN, June 2 -- Wearing surgical scrubs and lab coats, seven gas storage protesters led by area healthcare professionals -- including family physician doctor Susan Soboroff, MD; midwife Monica Daniel, CNM, LM; OB-GYN nurse Mary Menapace, and psychiatric nurse practitioner Denise Kooperman -- formed a human blockade shortly before 7:30 a.m. Monday at the north entrances of Crestwood Midstream on Route 14 and prevented all traffic from entering or leaving.
All seven were arrested at 8 a.m. by Schuyler County deputies who charged them with trespassing and disorderly conduct. They were transported to the Sheriff's Office in Watkins Glen, processed and released pending their court appearances.
The blockaders held banners that said, “Health Care Providers (& Patients) Against Crestwood” and “Our Health is Not Negotiable.”
Twenty other health providers and patients rallied near the highway at the site.
None of the protesters had been previously arrested as part of the We Are Seneca Lake movement, which opposes Crestwood’s plans for methane storage expansion in abandoned salt caverns west of the lake. The total number of arrests now stands at 279 in the seven-month-old civil disobedience campaign.
Crestwood’s methane gas storage expansion project was approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last October.
Those arrested Monday:
Marie Ely Baumgardner, 67, Burdett, Schuyler County
Photo in text: Protest sign (File photo)
League student representative visits Albany
Special to The Odessa File
ALBANY, May 22 -- Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I-Corning) welcomed Bradford Central High School student Karilyn Rutledge -- a League of Women Voters representative -- to the Capitol earlier this week.
Rutledge shadowed Palmesano for the day and enjoyed a unique glimpse into the legislative process. She attended an Education Committee meeting with Palmesano and witnessed legislative debates on the floor of the Assembly.
“The intellectual curiosity and enthusiasm that Karilyn displayed on her visit to Albany are a testament to the bright future she has ahead of her,” said Palmesano. “She is a credit to her family, her school and the entire League of Women Voters program. I wish her the best of success as she pursues her future goals.”
Rutledge is a senior at Bradford. She balances her academic coursework and affiliation with the league with a part-time job at the Corning Museum of Glass. She plans to attend Corning Community College in the fall.
Photo in text: Assemblyman Phil Palmesano and Karilyn Rutledge. (Photo provided)
The WGHS students, with Senator O’Mara (far left standing) and, standing from right to left, Assemblyman Friend, Assemblyman Palmesano and teacher Travis Durfee. (Photo provided)
WGHS students visit reps in Albany
Special to The Odessa File
ALBANY, May 19 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats), Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I-Corning) and Assemblyman Chris Friend (R,C,I-Big Flats) welcomed a contingent of Watkins Glen High School students to the state capital Tuesday.
The students were accompanied to Albany by instructor Travis Durfee, who also serves as President of the Watkins Glen Faculty Association. Over the past several weeks, as part of his ninth-grade Humanities curriculum, Durfee has focused on debate studies in which students have selected and researched a variety of issues, prepared debate briefs and other background materials, and engaged in formal debates.
He took his students to Albany Tuesday to meet their state lawmakers, discuss a variety of ideas and issues, visit the state government complex, and watch a live session of the State Senate.
In a joint statement, O’Mara, Palmesano and Friend said, “We
appreciate Mr. Durfee’s efforts to engage his students’ interest
in government and the political process. His enthusiasm and his knowledge
will go a long way toward instilling in the next generation the sense
of civic responsibility so vital to the strength and well-being of our
democracy. And it’s always exciting and refreshing to see young
people respond to a subject with curiosity, enthusiasm and hard work.
The following students were in Albany Tuesday: Amanda Armstrong, Emilia Bond, Ashley Caslin, Maria Chedzoy, Sean Holland, Ryanna LaMoreaux, Daniel Paradiso, Tanner Ryan, Seth Swinnerton, Julian Thronton, Kaitlyn Valla, Simon Wigmore and Conlin Wysocki.
Photo in text: Students listen to Assemblyman Chris Friend (Photo provided)
Student Sean Holland, left, addresses State Senator Tom O'Mara, center at end of table, who is flanked by Assemblymen Chris Friend (left) and Phil Palmesano. (Photo provided)
Meth lab legislation gains Senate OK
Special to The Odessa File
ALBANY, May 19 -- The New York State Senate Tuesday approved legislation sponsored by Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C-Big Flats) to crack down on clandestine methamphetamine labs locally and across the state by significantly increasing the criminal penalties for manufacturing meth.
As it did last session, the Senate approved O’Mara’s proposal with strong bipartisan support by a vote of 54 to 8. The legislation is currently in the Assembly Codes Committee, where it’s sponsored by Assemblyman Sean Ryan (D-Erie County).
If enacted into law, O’Mara’s legislation (S.1440/A.5617) would increase the criminal penalties for the possession of meth manufacturing material and the unlawful manufacture of meth, implementing a series of increasingly severe felony offenses.
“Meth labs continue to pose unacceptable risks to our neighborhoods, threaten the safety of police officers and first responders, and burden local systems of health care, criminal justice and social services,” said O’Mara, who also continues to serve as a member of the Senate Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction. “The only byproducts of meth are addiction, tragedy and violence.”
In early March, the Senate approved a second piece of meth-related legislation sponsored by O’Mara (S.1150/A.5577) that would increase the criminal penalties for the possession and/or sale of the drug by implementing an increasingly severe set of felony offenses. If enacted, state penalties in response to meth would be brought more in line with the penalties for possessing and selling cocaine and heroin. That piece of O’Mara-sponsored legislation is also sponsored by Ryan in the Assembly and remains in the Assembly Codes Committee.
Reaffirms construction of new facility along canal
WATKINS GLEN, May 5 -- The Watkins Glen Village Board Monday night surprised some people by approving in a 4-0 vote the continuation of the joint regional wastewater treatment plant project planned along the canal.
Following statements from several people in attendance at the board's monthly meeting and the reading of two letters to the board -- all strongly in favor of the project -- Trustee Laurie DeNardo said that the board had not been opposed to the project -- "I don't think any one of us want it stopped" -- but had merely "needed time to digest" its scope and details.
With that, she made a motion "to move forward with the project," and was quickly seconded by Trustee Kevin Thornton. The vote followed: 4-0 in favor.
A couple of area residents in attendance said afterward that they were taken aback by the vote, since recent comments by Mayor Sam Schimizzi had given the appearance, at least, of a reluctance to embrace the treatment plant project. And discussions on the street in recent days had reflected a feeling that approval might be a 50-50 proposition; nobody seemed to know which way the board might move.
Area residents speaking at the meeting before the vote included:
-- Rev. Michael Hartney (pictured at right), who described the project as a "positive for the community," and resulting development of the waterfront "a huge benefit for future generations."
-- Retired Village Justice Nick Dugo, who said he couldn't "imagine we won't go ahead" with the project. He said he had lived for many years in the village because of the services it offered, and that he would be fully willing to pay for the service provided by the new plant.
-- Jefferson Village maintenance representative John Bond, who said he knew 50 residents at that facility who would like to be rid of the smell that often emanates from the existing, nearby treatment plant.
-- Lake resident Joseph Campbell, who said the existing, sometimes out-of-compliance plant "was never designed for the load it's expected to carry in today's world."
Letters were also read aloud by Trustee Tony Fraboni from Jo Pat Wright and Mark Franzese, both strongly in favor of the new plant.
Schimizzi said that such responses from the public were "what we want," for "the people to tell us what they feel."
DeNardo (pictured at right) then expressed the sentiment about needing time to "digest" the project information, and offered the resolution to continue forward with the project. And the vote passed without further comment.
After the meeting, though, Schimizzi said he wasn't sure "why we even had to vote" since "we never said we were gonna stop it. We just wanted to see what's going on. We wanted to see what the project was" since, along the way, the public had not been kept fully apprised until public information meetings in Watkins Glen and Montour Falls shortly before approval of the project by the Village Boards in both villages.
Since, as mayor, he had not had to vote on the measure to move forward -- his vote is required only to break ties -- he was asked what his position on the issue was.
His answer was succinct.
"If there'd been a tie vote, you'd know," he said.
The board also:
-- Discussed the cost effectiveness of the streaming and recording of Village Board meetings, accessible on the village's website. Kevin Thornton said it appeared the cost was in excess of $9,000 a year. Other officials said there were hidden costs that put it above $10,000 and perhaps as high as $12,000 a year. The problem, said Thornton, is that available numbers show only about 20 people view the meeting a week, which makes it "a very expensive movie. I'm just throwing it out there" for consideration.
Mayor Schimizzi said he wanted input from residents as to their preference -- whether to keep the service intact or eliminate it because it isn't "getting the bang for the buck. If enough people want us to keep it, we'll keep it."
-- Heard a reminder that Saturday, May 9 is village Dumpster Day from 8 a.m. to noon at the Clute Park boat launch area. There will be no shredder truck on hand this time, said Village Clerk Donna Beardsley, because the company providing the dumpsters "double booked it."
-- Heard from coordinator Sam Maggio (pictured at right) of Solar Schuyler, a volunteer-based organization approved by NYSERDA (the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority) that is encouraging the installation of solar units in buildings in Schuyler County. Informational meetings are scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 6 at the Harvest Cafe in Montour Falls, and 7 p.m. Thursday at the Reading Town Hall.
-- Approved Special Event Applications clearing the way for the annual Seneca Lake Wine & Food Event and Italian Amercian Festival, both at Lakeside Park.
-- Gave conceptual approval to a proposed combination kayak/paddleboard launch site at Tank Beach off Fourth Street and a walkway connecting Tank Beach to Lakeside Park, utilizing a pedestrian bridge. The project would be funded by a $500,000 grant, said Superintendent of Utilities Mark Specchio.
The walkway would stretch as far across Lakeside Park as funds allowed, he said, with the hope that more of the walkway can be constructed in future years until it reaches Seneca Harbor Park. Parking would be available in a lot constructed at Tank Beach and possibly across the street from there.
Retired Village Justice Nick Dugo and Police Chief Tom Struble cautioned that downhill traffic at that point is often moving above the village speed limit, and that the project should incorporate some sort of signage to discourage speeders.
Photos in text:
From top: Mayor Sam Schimizzi, Rev. Michael Hartney, Trustee Laurie DeNardo, and Solar Schuyler's Sam Maggio.
Fazzary switches position on charges; protesters objecting
WATKINS GLEN, May 1 -- From his earlier words, what Schuyler County District Attorney Joe Fazzary has done this week seems to have been predictable. He has, in short, opened the door to the prosecution of protesters who had seemingly been heading toward a dismissal of trespass charges against them.
In response, We Are Seneca Lake -- the protesters' organizational arm -- reacted with a strongly worded press release Thursday claiming the DA was going back on an agreement involving 84 protesters arrested over a period from October to February for trespassing on Crestwood energy company property. The group is protesting federally approved methane storage in abandoned salt caverns and the possible storage of Liquefied Petroleum Gas there.
Fazzary has indeed stepped back from the agreement, reached several weeks ago, under which trespass charges against scores of protesters would be dismissed "in the interest of justice." Understood in the agreement, he has said, was a disinclination by the protesters to block the Crestwood gates any more. They would, he says it was understood, still protest, but within legal bounds.
But on April 22, another 19 protesters new to the cause were arrested for blocking the Crestwood gates along Rt. 14 north of Watkins Glen. We Are Seneca Lake said at the time that the arrests were not in violation of the dismissal agreement because the 19 had not been involved in any previous arrests or court cases.
Fazzary, in response, said last week that he was "very very disappointed" in the protest action, that the 19 would be prosecuted without chance of a dismissal deal, and that "all potential sanctions" regarding the remaining court cases awaiting dismissal were "back on the table."
We Are Seneca Lake, in its press release Thursday, said Fazzary had the day before officially "rescinded his support for the dismissal of 84 Seneca Lake protesters that was to take place today." Noting that charges have been dismissed for 60 protesters since the agreement was reached, the press release noted that the DA "had (previously) made an agreement to dismiss the remaining 84 ... in the same fashion...
"As this writing, 60 have had their dismissals, and the only thing that separates them from the remaining 84 that were scheduled to be dismissed this evening is that the first 60 people had the luck of having an appearance date scheduled sooner than today’s defendants.
"We are Seneca Lake is surprised by the sudden change in plan," the press release added, "but, more than that, concerned about the allegation that any of us have gone back on our word. There has never been any promise that there would be no more protests or even more arrests. We and our legal advisors have been very clear, in court and out, that the extent of our promise was what we committed to in the statement we negotiated," which reads:
We only have this planet. We must safeguard it for those who follow. Would that it not be necessary, but sometimes citizens of good conscience must engage in non-violent acts of civil disobedience to protect that sacred trust. As long as Crestwood Midstream Partners, or any other corporate or public or private entity, continues to threaten our way of life by the proven dangerous storage of highly compressed gas in the crumbling caverns at the Salt Point facility, I reserve the right to act as my conscience dictates in order to protect Seneca Lake, its citizens, and the surrounding environment. I reserve all rights to protest further at the Crestwood facility, although it is not my intent at this time to break the law in doing so.
"No one" in the protest camp, the press release went on, "has violated the terms of the dismissal, in spirit or in letter."
However, Fazzary sees it differently.
"First," he said, "I did not rescind my support, because I never gave my support." Instead, he says, what he did at the time of the dismissal agreement was this: "I did not object to the motion to dismiss" since it would clear clogged court dockets and, he thought, end the months-long cycle of arrests and court cases.
"I was led to believe by their attorneys," he said, "that if we did not object, the protests would be conducted in a legal manner. They can say what the language was, and say they never promised" to stop the blockades, "but we had numerous meetings with their lawyers where we were led to believe there would be no more arrests. I believe, based on that, that they have breached.
"You can say that I am no longer not objecting."
Where this is all heading was not clear Thursday night, although it appeared the calendars in several courts might be once again full.
As for the protesters, looking ahead, the press release noted that "public opposition" to the storage plan has continued to grow -- "as evidenced by the now 24 municipal resolutions against it" -- and that "it is little wonder that new groups of people feel morally compelled to take non-violent action.
"It is each citizen’s right," it goes on, "to protest under the First Amendment, and our role, to the extent that We Are Seneca Lake is an organized group, is to train and organize people and groups that want to protest so that if they protest, whether risking arrest or not, they know how to do it so that the protest is peaceful and nonviolent, and there is cooperation with law enforcement."
From left: Watkins Glen Mayor Sam Schimizzi and trustees Gary Schmidt and Kevin Thornton talk among themselves prior to Monday's special session.
Glen board urged to move on treatment plant; decision due
WATKINS GLEN, April 27 -- Watkins Glen Mayor Sam Schimizzi said Monday that the Village Board will make a decision soon on whether to pursue completion of the regional wastewater treatment plant that the previous administration helped plan.
The mayor -- at a special meeting of the board and of the Montour Falls members of the Joint Project Committee overseeing the proposed plant's development -- said he and the village trustees "gotta talk about it ... make sure everybody's on board with it."
His words were in response to an outline of the plant's history and planned financing presented in the Village Board meeting room at the late-afternoon session by Rick Weakland, a leader of the Project Seneca group that helped spearhead the effort that led the villages of Watkins Glen and Montour Falls to join forces in planning the joint facility.
Both villages have aged treatment plants, with the one on the waterfront in Watkins Glen under pressure from the state to raise its performance levels. The state has fined Watkins $20,000 over the issue, but eased its demands when it became clear the village was seriously pursuing a new plant in conjunction with Montour Falls.
An initial $1.8 million state-based grant allowed preliminary planning and signaled the expectation that a few million dollars more would be forthcoming for a new plant. In addition, the plant planners lined up a zero-interest $18 million loan through the state Environmental Facilities Corporation (EFC). The anticipated project cost is just under $25 million, with another $4 million targeted for separate Inflow and Infiltration upgrades in the two villages.
But Weakland -- in presenting his outline -- said a perception on the state level that Watkins Glen's new administration might not be committed to the project could be endangering the grants and the loan -- a situation requiring the new board (which has only one holdover, Tony Fraboni) to "get up to speed ... to get into a position where you feel comfortable making these decisions."
Added Montour Falls trustee Jim Ryan, a member of the JPC: "I understand it's a big pill to swallow in a short time ... But we're committed. It's best for both villages to become partners."
The advantages include a 30-year commitment on the part of Schuyler County to share sales tax revenues with municipalities in the county, including Watkins Glen and Montour Falls, as long as this joint venture moves forward to fruition. A reversal of that commitment, said Weakland, would "have a significant impact" on the finances of those municipalities.
Also advantageous is what Weakland and others said was support on the state level in the EFC and the Legislature from officials watching closely because of the unusual, shared nature of the treatment-plant effort. And building one plant for two villages instead of one plant for each translates to signficant savings while coming in line with the state's environmental demands.
But Weakland -- in describing, with charts and spread sheets, how the Montour board and the previous Watkins board had worked for a couple of years to reach a point where they had, in January, given the green light to proceed with the design and financing of the new plant -- said the momentum that has been built in the early development stages could be endangered. "I'm worried that the train from a funding perspective could leave the station" if the Village Board doesn't act soon, he observed..
Added Montour Falls Mayor John King, a member of the JPC, "We've looked upon this as an opportunity that comes but once."
The new board, in addition to Fraboni, consists of Schimizzi and new trustees Gary Schmidt, Kevin Thornton and (appointed at the last board meeting) Laurie DeNardo. Gone in election defeat are former mayor Mark Swinnerton and former trustee Scott Gibson, joined by Kevin Smith (who did not seek re-election) and Paul Clifford (who moved from the village).
Mayor Schimizzi, in response to Weakland's outline and discussion by Mayor King and Montour trustees Steve Lawton and Ryan, expressed some reservations. He noted that correction of significant Inflow and Infiltration issues could fix "98 percent of the problem" at the existing Watkins Glen treatment plant "in the short term," and that the consent order issued by the state insisting on an upgrade of that plant's performance "doesn't say you need to move your plant to the canal." The new plant would be constructed alongside the canal between Watkins and Montour, roughly across the water from the Watkins Glen High School property.
When one Watkins Glen department head, Mark Specchio, mentioned that more stringent standards are expected from the state Department of Environmental Conservation -- which would, logically, make strains on the existing plant even more challenging -- Schimizzi said that those regulations, if enacted, would emanate from the federal level. "So they might not (come)," he said. "It depends on what's going on in Washington, who's President. My biggest concern is with the people who live here, and the cost."
When Weakland urged a decision soon by the Village Board -- by the first week of June, and preferably earlier -- Schimizzi said the board "will get together and discuss it," noting once again that he wants "to make sure everybody is on board.
"One way or another," the mayor added, "we have to decide something."
When the suggestion was made that the matter might be discussed by the board in executive session, Schimizzi was insistent that it be aired in front of the public, in open session.
"There's no sense messing around much more," he said. "We'll give you your answer soon."
And then, with a smile, he added this seemingly plant-positive note: "Maybe you'll want to call up the EFC and start buttering them up."
Photos in text:
Weakland, who outlined the proposed treatment plant project and its planned
financing to the new mayor and trustees.
DA is 'very very disappointed'
Fazzary says 'no deals' for new protesters; mulls pending cases
WATKINS GLEN, April 23 -- Schuyler County District Attorney Joseph Fazzary says the 19 protesters arrested Wednesday on trespass charges for blockading the Crestwood energy firm's gates along Rte. 14 will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law -- with "all potential sanctions back on the table."
And the estimated 60 or so defendants still in the system from previous arrests -- dozens have had charges dismissed "in the interest of justice" -- might not be let off the hook, although Fazzary said "we haven't decided what we're doing" about those yet.
The protesters, operating under the auspices of a group called We Are Seneca Lake, are opposed to the federally approved storage of methane by Crestwood in abandoned salt caverns the protesters say are inherently unsafe. The group had through late February made a point of submitting to trespass and disorderly conduct arrests at the Crestwood gates, with an eye toward clogging the court system and, in the beginning, toward watching some of their number spend a few days in jail for refusing to pay their fines. There were more than 200 arrests from late October to late February.
That all changed when the DA's office sought, and Town of Reading Justice Raymond Berry promised to dispense, judgments against those refusing to pay the fines. Judgments serve as liens and credit black-marks, and protesters noticeably avoided them by either paying the fines or, mostly, by seeking adjournments. The court system was clogged, as the protesters had wanted.
Some of the workload landing in Judge Berry's lap -- scores of cases -- was being distributed to other courts at that point to help streamline the judicial process ... and then the DA offered a deal to the protesters: stop blocking the gates and the charges would go away.
The protesters agreed to the offer, essentially verbal in nature, and crowed about the "precedent-setting victory" they had attained, when in fact the move by Fazzary's office served to unclog much of the area's court calendar and, it seemed, ensure that the Sheriff's Office would not be called repeatedly to the Crestwood gates any more. Protesters would protest there, but not blockade. Or so the DA's office thought.
But Wednesday, 19 new protesters from outside Schuyler County blockaded, and were arrested, processed and released, with court appearances set on trespass charges.
"I'm very very disappointed," Fazzary said Thursday. "When I agreed to not object to the dismissals" of the previous cases, "I thought these people were so principled" that they would adhere to what he perceived as a clearcut agreement. "I never gave a thought that they'd send more people" who had not been among the previous arrestees.
He said he has been in touch with the protesters' attorney and expressed his displeasure, and made it clear that "if they think they'll get the same deal with these people ... it's not happening."
For their part, the protesters, through key organizer Sandra Steingraber (pictured at right), said in a statement aired on TV that the new arrestees were "not party to the previous agreement," and so the group has not violated it. "The individuals who came to the gate on Earth Day were led by their conscience to take that step," she said. "These are people who had never been arrested before and are not party to any agreements made by people who have previously taken a step."
Fazzary is of a different opinion, noting that We Are Seneca Lake broke the spirit of the agreement and has "tried to skirt the issue by using all new people. I don't feel they kept their end of the bargain. It was understood that they'd take a different route (in their protest movement) other than going up there" and blocking the Crestwood gates.
And now that they've done it, he said. "They seem proud of it. Well, I've told their lawyer that if a wave of 200 or 250 new people think they are going to get a new deal .... no."
The sanctions now in play, he said, include fines, jail time and judgments -- although "I can't say what the judge will do," whether it's Berry or another judge in another court outside of Reading. "I say let the judge do whatever he wants. If it means having 75 trials in three weeks, then we'll do 75 trials."
Does that mean that the two sides are once again engaged in legal combat?
"I wouldn't call it combat," he said. "Both sides are just going through the process."
Photos in text:
From top: District Attorney Joe Fazzary and We Are Seneca Lake's Sandra Steingraber
Schimizzi, 3 others sworn in
Confusion lingers as trustee appointment is delayed
WATKINS GLEN, April 7, 2015 -- The new mayor of Watkins Glen, Sam Schimizzi, was sworn into office along with two new trustees and a new village justice during Monday night's Village Board meeting.
Schimizzi was sworn in by Village Clerk Donna Beardsley, as were trustees Gary Schmidt and Kevin Thornton. New Village Justice Connie Fern Miller took the oath of office from her predecessor, Nicholas Dugo.
The meeting was also marked by a spate of appointments by Schimizzi, but one appointment that was not made left some confusion among participants.
Schimizzi, who designated Schmidt as the Deputy Mayor, said that while the board intends to fill the seat vacated by Paul Clifford last month when he moved from the village -- a seat occupied for the past two weeks by Rick Evans -- it was not yet ready to do so.
The mayor thanked Evans early in the meeting "for filling in the post for the past two weeks," a seeming dismissal even though nobody, on this night, was being named to replace him. "We will be filling the position in the near future, just not at this time," the mayor said.
Later, when asked by audience member Scott Gibson -- who was defeated by Schimizzi in the race for mayor in the recent village election -- if Evans wasn't still on the board, given that there was no replacement yet, clerk Beardsley said a ruling from the New York Conference of Mayors and Municipal Officials (NYCOM) said a mayoral appointment from one term can't carry into the next term, and that Evans's brief tenure ended at noon Monday.
"Because the last mayor was voted out and I'm in with these guys," added Schimizzi, pointing to Schmidt and Thornton, there is "somebody we're going to appoint, just not today." He added: "Nothing against Rick."
But later in the meeting, Evans, who did not leave his board seat, said during a board comment period that he had not been voting at the meeting because of confusion over his role, which he said he would be "sorting out" with Beardsley the next day. And after the meeting, he said he considered himself still a member of the board, having been appointed to fill the unexpired portion of Clifford's term -- although he realizes the new administration can oust him in appointing someone else.
"I'm abstaining," he said of his non-voting evening, "but not conceding."
Added Gibson: "It makes no sense to say he's not on the board when there is no replacement. Why would they want to deliberately short themselves by one member?"
But that confusion aside, the meeting went smoothly, with Schimizzi feeling his way through the formal process of the agenda, asking for help from Beardsley on occasion, with trustee Tony Fraboni offering procedural advice.
The board dealt with three water-bill adjustment requests (approving all three), and:
--Approved sending one of the village's two backhoes as
surplus to an auction;
Photos in text:
Top: Mayor Sam Schimizzi makes a point during the meeting.
Second: Trustee Tony Fraboni, right, with Rick Evans, who was appointed two weeks ago to the trustee seat vacated by Paul Clifford. Even though he was effectively dismissed by Mayor Schimizzi and Clerk Donna Beardsley (who said his tenure ended at noon Monday), Evans remained in his seat and said later he still considered himself a member of the board.
Third: Former deputy mayor Scott Gibson, inquiring at Monday's meeting about the status of Rick Evans as trustee.
Fourth: Deputy Mayor Gary Schmidt is sworn in by Village Clerk Donna Beardsley.
Bottom: Trustee Kevin Thornton is sworn in by Beardsley.
Palmesano: Budget missed opportunities
ALBANY, April 1 -- Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I-Corning) Wednesday assessed the state budget approved in the early morning hours that day as a document that provides some positives for the state and the Southern Tier but " missed opportunities in a number of important areas."
“I am pleased this budget provides: for an increase in education aid to our school districts," he said, "particularly $603 million towards eliminating the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA)...
"I am disappointed," he added, "that this budget fails to provide any tax relief for our families and small businesses or mandate relief for our municipalities and school districts. In addition, although I was pleased we were able to achieve a $50 million increase above the Governor’s proposed budget to restore his cut to local municipalities to fix and repair their local roads and bridges through the Consolidated Local Street and Highway Program (CHIPS) formula, it is woefully inadequate.
"With $5.4 billion in settlement funds available to disperse towards infrastructure improvements, we missed a tremendous opportunity to really partner with our local governments to address the growing need of repairing our crumbling local infrastructure. A stronger commitment would have promoted economic development and job creation while helping to ensure a safer and more reliable local transportation system for motorists and families.
"Finally, one of the biggest problems with the budget is the governor's unflinching insistence on the inclusion of teacher evaluations generated by high stakes Common Core testing. We should have sent a clear message that we reject subjecting our children to more standardized testing. Quite frankly, it is a big gamble to put our trust in the State Education Department to iron out this issue. This is the same entity that brought us Common Core and oversaw its disastrous implementation and rollout, while ignoring the concerns raised by parents and educators all across our state.
"On top of that, tying the teacher evaluation system to school aid is heavy-handed and wrong. To improve our education system, we must treat parents as partners, teachers as professionals and ensure our children’s self-worth and bright future is not measured by the results of high stakes standardized test scores. We can and must do better for our children."
Photo in text: Assemblyman Phil Palmesano
Schuyler County Administrator Tim O'Hearn outlines the purpose of the informational meeting as Legislature Chair Dennis Fagan listens and a TV reporter records.
Shared services effort
will continue in wake
MONTOUR FALLS, March 25 -- The proposed merger of Schuyler and Yates Counties was, from the outset, "not considered likely at all in the short term," Schuyler Legislature Chair Dennis Fagan said Tuesday night after officials from the Center for Governmental Research (CGR) in Rochester outlined their report on the merits and challenges of consolidation..
More to the point, said Fagan, the steering committee formed to study the issue saw from the beginning that any moves toward merger would be incremental -- "phased to overcome hurdles" like the difference in sales tax distribution in the two counties. "The committee saw this as an opportunity to share services, to see how we worked together. Over time, it would become more transparent whether it would work."
Now, after the report was outlined by CGR's President Joseph Stefko and Paul Bishop before two-dozen people in the Human Services Complex in Montour Falls, the first phase of the process -- a detailed study -- is complete. "And now," says County Administratior Tim O'Hearn, "it's up to us" to continue the effort beyond study numbers into the area of shared services. But it's clear that merger is not likely to be approached anytime soon, if at all.
Fagan said that Schuyler will not force the creation of shared services, but will try to take advantage of any circumstances -- through vacancies created by retirements, for instance -- that might offer an opportunity. The county shares a director of Weights and Measures with Yates and Chemung Counties, but a move toward a single Yates-Schuyler Highway Superintendent was recently derailed when Yates legislators balked.
Any move forward, Fagan said -- particularly toward consolidation -- would take "political will" as well as consistency in the makeup of the two counties' respective legislatures. When seats change hands, oftentimes political philosophies -- and "political will" -- can change just as quickly.
While the CGR report outlined various similarities in the two counties -- in population, land mass, average income, number of towns, and budget size -- it also showed a number of differences that any consolidation would first have to address. Among those is the distribution of sales tax to towns. Schuyler shares with its towns, while Yates does not.
Benefits to consolidation, the study said, would include a savings of $1.45 million, with the largest share coming from the elimination of duplicate positions. The study also showed that the average property tax rate in Schuyler would be reduced by 16 percent while Yates increased by 2 percent.
The biggest hurdle in a general sense would be as-yet unidentified challenges, since no two counties have ever merged. "We have large-scale examples" in the nation "where a county and a city have merged," said Bishop, "but not two counties."
Even with the movement toward consolidation on the backburner, and for that matter the movement toward a shared highway superintendent rejected, "a positive that has come out of this," said Fagan, is improved networking and joint problem-solving among department heads in the two counties..
"We want that to continue," he said, while leaders in the two counties watch for other shared service opportunities.
Photos in text: CGR's Paul Bishop outlines the options in the study; CGR President Joseph Stefko addresses the audience.
The recent electees arrive for the meeting. Gary Schmidt pauses (center) to speak to county legislator Phil Barnes while Sam Schimizzi (foreground right) and Kevin Thornton (background right) walk toward their seats near the front of the room.
Passing the village torch
Outgoing mayor, deputy present a primer for electees
WATKINS GLEN, March 23 -- The Watkins Glen mayor and deputy mayor, defeated in last week's village elections, read and expounded upon a lengthy outline Monday that they prepared for the incoming mayor and trustees -- a list of ongoing projects and responsibilities facing the electees and designed to help in the transition process. The presentation came at a special Village Board meeting that also saw the appointment of a new trustee, Rick Evans.
Deputy Mayor Scott Gibson -- who co-authored the outline with Mayor Mark Swinnerton -- titled the written version from which they read the "Village Board Transitional Roadmap."
Gibson called the effort, which passes along four year's worth of earned knowledge, "some hand holding" that he and Swinnerton did not receive when they took office, resulting in a lengthy learning curve. Mayor-elect Sam Schimizzi and trustees-elect Kevin Thornton and Gary Schmidt listened to the 90-minute presentation -- held in the Village Board meeting room -- but declined to ask any questions, saying they wanted to first absorb the massive amount of information.
Meanwhile, the current board, at the outset of Monday's meeting, named Evans -- a winemaker at Castel Grisch Winery and a Scout leader -- to the trustee seat vacated last week by Paul Clifford, who is moving to the Town of Hector. The new board can affirm the Evans appointment or select someone in his place when it takes office with the first meeting of April, on the 6th.
Gibson explained that such an appointment, made within 75 days of the end of a mayor's term, can be overturned by an incoming board, which can in turn install its own choice. The appointment is for the final year of Clifford's term of office.
Swinnerton said the appointment of Evans was being made to assure that the board -- in his and Gibson's expected absences over the next two weeks -- will have a quorum with which to act. Evans was accordingly sworn in by Swinnerton in front of an audience of about 20 people, including County Administrator Tim O'Hearn, Montour Falls Mayor John King, County Legislator Phil Barnes, County Planning Director Kristin VanHorn, and Town of Reading board member Pat Gill, among others..
The outline prepared by Gibson and Swinnerton ran for 11 pages, touching on specifics in the areas of:
-- the old wastewater treatment plant and its longstanding
All of those points, and many more, can be seen in the document read in turns by Swinnerton and Gibson. It can be accessed by clicking here.
Discussion of the fire department and its many aspects was interrupted by Junior Specchio, a member of the department for more than 60 years. He said the new board should be aware of the drop in volunteerism among fire departments, and the evident move in the not-too-distant future to at least some paid positions. This, he cautioned, will impact the village budget.
And at meeting's end, Specchio complimented the outgoing board for the job it has done, and said it was "good to see the old and the new working together here. To the new board, the best to you."
Meanwhile, village resident Laura Mantius said that unlike the county government, she had found the Swinnerton administration to be "responsive. I feel like you were taking the village and moving us forward. To the new board I say this: You have some very big shoes to fill."
And Montour Falls Mayor King thanked the outgoing board for its help in the development of the wastewater treatment plant plan, and "for your professionalism."
The new board, when the electees take office on April 6, will consist of just one long-term holdover, Tony Fraboni, who has been heavily involved in many of the ongoing village projects, including the new wastewater treatment plant, serving on its Joint Project Committee.
Photos in text:
Top: From left, Montour Falls Mayor John King, Watkins Glen Deputy Mayor Scott Gibson and Watkins Glen Mayor Mark Swinnerton.
