Up on the News
According to DEP spokesman
Michael Saucier, the city agency currently provides funding to the United
States Geological Survey for an extensive network of approximately 100
stream gauges within and outside of DEP's watershed area. Of those,
he said, DEP will no longer support 24. The cost to operate each gauge
is about $17,000 a year.
“As a result of the need to reduce expenditures during this difficult
economic time, DEP is reviewing all aspects of its budget, including
the support it provides for the gaging network,” Saucier said
in a prepared statement. “The results of this analysis indicate
that many of the gages no longer serve the purpose for which they were
Only one gauge in Shandaken is slated for shut down. It is at the Panther
Mountain Tributary to the Esopus Creek in Oliverea. Three others in
Ulster County - at the Beaver Kill Tributary in Lake Hill, on the Roundout
Creek at Peekamoose and on the Wallkill River in Gardiner, are set to
be shut down as well.
In nearby Greene County the gauges on the Sugarloaf Brook in Tannersville,
the Schoharie Creek near Lexington, and the Batavia Kill near Maplecrest
and also in Hensonville will have gauges shut off.
State Senator John Bonacic, who called the DEP’s plan “inappropriate,”
met with New York City Department of Environmental Protection Deputy
Commissioner Paul Rush earlier this week to demand that stream gages
in the watershed area be kept open.
The Senator later said he asked the DEP to give him an answer on the
gauges later this week. But Bonacic added that if he did not receive
a satisfactory response he would introduce legislation to require New
York City, as part of their ongoing water supply responsibilities to
monitor the tributaries.
Hard hit, he and others noted, would bewill be Delaware County, where
over 11 gauges are scheduled to be shut down over the next two years
Middletown Supervisor Len Utter talked about the importance of the gauges
during flood events, saying that watershed dwellers can go onto a website
and see precise and up to the minute flows and elevations of the many
creeks monitored by the gages, which feed the data to satellite. Utter
said such data is an invaluable resource for a host of emergency service
agencies during flood events.
Rafael Rodriguez, Director of the USGS New York Water Science Center,
said that although the City plans to pull out on funding, it remains
unclear whether that would mean the gauges actually get turned off.
“Data collection at the streamgages may be discontinued due to
funding reductions from partner agencies,” he said. “Although
historic data will remain accessible, no new data will be collected
unless one or more new funding partners are found.”
Meanwhile, Hudson Valley Congressmen Maurice Hinchey and John Hall recently
announced final congressional approval of $331,000 for a pending flood
mitigation study in the Upper Delaware River Watershed and for the enhancement
of the existing flood alert system for the region. The two Democratic
lawmakers also worked to secure $96,000 for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
to provide additional support for the pending comprehensive study to
mitigate future flooding in a number of areas within the Upper Delaware
River Watershed. Hinchey also obtained approval of $235,000 for the
development and implementation of a Delaware River Enhanced Flood Warning
System, which will be done along with the Delaware River Basin Commission.
Hinchey and Hall obtained $700,000 for the study last year, to which
this funding will be added.
Unknown is how such funding could help out with the city and USGS program’s
Al Higley and his son Alfie run Hanover Farms, a roadside stand on Route
28 in Mount Tremper from which they sell acquired produce, some of it
local during season, and sundry other goods. After years of battling the
Town of Shandaken for being in violation of the town’s existing
zoning laws, Higley says he now faces another threat to his livelihood
- a new law that regulates the size of farm stands, what can be sold at
one, and what time of day the goods can be sold.
As zoning now stands, however, such stands are not allowed at Hanover
Farm’s existing size. Neighboring Roger & Alyce’s Farm
Stand was grandfathered into existence over 20 years ago.
Prior to the town board’s March 16 hearing on the proposed law,
Higley launched a public relations campaign, distributing leaflets to
every mailbox in town claiming persecution for political reasons and urging
town residents to attend the session and stop the town board. All that
shop at Hanover Farms were recruited as well, with the Higleys opening
discussions with the catch phrase question, “Are you a friend of
The result was that when the hearing began at town hall on March 16, it
was standing room only, with dozens more milling about out in the hall
and parking lot. Most were supporters of Higley, and one at a time they
spoke of Higley’s virtues as a businessman and local resident.
A butcher by trade and former restauranteur and Olive town justice, Higley
built the Boiceville Supermarket, then known as Al’s, in the mid
1970’s, later selling the property after a FEMA flood settlement.
