October 1 Deluge
Onteora didn't even open
for the day. Power outages were rampant, especially in the West Shokan
area. Everywhere, basements were flooded. The Esopus was said to have
risen 9 feet over its usual running levels. Over in Sullivan County,
the body of a woman who worked in Ulster County was found 10 miles
downstream from her car in a reservoir. In Greene County, a man was
rescued from the top of his car after defying authorities and trying
to drive over a flooded bridge. The woman who died, Nancy Lavalle
of Willowemoc, had been commuting on back roads towards Marlborough,
in Southern Ulster. The man in Catskill was charged with reckless
endangerment. States of emergency were declared in the towns of Shandaken
and Hardenburgh, as well as the entirety of Delaware County. It had
rained the day before, it was to rain for a few hours more...Total
rainfall would end up exceeding 7 inches in most areas in our neck
of the woods. Local rainfall totals included 7.72 inches in West Shokan,
5.85 inches in Phoenicia, 5.27 inches in Bearsville, 5.26 inches in
Woodstock, 5.17 inches in Ellenville and 4.28 inches in Kingston.
Art Snyder, Ulster County's emergency management director, said closed
roads included state Route 214, Main Street, High Street, Station
Road and Plank Road, all near the Esopus Creek in the Shandaken hamlet
of Phoenicia. The Bridge Street bridge in Phoenicia suffered structural
damage and also was closed. Capt. Todd Carr of the Shandaken Fire
Department said 15 to 20 homes had to be evacuated in Phoenicia and
along Riseley Lane in the hamlet of Mount Tremper. Evacuees were taken
to the Belleayre Mountain Ski Center in Highmount, he said. In Olive,
councilman Peter Friedel later noted, Ratkin Road in Traver Hollow
had to be closed. The road over Peekamoose sustained damage and was
flooded over. It all crested about 7:00 AM, at least in Phoenicia.
The emergency personnel switched from warnings and road clean-up to
pumping out basements... everywhere. At The Emerson Spa and Resort,
it looked like there would be a cancellation of that evening's massive
Woodstock Film Festival double screening and party. Maybe even evacuation
of the many VIP guests staying. But by noon on Friday, October 1,
the rains had stopped. By sunset, there was some sun peaking through
the roiling clouds. By nighttime, the Emerson party was back on schedule
and The Princes of Serendip and Open Book were playing Phoenicia Phirst
Phriday at The Arts Upstairs. Franz Edlinger, who took our front page
photo of the clean up Friday morning, edited together his images from
the morning and set them in flipbook fashion as a film on YouTube,
that quickly went viral. For music he chose Beethoven's dramatic Fifth
Symphony. Life began to get back to normal on Saturday with only parts
of Oliverea and Peekamoose roads in the towns of Shandaken and Olive
still closed, along with a section of state Route 214 and Bridge Street
in Phoenicia and some smaller side roads in the town of Hardenbergh.
Things started reopening out in Delaware County, with a few exceptions.
In Greene County, a dispatcher from the emergency management center
said that all roads that were closed previously were reopened on Saturday
with the exception of state Route 42 in the town of Lexington. Central
Hudson Gas & Electric Co. reported about two dozen customers without
power in its coverage area as of 7 p.m. on Saturday. The American
Red Cross noted that the shelter they'd set up at Hunter Mountain
to accommodate people evacuated from their homes near Phoenicia and
Shandaken was never used. Everyone heaved great sighs of relief as
they e-mailed each other images of the messes they had to clean up.
"It was pretty hairy there for a while," said Friedel. By
Monday, it was raining again... but everyone was on to other town
business. Life in these mountains...
State's Ripple Effect
DEC has more than shouldered its fair share in helping the state address
its economic challenges. Enough is enough... I seriously question the
ability of the agency to conduct its statutory duties to protect our
environment, natural resources and public health with such limited resources,"
wrote former DEC Commissioner Erin Crotty, who served as part of the
Republican Pataki administration for years, in a subsequent editorial.