Second: Mayor Swinnerton swears in new trustee Rick Evans, appointed to the seat vacated by Paul Clifford.
Third: Mayor-elect Sam Schimizzi listens and takes notes.
Bottom: Junior Specchio addresses the board about a dropoff in fire department volunteers.
To see the Village Board Transitional Roadmap, click here
From left: Trustees-elect Gary Schmidt and Kevin Thornton; mayor-elect Sam Schimizzi, and newly appointed trustee Rick Evans pose after the meeting.
The shock of defeat
Gibson, Swinnerton rejected in tight Watkins Glen vote
WATKINS GLEN, March 19 -- They had spent four years trying mightily to get Watkins Glen's fiscal house in order, to improve the village's infrastructure and to end the cash drain known as the old wastewater treatment plant.
They had installed cameras to enable the public to see what goes on at Village Board meetings, and oversaw installation of the Code Red program that linked the village and its residents in times when communication was either helpful or essential.
They had teamed with Montour Falls and Project Seneca to take large strides toward a new wastewater treatment plant designed to reduce pollution and open the waterfront to further development. The multi-million- dollar project was deemed not only desirable, but necessary.
They stepped on some toes when they studied the possibility of shedding the village police department, distributing its full-timers into employment at the Sheriff's Office -- an idea that never gained traction. And they made news when, out of concern for the village's future and that of the environment, they voted against the proposed storage by the Crestwood energy firm of LPG gas in abandoned salt caverns north of town.
Mayor Mark Swinnerton and his deputy, trustee Scott Gibson, did all of that and more with the help of trustees Kevin Smith, Paul Clifford and Tony Fraboni. And they hoped they would be rewarded for the effort -- for the long days and long nights, for the many meetings and for the sheer nerve it takes to try and establish a streamlined, efficient operation -- by being re-elected.
And they were wrong. They were defeated Wednesday after a single four-year term in office, a term remarkable for the sea change the village was initiating as it faced the future -- governance marked by proaction.
Gibson, who was running for mayor this time while his good friend Swinnerton opted to seek a trustee seat, was defeated by Democrat Samuel Schimizzi, 231-205. Swinnerton was third in the race for two trustee seats, losing to Gary Schmidt's dominating 303 votes and the 226 attained by Kevin Thornton, who four years ago managed a relative handful (17) as a write-in candidate. The winners, each a Democrat, say they campaigned hard door-to-door, the same tactic used by Swinnerton and Gibson four years ago. This time the incumbents did some door knocking, but were running mainly on their record.
Another race, for Village Justice, saw Democrat Connie Fern Miller defeat Republican Keith Caslin (right), 260-157, with Michael Nyre third with 62 votes. Caslin, in defeat, thanked "those who voted for me. And I want to wish Connie the best" as she takes over a post held by the retiring Nick Dugo for 28 years.
That succinct road by Caslin was markedly different from the voluble road taken by Gibson and Swinnerton, who were clearly stung by their loss -- one in retrospect that was probably aided by their decision to attempt a switch of roles in a second term. The attempted switch struck some voters as odd -- or at least certainly out of the comfortable mainstream.
"Well, maybe so," Swinnerton said after his defeat. "But I could no longer devote the time as mayor, and Scott could. But I wanted to stay involved, which is why I ran for trustee. Perhaps, in retrospect, I should have run on the Republican line, too." He in fact ran on the Listening Party line, as did Gibson. When asked why he didn't run as a Republican, Swinnerton said there were "a number of reasons I won't be going into."
But he said, too, that "government at this level shouldn't be about the party line. It should be about commitment and about results. And our record speaks for itself."
With Smith not seeking re-election, and with trustee Paul Clifford resigning effective Wednesday because of a move to the Town of Hector, the Village Board will consist of Wednesday's three winners and Fraboni, with an appointment looming for the final year of Clifford's term.
As Village Clerk Donna Beardsley (pictured at right) announced the vote totals from the single voting machine located in the southwest corner of the cavernous Community Center, Gibson and Swinnerton appeared stunned. Some 32 absentee ballots still needed to be counted, but Gibson was 27 votes behind. (He finished 26 back.) Swinnerton was just three votes back and entertained a hope of making those up (but he finished trailing by one).
"It's an absolute travesty," Gibson was saying, "that after four years of hard work, we couldn't get people to come out and vote for us. But what are you going to do? Apparently transparency and hard work weren't enough. Let's say I'm surprised."
He then related some of the accomplishments of the Swinnerton administation, including those listed at the top of this story, and shook his head. "I think you can look on our time in office as an experiment in the reinstitution of government by and for the people," he said. "But it seems the people want to stay in the 1970s, with industry as the hub. I'm not going to mask my disappointment."
Margaret Swinnerton, wife of the mayor, said she was "ashamed of the voters" in the town where she grew up. "It's a slap in the face" after "the time and energy and commitment that this board put in."
Her husband at first kept his remarks brief, saying only that he has "enjoyed my time as mayor. Obviously that wasn't enough."
But he and Gibson later expressed the fear that the Schimizzi administration might attempt to scuttle the efforts made thus far for the joint wastewater treament plant, sending both Watkins Glen and Montour Falls back to a situation where they try to depend on aging, decaying and increasingly costly 50-year-old plants. Swinnerton said a recent campaign ad run by the Schimizzi team in a local paper suggested opposition to the treatment plant -- was, he said, "pretty much black and white."
While Swinnerton thought such a scuttling action might be difficult given the Intermunicipal Agreement with Montour Falls to build the plant, and agreements with the New York State Environmental Facilities Corporation, he was still concerned about the possibility.
Eliminating the plant, he said, would also terminate an agreement with county leaders whereby sales tax revenue-sharing throughout the county will continue as long as the two villages are paying a bond (over the next 30 years) to cover the cost of the plant's construction. Take those payments away, he said, and the county will join 13 others in the state that don't have revenue sharing. The resultant cost to Watkins Glen would be about $250,000 a year.
Beyond that, Swinnerton said, Watkins Glen "would be a laughing stock" after receiving attention from the state and the governor for the innovative agreement with another municipality -- an agreement designed to eliminate not just Watkins' aging plant, but one in Montour Falls, as well.
A turn back toward the continued use of the existing plants would have unfortunate repercussions, he said. Watkins Glen's plant -- currently under a consent order from the state -- would be required to obtain by eminent domain more land along the waterfront to the east (land currently owned by Scott Welliver) for the addition of concrete structures, extra tanks and other equiipment to meet state standards.
In turn, that would "set development along the shoreline back 20 years," Swinnerton added, "and it would do so when we are on the cusp of something special. We'll never have another chance like this."
Before leaving the Community Center, both sides came together to shake hands (right) near the voting machine, and Gibson suggested the old and new boards get together to provide the new one with information that might ease the transition. In the course of conversation, he said "I can't say I'm not disappointed" by the election, which led Thornton to answer: "We do appreciate all the work you guys have done. We love this place, too."
Gibson responded that he and Swinnerton had heard that "your platform was to tank" the wastewater project, to which Thornton replied: "Not necessarily."
When Schimiizzi, Schmidt and Thornton were asked later whether or not they favor the treatment plant project, they sidestepped the issue.
"We're not ready to say much," said Schimizzi, "except that we're gonna do the best we can for the residents of Watkins Glen. We're going to try to do the right thing for the people."
As for the treatment plant, "we'll talk about it later," said Schmidt. "We're overwhelmed right now because we swept them." Added Thornton, "We'll have to think it over."
So now, one last of order of business remains in the days ahead for the Swinnerton-Gibson-Smith-Fraboni board, which technically remains intact until the organizational meeting of the new board on the first Monday of April, which this year is April 6. The old board has set a special meeting for Monday, March 23, with one agenda item -- the appointment of a replacement for Clifford.
Could it be that either Gibson or Swinnerton might take the seat? Neither was talking about it Wednesday night. In fact, Swinnerton said that in the wake of defeat, he and Gibson have "other community service projects in mind," including some with the Lions Club, to which they belong. "And," he added, "we have more time for our families."
Besides, Swinnerton said, he might be eyeing a different kind of election now
"Maybe I'll run for the School Board" in May, he said as he headed for the Community Center exit.
"Wait, mayor," a reporter called after him. "Are you serious?".
Swinnerton stopped, turned and looked back.
And he just smiled.
Photos in text:
From top: Mark Swinnerton, left, and Scott Gibson talk to friends after losing the election; Keith Caslin came to hear the vote count in his race for Village Justice, which he lost; Village Clerk Donna Beardsley reads off the absentee-ballot totals; and mayor-elect Samuel Schimizzi, right, shakes hands with the man he defeated, Scott Gibson, while trustee-elect Gary Schmidt looks on.
O'Mara honored by Irish Society
Special to The Odessa File
ALBANY, March 13, 2015 --They were wearing green in Albany
this week at the American Irish
Daniel O’Connell Award is given in tribute to the famous Irish nationalist,
known as The Liberator or The Emancipator, who was Ireland’s predominant
politician in the first half of the 19th century. The Society presents
the award annually to a state legislator demonstrating “untiring
“It’s an opportunity for American Irish legislators to express
our pride in our heritage, in public service and in all that the Society
does throughout the year to support so many charitable and cultural activities
throughout New York State,” said O’Mara. “I was especially
proud this year to have the opportunity to express my personal gratitude
to Major General Murphy for his service to our
The Society’s guest of honor at Monday’s dinner was Major General Patrick A. Murphy of the New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs, who assumed his current duties as the 52nd Adjutant General of New York State in 2010. He leads the 16,000 members of the New York Army and Air National Guard, as well as the nearly 3,500 members of the New York Naval Militia and New York Guard.
The Society annually recognizes two state legislators for their service. This year, in addition to O’Mara, Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther (D,I,WF-Forestburgh) was also honored.
The American Irish Legislators Society was founded in 1973.
Photo in text: State Senator Tom O’Mara receives this year’s Daniel O’Connor Award at a ceremony March 9th. (Photo provided)
Jones found guilty in burglaries
Special to The Odessa File
WATKINS GLEN, March 12, 2015 --Albert J. Jones, 25, of Montour Falls was found guilty Thursday by a Schuyler County trial jury of four counts of Burglary in the Second Degree, Class C Violent felonies, and five counts of misdemeanor Criminal Possession of a Stolen Property. The verdicts followed a four-day trial.
The case was tried by Schuyler County Chief Assistant District Attorney Matthew C. Hayden, who called nine witnesses. They described how over the course of a week, in June 2014, Jones, Ralph Starace, Jr., and Jacob D. Payne repeatedly entered a home in Mecklenburg and stole thousands of pounds of metal which was then disposed of at local scrap yards.
Evidence included: photos from the scrap yard cameras, which showed the defendant turning in the stolen metal, and testimony about how the defendant dropped a receipt from one of the scrap yard transactions -- with his name on it -- at the scene of the crime.
The defendant testified that he was merely removing scrap metal from fields, and would never have gone into the house because it reminded him of a monster-movie haunted house, and thus scared him. The jury deliberated for less than an hour before rendering its verdict. Sentencing is scheduled for May 21.
Co-defendant Payne pled guilty in February to Burglary in the Third Degree, and is due to be sentenced March 26 to state prison as a second felony offender. Starace pled guilty in November to Burglary in the Third Degree, and his sentencing is pending.
Photo in text: Albert J. Jones (Photo provided)
Palmesano calls on Cuomo to release School Aid information
Special to The Odessa File
ALBANY, Feb. 26 -- Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I-Corning), in accord with his Assembly colleagues and with education advocates, delivered a message to Governor Andrew Cuomo Thursday: Release the school-aid runs.
The runs are critical education aid estimates that are traditionally provided to each district when the governor releases his executive budget proposal. The governor has withheld the estimates in an attempt to leverage the Legislature to pass his proposed education reforms.
In the process, he has left school administrators around the state in the dark on funding levels and might, says Palmesano, force many schools to cut programs and staff due to the ongoing uncertainty.
“It is time for the governor to work with the Legislature and abandon his bullying tactics and heavy-handed approaches to governance,” said Palmesano. “Instead of helping districts plan for a bright future for our kids, he’s intentionally clouding the process in hopes of coercing the Legislature to follow his agenda."
"Right now, we are wasting valuable budget planning time as a result," said Michael Ginalski, Corning-Painted Post Central School District Superintendent. "He would not be able to build his budget without a revenue forecast, and it's beyond irresponsible for him to expect us to do so. I did not realize that we elected an emperor last November, but it sure feels like we did. Under this current scenario, it's impossible to build a budget."
Palmesano noted the extreme difficulty school districts will have in estimating their annual tax levy, an important budgetary step with a March 1 deadline.
Photo in text: Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (Photo provided)
Miller is candidate for Village Justice
WATKINS GLEN, Jan. 30 -- Attorney Connie Fern Miller has formally announced she is a candidate for the position of Watkins Glen Village Justice in the March 18 village election. She was nominated at the village Democratic Caucus on Jan. 27, and also plans to run on the People's Choice Party line.
If elected, she will succeed Nicholas Dugo, who is retiring after 28 years in the post.
Miller has practiced law in Watkins Glen since 1981. She has been a village resident since 2006. She says that since her law office and residence are only a few blocks from the Village Court, she would walk to work if elected.
In the course of her career, Miller has served as a Law Guardian and Attorney for Children in Family Court; as District Attorney, as Public Defender, and as Watkins Glen Village Attorney (for 19 years). She has also acted as legal counsel for various organizations, including the Burdett Presbyterian Church, the Humane Society of Schuyler County, Cooperative Extension, the Schuyler County Youth Fair, and others.
She said she believes her election on March 18 "would bring professional experience to that position, and would continue the traditions of fairness, balance, knowledge, diligence and competence for which the Village Court has long been known."
O'Mara welcomes LNG ruling, but rips delay
Special to The Odessa File
ALBANY, Jan. 28 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara welcomed Wednesday's action by the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to adopt regulations authorizing the construction of liquefied natural gas (LNG) facilities for transportation purposes.
At the same time, O’Mara -- chairman of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee -- criticized the DEC for not taking the action soon enough to keep one Southern Tier manufacturer, Dresser Rand, a major producer of engines fueled by LNG, from moving a major manufacturing project and jobs out of the state.
“It’s a step in the right direction and I welcome the action," O'Mara said, "but unfortunately it’s too little too late" for Dresser Rand, which "had been calling for and urging this action. New York State needs to move more swiftly on these decisions.”
According to the DEC, the “adopted regulations enable permits to be granted to safely site, construct and operate new LNG facilities under requirements established in a DEC permit. As a result, LNG will be available to haulers as a cleaner burning alternative to diesel fuel.”
It will be available in storage centers outside New York City, capped at 70,000 gallons per facility
New York has been the only state in the U.S. banning the use of LNG. A moratorium had been placed on it in the mid-1970s following a fire at an LNG facility on Staten Island that killed 40 workers. The Legislature lifted the moratorium in 1999, but left action on a new system to the DEC.
“The nation’s trucking industry and other fleet vehicles are increasingly making the change from diesel-powered engines to engines that run on LNG,” said O’Mara. “New York State has been missing out on enormous economic and environmental benefits. We’ve also been standing in the way of economic growth and job creation for upstate manufacturers like Dresser Rand and others who could use LNG as a more affordable energy source to power their factories.”
Montour Falls Board OKs wastewater treatment plant
MONTOUR FALLS, Jan. 23 -- The Montour Falls Village Board Thursday night agreed -- with one dissenting vote -- to proceed with Watkins Glen in the construction of a new wastewater treatment plant alongside the canal between the two villages.
The lone "no" vote came from trustee Phil Joe Smith, who said he wasn't opposed to a new plant, but believes it should be under the auspices of the Schuyler County government.
"The county should be the facilitator," he expanded after the meeting. "This way, it won't come out to the benefit of Montour Falls. Mark my words. It's going to be Watkins Glen's plant and we will be going to it, using it" as an unequal partner. "That's how Watkins Glen operates."
But Mayor John King and the other trustees were soundly behind the jointly operated plant, which has as its engineer the Syracuse firm of Barton & Loguidice. After the board approved the joint concept and adopted resolutions establishing the Harris Beach law firm of Rochester as bond counsel and approving a bond of $7,181,571 as the village's share of the project (an $18 million no-interest loan is expected from the state Environmental Facilities Corporation (EFC), with the balance of the $24.7 million project covered by grants), the meeting hit a snag.
The Montour Falls board wanted assurances that its village engineer -- the Larson Design Group headquartered in Williamsport, Pa., with an office in Corning -- would have a substantial role in the design work and other planning for the plant -- even though, as Watkins Glen Mayor Mark Swinnerton (present with Watkins trustees Scott Gibson and Paul Clifford) said, "Larson will still be Montour Falls' engineer on Inflow and Infiltration (I & I) issues. It will still be involved on this end, as Barton & Loguidice will be involved in the construction of the plant."
But Mayor King, trustee Jim Ryan and Department of Public Works superintendent Dean Hillyard all voiced a desire for a larger Larson role because the board and Larson representative Greg Cummings had established a "comfort level" -- a working relationship that they said had also given the residents comfort as the village had moved toward the wastewater plant project. The relationship, Ryan said, was akin to that of a family doctor with his patients.
Kenneth Knutsen (pictured at right), senior vice president of Barton & Loguidice -- a key figure in the development of the joint facility project -- was resistant to making any promises, noting (along with Rick Weakland, the head of Project Seneca, another key player) that the project is under the gun from a scheduling standpoint, with application due Feb. 2 to the EFC. The suggestion was clear: rearranging working roles beyond making the Larson Group a subcontractor was ill-advised.
Mayor King was gently insistent that assurances be given that the Village of Watkins Glen and Barton & Loguidice will seriously consider giving the Larson Design Group a greater role than that of subcontractor. Once again, Watkins Mayor Swinnerton resisted, saying that Hunt Engineers is the Watkins Glen engineer, "just as Larson is Montour Falls' engineer." But Hunt is not the engineering group on the wastewater treatment plant, and neither is Larson. Unsaid by Swinnerton, but clearly suggested, was that the Barton & Loguidice firm is best equipped for the job, and that that's why it has it.
Responded King: "We don't want to threaten or coerce you to do this, but would like you to seriously consider it and bring back some recommendations."
Both sides eventually consented to a general agreement on those terms -- with nothing specific at present regarding the Larson role.
Afterward, Weakland said the meeting exchanges constituted a "good discussion," while Swinnerton and Gibson said they were "absolutely happy" that Montour Falls had voted to proceed with the project.
One potential sticking point down the way is the possibility of a permissive referendum on the bond issue, a public vote that can be forced if enough residents sign petitions requesting it. Montour trustee Smith (bottom photo) said he wanted to make sure the public understood that.
Photos in text:
From top: Montour Falls Mayor John King outlines some financial highlights of the joint wastewater treatment plant project; trustee Jim Ryan; Kenneth Knutsen of Barton & Loguidice; and trustee Phil Joe Smith.
Watkins Board gives green light for new treatment plant
WATKINS GLEN, Jan. 20 -- The Watkins Glen Village Board -- beset by the rising costs of an aging wastewater treatment plant that has outlived its effectiveness -- voted unanimously Tuesday night to proceed with plans for the design and financing of a new plant on the canal that runs between Watkins and Montour Falls, presumably in concert with the Village of Montour Falls.
A vote on the joint project is scheduled for Thursday by the Village Board in Montour Falls, a municipality with its own outmoded, patchwork treatment plant. A joint study has been ongoing for a couple of years, and public meetings on the issue have indicated movement in the direction taken by Watkins Glen Tuesday: construction of a $24.7 million plant that will supplant the two existing ones -- neither of which, officials say, can meet modern and evolving state standards.
While the Montour Falls Village Board is expected to approve the joint project, as well, Watkins Glen Mayor Mark Swinnerton has said that Watkins has no choice but to pursue a new plant, either in concert with Montour or alone. The current Watkins plant, located on the southern shore of Seneca Lake, has been operating under a consent order from the state for some time, with the cost of fines and repairs building steadily.
Supporters of the new plant -- a tertiary treatment system ("for lack of a better word, a 'polishing' treatment," Watkins Glen Trustee Scott Gibson said, "that will get it pretty darn near to drinking water quality") -- have explained that it will vastly reduce the negative environmental impact found in the current plants. It will, they say, provide improvement both in modern design and in location, situated near a marsh that can serve as a natural filter. And in decommissioning and removing the 50-year-old Watkins Glen plant along the Seneca Lake shoreline, they have said, the growing area tourism can benefit substantially without the occasionally noticeable smell and unsightly architecture of the old structure.
While sale of that property has been discussed, Swinnerton said the village will keep it -- after removal of the old building -- for use by local residents.
"I think this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the two communities," said trustee Gibson of the new plant. "I think it's a darn exciting time." He serves on a Joint Project Committee with trustee Tony Fraboni (pictured at right).
It was Fraboni who issued the motion Tuesday to join with Montour on the project and kick it officially into motion under a resolution calling for such factors -- under the guidance of the Syracuse engineering firm of Barton & Loguidice -- as environmental review; subcontracting for surveying, mapping, soil and other services; the continuing search for grant money to fill out the $6 million needed to supplement an available low-cost loan from the New York State Environmental Facilities Corporation; the preliminary and then final design plans; and the invitation of bids for different phases of the project, including the decommissioning of the old waterfront plant.
"In other words," asked Gibson, "this is work that will get us up to construction?"
"For now," answered Barton & Loguidice senior vice president Kenneth Knutsen, who had outlined the highlights of the resolution for the board and for Tuesday's meeting audience.
Currently $1.8 million in grant money is in hand, according to Rick Weakland, the head of Project Seneca, an organization that envisions area development on several fronts, with the new treatment plant as a catalyst. Project Seneca has been a continuing player in the study and development of the treatment plant project.
Weakland (pictured at right) explained how the two villages -- through financial examinations involving stakeholders and consultants -- had found that either village retaining its current plant would be an increasingly losing proposition. More than one official has said it would be "throwing good money after bad" to repair the plants with little more than a Band-Aid effect. They are simply "antiquated," officials have said -- systems with no hope of permanent redemption. Age and evolving ecological needs and requirements have turned them into a pair of figurative albatrosses -- a drain on the budget with no upside.
Weakland explained that a comparison of costs borne by local residents in the various alternatives -- keeping the old plants, each village building a new plant alone, or this regional project -- favored this plan over the long term. And, officials have stressed, the environment will benefit as well with discharges that are vastly improved.
"We're under a consent order," said Mayor Swinnerton about the current Watkins plant. "We have to do something. We're not looking at tomorrow, but at the long term" on a new facility that is expected to see a useful and effective life for decades.
Added Gibson: "Getting the wastewater treatment plant off the waterfront is paramount."
The new one will be located on the east side of the canal, roughly opposite the Watkins Glen High School grounds.
Photos in text:
From the top: Watkns Glen Trustee and Deputy Mayor Scott Gibson, left, with Mayor Mark Swinnerton at Tuesday's Village Board session; Trustee Tony Fraboni; and Project Seneca's Rick Weakland.
Watkins Board OKs tanker purchase
WATKINS GLEN, Jan. 6 -- The Watkins Glen Village Board Monday night approved the purchase of a new tanker truck for the fire department.
The purchase is being mostly covered by a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grant, leaving the village share at a maximum of $45,000. The sale of an old tanker covers $15,000 of that total.
The vehicle will be purchased from 4 Guys Fire Trucks at a cost of $323,987. The 4 Guys bid was lower than American LaFrance's $386,000. LaFrance had an alternate bid of $262,500, but the firm did not meet the requirements of the FEMA grant regarding chassis specifications.
The grant will cover $285,000 of the cost, said Fire Chief Judson Smith, who asked that the board include in its approval an extra $6,000 for unforeseen adjustments. That brings the total cost to not more than $330,000.
"At the end of the day," said Mayor Mark Swinnerton, "it's a fantastic deal" in comparison with the usual need to bond truck purchases over 20 years.
Construction of the truck is expected to take 10 to 12 months, Smith said. The village is not liable for payment until it picks up the completed vehicle.
In other business:
--The board approved the purchase of a new municipal server and associated software and services at a cost exceeding $20,000. The old server crashed just before Christmas, Village Clerk-Treasurer Donna Beardsley said.
--The board opened discussion on a possible raise in pay for the mayor and trustees. The mayor currently earns $6,000 a year, the deputy mayor (Scott Gibson) $5,500 a year, and the other trustees (Tony Fraboni, Paul Clifford and Kevin Smith) $5,000 a year.
The increase is warranted, the board said, by the large amount of time required to handle village business, best exemplified by the complex development of a plan to replace the exisiting wastewater treatement plant, possibly with a regional plant in conjunction with Montour Falls.
"This should be a nod" to future board members too, said Swinnerton.
"We should keep it interesting for prospective people coming in. Some will do it out of a sense of civic duty," he said, while others will expect to be duly compensated.
Any increase would take effect on June 1.
Photo in text: Mayor Mark Swinnerton looks up at lighting in the board meeting room that he thought was dimmer than usual. Deputy Mayor Scott Gibson is at left.
Arrestees posed in front of the Sheriff's Office following their release.
41 arrested as storage protest surges at Crestwood gate
WATKINS GLEN, Dec. 17 -- After almost two weeks without a sign of activity, the Crestwood protesters escalated their movement Tuesday with a gate blockage that led to the arrest of 41 people -- 25 of them educators.
That was the avowed theme of the day: educators against the Crestwood energy firm's plan to store methane, propane and butane in abandoned salt caverns off the western shore of Seneca Lake. The methane storage has been federally approved; state approval on the propane and butane has not yet been granted.
The 41 arrests brings to 133 the number amassed since the current protest campaign started in late October. The campaign was triggered by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's approval of the methane storage.
The educators arrested -- all on trespass charges -- included a range of instructors from kindergarten to college. There were 15 other planned arrests, for an even 40. But a photographer for the group, Ross Horowitz, 72, of Danby, was also arrested after inadvertently standing on property posted outside Crestwood's north gate, where the 40 were blocking any incoming or outgoing Crestwood traffic.. "I didn't realize it was posted," he said. "This was an unexpected Hannukah present."
A number of other onlookers were forced by law enforcement officials away from the posted area, with threats of arrest if they did not move. Another was told she had "three seconds" to move off the median across from the gate. The median divides the Rt. 14 four-lane highway there. She moved quickly.
Watkins Glen Village Police, New York State Police, and representatives of the Schuyler County and Yates County Sheriff's Departments made the arrests -- in waves as vehicles became available. First five vehicles appeared, bypassing the Crestwood south gate, where a dozen protesters were prepared to be arrested. That gate was not being used, though; was locked.
So as their fellow protesters were being taken from the north gate site by police, those dozen walked up the road to join them. All 41 arrests thus took place at the north gate.
The arrests were peaceful, although some tempers seemed a little frayed as law enforcement also tried to keep the spectators -- another 50 or so people -- from the area posted by Crestwood in front of the gate and on the adjoining lawn. Said one officer fairly loudly: "This is getting out of hand."
That, in fact, is likely the feeling of a good many in law enforcement as the protest movement -- now amping up -- continues to clog the Town of Reading court, where Town Justice Raymond Berry holds sway every other Wednesday. The interim Wednesday court sessions are run by Justice John Norman, who recused himself from the protest cases since he works for US Salt, which is owned by Crestwood.
One of the arrestees Tuesday, Margaret McCasland of Lansing, said she was given a court date of Jan. 7 -- coinciding with her scheduled appearance there from a previous arrest. But a first-time arrestee, Ian Remmers of Hector, was given a March 4 date. Other cases in which defendants have pleaded not guilty have been adjourned into April.
The arrestees Tuesday, in addition to the photographer, Horowitz, follow. (Notations of "x2" or "x3" indicate the number of times a person has been arrested protesting the Crestwood plans.)
(x2) Doug Couchon, 64, of Elmira.
A press conference was conducted by protesters in the afternoon, after all of the arrestees had been processed and given appearance tickets.
The conference, before TV and other media in a conference room of the Watkins Glen Public Library, featured protest organizer Sandra Steingraber, several educators, and a couple of area businessmen previously arrested -- one of whom, Phil Davis, co-owner of Damiani Winery, said he would plead guilty, refuse to pay a fine and be jailed at Wednesday night's Town of Reading court session.
Steingraber said the protest movement now has 1,000 people who have signed a pledge to protect Seneca Lake. It is not known how many of those want to go to jail for up to 15 days (actually more like eight days, after time off for good behavior is factored in), but as Steingraber put it: "We have a very deep bench."
Photos in text:
Top: Ian Remmers of Hector is led to a police car by Watkins Glen Police Chief Tom Struble.
Second: Sheriff's Deputy Andrew Yessman orders a member of the protest movement out of the median on Rt. 14.
Third: Photographer Ross Horowitz of Danby, one of the arrestees, although he didn't plan to be.
Fourth: Arrestee Margaret McCasland, the first one processed and released.
Fifth Damiani Winery co-owner Phil Davis at the afternoon press conference.
Sixth: Tom Angie of Aurora and Patty Darcy-Walsh of Conesus are led to a police vehicle.
Protesters in front of the Crestwood gate wait to be arrested.
9 arrests in morn follow busy court night
WATKINS GLEN, Dec. 4 -- Nine protesters were arrested Thursday morning at the gates of the Crestwood energy firm alongside Rt. 14, just a few hours after a long session Wednesday night in Reading Town Court.
The court session -- with 19 trespass cases related to the ongoing protest against Crestwood's plan to store methane, propane and butane in abandoned salt caverns west of Seneca Lake -- saw six people jailed for refusing to pay fines, although one, given a one-day sentence, was released hours later.
Thursday's arrests brought to 92 the number of arrests at the Crestwood sites since Oct. 29. Charged with trespass were Pete Angie, 34, of Trumansburg; Catherine Johnson, 52, of Ithaca; Margaret McCasland, 68, of Lansing; Kerry Angie, 62, of Aurora; Timothy Dunlap, 60, of Hector; Shirley Barton, 66, of Mecklenburg; Daryl Anderson, 61, of Hector; Kirsten Pierce, 44, of Burdett; and Rosalie Richter-Goldberg, 70, of Ithaca.
4th straight day of arrests; total now 61
WATKINS GLEN, Nov. 20, 2014 -- Nine more people were arrested Thursday morning at the two Crestwood Midstream gates along Rt. 14 north of Watkins Glen, the fourth straight day on which protesters were removed from the sites.
While the number of arrestees reached 36 for the week, the total reached 61 since the current drive against Crestwood's gas storage plans kicked off in late October.
Arrested Thursday were John Burger, 56, of Dryden; Becca Harber, 64, of Newfield; Bruce Agte, 58, of Binghamton; Coby Schultz, 54, of Springwater; Margie Rodgers, 60, of Elmira; Britton Dougherty, 28, of Ovid; Maryl Mendillo of Aurora; Kathy Russell, 67, of Dryden; and Sara Hess, 68, of Ithaca.
Rodgers was among the original Seneca 12 arrested in March 2013 for blocking Crestwood's gates. She is the third person from that group to be arrested again. The others: Michael Dineen, 65, of Ovid, taken into custody Tuesday, Nov. 18; and Sandra Steingraber, 55, of Trumansburg, arrested Oct. 29 and sent to jail Nov. 19 for refusing to pay a fine after pleading guilty to Trespass.
Schultz, arrested Thursday, is the husband of Lyndsay Clark, who was arrested Nov. 3 and paid a fine Nov. 19 in Reading Town Court.
Each of Thursday's arrestees was charged with Trespass. Their scheduled court appointments stretch as far as Feb. 4.
A day later ... 8 more arrests
WATKINS GLEN, Nov. 18 -- One day after 10 protesters were arrested at the Crestwood Midstream gates along Rt. 14 north of Watkins Glen, 8 more were taken into custody on trespass charges early Tuesday morning, bringing to 43 the number of arrests in the past three weeks.
Where Monday's arrests (see story below) did not involve anyone taken into custody previously at the gates, Tuesday's list had four familiar names. Two were also arrested on Oct 29: Roland Micklem, 86, of Geneva, and Nancy Kasper, 55, of North Rose, Wayne County. Their initial cases are pending in Reading Town Court. A third, Laura Salamendra of Geneva, was arrested Nov. 3rd along with 14 other people. Her case is pending in the same court. A fourth person, Michael Dineen, 65, of Ovid, was one of the original Seneca 12 charged in March 2013 and one of three at that time who served a jail sentence for refusing to pay the mandatory fine for trespass.
Others arrested Tuesday included Katie Barrett, 55, of Syracuse; Catherine Middlesworth, 49, of Syracuse; Judy Leaf, 67, of Ithaca; and Peter Tringali, 62, of Ithaca.
Protesters have been blocking the Crestwood gates with some regularity since Oct. 23 in opposition to the federally approved storage of methane (and the proposed storage of propane and butane) in abandoned salt caverns west of Seneca Lake. A rally at the main gate leading to the firm's compressor station attracted an estimated 175 people on Oct. 24, and the first arrests came on Oct. 29.
Many of the earlier cases are scheduled to be processed in the Reading Town Court on Wednesday, Nov. 19. Protesters are planning a rally outside the town hall beforehand, at 4 p.m., featuring arrestees, business leaders and health experts. Sixteen arraignments are scheduled, and some of those facing charges are expected to choose jail time over paying a fine.
Photo in text: One of many protest signs evident in the past few weeks. (File photo)
10 more protesters arrested
Rally planned outside Reading Court Wednesday
WATKINS GLEN, Nov. 17 -- Ten more protesters, including several from a national movement demanding action on climate change, were arrested by Schuyler County Sheriff's deputies early Monday afternoon at two gates on Crestwood Midstream property along Route 14 north of Watkins Glen.
