Up on the News
In addition, said DEC Region
3 Remediations chief Ed Moore and Region 3 Director Willie Janeway,
the convenience store operation at the Main Street business owned and
operated by Verona Oil of Delaware County may be hampered because of
site repairs during the interim, which will necessitate much digging
and earth removal.
According to Moore, DEC found out during a routine fuel tank check-up
in November that the station’s tanks were not properly operating,
and having been in place for “well over 30 years” were overdue
for replacement. A consent order authorizing changes and procedures
was then issued by the DEC on December 10, 2008, after it was determined
that the violations on the property would cost Verona $5000 in fines
“They did not have proper leak detection,” Moore said, noting
that the original consent order required that the old underground fuel
tanks must be removed by March 15th.
Verona Oil then announced in mid January that they were closing the
Country Store for two weeks to do what they described as “renovations”
to the premises.
“Unfortunately, they put in new tanks before taking the old ones
out and did so improperly,” Moore added. “Even worse, it
turns out they found contamination and didn’t tell us.”
“BY not working with us they’ve not addressed the problems
and now they need to back up,” said Janeway. “They’ll
now need to sign another consent order, take out the old tanks, and
then work with us to pull all the contamination out from the site before
any neighboring properties are effected.”
Moore noted that a full site assessment would need to be done now. And
the legal discussions, alone, “could take weeks until everyone
agrees on what needs to be done, as well as what gets paid.”
“It’s quite a dicey situation,” he said. “It
may be a while before they get the station opened up again.”
He added that Verona “has a track record with this sort of work,”
having done it before… albeit not in Region 3.
The property has a history of being a gas station well back into the
mid 1900’s, long before Verona took it over, so all agree contamination
may predate the current ownership. But it still needs to be cleaned
Verona Oil, based in Roscoe NY, is a company doing an estimated $71.3
million in sales annually with 15 stores in the region and 250 employees
that run them.
Craig Verona, the Chief Executive Officer for Verona Oil, said this
week that it was DEC that stopped the job, but regardless he understands
what the next step is and that he is allowed to continue along those
lines. He is working with a company that specializes in environmental
Verona says he hopes to open the store again as soon as possible, but
could not say when that would be.
Asked to clarify why he believes DEC stopped the work, Verona said “They
threatened me with being put in jail.”
“We’ll know better where things stand in three to four weeks,”
Moore said on the DEC’s behalf.
“The key factor is that you have to work with us,” Janeway
added. “We will be working out a new schedule on this, eventually.”
In the meantime, get your gas down the road… and keep your fingers
crossed something gets cleaned up in the middle of Phoenicia by the
summer, at least.
It also looks like there will be no political acts of grandstanding in
the region this time around, as are occurring in some southern states
now and as happened in the 1930s when a number of Upstate GOP strongholds
refused the New Deal funds for new schools and other infrastructure based
on their long-held dislike for President Roosevelt.
Notes from a recent Greene County meeting with U.S. Senator Charles Schumer
on how stimulus funding will be allocated addressed the various single
taxpayer monies involved, from the average $12 a week payroll tax decreases
per family through $7,500 first time home buyers and $2,500 tuition tax
credits to auto loan interest deductions and large influxes of money to
counties to offset recent state hikes in Medicaid reimbursements.
More importantly, Schumer said that half of all the rest of the money
set aside is for 90 to 180 day “shovel ready” projects, with
the other half for projects that can get started by 2010. The current
timeline for getting such funds, or at least applying for them, has May
and June deadlines for complete, all-permits-in-place applications for
“shovel ready” county and state transportation department-listed
projects, with some leeway for projects scheduled to start next year.
2010 priorities, he said, would emphasize “long term projects”
such as increased IT access infrastructure, such as getting broadband
to rural areas in the Catskills presently underserved, as well as communication
equipment for emergency operations. Water and sewer plants, as well as
ready-to-roll alternative energy projects, are also being given precedence.
Schumer suggested that, in addition to submissions through county government,
his office will be handling applications and ready to answer any questions
coming in from municipalities about the stimulus.
Looking at the area more specifically, the big county projects being looked
at for the present include a number of roads and bridges projects put
together from a wish list from the Ulster County Transportation Council,
including quite a bit of rehab money for the county-owned Ulster and Delaware
Railroad railbed, for development into a rail trail and possible eventual
tourist train revival.
Federal stimulus funding for transportation projects is required to be
distributed through the same process that all federal transportation funds
follow and are not under the discretion of the Governor’s office.
That means entities such as the UCTC have direct control of what gets
what… and quickly.