"There is not one economic development project, large or small,
that does not require review and/or approval by the DEC. With staffing
at historic lows, it will take even longer to get through the permitting
process. It is in the state's best economic interest that the DEC has
robust resources to carry out its mission. Environmental and public
health protection are not a luxury; they are the right of every New
Yorker." When confronted with this story, folks up and down the
Route 28 corridor immediately started looking towards Belleayre Mountain
Ski Center, the region's major winter destination and employer, which
has been waiting years for the completion of a new Unit Management Plan
to guide any future upgrades or even needed repairs. For the last two
years, there had been threats of reduced operating hours at the ski
resort, a reduced season. There have also been questions about that
DEC UMP's ties to final plans for the Belleayre resort plan long proposed
for the region... and tied directly to the state-owned mountain ever
since former Governor Eliot Spitzer okayed an Agreement in Principle
to tie local economic development to the controversial development plan
for the building of hundreds of hotel and condominium rooms in the Highmount
area. As well as regarding previous threats to close local campgrounds,
drop funding for trail maintenance within the Catskill Park, and even
nullify the new studies and review processes that would take Climate
Change into consideration when planning for the area, where it's become
questionable in recent years how much to invest in future ski industry
expansions. Specifics being discussed for Department of Environmental
Conservation cuts include a workforce reduction of 23 percent since
2008, or another 200 plus bodies over the coming months. That's in addition
to cuts to DEC's non-personnel budget by more than 50 percent in the
last two fiscal years for everything from gas to the paper for fishing
license applications and office supplies. Over the past three years,
Paterson has also raided $90 million from the Regional Greenhouse Gas
Initiative, which had been designed to promote energy efficiency programs,
capped the amount the state pays in property taxes to rural towns, and
shifted $185 million from its Environmental Protection Fund to pay for
general state obligations. "These staff cuts couldn't come at a
worse time for the fight for clean water," said Paul Gallay, head
of Riverkeeper. "These staff cuts must make DEC Commissioner Pete
Grannis feel like he alone has got to clean up New York's toxic chemical
spills with a toothbrush and a garden hose," added Alison Jenkins
of Environmental Advocates of New York. "Under the guise of fiscal
responsibility, Governor Paterson is undoing years of progress on environmental
protection in New York, which is ironic given that the agency is celebrating
its 40th anniversary this year." We asked at the DEC what effects
there might be at Belleayre. "We're continuing to work on the Belleayre
UMP in house here," said agency spokesperson Maureen Wren this
week. "There's just no specific time frame for when it might be
finished." As for upgrades, repairs and other such specifics, including
Belleayre Superintendent Tony Lanza's recent announcements that the
ski center would try to be opening on November 13 this year, Wren said
there wasn't much she could say. "It's too early in the budget
process," she said, referring to future changes, but inferring
no major projects for the season just ahead. "No comment?"
Last Spring, when Paterson and the state Legislature finally decided
to fund the reopening of a number of state parks and historic sites,
including several parks within the Catskills, they did so with funds
from the EPF, which is supposed to be a lock box devoted to buying sensitive
land, recycling and similar projects. When people, including state Comptroller
Arthur DiNapoli , started questioning the $12 million pricetag the Spitzer
AIP had worked out to pay Belleayre Resort developer Dean Gitter for
1,200 acres of Big Indian area lands that were part of that deal, it
was noted that the monies for use were not in the DEC or any other areas
being affected by state cuts. "Empire State Development Corp. (ESDC)
was the entity tasked with negotiating for Highmount, not DEC (because
the expansion is economic development)," noted DEC Director of
Public Information Yancey Ray. "Nothing regarding the potential
acquisition of Highmount can go forward until the UMP for the Belleayre
Ski Center is completed and approved. There have been no appraisals."
Meanwhile, at ESDC, press officer Jola Szubielski noted last Spring
that she couldn't find any mention of a Belleayre, Highmount, or even
DEC project listed in her agency's files. "These cuts are a direct
threat to public health and safety. Not only are they unsustainable,
they are unconscionable," said Adirondack Council Executive Director
Brian L. Houseal, speaking for many. "DEC's ability to do its job
has already been compromised. This will make a bad situation much worse."
Also on the chopping block, besides the DEC, are rest areas on some
state highways and funding for 64 farmland families who were to sell
farmland protection easements, including one in Ulster County. And free
skiing for seniors over the age of 70... back at Belleayre. "I
would rather have seniors spending money at local restaurants and hotels,
then at the State owned ski center. The lifts are going to run no matter
what, so the skiing should continue free for seniors," said State
Senator John Bonacic of the latter "savings." "It is
in the interest of seniors' health that this opportunity to enjoy some
time outdoors is continued. When families decide where to go, they price
activities as a family. If grandparents can ski for free, that is one
more reason why their children and grandchildren will stay and ski in
New York, as opposed to going to Vermont." Talk about bad vibrations...
