Is New Leadership?
At the sparsely attended session in Margaretville, Lucas made
it clear there were new rules for the meetings now that he’s
in charge. Where his predecessor, Patrick Meehan, was comfortable
in the role of Chairman and allowed a healthy give and take
between the Executive Committee and the audience, Lucas seems
to lack the self assuredness to hand off any control, at least
during his early months on the job.
When a reporter tried to ask a question, Lucas cut him off and
insisted the reporter identify himself, despite having attended
meetings with Lucas for years. Lucas then asked if the reporter
wished to be recognized, and if so that he must raise his hand.
The reporter complied and Lucas then asked if the reporter had
a question. As the question was asked Lucas cut it off like
a schoolyard bully, easing back in his chair at the head of
the table and with grin loudly asking if there was anything
anyone on the board wished to discuss. The meeting went on,
without the reporter allowed to ask the question, against a
backdrop of titters and snickers from the board in response
to their new spokesman’s spectacle.
Later in the meeting Lucas chastised the committee’s recording
secretary for speaking up. According to Lucas, she could interrupt
lowly committee members like Middletown’s Len Utter, but
she wouldn’t get away with it with him, the chairman.
As for the business of running the Coalition goes, Lucas found
out that same evening that it’s one thing to represent
your own town and another to represent the entire watershed.
While the new chairman of the Coalition of Watershed Towns has
nothing but praise for a recently announced deal on the recreational
use of a portion New York City owned lands within the vast watershed
region, the executive committee that represents the area is
not jumping for joy.
On Monday Executive committee chairman Dennis Lucas, also the
Supervisor of the Greene County Town of Hunter, was all smiles
while briefing the executive committee on a recent decision
to open up approximately 11,000 acres of New York City-owned
land adjacent to
State Forest Preserve land in the Catskills for hiking, hunting,
fishing and trapping without the need for a City permit.
Upstaters have been at odds with City officials for years about
the use, or lack thereof, of city land in the watershed, which
covers 50 communities in the five counties of Delaware, Ulster,
Greene, Schoharie and Sullivan.
Last week State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC)
Commissioner Pete Grannis and City Department of Environmental
Protection (NYCDEP) Commissioner Emily Lloyd announced that
DEC will patrol the City watershed property to enforce regulations,
help protect the environment, and further assist in the management
of these lands. The change, they say, will be in effect for
the 2008-2009 hunting season.
In the prepared statement Lucas, identifying himself as the
Coalitions Chair, said “I applaud the opening of these
significant tracts of land to hunting, fishing, hiking and trapping
in the same manner as State-owned land. This is of critical
importance to the economy and cultural heritage of our beautiful
On Monday he told the executive committee that the city’s
actions have satisfied the people of his town and that they
have decided, “to lay down our swords.” He even
speculated that the lands would be open not just by next fall’s
hunting season, but perhaps by the spring when the law goes
off of Turkey.
But Lucas’ feel good vibe was interrupted by Executive
Committee members who reminded him that there was plenty of
watershed territory outside of the Catskill Park. While this
was good news for communities within the park, like Luca’s
hometown, in meant nothing elsewhere.
Alan Rosa, the Executive Director of the Catskill Watershed
Corporation, noted that many watershed communities sit outside
the Catskill State park.
Walton Supervisor John Meredith said the City’s plan didn’t
help his town at all. Middetown Supervisor Len Utter felt it
didn’t really benefit Delaware County. At best, Utter
told Lucas, the new plan was “a good start.”
His smile now gone, Lucas said there would be future discussions
about City owned lands in the rest of the watershed. He promised
to work hard to get those lands open too.
Lucas has been on the Coalition Executive Committee for several
years as a Greene County representative. He was appointed as
Chairman two months ago after longtime Chair Patrick Meehan
resigned. As Chairman, Lucas now represents the communit1es
within the entire watershed during negotiations with the City,
state and other agencies.
During Monday’s meeting it was pointed out that various
officials from such agencies have been trying to get a hold
of Lucas but have been unsuccessful. The problem became clear
when it was noted that the communications were in e-mail form.
Lucas, it turns out, doesn’t know how to use it.
“I can’t even spell computer,” he said.