All of the local plans dovetail with state plans for what’s expected
to be at least $24.6 billion in stimulus funds coming to New York over
the next two years, including funds for New York City transit, the Metro
North commuter rail system, high speed rail connections between Albany
and both Buffalo and the New York metro area, and the purchase of new,
energy efficient buses for public transportation. The region has also
been allocated over $200 million for weatherization of homes.
Ulster County Executive Michael Hein said the county is “excited”
about the long term and short term job that can come from this, “short
term with infrastructure projects and long term with the re-investment
in the new energy economy that we are looking to move forward in Ulster
The first transportation projects — “Bridges, roads, and projects
that can be up and running in less than 90 days,” according to Hein
— are expected to go out to bid as early as March 5, Governor Paterson
announced recently, in between continuing sessions to get the rest of
the state’s budget in order, despite persisting revenue shortfalls
in the billions.
U.S. Congressman Maurice Hinchey, meanwhile, has said that in addition
to Kingston sewer repairs and some key local bridges, he’s been
trying to set aside funding for the fledgling Solar Energy Consortium
as a means of bolstering the region’s economic future, and welcomes
a returned $680,000 in revenue aid for the Onteora School District.
In related moves, a state rural health initiative has started pumping
new funds into local rural health networks and the U.S. Department of
Agriculture Rural Development agency is reducing its interest rate on
direct home loans to four percent, effective March 1. Funds for potential
homelessness within the region have also been increased from the federal
On an even more local basis, here in the Route 28 corridor, a call by
supporters of state-owned Belleayre Mountain Ski Center and a private
resort planned for its vicinity have said they were lobbying the governor
for stimulus funds, although competing statements from the state Department
of Environmental Conservation indicated there was no way such funding
was possible, given the state’s other needs (see accompanying story).
Woodstock is putting forth approved plans for new town offices, while
the town of Shandaken Supervisor Peter DiSclafani said he is looking for
$1 million to go toward the proposed Phoenicia sewer project plus additional
funds for a wastewater retrofit project in Pine Hill. He also hopes to
secure money to rehabilitate the crumbling Town Hall.
In Olive, requests for specific stimulus lists were not disseminated by
press time, although a number of such projects have been filed with the
Catskill Center-administered Central Catskills Collaborative, a Route
28-specific planning consortium that came together in recent years to
spend regional Smart Growth funds from the state and start coming up with
regionally-minded projects for possible future funding… such as
that in the stimulus package.
Discussion of such matters is expected at town meetings in the coming
weeks, as well as at the CCC gathering planned for Margaretville this
Thursday, February 26.
Over at the Catskill Watershed Corporation, the region’s leading
non-governmental projects-oriented agency, employees said they’d
not only been getting numerous requests for help getting stimulus funds
of late, but were starting to work informally towards compiling lists
of shovel-ready projects throughout the watershed region… to be
formalized with board policy decisions in the coming weeks.
“CWC, if asked, is prepared to assist in any way we can with our
member towns and counties,” said the agency’s legal counsel,
Timothy Cox, after conferring with board president Georgianne Lepke this
17 meeting scheduled to deal with the vacancy, which will then go up for
district-wide vote along with two other board seats when the school budget
gets voted on May 19, was canceled last week due to an illness in board
president Maxanne Resnick’s family.
The four applicants who have come forward, culled by reporters who FOILed
the dirict for the information, are West Shokan resident William Melvin,
Oliverea Resident Tom Hickey, Mount Tremper resident Dan Spencer and Shokan
resident Rita Vanacore.
Melvin, a high school senior and student representative to the Board of
Education, said in his statement that his appointment would allow for
continuity and could serve to bring harmony to a sometimes divided board.
“I feel my appointment would be in the best interest of the…district,”
he wrote. “Student perspective, someone who experiences firsthand
the effects of board decisions, on the board…would be very beneficial
to our schools.”
When Melvin first suggested he be appointed to the position earlier this
month, board member Donna Flayhan said to him that she thought such a
move would end up detracting from his studies.
Hickey, who ran unsuccessfully for the school board four years ago and
who has a background in finance and management, said in his statement
that he is willing to serve until the next election in May.
“I feel with my background, I can be fair and balanced and bring
experience that may help the ongoing budget process,” he wrote.
Spencer, who submitted his statement of interest one day after the February
16 deadline, is a Project Manager at AMETEK Rotron. Spencer wrote that
his position gives him skills that would benefit the board. He also considers
himself “neutral on the issues currently driving what I see as a
split in both the board and the community they serve.”
Vanacore, a former trustee who lost her re-election bid last year, and
adamantly said she would not be running when asked earlier in the month,
wrote that she always put the needs of the students first during her tenure.