Tax Rates Waiver
At the September 28 Board
of Education meeting at Bennett Elementary, McLaren explained that
out of seven school districts, Onteora's true tax rate was $10.48
per $1000 per household. Preferring to stay impartial, McLaren didn't
list the school districts by name, but instead numbered the districts
for comparison purposes. District five holds the highest tax rate
at $19.47 per $1000, nearly double of the Onteora district.
On the other hand, when it comes to local people having to pay school
taxes based on property values, the burden is not always equally distributed.
Based upon a statement made by an Olive resident at a past board meeting,
his school tax increased substantially for the 2010/2011 school year,
more than the voter-approved 3.8 percent. This led school board members
to ask why.
McLaren explained that tax rates change as the value of a property
changes. The towns of Olive, Marbletown and Hurley remained similar
in property value compared to 2009, while the towns of Shandaken,
Woodstock and Lexington have decreased in value. This shifted the
burden of taxes to Olive, Marbletown and Hurley. Taxes collected in
2009-2010 compared to 2010-2011 in the town of Olive increased by
8.7 percent, while Woodstock saw a decrease of 0.7 percent.
In other business, the first hour of the overall abbreviated board
meeting was devoted to a forum on future district plans. Interim Superintendent
Charlotte Gregory directed the public to past studies that are posted
on the district website from KSQ Architects, the Middle School Steering
Committee and the Future of the District Commission.
Public commentary included concerns over declining enrollment versus
grade configuration; time spent busing children from various corners
of the district; proposals for alternative education including the
International Baccalaureate program; and the value of local grade
At the board's next meeting on October 12, its members will plan to
iron out a directive for the new task force.
"We are looking for people who will be a good representation
of the district, who will work on the community task force,"
said School Board President Laurie Osmond during a later phone conversation.
"We are presenting work that's already been done by people before
and we really do appreciate it. I know it can be frustrating that
people put in all this work and then nothing came of it."
Osmond explained that past studies make a good foundation, but they
may not stick with the proposals given.
"As Charlotte (Gregory) said, this is a time for creative, out
of the box thinking and solutions, and we should look at other possibilities.
We need to be open to as many viable, creative suggestions as possible."
Osmond encourages people to join the task force. District studies
can be found by going to Onteora.k12.ny.us. Click "boe"
at the top of the page and scroll down to "Past District Planning
Also, the board discussed the first reading of a new bullying policy
including cyber and social network bullying. This includes school
related bullying off campus through the social networks.
"There is legal precedent for cyber bully that occurs off campus,
proven to contribute to substantial disruption or threats within the
school," said Osmond. "Such conduct can be subject to disciplinary
action in accordance to the districts code of conduct and possible
local law enforcement authorities."
The policy outlines what a safe and productive learning environment
entails and how bullying behavior is defined.
Prevention and intervention programs with staff training will be implemented
to raise awareness regarding bullying and cyber bullying.
are set to go up, but by 5.96%. Stanley said that compared to other
towns, that is not bad.
"All things considered, these are figures considerably better
than neighboring municipalities, which are in the double digits,"
There were no complaints, except from Mount Tremper resident Kathy
Nolan, who noted that the Highway Department half of the budget, prepared
by Highway Superintendent Eric Hofmeister, was a much leaner package
that brought no increase in spending but still provided quality services.
Nolan said she wished that the general fund portion of the budget
had been prepared the same way.
The preliminary budget will be the subject of a hearing set for Wednesday
November 3rd at town hall, to start at 6:00 PM. A budget has to be
passed during that month.
Then it was on to the next chapter in the continuing Phoenicia sewer
Catskill Watershed Corporation officials visited Shandaken Monday
to introduce themselves to the community and ended up getting an earful
from Phoenicia residents that fear the agency is acting as an agent
for the City of New York.
CWC has been hired by the town to design a plan for the best way to
treat wastewater in the Phoenicia hamlet, where some residents and
business owners have already turned down at least two previous plans,
saying they would prove to be too costly to operate.
CWC Executive Director Alan Rosa, attorney Timothy Cox and engineer
Henry Lamont found themselves fielding questions about the non-profit
agencies connection to New York City.
Phoenicia resident Carol Shalaew, reminding Rosa that more than half
the Phoenicia voters turned down a sewer plan a few years ago, thought
it was "interesting" that CWC is funded by the City of New
York, the same entity that is putting up about $17 million to build
a system in Phoenicia. Shalaew said she felt it was a "done deal"
that CWC would recommend a system that would be identical to plans
already rejected by Phoenicia because that is what the City wants.