He may need to learn. With becoming the Coalition’s leader,
Lucas inherits an organization suffering financial woes and
credibility issues. While he needs to handle these matters on
the home front, he must also learn how to be the professional
face of the entire watershed community while interfacing with
the professionals representing the agencies in charge of the
He must adopt the role sooner than later too. Next month the
Watershed Partnership Protection Council holds its annual meeting
at Marist College in Poughkeepsie. The Council, made up high
ranking officials from all levels of Government, has, among
other tasks, the job of being a mediator between the Coalition
and the City of New York when the two parties disagree, as they
do right now over important issues such as the extended length
of the City’s latest filtration avoidance waiver, the
$ 300 million land acquisition plan the City has for the region
and, of course, the rules for public use of City owned lands.
In his footloose and fancy free days before becoming Chairman
Lucas, who must represent the Coalition at the December 14th
meeting, described the Partnership Council’s annual meeting
as nothing more than “a photo op.”
One’s Going Cold...
one’s going to be cold,” said the local head of
the federal program, Nancy McDowall, in an unofficial interview
made necessary due to the pre-Thanksgiving business of her higher
ups in the county department of Social Services. “We’re
all running around like chickens with our heads cut off, focusing
on getting information out and applications in.” We were
interested because a couple of weeks earlier, just before the
recent elections, our state’s senior U.S. Senator Chuck
Schumer said in an interview that it would likely be costing
Hudson Valley residents $181 million more in home heating costs
this winter, with the region’s poor hardest hit because
of funding shortages on a federal level. “Middle and higher
income families are going to have to chose between putting on
an extra sweater or putting an extra $100 in the college tuition
fund,” Schumer said at a late October press conference
in Sullivan County.. “But, the problem is with the low
income, and particularly the elderly, the choices will be far
more noticeable day to day. Because, you put the thermostat
above 60 degrees and they might not have enough to eat the next
month.” Schumer then took the opportunity to urge President
Bush to release the remaining $150 million in a federal Low
Income Heating Assistance Program, “so that people will
be able to afford the rising costs of heating their homes this
winter.” Meanwhile, projections released by the National
Energy Assistance Directors’ Association (NEADA) showed
prices for home heating oil rising 28 percent higher than last
year, from $2.42 to $3.10 per gallon on average this year, and
propane prices increasing by 28.3 percent. The federal HEAP
site itself posted, as of October 18, that yes, “President
Bush’s proposed LIHEAP budget for FY 2008 is $1.782 billion
($1.5 billion in regular grant funds and $282 million in emergency
contingency funds.) The House has proposed $2.687 billion ($1.98
billion regular grant plus $687.7 million emergency); the Senate
proposed $2.1 billion ($1.98 billion in basic grant plus $181.7
million emergency). For the Weatherization Assistance Program,
the Administration has proposed a reduction to $144 million.
It proposes to zero out the Community Services Block Grant program.”
All, it should be noted, are all still pending action in an
increasingly stalemated pre-election year Washington. Could
this mean trouble in the colder months ahead, a winter best
to be avoided? Calls all around found no one ready to talk on
the record, because of the high levels of protocol in such work,
yet numerous statements that things, as far as they could see,
were looking fine on a local level… despite Schumer’s
statement of fear. Mary Jane Knutsen, head of the office of
Temporary Assistance at the county Department of Social Services
– where Commissioner of Social Services Roberto Rodriguez
proved to busy to return calls in time for this story –
said all she could talk of were program specifics. The overall
funding had not been highlighted for her. Up in Albany, the
state’s HEAP Bureau chief Paula Cook similarly said things
seemed okay for now. “With the winter heating season approaching
and fuel costs rising, Ulster County residents are reminded
of increased benefits and expanded eligibility under the Home
Energy Assistance Program operated by the county Department
of Social Services,” read the press release everyone suggested
be printed in lieu of answers to specific federal funding queries.
“The program provides grants for heating bills depending
on household income, family size, heating expenses and the presence
in the household of children under 6, adults over 60 or disabled
persons. Income eligibility ranges from $22,512 a year for a
single-person household to $50,232 for a family of five to $67,512
for a family of 11.” McDowell, who noted that “we’re
covered, with an emergency plan… I’ve been doing
this for a long, long time,” said satellite offices had
been set up in Ellenville and Highland at Community Action sites,
as well as in Kingston at the Department of the Aging. The Department
of Social Services, Knutsen said, is open for applications from
8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. all weekdays and 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursdays.