“My previous tenure gives me the updated experience to transition
onto the board with the least amount of confusion and lack of knowledge,”
To fill the vacancy, the remaining six trustees will decide with a majority
Legnini, a West Shokan-based musician and producer elected to a three-year
term on the board last May along with three other district residents running
as a slate, resigned on February 3. His resignation letter said he was
frustrated with a board that, in his view, lacked the harmony necessary
to do the best job for the district.
A special meeting had also been set this for Tuesday, February 24 to discuss
the hiring of a new District Clerk to replace Laurel Herdman, whose recent
resignation was the district’s third since July 2008, when longstanding
District Clerk Jeanne Shultis retired.
At that meeting, Fern Amster was named the new Onteora District Clerk.
Resnick was elected board president at a special meeting on February 6,
where she won a 4-2 vote with Michelle Friedel and Richard Wolff in opposition.
At that same meeting, Triton Construction was awarded the bid for the
High School Auditorium renovation project. In total there were three bidders.
Contractor Greg Chiapperino presented a timeline and oversight table assuring
that the job has appropriate oversight. Board Vice-president Laurie Osmond
asked Chiapperino to protect the auditorium seats that are still in good
Chiapperino said he was aware and already received a call from someone
possibly interested but board policy dictates that the district must try
to sell the seats before donating them. Resnick explained that they have
already emailed out to non-profit arts organizations, offering to sell
them in lots of 25. When McLaren said there have been no interested bidders
Resnick replied that, “Levon Helm wants 50.”
The auditorium is still on schedule for completion by the new school year
in September 2009. But Chiapperino said it is important that the school
board approve construction by the next school board meeting, which at
the time was February 17.
That matter will now be voted on at a special meeting the board has called
for this Friday morning, February 27, at the District Administrative offices
In ongoing budget discussions geared towards addressing fluctuating revenue
possibilities for the coming year, department heads have presented budget
reductions as a way of keeping costs down while addressing declining enrollment.
And according to Onteora superintendent Dr. Leslie Ford, six teachers
have been given word that if the board approves a reduction, their positions
will be eliminated.
In a separate interview, Union President, Corey Cavallaro said, “Contractually
they have to tell the staff that they are being excessed by sometime in
March.” He added that he believes the administration will follow
through, recommending the cuts even if money is freed up to keep teachers.
“We have the lowest enrollment that I think the district has ever
had,” said Cavallaro, “and we have too much staff our district
cannot afford to pay…it’s just not fiscally responsible.”
On the other hand, Cavallaro admitted that he disagreed with the cuts
proposal, but explained that it is a very difficult fine line to walk
between what is good for students and right for taxpayers.
“It’s a difficult situation the district is in, we want to
do the best for the kids, and laying off staff, I don’t think that
is in the best interest of the students right now.”
An alternative plan under discussion includes shared teachers and courses
in order to keep staff at full time, as well as a possible changing of
secondary school scheduling from an eight-day block with 55-minute classes
to a nine period, 43-minute class per-day.
of Fabulous Furniture on Route 28 in Boiceville, had caught a glimpse
of legacy in that mirror which tracks directly forward to his winning,
last week, of the New York Times Collectible Car of the Year Award and
a subsequent invitation to display his mobile “sculpture,”
the “Marquis de Soto,” at the celebrated New York International
Auto Show in the Jacob Javits Convention Center in Manhattan from April
10th to 19th this year.
“I heard him pull away in the log truck and heard him come back,”
recalls Martha Frankel, whose instincts as a mate were alerted by the
maneuver. “He came in and said ‘I can’t get rid of this
stuff. I have to keep it,’ and when I asked what he was going to
do with it, he said he didn’t know.”
The “stuff” in question was a truckload of accumulated odds
and ends which his father, a former antique dealer in Lake Hill, had left
behind when he died and Steve had cleared out of the old homestead. Something
in the reverse image of it said that this stuff wasn’t disposable
and Heller, a creative designer of sleek and unique furniture, mulled
on it a while before he started taking lessons in welding. Now, as Martha
points out, a third of the furniture shop is filled with imaginative metal
sculptures which trace their genesis to that almost discarded truckload.
Another “almost” in the story is the contest he almost missed
because he heard about it with only two days left in the entry period.
Since the “Marquis” was a custom-made vehicle rather than
a restored car like most, if not all, of the other entries, Heller was
a bit dubious about his chances. But those doubts fell out of his pockets
as he jumped up and down when, on December 1st, Martha came into the workshop
to announce she had checked the contest website and found the Marquis
de Soto among the 30 finalists out of well over 600 entries.