While serving as a GOP county legislator in the mid 1980’s he ran
a wholesale meat business which supplied the county jail. Prohibited by
his elected role from bidding on county contracts, he was subsequently
convicted on two counts of conflict-of-interest in connection with a “dummy”
corporation he set up, headed by his sister and brother-in-law, to continue
the business arrangement. Higley was forced to resign his legislative
post. The convictions were overturned in 1987 by the state Court of Appeals,
who found that the District Attorney had failed to have Higley swear an
oath to his having put into writing a waiver of immunity from prosecution
in return for grand jury testimony.
As for the public hearing earlier this month, Higley himself set the tone
for the evening when, allowed to speak first, he sauntered up to the microphone
and offered a pep talk directly to his supporters instead of speaking
to the board about the proposed law.
“The law is on our side, the politician’s aren’t,”
Higley said, back to the board, instructing the crowd he’d pulled
out to let the board know they were displeased.
Commentary ranged from charges of the law being nothing but a political
attack against Higley to outcries that any efforts to control farm stand
growth were “absurd,” and that business should be allowed
to do whatever it takes to keep going during these tough times.
Against a backdrop of catcalls and threatening remarks from the pro Higley
contingent, others spoke in favor of the law, noting that the proposed
law actually increases the size of Higley’s operation (under current
law Higley is allowed only 100 square feet; the new law allows 2000),
and suggesting that Higley was exaggerating when claiming such a law would
put him out of business.
Supervisor Peter DiSclafani explained that the proposed law is an attempt
to update current laws that are no longer in step with things in the new
millennium, including new regional efforts to emphasize the Catskills’
farming heritage. He pointed out that the laws on the books now only allow
farmers to place a couple of picnic tables out by the road to sell the
produce they grow. The new law, he said, recognizes the popularity and
need for larger produce stands that sell more than just tomatoes and corn
but all vegetables, fruits, herbs, fresh pressed ciders, home-made pies,
homemade jams, homemade jellies, homemade preserves, homemade sauces,
homemade pickles, homemade vinegars, milk, cream, butter, cheese, dried
fruits, honey, nuts, maple syrup.
Under the aegis of the Watershed Agricultural Council, with support from
the Catskill Watershed Corporation and other regional entities, a new
“Pure Catskills: Buy Fresh, Buy Local” campaign has gathered
steam in recent years via a popular website, regional guide books, and
a product branding effort.
Pure Catskills, which defines itself as a branding and buy local campaign
and is funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Catskill Mountain Foundation,
and New York City Department of Environmental Protection, among other
entities, has been seen as a key towards greater regional identity, and
a return to small-scale agriculture, throughout the Catskills… and
includes such local members as the Emerson Farm Store and Wittenberg Store
(but not Hanover Farms).
Also key to regional development of late has been a newfound emphasis
on sustainable small growth, emphasizing local products, as well as such
efforts as the Central Catskills Collaborative, which was set up to spend
an initial $500,000 in state funds dedicated to communal projects among
the Route 28 corridor’s key municipalities, and has since raised
further funding, and funding potential, tied to its new effort to apply
for Route 28 to be given Scenic Byway status, which town and regional
authorities now see as a key to future funding help for coordinated development
in the central Catskills.
Nevertheless. among the chief complaints about the proposed farmstand
law in Shandaken March 16 were those who objected that it limits what
can be sold at any stand to only homemade and local produce, that it limits
operation to daylight hours only, and that it requires that all lights
be turned off after sunset.
Higley’s stand, although located in what is zoned a residential
neighborhood, is currently open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Maureen Millar, a Mt.Tremper resident and member of the town Planning
Board, surprised all by saying that she did not support the law. But while
most in the room opposed it because they view it as too restrictive, Millar
opposed it because it isn’t restrictive enough.
“Everyone hates zoning laws,” she said. “Until their
neighbor does something crazy.”
Former planner Al Frisenda, speaking in favor of Higley’s stand,
meanwhile said the solution for Higley would be for the town board to
re-zone the area to a Highway Business Zone.
It was noted that such an action, or any effort to remove the proposed
controls in the draft law, would possibly jeopardizee Scenic Byway status
for the rest of the Route 28 corridor.
Past battles involving town zoning have also included other business proposals
for Route 28, from those that resulted from okays for the Phoenicia Diner
and nearby mall properties, deemed examples of “spot zoning”
at the time, to Frisenda’s inevitably successful legal battle to
build what is now Railroad Pizza near Pine Hill and Zoning Board of Appeals
member Gary Guglielmetti’s attempt to set up an auto service shop
in the Mt. Tremper vicinity.
The town board is expected to make adjustments to the proposed law and
reconsider the matter April 6.