Each of the arrestees was charged with trespass and directed to appear Dec. 10 in Town of Reading Court. Among those arrested were:
Elizabeth Peet, 47, of Hector; Jeff de Castro, 60, of Trumansburg; Mark Scibilia-Carver, 62, of Trumansburg; Richard John Koski, 71, of Trumansburg; Faith Meckley, 19, of Geneva; John Abbe, 49, of Eugene, Oregon; Jimmy Betts, 30, of Iowa; Jane Kendall of New York City; Michael Clark, 29, of Cleveland, Ohio; and Kelsey Erickson, a Cornell University graduate living in Carlisle, Massachusetts.
The arrests came two days before scheduled court action Wednesday, Nov. 19 on 16 protest cases stemming from the arrests of 10 people on Oct. 29 and another 15 people on Nov. 3 at the same Crestwood gates. A protest rally and press conference is being planned outside the Reading court at 4 p.m. Wednesday. According to Sandra Steingraber, one of the initial 10 arrested (and who has spent time in jail before stemming from a previous protest arrest), "some of us will plead guilty, some won't, some will pay their fines, and some of us want to go to jail."
In Monday's action, Peet, de Castro, Scibilia-Carver and Koski were taken into custody first, at the smaller south gate; and the others a few minutes later at the main north gate that leads to Crestwood's compressor station. Unlike in the past, handcuffs were not employed by the arresting officers, witnesses said. All of the arrestees were taken to the Sheriff's office for processing, and released pending a court appearance. Each faces a trespass charge that can bring a $250 fine and $125 state surcharge or, in the alternative, a 15-day jail sentence.
The 10 new cases bring to 35 the number of people arrested at the two Crestwood gates in three weeks as part of a planned civil disobedience campaign in opposition to the federally approved storage of methane gas in Crestwood salt caverns west of Seneca Lake and in opposition to the proposed storage of Liquefied Petroleum gas (propane and butane), also in salt caverns. The latter project is still under state review. The protesters argue that the projects could contaminate the lake water and could lead to a catastrophic accident, such as an explosion.
All but one of the initial 25 cases are still active. One protester, Dwain Wilder of Rochester, served half of a 15-day sentence in Schuyler County Jail after pleading guilty to trespass and refusing to pay the fine. Seven cases were put on hold until this Wednesday evening by Town Justice Raymond Berry due to confusion regarding a second charge -- disorderly conduct -- that protesters said seemed in conflict with an accompanying trespass charge. Trespass, they say, relates to action on private property, while disorderly conduct relates to action on public property. Their question: How can both charges be lodged for the same incident?
There was no such confusion in Monday's arrests, although those arrested and those who showed up outside the Sheriff's Department to support them said the Dec. 10 court date before Town Justice John Norman was "bogus" because Norman -- one of two Reading justices -- recused himself from protest cases last week, at a hearing involving two protesters, due to personal employment with Crestwood. One Monday arrestee reported being told by Sheriff's Department personnel that no such recusal had been transmitted by the court.
Among Monday's out-of-region protesters, Kendall (right) -- who spent eight months with the Great March for Climate Action -- said she was "here today as a New Yorker. I'm really angry" about the gas storage plans. "It's obscene," she said.
The Hector resident, Beth Peet, proudly held up her appearance ticket -- for the Dec. 10th court visit -- and explained that this was her first arrest. "Having so many people on the team ... it wasn't scary," she said. "I consider this a civic duty, even more than voting."
Meckley, an Ithaca College journalism student and the youngest of the 35 protesters arrested since Oct. 29, participated in the Climate March from May 24 to Oct. 10, from New Mexico to Ohio. She then returned home to be part of the gas-storage protest. On the presence of other Climate Marchers, she said: "(It) goes to show that this is more than just a Finger Lakes or a New York issue. This is a national and even a global one. In a world where fresh, clean water is becoming ever more rare, we are sitting on a priceless treasure here that we may eventually have to share. We need to make sure that Seneca Lake and all the lakes are clean and healthy for generations to come."
Photos in text:
Top: Five of the arrestees pose outside the Sheriff's Department after being processed and given appearance tickets. From left: Elizabeth Peet, Mark Scibilia-Carver, Jeff de Castro, Richard Koski and Faith Meckley.
Second through fourth: Colleen Boland, facing charges of trespass and disorderly conduct from an Oct. 29 arrest, was present Monday recording the day's events; Monday arrestee Jane Kendall; and Sandra Steingraber, facing trespass and disorderly conduct charges from Oct. 29, and present outside the Sheriff's Office Monday in support of the latest arrestees.
Sandra Steingraber, center front, addresses supporters after court.
9 protest cases adjourned
1 man jailed; dual charges delay several cases to Nov. 19
READING CENTER, Nov. 6 -- Ten protesters arrested Oct. 29 in a blockade at two Crestwood energy company gates along Route 14 north of Watkins Glen appeared in court Wednesday night, but only one case reached conclusion: a 15-day jail term for a Rochester man.
The appearance of the 10 before Town of Reading Justice Raymond Berry was complicated by the presence of two charges against seven of the protesters: counts of trespass and disorderly conduct. Those seven had been arrested at the main gate to the Crestwood compressor station, where they were lined up, blocking a chemical company truck from entering.
They were protesting the federally approved storage of methane in salt caverns along the west side of Seneca Lake -- a project they say endangers the lake waters and threatens the economic vitality of a region steeped in wineries and tourism. There is also, they say, the danger of a catastrophic event, such as a major explosion that might seriously affect the area for miles.
The other three protesters that day were posted at a smaller gate to the south. At the time of their arrests, they weren't blocking any vehicles, although they said they had earlier prevented a small truck from exiting the Crestwood grounds. Each of the three was charged only with trespass.
Protest organizers said earlier this week -- following the arrest of 15 more protesters (whose court appearances are spread out across November and early December) -- that they were hoping their legal counsel would be able to get the Oct. 29th disorderly conduct charges dropped or any penalty from them eliminated through a plea agreement.
But, said Sandra Steingraber, a key protest organizer and one of Wednesday night's defendants, calls to the District Attorney's office "were made and made and made, but the DA didn't provide an answer."
When Wednesday's first defendant, Colleen Boland, told Judge Berry that she would plead guilty to trespass if the judge agreed to dismiss the conduct charge, he said he was not empowered to do that -- that such a result would have to be approved by the DA.
That set the tone through a two-hour-plus court proceeding. Berry adjourned Boland's case until 5 p.m. Nov. 19th, a pattern he followed in all but one of the succeeding cases. In some, defendants pleaded guilty, in some not guilty, and in a couple neither one, the pleas left up in the air.
Of the 10 defendants, only the case of Dwain Wilder of Rochester reached sentencing, after Wilder pleaded guilty to the single count of trespass lodged against him for his role at the south Crestwood gate.
"I did intend with all my might to block Crestwood's access," he told the judge before being fined $250 and a $125 state surcharge. He refused to pay, was accordingly sentenced to 15 days in the Schuyler County Jail, and was led from the courtroom by a deputy to begin serving his time.
The two defendants with him at the south gate, Rev. Nancy Kasper of Wayne County and Charles Geisler of Ithaca, pleaded not guilty Wednesday to trespass. Their cases were adjourned to Nov. 19.
The dual charges, presumably to be sorted out when the judge contacts the DA's office, are still faced by Boland, Steingraber, Jeanne Judson, Patrick Judson, Roland Micklem, Catherine Rossiter of Sayre and Patricia Heckart of Trumansburg. The latter actually split her pleas, saying "guilty" to trespass and "not guilty" to disorderly conduct, but said afterward that she wished she had entered "not guilty" to both. While a couple of defendants tried to read statements, only to be deterred by the judge, trespass-accused Geisler managed to read aloud a complaint issued by Crestwood official Barry Moon to the Schuyler County Sheriff's Office before the Oct. 29 arrests.
In it, the official said the protesters were "hindering the flow of traffic in and out" of the Crestwood grounds without permission, and that he wanted them "removed and arrested today and in the future" should they reappear at the company's gates.
After court was concluded, the defendants marched out of the building to cheers from about 80 supporters still on hand. A larger group -- about 150 people, counting defendants -- were present in the parking lot before the court opened. Steingraber told the post-court gathering that while she "had planned to go to jail tonight, we are going home ... But if we need to fill the jails to stop this project, we're willing to take that tactic."
The rally beforehand:
Well over 100 people gathered in the parking lot outside the Town of Reading hall more than an hour before the 7 p.m. court proceeding.
TV and online media were on hand, and speeches took center stage. With Steingraber acting as emcee, the microphones yielded speeches by defendants Colleen Boland, Jeanne Judson, Patrick Judson, and 86-year-old Roland Micklem, entrepreneurs Lou Damiani and Justin Boyette, former legislator (and Monday arrestee) Ruth Young, and recent Legislature candidate Sylvia Fox, who noted that she was one of two anti-storage candidates who combined earned more than half the vote in District 6, encompassing the Village of Watkins Glen and nearby environs.
All gave impassioned talks welcomed by the supporters, who occasionally broke into the chant: "We Are Seneca Lake," the term applied to the grassroots movement that has sprung up in opposition to the methane storage project.
Photos in text:
From top: Speakers at the rally preceding court included retired Air Force Master Sgt. Colleen Boland of Elmira; retired teacher Jeanne Judson and her son Patrick; former Schuyler County Legislator Ruth Young, and defendant Roland Micklem.
Left: Recent Schuyler County Legislature candidate Sylvia Fox. Right: Defendants Catherine Rossiter of Sayre (left) and Rev. Nancy Kasper of Wayne County.
15 more protesters arrested at Crestwood
WATKINS GLEN, Nov. 3 -- Five days after 10 protesters had been arrested at a pair of Crestwood energy company gates along Route 14 north of Watkins Glen, another 15 were arrested Monday morning by Schuyler County Sheriff's deputies and State Police.
This time, the protesters at the main gate were not arrested before the protesters at the second, smaller gate to the south. This time, police descended on both locales simultaneously. Arrested this time were 15 people who had not been arrested the previous Wednesday. And this time several of those taken into custody on trespass charges were elderly.
The protesters, who have objected loudly in the past to the planned storage of Liquefied Petroleum Gas in salt caverns to the west of Seneca Lake -- a proposal on hold at the state level -- are currently mobilizing against the federally approved storage of methane in salt caverns. They cite the potential contamination of Seneca and other Finger Lakes, and the threat of an explosion that they said could rock the region.
Among those taken to the Sheriff's Office for processing were 90-year-old Martha Ferger of Dryden, who said this was the first time she had ever been arrested -- at least "the first I remember." She added that she wasn't sure what she would do when she goes to court before Town of Reading Justice Raymond Berry. If a protester pleads guilty, he or she has the option of paying a mandatory fine and surcharge, or of going to jail for up to 15 days -- although the terms actually served by area protesters over the past couple of years have averaged seven or eight days.
Not far behind Ferger in years was arrestee Bob Henrie of Wayne County (right), who said he is 88 -- "the same number of keys on a piano." He said he is due in court on Nov. 12th, and wants to talk to 86-year-old Roland Micklem -- arrested last week -- before he makes a decision on what course to follow in court, and whether to opt for jail. "I know Roland's not going to pay," he said.
Celebrating his 75th birthday Monday was arrestee Kenneth Fogarty of Chenango County (below), a retired City University of New York math professor who in retirement has been teaching a class or two per semester at SUNY Morrisville's annex in Norwich. He said he has been active for years in C-CARE (Chenango Community Action for Renewable Energy), and that he expects to pay the fine instead of going to jail "because I have to teach" a college course, which he dubbed "Elementary Algebra for Frightened Adults."
"I'm in my last quarter on Earth," he said, "and it's time to pay it back. It's not to be desecrated."
And two years his senior was arrestee Ruth Young, 77, a former Schuyler County legislator who said she is a member of People for a Healthy Environment -- one of several grassroots organizations that have sprung up in recent years in reaction to hydrofracking and associated ecological hot buttons -- including the storage of gases in salt caverns. She said the arresting officers were "very gentle and professional," giving a verbal warning before making arrests. But, she added, “I am saddened to see what is going on here.”
Others arrested were Lyn Gerry of Watkins Glen, John Dennis of Lansing, Mariah Plumlee of Covert, Joanne Cipolla-Dennis of Dryden, and Lindsay Clark of the Rochester area, along with several people whose places of residence were not available: Laura Salamandra, Elan Shapiro, Darlene Bordwell, Jodi Dean, Paul Passavant, and Stephanie Redmond.
Dennis was quoted in a press release from protest organizers as saying: “I’m worried about water quality. There are severe salinity problems already, and I’m almost certain those will get worse because we think the existing problems are caused by gas storage started in 1964.”
Plumlee, a mother of three, was quoted as saying: “I think it’s really important to do this, and if everybody did this then we wouldn’t have this problem. We moved here almost ten years ago because we knew it would be a wonderful place to raise a family.”
Gerry, a radio journalist, was quoted too: "Our elected officials have let us down," he said, "so we have to take matters into our own hands. I love Seneca Lake, I love this area. I’m not from here originally. I’ve traveled 3,000 miles to come to this beautiful place by this beautiful lake to live. I’ve come from a place that greed has already destroyed. So I know what a land being destroyed looks like. So now, my back is to the wall and I must defend what I love.”
Serving as liaison with police at the arrest sites Monday were Sandra Steingraber, noted professor, author and activist, who was among the 10 people arrested last week, and Doug Couchon of Elmira, who said more protest plans are in the hopper, but that he isn't about to undercut the strategy by divulging them. "It's a long-term campaign," he said.
The 10 people arrested last week are scheduled to appear Wednesday before Justice Berry. All were charged with trespass, and unlike in the past or on Monday, seven were charged with disorderly conduct -- like trespass a violation. Organizers were hoping the "DisCons," as they called the Disorderly Conduct counts, would be dismissed or simply merged with the trespass counts.
Photos in text:
Top: From left, arrestees
Ruth Young, Martha Ferger and Joanne Cipolla-Dennis.
Schuyler Room Tax challenge dismissed
Special to The Odessa File
WATKINS GLEN, Oct. 30 -- A New York State Supreme Court
judge has dismissed a
In a written decision received by the county Wednesday, October 29, Justice Judith O’Shea ruled that the county properly assessed the taxes against a New Jersey man who owns and leases vacation homes in Schuyler County.
According to County Attorney Geoffrey Rossi, the county had previously found the owner, Thomas Schneider, responsible to pay $6,102 in back taxes under Schuyler County Local Law No. 2, also known as the “Hotel or Motel Room Occupancy Tax."
Court records show that Schneider owns and leases three properties as single-family residential vacation homes in Schuyler County. The properties are located in Burdett and Watkins Glen, and operated under the name “Seneca Lake Vacation Rentals.”
In 2013, the county notified Schneider that he was responsible to pay back room taxes for the years 2010-2012. Schneider objected and, in October 2013, the county held a hearing on the case.
After the hearing, Schneider filed a proceeding under CPLR 78, appealing the county’s ruling. In his petition, Schneider alleged that the county’s decision was “arbitrary and capricious” for several reasons and claimed that the county had misinterpreted the definition of a hotel by including vacation rentals in the definition.
The county, through Rossi, argued that the local law was a permissible use tax under New York State Tax Law and properly applied to vacation rentals and bungalows. The county said that the Schneider properties clearly met the definition of tourist facilities, subject to the tax.
O’Shea agreed with the county. In a written decision dated September 19, and signed October 27, the judge ruled that the county had authority to levy the tax, noting that the local law was intended to promote Schuyler County in order to increase convention, trade show and tourist business in the county.
Therefore, the court “denied and dismissed” Schneider’s petition in its entirety.
The county was represented in the proceedings by Rossi. Schneider was represented by the Ithaca law firm of Schlather, Stumbar, Parks and Salk.
Schneider has 30 days to appeal the decision under New York State law. According to Rossi, it is not yet known if Schneider plans to do so.
SCCUDD awarded federal 5-year grant
Special to The Odessa File
WATKINS GLEN, Oct.10 -- The Schuyler County Coalition on Underage Drinking and Drugs (SCCUDD) has received a federal Drug Free Community Grant that will bring $125,000 into the county each year for the next five years.
“The grant will be used by the coalition to reduce
the impact of alcohol, tobacco and marijuana usage by Schuyler County
youth,” Schuyler County Public Health Director Marcia Kasprzyk said.
SCCUDD was one of only 12 organizations in New York to receive 2014 funding from the National Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Nationally, 197 grants were awarded.
Kasprzyk said SCCUDD’s work will focus on changes to decrease community tolerance of underage substance use and to reduce access to alcohol and drugs.
A recent survey of all 7th- through 12th-graders in Schuyler County showed use of alcohol and drugs to be above the national average in every grade.
“The average age of first use was 11,” SCCUDD President Mel Schroeder said. “The effects of underage drug and alcohol use can be life-changing scholastically, legally and physically. We need to work as a community to do all we can to minimize these negative effects that could change our kids’ futures.”
The mission of SCCUDD is to prevent, reduce and delay the onset of substance use among Schuyler County youth by collaborating with community partners, promoting prevention education and substance-free activities and implementing environmental strategies.
The coalition is composed of agencies, institutions and concerned community members working together toward the common goals of SCCUDD.
Anyone interested in becoming involved with SCCUDD should go to www.schuylercounty.us/sccudd to learn more.
Vickio picks up GOP Committee backing
Special to The Odessa File
SCHUYLER COUNTY, Sept. 24, 2014 -- The Schuyler County Republican Committee has unanimously voted to endorse Deputy Treasurer Harriett Vickio, a Democrat, as its candidate in the November 4th election for the office of Schuyler County Treasurer.
The post opened with the Aug. 1 resignation of Gary Whyman.
According to GOP Chairman Phil Barnes, “In the short time that she has been Deputy, Harriett is already making noticeable and sound fiscal changes in the operation of the Treasurer’s office.”
Barnes said the recent endorsement is the first time in memory that the party has chosen to back a Democrat for a countywide office.
“While we would have preferred to endorse a Republican for this key position," he said, "ultimately the party felt that qualifications and abilities trumped politics. We unanimously agreed that Ms. Vickio is the best candidate for Treasurer and that she will bring much needed reform to that office.”
The Treasurer’s office has come under fire in past years by the County’s independent auditing firm and the Legislature and has recently undergone a review by the NYS Comptroller’s office.
Vickio is running against former Treasurer Margaret Starbuck, who will appear on the Democrat, Conservative and Independent lines. In addition to being on the Republican line, Vickio will be on the Listening Party line, too.
Photo in text: Harriett Vickio (File photo)
Law targets invasive species
O’Mara-Lifton legislation signed by Cuomo; eyes prevention
Special to The Odessa File
ALBANY, Sept. 2 -- Governor Andrew Cuomo has signed into law legislation sponsored by Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C-Big Flats) and Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton (D/WF-125th District) designed to help stop the spread of aquatic invasive species throughout the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions and statewide.
The new law (S.7851-B/A.9619-B) will require boaters to take reasonable precautions when launching their boats. It directs the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to develop rules and regulations for boaters to take precautions to prevent the spread of invasive species, such as removing all visible plants and animals from, or washing, draining and drying both motorized and non-motorized watercraft and related gear when entering and leaving a launch site.
“Individual boaters are the front line of defense against the spread of invasive species, and this new initiative offers a straightforward approach asking all boaters to do their part to help protect waterways, regional tourism economies and local jobs,” said O’Mara, a member of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee.
“Taking every possible step to stop the spread of destructive invasive species before they take hold is the most cost-effective and common-sense approach to combat this severe threat to the environment and economy of the Finger Lakes and other waterways statewide. I, together with numerous regional leaders, know firsthand how difficult it’s been trying to eradicate hydrilla from Cayuga Lake in Tompkins County. Greater awareness, education and prevention are the best solutions.”
Some estimates have pegged the annual cost of invasive species to the national economy at $120 billion a year.
Similar efforts are being undertaken across the country and major outdoor outfitters such as Cabela’s and Bass Pro are helping educate boaters on clean, drain and dry procedures to prevent the spread of invasive species from one body of water to another.
Following is a link to the Governor's announcement:
Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara (File photo)
Protester Alderson opts for jail
READING CENTER, Aug. 21 -- Jeremy Alderson chose jail over a fine or community service Wednesday and was thus sentenced by Reading Town Justice Raymond Berry to 15 days in the Schuyler County lockup.
Alderson was found guilty in the Reading court months ago, but the case was delayed by appeals, first to Schuyler County Court and then to the state Court of Appeals, which earlier this summer rejected the effort.
Alderson had been arrested on Sept. 6, 2012, during a protest at the Crestwood (then Inergy) gate alongside Rt. 14 just south of the 14A overpass. The protest was one of many that have been held in opposition to the Crestwood plan to store Liquefied Petroleum Gas in depleted salt caverns. The plan has long been under consideration by the state.
Alderson faces sentencing on a second trespass charge in Town of Dix Court, where Justice Alan Gregory found him guilty following a trial in mid-June. That charge stemmed from a June 28, 2013 arrest at the same gate. Alderson will face a choice there, too: pay a $250 fine and $125 surcharge or face another jail term. He is due to appear in that court again on Sept. 10.
Wednesday's hearing carried what Alderson attorney Gerald Kinchy called an "unusual offer" for a trespass case. The District Attorney's office, represented by Law Intern Seamus P. Donnelly, gave Alderson options beyond a fine or imprisonment. It offered 120 hours of community service or participation for 15 weekends in a Sheriff's Office work program.
Either service option, if taken, "would have defeated the purpose of what Jeremy wanted to do," said Kinchy -- which was to make a statement of civil disobedience. Several other protesters had chosen jail in previous, related trespass cases.
Alderson declined all options except jail, and in the end told Justice Berry that despite the circumstances, he would remember the judge "fondly." Responded Berry: "That's something I rarely hear." And upon turning Alderson over to deputies, the judge told the defendant "Good luck."
Before departing, though, Alderson asked that the court convey to the jail that the defendant is a proponent of Jewish Vegetarianism in the hope that his jail diet could be shaped to accommodate him. He presented letters from two rabbis who, he said, were attesting to his dietary regimen.
Alderson was led by deputies to an office off the hallway in the town building that houses the court. They then took him outside, handcuffed, as a dozen or so supporters repeatedly yelled "Thank you, Jeremy" and applauded him. He was then transported to jail.
Afterward, Alderson had his son distribute to supporters an email, written by Alderson. It was sent an hour after the sentencing.
"If you're reading this, I'm in jail," it said.
"I'm not asking anyone to keep a vigil for me, because I don't think they're particularly effective. I do hope, though, that people will circulate the press release summarizing my report on the WGFD (another email, asserting that the Watkins Glen Fire Department is not prepared to fight a catastrophic fire at the Crestwood storage facility, should the storage plan be approved and if such an accident were to occur). I'd like it if it could be distributed to businesses and others in Watkins Glen.
"I sent copies to all of our Schuyler County legislators. So far, I've even gotten two responses, one from Phil Barnes, who seems genuinely interested, and one from Barbara Halpin, who wrote, "Please take me off your mailing list." It would be nice if people could write to our legislators -- their e-mail addresses are on the Schuyler County website -- and to Watkins Mayor Mark Swinnerton (who is opposed to the Crestwood project) and let them know that you want these safety concerns taken seriously.
"Lastly, I have another court date coming up before Judge Gregory in the town of Dix court, at 7:00 p.m. on September 10th. At that time, I will be sentenced for my second trespassing conviction related to Crestwood. You never know, I may just have such a good time in Hotel Schuyler that I'll want to go back, but it's never been my intention to go to jail twice. So for the second time around I plan on paying the fine, and I could use some help with that. There's a 'Donate Now' button on the No Frack Almanac website (which he publishes): (http://www.nofrackalmanac.com). If you can spare a few bucks, I'd appreciate it, and anything left over I'll pass on to the general defense fund for the next wave of civil disobedience."
Photos in text: Jeremy Alderson confers with his attorney, Gerald Kinchy, before sentencing; Alderson and his wife share a moment before he is led away by deputies.
Glen board opposes LPG plan
3 trustees vote against Crestwood project; 2 abstain
WATKINS GLEN, Aug. 19 -- The Watkins Glen Village Board Monday night finally voted on Crestwood's plan to store Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) in depleted salt caverns north of the village -- and opposed it by a narrow margin.
The vote was 3-0, a bare majority that brought the deciding vote from Mayor Mark Swinnerton, who has been clearly against the project for months.
Joining him in passing the resolution were trustees Scott Gibson, who crafted the document, and Kevin Smith -- both of whom said they had been "on the fence" regarding the issue until finally siding with the resolution's sentiment that tourism -- an economic driver in the village -- held sway over a plan that meant only 8 to 10 jobs while creating increased truck traffic and no clear upside.
Abstaining were trustees Paul Clifford and Tony Fraboni, each of whom made it clear they don't favor the project. Clifford, however, felt his abstention was necessary "to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest" in that he works for a Crestwood competitor, the Cargill salt firm. Fraboni said he didn't think board opposition would have any effect on the state's decision for or against the storage plan, and that it would "only polarize" residents of the village. "I don't like the position of being stuck in the middle," he said.
The resolution read in part: "Resolved, in keeping with the majority opinion of the local Village community, the Village of Watkins Glen Board respectfully requests that the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation withhold approval of any plan for mass storage of LPG adjacent to or under Seneca Lake and exercise its power in identifying a more appropriate location for any such storage site."
Gibson said that while he had been vacillating for the past few months, his position solidified while he wrote the lengthy resolution -- which focused in large part on the importance of tourism to the village and its future. "I looked at it from an economic standpoint," he said, with an eye toward "untapped resources" that "we can take advantage of ... and get more money into the area." With an expected increase in truck traffic generated by the project, he said, he had to ask: "Is this .. appropriate for our area and its direction? No."
Smith said he had also been on the fence until "it came to me": He had to vote the way his constituents wanted. And, he said, voting against the plan "is what they want." Even though the project would be outside the village, the village would feel its impact, he said, adding: "This is about us, not the county as a whole, and not (the Town of) Reading."
Swinnerton, in introducing the resolution as an add-on to the agenda, said he would "like to see the board pass it," but first needed a motion to bring it to the floor. Gibson made the motion, and Smith seconded. The mayor said in reaction to Fraboni that "I think our opinions do matter" and that "it's why we ran for office: to speak for the people of the village."
Clifford said that while he was abstaining -- a move suggested before the vote by meeting attendee David Crea, a Crestwood employee -- "I have a personal opinion" on the storage plan, which "is not the direction we want to go ... It comes down to math." He said the project's 8 to 10 promised jobs "are not worth" possible negative consequences.
After Gibson and Smith had supported the resolution, and after Clifford and Fraboni had abstained, Swinnerton said "it comes down to me. I vote in favor of the resolution."
That prompted applause from a small audience of five project opponents.
Photos in text:
From top: Mayor Mark Swinnerton; abstaining trustees Tony Fraboni (left) and Paul Clifford; and trustee Kevin Smith.
From left: Legislators Jim Howell, Michael Lausell and Van Harp at Monday's meeting.
LPG storage opponents renew their pleas to Legislature
DEC announces 'issues conference' on Crestwood plan
WATKINS GLEN, Aug. 12 -- The Schuyler County Legislature Monday night heard a string of people opposed to the proposed storage of LPG gas in salt caverns alongside Seneca Lake, a group buoyed by an announcement from the New York State Department of Conservation of an "issues conference" that could lead to "an adjudicatory hearing" on the project.
The Legislature listened to the speakers but took no action despite pleas from the majority of them that it "step back," rescind its June resolution favoring the storage plan, and "start over" with an open mind and with an open ear to the opponents' objections.
The DEC announcement was in a press release read by Chairman Dennis Fagan to the audience of 30-plus people on hand for the Legislature's regular monthly meeting. Much larger turnouts had been present at the past two months' meetings as protesters organized, marched and heckled legislators. By contrast, this session was the soul of civility.
Opponents speaking Monday responded to the DEC news by declaring it "huge," but one project supporter, Crestwood employee David Crea, suggested it was just another delaying tactic to carry Governor Andrew Cuomo's decision on the project past the November elections. There has been speculation Cuomo is delaying a decision on the political hot potato until he is safely re-elected.
Among Monday's opponents was retired Cayuga Medical Center CEO Rob Mackenzie, who presented legislators with copies of an "Independent High-Level Quantitative Risk Analysis" he conducted of the storage proposal -- a study that measured rail transportation, truck transportation and salt cavern risks. He concluded that:
"Rail transport events are scored a very low likelihood at 3%, but risk reduction efforts should be considered because of possibly extreme consequences. Truck transport events are scored a low likelihood at 8-10%, but are an unacceptable risk because of extreme consequences. Salt cavern storage events are scored a medium likelihood at 35%, and are an unacceptable risk because of extremely serious consequences ...
"In aggregate, the likelihood for a liquefied petroleum gas disaster of serious or extremely serious consequences within the county in the next 25 years is scored at more than 40%. From the perspective of community safety based on this analysis, the Crestwood proposal carries an unacceptable risk of serious or extremely serious consequences. Because risk mitigation efforts in salt cavern storage have thus far proven unsuccessful in significantly reducing the frequency of serious and extremely serious incidents, an alternative plan should be considered."
Sylvia Fox, a Town of Reading resident who has been instrumental in the storage-plan protests, asked in a prepared statement: "Why should Schuyler County residents take all the risk for the gain, the profit, of a Texas-based corporation?" She also attacked the Legislature's "unacceptable handling of this obviously controversial issue," concluding with this plea to legislators: "I am asking you, once again, and I will continue to ask: Please revoke this very flawed resolution tonight."
Paul and Mary Ann Wehrung of Burdett said they are "concerned homeowners" recommending that the legislators "stop, step back ... and revote on this." Said Paul: "It's too serious to let it go the way it's been going. Start again." Added Mary Ann: "I think you acted very hastily."
Richard Ballard of Montour Falls said he moved here because of "the beauty ... but had I known the beauty, the water and the air would be put at risk by misguided people, I would have considered moving elsewhere."
The press release
The DEC press release, while both touted and denigrated by attendees, was explained by County Administator Tim O'Hearn: "This doesn't set new public hearings. It is an administrative hearing where groups can petition for party status in order to participate."
The press release read as follows: "Based on extensive public interest regarding a proposal to construct and operate an underground facility for storage and distribution of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) in the Town of Reading, Schuyler County, State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Joe Martens announced that an issues conference will be scheduled through DEC's Office of Hearings to determine if there are any significant and substantive issues that require an adjudicatory hearing.
"Participation in the issues conference would involve DEC staff, the applicant, and any individual or group that has filed a petition for party status. The schedule for the issues conference, as well as for the filing of petitions for party status, will be set by an administrative law judge in the near future.
"Finger Lakes LPG Storage, LLC, c/o Inergy Midstream LLC (now Crestwood), has proposed to construct and operate a new underground LPG storage facility for the storage and distribution of propane and butane on a portion of a 576-acre site located on NYS Routes 14 and 14A west of Seneca Lake in the Town of Reading.
"The storage facility would utilize existing caverns in the Syracuse salt formation created by US Salt and its predecessors' salt production operations.
"DEC will not grant a permit unless it can be demonstrated that the permit is in compliance with all legal requirements and that the proposed activity can be done safely in New York State."
In other business, the Legislature:
-- Acknowledged the appointment of Harriett Vickio as deputy county treasurer in the wake of the resignation of treasurer Gary Whyman and the advancement of Lisa Snyder from deputy treasurer to acting county treasurer. Snyder appointed Vickio -- previously the county's Director of Purchasing -- as her deputy. Vickio, in turn, announced she will seek the treasurer's post in the November election to fill out the final year of Whyman's term.
Photos in text:
From top: Legislator Tom Gifford listens to statement by Sylvia Fox; retired Cayuga Medical Center CEO Rob Mackenzie; Legislature chair Dennis Fagan; and LPG project supporter David Crea.
Vickio announces candidacy for Treasurer
Special to The Odessa File
WATKINS GLEN, Aug. 9 -- Schuyler County Deputy Treasurer Harriett Vickio Friday announced her intent to run for the office of County Treasurer.
In announcing her candidacy, Vickio said: “The office of Treasurer is a critical position within County government and it is imperative that the next Treasurer have the knowledge and skills to ensure financial stability for Schuyler County. I feel that my background both in the public and private sector makes me uniquely qualified to fulfill the significant obligations of this office.”
Vickio, who was appointed Deputy County Treasurer -- effective Aug. 4th -- by Acting Treasurer Lisa Snyder following the resignation of Treasurer Gary Whyman, has served as the County’s Director of Purchasing for the past six years. Prior to that she was employed by Dresser Rand, first in government finance and later in private sector purchasing.
“As Purchasing Director," Vickio said, "I have led efforts to better utilize our financial software as well as streamline procurement and accounting processes county-wide. I am proud to have played a role in correcting many of the deficiencies that have been consistently cited by independent auditors over the past several years.”
Vickio acknowledged the pressures that the Treasurer’s office has been under the past several years. “While the auditor’s reports have consistently pointed out material weaknesses and deficiencies for many years," she said, "I feel that former Treasurer Whyman has instituted a number of corrective action items that simply need strong leadership to fully implement. It is my firm belief that there will be continued efficiencies identified and implemented, correcting many of these longstanding and well-documented problems.”
