Follow Up on the
Parcel Hearing At OCS
Made up primarily of members of the citizen’s group,
Olive Matters, that formed two years ago in answer to the
school district’s 2004 implementation of the controversial
law, the audience spoke in emotional terms about how divisive
they felt the law was. How it kept the board from its educational
goals and tossed it into areas involving taxation and politics
to the detriment of Onteora’s student body.
Some questioned the very right of outside entities such as
the state Office of Real Property Service (ORPS) to try and
equalize towns that were in essence not equal, but individualist
in nature. Others, including Olive town supervisor Bert Leifeld
and councilman Bruce LaMonda, said the basic problem was that
the state, via ORPS, didn’t buy the town’s assessment
of New York City’s massive Ashokan Reservoir, creating
the problem in the first place.
Others, including the three OCS school board members elected
to office by Olive residents outraged at how their taxes soared
under implementation of the Large Parcel Law, plus former
board president David Patterson, questioned the very figures
that district business manager Victoria McLaren had come up
with for tax assessment figures with and without implementation
of Large Parcel, via the aide of county Office of Real Property
Services director Dorothy Martin.
According to figures made available at the hearing, and discussed
by McLaren and Martin before the floor was opened to the public,
the 2006-2007 tax rates per $1,000 of assessed property value,
as based on a $33.89 million levy set to be adopted at the
board’s August 22 meeting, where it will also decide
what to do about Large Parcel for the fourth year in a row
are as follows:
For Hurley, $10.47, an increase of $1.86 over 2005-06. The
town also has reservoir property, but state officials consider
it to be assessed fairly, with New York City to pay $891,995
in taxes for 5,689.59 acres valued at $85.19 million.
For Olive, $7.77, a decrease of $1,554.80, or 99.5 percent,
if no vote is taken or the law is defeated. The steep drop
is the result of the town’s recent revaluation of all
properties within it, balanced out by a new $650 million (up
from the state’s $331 million assessment and the city’s
$180 million request) for the Ashokan. The rate would be $9.42
per $1,000, a decrease of $1,553.15, or 99.4 percent, if the
Large Parcel law is adopted.
In Woodstock, $11.60, a decrease of 33 cents, without the
law; $10.83, a decrease of $1.10, if the law is adopted.
In Marbletown, $10.62, a decrease of 47 cents, without the
law; $9.92, a decrease of $1.17, if the law is adopted.
For Shandaken, $42.05, an increase of $2.43, without the law;
$39.26, a decrease of 36 cents, if the law is adopted.
Finally, for Lexington, $13.55, an increase of $1.22 increase,
without the law; $12.65, a 32-cent increase, if the law is
In terms of actual figures, McLaren and Martin pointed out
how taxes on a $100,000 house would be effected, as well.
(They also showed figures for a $200,000 home, but those were
basically just about double those for a $100,000 house).
For the current year, without implementation of Large Parcel,
the figures showed, Hurley’s school tax for a $100,000
home was $1,026.60. Marbletown’s was $1,109.97. Shandaken,
Woodstock and Lexington were all at $1,109.98, give or take
a penny. And Olive was at $781.76.
For the coming school year, with state equalization rates
thrown in to compensate for towns’ lack of updated assessments,
as in Shandaken’s case (which has a 24 percent equalization
rate), or discrepancies in assessed amounts, as with Olive’s
valuation of the Ashokan (resulting in a 129.86 percent equalization
rate), the estimated taxes per $100,000 home, without large
parcel law implementation, will be $942,64, a drop of 8.18
percent, in Hurley; $1,009.26, or a drop of 9.07 percent,
in the towns of Marbletown, Shandaken, Woodstock and Lexington;
and $777.19, or a drop of 0,58 percent, in Olive.
Under Large Parcel, McLaren and Martin’s figures show,
everyone’s school taxes on a $100,000 home would be
$942.29, representing an 8.21 percent drop in Hurley, a 15.11
percent drop in Marbletown, Shandaken, Woodstock and Lexington,
and a rise of 20.53 percent in Olive.
Martin pointed out that the overall drops in taxes were the
result of Olive’s high valuation for the Ashokan, a
figure the City has challenged, but which Leifeld has said
will have to wait for a final decision until the DEP’s
cases on three previous years –2002, 2003 and 2004,
get decided on, likely this autumn, in court.