On The State...
a recent Washington Post article noted a particularly scary trend, given
the growing number of layoffs starting to move through the region, by
pointing out how, “More than a quarter of people applying for unemployment
claims have their rights to the benefit challenged as employers increasingly
act to block payouts to workers.”
“Under state and federal laws, employees who are fired for misbehavior
or quit voluntarily are ineligible for unemployment compensation,”
the piece continued. “When jobless claims are blocked, employers
save money because their unemployment insurance rates are based on the
amount of the benefits their workers collect… Many seem surprised
to find their benefits challenged, their former bosses providing testimony
This phenomenon, it turns out, has created an industry of ‘third-party
agents’ - companies that specialize in helping employers deal with
the unemployment insurance administration by representing them in disputes
with former employees.
Why this is happening, beyond employers’ own financial protection,
was open to several interpretations, including systematic automation of
the process, and court rulings that have enlarged the definition of employee
We checked with the state to see what was up here in New York, in general,
as well as in Ulster County.
Labor Department spokesperson Karen Williamson began by sharing new unemployment
figures for the state that showed a jump from 6.8 percent in December
to 7.6 percent for January. During that same time, Ulster County saw its
rate rise from 6.5 percent to 7.8 percent for January, while neighboring
Greene County went from 7.6 percent to 8.5 percent, Delaware County went
from 7.6 percent to 9.5 percent, and Sullivan County surged from 8.4 to
“People I spoke with in our unemployment insurance claims offices
said that the numbers of claims being challenged by employers have risen,”
Williamson said. “But the numbers of claims have also risen drastically,
so it hasn’t looked out of line here, at least to our people.”
We asked about how much people could make on unemployment and Williamson
went on to note that the range was between a low level of $64 a week,
plus an additional $25 per week in new federal stimulus dollars, to a
high of $405 per week, plus that same $25.
So what about the other news, we asked, about states refusing those federal
stimulus funds because they would skew their payment schedules. How big
was the discrepancy between Unemployment benefits, state to state.
She said she and others in her office working on the problem could find
no centralized information comparing state’s payments. She just
knew it was a lot...
So much for bad news. Has there been any good, on a financial level?
Shandaken Supervisor Peter DiSclafani said he is looking to federal stimulus
funding, recently forgotten in all the hallabaloo about bank bailouts,
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.
“I heard the DOT wants to use the stimulus money to pave portions
of the Ulster County section of 28,” said Peter Manning, who serves
as facilitator for the new regional group, the Central Catskills Collaborative,
as well as Planner for the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development.
“As you probably know, several months ago the Town of Shandaken
raised awareness of the deteriorating road conditions.” Also, Manning
said, he’d heard that there’d been a push to get the feds
interested, via Governor Paterson’s office (who oversees stimulus
funding in New York), in doing something to get the long-pending Catskill
Interpretive Center up and running, even if only in a vacant building
on Route 28.
And hey, gas is still cheap (even if you have to drive a distance to get
it). And Spring’s starting to hint at bursting forth one of these
Not all bad, in the end. At least while we keep waiting on the state…
Some of Miss
Kitty’s regulars come from Woodstock and Saugerties and from Kingston,
where she built a following over 10 years working at another salon. But
most of them come from right here in Shandaken and Olive and on any given
day, it’s a great place to hear a real-time cross section of our
local inner and outer dialogue. And that lively, interactive aspect to
the place seems pretty much a nonstop phenomenon.
“As soon as people sit down in one of these chairs they start talking,”
said Kitty. “Things usually start where you’d expect with
the weather, news, celebrity stuff, things like that. But they don’t
always stop there. “ Then she turned and glared, almost serious:
“Of course what happens at Miss Kitty’s stays at Miss Kitty’s.”
On that score she’s undoubtedly right because if it didn’t,
life around here might have blown up years ago. One thing however’s
clear, and that’s that the trust, comfort, and sisterly therapy
components are all essential parts of a great hairstyling experience,
something Kitty’s been doing for 16 years now professionally. The
mystique is so strong in fact, it draws people to stop by and spend time
even when they’re not getting their hair done. For any who haven’t
noticed, that hardly ever happens in, say, an auto parts store.
So what’s the secret to creating a safe & fun environment where
you end up getting pampered and walk out looking beautiful? Well it’s
teamwork, says Kitty, who’s as thrilled with her team of Stephanie
Camuto, Michelle Morelli, and Lindy Leonard, as they seem to be with her.
All seem to agree that what they’ve created feels a bit like a party,
except where things people really need and like actually get done.
And what are people talking about these days in this male-friendly inner
sanctum of Catskills womanhood?