Vickio is a lifelong resident of Schuyler County. She currently serves as Vice President of Spirit of Schuyler, a non-profit organization that provides assistance to Schuyler County residents in times of emergency. She and her husband Tony reside in the Town of Dix and are the parents of two grown children, Mark and Beth.
Vickio, a registered Democrat, is planning to run as an Independent candidate and will also seek other party endorsements. She said she will be releasing her campaign platform in the coming weeks and welcomes all input from Schuyler County residents.
Photo in text: Harriett Vickio (Photo provided)
Watkins Glen Mayor Mark Swinnerton listens as retired Cayuga Medical Center CEO Rob Mackenzie addresses the issue of LPG storage.
Glen board talks LPG storage again, but fails to act again
WATKINS GLEN, Aug. 5 -- The Watkins Glen Village Board once again Monday night discussed the proposed Crestwood LPG storage project alongside Seneca Lake, and once again failed to vote on its sentiment regarding the project.
This time, trustee Scott Gibson was absent, on vacation. Last meeting, both Mayor Mark Swinnerton and trustee Paul Clifford were absent. The time before that, it was trustee Kevin Smith who was missing.
Swinnerton has said he wants the entire board present for a vote -- and explained Monday that now he is trying to arrange a time when the board can visit a Crestwood storage facility in Bath to better understand the company's position.
And yet, while the board seems to be trying to cross all of its T's and dot all of its I's on the matter before voting, a majority has made it clear it does not favor the project. Swinnerton came out months ago against it, Gibson has expressed opposition, and Clifford -- as he did Monday -- says he sees no benefit to counterbalance the potential risk of the project.
The board heard Monday from four people regarding the project. Only one of them was in favor of it.
Retired Cayuga Medical Center CEO Rob Mackenzie -- who has urged caution in considering the project -- spoke to his experience in safety studies and the expectation that an accident of some significance will eventually occur here as well, based on past performance in the propane industry.
6th District County Legislature candidate Angeline Franzese said she has visited 170 households in her campaign and that opposition to the project was expressed at almost every one. "I haven't found any Silent Majority supporting it," she said, adding to the board: "You are the heart of the county. I think the governor should know how the heart of the county feels. I urge you to take a stand for the village. I'd like to see some action on behalf of the people."
Reading resident Gita Devi said the project is "not going to bring in revenue" and "could negatively impact or destroy" the area wine industry and tourism. "Take a stand against this."
Crestwood employee and outspoken project supporter David Crea urged the board to follow through with its tour of the Bath facility, and to consider that almost any project in life brings with it risks. Despite "an orchestrated effort to get the board to take a stand against LPG storage," he said, "I urge you to make an effort to learn more."
Which, Swinnerton replied, the board intends to do.
The board also:
--Discussed the village policy toward removing trees after Jo Ann and Jack Considine of 222 Third Street complained that a tree on their property had been removed by the village DPW without their knowledge or wishes while they were away in July at their son's wedding in Calforinia. Swinnerton said the board would present its reasons for the removal in writing to the Considines, but agreed that "probably there are some things we could do better, with communication at the top of the list. ... We'll look at the policy to see if it needs to be updated. We feel your pain." While the cause of the tree's removal was not explained, the mayor noted that there was "a very good reason for taking this one."
Photos in text:
From top: Trustee Paul Clifford listens; speakers Angeline Franzese and David Crea.
Wineries urge Cuomo to deny Gas Storage Facility permit
The following information was obtained from various sources.
ALBANY, July 31 -- More than a dozen Finger Lakes winery and vineyard owners, along with other business owners, visited Albany Wednesday to call on Governor Andrew Cuomo to protect the region’s growing wine industry and thriving tourism by denying permission for a proposed gas storage facility in the Town of Reading, north of Watkins Glen.
The winery owners held a news conference at which several of them spoke, trying to pressure the governor to reject the plan, should the Department of Environmental Conservation approve it. Some Schuyler County politicians believe the DEC has already given its blessing for the plan, but that Cuomo is waiting until after elections in November to give final approval.
However, DEC spokeswoman Emily DeSantis said in a statement that the proposed facility's permit won't be approved until the agency's review is finalized -- and that it "remains pending while DEC staff continues to review the public comments submitted on the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement during the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act process."
She said the DEC has no deadline. It has been studying the matter for three years.
The winery owners' appeals included one from Doug Hazlitt, a sixth-generation Finger Lakes vintner and owner of Hazlitt 1852 Winery in Hector.
“Governor Cuomo (right) has been a great supporter of New York’s wineries and the Finger Lakes," he said, "but this proposed gas facility threatens our future growth and place as the Napa of the Northeast. We need Governor Cuomo’s support now to protect the health of our region and the very things that make it great – the local businesses, renowned wine, and our way of life.”
The wineries are part of the opposition to Texas-based Crestwood-Midstream’s proposal to use old abandoned salt caverns along Seneca Lake to store millions of barrels of liquid petroleum gas (LPG) and billions of cubic feet of natural gas. The proposal, say the project's opponents, has generated opposition from more than 200 businesses, 10 municipalities and thousands of residents in the Finger Lakes region who are concerned about the threat it might pose to one of the state’s largest supplies of drinking water, the local economy, and the area’s wine and tourism industry.
“There is widespread opposition throughout the Finger Lakes to this dangerous proposal – it crosses political affiliation and views, with a clear understanding of what is at stake,” said Seneca County Legislator Steve Churchill. “Hundreds of businesses and thousands of residents don’t want their health and drinking water jeopardized or their way of life trampled on by the hazardous over-industrialization this Texas-based corporation would bring to the Finger Lakes. Governor Cuomo should stand with the people of the Finger Lakes by denying permits for this facility, and he would be remembered as a hero for preserving the jobs and economic growth already occurring in the heart of New York.”
Bill Gautreaux, Crestwood's president of liquids and crude, said the caverns' geology is conducive to LPG storage.
"Our Finger Lakes project will provide significant consumer benefits without jeopardizing the health and welfare of the communities in which we operate and our employees live," he said in a statement.
Governor Cuomo highlighted the success of the wine industry at his 2013 Governor’s Cup Wine Competition in Watkins Glen, near the location of the proposed gas storage facility.
“We buy our grapes from the shores of Seneca Lake, and the dozens of wineries in the area are opposed to this gas facility because it threatens our local businesses and economy," said Will Ouweleen, co-owner of the O-Neh-Da and Eagle Crest Vineyards. “This is a regional issue that endangers the jobs our businesses have provided for local families and residents for generations.”
The region has become so widely known for its winemaking that vintners from outside of the area have begun to invest in the area as well.
“Due to the hard work of so many of our local wineries who have toiled in the Finger Lakes for generations, the area has become an international hotspot for quality wine and has experienced increasing investment,” said Michael Warren Thomas, host of Rochester radio show The Grapevine. "That is why the region has garnered attention from winemakers as far as Napa and Germany.”
“There is no justification for jeopardizing the Finger Lakes’ place as an international destination for world-class agritourism,” said Lou Damiani, owner of Damiani Wine Cellars. “There is no propane shortage, and we have worked too hard to get where we are now. We won't let the Finger Lakes region become the sacrifice zone for the gas industry and risk losing everything.”
Photo in text: Governor Andrew Cuomo (File photo)
No vote yet on LPG storage
WATKINS GLEN, July 22 -- The Watkins Glen Village Board Monday night -- with two of its members absent, including Mayor Mark Swinnerton -- failed to vote on whether to support or oppose the proposed Crestwood plan to store Liquefied Petroleum Gas in salt caverns north of the village.
Swinnnerton had earlier said that if all members of the board were present, they might finally weigh in -- as other governments in the region have -- on the desirability or lack thereof regarding the Crestwood plan. The Schuyler County Legislature has supported it, while various other governmental units in counties bordering Seneca Lake have opposed it.
But the matter wasn't ignored Monday. There was more discussion on the topic, with two women, Barb Cook of Watkins Glen and Syliva Fox of the Town of Reading, urging the board to come out against the storage plan.
Said Cook, referring to the campaign by Swinnerton, Scott Gibson and Kevin Smith three years ago when they ran for the Village Board: "Three gentlemen came to my house and asked me to vote for them. I'm asking each of them to vote for my lake, my little town ... please vote no."
And Fox distributed a handout to those board members present -- Gibson, Smith and Tony Fraboni -- containing a list of "14 reasons based on fact why you should oppose LPG storage." The "facts" dealt with the Crestwood-proclaimed safety of the project, with truck traffic, with the potential effect of the project on drinking water, with industrialization, with a "propane glut," with a lack of emergency preparedness, and with other related items.
"Hold firm," she told the trustees, "and say this is not what our town wants to be."
Both women said after the meeting that they had attended with the understanding that a vote might be forthcoming that night. But with Swinnerton tied up in a business meeting in Owego and Paul Clifford in Ohio, there was barely a majority on hand for the meeting.
Gibson did comment on the subject, though, noting that the board is being careful in arriving at a decision because it will be made on behalf "of the entire community. It's not easy. We all have our opinions."
He added: "The more I talk about this, the more I'm convinced it's not what is economically best for us. Why are we looking to obtain more risk ... on behalf of what? There is no tangible benefit to the community." The storage plan, he concluded, "is not compatible" with the area's burgeoning wine industry.
However, the vote -- whenever it occurs -- will neither green-light nor block the project. Approval or denial will be decided at the state level.
In other business, the board:
--Approved a request by Watkins Glen Promotions to hold the 21st annual Grand Prix Festival in the village on Friday, Sept. 5, with Franklin Street closed from 1 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. This year's featured car will be the MG.
--Gave conditional approval, contingent on the signing of the application form, for the Italian American Festival to run from Aug. 1-3. The festival will be held, as always, at Clute Park, with a parade on Saturday, Aug. 2 along Decatur and Fourth Streets.
Photo in text: Watkins Glen Village Board member Kevin Smith at Monday's meeting.
Whyman quits treasurer's post; special election needed
WATKINS GLEN, July 21 -- Gary Whyman on Monday submitted his resignation as Schuyler County Treasurer, effective Aug. 1. He attributed the decision to "family issues."
The move, in the third year of his first four-year term as treasurer, means a special election will be held in November to fill the unexpired portion of the term. In the interim, Whyman will be succeeded by either a gubernatorial appointee or by Deputy Treasurer Lisa Snyder.
In either case, said County Administrator Tim O'Hearn, the person who assumes the job will have to run and win in November in order to continue in it.
O'Hearn said he learned early Monday afternoon about Whyman's decision, and said he would be meeting with the staff of the Treasurer's office on Tuesday to discuss "the succession and the continuity of office."
Whyman, who won election in 2011 and assumed office on Jan. 1, 2012, said in an email that the "family issue" involves a death in the family. He said he would be staying in the area, and continuing to serve the Spirit of Schuyler, a non-profit organization that helps county residents with emergency needs.
His letter of resignation as County Treasurer follows:
"There comes a time for everyone when family events occur that bring about a change of life focus. I have recently endured such an event… and it has, and is still changing my focus.
"Because of this change in focus, I am officially tendering my resignation, effective August 1st, 2014, from the position of Schuyler County Treasurer.
"I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has been exceptionally patient and understanding during my tenure here. I also want to express my great pride in the teams I have worked with and the forward strides we have made, and improvements that have been put in place for the future of Schuyler County.
"I wish you all the very best in your future ventures."
Photo in text: Gary Whyman (File photo)
LPG storage protesters march up Watkins Glen's Franklin Street from Seneca Harbor Park to the Schuyler County Courthouse.
Legislature won't rescind; protesters heckle Fagan
WATKINS GLEN, July 15 -- The Schuyler County Legislature Monday night turned back an effort to rescind its June 9th vote favoring the Crestwood LPG gas storage plan, and in the process triggered an angry response by protesters waiting outside the County Building. The crowd had gathered there after a rally of more than 300 people at Seneca Harbor Park and a march up Franklin Street.
The vote was 5-3, with Michael Lausell -- who introduced the rescindment measure -- Barb Halpin and Van Harp voting in favor. Chairman Dennis Fagan and Legislators Tom Gifford, Stewart Field, Phil Barnes and Jim Howell voted against it.
After the meeting, as the legislators were leaving, the crowd outside peppered Fagan with shouts of "Shame on You! Shame on You!" and "Fagan Must Go! Fagan Must Go!" as he made his way from the building to the parking lot and his car. According to witness accounts, he was first accosted by one angry man who was soon joined by a swarm of protesters -- one of whom grabbed Fagan's shirt sleeve. A couple of men with cooler heads interceded, and a deputy escorted the Chairman clear of the crowd. When he reached his car, a small group of protesters were still hurling epithets, and he turned to engage one man in a brief debate before saying, "I can sleep at night." He then entered his car and drove away.
Legislator Harp (pictured at right) -- who had voted in favor of the June resolution but this time voted for it to be rescinded -- also encountered some resistance. Witnesses said he was surrounded by three or four people in the lot, and that one shoved him before he shoved back and then broke clear. One observer, noting Harp's career as an FBI agent, said the protester's shove "wasn't very smart."
Legislator Gifford was accosted by one woman, but intercession by a local minister freed him to go to his car without further incident.
Where last month's meeting had attracted about 250 people, nearly 200 of whom were admitted to an alternate meeting site -- the second-floor courtroom in the County Building -- the meeting this time was held in the small, first-floor legislative chambers, which holds about 40 spectators at the maximum.
In those tight quarters, legislators heard a number of arguments in favor of rescinding the June resolution. Those comments, Lausell said later, prompted his proposal to rescind. After he made a motion along those lines, there was silence for several seconds before Harp seconded the motion. Harp later said he did so because he was impressed by the "excellent points this evening, articulated well," and because he thinks the county's emergency preparedness plan "needs to be vetted. I think we should hold on a little bit longer."
The Crestwood plan calls for the storage of Liquefied Petroleum Gas in salt caverns north of Watkins Glen, on the west side of Seneca Lake.
Halpin, who had opposed the June resolution, spoke in favor of rescinding it, and voted accordingly. But Howell (pictured at right), who opposed the June resolution, voted against rescinding it -- explaining later that he was "tired of the personal attacks from the Gas Free Seneca camp" against Fagan and other legislators."It's time to move forward," he said. "I hope the personal attacks will end, and that this will bring the community back together."
Several in the audience said it was obvious by the outpouring of support at the June meeting and at Monday's rally -- which featured speeches and songs in support of the natural beauty of the region and the perceived dangers of industrialization -- that the legislators were not heeding their constituents. Legislator Gifford said his constituents supported the June move, prompting one wag in the audience to ask which constituents he was referring to, considering he only received a couple of dozen votes in the last election, which he lost to Howell. Gifford remains on the Legislature this year in the final year of a term that predated the ongoing, phased-in redistricting process.
Speakers in support of rescinding included Gas Free Seneca co-founder Joseph Campbell, retired Methodist pastor Gary Judson -- who read part of a five-page list of demands prepared by the Concerned Citizens of Schuyler County (its entirety can be read by clicking here) -- and former Cayuga Medical Center CEO Rob Mackenzie (pictured below), who read a lengthy statement regarding his experiences in developing safety procedures. Those led Cayuga Medical Center to be ranked in 2010 by Consumer Reports, he said, as "the safest hospital -- large or small -- in New York State."
"In the case of LPG storage," he said, "it's no secret that significant safety concerns continue to be raised by many county residents and some outside experts. I am no expert in liquid propane, but I am an expert in the design and management of safety practices. I submit that your duty as legislators, in watching over the life and health of God's creatures in this county, is the same as that of the leaders ... at NASA, at Cayuga Medical Center and at Schuyler Hospital.
"As every one of those organizations -- and now GM -- has learned, it's not a question of balancing safety issues against economics, politics, car sales, or the country's need for fossil fuel or nuclear power. Somehow those other priorities just don't seem to matter after a disaster. Our highest duty is to listen to, support, and validate those who raise safety concerns, even if that costs time or money. Then, if -- God forbid -- a crash or explosion ever does occur and that liability suit is brought, sound safety practice is our best defense, individually and collectively
"I'm not suggesting a Cuomo-style moratorium for years and years. But last month I came here to respectfully request that you approve Mr. Lausell's timely resolution to work on safety before the horse is out of the barn. It's still not too late to do that. Please rescind Mr. Fagan's premature resolution until the ethical and safety concerns which have been legitimately raised can be calmly aired and equitably resolved to everyone's reasonable satisfaction."
He added later -- after Lausell (pictured at right) had mentioned, as an example of unexpected disasters, the Ithaca tragedy involving a tractor trailer carrying a load of cars that crashed into a restaurant, killing an employee inside -- that "there are failures that will happen" in the storage of LPG, "and of a magnitude potentially significantly greater" than the Ithaca accident.
But the legislative majority didn't seem to agree with his conclusion. After the vote, Hector resident Marie Fitzsimmons asked the legislators: "What would it take to convince you" of the rightness of the protesters' arguments?. She was told by Legislator Barnes: "You're talking to the wrong group. We have no say in the process. You need to go to Albany. The paperwork is on the governor's desk." (It is the contention of Fagan and others that the Department of Environmental Conservation has already given its blessing to the cavern plan, and that Governor Andrew Cuomo is holding an announcement until after the November elections for political purposes. Gas Free Seneca's Campbell has disputed that, saying DEC officials have informed him the process is still ongoing and that no determination has been made.)
Before the session ended, a woman aligned with the protesters invited Fagan and other legislators to meet with and speak to the group waiting outside. "They're a kind and friendly group," she said.
-- After the Legislature session and the heckling and shoving that followed, a speaker addressing the remaining protesters said that Barnes, running for re-election this fall, is unopposed, and that someone should enter the race against him. Several people in the crowd shouted out that he does have an opponent: former Legislature Chair Angeline Franzese (pictured at right) -- who was on hand and managed to turn the event into a stump speech. She was met with warmth and encouragement.
--The rally at Seneca Harbor Park featured an adult-led singing group of school children called New York Children Against Fracking. Part of their lyrics:
Don't store your gas in the old salt mine,
Lake it is clear and clean,
--Rally speeches included one by biologist, author and veteran protester Sandra Steingraber, who tested the audience by asking: "What would you do for this lake? We're the ones who have to make that decision inside our own hearts." And area resident Kate LaMoreaux (pictured at right) said the June resolution was "a serious mistake in leadership." She called on legislators "to truly represent your people."
--Michael Warren Thomas, a Rochester radio personality, told the rally audience -- and later the Legislature -- that Seneca Lake is attracting world-class winemakers like Paul Hobbs, who is developing a vineyard in the Burdett area, thus enhancing the region's reputation. "There are 60 million people within a day's drive of here," he said, adding: "Investors are coming ... but not if we industrialize Watkins Glen. It will take just one accident" related to the LPG storage to curb the growing momentum in the winery and tourism industry.
--Emcee at the rally was Margie Rodgers, one of the Seneca 12 arrested in a protest outside the Crestwood facility off Rt. 14 north of Watkins Glen in March of 2013.
Photos in text:
From top: Legislature Chair Dennis Fagan (white beard) engages a protester in debate before leaving; Legislators Van Harp and Jim Howell; retired Cayuga Medical Center CEO Rob Mackenzie; Legislator Michael Lausell addresses crowd after the meeting; Legislature candidate Angeline Franzese; and rally speaker Kate LaMoreaux.
Rally speaker, biologist and author Sandra Steingraber.
Paula Fitzsimmons prepares a sign at the rally.
Left: One of many signs at the rally. Right: Legislator Phil Barnes.
Members of the Hazlitt family at the rally. Tina Hazlitt, at the microphone, said the Legislature had "overlooked the fact that our economy is based on tourism and agriculture," and that the LPG storage plan risks "hundreds if not thousands of jobs" and "everything (the Hazlitts) have worked for since 1852. Save our lake."
among the counties in line
Special to The Odessa File
ELMIRA, July 10 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara says that each of the counties he represents as part of New York’s 58th Senate District are included in a package of $185 million in state and federal homeland security and emergency preparedness grants announced Wednesday at the Capitol.
The grants are targeted to support critical infrastructure projects, as well as to enhance county-level emergency preparedness and response functions.
“These timely and important homeland security and emergency preparedness grants will make a great difference to counties and local first responders across the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions,” said O’Mara. “Emergency preparedness, response and recovery are fundamental government responsibilities.”
According to state officials, the funding is being made available by the federal Department of Homeland Security (DHS) through the State Homeland Security Program (SHSP), the Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) grant, and the Emergency Management Performance Grant (EMPG). The state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services (DHSES) administers the programs working closely with local agencies.
O’Mara highlighted the following:
-- as part of a $9 million total allocation for the Public Safety Answering Point Grant Program (PSAP), which covers improvements and enhancements to merge 911-styled public safety answering systems, and funds the implementation of new technologies that facilitate data sharing, greater operating efficiencies and regional consolidation, the following area counties will be awarded the following grant funding: Chemung ($487,869), Tompkins ($500,000), and Yates ($473,600);
-- as part of a $2 million total allocation for the PSAP Sustainment Grant Program to provide reimbursement to counties for operating expenses, Yates County will receive $81,667;
-- as part of a $2 million total allocation for the Hazardous Materials Grant Program, which fosters a regional approach to building and sustaining Hazardous Materials (HazMat) response capabilities by helping meet the costs of equipment maintenance, the acquisition of advanced equipment and technology and cutting-edge training programs, Schuyler County (the lead agency in a regional partnership covering Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben and Tioga counties) will receive $106,000. Seneca County (the lead agency in a regional partnership that includes Yates County) will receive $110,000; and
-- as part of a $7.6 million total allocation for the Emergency Management Performance Grant program, which supports local emergency management planning, staffing, training activities and equipment purchases, the following area counties will be awarded the following grant funding: Chemung ($38,523), Schuyler ($11,922), Steuben ($42,358), Tompkins ($43,329), and Yates ($14,566).
Village Board stand expected soon on LPG storage plan
WATKINS GLEN, July 8 -- The Watkins Glen Village Board Monday night heard from a vineyard project manager and a Schuyler County legislator opposed to Crestwood's LPG storage plan north of the village -- presentations that might serve as a prelude to a board stand on the issue.
Mayor Mark Swinnerton said he expects a board vote for or against the proposal -- a project that would use salt caverns for storage of Liquefied Petroleum Gas -- in the near future, and possibly at the next board meeting, set for July 21. The timing of the vote, he said, will depend on full board attendance. One member, Kevin Smith, was absent while on vacation Monday, but Swinnerton said he expects Smith back for the next session.
One of the speakers Monday was David Hobbs, project manager of a developing vineyard along Route 414 in the Burdett area owned by his brother Paul Hobbs and Johannes Selbach. It is on a 68-acre section of land, 45 of which are being devoted to use as a vineyard expected to produce its first wine next year. The other speaker was Legislator Michael Lausell, outspoken in recent months regarding the safety of the village in the event of a rail accident involving LPG transport.
Lausell recapped the recent move by the Legislature in backing the storage plan in a 5-3 vote, and his concern that there is not a sufficient emergency plan in place should disaster strike with an explosion or if railcars might tumble into the gorge should the rail trestle there fail. In case of a disaster, he said, "the village would be most directly affected ... although it would be bad for everyone in the county."
The plan, first proposed by Inergy, a firm later merged into the Crestwood operation, has been under consideration by the State Department of Environmental Conservation for an extended period of time. Speculation -- voiced by both Crestwood and project opponents -- has the decision being announced by Governor Andrew Cuomo in the fall, after elections. Opposition has been voiced locally by Gas Free Seneca and varous business leaders. The Village Board has been visited by several opponents in recent months.
Hobbs, who said he convinced his brother -- who has vast vineyard holdings in California and Argentina -- to come here and start the vineyard, called this period "the tipping point in the Finger Lakes." It is a time, he said, to send a message that approval of the storage plan will undercut further development of the wine industry "and the culinary arts, and be detrimental to Watkins Glen and Schuyler County."
His and Lausell's remarks were warmly received by the Village Board, with trustee Paul Clifford questioning the benefit of the project, which would provide just 10 new jobs, but doubting suggestions that the U.S. Salt plant would shut down without it. "I have a hard time seeing that happening," he said, since the plant "has been sold four times in the past 20 years" and continues to operate.
Trustee Tony Fraboni said the board has delayed a vote until now in order to gather input from residents. "The more information we can take in," he said, "the better decision we can make when the time comes" to vote.
Swinnerton added that the "first priority is the village residents and what's best for them," and trustee Scott Gibson said that "the majority of residents I've talked to are concerned or don't want" the storage project. Only "a handful are gung-ho" for it, he said.
Swinnerton said afterward that the board has to question "if it's something we want, whether safe or not."
Hobbs, he added, had "talked about the development of the wine industry" and how it is a key part of the tourism industry.
"We're looking at it from the perspective of the village," the mayor said, "and that means promoting tourism." The village is committed to that course, he added, with plans under way to replace the existing wastewater treatment plant along the southern shoreline with one elsewhere -- preferably along the canal -- and an intent to see the waterfront developed.
In other business, the Board:
--Heard from Streets Superintendent Don Perry and Police Chief Tom Struble that the 20 mph signs thought possibly lost in the fire last year at the Shared Services Building on South Decatur Street have been located in a storage container utilized for equipment salvaged from the building following the blaze. The signs -- designed to advertise the new speed limit on village streets under village control (not state roads like 14 and 414) -- are undamaged, Mayor Swinnerton said, and will be installed in strategic locations within the next couple of weeks.
Photo in text: David Hobbs, left, and Schuyler County Legislator Michael Lausell after leaving Monday's board session.
Cuomo at Watkins racetrack; urges 'Ultimate Road Trip'
Roadside signs highlight tourist destinations
Special to The Odessa File
WATKINS GLEN, June 29 -- Governor Andrew M. Cuomo Saturday traveled to Watkins Glen to officially kick off the summer tourism season in New York State, and invite residents and visitors to take a road trip to experience the Empire State's spectacular attractions.
The Governor (right) unveiled a new television advertisement featuring New Yorker Robert DeNiro, which encourages New Yorkers and visitors to hit the road and take the “Ultimate Road Trip" in New York State.
Experiencing New York State via road trips, say state officials, is easier than ever before with an increased number of highway and roadway signs across New York that point travelers to the State’s I Love New York, Path Through History, and Taste NY attractions and experiences. In addition, the Governor announced the launch of a new social media campaign that features New Yorkers and visitors explaining in short video messages why they love New York.
Governor Cuomo made the announcement at the Watkins Glen International racetrack during the Sahlen's Six Hours of The Glen and Continental Tire 150 weekend. The Watkins Glen raceway is featured in the "Ultimate Road Trip" advertisement.
"Tourism is a major driver of jobs and economic activity in communities all across New York State, from the Adirondacks, Niagara Falls, and the beaches of Long Island, to the exciting turns of Watkins Glen International raceway," Cuomo said. "Our investment in tourism is paying off with a record-setting number of visitors coming to the Empire State, and this year we are doubling down on our efforts to promote and market all that New York has to offer. The 'I Love NY' summer tourism campaign encourages visitors to take a road trip, an experience that promises to be more enjoyable and easier than ever with the help of new signage, mobile applications and social media to guide the way."
There are now approximately 4,000 signs across New York State’s highways and roadways identifying the State’s historic and cultural attractions, world class entertainment and dining venues.
The Watkins Glen International competition is one of the many upcoming summer events all across New York State where I Love NY and Taste NY will have a presence to bring attention to summer tourism activities, attractions and locations. Other signature New York State summer events include the BassMasters Elite fishing tournament in the Finger Lakes, Saratoga Race Course Opening Day, Syracuse Nationals Car Show, 50th Annual Antique Boat Show & Auction in the Thousand Islands, Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Weekend in Cooperstown and Great NYS State Fair in Syracuse.
Photo in text: Governor Andrew Cuomo (File photo)
Board is asked to oppose gas storage plan
WATKINS GLEN, June 24 -- The Watkins Glen Village Board Monday night listened to a plea from a resident asking that it take a stand against the planned storage of LPG gas in Crestwood salt caverns north of the community.
Laura Mantius, who with husband Peter lives on West Second Street, pointed to the recent passage by the Schuyler County Legislature of a resolution in support of the storage and said she was appealing to the trustees "to pass a resolution not approving it."
She said the local fire department is not prepared to handle the "massive explosions" that the storage could create should the gas seep out and ignite, as she said it did in a Hutchinson, Kansas accident that "forced the evacuation of thousands."
She said Crestwood "executives and stockholders don't live in this town," and "only care about their profits. I'm appealing to you to protect us."
That prompted a discussion in which Mayor Mark Swinnerton reiterated his opposition to the cavern storage plan while trustee Scott Gibson said he is "on the fence." Trustee Paul Clifford (right), an employee of Cargill, said he might have to abstain, being part of the salt industry, if the matter comes to a vote. Trustees Tony Fraboni and Kevin Smith did not weigh in on the discussion.
In the meantime, Gibson will be meeting with Mrs. Mantius on Thursday to discuss the issue further.
In other business, the Board:
--Approved fireworks at Clute Park on July 4th hosted by the Watkins Glen Area Chamber of Commerce and the Chemung Canal Trust Company provided the fire department signs off on the application form by 5 p.m. Thursday.
--Heard from Code Enforcement Officer Greg Larnard, who reported that Dunkin' Donuts' wooden fence fronting its expanded parking lot will be enhanced with landscaping, and that the dumpster on the property will be surrounded by a faux-brick enclosure replacing the current chain-link one. He said he is also talking to the New York State Department of Transportation about installation of an entrance off Franklin Street at the northern end of the parking lot.
--Heard from Utilities Superintendent Mark Specchio that the Arc of Schuyler wants to move one of its Franklin Street transit stops to Decatur Street, and said County Administrator Tim O'Hearn had suggested using the circular drive in front of the Middle School as that stop, providing permission is granted by the owners who will be turning the building into senior housing.
--Heard from Trustee Kevin Smith, who wondered if DOT might install a 10-second left-turn signal on Franklin Street at 4th Street in order to increase the flow of traffic through the intersection. Specchio said he would check it out.
Photos in text: Laura Mantius at the Village Board meeting; and trustee Paul Clifford.
Alderson found guilty in 2nd trespass case
WATKINS GLEN, June 19 -- Crestwood gas-storage protester Jeremy Alderson had two dates in court Wednesday.
In the first, he appeared in Reading Town Court before Justice Raymond Berry. The appearance involved Alderson's arrest and conviction on a trespass charge stemming from a Sept. 6, 2012 protest at the Inergy (now Crestwood) gate along Route 14 north of Watkins Glen.
Sentencing was deemed a possibility Wednesday, but Berry adjourned the matter to Aug. 20 while awaiting a decision on whether an appeal of Alderson's case will be cleared for a hearing at a state appeals court.
The second date was in Dix Town Court before Justice Alan Gregory two hours later. It involved an Alderson arrest on June 28, 2013 on another trespass charge at the same Inergy gate.
Wednesday night's result: Alderson was found guilty by Gregory following a nearly two-hour trial that featured testimony by a Crestwood manager and Alderson along with two Schuyler County Sheriff's deputies. Gregory set a return date of July 9 "to see where we are" regarding the appeals process in the first trespass case. It was not clear whether the Dix sentencing might occur at that time.
The standard sentence is a fine. If not paid, the defendant can be sentenced to jail time. Alderson has indicated he will go to jail if it comes to that -- that he won't pay the fine.
In announcing the verdict, Justice Gregory said first that he has "spent a lot of time in recent weeks on this case," researching it and studying case law involving trespass. "It is the opinion of the court that the defendant is guilty," he concluded.
Alderson, outside the courtroom afterward in the Town of Dix office parking lot, called the decision "a miscarriage of justice" because, he said, nobody in either trial had definitively shown that the property upon which he was arrested belonged to Inergy (or later Crestwood).
That was part of his argument when he took the stand after the prosecution had called two deputies, including arresting officer Andrew Yessman, along with Crestwood official Barry Moon. Moon, on the stand for nearly a half-hour, is the manager of a Crestwood subsidiary Finger Lakes LPG storage facility in Savona, and in charge of the storage facility planned by Crestwood north of Watkins Glen.
He described how he had given a deposition on March 8, 2013, following the arrest of the "Seneca Lake 12" group of protesters at the Route 14 site. The deposition encouraged deputies to arrest anyone protesting at the site in the future.
That led to an argument by Alderson's attorney, Gerald Kinchy of Sayre, Pa., that the owner of the property had never told the protesters they couldn't be there, and that as a result the penal code requirements for a trespass conviction had not been met.
That argument -- and the defense contention that the protest action was justified on the grounds of "imminent danger" to the community through the possible explosion of gas Crestwood plans to store in vacant salt caverns -- failed to sway the judge. The "justification defense" -- the point of appeal in the first trespass case -- was rejected by Gregory in a pretrial ruling.
The prosecution was handled by Chief Assistant District Attorney Matthew Hayden, who argued successfully against most defense contentions and objections as he presented his case. The only signficant latitude that Gregory granted the defense was in the testimony of Alderson, who presented a lengthy monologue that touched on the "justification defense" as he explained his reason for protesting.
Both Alderson cases have dragged on for months. Sentencing in Reading Town Court has been delayed pending first one appeal (to County Court) and then another, while the case before Gregory was first in Reading Town Court, then Cayuta Town Court, then Tyrone Town Court, and finally Dix.
Photos in text: Jeremy Alderson (top) and Atty. Gerald Kinchy after their Town of Reading appearance, and the sign at the building where the trial was held.