When grilled how figures turned out the way they did, and
why the state used the equations it used, Martin replied,
somewhat curtly, that “that’s just the way it
is.” When later asked to create figures for the various
towns using other equations requested by the board, she and
McLaren said they couldn’t do so without “putting
false information out to the public, which we don’t
like to do.”
Several members of the Olive crowd in attendance greeted the
projected figures with whispered admonitions – “lies”
– as they were explained. Others, not from Olive, later
said that the entire assessment was skewed by Olive’s
manipulation of the city reservoir’s assessment, a game
of chicken that could create problems for all in the school
district should the city or state prevail in court against
the town’s valuation.
Martin countered a recent daily newspaper article that termed
the Town of Olive as underassessed, but reiterated that eventually,
everything would end up coming down to “how the reservoir
Former Onteora School Board member John Hurld of Hurley suggested
that the entire Large Parcel problem could eventually be skipped
should the district become its own taxing entity.
Board president Marino D’Orazio said he would ask the
board’s attorney to look into such matters.
Shandaken supervisor Bob Cross backed Hurld’s idea,
but otherwise stayed mum as one after another Olive resident
got up to say no to Large Parcel.
“We’re a district, not individual communities,”
he tried saying as people heckled him, albeit sotto voce,
from the back of the room. “I know what it’s like
to be bashed and beat around.”
“olive’s never going to give up and Olive Matter’s
not going to go away,” promised John Tisch, speaking
about the passion people felt about these taxing and equalization
issues. “You’re ripping the school board apart.”
Henny Wise talked about how the whole assessment methodology,
and especially Large Parcel, reeked of “gentrification”…
an attempt to clear people and businesses out so others of
a higher demographic could replace them. Furthermore, she
chided past and present board members for having “lobbied
for Large Parcel’s passage.”
D’Orazio started to call for calm as supporters cheered
“I don’t want this to turn into a debate between
different constituencies,” he said as speakers started
turning to face the audience instead of the board.
Trustee Mary Jane Bernholz, voted in last year and now the
board’s vice president, asked for new computations,
to which McLaren replied, “These are the correct figures.”
Patterson asked what would happen if Olive agreed with the
state’s assessment of the reservoir. Martin said she
couldn’t say, but taxes would likely go up throughout
Leifeld said the school shouldn’t enter into such business.
D’Orazio then cut public commentary after O’Connor
and Vanacore also questioned the state’s figures, saying
the board still had an executive session to tend to. It all
comes back up on August 22 for a vote: either yes, to Large
Parcel, no, or no action.
The meeting is at 7 pm at the Junior/Senior High School cafeteria.
Among the participants
were two Onteora Middle School science teachers, Kate Van
Baren and Lee Ann Kuhne, and West Shokan resident Sharon Sofranko,
a teacher at Hunter Elementary School.
“There are some great ideas coming out of this group
on how to bring these concepts into the classroom,”
said Forestry Service conservation educator Susan Cox, who
helped to facilitate the institute. Teachers were introduced
to a number of programs they could use with students, including
Green Connections, Forestry Bus Tours, Trout in the Classroom,
and Project Learning Tree.
Do kids really take an interest in the science behind keeping
our water clean? “The hand-on stuff can be very enjoyable,”
said Sofranko, who has used the water resources curriculum
put together by the CCCD and finds it absorbing for elementary
level students. She also cited a project led by Aaron Bennett
of CCCD during the six-day institute. He had placed packs
of leaves on the upstream sides of brook rocks, and participants
pulled the leaves apart and inventoried the macroinvertebrates
they found, such as larvae of caddisflies, mayflies, and stoneflies,
whose quantities indicate the relative health of a stream.
“It was really fascinating,” said Sofranko, adding
that, while teenagers might be harder to engage than her third-graders,
“Hopefully they’ll remember something from the
teaching that will rise up later when they’re in a position
to make decisions that could have an impact.”
The schedule for Thursday, August 10, included a field trip
to the Model Forest Site administered by the Watershed Forestry
Program and Watershed Agricultural Council at Frost Valley.