From here it became a reader popularity contest as the finalists chosen
by the Times automotive experts were put to a vote to be tabulated by
the RealTime Media company in Pennsylvania. The announcement to finalists
politely requested “please register to vote and come back to vote
once a day,” sending Martha into action, saying she “remembered
how Obama won” before sending directions to the car-voter website
out to their e-mail list and posting the information on her Facebook page.
Hopes dimmed as time passed without notice from the paper before an e-mail
from RealTime saying they were surprised Heller had not responded and
there was only 24 hours left before the prize of a trophy, a first-place
certificate and $5,000 in award money would be given to the second place
winner. A phone call to the company revealed that an e-mail announcement
a week before had somehow gone astray but it was then resent and another
“almost” was averted.
It became a very busy week. The paperback edition of Martha’s memoir
had just been just published by Tarcher/Penguin and a story on Steve’s
car was in the New York Times. The book, titled Hats & Eyeglasses
after a poker term signifying a hopeless hand, is a compelling account
of Frankel’s shaded waltz with compulsive gambling and it had gathered
a stack of positive reviews. Described as “fearless” by a
brazen tabloid like the New York Post, it’s also a book in which
a reviewer for USA Today found “a heady joy ride” in the turmoil
of poker addiction; a clear tribute to the wit and writing ability of
an author who had gained renown from her interview portraits of celebrities
for numerous magazines.
Heller, raised in Queens, had met his wife-to-be, raised in the Bronx,
at Woodstock’s Joyous Lake in 1974, a year after he had moved Fabulous
Furniture from an upstairs space at Winchell’s Corners to its present
“Our shop burned down on October 30,1978, with all his tools,”
recalled Frankel, who by that date had become deeply involved in the running
of the business. “The whole town got together and helped and we
built this amazing concrete block building before New Years. A hundred
people would show up in freezing cold weather to lay block and put the
roof up. It was a lovely, incredible thing. Steve was, I think, 38 at
the time and I was 30 and that committed us to living in Olive the rest
of our lives.”
Undaunted by the car trim which serves as kitchen cabinet handles or the
Chevy Impala tail lights over the fireplace, Frankel is, on the contrary,
delighted with Heller’s “customizing” touches around
the house. Although he studied psychology rather than art, Steve’s
eye is keen to the aesthetic sensibilities he brings to his woodwork and
sculpture. She sees no separation between the focus of his work and the
daily living of his life.
“I love that he’s doing something that he loves doing,”
she declares, explaining that he turned to outdoor sculpture when house
space was filled. “He’s so happy, who could be mad at him?”
The Marquis de Soto, of course, goes far beyond customizing. It approaches
the kind of genetic engineering we find in the half-lion, half-eagle Griffins
that Zeus created to guard the fabled “Gold of the North.”
In fact, in an age when human genes are being inserted in rice and, for
obvious reasons, the food industry and the FDA are downplaying the use
of bacterium like Salmonella Typhimurium and various plant viruses as
vectors in transgenic transfer to produce such patent-eligible foodstuff,
it’s refreshing to see a mad scientist lay it all out there on his
website. Click on the “Fabulous Stuff” link at Steve Heller’s
Fabulous Furniture website and you will find this pedigree for his award-winning
fabulous four-wheeled beast...
“She started out as an almost new Mercury Marquis. We stripped all
the bumpers, lights and trim, modified and added rear quarters from a
1957 DeSoto complete with tailights, bumper and trunk lid. The front fender
is from a 1958 Lincoln with headlights. The bumpers are from a 1955 Caddy
and the grille is from two 1957 Corvettes with extra teeth. The top of
the hood is a 1965 Buick Skylark trunk lid and the roll pan is a 1958
Caddy hood turned upside down. The directional signals are 1959 Cadillac
tailights and the turning lights are from a 1948 Dodge. The side chrome
is from a 1957 Buick. Also parts from 1953 Pontiac roof and front fenders.”
“I needed a car to drive longer distances than my truck and I always
wanted to build a totally customized car,” Heller elaborates. “Since
I was a kid, I’ve never driven a stock vehicle; always had some
kind of modifications and custom paint jobs, which I do myself, too. The
custom cars you saw on the covers of car magazines back then were just
personalized whatevers. You could always tell what they were. But I wanted
to do something different...something you couldn’t tell what it
was...In the contest, the collectibles are all just restored cars. I think
this was the first time they had a fully modified car in the finalists.”