Schuyler County Sheriff's Deputy T.W. Day talks to some
of the 250 people who gathered
200 pack courtroom, witness 5-3 vote
WATKINS GLEN, June 10 -- The Schuyler County Legislature Monday night -- at an emotionally charged meeting with 200 people crammed into the county courtroom and another 60 waiting outside -- approved by a 5-3 vote a resolution supporting the plan by the Crestwood energy firm to store Liquid Petroleum Gas in salt caverns along the western shore of Seneca Lake.
The resolution also urges Governor Andrew Cuomo to allow the Department of Environmental Conservation to permit the project to proceed.
Whether the move -- which drew both opposition and support from members of the audience -- has any influence on the state is debatable. Said Gas Free Seneca co-founder Joseph Campbell: "No, it won't, though I imagine they hope it will." Voting against the measure were Legislators Michael Lausell, Jim Howell and Barb Halpin. Legislator Van Harp, after moving to table the resolution -- an effort turned back in a 4-4 tie -- voted in favor of it.
The crowd started gathering outside the County Building long before the scheduled 6:30 meeting start, and was told that signs -- and there were a few -- would not be permitted inside the building. However, t-shirts were permitted, and represented both sides of the issue. Crestwood employees and supporters were wearing white t-shirts with the Crestwood name and symbol on them, while some of those opposed to the storage plan were wearing dark blue "Protect Hector" shirts.
Deputy T.W. Day was circulating through the crowd, warning its members to maintain order. As many as possible would be admitted to the building, they were assured. "I have my opinion" on the gas storage issue, Day told those people lined up near the entrance, "but it doesn't come into play tonight. I'm neutral. Just don't push my buttons, or I will push back. I have the legal authority."
The crowd did maintain order, and a good many more than the capacity of the courtroom were admitted. A total of 193 of the estimated 250 on hand got in, and watched the proceedings elbow to elbow in the ornate second-floor meeting site -- moved from the usual Legislative Chambers, which holds considerably fewer spectators. With the eight legislators, county attorney and clerks, the total of people in the room topped 200.
The meeting opened with a half-hour of Public Participation, and it all dealt with the storage plan -- whereby Crestwood Midstream Partners LP, previously Inergy and trying for five years to get permission for the project, would develop an LPG storage hub for the Northeast.
Gas Free Seneca's Campbell was the first to speak, saying the plan "is littered with flaws," so many that "if this was not such a serious issue, it would be laughable." He said he had been in touch with DEC Regional Permit Administrator David Bimber and been assured that no decision had been reached on the Crestwood project, contrary to what Legislature Chair Dennis Fagan has said.
(Fagan, in response later in the meeting, said he stood by his DEC sources; that a decision was made in favor of the project, and "is waiting for a green light" from the Cuomo administration. Bimber's comments, he noted, constitute "a response to be expected.")
Campbell also said that unofficial assertions that the project would enhance the sales tax totals for the county were inaccurate; that other similar facilities have not generated any, and this one won't either. "There are real risks" with the project "with little benefit to the local economy," he said.
Lou Damiani of Hector followed, saying the wine industry has worked hard to build the Finger Lakes into a significant tourist destination, and that an increase of industry could not co-exist with it in the long term. "Please do not ruin" what has been built, he said. "You can't have it both ways. Sooner or later one or the other" -- tourism or industry -- "will break."
William Olean, owner of O-Neh-Da and Eagle Crest Vineyards on Hemlock Lake in the western Finger Lakes, said the wineries in the region employ thousands of workers, while Crestwood is suggesting 10 jobs will be created with its project. "Tourists come to escape traffic and smog," he said. "The Finger Lakes brand hangs in the balance" with the night's vote. "You will honor or betray the trust" of the voters, he told the legislators.
Barry Moon, a local Crestwood official, said that reports of a proposed storage cavern being structurally unsafe are untrue -- a misunderstanding resulting from "sonar issues" while examining the cavern. Byron Thompson, a longtime U.S. Salt employee and longtime Watkins Glen firefighter, said he has "never seen or had concerns with gas storage. I believe in this project."
The meeting went on in that fashion, with more Crestwood representatives favoring the project, and several residents opposed to the project lamenting the possibility of disaster should there be a rail spill of LPG or an explosion related to its storage. Said one woman: "I want to live here, not get blown up maybe." She suggested that Crestwood "pay in advance with a nice big escrow account" to be drawn upon in case of disaster.
Added a physician, pointing to increased pollution resulting from increased industry: "I shake my head with disbelief that you would vote to risk the welfare of each and every one of us. Do not turn my life's work into finding clean water and clean air for my patients." The Legislature's job, she said, was "to do no harm."
An emotional exchange came between outspoken protester Jeremy Alderson and Emergency Management Office official Brian Gardner. Alderson said loudly, his voice quavering, that there is "no emergency preparedness whatsoever" in Schuyler County -- "no training and no equipment" to battle a disaster at the storage facility. He said the Legislature, "with this vote," could be incurring a liability that leads to "great lawsuits" in the future.
Gardner responded loudly and pointedly that "I disagree with everything you just said. Are there plans for that facility? No." But there are plans for the types of emergency situations that could occur, he said, just as there are plans for house fires in general. "We can't train at every house," he noted. He explained that First Responders have trained "on propane trucks. We've had flam-gas workshops, trained on transport vehicles, done scenarios. These First Responders are trained. To say they're not ready to handle something like that is totally wrong."
When it came time for the vote, most of the legislators weighed in with various arguments -- Phil Barnes saying he was speaking for the Silent Majority he represents, Halpin saying she was opposed to the resolution because "I don't have the ability to make a determination as to its appropriateness," and Howell saying he understood the arguments of both camps.
Lausell made a long speech in opposition, saying he is most concerned with the trestle that crosses the gorge and what might happen if a propane-laden rail car were to derail there, with its load carried downhill to the door of the county building itself. And he said he was concerned with the sharp turn at the north end of town that could result in a truck turnover and spill. He noted that he was also bothered by the speed with which the resolution was being handled. It was not his intention to criticize Emergency Management personnel, he added, because the responsibility for preparedness "probably lies with the Legislature."
He also raised the issue of Crestwood allegedly threatening to close the U.S. Salt plant if the storage project is not approved. "That's bullying," he said. "It creates pressure on the Legislature. I don't appreciate it. I don't think it's right, and I don't think the Legislature should put up with it." That drew sustained applause from the anti-storage faction in the audience.
Harp said he had reviewed the emergency preparedness and said it was "very adequate," with personnel "well trained to respond to an emergency." But he also said he thought the Legislature should table the resolution pending an expected annex to the Emergency Response Plan. He issued the motion soon thereafter, but it was defeated with a 4-4 tie, with Harp, Howell, Halpin and Lausell voting in favor, and Barnes, Stewart Field, Tom Gifford and Fagan against.
Fagan then held the floor at length, touching on such subjects as truck traffic (which he said would not noticeably increase, since any product shipped east would go by pipeline), the quality of the plan (which he said has been strengthened with a change in the brine pond from a single liner to a double), his alleged conflict of interest (which he denied, saying he sold his engineering firm that dealt with pipeline design and has had "absolutely no involvement in management since then"), and Crestwood's "bullying." The company, he said, is the largest taxpayer in the county, employing 130 people. If it were to close, he said without denying the threat, there "would be significant economic difficulties" in Schuyler. Besides, he noted, he had received communications from Gas Free Seneca supporters who promised "they would never shop again in Schuyler County" if the project were approved. "And that's a form of bullying," he said.
When the vote was taken, Howell, Halpin and Lausell voted no, and Gifford, Barnes, Field, Fagan and Harp voted yes. Some in the crowd chanted "Shame! Shame! Shame!"
The Harp vote surprised many in the audience, a couple of whom asked him to explain how he could seek to table the resolution and then vote in favor. He said the matter was really geopolitical in nature; that we should strive for self-sufficiency in our energy rather than "spend all our hard-earned money" turning to the Middle East for supplies from people "who have vowed to annihilate us."
Before the meeting ended, another vote -- on a resolution offered by Lausell opposing the storage plan -- predictably went down to defeat, 6-2. Only Lausell and Howell voted in favor.
Outside afterward, the remnants of the crowd milled about, cheering Lausell as he came out of the building, and ignoring others. Fagan and Barnes exited together, and barely drew a look.
Campbell was standing nearby, talking to members of the media.
"U.S. Salt won't close," he was assuring one reporter, telling him its business is good and not likely to be abandoned. As for the significance of the evening's vote, he said, "it was a largely symbolic gesture" lost in the opposition expressed thus far by Seneca County, Yates County, the towns of Waterloo and Geneva, and the City of Geneva.
"We're creating a map" showing that opposition by governmental units around Seneca Lake, he said. When the map is "filled in, it will show how isolated Schuyler County is."
Of course, if the DEC has already determined the acceptability of the planned LPG storage, as Fagan asserts, then neither opposition nor support will really matter.
If that's so, then Monday's meeting, as full as it was of emotion, was merely an exercise -- one in futility for plan opponents.
But there was satisfaction expressed in one quarter: at Crestwood, which issued a press release about the Legislature's backing.
"I am grateful to the members of the Schuyler County Legislature for passing this resolution," it quoted Crestwood chairman, president and CEO Robert G. Phillips as saying. "As a company, we are dedicated to the safety of our employees and the communities where our employees live and work, and the Finger Lakes facility is no exception. This shovel-ready project will create jobs, support the local tax base, advance U.S. energy independence, and help make energy more affordable for consumers across New York, the Northeast and beyond.
"This resolution demonstrates that our critical energy infrastructure project does have local support, despite what our project critics might want Albany to believe," he added, noting that he hopes the Cuomo administration and the DEC act "before yet another winter heating season passes."
Photos in text:
From top: Gas Free Seneca's Joseph Campbell; Legislature Chair Dennis Fagan; Crestwood's Barry Moon; storage opponent Jeremy Alderson; Emergency Management's Brian Gardner; Legislator Van Harp; U.S. Salt's Byron Thompson; and Legislator Michael Lausell receiving a hug after the meeting.
Palmesano greets Bacalles in Albany
ALBANY, June 8 -- Assemblyman Phil Palmesano met with his predecessor, Jim Bacalles, during a recent visit by Bacalles to Albany.
“It was a great privilege for me to welcome former Assemblyman Jim Bacalles back to the Assembly,” said Palmesano.
Palmesano noted that he and Bacalles have maintained an excellent relationship over the years.
“Not only was Jim my predecessor, but he is also my mentor and friend," Palmesano said. "I had the honor of working for Jim from 1995 to 2004, and during that time I gained a wealth of knowledge from him. Jim was a dedicated servant to the people of the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes Region, and I want to personally thank him for his years of service to our area.”
Photo in text: Former Assemblyman Jim Bacalles, left, with Assemblyman Phil Palmesano. (Photo provided)
Mayor Mark Swinnerton makes a point at Monday's meeting.
Noise law, skate park proposal draw fire at board meeting
WATKINS GLEN, June 3 -- The new noise ordinance and the proposed move of the skateboard park drew comment and criticism at Monday night's meeting of the Watkins Glen Village Board.
Wildflower Cafe and microbrewery owner Doug Thayer (pictured below) said the Local Law regarding noise -- specifically band music -- late at night is affecting his business, which he said has contributed significantly to the economic development of downtown Watkins Glen.
He said that by adhering to the ordinance-specified 11 p.m. cutoff of music, he was in fact losing business -- and that the board should take note that his business in 2013 had a $610,000 payroll and paid $45,285 in water and electric bills, $32,000 in local property taxes, $33,000 to local firms for repairs and maintenance, $200,000 to local food and wine vendors, and $160,000 in sales tax.
Trustee Scott Gibson acknowleged Thayer's role in helping the community grow, but said the board "represents the entire community" and tried with the noise ordinance to arrive "at a happy medium" in balancing the needs of business with the wishes of residents who don't want to hear loud music late at night.
Mayor Mark Swinnerton interjected that it "is not the intent" of the ordinance -- known as Local Law No. 1 of 2014 -- to have music stop at 11 p.m., but rather to have the noise level dialed down so as not to be offensive to residents who can hear it, specifially those on the side hill not far from the business district. Gibson added that he hoped Thayer "reconsiders" his decisoin to cut off music at 11 p.m.
Discussion continued at length, with other residents weighing in in support of Thayer, and with the board stressing its support of local businesses and its hope that the noise law will "evolve" with give-and-take discussion to the point where all parties are satisifed with its parameters and application.
The Skateboard Park:
The board heard from Patricia Hastings (right) on behalf of the skateboard park located along the western end of Lakeside Park. With the village seeking proposals for the development of more than two acres of land there -- including where the skateboarding takes place -- there has been discussion about moving the skateboarders to a tennis court behind the Community Center across Fourth Street.
Hastings, a former county legislator, told the board that skaters are safer where they are now than if the facility were moved because the current park is within sight of Fourth Street, and anyone passing by can see if a skateboarding accident has resulted in injury -- and can seek help. No such line of sight protection exists with the alternate site, she said. She also said a hidden area like the tennis court is "a good place for a pervert to hang around," or for skaters to smoke.
She also questioned whether skaters will use the alternate site, or if their parents will permit it. If not, she said, there might be a return to the days when skateboarders used village streets. "Please reconsider where you are going with this," she said.
Mayor Swinnerton told her that the board is merely seeking development proposals, and that it might decide to do nothing -- in which case the skateboard park would continue where it is.
In other business:
--The board approved a two-year recycling contract with its current contractor, Arrowhead Disposal, at a cost of $2,100 per month. Similar bids were received from the Casella and Cardinal firms.
--Another season of Concerts in the Park at Lafayette Park were approved. A letter from chairperson Julie Sissel said an effort is being made to provide "a little more variety to appeal to a wider group of people and attract more tourists to the concerts and to the area." The concerts will run from 7-9 p.m. Tuesdays from July 1 to August 19.
Photos in text: Doug Thayer and Patricia Hastings at Monday's board session.
Barnes, Blowers are seeking seats on County Legislature
WATKINS GLEN, June 1 -- Two candidates entered the race Saturday for seats on the Schuyler County Legislature -- one an incumbent and one a well-known newcomer.
Incumbent Legislator Phil Barnes and local community leader Carl Blowers Saturday jointly announced their candidacy for seats on the recently redistricted Legislature.
Barnes, who is completing his first term on the Legislature, is seeking the seat in the new District 6. He said he and Blowers are running as a team because of "the similarities we share."
“Carl and I share a fiscally conservative philosophy and a true desire to better our community,” said Barnes. “We are both excited about the future opportunities that present themselves and feel that we can contribute to future success."
Blowers, in outlining his reason for running, said: “Choosing to live in Schuyler County 22 years ago was one of the best decisions my wife Suzanne and I have made. Since that time I have sought to be active in leadership roles within the community and am proud of the progress this county has made in the last decade. Serving as a Legislator would be both an honor and a challenge to continue the good work that is currently being done here.”
Barnes has served four years as a Legislator and currently chairs the Public Safety and Criminal Justice Committee of the Legislature. In a press release, he said he has been "instrumental in providing increased efforts and resources to combat welfare fraud" and that he "is actively involved in the Schuyler-Yates study that has recently begun to explore opportunities between the two counties to lower the cost of government while increasing efficiencies and effectiveness."
Barnes, who retired as Undersheriff of the Schuyler County Sheriff’s Office after 26 years, is currently an Investigator with AMRIC Security Consultants. He is also Chairman of the local Red Cross, a member and Past President of the Watkins Montour Lions Club, and a member of the Community Services Board of Schuyler County.
Blowers is seeking an open seat in the newly formed Legislative District #5. He has long experience in private industry, retiring from Corning Incorporated as Vice President and General Manager of the Advanced Materials and Process Technologies Division in 1997 after a 29-year career. After that he served as Vice Chairman and principal of Jostens Incorporated through 2004. He currently owns and operates Hawk’s View Consulting, a private consulting firm.
Blowers is involved in various community organizations and has a leadership role in several of them. He currently serves as Vice Chair of the Corning Community College Board of Trustees, Chair of the Arnot Art Museum Board of Trustees, and immediate past Chair of the Watkins Area Chamber of Commerce. He is a past member of the Schuyler County Partnership for Economic Development (SCOPED), a charter member of the Project Seneca Steering Committee, and a member of the Schuyler County Industiral Development Agency (SCIDA) board. He is a graduate of Bordentown Military Institute, holds a B.S. degree in Finance from Boston College, and is a graduate of the Dartmouth College Executive Management Program.
Both Barnes and Blowers say that if elected they will fight unfunded mandates, strive to control property taxes, and attempt to preserve natural resources and the area's quality of life. They said they will also promote economic development, shared services and job growth.
Said Blowers: “We will be releasing our campaign platform in the coming weeks and encourage any resident or business owner to contact us directly to share concerns, thoughts and ideas on improving Schuyler County."
The only other announced Legislature candidate thus far is Angeline Franzese, a former Legislature chair who is running in the same district as Barnes, #6, for a lone available seat.
Photos in text: Phil Barnes (top) and Carl Blowers. (File photos)
The land in question. The village is looking for development ideas.
Proposals sought on Lakeside Park Point
WATKINS GLEN, May 22 -- The Watkins Glen Village Board will soon be seeking proposals for the possible development of 2.34 acres of land at Lakeside Park Point on the west end of the park and alongside the entrance to the canal.
Rick Weakland, project director for Project Seneca -- which envisions lakefront development in the coming years -- outlined the Village Board's intent in a visit Wednesday night to the Watkins Glen Planning Board.
He said the Village Board -- through the Schuyler County Partnership for Economic Development (SCOPED) -- will soon issue Requests for Proposals (RFPs) in an attempt to solicit ideas for projects that might be undertaken on the acreage in question, with an eye toward minimal impact on the park while enhancing the park proper and its standing as a tourist and resident attraction.
The 2.34 acres used to be owned by Cargill Salt, which transferred it to the village in 1994 in return for drilling rights in the park. The parcel extends from Rt. 414 north to the lake, running alongside the canal. Part of it contains the skateboard park built several years ago.
Weakland said the project, should one develop, will be managed by SCOPED on behalf of the village and in consultation with it. He said he was addressing the Planning Board because it would be involved in site plan approval if a project is selected and pursued.
He said the process -- using RFPs -- is similar to the one utilized in the Watkins Glen Middle School project. That building, sold by the school district as it consolidates to a single campus, will be turned into apartments for the elderly, with its north end developed into a community-use gym and auditorium.
He said there are no concrete development plans for the Lakeside site yet -- that the village is seeking ideas which should be submitted by the end of June. If a project is selected out of those ideas, it could take two years before the development is completed.
In the end, Weakland told the board, "we could end up with nothing or something."
Mayor Mark Swinnerton, in a conversation after the board meeting, said the land in question is separate from the park in that it is not subject to the laws that govern the use of the park. He said if a project is selected, the board has no intention of selling the land to the developer, rather intending to lease it long-term.
In order for a sale to take place, he said, "it would have to be the deal of a lifetime."
He said he and the board envision as one possibility a "destination restaurant. It's a great location for one."
As for the skateboard park, he said that in the event of a project on the lakeside site, the skateboard equipment would be relocated to the tennis courts next to the Community Center across the road. One half of the little-used tennis courts would remain available for tennis, and the other half would be used for the skate park.
"When it was built," he said of the skate park, "we made sure its equipment was relocatable. It can be moved in a day's time."
Photos in text:
Top: Rick Weakland hands Code Enforcement Officer Greg Larnard a packet outlining the Village Board's plan to solicit ideas for Lakeside Park Point.
Bottom: The Planning Board's Chris Bond.
New system can issue Public Safety Alerts
Emergency Management Office adopts Ping4 Inc.’s Mobile Alert Platform, designed to keep citizens safe
Special to The Odessa File
WATKINS GLEN, May 22 -- Beginning today, the Schuyler County Emergency Management Office (SCEMO) will use Ping4 Inc.’s mobile communications solution, ping4alerts!. Users can download this free app on their Apple or Android smartphones to be instantly notified of public safety concerns.
“Using Ping4 Inc.’s technology, we are now able to notify Schuyler County’s 18,500 residents of immediate dangers and emergencies,” said Bill Kennedy, Schuyler County Emergency Management Director. “We can set an alert to the boundary of a town, road, building, or any other area, making sure people are only getting the information about events that may affect them.”
Ping4alerts! is a free iOS and Android app that uses the location-based technology inherent in today’s smartphones to deliver notifications within a highly-localized area. Using any web-browser, SCEMO can draw a shape on a map as small as a street or broadcast a message to an entire city. Ping4 Inc. delivers media alerts that can include images, custom audio, video and mobile web links. These features, coupled with the platform’s accuracy, are designed to insure public safety information is targeted, instant and relevant.
Ping4alerts! protects user anonymity and does not require users to provide any personally identifiable information such as a phone number, street address, or email address. These mobile notifications are delivered over the Internet through GPS, cellular, and available Wi-Fi networks. Citizens who download ping4alerts! will also receive NOAA’s National Weather Service advisories for severe weather. Other features include the ability to learn the location of nearby level 2 and level 3 sex offenders. Users can also establish watch locations for home, work, school, or a relative’s house to receive alerts for multiple locations.
“The value of our product is its ability to deliver time-sensitive, relevant information to users based solely on location,” said Norm Archer, VP of Marketing. “This technology provides a timely and relevant communication channel to citizens, whether they be residents or visitors, during emergency situations. The Schuyler County Emergency Management Agency is a fine example of forward-thinking and like-minded individuals who care about making their community safer.”
Citizens and visitors can download ping4alerts! by visiting the App Store or Google Play.
left: Assemblyman Phil Palmesano, Tony Specchio, Senator
Tom O'Mara, Annabelle Specchio and Adam Bradascio, one of the 11 Specchio
grandsons, in Albany on Tuesday.
Tony Specchio inducted
O’Mara pays tribute to Korean War vet, longtime civic leader
Special to The Odessa File
ALBANY, May 20—At a late morning ceremony in the Legislative Office Building honoring decorated and distinguished veterans from across New York State, State Senator Tom O’Mara (R-C, Big Flats) and his colleagues Tuesday inducted Anthony J. “Tony” Specchio, Sr., a lifelong Watkins Glen resident and a fixture in civic and veterans affairs, into the New York State Senate Veterans’ Hall of Fame.
Specchio represented O’Mara’s 58th Senate District and was among approximately 60 veterans statewide joining the Hall this year. Inductees are chosen annually by state senators from within their respective legislative districts. Tuesday’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony at the capital was held to coincide with the upcoming Memorial Day observances across the state and nation this weekend.
Specchio was accompanied at Tuesday’s ceremony by his wife, Annabelle, and one of his 11 grandsons, Adam Bradascio.
“It’s a great pleasure and a privilege to have this opportunity to honor the service and sacrifice of New York State veterans like Tony Specchio,” said O’Mara. “Tony’s an outstanding citizen who’s given a lifetime of commitment to our nation, our state and the community of Watkins Glen. I’m proud to salute Tony Specchio by inducting him into the Senate Veterans’ Hall of Fame. It will be an enduring tribute.”
Specchio was nominated for the Veterans’ Hall of Fame by Brian J. O’Donnell, former president of the Watkins Glen School Board.
O’Donnell said, “Tony is a real credit to his family, his church, his community and his country. A gentle man who always puts others first, Tony is a true American patriot and I’m proud to call him my friend!”
A distinguished Korean War veteran, Specchio was drafted into the United States Army in 1953. His training included a stint at Camp Desert Rock in Nevada where he witnessed the detonation of an atomic bomb from a distance of less than 10,000 feet, thereby earning him the rare distinction of being called an “Atomic Veteran.” In 1954 he served in Korea on the combat line at the 38th Parallel as a tank driver/commander with the rank of Corporal (Acting Sergeant).
Following his discharge from the Army in 1954, Specchio returned to Watkins Glen, where he and his wife, Annabelle, raised seven children. He has served in local government and remained an active member of the community – known in particular for his dedication and devotion to veterans affairs.
Over the past six decades, he has especially become known as the driving force behind the annual Veterans’ Day, Memorial Day and Flag Day observances in Watkins Glen, and has remained active in numerous organizations, including BPOE Elks Lodge No. 1546, American Legion Post 555, the Watkins Glen Fire Department, the Watkins Glen Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), AMVETS, and Disabled American Veterans (DAV). For over 20 years, he has also been the Veterans Service Representative at the VA Hospital in Bath. He also remains active as a member of St. Mary’s of the Lake Church, where he has served as an usher for nearly 50 years.
Active in local government, Specchio has served as Town of Reading Supervisor, as a member of the Schuyler County Legislature and, since 1978, on the Schuyler County Soil and Water Conservation District Board of Directors, where he’s been the chairman since 1986. In 1995, he retired as Superintendent of Public Works for the village of Watkins Glen.
The Senate established its online Veterans Hall of Fame in 2005. Including this year, approximately 300 veterans have been inducted. It’s designed to honor New York veterans whose service in the United States Armed Forces is accompanied by service to the community and accomplishments as a civilian, and includes veterans representing Senate districts from throughout New York State. It can be viewed through a link on the home page of O’Mara’s Senate website, www.omara.nysenate.gov.
O’Mara’s previous Veterans Hall of Fame inductees have been:
-- in 2011, Philip C. Smith, a highly decorated Korean War combat veteran and well-known figure in Schuyler County government and veterans’ affairs;
-- in 2012, J. Arthur “Archie” Kieffer, a World War II combat veteran and well-known figure in Chemung County government as the Chemung County historian; and
-- in 2013, Painted Post Mayor and World War II combat veteran Roswell L. “Roz” Crozier, Jr.
Photo in text: Tony Specchio at the Seneca Lake pier. (Photo provided)
The Schuyler-Yates County Shared Services Steering Committee met with representatives of CGR Tuesday morning in the Yates County Auditorium. (Photo provided)
Study starts with committee meeting
By Gwen Chamberlain
PENN YAN, May 16 -- The Schuyler-Yates County Shared Services Steering Committee met with representatives of Center for Government Research Tuesday in the Yates County Auditorium to kick off the study of the two counties that could result in anything from sharing some services to an outright merger.
Scott Sittig, associate director of CGR, told those at the Tuesday morning meeting that feedback from stakeholders in both counties will be key to the study.
“The critical role of this committee is to have open dialogue about what is working in each county,” he said.
He said CGR staff — four were present at this meeting — will look for systems that are working well in each county as the study progresses.
To open the brief discussion, Yates County Administrator Sarah Purdy said there are some immediate needs in Yates County. The county is searching for a risk manager, and the Legislature recently learned that Veteran’s Services Director Earle Gleason plans to retire at the end of 2014. While legislators have begun discussing whether that office needs two full-time employees, no decisions have been made.
Yates County Chairman Timothy Dennis said, “We have small departments. Whatever we combine, we’re still going to be small.”
Sittig confirmed Schuyler County Administrator Tim O’Hearn’s assumption that part of the process will be understanding best practices between counties.
“A baseline report is like turning the light bulb on,” Sittig said.
The 18-member steering committee includes legislators and department heads from each county. CGR was chosen from a field of 11 firms that submitted proposals. The study is being funded in part with a $50,000 grant from New York State. The study should be complete in less than a year.
SOS's Vickio honored for his contributions to the community
Among area group at State Capitol tribute
Special to The Odessa File
ALBANY, May 6 -- New York State Senator Tom O’Mara welcomed senior citizen volunteers from Chemung and Schuyler counties to the State Capitol Tuesday as part of the 2014 Senior Citizens Day Celebration sponsored by the New York State Office for the Aging.
According to the Office for the Aging, Senior Citizens Day is celebrated in New York in conjunction with events across the nation during May to observe National Older Americans Month. Tuesday’s event sought to acknowledge the significant contributions made by older New Yorkers to their communities.
Local county Offices for the Aging submitted nominations. Among the 2014 honorees is Spirit of Schuyler founder and president Tony Vickio of Watkins Glen (pictured at right).
“What a great honor for all of the outstanding and meaningful service these area seniors have provided to so many of their fellow seniors throughout the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions. It’s a fitting tribute to the thousands of hours they’ve volunteered which have made such a difference in so many lives,” said O’Mara.
The following seniors were in Albany and honored as part of Tuesday’s celebration:
-- Tony Vickio: A lifelong resident of Watkins Glen and well-known throughout Schuyler County, Vickio has donated his time and talents to many community organizations and activities over the decades including the Boy Scouts of America, animal shelters and local schools. In 2002, he founded “Spirit of Schuyler” (SOS), a non-profit, emergency response organization that assists county residents with basic needs such as fuel oil, utility costs and car repairs. Vickio remains president of SOS and volunteers countless hours to promote, organize and staff the organization.
-- Donna Barto (Chemung
County): Barto, of Horseheads, was co-winner of the Chemung County Senior
Citizen of the Year Award in 2013. She has been volunteering since the
1970s at a variety of organizations, utilizing her skills as a retired
registered nurse. She was the first woman member and a past president
of the Big Flats Lions Club. She especially values volunteering and working
-- Dale Bryant (Chemung County): With Barto, Bryant, of Elmira, was co-winner of the Chemung County Senior Citizen of the Year Award in 2013. He is active in many community organizations, including the Popcorn Truck Preservation Society, Friends of Woodlawn Cemetery and the Eldridge Park Preservation Society. He is the current President of the Chemung County Farmer’s Museum and is co-founder of the Finger Lakes Region Vintage Chevrolet Club of America;
-- Joy Perry (Chemung County): Winner of the “Chemung County Mildred Parfitt Award” in 2013, Perry has been a volunteer at the Arnot Ogden Medical Center for over 25 years, serving as President of the Arnot Auxiliary Board. She is active in many community organizations and activities including the Orchestra of the Southern Finger Lakes, the ARTS Council of the Southern Finger Lakes, the Thursday Morning Musicales and the Wednesday Morning Club.
Two senior honorees unable to attend Tuesday’s event in Albany will be recognized by their respective Offices for the Aging. They are Alise Irwin of Branchport and Lauren Snyder of Penn Yan, the latter recently selected as a "Woman of Distinction" from the 58th State Senate District. She will be honored accordingly in Albany on May 13.
Photo in text: From left: State Senator Tom O'Mara, Tony Vickio, Assemblyman Phil Palmesano and Assemblyman Chris Friend in Albany on May 6th. (Photo provided)
Steering Committee taps CGR for study of Yates-Schuyler
WATKINS GLEN, April 28 -- The Schuyler-Yates Steering Committee has selected CGR -- the Center for Governmental Research, Inc. -- to conduct a study of potential shared services in the two counties.
Schuyler County Administrator Tim O'Hearn said the interviews of five companies among 11 that submitted proposals were completed Friday. Two days of interviews were conducted in Schuyler County and one in Yates.
CGR -- a not-for-profit firm out of Rochester -- has "tentatively accepted," O'Hearn said
CGR was the first firm interviewed, and Berkshire Advisors, headquartered in Austin, Texas, was the last. In between came Bond Schoeneck & King of New York, Florida and Kansas; Management Partners of Cincinnati, Ohio and California; and VMC Independent.
"CGR is the chosen and preferred applicant," O'Hearn said, noting that it had recently done a study for the Village of Watkins Glen into a possible consolidation of municipal police services with those of the county. It conducted a study in 2008 of Yates County and Penn Yan court and law enforcement services, looking for possible operational efficiencies.
"It works strictly with governments," O'Hearn said, "and has an understanding of the scope of the project. Its fact-finding process is solid."
The Steering Committee consisted of 18 people -- the two county administrators, department heads and Legislature representatives. The administrators -- O'Hearn and Yates County's Sarah Purdy -- will next prepare resolutions for Legislature committee consideration, with an eye toward a final vote by the Legislatures themselves. The Schuyler Legislature next meets on May 12. Schuyler County, as the lead agency, will execute the contract.
The study is expected to take no more than a year, and CGR "has indicated it will be less than that," said O'Hearn. It will include focus-group meetings, a public meeting, and development of an interactive website.
The CGR proposal was for a flat $50,000, which is the amount of a state grant for the project -- 90 percent funded by the state ($45,000) with a 10 percent share ($2,500 each) by Schuyler and Yates counties. Two of the five firms, O'Hearn said, had proposals that would have cost close to $100,000 apiece.
Officials from both counties are looking for ways to share services to save tax dollars. Options for savings could range from consolidation of some programs or services to a complete merger of the counties.
Photo in text: Schuyler County Administrator Tim O'Hearn
Study leads to reassessments, drop in WG school tax rate
SCHUYLER COUNTY, April 23 -- The overall assessed value of property in Schuyler County is on the rise.
The Real Property Tax Office has adjusted assessment figures in the county, and overall they're going up -- an estimated 3.7 percent. That was embraced by Watkins Glen school officials as "good news," but village and county leaders counseled caution until the root causes of the increase can be analyzed.
The Watkins Glen School Board, in fact, trumpeted the increase as the cause for an abrupt turnaround in its projected tax rate. Instead of a 33-cent increase to $12.51 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, it says now the tax rate under its proposed budget will go down at least 11 cents, from its current $12.18 to $12.07. The budget will come to a public vote on May 20.
Said district Business Manager Gayle Sedlack: "Many will actually see a decrease in their tax bill from the prior year. An increase would be in the instance that the property was reassessed at a higher value."
Added Superintendent Tom Phillips: "This is a huge sigh of relief for governments; it distributes the cost of doing business more equitably. It's good news for the district -- and we had nothing to do with the assessments. To say we were stunned would be an understatement. We're very happy."
A more measured response came from Watkins Glen Mayor Mark Swinnerton, who -- upon learning of the assessment value increase -- said that even without it, the Village Board's preliminary budget work has the village likely headed for a third straight year without a tax hike. He said he needs to look into the assessment situation before commenting on it. "But it should have an effect," he noted.