Council forester Tom Pavlesich showed the teachers highlights
of the model forest, one of four his agency maintains in the
watershed. The project studies scientifically the most effective
ways to manage forests for profit while enhancing, rather
than harming, water quality and wildlife habitat, with a view
to making sure landowners and loggers can afford to maintain
their land and will not have to sell it for development.
“The land here is divided into research blocks, according
to forest structure that reflects past land uses,” said
Pavlesich. Researchers experimentally cut timber in different
patterns and then monitor the effects on water quality and
regrowth of valuable timber species, he explained.
The target audience of the model forest, besides educators,
is landowners and loggers who want to learn to manage their
property. As the group crossed a plank-and-girder bridge over
a small creek, Pavlesich pointed out that the bridge could
be folded in half and loaded onto a truck for temporary use
in a nearby forest.
“Loggers don’t want to build bridges to get their
logs across streams because they say it takes too long. But
we can show them that a simple bridge like this, in fact,
will save them time in getting across the stream, prevent
wear and tear on their equipment, which won’t pick up
mud and rocks in the treads, and it’s far better for
water quality because it keeps sediment out of the water.”
Beyond the bridge, the uphill trail was cut intermittently
by open-top pipe culverts that divert water from the trail,
preventing erosion. A similar function was served by upright
rubber strips angled across the path. “These are cheap
and easy to install,” said Pavlesich, “and the
trucks can run right over them, and they’ll pop back
He stopped at a long swath of ferns and raspberry bushes under
open sky, lined by forest on both sides. “This strip
was clear-cut adjacent to hundreds of thousands of acres of
mature forest. It provides an opportunity for new habitat
and for growth of shade-intolerant species like wild cherry
and ash, which are both very profitable timber.”
While clear-cutting over large areas, on steep slopes, or
in poor soil can be devastating to water quality because of
the erosion and high-nutrient runoff that result, small patches
of clear-cut land create diversity, browse for wildlife, and
money-making opportunities for loggers. Young trees in a clear-cut,
however, may need deer fences for protection in order to move
past the sapling stage. The model forest program is studying
the best means of managing the cut in order to regenerate
In more mature woods, or when dealing with species that require
shade early in life, such as maple and oak, culling of smaller
trees and those with knots or twists results in maximizing
sunlight and resources for the more profitable trees.
The teachers absorbed all this information with close attention,
digesting it for use in the classroom. The trip also involved
a visit to the Shandaken Tunnel Portal on Route 28, where
the teachers were awed by the speed of water channeled from
the Schoharie Reservoir meeting up with the Esopus Creek on
its way to New York City. Learning about the watershed, said
Obed Fulcar, a science teacher from Washington Heights in
Manhattan, “made me appreciate the sacrifices made by
people upstate for our drinking water. We just turn on the
tap without realizing.”
Up, Signal Stalled
One tower, on South Mountain in Olive, is already
up but not yet operational. But according to Chris Buckey,
the attorney representing Masterpage, the company has
found itself in litigation with one landowner that claims
there are right of way issues that need ironing out.
That litigation, according to Buckey, has no bearing on
Masterpage’s progress on the project.
“We have access to the site,” he said.
Buckey was not able to speak as freely about the plans
for a tower in Shandaken because, he said, Masterpage
owner Kevin Kellerhouse chose not to use an attorney when
putting the deal together with the town. However, Buckey
said he was familiar with the plans for the project and
insisted that nothing has changed, that Masterpage intends
to build on the Glenbrook Park site as soon as possible.
But many in Shandaken still wonder when that will be.
After highly publicized talks last year during election
season, Masterpage struck a deal with Supervisor Robert
Cross Jr. to build a tower on town-owned land near Glenbrook
Park. Though Cross had made it clear that time was of
the essence, it got to be April before Masterpage appeared
before the planning board with a complete application
for review, and only after Cross expressed personal displeasure
with the company’s snail-like pace.
The project got approved by the planning board, but nothing
has happened since.
Cross could not be reached for comment.
The only cellular coverage supplied by the tower approved
in Shandaken would be exclusively for Nextel customers,
and then it would only be for a distance of about two
and half miles around the tower, according to Nextel representatives.
It was also announced that the structure, which in April
Kellerhouse claimed “would be built in a couple
of months”, would actually be 198 feet tall. While
the tower is only 180 feet there will be another 18 feet
of whip antennas atop it.