The office is in the Development Court complex on Ulster Avenue.
For more information, call (845) 334-5436 or at 334-5435. It
was further noted that those with “no-heat emergencies”
can call the Ulster County Sheriff’s Office at 338-3640
or contact their town supervisor. As for all those not eligible
for HEAP assistance, the state has noted on its website for
such matters that, “New York’s eight investor-owned
utilities, and one municipal power authority, have low-income
energy programs totaling about $20 million per year… Most
offer rate assistance and one or more other services such as
arrearage forgiveness, weatherization, appliance repair and
replacement and aggregation.” Okeydokey. Looking more
closely, these include a Central Hudson Good Neighbor Fund “or
those suffering from a financial crisis that makes it difficult
to pay their energy bills” providing “last resort”
grants towards Central Hudson bills for customers who have exhausted
all other forms of assistance. It is funded by customer contributions
and Central Hudson’s stockholders and is administered
by The Salvation Army and can be activated or inquired about
by calling 845-452-2700 or 800-527-2714 or visiting www.centralhudson.com/residential/payment_assistance.html.
New York State Electric and Gas, meanwhile, has its own “Project
Share” program funded by its NYSEG Foundation, employees,
retirees and customers, designed to “help eligible customers
pay for energy emergencies such as fuel bills, repairs to heating
equipment, home weatherization and water heater replacements.
Grants of up to $200 are available to households where someone
is over 60, or has a disability, or has a serious medical condition.
To apply for a grant, contact your local chapter of the American
Red Cross or visit
Locally, LeeAnne Pomeroy at the Phoenicia-based SHARP Committee
said that her agency no longer helps out in the heating area,
as it once did, and while still doing some local weatherization
projects, has a waiting list too long to accept new clients.
Pomeroy added that SHARP is currently at the end of most of
its grants but will be applying for new funding cycles in the
coming months. More on what’s needed to help those applications
along in the coming weeks... In the meantime, keep those sweaters
handy… and watch those thermostats!
public hearing is set for December 5.
The push to take this proposed law to the county came about
partly because of a tragic car accident in June 2007 that resulted
in the death of 19-year-old Andrew Dean-Lipson, who was a passenger
in the car with a driver who was allegedly drunk. Lipson and
two other friends were at a graduation party where alcohol was
served, supposedly while under the supervision of adults.
Sears said that alcohol prevention was always, “geared
toward students, and now we realize we need to do more because
the students are only a part of the solution-and we now to be
focusing some of our attention towards parents, guardians and
community members… research shows that communicating disapproval
of underage drinking is the most affective thing that parents
and parental figures can do.”
New York State Law makes it illegal for adults to serve, provide
or purchase alcohol to anyone under the age of 21, but does
not have laws preventing adults who allow a place for minors
“Currently, our law does not hold adults responsible,”
said Sears, “unless they have actually handed the underage
drinker the alcohol.”
This law will not affect a parent if they choose to give their
own child alcohol or if it is part of a religious observance.
Also, if parents are away and if their child over the age of
16 decides to throw a party with alcohol, the child is responsible
or anyone who hosts the party. The law recognizes anyone over
the age of 16 as an adult and the penalty is a violation, not
a misdemeanor or felony.
“A violation is not something that can follow you the
rest of your life,” said Sears. “It is not going
to interfere with your ability to get to college or acquire
certain jobs, but it is a violation.”
The law could fine the person up to $250 and/or up to 15-days
Ulster County Legislature Brian Shapiro supports the law but
during a phone conversation he raised a red flag.
“I don’t want legislation aimed at kids 16 years
or older, even if it is a violation it could keep someone from
getting a career in say law enforcement, the military or student
loans,” he said, explaining that there are specific violations
that can go on a young person’s record. He believes that
this law should be only aimed at the parents.
Shapiro added that he would like to see the ;egislation offer
“education components,” for minors and penalties
Ulster County District Attorney Donald A. Williams explained
that every parent in Ulster County receives a letter before
their child graduates from High School explaining what the laws
are and how to keep their kids safe.
“No one is attempting to criminalize this,” said
Williams, but when someone “knowingly encourages or permits,”
drinking on their premises there should be consequences. He
explained that Ulster County Legislature Don Gregorius, a member
of the Criminal Justice and Safety Committee who sponsors the
Social Host law, wanted to assure additional preventative measures
to educate parents and their kids.