County Administrator Tim O'Hearn took a cautious tack, too, saying the cause of the value increase will determine how beneficial it is -- that if it is a sign of growth and physical improvement, then it will be more meaningful economically than if it's a matter of "a shift in properties." He added, though, that it is probably caused by a mixture of factors, including "the correction of inequities" and visible signs of growth -- such as in Bruce Nelson's WaterWorks condo project on Salt Point Road in Watkins Glen, or in improvements to Franklin Street properties with the addition of several upscale apartment units.
Without such investments in the growth of a community, he said, simple assessment adjustments to reflect market conditions can lead to "50-50" situations where tax-rate drops are countered by property assessment increases.
In other words, a decrease in the tax rate doesn't always mean a decrease in taxes.
Meanwhile, the view of homeowners whose assessments rise might be a bit jaundiced -- and there are a lot of properties where that is happening.
In the Watkins Glen School District alone, the assessed value increase will be $28 million, up from $729 million this past year. Real Property Tax Office Director Tom Bloodgood said the increase will be for "the final roll this year. Its first impact will be seen in the September school tax bills."
Bloodgood said the assessment hikes were triggered by an annual analysis comparing existing assessment figures to sale prices of properties, with an eye toward adjusting them to maintain a 100% equalization rate. "We try to maintain the market value" in the assessment level, he added.
Hundreds of properties in Hector and Watkins Glen were affected either up or down, he said -- between 1,500 and 1,600 in Hector and more than 900 of Watkins Glen's 1,100 -- 692 in the Town of Dix portion of the village, and 212 in the Town of Reading portion. The Hector properties include many residences with 10 or more acres, along with vacant lands of different types: forest, pasture and so on. Bloodgood said the focus wasn't on lakefront property, although those with larger acreage might have been included, along with a few others.
The increase in assessed value was not confined to the Watkins School District. Assessed value in the Odessa-Montour portion of the county is going from $275.4 million to $280.2 million. Assessed value in the Trumansburg School District portion of the county is going from $90.3 million to $98.4 million. Bloodgood said that increases in the Town of Reading portion of the Watkins Glen School District are "minimal."
While the assessment adjustments don't relate directly to the STAR (School Tax Relief Program) that reduces tax bills for qualifying homeowners, both affect school taxes. Toward that end, Bloodgood was asked if the state's decision that those people with the STAR exemption re-register this year had possibly reduced the number of exemptions. He said that as of January, 13% of those with the Basic Exemption last year had failed to re-register -- and that while some of those 509 households did so before the registration period expired, there were still some that did not. He didn't have final figures, though.
Bloodgood said that those residents whose assessments are being affected by the value analysis -- begun last autumn, he said, and just concluded -- will be notified by mail. Those not notified can assume their assessments aren't changing, he added.
Asked if he expected complaints from affected homeowners, he concluded succinctly:
Seneca Terrace Apartments
get go-ahead from Planning Board
WATKINS GLEN, April 17 -- After 15 months and many Watkins Glen Planning Board sessions, the proposed Seneca Terrace Apartments behind the Elks Lodge at the north end of Watkins Glen are a "go."
The Planning Board Wednesday night gave final site-plan approval to the 24-unit apartment complex following a public hearing at which the project drew both support and concern from neighbors.
With the way clear now to build -- following months of numerous revisions requested by the Planning Board, the Watkins Glen Fire Department and the state Department of Transportation -- the group representing the project, led by owner-developer William Frandsen, were looking forward to breaking ground.
"In about 10 days," said Attorney Charles Guttman, a frequent visitor to Planning Board sessions since the Jan 16, 2013 meeting at which Frandsen and engineer Ted Lauve presented the concept -- which at that time called for 28 apartments in sections of 16 and 12.
One of many changes since then had been a reduction to 24 units -- 12 apartments in each of two buildings, one high on the sharply slanted property, and one downhill from there.
Ground movers will start shaping the hillside soon to accommodate the structures -- one of which will be built before the other. Once the land shaping and infrastructure work is done, construction will begin with an eye toward "closing in" the earliest structure before winter. Occupancy, said Frandsen, could be in the fall of 2015 -- assuming separate Certificates of Occupancy can be obtained for the two buildings. Guttman was more optimistic, saying he thought apartments in the first building might have occupants in the summer of 2015.
The Planning Board approval, without dissent, came following a public hearing that saw a couple of Elks Lodge representatives support the project, with one saying they spoke for the hundreds of members of the club. A retired Watkins Glen resident just back from wintering in the south backed it, as well, saying it was exactly the sort of housing the village needed for people like him and his wife.
And former Mayor Bob Lee weighed in with the argument that the project is needed to increase the tax base of the village.
Concerns were expressed by several residents who live near the planned complex -- the concerns focusing on the effects of increased traffic, the effect of the complex on their property values, and on the matter of whether traffic would be excluded, except in emergencies, from the complex's North Jackson Street access. The answer to that was "no" -- but that an effort will be made to discourage use of that roadway through signage, an issue that would have to be taken up by the Village Board. The main access point would therefore be from North Monroe Street.
In the end, after the public hearing had been closed and the final site plan approved, there was a smattering of applause from the audience, and one low "boo."
And Frandsen, Lauve and Guttman adjourned to the hallway outside the meeting room -- perhaps to get their footing after a long, long rollercoaster ride to approval.
In other business:
-- The Planning Board gave final site-plan approval to a proposal by Seneca Physical Therapy on North Franklin Street to add to the front and rear of its building. The approval came after a public hearing at which no opposition was voiced.
-- Code Enforcement Officer Greg Larnard told the Board the Villager Motel is looking at expanding its office space.
-- Larnard told the Board that he was going to meet with Dunkin' Donuts personnel the next day to discuss demolition of the house Dunkin' Donuts has purchased on the north end of its parking lot -- with an eye toward expanding its parking. The meeting, he said, would include demolition contractor T. Shaw, Inc. of Tully. The house, Larnard said, will be razed "pretty soon, but no date has been set. We'll figure that out" at the meeting.
Shared Services Committee
By Gwen Chamberlain
PENN YAN, April 15 -- The Schuyler-Yates Steering Committee plans by the end of April to choose a firm to conduct the shared services study of the two counties.
Committee members from both counties met in the Yates County Office Building April 2 to review the compiled reviews of the 11 proposals received from various companies.
Teams of two committee members were to conduct reference checks on the five top-ranked companies, and interview sessions with the top five were being scheduled for the week of April 21. The committee plans to make a choice on April 25.
The counties have received a $50,000 grant to help pay for the study. Officials from both counties say they are looking for ways to share services to save tax dollars. Options for savings could range from consolidation of some programs or services to a complete merger of the counties.
The firms that were ranked in the top five, based on their proposals, are:
• CGR-Center for Governmental Research Inc., a nonprofit organization based in Rochester. CGR conducted the 2008 study of Yates County and Penn Yan court and law enforcement services, looking for operational efficiencies that might be possible.
• Berkshire Advisors, headquartered in Austin, Texas, with offices in Raymond, N.H. and Mitchellville, Md. Berkshire Advisors has conducted a study in Cayuga County's Sheriff's Office, Health and Human Services Department and Highway Department.
• Bond Schoeneck & King, a firm with multiple offices in New York, Florida and Kansas, mostly known as a legal firm.
• Management Partners, with offices in Cincinnati, Ohio and California. This company’s website says the firm specializes in helping government leaders improve their operations.
• VMC Independent. Information was not available about this firm.
Yates County Administrator Sarah Purdy, who compiled the committee members' scoring and comments on the 11 proposals, said she felt the scoring process provided some consensus, with three firms — CGR, Berkshire and Bond Schoeneck & King — clustered at the top of the rankings.
While all committee members may be present during the open interview meetings, a team of four — Purdy, Schuyler County Administrator Tim O'Hearn and County Legislative Chairmen Tim Dennis (Yates County) and Dennis Fagan (Schuyler County) — will conduct the interviews.
A website with access restricted to the committee members has been established in connection to the Schuyler County website. Notes from committee meetings and other documents are posted on the website so committee members can share information easily.
Purdy and O'Hearn were contacting the five finalists to schedule interviews. Specifics about the time and location for the interviews were being determined by the possible need for internet connectivity if video conferencing is required.
Photo in text: The steering committee of representatives from Yates and Schuyler County met in Penn Yan April 2 to lay the groundwork for choosing a consultant to conduct the shared services study between the two counties.
Schamel lease extension at Seneca marina
WATKINS GLEN, April 10 -- The Schuyler County Industrial Development Agency Wednesday approved a 15-year extension on the lease by which Schamel Brothers LLC operates the Seneca Harbor marina.
According to County Administrator Tim O'Hearn, the agreement will substantially increase the revenue realized by the county both before the end of the current lease in 2018 and going forward to the new lease's end point in 2033.
O'Hearn said the county will see its revenue increase between 2014 and 2017 to $244,000, compared to the $17,500 it would have realized had nothing been done. And the revenue from 2018 to 2033 will be between $1.5 million and $1.6 million. "Extrapolated to current terms, the amount would have been $147,000," he added.
The 15-year extension does not include operation of the Village Marina Restaurant. The Schamels will continue to operate it until 2018 under terms of the old lease. The restaurant operation will be put out for bids in 2017, "and will generate a lot more income," said O'Hearn.
The marina operation came under scrutiny recently with the Schamels' request for the extension, something they deemed necessary if they were to spend $150,000 on the renovation of weathered docks in the coming year. The request prompted reaction from Frog Hollow Marina owners Ed and Theresa Woodland, who wanted an opportunity to bid on the Seneca Harbor operation themselves.
The SCIDA vote was 4-0, with one member absent and Chairman Kevin Murphy abstaining because of related business dealings. One seat is vacant.
No formal action is required by the Schuyler County Legislature, O'Hearn said, although it was aware of the lease provisions before the SCIDA vote and was not opposed to it.
A 90-day period is required by the state from the time of the vote to implementation of the new lease, he added. It will take effect after that period expires.
Photo in text: A dock and boat slips at the marina.
Note: The following was published March 26, 2014 in the Chronicle Express of Penn Yan. We print it here in cooperation with that paper as a service to the readers of Schuyler County.
By Gwen Chamberlain
WATKINS GLEN, March 26 -- A group of officials from Yates and Schuyler County have begun a process that could spell some major changes in local government. An Ad Hoc steering committee met in Watkins Glen March 19 to discuss how to choose a consultant to study collaboration opportunities between the counties.
“This is a once in 50 years opportunity,” said
Yates County Legislative Chairman Tim Dennis.
Yates County Administrator Sarah Purdy says the counties are likely to identify some opportunities for sharing or saving as the study progresses. “There’s no reason to wait for the study to talk about what is or isn’t possible,” she said.
“We need to keep an open mind. There are a lot of opportunities,” added Schuyler County Legislative Chairman Dennis Fagan (pictured at right in file photo).
The group established a system for evaluating the proposals that have been submitted by applicants, and will meet again in Yates County to review the compiled scores and decide which firm will be awarded a contract to study the two municipalities.
The committee discussed its overall responsibilities and the potential for efficiencies that could be uncovered during the process of the study.
The contingent from Yates County included Dennis, Purdy, Legislators Mark Morris, Dan Banach and Jim Smith; Treasurer Winona Flynn, Highway Superintendent David Hartman, Social Services Commissioner Amy Miller and Legislative Clerk Connie Hayes. Legislator Bill Holgate is also a member of the committee, but was unable to attend Wednesday’s meeting.
Schuyler County representatives on the committee are: Fagan, Legislators Tom Gifford, Barb Halpin, Jim Howell, and Phil Barnes as an alternate; O’Hearn; Social Services Commissioner JoAnne Fratarcangelo; District Attorney Joe Fazzary; Community Services Director Shawn Rosno; and Office for the Aging Director Tamre Waite.
Photo in text: Schuyler County Legislature Chairman Dennis Fagan. (File photo)
reps rip Cuomo over Monterey
ALBANY, April 1 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C-Big Flats), Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I-Corning) and Assemblyman Chris Friend (R-Big Flats) Monday criticized Governor Andrew Cuomo for refusing to renegotiate his administration’s plan to close the Monterey Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility later this year.
The final 2014-15 state budget agreed upon by Cuomo and legislative leaders, and acted upon by both the Senate and Assembly, does not contain funding to keep Monterey open.
As part of the new budget, the Monterey facility and grounds will be designated as one of New York’s new tax-free zones in an effort to attract redevelopment initiatives, including new businesses and industries.
O’Mara (pictured at right), Palmesano and Friend said in a joint statement: “Together with our local leaders, Monterey employees, and former Monterey inmates and their families, we tried until the very end of this year’s budget negotiations to convince Governor Cuomo to keep Monterey Shock open. We made our case on the merits and on the undeniable facts that Monterey saves state and local taxpayer dollars, effectively reduces recidivism and turns lives around. The Cuomo administration refused to negotiate a better solution for the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes economy, local property taxpayers, local community services, and local workers and their families. It’s the wrong decision.”
The lawmakers said that despite the budget setback, they will continue their efforts to try to find a way to save a shock program at Monterey. They also said that they would continue to closely monitor the efforts of the Cuomo administration to offer transfer and other reemployment opportunities to remaining Monterey staff.
Since last July when the Cuomo administration first announced its plan
to shut down Monterey, O’Mara, Palmesano, Friend and other local
leaders across the region have joined together with Monterey staff, former
inmates and their families and many concerned citizens to urge Cuomo to
In private meetings and at public rallies, they’ve highlighted the facility’s critical importance to the regional economy, especially at a time when so many communities have been hard hit by job losses. They’ve stressed the cost effectiveness of Monterey, noting that the shock program has saved the state more than $1 billion through reduced incarceration times and lower recidivism rates among shock graduates. Additionally, numerous community leaders throughout Schuyler, Chemung, Steuben and Yates counties have stressed that Monterey inmate work crews have saved local communities and taxpayers millions of dollars over the years by assisting with local infrastructure, natural disaster cleanup and repair, and other community enhancement projects.
Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara
but like budget's CHIPS funding level
Special to The Odessa File
ALBANY, April 1 --State Senator Tom O’Mara (R-C, Big Flats) and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R-C, Corning) said Monday that area counties will see increases in state Consolidated Highway Improvement Program (CHIPS) funding under the 2014-15 New York State budget hammered out by legislators and the governor.
In early March, O’Mara, Palmesano and a bipartisan group of nearly 100 legislative colleagues joined county and town highway superintendents and other local leaders from throughout the state to call for increased support for local roads and bridges. They noted that local roads and bridges account for 87% of the roads, 52% of the bridges, and 48% of the vehicle mileage logged in New York State.
CHIPS provides the bulk of state aid to counties and towns for the maintenance and improvement of local roads and bridges.
Following a similar bipartisan effort last year, the 2013-14 state budget provided a $75 million increase in CHIPS funding to an overall level of $438.1 million. It represented the first funding increase for the program in five years.
O’Mara and Palmesano said that CHIPS funding in 2014-15 will be continued at last year’s funding level, $438.1 million, but with an additional $40 million distributed through the CHIPS program to local governments to fix surface road damage, including potholes, created by this year’s extreme winter.
“This continued recognition of the importance of CHIPS funding will make a significant difference for localities, local economies and motorist safety statewide,” O’Mara and Palmesano said in a joint statement.
'confident' about new plant
WATKINS GLEN, March 16 -- Watkins Glen Mayor Mark Swinnerton says he is optimistic that the Project Seneca plan for a new sewage treatment plant will move forward despite significant problems in the village's existing plant and the resulting possibility of a heavy fine.
Swinnerton, who two weeks ago expressed concern about the effect such a fine might have on the village's ability to share in construction of the new plant -- a joint facility built in conjunction with Montour Falls, probably along the canal across from the Watkins Glen High School property -- now says that village officials have met in the interim with the State Department of Environmental Conservation and instituted a correction plan in the current plant that has Yaw's Environmental Lab of Ithaca assuming oversight of the daily operation. The firm had recently been providing reports on the plant's progress as it operated under a state consent order -- the result of previous operational shortcomings.
"I'm very confident" the Project Seneca plan can continue toward fruition, the mayor said, although he wasn't yet sure what the fine -- initiated under pressure from the federal Environmental Protection Agency -- might be. One reason for that confidence: "We acted quickly, and I think found a reasonable answer," although some fixes -- such as corrections in chlorine levels -- can be achieved faster than other ones. The DEC, he added, is "partnering with us to find solutions."
A new treatment plant is considered a spur to lakefront and other development in the county.
Photo in text: Watkins Glen Mayor Mark Swinnerton (File photo)
state support for roads sought
ALBANY, March 6 -- With final negotiations over the 2014-15 New York State budget kicking into high gear over the next few weeks, a group of state legislators, led by Senator Tom O’Mara (R-C, Big Flats) and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R-C, Corning), Wednesday joined county and town highway superintendents and other local leaders from across New York to call for increased state support for local roads and bridges.
“We’re seeing report after report deliver the message that the condition of local roads and bridges is critical, and getting worse,” O’Mara and Palmesano said in a joint statement. “We need a stronger state commitment to our local transportation infrastructure. Local roads and bridges, in every region of New York State, are community and economic lifelines, but they’re at risk from a severe lack of adequate, dedicated funding. State investment in the improvement and upkeep of local roads and bridges is a wise use of taxpayer dollars. It’s an investment in economic growth, job creation, property tax relief and motorist safety.”
Photo in text: Senator O'Mara (at podium), Assemblyman Palmesano (immediately to the left) and a group of their colleagues joined local highway superintendents on the historic staircase in the State Capitol. (Photo proavided)
backs medical marijuana act
Special to The Odessa File
ALBANY, March 5 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C-Big
Flats) said Tuesday that he will work with his Senate colleagues this
session to gain legislative approval of the “Compassionate Care
“This legislation allows for safe, limited access to medical marijuana,
for people who suffer from serious, debilitating diseases. I will continue
to work to improve the bill to make sure we maintain a
to return as SRO
WATKINS GLEN, March 4, 2014 -- Retired State Trooper David Waite, who served as School Resource Officer in the Watkins Glen School District in the latter part of his law-enforcement career, was approved by the Watkins Glen Village Board Monday to resume the role.
Waite, who also previously served the Odessa-Montour School District before O-M jettisoned the SRO position, is currently serving in a similar capacity in the Campbell-Savona School District. A transition from that job to the one at Watkins Glen will take an unknown amount of time, according to Watkins Glen Mayor Mark Swinnerton.
"We have timing issues to work out," he said.
The mayor added that the Village Board has been in contact with the Watkins school district, and that it too is in favor of the hire. The board decision came after an executive session Monday night at which "that and other police matters were discussed," Swinnerton said.
Waite's salary will be $30,000, all of it coming from the school district. He will replace the current SRO, Sgt. Steve Decker, who has been serving in the post on a temporary basis.
Meanwhile, the mayor said the board has not yet decided whether to to replace police officer Mike Powers with a full-timer on the municipal force . That position -- recently vacated by Powers, who had also served as SRO -- is currently being "backfilled by part-timers," the mayor said. "We'll see how the budget goes, but I will say there would be more consistency with a full-timer."
Photo in text: David Waite
'significant fine' on treatment plant violations
WATKINS GLEN, March 4 -- The Village of Watkins Glen is about to be fined what Mayor Mark Swinnerton said will likely be "a very significant amount" of money for its latest failure to meet established standards in its Wastewater Treatment Plant.
The situation, he said, could lead to one where the village must invest heavily in the plant and thus bypass Project Seneca's proposed joint Watkins Glen-Montour Falls replacement plant -- being touted as a spur to Seneca Lake shoreline development. The current plant sits along that shoreline.
The mayor told the Village Board Monday night that he had received a message from the State Department of Environmental Conservation specifying three instances of excessive chlorine levels exiting the plant, and that it appears the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is pressuring the DEC to come down on the village, which has been operating the plant under a consent order -- the result of previous operational shortcomings.
"It looks like we've backed ourselves into a corner," Swinnerton said. "A fine is coming our way, a very significant one, though it has not been finalized. We need a plan of action, which should be part of our executive session tonight" -- a closed meeting following the public board meeting.
"This isn't good," said Swinnerton, noting that it looks as though the EPA has evidently run out of patience with the way the DEC has handled the plant's shortcomings, thus leaving the village in a position where "anything we can do to expedite any retrofits" should be done as soon as possible.
He said village officials would be meeting with DEC and EPA officials after the expected receipt of an official letter specifying the fine.
"Now we've got to start working with the EPA. If we need to spend -- and I'm just throwing it out there -- $100,000 (on the fine), that's money that could be better spent elsewhere. This is very serious, and I'm very concerned about it."
He noted later that if the fine is $100,000, "we can't just pull it from the General Fund and pay it. That has to be borne by the rates. Users would see an immediate increase to pay it."
The amount of the fine "could be far less or far more" than $100,000, he said -- possibly the latter "because of how long this has been going on." The plant has encountered problems for several years.
"If we're forced to put $1 million into the plant," he added, "that puts a damper on our ability to move" the facility -- to replace it with a facility serving both Watkins Glen and Montour Falls. Such a facility is envisioned by some Project Seneca planners as being situated along the canal, across from the high school grounds.
"It's a very unsettling situation," Swinnerton added.
With the fine "imminent," he said, the village will have to adhere closely to whatever the EPA demands. "We can't deviate from that plan. If an (EPA) engineer tells us to do something, we need to do it exactly."
The plant is currently operated by several individuals, with input from engineers and with reports prepared by an environmental firm. When asked if anyone in particular could be blamed for the current situation, the mayor answered: "No comment."
In other business, the board:
-- Heard a plea from officials of Schuyler County Little League Baseball -- President Matt Walters (pictured at right) and Vice President Jesse Schubmehl -- for use of land behind the Community Center at Clute Park for a second baseball field, one in addition to Fazzary Field, which is located across a parking lot. Development of the land, once landscaped for soccer but sitting unused for a few years, would be financed through fund-raising and donations of materials and labor from local businesses. The board gave verbal encouragement, but said Cargill Salt first needed to be consulted because of a couple of brine wells it owns beneath the land there and uses periodically. Said trustee Paul Clifford, a Cargill employee: "They might ask you to slide a little to the east."
-- Heard concerns from a couple of residents who live near the site of the proposed Seneca Terrace Apartments on the hillside behind the Elks Lodge. The residents said increased traffic on Partition Street created by the apartment dwellers would make the intersection with Rte. 14 dangerous, and travel within the immediate vicinity more difficult. They added that the Watkins Glen Planning Board has been doing "a good job" dealing with the project, but that the chance to voice concerns had been limited by Planning Board rules precluding comments until the issue is essentially decided.
After the residents left the meeting, board discussion led Mayor Swinnerton to ask Police Chief Tom Struble to prepare a report by the next board meeting on the desirability of turning a portion of Partition Street, from Rt. 14 up to Monroe Street, into a one-way street.
-- Heard Code Enforcement Officer Greg Larnard confirm that a third Chinese restaurant is being added to the list of village eateries -- in the former Pick-A-Flick building on North Franklin Street. Trustee Scott Gibson (pictured at right) asked if there isn't "something on the books" limiting the number of identically themed restaurants in the village.
"I'm pretty positive that doesn't exist," said Larnard, who was nonetheless asked to research the matter in order to be certain.
Said Gibson: "I'm all for capitalism and letting things sort out, but I'm also for protecting longtime businesses."
-- Heard from Clute Park Manager Michelle Hyde about a proposal from Sara Caldwell of Watkins Glen for a weekly Movies on the Lake program. A letter from Caldwell said she envisions playing a movie (rated G or PG) at Clute Park on an outdoor movie screen on Thursday evenings at 9 p.m. in July and August, "west of the horseshoe pits and north of the playground." It would be a free event, with Caldwell asking local businesses to sponsor the films in return for advertising. The Village Board -- with one member calling it a "neat" idea -- backed the plan and asked Hyde to keep its members informed on how it develops.
-- Set May 10 from 8 a.m.-12 noon as the time period for the village's next Dumpster Day in the parking area between the Community Center and the canal.
Photos in text:
From top at Monday's meeting: Mayor Mark Swinnerton (left) and trustee Kevin Smith; Police Chief Tom Struble; Little League President Matt Walters; trustee Scott Gibson.
3rd Chinese eatery,
historical center aired to Planning Board
WATKINS GLEN, Feb. 20, 2014 -- The Watkins Glen Planning Board Wednesday night heard about two projects that are in the early planning stages -- one involving a third Chinese restaurant in the village, and one involving use of the former Clifford Motors property on North Franklin Street as a center devoted to the history of cars, auto racing and the village itself.
Code Enforcement Officer Greg Larnard, in his summary of ongoing projects in the village, told the board that the former Pick-a-Flick property in the Subway plaza on North Franklin Street has been leased from its Bath-area owners by a group of Chinese speaking individuals from out of the area, apparently New York City. He said he has spoken to the group's English-speaking architect, and that plans call for construction of a kitchen within the confines of the existing structure, with an eye primarily toward take-out service. "There will only be a few dining seats," said Larnard.
As for the starting dates for renovations and the business opening, Larnard said those are not yet known. Thus far, he said, "the renters have the lease. That's as far as it's gone." He noted that the project will not require approval by the Planning Board; just the acquisition of a building permit, for which the group has yet to apply. Larnard said of the few facts he has so far, one is that there is no connection between this eatery and either of the village's other such restaurants: the Orient Hibachi Buffet and the House of Hong.
Tony Vickio, noted sign painter, author and head of the Spirit of Schuyler service organization, was in attendance at the board meeting informally, in advance of a presentation next month regarding a project he and two of his cousins are planning on North Franklin Street. When asked by the board if he had anything to discuss, he decided to outline the project to the board and to a reporter afterward.
Vickio said the former Clifford Motors building and lot, as well as the former Esso station owned by Clifford at the north end of Franklin Street, where the road curves left on its way out of town, are being sold to Vickio's small group, headed by his cousins Louis Vickio Jr. of Texas and Mark Menio of Penn Yan. He said a purchase offer was made on the properties and accepted, and that he hopes the closing occurs early in May.
When asked the purchase price, he shook his head. "I have no idea. I'm the idea guy," he said, noting that his cousins are "the money guys."
Negotiations, Vickio added, are ongoing in an attempt to purchase the two properties between the Clifford lots -- a building currently leased by the Eyes on Seneca optometry practice, and the vacant former Little Joe's Texaco Station. Both are locally owned.
Whether those properties are purchased or not, he said, the project envisioned by him and his cousins will proceed -- with, first and foremost, use of the former Clifford dealership as "a sort of museum, though I hate to call it that," which will among other things pay homage to the Corvette. The idea for that car is believed to have occurred in Watkins Glen. It was the brainchild of General Motors designer extraordinaire Harley Earl, and accounts say he was inspired by his encounter with various European sports cars during a visit to Watkins for a 1951 race. The first Corvette was created in 1953.
"The idea," said Vickio, "is to have a 1953 Corvette on display here, along with the newest Corvette," with the modern display car replaced each year by succeeding models. He said talks are under way with GM regarding such a display.
"But it wouldn't be just about the Corvette," he said of the history center. "We would be honoring all kinds of cars" that have been part of the fabric of Watkins Glen racing lore. "And it wouldn't just be about the cars. There is no place in Watkins Glen that deals with the history of the village -- where you can go to learn about that history." That void would be filled by this project.
He said he has been in touch with the International Motor Racing Research Center regarding it taking part in some fashion in the Franklin Street project. The Research Center is located on the other side of the village, on South Decatur Street. Vickio indicated that the Research Center would not be moving, but "could have a presence" on Franklin Street, directing people to the Decatur Street site.
"We're excited about the project," Vickio told the Planning Board -- about the cars and equally about the village history aspect. He said the "museum" part of the project "will be set up as a 501(c)3" entity "where people can donate (historical) objects or put them on loan. We'll put out a big search" hunting for displayable objects. "It won't just be about autos. There's gonna be a lot of history in there."
He didn't have further details on what might be developed on the rest of the property -- factors contingent in part on how much property is obtained. But he said the hope is that "there will be shops, and eventually a restaurant."
The Planning Board also:
-- Heard an update on the planned Seneca Terrace Apartments planned for land above the Elks Lodge along Rt. 14 north of the village's business district. An apartment spokesman said a property dispute with a neighbor is still not settled, and that a suit has been filed in State Supreme Court in an effort to resolve it. Board chair Chris Bond said the board cannot act on the plan until the dispute is settled.
Photos in text:
Top: The former Clifford Motors property on North Franklin Street in Watkins Glen
Second: The two properties north of the Clifford Motors site. Negotiations are under way by the Vickio group in an attempt to purchase them.
Third: Tony Vickio (File photo)
Bottom: Planning Board chair Chris Bond.
Area reps rip Cuomo's
Special to The Odessa File
ELMIRA, Feb. 18, 2014 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C-Big Flats), Assemblyman Chris Friend (R-Big Flats) and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I-Corning) Tuesday rejected Governor Andrew Cuomo’s plan to provide a free college education to state prisoners, and again urged the Cuomo administration to reverse its decision to close the Monterey Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility in Schuyler County later this year.
a joint statement, O’Mara, Friend and Palmesano said, “We
reject Governor Cuomo’s proposal to have state taxpayers pick up
the tab for providing inmates with a free college education. Hard-working,
law-abiding students and families across the Southern Tier and Finger
Lakes regions are
"Governor Cuomo already has a proven way to reduce recidivism that, at the same time, saves state and local taxpayer dollars and gives inmates the discipline and the determination to turn their own lives around. It’s called the Monterey Shock Incarceration program, and the governor should keep it open for the benefit of the local economy, local workers, local communities, and the inmates themselves. Monterey’s a better way to turn lives around and reduce state spending.”
Over the weekend, Cuomo unveiled a proposal to provide college-level education at state correctional facilities in 10 regions at a cost of approximately $5,000 per inmate annually. The state currently spends $60,000 a year to house an inmate and approximately $3.6 billion across the state’s correctional system. There are an estimated 54,500 inmates currently confined in state prisons. In announcing his proposal, Cuomo highlighted studies showing “that by earning college degrees, inmates are far less likely to return to prison. New York’s current recidivism rate is 40 percent.”
O’Mara, Friend and Palmesano again pointed to Cuomo’s emphasis on reducing recidivism as a way of cutting incarceration costs as one of the main justifications for keeping Monterey open. In terms of its impact on recidivism, statistics from the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) have shown that 26% of shock graduates released from shock facilities returned to prison within three years, compared to 42% for all DOCCS releases. Add reduced incarceration times to lower recidivism rates and the shock program has saved the state more than $1 billion over the past 26 years, the area lawmakers said. They also noted DOCCS statistics showing that shock inmates pass General Educational Development (GED) tests at a rate of 80%.
O’Mara, Friend and Palmesano said, “We already know that Monterey Shock works to dramatically reduce recidivism rates and incarceration times while, at the same time, cutting costs, saving taxpayer dollars and giving inmates something even more important than free college classes, and that’s the desire and the drive to turn their own lives around by furthering their education or acquiring a practical skill or trade that offers a livelihood and an independent, success-driven future.”
Seneca Harbor Marina lease extension
talks will resume
WATKINS GLEN, Feb. 12, 2014 -- The Schuyler County Legislature Monday night, in a 5-3 vote, approved the resumption of negotiations between County Administrator Tim O'Hearn and the Schamel family over a possible extension of the family's Seneca Harbor marina lease.
Voting against the resolution were Legislators Van Harp, Mike Lausell and Phil Barnes. According to the Legislature office, the move does not empower O'Hearn -- acting on behalf of the Schuyler County Industrial Development Agency (SCIDA) -- to reach an accord with the Schamels "on anything or to extend anything," but rather to reopen negotiations and report back on any progress.
The Legislature had, the month before, put the negotiations on hold, with Chairman Dennis Fagan explaining that its members wanted "to look at it further." County Attorney Geoff Rossi was instructed to "research some contractual questions," Fagan said at the time. "We've asked for more clarification on some of the issues," in particular "relative to specific terms of the existing lease, and to determine safety issues relative to the existing docks."
Since that time, one county official said, Rossi reported his findings to the legislators and the matter was discussed by the Public Works committee, which decided to bring the issue to the full Legislature Monday. The session was attended by the Schamels and by the owners of the Frog Hollow Marina on the south end of Watkins Glen, Ed and Theresa Woodland, who are interested in operating the Seneca Harbor marina themselves and thus want a chance to bid on the lease.
The Schamels have held the lease (overseen by SCIDA) since 1983 and are looking for a 15-year extension from 2018 to 2033. They are seeking the extension, they have said, to ensure that they earn back the $150,000 they plan to apply to an upgrade of the marina docks. The Woodlands have argued that the lease should be put up for bid as "a point of fairness."
The legislators made clear Monday that they will approve an extension only if there are "significant new revenues" for the county, which owns the property and serves as its guardian. SCIDA is, in the words of O'Hearn, the "governing body that leases and subleases" the property.
The Legislature made clear last month that any extension, should it occur, will not include the Village Marina restaurant, currently operated by the Schamels. That will come up for bid in 2018.
Photo in text: Legislature Chairman Dennis Fagan (File photo)
Judge orders incarceration
WATKINS GLEN, Jan. 31, 2014 -- Schuyler County Judge Dennis Morris sentenced Larry and Kimberly States to incarceration Thursday for stealing money from the Monterey Fire Department over a five-year period while serving as officers of the department.