After being told of rumors that Masterpage was on the
verge of bankruptcy, Buckey dismissed such notions outright.
“They are financially solvent,” he said
manipulations of the approval processes –
normally involving state Department of Environmental
Conservation, New York City Department of Environmental
Protection, and local Planning and Zoning board
approvals – surfaced surreptitiously this
past week in the form of an apparent EPA reversal.
It started like this…
Last week, on August 3, U.S. Congressman Maurice
Hinchey, whose district encompasses most of Gitter’s
proposed development, sent out a press release announcing
that the EPA’s Regional Administrator, Alan
J. Steinberg had “endorsed the congressman’s
plan for a lower-build alternative to the proposed
The reference was, on the one hand, to a Hinchey
alternative plan presented to Gitter last winter
that seeks to safeguard the 1,240 acre eastern portion
of the resort project site from development, while
allowing some development on the less sensitive
western parcel. On the other, it referenced a June
22 letter to Congressman Jerry Nadler from Steinberg,
asking for comments on Hinchey’s plan.
“ The momentum has clearly shifted in favor
of protecting the New York City Watershed and responsible
development. I look forward to using the EPA’s
backing as additional leverage to advance this alternative
proposal,” Hinchey was quoted in the release,
which outlined how Steinberg’s letter “referenced
the agency’s previously expressed concerns
about the size and scope of the proposed development
and referenced the project’s risk to water
quality” and “noted the threat from
runoff of turbid storm water to the sensitive Catskill
water supply, which provides drinking water to over
9 million New Yorkers.
“We therefore support revisions to the Belleayre
Resort project that would eliminate development
in the eastern section of the site which lies within
the Catskill watershed,” Hinchey’s release
quoted Steinberg stating.
But then on Monday, August 7, Steinberg was quoted
on a WAMC-FM report by new Hudson Valley reporter
Julia Taylor entitled “Dueling Compromises
Over Belleayre” basically contradicting his
own letter to Congress.
“I have to first and foremost protect the
water systems,” Steinberg said online. “At
the same time, I don’t want to needlessly
hamper development. If development has to be restricted
due to environmental concerns, so be it. If, on
the other hand, a development proposal will avoid
harmful effects to the watershed, so be that also.”
Hinchey, in the same broadcast, asked how the EPA
could go back on its own findings. Steinberg added
that he was basing his statements on a new proposal
Gitter’s development company, Crossroads Ventures,
had presented to him. He concluded by noting that
he would base any final recommendation he made on
a late August visit to the area.
Asked about Hinchey’s letter Monday, Crossroads’
spokesperson Paul Rakov referred all questions to
the broadcast, once it became available online.
“Congressman Hinchey based his announcement
on a letter that was not addressed to him and that
is now more than a month and a half old,”
he added, even though the Steinberg letter had been
directed to a number of Congressmen, and the dates
of departmental proclamations setting precedent
normally never come into play. “For several
years, Crossroads Ventures has maintained a constant
dialogue with all the regulatory agencies: the EPA,
the DEP and the DEC - listening to their concerns
and re-examining our plans for the Belleayre Resort
accordingly. Congressman Hinchey seems to be unaware
of these interactions and the new concepts which
we are exploring. His understanding of these developments
is out of touch and out of date. While the so-called
‘Hinchey compromise’ was an interesting,
though unacceptable, starting point, it should be
clear that he is not the only legitimate source
Calls to Hinchey’s office the day after the
Steinberg turnaround found aids stating that the
Congressman stood by the letter Steinberg had originally
According to that letter, “EPA provided comments
about the Belleayre project in a March 2004 letter
in which we raised concerns about the size and scope
of the proposed development. In general, EPA explained
that the project represented a risk to water quality
and could promote additional growth and development
in forested areas outside of town centers. The letter
specifically recommended that a reduced scale project
That letter, it turns out, had been written by longstanding
regional EPA employee Walter Mugdan. Steinberg was
appointed to his position on September 7, 2005,
by executive order during the follow-up to the Katrina
Prior to his EPA appointment, Mr. Steinberg worked
for the federal government’s Small Business
Administration, served as Executive Director of
the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission, and spent
years with the New Jersey Department of Commerce
and Economic Development, as well as in higher-up
Republican Party political offices.