With this triumph under his belt, Heller is looking forward to other intriguing
projects on the horizon, such as a commission for his own cubist vision
for a guitar sculpture eight or ten feet tall or the completion of his
Stargate? Yes, he hopes to finish it this year, he said. It’s 14
feet in diameter and he’s “electrifying it so it works,”
he said. “With a DHD (Dial Home Device), so you can get back from
wherever you’re going... You don’t want to get stuck on planet
Er....okay, Steve. Visions of the Stargates of science fictional fame
are dancing through my mind; visions wherein you step through dimensions
and wormhole out on a planet light-years away in the space of a blink.
Or studies of contemporary mythology like the ponderous The Stargate Conspiracy
by Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince, wherein the concept takes a deeper
step toward reality, and the subquantum kinetic twists of Paul LaViolette
and others on the leaping trail of quantum “entanglements,”
hyperbole geometry and further loopholes of physics and cosmology that
provide scientific footing wherein serious Stargate theorizing is perfectly
Steve, the Marquis de Soto is combine sculpture that extends into the
functional realm. You drive around in it. But a “Stargate”
model would be...
“An absolutely functional model,” Heller said with a grin
you could almost hear over the phone. “All my stuff is functional.”
For One, Ski For All?
More importantly, are they
still set to close at the end of March, as promised by the state Department
of Environmental Conservation that owns and operates the region’s
oldest surviving winter sports mecca, in a move to save funds this year?
How’s their budget looking, given the state’s attempts to
wrestle down its ballooning deficits, for not only the coming years,
but the one we’re now in? Have the skiers been coming?
The big news of late has been the regular meetings the principals of
Ulster, Greene and Delaware county ski centers have been holding in
recent weeks, finally bringing themselves to the idea of working together
to attract more visitors. And the goal? To make the Catskills a unified
ski destination, with room for niche marketing to satisfy the big four
still remaining in the area… Hunter, Windham, Belleayre and Ski
Plattekill near Roxbury.
According to Belleayre’s Superintendent Tony Lanza, all sides
have found common ground in a hope to attract more skiers to the region,
skiers that otherwise travel to Vermont. Preliminary plans, he said
this week, call for a billboard blitz along the routes to and from the
Vermont slopes announcing discounts to those that try the Catskills
“It might not be ready for this year, but at least we have an
agreement about what we want to do,” Lanza said.
The campaign would be paid for by the four ski centers, with the three
counties, and hopefully whatever’s left of the state’s I
Love NY and other tourism-related programs, contributing as well.
Yet simultaneous with the good news, a talk with DEC Region 3 Director
Willie Janeway this week found him saying that no new expansion funds
had been set aside for Belleayre this year, and a recent skiing trip
to the winter sports center under his aegis led him to concur with other
DEC officials checking out the mountain in recent weeks.
Their findings? That things are operating just fine for now, so there
would be no need to burden the state with funding requests next year,
As for bigger ties-in to federal stimulus funds, which the Coalition
to Save Belleayre asked Governbor David Paterson to help them get in
a press release this week, Janeway noted that it was his understanding
that such funding needed “shovel-ready” projects not encumbered
with outstanding environmental review or permitting processes still
in need of being worked through.
“We at the state won’t have our part of this ready for public
review for many, many months yet,” Janeway said on Monday, February
23, the same day the Coalition’s Joe Kelly was noting that such
process, and the state’s new Unit Management Plan for Belleayre,
were all but done already.
Janeway did add, however, that funds were still available, and the process
moving along well, for a massive land purchase of private lands that
developers Crossroads Ventures had once been planning for a second resort,
before former Governor Eliot Spitzer scuttled such ideas with the formulation
of his as yet-unrealized Agreement in Principle to join the proposed
Belleayre Resort with a long-awaited ski center expansion.
Lanza, told of Janeway’s statements regarding the budget on Tuesday,
Feb. 24, expressed surprise that anyone knew anything about the state’s
“How’d he know that,” Lanza said. “Nobody knows
He went on to note that while he’s still planning on closing down
Belleayre at the end of March, he’s also considering appealing
for a later close should the weather stay cold. He also noted that,
despite a halved advertising budget and later start than usual, Belleayre
had been having a “very good year,” on a par with a six
year average if behind last year’s bumper income.
“Our revenues will exceed our expenses,” he said, carefully.
“WE were helped that the fuel costs dropped, cutting our snowmaking
He said that the recent talks with Hunter, Windham and Plattekill had
left him enthusiastic about better years to come.
“We’re all realizing that together we CAN compete with Southern
Vermont,” he said. “After all, we’re all dealing with
the same region’s economy. We’ve got to do what we’ve
got to do…”