Morris sentenced Larry States -- a former sergeant in the Schuyler County Sheriff's Office -- to 1 1/3 to 4 years in state prison, and States' wife Kimberly to a year in a county jail, likely Chemung County's. Schuyler County has no such facility for women.
The verdicts came after guilty pleas by the pair last year to grand larceny in connection with the theft of more than $100,000 from the fire department. According to a report from the State Comptroller issued following an audit of the fire department's books, "misappropriated funds and questionable payments/purchases" made by the Stateses -- while the husband was chief and the wife was treasurer -- "comes to approximately $134,000." A total of $26,386 of that amount falls under "questionable," but "appears personal in nature."
The sentences were separated by lunch -- Larry States learning his fate before midday, and Kimberly States after. In both cases, arguments were put forth by Assistant District Attorney John Tunney urging state-prison time because of the heightened visibility of the cases and the need for deterrence should any other leaders in positions of public trust consider theft as an option.
And in both cases the defense attorneys -- James Ferratella for Larry States and assigned counsel Wesley Roe for Kimberly States -- pointed to pre-sentence reports that offered the suggestion that probation might be utilized, either by itself or in tandem with a short local jail term. In both cases restitution was expected, and embraced.
Judge Morris asked both defendants if they had anything to say. Larry States said no, although his attorney pointed out that States had been working (at Zotos International, a hair-care products firm in Geneva) and had paid back some of the money, with the intent to fulfill that obligation. Ferratella suggested community service as a sentence, so that States' life "would become work instead of jail."
But while States himself remained mum, his wife had a prepared statement that she read at her sentencing. Among her comments:
"I know that my actions were wrong and immoral. Not a day goes by that I haven't regretted (them)...I am sincerely, deeply remorseful ... I brought shame on myself, and put shame on my family...I've disgraced my profession (nursing)...Please accept my apology." She added that she "accepts" the consequences.
Added Attorney Roe: The defendant "made bad decisions that snowballed out of control." She is a "good person," he said, "taking responsibility for her actions...She has paid a huge price personally."
In sentencing Larry States, Morris said he couldn't "ignore the monumental proportions of this crime" -- a crime that occurred across years. "The defendant made dozens of bad choices over several years," said the judge, "and only a small amount" of the stolen money "has been recovered."
Beyond that, he said, the defendant was employed by both the Sheriff's Office and Fire Department. "You betrayed the trust" of both departments, he said, "and the citizens of the county."
As a result, the judge added, a sentence of "one and a third to four years is required," along with restitution of $115,000.
Larry States' attorney, Ferratella, asked if the judge might "hold off" on the application of the sentence "so the defendant can get his affairs in order."
Tunney quickly objected, saying the defense had "known for some time" that sentencing was coming and that there was "a possibility that Mr. States would go to prison. His decision not to get his affairs in order in the face of that reality was another bad choice."
Morris denied Ferratella's request, and the defendant was taken into custody and, soon after, led from the courthouse and over to the adjoining Sheriff's Department. He was scheduled to be taken to Elmira for processing and a determination as to which state facility would house him.
Afterward, District Attorney Joe Fazzary -- on hand to witness the sentencing -- said he thought the incarceration would likely include a provision that would keep States separate from the general prison population, given his career in law enforcement.
In sentencing Kimberly States, Morris said he couldn't "ignore the comparisons" in the two cases. And he noted the "six-figure" nature of the crime -- money for which restitution was being ordered, but also money that it would be "wildly optimistic to think will ever come in."
He pointed out the violation of the public trust that the defendant committed, and that the crime was committed "over a period of time. You made numerous bad decisions...when you were not financially destitute."
As a result, he said, "incarceration is required."
Following sentencing, the defendant was taken into custody for transport to the Chemung County Jail.
Photos in text: Larry and Kimberly States are led from the courthouse following sentencing.
Larry States exits the courthouse on his way to the adjoining Sheriff's Office after sentencing.
will keep fighting against Camp closure
MONTEREY, Jan. 23, 2014 -- State Senator Tom O'Mara and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano marked the day of the final scheduled graduation from the Monterey Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility with assurances that they will continue the fight to keep the facility open.
The Shock camp is targeted for closing in July as part of a Cuomo Administration budgetary move. The final class of inmates on hand to graduate did so on Wednesday.
O'Mara, in a press release, said the local, grassroots effort
to convince the governor to reverse
may be Monterey’s last graduating class for the immediate future,"
said the Senator, "but we’re far from shutting down our local,
grassroots effort to convince Governor Cuomo that closing Monterey doesn’t
make sense. I’m disappointed that the Cuomo administration still
shows no sign of
O’Mara, area state Assemblymen Phil Palmesano and Chris Friend,
Congressman Tom Reed and other local leaders across the region have joined
together with Monterey staff, former inmates and their families and many
concerned citizens to urge Cuomo to keep Monterey open since his
They continue to highlight the facility’s critical importance to the regional economy, especially at a time when so many communities have been hard hit by job losses. They’ve stressed the cost effectiveness of Monterey, noting that the shock program has saved the state more than $1 billion through reduced incarceration times and low recidivism rates among shock graduates. Additionally, numerous community leaders throughout Schuyler, Chemung, Steuben and Yates counties have stressed that Monterey inmate work crews have saved local communities and taxpayers millions of dollars over the years by assisting with community infrastructure and other cleanup and enhancement projects.
Added Palmesano in a press release:
“As we start the budget process, we will continue to make the case to the Cuomo administration by sharing the facts and the overwhelming grassroots support in place which justifies keeping Monterey Shock open. I have said over and over again, it makes absolutely no sense to close Monterey Shock, which has a proven and well documented record of success over the past 26 years of not just saving state and local tax dollars, but even more importantly, of changing and saving lives by giving new hope and opportunity to the thousands of graduates who have completed this successful program.”
Palmesano said that he, O'Mara and Friend are working to schedule a direct meeting with the administration in the near future.
Photo in text: Sign at the Monterey Shock Camp.
Schuyler County Judge Dennis Morris, left, administers the Oath of Office to (from left) Legislators Van Harp, Michael Lausell, Barb Halpin and Jim Howell. The four were elected in November -- Harp, Lausell and Howell to first terms.
Seneca Harbor Marina lease negotiations are put on hold
New legislators sworn in; Fagan retains chairmanship
WATKINS GLEN, Jan. 8, 2014 -- The Schuyler County Legislature Wednesday put Seneca Harbor Marina lease negotiations on hold, and welcomed three new Legislature members to four-year terms.
Joining the Legislature -- sworn in jointly by Schuyler County Judge Dennis Morris -- were Jim Howell, Michael Lausell and Van Harp, all elected to first terms in the November general election. Also taking the oath was incumbent Barb Halpin, who defeated longtime legislator Glenn Larison in the September Primary and in November as redistricting pitted the two against one another in the new District 1.
In addition, Dennis Fagan was unanimously re-elected Wednesday by his fellow legislators to the position of Chairman. He was first elected to the post in 2011.
The meeting -- a combination of the lawmaking body's annual organizational meeting and its monthly Legislative Resolution Review Committee session -- featured arguments from two families interested in the marina lease: the Schamels, who have held the lease (overseen by the Schuyler County Industrial Development Agency) since 1983 and are looking for a 15-year extension from 2018 to 2033; and the Woodlands, spouses Ed and Theresa, who operate Frog Hollow Marina on the south end of Watkins Glen and want a chance to bid on the harbor marina lease.
The Schamels, noting that they have put extensive funds into the development of the marina area, said they need the extension to ensure that they earn back the money they plan to apply to an upgrade of the marina docks. The Woodlands said the Schamels' performance is not in question, but rather (as Theresa Woodland put it) "a point of fairness" is. By opening the marina operation to a bidding process when the lease expires in 2018, she said, the county and SCIDA would be "giving the most revenue to the county that it can possibly get. It doesn't mean the Schamels wouldn't get it; but other people are willing to invest in the marina" and want at least an opportunity to bid.
County Administrator Tim O'Hearn (right) outlined the situation, saying the Legislature had given its blessing to negotiations by saying it wasn't opposed to a lease extension, and that SCIDA had designated him as negotiator. He explained that SCIDA is the "governing body that leases and subleases" the county-owned property, but that the money paid "flows through the county" government in its role "as guardian of the property."
He said that SCIDA and the Legislature understand how the Schamels, before investing $150,000 in needed dock repairs, want some assurance of monetary recovery -- the assurance being the lease extension. However, he said, the extension would not include the Village Marina Restaurant, also operated by the Schamels through a lease agreement. That will come up for bid in 2018, said O'Hearn.
The Legislature broke for an executive session shortly after the discussion, and the matter was not revisited until after the Resolution Review Committee meeting had concluded -- when a reporter asked O'Hearn and Fagan if any action was expected on the lease extension in the near future. Their response: the issue had been "put on hold," in Fagan's words, during the executive session "because of some of the issues raised" by the Woodlands and by Nick Kelly, an associate in the Frog Hollow operation.
"We decided to look at it further," said Fagan, with County Attorney Geoff Rossi instructed to "research some contractual questions. We've asked for more clarification on some of the issues," in particular "relative to specific terms of the existing lease, and to determine safety issues relative to the existing docks."
--Fagan said that among key issues facing the Legislature in the year ahead are an improvement in the performance of the Treasurer's Office; alternatives to rapidly increasing costs related to homelessness; "enhancing the revenue potential of the Mental Health department"; and continued support for Project Seneca, which envisions a new wastewater treatment plant along the canal, removal of the old one on the southern shore of Seneca Lake, and subsequent lakefront development.
Another goal: development of the long-languishing Business Park on Rt. 414. There is "one potential client we're working with," said Fagan -- a situation "we're hopeful will bear fruit."
--The continued absence of Legislator Mike Yuhasz, absent for many months and currently residing in the Bath VA Medical Center, boils down to the Legislature "simply waiting for Mike's determination on when and if he will return," said Fagan. Yuhasz is entering the final year of a three-year term as legislator.
Fagan said the absence of Yuhasz is not impacting committee assignments, since the eight-person Legislature has an extra member this year -- Tom Gifford in the final year of a three-year term -- due to redistricting. However, the Chairman added, "we're clearly concerned about Mike's continued absence."
Yuhasz, he added, has recently encountered "new health issues -- not major," but significant enough that they "might prevent him coming back in the foreseeable future."
New legislators Harp and Lausell were given committee assignments that would have been held by Yuhasz, with the understanding that -- said Fagan -- "if and when Mike returns, we can reverse" the assignments.
Photos in text:
From top: Legislature Chairman Dennis Fagan, County Administrator Tim O'Hearn, Seneca Harbor Marina lease-holder Guy Schamel and Frog Hollow Marina's Ed Woodland at Wednesday's meeting.
The Watkins Glen waterfront before the Schamels acquired the lease to operate the marina in the 1980s. This photo was distributed at the Legislature meeting by Guy Schamel.
Jones leaving SCOPED post
WATKINS GLEN, Dec. 10, 2013 -- Kelsey Jones, who has guided the Schuyler County Partnership for Economic Development (SCOPED) for 14 years as Executive Director, has submitted his resignation, effective at the end of the month.
Word of Jones' resignation had been circulating over the weekend. When asked after Monday's monthly meeting of the Schuyler County Legislature about Jones' status with SCOPED, County Administrator Tim O'Hearn said simply that Jones had "tendered his resignation" effective at the end of December and would be "pursuing other options.".
But Legislature Chair Dennis Fagan, standing nearby, expanded on that, saying Jones "has done a good job" in the move to upgrade Franklin Street in Watkins Glen and increase the quality and number of apartments along that thoroughfare. "He's had a lot of successes. Franklin Street has made tremendous strides."
But, he added, the 16-member SCOPED Board of Directors feels "a stronger figure" is needed to run the agency now that movement is under way toward development of the southern shoreline of Seneca Lake as envisioned in Project Seneca.
"We needed to go in a different direction," said Fagan. "While Kelsey is good with details, we needed a larger picture type of person."
The departure of Jones, he added, "is not really a negative thing. We felt the time was right."
For his part, Jones implied in an email to The Odessa File that personal matters affected his decision, and said "there are excellent people in place to carry the 'ship' forward ... I feel gratified to know that much was accomplished" during his 14-year tenure. (For a full version of his statement, click here.)
Jones was the second executive director of SCOPED, succeeding Susan Payne, who served for about two years. SCOPED, formed in 1998, was preceded by Five Lakes Development. Among those who led Five Lakes was Rick Weakland, who subsequently was a Corning Enterprises and Corning Incorporated executive and now is project director of Project Seneca.
Fagan said a search would likely be mounted for a successor to Jones after the return of SCOPED Board President Michael Printup, president of Watkins Glen International, who has been out of town.
Weakland, he said, has been doing "a great job" overseeing Project Seneca, which envisions a new wastewater treatment plant likely shared by Watkins Glen and Montour Falls, and probably located on the eastern side of the canal across from the Watkins Glen High School playing fields.
That would lead to the sale and elimination of the current treatment plant, located next to the Village Marina on the southern shore of Seneca Lake.
After that is gone, lakeshore development can begin in earnest, proponents of the plan say.
"We're pleased with (Weakland's) efforts," said Fagan (pictured at right). "And we're pleased with private individuals who are stepping up." He didn't elaborate on that point.
"And getting the two villages to cooperate and collaborate -- that's a major accomplishment," he added.
SCOPED, its website says, assists "in identifying the financial and professional resources needed for business creation and expansion" in the area, and partners with individuals and businesses "to deliver innovative and comprehensive economic development packages."
In other words, it helps line up grants, tax credits and other incentives for various projects, helping bring them to fruition. One recent example was the creation of apartments on the second floor of the Jerlando's building at the corner of Franklin and Fourth Streets.
Members of the SCOPED Board include Printup, Fagan, Legislator Stewart Field, Montour Falls Mayor John King, Kevin Murphy (secretary), Burdett Mayor Dale Walter, Hector Town Supervisor Ben Dickens, Town of Catharine Supervisor John Van Soest, Cornell Cooperative Extension's Danielle Hautaniemi, Jeff Confer (vice president), Jeff Greuber (treasurer), Donald Chutas of Cargill Salt, Michael Donnelly of Corning Inc., Chuck Franzese of Hunt Engineers, David Whiting of Red Newt Wine Cellars, and Watkins Glen Area Chamber of Commerce President Rebekah LaMoreaux.
Photos in text: Kelsey Jones, top, and Legislature Chair Dennis Fagan.
Schumer visits Glen brewery, backs 50% cut in excise tax
Special to The Odessa File
WATKINS GLEN, Dec. 2, 2013 -- U.S. Senator Charles Schumer visited Rooster Fish Brewing in Watkins Glen Monday morning while pushing for a bill he and 20 bipartisan colleagues are introducing that would cut the federal excise tax on small breweries in half.
Such a move, he said, would help small brewers reinvest in their businesses, hire new employees, and revitalize downtown communities.
Brewers curently pay a $7 per barrel excise tax for the first 60,000 barrels they brew per year. Under the Small BREW (Brewer Reinvestment and Expanding Workforce) Act of 2013, that rate would be cut to $3.50 per barrel, resulting in potential savings of $210,000 per year per brewery.
The bill would also cut the tax by $2 per barrel on the next 1,940,000 barrels produced, resulting in potential savings of another $3,880,000.
Rooster Fish Brewing, located on Franklin Street in Watkins Glen, is one of New York State's first "Farm Breweries," which means it uses 20% local products in its blends. Rooster Fish produced 700 barrels of beer last year, and is on pace for 1,500 barrels in 2013.
Based on the Small BREW Act, that anticipated level of production would mean an excise tax savings of $5,250 per year.
"Small breweries throughout Upstate New York, like Rooster Fish Brewing, not only brew great beer," said Schumer, "they also pour jobs into the community. By cutting taxes for these small businesses, we can help grow the economy and put more New Yorkers back to work in stable, good-paying jobs. Breweries are the crown jewels of so many of our communities, and many of them have renovated charming old buildings in downtowns across the state. Putting more money back in these businesses will be good for economic development, good for jobs, and good for Upstate New York."
Any brewery making fewer than 6 million barrels of beer per year would be eligible for the tax cut. That amounts to about 2,400 businesses. The bill would save them more than $17 million nationwide this year.
Schumer was joined during his visit by Rooster Fish Brewing owner Doug Thayer, Watkins Glen Mayor Mark Swinnerton, Watkins Glen Area Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Rebekah LaMoreaux, and Schuyler County Legislature Chair Dennis Fagan.
Photo in text: Rooster Fish Brewing owner Doug Thayer, left, with Senator Charles Schumer during Schumer's visit to Watkins Glen. (Photo provided)
Schuyler man gets
Special to The Odessa File
ROCHESTER, Nov. 25, 2013 -- A Schuyler County man, Daryl Vonneida of the Town of Dix, was sentenced in federal court in Rochester to life in prison Monday following conviction by a jury in February on 14 counts related to the sexual exploitation of children across decades.
The charges included production of child pornography, transporting minors in interstate commerce for illegal sexual activity, and possession of child pornography.
The sentence was handed down by U.S. District Court Judge
Charles J. Siragusa, who told the defendant: "I think it's unfathomable,
40 years of preying on children."
Vonneida had been found guilty in sexual abuse cases three
times before, most recently in 1989.
Photo in text: Darryl Vonneida (Photo provided)
For information about protecting children from exploitation and abduction, the U.S. Attorney's Office suggested the public visit the following websites:
NY Sex Offender Registry:
Planning Board green-lights
WATKINS GLEN, Nov. 21, 2013 -- The Watkins Glen Planning Board Wednesday night gave final site-plan approval to two projects -- clearing the way for the Dunkin' Donuts parking lot expansion and the development of apartments in the Watkins Glen Middle School.
The Dunkin' Donuts parking lot plan, debated before the Planning Board at a public hearing last month, was granted approval without any further fireworks in a 3-1 vote, member Tom Merrill opposed.
One stipulation had to do with alterations to the lot's lighting. Neighbors and board members had expressed concern about bright lighting "spillage" being an annoyance.
The lot will be extended to the north with the demolition of a house there that has been under ownership of Dunkin' Donuts for months.
The hearing last month had brought both criticism and support for the project. Opponents said expansion was unnecessary and the demolition contrary to the village's Comprehensive Plan.
Watkins Glen Apartments
The Planning Board also gave final approval to the plan by the Binghamton-area S.E.P.P. Group (Serving the Elderly through Project Planning) to transform the Middle School into 51 apartments for the elderly. The group has transformed old schools into similar housing projects in the past, and is awaiting a state grant to help finance this one.
The Middle School is being phased out of use by the Watkisn Glen School District, which will consolidate into a single campus on 12th Street, where renovations and expansion are ongoing.
Project approval came immediately after a public hearing at which Dan Whelan of Bearsch Compeau Knudson, Architects & Engineers of Binghamton, explained to the dozen people in attendance the planned layout of the facility, known as the Watkins Glen Apartments.
The complex will be for people 55 and over. It will be separated from the building's gymnasium and auditorium, which will be used for community events. Few exterior changes are planned, other than the addition of a wheelchair accessible entrance in the front of the building, new windows throughout, and some masonry restoration.
Additional parking will be added in the property's northeast corner, and the asphalt playground at the rear of the property will be eliminated, with a grassy area installed for use by the building residents.
The Planning Board also gave informal backing to a project that requires Village Board approval -- a streetscape project that is part of the 2011 Main Street Program grant.
This $15,000 project, paid for by the grant but with the proviso that the village maintain it for five years -- a measure that Mayor Mark Swinnerton, in the audience, assured the Planning Board that the village is willing to do -- calls for the installation of a couple of six-foot benches, plus planters and awning, on the sidewalk along the south side of the Chamber of Commerce office on Third Street. Vines will adorn the wall.
The grant funds are time sensitive, so approval is expected at the next Village Board meeting, with development of the project to follow soon thereafter.
Among those on hand to outline the project were Brian Williams of the Schuyler County Partnership for Economic Development (SCOPED) and architect John Barradas of Ithaca.
Photos in text:
Top: Dan Whelan outlines the Watkins Glen Apartments project, set for the Middle School.
Bottom: A model of the Chamber of Commerce building and the planned streetscape project.
From left: Michael Lausell, Van Harp, Jim Howell and Barbara Halpin.
Halpin, Howell, Harp, Lausell win County Legislature seats
Change in Treasurer's post rejected
SCHUYLER COUNTY, Nov. 6, 2013 -- Barbara Halpin, Jim Howell, Van Harp and Michael Lausell were elected Tuesday to four-year terms on the Schuyler County Legislature.
Meanwhile, voters rejected a Proposition to change the elected County Treasurer position to an appointive County Director of Finance.
The proposition, hotly debated by opponents, was defeated 2,841-1,364.
And in the Town of Dix, incumbent Republican Supervisor Harold Russell defeated challenger Scott Yaw, a member of the Town Council, 401-273. Russell had also defeated Yaw in the Republican Primary in September. Yaw was running Tuesday on the Listening Party line.
Halpin, a Republican incumbent, polled 317 votes to defeat Democrat challenger Michael Burns (210 votes) and incumbent Glenn Larison (41), who was running on the Listening Party line after losing decisively to Halpin in the GOP Primary.
Halpin and Larison were pitted against one another due to redistricting -- the realignment of legislative voting districts based on shifts in population.
Howell, a Republican newcomer also running as a Conservative and on an independent line, defeated Democrat challenger Paul Cartwright, 322-170, in District 4. Howell had defeated incumbent Tom Gifford in the GOP primary. Gifford was accordingly not in November's race, but returns to the Legislature for one more year from his previously constituted district. He will be a ninth member of a normally eight-person lawmaking body, which will return to eight members the following year as redistricting continues on a staggered basis.
In the new District 2 in the Town of Hector, Harp -- a retired FBI agent running on the Republican, Conservative and Individual Rights lines -- defeated Democrat Shirley Barton, 423 to 313. Barton was also running on the Community Counts line.
And in District 3, also in the Town of Hector, Lausell -- a Democrat also running on the Community Counts line -- defeated John R. White, 396-367. White was running on the same lines as Harp.
Meanwhile, in other contested races:
Town of Hector: Three Republican-Conservatives were elected to full four-year terms, while another Republican-Conservative was defeated in the race for a two-year seat of an unexpired term.
Elected to four-year terms were Beverly Morley (894 votes) and incumbents Michael J. Bergen (right, with 878) and Alvin J. White (left, with 881). Trailing were challengers Daryl Anderson (770), Debra Reid (769) and Melissa Chipman (759). Anderson, Reid and Chipman are Democrats who were also running on the Protect Hector line.
Bo Lipari, also a Democrat running on the Protect Hector line, defeated Conservative S. David Poyer 761-727 for the two-year seat.
Town of Tyrone: A three-person race for two Council seats saw Republicans elected. Top vote-getter was incumbent Pamela Grimmke with 265 votes, while Christopher Bacon was second with 260. Alan Hurley was defeated with 101 votes.
Town of Orange: A race for Highway Superintendent saw Democrat Jeffrey Sutton defeat incumbent Republican Darold DeCamp, 225-90.
Town of Dix: The supervisor's race wasn't the only contested race. In the election for Town Clerk, incumbent Republican James McMahon defeated Jacqueline Leszyk, 387-245. Leszyk was running on the Listening Party line.
And in a three-way race for two seats on the Dix Town Council, Republican F. Joe Hammond and incumbent Republican Graig W. Gardner were elected with 453 and 372 votes, respectively. Narrowly missing was Democrat Jeffrey J. Meehan, with 370.
Town of Cayuta: A three-way race for two seats on the Town Council saw incumbent Democrat Ted Dudgeon (80 votes) and incumbent Republican Steven Brown (51) returned to office. Democrat William P. Barrett lost his bid for a seat with 43 votes. And in the race for Highway Superintendent, incumbent Republican Thomas J. Beach defeated Democrat Larry D. Vail 112-62.
State Senator Tom O'Mara speaks at the podium as Assemblymen
Chris Friend, left,
Rally sends ongoing message: Save Monterey Shock Camp
BIG FLATS, Oct. 27, 2013 -- An estimated 200 people -- state correctional officers, state and local officials, and supporters -- were on hand Saturday at the Harris Hill National Soaring Museum for a rally opposed to Governor Andrew Cuomo's planned closing of the Monterey Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility.
Speakers told of the economic impact that the shutdown will pose to municipalities and parks and to the Soaring Museum -- where Monterey inmates play a key role in the facility's upkeep. Inmates, through their work around the region, save municipalities an estimated $1 million a year.
This was the second rally in support of Monterey. The first one, attended by about 200 people, occurred several weeks ago at the Watkins Glen Community Center.
Among those invited to the rally by organizers was a former Monterey inmate, Stephen Ray, who spoke in support of the Shock facility. He graduated from it in 1999.
The program at the Shock Camp, which offers GED studies, counseling, and a low rate of recidivism, "is important to me," Ray said, "and it's important to the community. We need a model program like this one."
Ray is partner in a Utica business called Out of Order Fitness Repair, which provides engineering and tech support for fitness equipment at universities and hospitals.
State Senator Tom O'Mara opened the session with a brief talk extolling the virtues of the Monterey facility, including the savings it provides communities through the work of inmate crews.
The Soaring Museum director of marketing and development, Ron Ogden, supported O'Mara's words by noting that the museum is dependent on Monterey workers to provide the tourist attraction with a continually clean, visitor friendly appearance.
"I'm happy to see the turnout here," he said, noting that the Monterey inmates "are great workers, and respectful. They provide us with a service that we really can't provide for ourselves. They are a most important asset to us."
Officials on hand included Assemblymen Phil Palmesano and Chris Friend.
Palmesano noted that organizers are nearing the point where they will deliver to the governor's office a collection of petitions, letters, and municipal resolutions opposed to the Monterey closure.
Friend said that considering all of the positives inherent in the Monterey program, the governor's action "just doesn't make any sense."
Supporters have also noted that Monterey’s closing comes on the heels of another Cuomo administration plan, to shut down inpatient services at and diminish the overall role of the Elmira Psychiatric Center – a move that could result in job losses and other economic consequences.
Other officials on hand Saturday included Elmira Mayor Sue Skidmore, Chemung County Sheriff Christopher Moss, Schuyler County Legislature Chair Dennis Fagan, Schuyler County Administrator Tim O'Hearn, Joe Sempolinski representing Congessman Tom Reed's office, Chemung County Executive Tom Santulli, Schuyler County Legislator Phil Barnes, former Corning Mayor Frank Coccho, and others.
Photos in text:
From top: Rally speaker and former Monterey inmate Stephen Ray, now a Utica business co-owner; Joe Sempolinski, representing Congressman Tom Reed's office; and Chemung County Executive Tom Santulli.
From left at rally: Elmira Mayor Sue Skidmore, Chemung County Sheriff Christopher Moss, and Ron Ogden, director of marketing and development at the Soaring Museum, which hosted the rally.
Legislature appoints new county planner
WATKINS GLEN, Oct. 22, 2013 -- The Schuyler County Legislature Monday night unanimously approved the appointment of a homegrown woman as the new County Planning Director.
Kristin VanHorn, a Watkins Glen High School and Penn State University graduate who has a degree in Landscape Architecture and has been designing comprehensive master plans for Department of Defense installations around the country, "clearly led an outstanding field of candidates," County Administrator Tim O'Hearn said at the Legislature session.
Projects for which the county has been paying money to consultants are "exactly what she does," O'Hearn said. "She has led a team designing DOD communities. Her focus will be on Comprehensive Planning."
She has "worked in the field for five years since graduation," O'Hearn noted, adding: "She very much wants to come home. It's nice when we can attract young professionals back home." Her salary will be $51,000.
She succeeds Rocky Kambo, who moved from the area less than a year after taking the County Planner's job. O'Hearn said VanHorn has "more hands-on experience" than Kambo had when he assumed the Planner's post.
In other business, the Legislature:
--Heard from O'Hearn that the reconstruction of the Shared Services Building, damaged earlier this year in an early-morning fire, is on schedule or a little ahead, and that the county has received .$2,544,000 from the insurance carrier.
--Affirmed, through Chairman Dennis Fagan, that the increase in the tax levy in the coming budget will be "somewhere slightly over 2%, well within the allotted tax cap." A public hearing on the budget was set for Nov. 12 at 6:30 p.m. in the Human Services Complex in Montour Falls. The budget might be adopted at a regular Legislature session that follows the hearing.
--Appointed Dr. Benjamin Saks, D.O., to fill the County Coroner position vacated with the resignation of William J. Saks, M.D., "until such time as a primary can be held to fill the unexpired term."
--Approved the introduction of a Local Law amending the salaries of various county officials, with a public hearing to be held on Nov. 12 following the budget hearing. The salaries, which include 3% increases, will take effect Jan. 1. They include: Commissioner of Social Services $77,250; Real Property Tax Director $81,129; County Attorney $100,940; Clerk of the Legislature $49,890; Deputy Commissioners of Elections $34,750 and $31,827; Personnel Officer $65,920; County Administrator $111,448; Public Defender $84,048; and Commissioners of Elections $12,603.
--Voted unanimously against endorsing the state's Proposition No. 1 on the November ballot, which would extend casino gambling in New York. The move was "a protest vote," Fagan said, in response to the state's plan to close the Monterey Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility. Fagan said he was also protesting the state's gun-control SAFE Act, and a lack of language in the Proposition concerning gambling's negative impacts.
Photos in text:
Top: Legislator Phil Barnes listens to Alan Hurley speak during the Public Participation portion of the meeting.
Bottom: County Administrator Tim O'Hearn at Monday's session.
Dan Whelan of Bearsch Compeau Knudson, Architects & Engineers of Binghamton, outlined some minor changes in the Middle School plan affecting parking, signage and lighting.
Elderly project a step closer
gives preliminary OK;
WATKINS GLEN, Oct. 17, 2013 -- The Watkins Glen Planning Board gave preliminary site-plan approval Wednesday night to the planned Watkins Glen Apartments -- the elderly housing project envisioned in the Watkins Glen Middle School.
The school is being phased out by the Watkins Glen School District and sold to the Binghamton-area S.E.P.P. Group (Serving the Elderly through Project Planning), which has transformed old schools into similar housing projects in the past, and is awaiting a state grant to help finance this one. For an earlier story with maps, click here.
The Planning Board -- after listening to Dan Whelan of Bearsch Compeau Knudson, Architects & Engineers of Binghamton, explain minor alterations in the plan -- found that there was no negative environmental impact in the plan, approved the preliminary site plan as complete, and then approved the preliminary plan itself.
Next stop for Whelan and the S.E.P.P. Group is the Schuyler County Planning Commission next month, and then back to the village Planning Board for a public hearing -- after which the board might give final site-plan approval.
The apartment complex will have 51 units for people 55 years of age and older.
The ongoing attempt by Dunkin' Donuts to gain approval for a parking-lot expansion was the subject of a public hearing the Planning Board held prior to dealing with the Watkins Glen Apartments matter.
About a dozen interested area residents were on hand, with most of them speaking in opposition to the plan, criticizing it as unnecessary since the existing Dunkin' Donuts lot is empty a high percentage of the time. They were also critical of garbage that blows from the property to neighbors' yards.
Most outspoken was Liam O'Kane, who wondered how the board could approve something -- the proposed elimination of a house at the north end of the Dunkin' Donuts property, with blacktop taking its place -- that is in opposition to the philosophy of the Village's Comprehensive Plan. He said more than 150 people had signed an online petition opposing the parking-lot plan, which he then submitted to the board.
A spokeswoman from the Tudor Rose Bed & Breadfast on Durland Avenue, near the Dunkin' Donuts shop, also opposed the plan, as did Marie Fitzsimmons, a teacher in the Watkins Glen School District, and Travis Durfee, owner of the Madison Guest House on North Franklin -- who said he had thought about purchasing the house that Dunkin' Donuts wants to level.
"I urge you to vote 'no' to see if there might be more productive uses" for such homes, Durfee said.
However, Angeline Franzese, who with her husband runs the Villager Motel downtown, said that parking is an important component in the success of any business, and that if Dunkin' Donuts says it needs increased parking, it should be granted.
And board member John Bond said that he had placed copies of a survey on the counters of various businesses in the village asking people to say whether they were in favor of the parking-lot expansion, opposed to it, or didn't care.
He said 203 of the surveys -- 89 of them from village residents -- were in favor of the expansion, with three opposed and six not caring.
"That tells me," he said, "that most people who don't show up at these meetings are in favor" of the Dunkin' Donuts proposal.
In the end, no action was taken by the Planning Board. Any move would wait until the next meeting, in November, said acting chairman Chris Bond.
Photos in text: From top: Planning Board member Amedeo Fraboni listens to public hearing speaker Liam O'Kane; Angeline Franzese speaks in favor of the Dunkin' Donuts parking-lot expansion; and board member John Bond explains his survey, which showed respondents heavily in favor of the parking-lot plan.
Summer Rec is coming back
Grant to school district will fund Glen program for 3 years
WATKINS GLEN, Oct. 1, 2013 -- The Summer Recreation program jettisoned by the Village Board two-and-a-half years ago for budgetary reasons is being reinstated, thanks to a grant obtained by the village in conjunction with the Watkins Glen School District.
The grant will provide $22,000 to the village in each of the next three years, said Mayor Mark Swinnerton -- the exact amount it cost to run the Summer Rec program before it was axed.
The program will once again provide swimming, basketball, volleyball, arts and crafts and other activities at Clute Park under the guidance of counselors and under the direction of the Village Parks Department.
The Summer Rec funding is only a small portion of the entire school grant, a federal Carol M. White physical education grant to be used by the district to implement PIVOT (Physical Activity is Vital to Our Tomorrow). The entire grant totals $1,083,993 across three years. An outline of its goals can be found on the Schools Page.