In his June 22 letter, Steinberg referred to a May
21 letter he had sent to Gitter. ON air, he spoke
about a new development proposal made available
“Unfortunately, we can’t share that
proposal,” noted Steinberg’s spokesperson,
Mary Meers, this past Tuesday, adding that “it
would be up to the developer to release it. It’s
not ours to share.”
Meers added that as far as she could tell, there
were no contradictions between the Administrator’s
June 22 letter and his current statements. When
we read elements of the letter and transcript to
her, though, she said she’d talk to Steinberg.
Getting back a few hours later after speaking to
Steinberg – who said he was unavailable for
interviews the remainder of the week – Meers
said that, “The developer came to us with
a revised project. Alan feels the EPA has to look
at all options here… not that we’re
going back on any of our concerns. It’s simply
a new, scaled-back proposal.”
Tom Alworth, the Catskill Center for Conservation
and Development director who is also serving as
head and spokesperson for an alliance of national
and regional environmental organizations who have
shepherded resources to oppose Gitter’s plans,
which call for two gold courses and over 1,000 hotel
rooms and condominium units over a long ridge line
running on either side of state-owned Belleayre
Mountain Ski Center, said he was taken aback by
Gitter’s recent move. Usually, he says, WAMC
has phoned him for commentary on any news involving
the resort project, but the recent story seemed
to have been arranged by Gitter’s people.
“When a letter from the EPA regional administrator
says one thing, and days later he backs off his
own statements, some interesting questions arise
as to why,” Alworth said. “It’s
like he was two days for it and then two days against
Meers, asked to supply details about when Steinberg
might have received a new proposal for the Belleayre
Resort noted that there had been a meeting with
Gitter in his offices on June 28, 6 days after Steinberg’s
letter was received in Congress. She added that
someone from Representative John Sweeney’s
office had set the meeting up and was on speakerphone
throughout its proceedings.
Sweeney, who represents the sprawling district to
our north that includes the Delaware County portion
of Gitter’s proposed development, is a former
state Republican Party chair nicknamed “Congressman
Kickass” by President Bush after he started
the so-called “Republican Riot” that
shut down the November 2000 Miami-Dade elections
commissioners vote recount, ostensibly leading to
Bush’s victory. Sweeney recently helped convince
Steinberg to delay a long-promised EPA dredging
project to remove PCBs from the Hudson River, to
have been paid for by General Electric, long amongst
Sweeney’s biggest backers.
“Quite frankly, I am not surprised, from the
beginning I have had concerns regarding the magnitude
of this project,” the Congressman said on
July 27, the same hour Steinberg made his announcement..
“It is sad that it took others far longer
to realize what the rest of us have already known…”
“We are now facing several obstacles beyond
our control that make it unrealistic to begin dredging
during the 2007 dredging season,” was how
Steinberg tersely put his decision to push all work,
promised four years ago, off to 2008.
Rakov, when asked if others on a state or city level
had been invited to Gitter’s June 28 meeting
with Steinberg, or given a chance to see his new
proposal, was equally terse.
“Who says we didn’t,” came his
After being told that Meers had said no one else
was invited to the meeting and that all queries
to New York City about the proposal had the DEP
scrambling to get a copy and make a statement, because
Steinberg’s August 7 radio interview had been
the fiorst they’d heard of anything, Rakov
replied again. He had also been asked, at this point,
about Sweeney’s part in Gitter’s process.
“You have our comments,” he replied.
“That is all we are saying at this time.”
The EPA, it should be noted, has been holding public
hearings this year in regards to the City and state’s
need for it to issue a second seven year Filtration
Avoidance Determination that would not only preclude
New York from the $8 million plus expenditure necessary
should it need to filter its water, but the loss
of much of its Watershed funding program should
The only real opposition to the granting of a new
FAD has come from the once dormant Coalition of
Watershed Towns, whose former attorney now works
as Gitter’s counsel and whose first big issue
in years arose two years ago when it decided to
sit in on the Belleayre Resort issues conferences,
speaking on behalf of Gitter’s proposal in
Meers, when asked what role the Environemntal Protection
Agency might play in the Gitter project, was at
“We have no regulatory role here,” she
said. “Alan just likes to help parties reach
a compromise if possible.”