“This Legislation could be linked for a protocol to address
proactively,” said Williams. “It would ask adults
to help out in alcohol prevention and what to do given a situation
where minors are drinking.”
“I believe Ulster County needs a law that holds adults
accountable if they supervise a party where alcohol is consumed
by minors under the age of 21, even if they did not purchase
it for them. It’s wrong that an adult can supervise or
allow kids who have been drinking alcohol, then get in a vehicle
and drive while under the influence and not bare any responsibility,”
said Marbletown-based legislator Rich Parete, a member of the
county’s Criminal Justice Committee. “The other
side of the argument is that children and young adults under
the age of 21 are going to get alcohol one way or another if
they want it. Is it safer to have them in a supervised environment
where keys to the cars are taken and kids sleep over or have
them out in the local hideouts drinking and then driving home?
I see both sides of the argument and I don’t think there
will ever be a perfect solution but this law is a good start
and I will be supporting it.
He added that the proposed law was already passed by the state
legislature and could only be passed “as is” without
Sears said they are targeting the county to pass this law in
order to “prevent border crossings,” meaning minors
who would drive to a town without the social host law in order
to find a place to drink.
“The District Attorney met with the criminal justice (and
safety) committee of the legislature, they approve this unanimously
and next month we go to the full legislature and hopefully it
will be law before the first of the year,” said Sears.
Also in support are the Health and Safety Advisory council,
the County Underage Drinking Prevention Team and the Northeast
Police Chiefs Association.
“We also have to look at ourselves as a community,”
said Sears. “What are we providing our kids, what is there
to do on the weekends, what is there to do here, other than
go to homes and drink.”
Sears planned to attend the hearing with School board president
Mary Jane Bernholz and Trustee Cindy O’Connor.
According to Joyce Davis the Chair of the New York State Environmental
Prevention Task force, 34 other States have a form of the social
host law and it has proven affective in preventing underage
drinking. Their target is to make this a law throughout New
York State. To date, two-dozen towns and four counties have
adopted it. In March of 2007, Long Beach, Long Island was the
first to adopt and draft the legislation and is now used as
a template for other towns.
According to Davis, Underage alcohol use is the number one lethal
drug in New York State. On average New Yorkers in the Capital
region have their first drink at the age of 12, compared to
the National Average of 15.9.
A Jar Of Olives
It is often a time of unsettled weather as we await that first
snow that covers the ground. For that reason, my free ShopRite
turkey is safely nestled in my freezer. Hopefully I shall get
it defrosted in time. I do remember one Thanksgiving when I
gave a frozen bird hot-water baths hoping it would thaw enough
to fit into the roasting pan.
In preparation for company, I have powered up the Roomba. For
you men out there, that is a robot vacuum cleaner that scoots
around the floor picking up dust, sticks, and stuff. My dog
Diva is in hot pursuit, barking at this thing that moves away
from her as she gets closer.
I think back to the origins of this holiday. In a research paper
I did once, experts doubted if the Pilgrims and Indians actually
sat down together although they did share stores of food. Venison
was also on the menu. Judging by the closeness of the shots
I just heard, venison might be on someone’s table this
Thanksgiving. My husband has concluded that the bears are outnumbering
the bucks he has seen so far.
Mostly Thanksgiving is about giving thanks—especially
thanks that we are not a turkey, or deer or bear this time of
year. We all have blessings to count. It is a time of sharing
and thinking of others.
When we lived in Pittsfield, Mass, the daily paper there, The
Berkshire Eagle, had a nice tradition that I would like to follow
here if editor, Paul Smart, allows. They figured that buying
cards and paying postage was costly, not to mention labor intensive.
In lieu of sending Holiday Greetings, they encouraged readers
to make donations to charity and would print the names of the
contributors and the charity they chose. Some local charities
might be the Patty D’Errico Fund at Wilber National Bank,
the Food Pantry at the Olivebridge Church, the Olive First Aid,
the Olive Dog Kennel, the scouts or church or shelter. There
are many worthwhile charities in need of funds this time of
year. Just e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or write me (I’m
in the book). Just tell me your name and the charity you chose,
and I’ll include that in my Holiday Greetings column next
time. You make the donation, and I will send out your greeting
naming you and the charity.
Enjoy the season of giving and sharing.