“We’re very excited by this,” said Swinnerton (pictured at right), who explained that the village worked in conjunction with the school district in preparing the grant application.
“Any time you can team up with another municipality or entity,” he said, “good things can happen. We need more good news like this to keep coming.”
Although the heavy majority of the overall grant is being directed to the school district, Summer Rec will be operated by the village as it was for “for eons,” Swinnerton said, adding that it “will be open to any student in the school district.”
That posed a problem when the village was funding it, he said, noting that at the time the plug was pulled on the program -- shortly after he took office as mayor -- 75% of its participants were from outside the village. “So the village was subsidizing kids from outside,” he said.
That same scenario could be in place at the end of the three-year grant, but Swinnerton shrugged off the possibility. “It could get back to that,” he said, “but right now we’ll take whatever we can get.”
When the program was axed by the Village Board, the mayor said, the village was in the midst of a budget crunch. “We did it out of the gate,” he said, “and we knew we’d take a lot of flak for it. But we didn’t have any options at the time.”
Now, he said, it will be reinstated after the board approves “a resolution of some sort of support,” and makes sure that “certain criteria are met."
The program is expected to be up and running in time for the summer of 2014.
Photo in text: Watkins Glen Mayor Mark Swinnerton.
Walmart evacuated after threat
WATKINS GLEN, Sept. 26, 2013 --The Walmart store in Watkins Glen was evacuated for about two hours Wednesday night after writing found in the men's bathroom indicated "there might be a bomb" in the store "at a later date," Village Police Chief Tom Struble said. The store, evacuated at 7:30 p.m., was reopened at 9:30 p.m.
Struble said writing of an unspecified nature -- he wouldn't say whether on note paper, toilet paper or the wall -- indicated a future incident "relative" to an explosion, but with no indication of a specific kind of explosive device.
Village police called in bomb-sniffing dogs from Cornell University's security force -- Labradors that "specialize in explosives detection," the chief said -- although the writing did not threaten an immediate incident.
"We erred on the side of caution" in regards to the writing's time reference, Struble said, with the dogs and police combing the store and finding "no threat to the public at this point. We'll be working to pursue the case over the next few days."
As part of the probe, he said, police will be reviewing video of the rest room exterior prior to the discovery of the threat, studying people entering the room in an effort to detect "maybe a unique identifier, how they're acting." He wouldn't go into specifics beyond that, saying he didn't want to jeopardize the investigation.
"We take this very seriously," he said, although "we felt confident enough to reopen the store" after searching it.
Village Board eyes 3rd bridge
Okays $14,500 feasibility study by Hunt
WATKINS GLEN, Sept. 11, 2013 -- The Watkins Glen Village Board Monday night voted 3-2 in favor of a $14,500 feasibility study by Hunt Engineers to determine the need, if any, for a third bridge over Glen Creek, at either Porter or Perry Streets.
Mayor Mark Swinnerton, who approached Hunt with the idea, voted in favor along with Trustees Kevin Smith and Scott Gibson. Trustees Tony Fraboni and Paul Clifford were opposed.
Swinnerton (pictured at right) said afterward that the matter of a third bridge-- the existing ones are on Franklin and Decatur Streets -- has long been discussed, but that there has "never been a traffic study done to show the benefits." Accordingly, he said, he "solicited a proposal from Hunt" for such a study to determine "whether a bridge is required" to alleviate traffic issues in the village.
While those issues manifest themselves during the summer tourist season, he said, an autumn study was preferred by the Department of Transportation, although the summer traffic will be considered.
"The Number One complaint I get in phone calls," Swinnerton said, "is hands down traffic, whether it's gridlock or trucks or how shutting down Franklin or Decatur raises havoc.
"It's safe to say that traffic will only get worse," he added, as the village moves forward with Project Seneca, which envisions a new sewage treatment plant and shoreline development. "And it's bad now."
He said he approached Watkins Glen School Superintendent Tom Phillips with the idea, and that Phillips took it to the School Board.
"The School Board is very much in support of the bridge," Swinnerton said, noting that it would prefer to see it located on Porter Street so that northbound buses exiting the12th Street school campus can go straight to Fourth Street. Right now, buses often log-jam with other buses on Decatur Street.
The impact on the school district factors into the study, he said, because school is in session 10 months each year.
Beyond that, he noted, the county is "anxious to see what the numbers show" -- particularly with the study taking into account "30 years of future growth, what with Project Seneca and the changes ahead. We hope the area continues to grow."
The Hunt study, he said, will "show the Village Board the facts so we can decide if the bridge is needed. Even though studies cost a considerable amount of money, they're important -- as with the police department." The existing Village PD was the subject of a recent study which, officials decided, showed the department's continued need.
While Fraboni and Clifford didn't feel the Hunt study would demonstrate a need for the third bridge, Swinnerton said, "those are their opinions. By doing a study, we'll look at facts."
The study will begin this month, he said, "and we should have the facts in October."
Photo in text: Mayor Mark Swinnerton (File photo)
Taxes, exemptions in focus during Legislature meeting
WATKINS GLEN, Sept. 10, 2013 -- Amid various resolutions, the meat of the Schuyler County Legislature's monthly meeting Monday night came from peripheral issues pertaining to the STAR exemption program, Walmart's assessment reduction pursuit, and a sales tax shortfall.
Among the issues:
-- Jeff Bartholomew, Syracuse regional manager of the state Office of Real Property Tax Services, outlined state legislation mandating that property owners in New York state must re-register with the state in order to retain in 2014 the Basic STAR exemption that reduces school taxes.
Homeowners 65 and older who have the Enhanced STAR exemption are not affected, Bartholomew said, although they must continue to apply annually or participate in an Income Verification Program.
Bartholomew, in a presentation to legislators and spectators, said part of the reason for the Basic STAR re-registration -- the exemptions had been automatically renewed for years -- was because of elements of fraud that had been found in the system.
He said property owners who currently have the Basic STAR exemption are being notified by letter with a registration code to be used on the state website tax.ny.gov, or by phoning (518) 457-2036. The deadline to register -- and thus maintain the Basic STAR exemption -- is Dec. 31. There will be no need to register every year for the exemption, Bartholomew added, saying: "This is supposed to be a one-and-done process."
Barthlomew will also be at the Odessa-Montour School Board meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday and at the Watkins Glen School Board meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday to discuss the issue.
-- Legislature Chairman Dennis Fagan noted that the county's sales tax revenue is down about 2% from a year ago, and is running "5 or 6% below" what was anticipated in the current county budget.
-- County Administrator Tim O'Hearn noted that the assessment reduction sought by Walmart has been settled with the Town of Dix, with the assessment set at $11.4 million for the next three years, down from $12.4 million. Walmart had been seeking a reduction to $5.7 million.
In other business:
-- O'Hearn noted that the work on the Shared Services Building -- extensively damaged in a March fire -- is well underway, with much of the outer shell of the structure stripped away. "We're looking at design issues," he said, in an effort to determine how the building might be improved from its original architecture. Among the possible changes would be the addition of a sprinkler system "if other economies can be made," he said. Completion date is still set for mid-March.
-- O'Hearn noted that the position of County Planner will be advertised with the announcement by current planner Rocky Kambo that he plans to move to Ohio in October for personal reasons. Kambo has held the post since Jan. 1.
-- Legislators accepted a 2012 audit of county finances, which showed what one legislator said were "significant deficiencies" that are being addressed. The report was being posted on the county website, schuylercounty.us.
Photo in text:
Top: From left, County Administrator Tim O'Hearn, Legislature Chairman Dennis Fagan and Legislator Doris Karius at the meeting.
Bottom: From left, Legislators Phil Barnes, Barb Halpin and Stewart Field.
Here are the GOP Primary candidates
WATKINS GLEN, Aug. 7, 2013 -- The Schuyler County Board of Elections has provided the following list of candidates running in the Sept. 10th Primary Election.
There is no need for a Democratic Primary.
From left: Sheriff Bill Yessman, Congressman Tom Reed, Elmira Mayor Susan Skidmore and Monterey Shock Camp Superintendent Leroy Fields leave the facility's Education Building at the end of the group's tour.
Reed: 'We need Monterey'
Rally planned in Watkins Glen Sept. 9
MONTEREY, Aug. 30, 2013 -- Congressman Tom Reed -- after attending Thursday’s monthly graduation of inmates at the Monterey Shock Incarceration Facility -- said that every effort possible will be made to get the scheduled closing of the facility reversed.
Meanwhile, a conference call of leaders in three counties Thursday resulted in a plan to hold a rally in support of the Shock Camp at 1 p.m. Monday, Sept. 9 at the Watkins Glen Community Center.
Efforts will be made to turn out a large crowd at the rally, said Schuyler County Legislator Phil Barnes, in order to send a message to Governor Andrew Cuomo, whose administration has scheduled a July 26, 2014 closing of the Monterey facility.
Reed, who last week dropped in on a weekly meeting of Monterey employees and supporters at Monterey Jack’s tavern, returned to Monterey for Thursday’s graduation of 18 inmates from the six-month program, which combines group counseling, drug and alcohol abuse treatment and work on public projects.
The Shock Camp, which currently houses about half of its capacity of 300 inmates, has been targeted by Cuomo for closure as a cost-cutting measure, but camp supporters decry the fact that many communities in the region, as well as the state park system, will suffer the loss of a great deal of inmate labor provided without charge. That work will have to be picked up by the communities if the camp is closed.
As one man put it later Thursday at another of the employees’ weekly sessions at Monterey Jack’s, “We lose these guys, (the communities) are gonna be screwed.”
Reed put it more delicately when he spoke Thursday morning to the media gathered on the state roadway that runs through the Shock Facility. He had just attended the graduation, and been given a tour of the camp by Superintendent Leroy Fields. Schuyler County Sheriff Bill Yessman had delivered the keynote address at the graduation, while Reed had told the graduates to “never give up.”
“The Monterey Shock Facility is something we’re going to fight for,” the Congressman told the media. “One of the reasons I came here was to let people know it’s valuable to our communities. I told the graduates to never give up, and we’re never going to. We are saving thousands of dollars in the communities through the work of these young men. This is a bipartisan effort to tell Albany to change this decision.”
Reed said he had yet to hear “a clear answer” as to why the shock camp was put “on the chopping block. We have to stand up and fight for what we need, and we need this facility.” Toward that end, he noted, a petition drive led by camp employees and by State Senator Tom O’Mara and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano is underway to “let the Governor know this was the wrong decision.”
Meanwhile, publicized events will be planned, he said, “to raise community awareness. We need the Monterey Shock Facility to stay opened.”
Added Elmira Mayor Susan Skidmore, also present for the graduation ceremony: the closing “will be a huge loss to us.” Her city often utilizes Monterey labor.
While the graduation was ongoing, state and regional leaders decided in their conference call on the day, time and location of the planned rally. An email campaign addressed to affected municipalities, and a media -- including social media -- blitz will attempt to attract a large crowd to the Watkins Glen Community Center.
The rally was announced at the afternoon session at Monterey Jack’s by Barnes, who chairs the Legislature’s Public Safety Committee. He noted that the Legislature will be passing a resolution soon in support of the shock camp, and said government units in villages and towns around the region are being asked to do the same. Some already have.
Another conference call will be conducted on Sept. 4, he said, adding: “As your elected officers, we’re not going to let this thing drop.”
Mike Dildine, a union representative from Western New York, was also on hand at the tavern session to tell the employees that “you guys are starting in the right direction” with a petition drive, signs, letters to Albany officials and planned message-laden T-shirts. But he cautioned that one of the shock camps staying open -- the Lakeview camp in Chautauqua County -- “is busting at the seams” with inmates.
“They lowered your numbers and filled up Lakeview,’ he said, “That’s how they do it” when a closing is desired by an administration. “They reduce your numbers” to show capacity is not being met.
“That’s the plan. Everything is going to be run through Lakeview.”
Photos in text: Signs in front of the Monterey Shock Incarceration Facility administration building.
Shock Facility inmates march on their way to lunch.
Fagan: Monterey 'shouldn't be closed'
Congressman Reed joins the fight; 50 Cent interested, too
WATKINS GLEN, Aug. 23, 2013 -- A congressman and a rapper have entered the picture as the effort continues to fight the planned closing of the Monterey Shock Incarceration Facility.
Governor Andrew Cuomo has opted to close the facility next year. He bypassed State Legislature participation in the decision by issuing a one-year administrative notice.
Congressman Tom Reed on Thursday attended the weekly meeting of Shock Camp employees and supporters at Monterey Jack's tavern -- a meeting designed to update one another on the growing battle.
A spokesman in Reed's office said the next day that the Congressman plans on taking a role in fighting the closure.
Schuyler County Legislator Phil Barnes, speaking at Friday's Legislature meeting, said the rapper 50 Cent (real name Curtis Jackson) has also indicated he is getting involved. Jackson was an inmate at Monterey in 1994 after his arrest on drug charges -- long before he attained entertainment fame.
Schuyler Legislature Chairman Dennis Fagan is also in the battle, along with State Senator Tom O'Mara and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano, both of whom attended a meeting at Monterey Jack's last week.
Fagan reported Friday, duing the Legislature meeting, on the ongoing battle -- telling how a conversation he had with Governor Cuomo last week resulted in contact from the State Corrections Department's Acting Commissioner, Anthony Annucci. Fagan also outlined that conversation in an email to The Odessa File.
He said the commissioner, in "a 15- to 20-minute conversation," told Fagan the closing was a difficult choice because Annucci was "instrumental in the 1987 legislation creating the Shock Program in New York State" -- but that "an increase in shock vacancies warranted the closing even though the criteria for shock eligibility has been significantly expanded. In 1996 there were 26,000 drug offenders compared to less than 7,000 now."
Of the two other shock facilities in the state, Annucci told Fagan, Lakeview "would not close due to its large size. So the choice came down to Monterey or Moria." The latter was saved by political pressure four years ago, and thus had a political backing that left Monterey as the one to close -- despite millions of dollars in infrastructure improvements over the last decade.
But Fagan said that taking all aspects of the closing into account, "I'm convinced this is something that shouldn't be closed."
In addition to the weekly meetings at Monterey Jack's, he added, efforts are underway by O'Mara and Palmesano -- in conjunction with officials from affected counties -- to mount a rally and a petitoin drive in support of the Shock Camp. Officials from Schuyler, Chemung and Steuben counties are also meeting to discuss the issue.
Chief among the arguments being touted is the work produced by Monterey inmates on behalf of communities in the region -- especially cleanups at parks and cemeteries and along roadways. Opponents of the closing are also gathering testimonials from former inmates who attest to the positve effect the Shock Camp had on their lives.
"But we must move fast," said Fagan, since the state will soon stop sending inmates to Monterey. "And it would be a little difficult to save a camp that doesn't have any inmates," he added.
While petitions are being circulated by hand -- Legislator Glenn Larison was circulating one at Friday's meeting -- there is also one posted on-line. To reach it, click here and register.
Photos in text: Chairman Dennis Fagan at Friday's Legislature meeting; the sign above the entrance to Monterey Jack's tavern in Monterey, where weekly meetings are held.
The conceptual map of the proposed apartment complex.
Apartment complex plan revised, earns conceptual approval from Planning Board
WATKINS GLEN, Aug. 22, 2013 -- The Watkins Glen Planning Board Wednesday night gave conceptual approval to a revised plan for the proposed Seneca Terrace Apartments, a complex planned on the hillside behind the Elks Lodge on the north end of the village.
The revised plan reduces the number of apartments to 24 from the 28 previously envisioned, and eliminates an entrance to the complex from Route 14 due to safety concerns expressed by the board at a meeting earlier this summer.
The board said that in granting the conceptual approval, it will move next toward consideration of specific site plans. Engineer Ted Lauve, in utilizing a concept map to explain the changes, said his firm will move forward with those site plans now. A public hearing will be held before final site plan approval can be granted.
The board also heard from a traffic engineer, Gordon Stansbury, who said a study of traffic flow showed that access to the apartment complex -- and egress from it -- will not significantly impact traffic on the nearby Partition, Monroe and Jackson streets.
The plan now calls for two 12-unit buildings, with primary access from North Monroe Street along a new access drive connecting to North Jackson Street. Construction of the complex would start soon after final approval is granted by the Planning Board, and would take up to 18 months to complete.
The Planning Board also:
--Discussed the Dunkin' Donuts proposal to expand its parking lot -- which would include demolition of a house purchased by Dunkin' Donuts at the north end of the current lot.
Another house north of the first one has also been sold, Planning Board members said -- adding that they believe the second structure belongs to Dunkin' Donuts under a different corporate name.
Planning Board Acting Chairman Amedeo Fraboni asked James Gensel, a representative of Fagan Engineers of Elmira, if Dunkin' Donuts indeed owns that second property. Gensel -- who was substituting at the meeting for a Fagan planner who could not attend -- said he did not know, but would ask. Fraboni and other board members said they need to know what the plans are for that second structure if indeed it is under Dunkin' Donuts' control -- the idea being that if another business is targeted for that property and needs parking, then the need for the lot expansion would be more pronounced.
The board also told Gensel that it doesn't want a fence running the length of the lot along Franklin Street -- with board member Tom Merrill saying he would prefer a landscaped berm.
The board said it would also like a parking/traffic study done of the existing lot, and board member John Bond said "the new lighting should not be offensive." It was suggested, too, that lighting on the south end of the property should be adjusted to avoid annoying the neighbor to the immediate south.
Photos in text:
Top: Ted Lauve of Lauve Engineering explains the apartment concept plan to the Planning Board. The map he was utilizing is shown above.
Bottom: James Gensel of Fagan Engineers, the firm oveseeing the Dunkin' Donuts parking lot plans.
Governor Andrew Cuomo is flanked by Scott Welliver, left, and Gene Pierce during a stop at Pierce's Glenora Wine Cellars along Route 14 north of Watkins Glen.
Cuomo visits 3 wineries, presents Governor's Cup
Touts tourism and the wine industry to downstate merchants
WATKINS GLEN, Aug. 14, 2013 -- Governor Andrew Cuomo -- leading a bus caravan through the Yates and Schuyler County wine country -- capped a day of promotion for tourism and wine Tuesday by presenting the annual Governor's Cup during an awards dinner at the Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel.
The Cup -- a silver chalice signifying the outstanding wine of the year in New York State selected by a panel of experts from 875 entries -- was presented to Keuka Spring Vineyards for its 2012 Riesling. Keuka Spring is located near Penn Yan.
Accepting the honor were Len and Judy Wiltberger, who founded the business in the early 1980s.
Best of Category winners included Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards (Best Red Wine for its 2010 Cabernet Franc), Finger Lakes Distilling (Best Spirit for its McKenzie Rye), and Earle Estates Meadery (Best Specialty Wine for Raspberry Reflections). They and other category winners were considered for the Governor's Cup honor. McCall Wines from Long Island won the “Winery of the Year” award.
Cuomo -- speaking to a dinner gathering of 200 people at the hotel -- also announced the upcoming launch of a TV ad campaign promoting New York State’s award-winning wines. The 30-second ad, with a catch line that says "Discover your favorite New York wine tonight" -- was shown publicly for the first time at the dinner. To view the ad, click here.
The dinner followed a day in which the Governor visited and toured the Anthony Road Wine Company in Penn Yan, Glenora Wine Cellars in Dundee, and Lakewood Vineyards outside of Watkins Glen.
He was on one of several buses traveling together. On board were various officials -- such as State Senator Tom O'Mara, Assemblyman Phil Palmesano and Schuyler County Legislature Chair Dennis Fagan -- and downstate wine merchants and New York State Restaurant Association members recruited to visit the Finger Lakes to familiarize them with the area and all it has to offer in tourism and wine products.
As Cuomo said in a speech at the hotel later, the wine industry and tourism "have a magnificent role to play in the future of this state. It is breathtaking what tourism opportunities there are. There is a synergy between tourism and the wine industry that helps both grow. Both engines are humming."
He urged the visiting tour members to take back home word of "the unparalleled beauty of the Finger lakes" and to tout the wines that they found awaiting them Tuesday at each stop on their journey.
With a number of inhibiting laws and regulations now "out of the way," the governor said, "all we need now is exposure. We need to get (outside areas) to taste New York State wines. I'm glad you people from across the state are here. We want you to help in growing this."
He said it "all comes down to sales and marketing, and we have the best product imaginable."
Photos in text:
Top: Governor Andrew Cuomo presents the Governor's Cop to the Wiltbergers of Keuka Spring Vineyards.
Middle: Chris Stamp of Lakewood Vineyards and John Martini of the Anthony Road Wine Company relax during the bus tour stop at Lakewood.
Bottom: Governor Cuomo samples wine during the stop at Glenora.
Brian McKenzie, left, of Finger Lakes Distilling is congratulated by Governor Cuomo for winning the Best of Spirit category.
County Legislature Chairman Dennis Fagan shakes hands with the governor.
The dinner attendees watched the premiere of the new TV ad.
Left: Miranda Polmanteer of the Seneca County Chamber of Commerce at the Glenora stop. Center: Assemblyman Phil Palmesano. Right: Governor Cuomo exits the bus upon arriving at Lakewood Vineyards.
Protesters were present outside the Harbor Hotel. Some carried signs protesting the planned closing of the Elmira Psychiatric Center, some objected to the New York SAFE (Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement) Act, and some opposed fracking and LPG storage.
Star-Gazette reporter Jeff Aaron, right, interviews two members of the tour -- both merchants from Brooklyn who had never been to the Finger Lakes before. Both Gilbert Bahadoor, left, of East River Liquors and Jeff Cohen of Tops Liquors praised the region and its wines.
Left: Alan Hurley, who had issues with the legislators. Right: County Administrator Tim O'Hearn.
eyes possible expedited
WATKINS GLEN, Aug. 13, 2013 -- The Schuyler County Legislature Monday night took under advisement an opinion by County Attorney Geoff Rossi that could enable it to bypass the normal bid procedure and thus hasten repair of the fire-damaged interior of the Shared Services Building on South Decatur Street.
The building, which housed a variety of village and county offices and agencies before fire struck in March, is sitting idly while the county awaits word from its insurance carrier as to the amount to be compensated for repairs. County Administrator Tim O’Hearn says the cost will exceed $2 million.
Complicating the issue, he said, is the temporary use by highway department employees of the former highway department garage, abandoned three years ago after the Shared Services Building opened, but "repurposed" following the blaze. The old facility has plumbing and heating issues unsuitable in increasingly cold fall and winter weather.
Rossi said that if the Legislature deems the situation an emergency, it can bypass the normal, time-consuming bid process and adopt an expedited process. Whether it does remains to be seen. O’Hearn said word is expected “imminently” from the insurance firm, and that the county hopes to have workers using the bays of the Shared Services Building by the end of the year.
In other business, the Legislature:
--Approved an increase in the salary of County Planner Rocky Kambo, who entered office on Jan. 1 at $45,000 a year and has taken on the additional role of Recycling Coordinator. The increase is $15,000 per year, retroactive to when he started -- an amount that drew criticism from Kathy Walruth, the Schuyler County Records Management Director. She said such an increase in a management salary is “a slap in the face” of other managers ”who have made (monetary) sacrifices to balance the budget” and have gone without raises. Added Walruth: “I’m appalled.”
Legislator Phil Barnes, while favoring the resolution granting the increase, said other salaries have to be addressed as well, to bring them into line with those in other similarly sized counties.
-- Listened to Alan Hurley of Tyrone, who had criticized the legislators last month for deciding to erect an LED informational sign near the Veterans’ Memorials in front of the courthouse. That plan, financed by a state grant, was terminated after footers were in place, when legislators realized -- as Hurley had argued -- that the location was an affront to veterans.
Hurley also complained Monday night about the sign’s new location, in front of the District Attorney’s office at the corner of Franklin and 10th Streets, saying it detracted from the historic nature of the County Building complex. And the fact that $3,600 had to be spent for the new footers didn’t set well with him.
“I am not happy with that at all,” said Hurley, visibly angered. “I know it’s a pittance, but little pittances add up to a lot of money. It’s waste!”
Legislature Chairman Dennis Fagan said he was “the first to admit that we screwed up” on the original location choice, but said veterans’ groups had been consulted regarding the new location and agreed that it was fine.
Photos in text: County Attorney Geoff Rossi and Legislator Phil Barnes at Monday's meeting.
Reed outlines bills to stop IRS abuses
Special to The Odessa File
WASHINGTON, D.C., July 29, 2013 -- Rep. Tom Reed Monday
highlighted efforts in the House this week to prevent government abuses,
specifically by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Reed said a series
of bills will be considered in the House aimed at holding the IRS accountable,
reining in the agency’s overreach, and providing answers to taxpayers.
· Stop Targeting Our Politics IRS Act (H.R. 2565) – sponsored by Rep. Jim Renacci, would provide for the termination of employment of IRS employees who take official actions for political purposes.
· Stop Playing on Citizen’s Cash Act (H.R. 2769) – sponsored by Rep. Peter Roskam, imposes a moratorium on IRS conferences until the IG’s recommendations are implemented.
· The Taxpayer Bill of Rights (H.R. 2768) – sponsored by Peter Roskam, would specify the rights that citizens have when dealing with the IRS, including a right to privacy and confidentiality.
“These bills will rightly and fairly hold Washington accountable to taxpayers,” Reed continued. “The mentality in Washington is skewed. Too many have forgotten who they work for. Washington works for the taxpayer, not the other way around.”
Photo in text: Rep. Tom Reed (File photo)
O'Mara laments plan to close Monterey Correctional Facility
Special to The Odessa File
ALBANY, July 26, 2013 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara says the announcement by the Cuomo administration that it will close the Monterey Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility in Schuyler County in the next 12 months is "more tough news for a region already reeling from devastating job losses."
The state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision announced the plan Friday. It involves the Monterey facility and three medium-security operations: Butler in Wayne County, Chateaugay in Franklin County, and Mt. McGregor in Saratoga County. State officials said there has been a "dramatic" reduction in drug offenders at those facilities.
Noting that the move comes on the heels of the Cuomo administration’s recent announcement that it plans to shut down inpatient services at the Elmira Psychiatric Center, O'Mara said:
“Once again I’ll say that the goals of downsizing and cost-effectiveness in government are moves in the right direction. But the Cuomo administration’s approach appears to be taking a particular toll on our region and other upstate communities and, in my view, it’s not making fiscal sense.
“I have to continue questioning the wisdom of these actions. I’m strongly opposed to the changes proposed for the Elmira Psychiatric Center, which in my view fails to make any sense at all for New York State fiscally or from a quality-of-care perspective.
“The same goes for Monterey. For more than 25 years, the Monterey Shock Incarceration facility has stood as an innovative and successful corrections initiative. The unique blend of counseling, education and treatment at our shock facilities has saved the state over a billion dollars during this time. The administration and staff of Monterey, past and present, have turned around numerous lives that were once at a dead-end but, today, are productive and successful.
“I’ll continue to raise all of these concerns and questions, and will keep working with local leaders to try to make the case to the Cuomo administration that there may be more effective ways to achieve the short- and long-term goals we share.”
Monterey was New York’s first “shock” facility. The facility celebrated its 25th Anniversary in September 2012. It involves -- in addition to no-nonsense military discipline, reduced privileges and hard physical labor -- an educational component along with drug and alcohol abuse treatment.
There are currently 124 employees at the Monterey facility. According to the Cuomo administration, the closure plan proposes to avoid layoffs by transitioning employees to other, preferably nearby correctional facilities or to employment in other state agencies.
County sign location changed
WATKINS GLEN, July 26, 2013 -- The planned installation of an events and information sign in front of the Schuyler County Courthouse near existing Veterans' Memorials has been scrapped, and an alternate site selected on the southwest corner of the courthouse property.
The plan had attracted some criticism, and county officials rethought the original concept.
"It will create a delay, but it's worth it considering the ramifications of staying the course," said County Administrator Tim O'Hearn, explaining that there had been no intent to disrespect veterans. Some were offended, though, because the planned sign -- while not forcing a change in the location of any existing memorials -- would have visually impacted their space.
"I offered my apologies to the veterans groups," said O'Hearn, "and they were involved in selecting the new spot," which is located on the lawn fronting the District Attorney's office.
"We had good intentions," said O'Hearn, noting that the sign -- an electronic message board with streaming capabilities -- will provide information concerning Health Department activities as well as other activities in the county, serving as an aid to tourists as well as residents.
"There was a miscommunication along the way," he said of the original site selection. "It was not a good move on our part. The veterans' concerns were valid."
Two orange cones rested Thursday evening on the cement footers that were placed in the ground on the original site -- work that O'Hearn said will be covered over. Nearby is a small tree with a sign commemorating an April 28, 2012 CSEA Region 5 Workers Memorial Day Observance remembering "members who have died in the line of duty."
Near that is a commemorative stone with a plaque "to the eternal memory and glory of those of Schuyler County who gave their lives in the service of our country in the Korean and Vietnam Conflicts." Another nearby memorial honors World War I fallen from Schuyler County, while a more distant one honors those who gave their lives in World Wars I and II.
The original plan "didn't impinge directly" on the memorials, said O'Hearn, but "putting a sign in the middle of memorials didn't make sense. I'll take responsibility for the decision."
The sign had been approved by the Legislature, but only with "a general discussion as to location," O'Hearn added.
The spot now selected, where a wooden sign currently gives directions to various offices, "will be an enhancement to the community," he said.
Photo in text: Cones sit atop the footers that had been installed to hold the sign near the Veterans' Memorials.
Hayden honored by DA group
WATKINS GLEN, July 23, 2013 -- Matthew C. Hayden, Chief Assistant District Attorney for Schuyler County, has been named Prosecutor of the Year for Trial Advocacy by the District Attorneys Association of New York State and the New York Prosecutors Training Institute.
The award was presented to Hayden on Saturday, July 20 at the Otesaga Hotel in Cooperstown, NY, during the District Attorneys Association summer conference. This award is given annually to one Assistant District Attorney who “has demonstrated dynamic trial skills, leadership, and selfless dedication to criminal prosecution in the Empire State.” It is the highest award for an assistant prosecutor in the State of New York.
Chief ADA Hayden was nominated by Schuyler County District Attorney Joseph G. Fazzary. In his nomination letter, Fazzary stated: “Matt is an exceptionally hard working attorney and his integrity is beyond reproach. He is willing to try any case, from a speeding ticket or dog at large case, to an attempted murder case. He stands up in court every day as a voice for victims in Schuyler County.”
Added Fazzary: “Matt is an asset to my office and to the DA’s Association. He routinely assists other District Attorneys and Assistant District Attorneys around the Southern Tier. He is first class all the way and I am proud to have him as my Chief ADA.”
This is the first time that a prosecutor from Schuyler County has received the award.
Photo in text: Matt Hayden at the award presentation. (Photo provided)
Top row (from left): Dennis Fagan, Jim Howell, Michael Lausell, Van Harp
Bottom row: Carl Blowers, Barbara Halpin, Phil Barnes, Mark Rondinaro
Dennis Fagan, Tyrone 607-292-3687
Barbara Halpin, 594-3683
Phil Barnes, Watkins Glen, 481-0482
County Clerk: Linda Compton, 535-8133
Sheriff: William Yessman, 535-8222
Undersheriff: Breck Spaulding, 535-8222
County Treasurer: Harriett Vickio, 535-8181
District Attorney: Joseph Fazzary, 535-8383
Odessa Officials, Offices
Village Board Members
Pictured below, from left: Mayor Keith Pierce and Village Board Trustees Robin Thoman, Shawn Crane, Thomas Letteer Jr. and Sally Hill.
Mayor: Keith Pierce
Trustees: Robin Thoman, Shawn Crane, Thomas Letteer, Sally Hill
Village Clerk: Kristi Pierce, 300 E. Main St., Odessa, 594-2100
Department of Public Works: Steve Siptrott
Village Justice: Ronald Goossen
Municipal Building: 300 E. Main St., Odessa, 594-3792
Dutton S. Peterson Memorial Library: 106 First St., Odessa, 5942791
Montour Falls Village Offices
Mayor: John King
Trustees: Philip J. Smith, James P. Ryan, Steven Lawton, Vincent Chicone
Village Clerk-Treasurer: Alyssa Hammond, P.O. Box 812, 408 W. Main St., 535-7367
Village Garage: 535-9580
Village Justice: Donald Spaccio, 408 W. Main St., 535-7362
Town of Catharine Offices
Supervisor: John VanSoest
Town Board: Ronald Hoffman, Wayne Chapman, Glenn Bleiler, C. Michael Learn
Town Clerk: Carmella Hoffman, 594-2273; office at 106 Grant Road, Odessa
Town Justice: Richard Lewis, 594-2273
Town Assessor: Daniel Bizzell, 535-8118
Highway Superintendent: Bill Morgan, 594-3382
Historian: Carol Fagnan, 594-2062
Village of Watkins Glen Offices
Mayor: Mark Swinnerton
Trustees: Scott Gibson, Kevin Smith, Tony Fraboni, Paul Clifford
Village Clerk: Donna J. Beardsley
Village Justice: Nicholas J. Dugo
Code Enforcement Officer: Gregory Larnard
State, Federal Officials for Schuyler County
Sen. Charles E. Schumer
United States Senate
United States Senate
State Senator Tom O'Mara. -- Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Yates, western Tompkins, Enfield, Ithaca (Town and City), Newfield, Ulysses(Trumansburg)
Room 812, Legislative Office Building
Assemblyman Phil Palmesano
-- Steuben, Schuyler, Yates