But then asked again, Meers defined a role, vague
though it might seem.
“We do have a role in protecting New York
City’s watershed,” she said. “The
EPA decides whether they filter or not.”
Hinchey’s office, asked if the Congressman
had any last word about the press release he had
sent out, said they stood by what was originally
Field Of Dreams
There’s lots of good stuff going on in Olive.
The three activities I plan to write about all involve
that “Leap of Faith” that people in
this community have.
A well-attended Rec Program ended last week, and
instead of its usual Talent Show Finale, the day
campers produced two short plays under the volunteer
direction of Linda Burkhardt. Magic Spell and Dog
Gone starred Erin Giuditta, Tanya Van Wagner, Katie
Kanuch, Seni Guendal, Grace O’Connell, Samantha
VanLeuvan, and Cassidy Dickman. A host of other
children got experience in set design, costuming,
props, advertising and program design. The production
was open to the public. They came and enjoyed.
Carrying that “Dog Gone” theme to the
next subject, an attraction at Olive Day this year
will be the Flea Market, pardon the pun, that will
donate proceeds to help Bev Stein and committee
on the quest to upgrade the Pouch Pound at the Town
Garage. Raffle tickets for an original Hoppy Quick
carved bear have been sold over the summer with
thousands raised to that good cause. On Olive Day
the annual T-Shirt design will be revealed with
its theme of “Putting on the Dog!”
September 9 will bring Olive citizens and neighbors
together once again to listen to music by Ben Rounds
and Friends and The Ponytails. Drunk Goggles, a
helicopter rescue and antique car show are just
a few of the attractions. The biggest attraction,
I am convinced, is People Watching. Most come to
hang out with neighbors, eat great food and bask
in the sunshine of friendship. Speaking of good
food, although I usually am flipping burgers and
Hot DOGS, I can’t wait for another Nelson
Shultis inspired C-LOB sandwich (Chicken Liver,
Onion, and Bacon sandwich). Pappy Ronk said the
Bushkill Gun Club now orders eighty pounds of chicken
livers to keep up with popular demand. But about
This Flea Market will be an Olive Day happening.
We are asking anyone to bring a few items that are
“previously loved, gently used, or would look
better in someone else’s home.” The
sale of donated items will GO TO THE DOGS! You can
just donate an item or, if you have a particularly
valuable item to sell, you can earn the proceeds
and make a donation to THE DOGS! Someone will man
the flea market tables so you will be free to enjoy
the festivities. At the end of the day, you can
retrieve your unsold donation or it will be taken
directly to the Olive Transfer Station. This is
a Leap of Faith that citizens in Olive will bring
items to Davis Park that day and want to donate
to this fine, furry fund.
The biggest leap of faith is the almost completed
Reservoir Methodist Church on Route 28 in Shokan.
The original church is dwarfed by the 167 foot-long
addition that is soon to be open to the public.
Marilyn Wakefield gave me the “Cook’s
Tour” of the building. She had high praise
for their local builder who has combined usable
space with heavenly design. A span of 167 feet could
tend to look like a railroad car, but it has designs
that define the use of each area. Janet Parker translated
quilt patterns into the floor tile design. The children’s
Sunday school rooms sport a stylized turtle and
a butterfly. A cross defines the Narthex, and fish
swim towards the side entrance where Kim Senecal
Larsen, known as “The Sticker Lady”,
will create an eight by ten-foot wall mural depicting
the sharing of Fishes and Loaves of Bread from the
bible. It is very appropriate that the theme of
sharing was chosen. This building itself is much
too big for the small congregation that built it.
Like the Field of Dreams, they are hoping that the
Community will use that wonderful space for weddings,
for day care, for teen and senior programs, etc.
The modest local builder commended the committees
for “building big.” To quote a line
from the movie, “Build it and they will come.”
The building committees with this boundless faith
have interesting names. The Movers and Shakers are
literally packing up items from the three original
churches: West Hurley, Glenford and Ashokan. The
Space Cadets were responsible for deciding what
would go where. The Hallelujah Committee is planning
the grand opening to the community.
Doggone, there’s a lot of good stuff going
on in Olive!