Lamont, the Engineer in charge of the project for CWC, disagreed.
He said that they have been contracted to review those plans and others
and only recommend a preferred plan.
Shalaew said there was a level of distrust in the community about
the matter and pointed to a request before the town board that same
evening to hire an attorney to act as an advisor to Phoenicia residents
during the process CWC was about to begin.
That request, which states that "residents of the proposed wastewater
project area in the Hamlet of Phoenicia have concerns over the ability
of the Town Board to disseminate information from the CWC," was
tabled after long debate. Board members Doris Bartlett and Jack Jordan
joined Supervisor Robert Stanley voting to table while Councilmen
Vince Bernstein and Tim Malloy wanted to proceed and hire an attorney.
Explaining his vote, Jordan said "We don't even know what we
would want an attorney to do, or even if we need one."
Mike Riccardella, a Phoenicia Businessman who has led the fight against
a city sewer deal, tried to explain why he thought a watchdog would
be a good deal. He noted that even though the City appears committed
to paying most of the cost of running the system, perhaps as much
as 90% according to CWC, his own review of the proposed contract between
the City and Phoenicia contained "loopholes" that could
allow the City to change that amount.
Ricciardella said that even if the City decides to shave off $50,000
of its portion, it could cripple the handful of businesses in the
hamlet because they would be the ones to pick up that slack.
"But I'm not a lawyer," he added.
At which no one laughed.
of the two papers, both owned and operated by publisher Brian Powers,
will leave the rural Catskills towns of Shandaken (pop. 3,235) and Olive
(pop. 4,579) without a hometown newspaper. This week's issues of the
Phoenicia Times and Olive Press, slated for publication on Thursday,
October 7, will be the last. These are bleak times for newspapers both
large and small. Powers, who's been the papers' sole owner and financial
backer since the beginning, tells an all-too-familiar story. "The
reality is we, like every newspaper, have been having a very difficult
couple of years," he says. "Newspapers are the first ones
to feel the problems in the local economy. The last two years in Ulster
County and the Catskills have been very difficult." In the context
of the industry-wide meltdown that has seized the news business over
the last few years, the Phoenicia Times is going out with dignity. That
is, it's not going spectacularly bankrupt, selling for a dollar, or
being put up on the auction block. "We have no debts," Powers
says. "We'll continue operating as we wind down the paper's business."
In the summer of 2001, Powers tapped Paul Smart, a veteran of the local
news scene, to edit the Phoenicia Times, which he launched as a free
bi-weekly. Two years later, Powers and Smart launched the Olive Press,
another free paper running twice a month. Together, the two papers had
a combined run of about 10,000 copies, about half of which were mailed
for free to households in their coverage area. More than most local
newspapers in the region, the Phoenicia Times has a big personality,
charming and colorful and a little rough around the edges - much like
the town itself. It's packed with oddments like the "Municipal
I Ching," a vocabulary column (in the September 23 issue, we learned
the words "zoosemiotics" and "rusticate"), and a
pastiche of overheard tidbits from around town called "Heard By
A Bird." The newspapers' lefty reputation belies a more unpredictable
tendency to seek out interesting voices. Recently, Smart says, he earned
the gratitude of a newly-formed local Tea Party chapter for a sympathetic
profile he ran of their fledgling organization. In the August 26 issues,
Powers reached out to readers in a letter, in the hopes that investors
might come forward to help the papers get by. "I had many responses
to that public appeal, but none that would have made it possible for
us to continue," he says. Powers says he hasn't entirely lost faith
that the papers could rise again. "I am not in any way ruling out
the possibility of coming back at the beginning of next year with a
slightly reconceptualized version of what we're doing," he says.
The paper is planning to hold a big Halloween farewell dance party on
October 29, with local music writer Tony Fletcher as DJ... to be held
at the Emerson Spa and Resort, of all places. Hopefully some of the
other newspapers in the region - the Woodstock Times, the Catskill Mountain
News, the Kingston Daily Freeman - will pick up some of the slack in
the Shandaken/Olive news department. (We'll do what we can here at the
Watershed Post to keep a steady stream of news flowing in Shandaken
and Olive.) But there's no question that the loss of the Phoenicia Times
and Olive Press will leave a hole.