“Well they’re definitely worried about the economy, and they’re
paying attention to the details, says Kitty. “Most of our customers
could tell you where the Dow closed on any given day, plus or minus a
hundred points. They’re trying to see what they’re going to
do with their money, and make their choices accordingly. “
Not everything’s quite so serious however, as it’s also an
excellent place to catch up on missed episodes of American Idol or Dancing
with the Stars.
“The downside to all this,” says Kitty with mock seriousness,
“is that people have been watching way too much TV this winter.
But everybody’s ready for warm weather. As soon as things started
to thaw, people really began coming out. Things did slow down a bit when
the economy went south last fall; plenty of people didn’t make it
in quite as often as they usually do. Even still, business was good through
the winter and we think it’s going to be a good spring.”
Her team it appears, agrees.
“I love it here,” says Kitty. “I love my job, I love
coming in every morning to work with my friends, and I love the locals,”
something she herself most assuredly is. Born in West Hurley, a 1987 Onteora
grad, she lives with her husband in Mt.Tremper with a perfect view of
the mountains over Route 28 both from work and from home.
After board discussion and
adoption (or mitigation), the spending plan will go before Onteora voters
on Tuesday, May 19, when an election will also be held for three school
board seats, including three-year posts currently held by Board President
Maxanne Resnick and Vice President Laurie Osmond, as well as the vacant
seat once held by former Board President Ralph Legnini, who resigned
this winter and was recently replaced by Mt. Tremper resident Dan Spencer.
Ford presented her budget, $88,000 over the district’s contingency
figures, at a March 17 board of education meeting at the Middle/High
School after an earlier trial run on March 3 where she explained how
most of the cuts involved personnel and reflected needs from use of
various means to keep the tax levy rise low last year.
“What I would suggest is running with this budget,” said
Ford, “It is so close to contingent because if the vote goes down
and we go to contingent budget we would be looking at removing the equipment
amount and if we move that, we are below contingent.”
“Our (tax) levy increase is 9 percent,” Ford said, explaining
how the Consumer Price Index combination of last year’s 3.08 percent
and this years 3.97 percent has forced shifts in how budgets are valued,
as well as the fact that the district will most likely see a two percent
loss in state aid and a one percent loss in interest income.
The budget-to-budget increase is projected to be 4.15 percent, from
$48,215.077 in 2008/2009 budget to $50,129,886.
Osmond said she would like to see more from individual district departments
on potential cuts.
“What we are getting here is very few menu items and we have the
entire budget to go through,” she said. “I think to look
at the significant categories would be very helpful.”
She also asked building administrators to look at an additional five
percent reduction, on top of an existing ten percent reduction figure,
and suggested that the district’s BOCES contract be reduced by
keeping kids in the district.
Resnick noted how, during a series of recent visits to town board meetings
throughout the district this month, people had mentioned the closing
an additional elementary school.
“Some say we should close a school to achieve some reduction,
but I want to stress that closing a school will not solve the problem,
it will help in reducing some of the operating budgets,” she said..
Osmond agreed, noting how expenses continued rising at Onteora despite
the 2005 closing of West Hurley.
Later, Resnick noted how, “We as a community need to better understand
the choices ahead regarding our school district. The question is what
the community’s priorities are against the associated tax levy
“As we go forward, the district needs to articulate, and the community
needs to better understand the array of choices that they might support,”
she noted. “Examples of the considerations are the retention of
a community school; our Middle School grade configuration; the sizes
of our classes, some of which are well below are district class size
caps; the variation we are able to offer in high school electives, as
well as after school programs; and the allocation of monies to improve
our current buildings, once a plan has been established.”
At the recent meeting and in a flurry of letters sent to local newspapers
and the Board since, the chief element drawing fire with Ford’s
proposed budget has been the proposed changing of how the INDIE program
operates, cutting its budget line from $120,000 to $50,000.
“We are looking at an after school program of some nature, we
don’t really have it defined yet, but we moved some money back
into that so that’s a change,” noted Ford, after making
some shifts from an earlier March 3 budget presentation.
She was followed, March 17, by the presentation of a student-made documentary
and INDIE Director Russell Richardson’s attempt to make a case
that his program ultimately saves the district money since it reduces
the dropout rate and keeps at risk kids from being sent to programs
out of the district, which inevitably drops aid funding. Specifically,
he noted how if dropped, INDIES 70 students would have to be absorbed
back into the curriculum or sent to BOCES.
“Sending a kid to BOCES for alternative programming is expensive,
the cost per year is $12,000 per child,” he said, noting that
INDIE’s cost currently averaged out at around $1,700, and could
be dropped to $1,200 with increased enrollment.
Later, High School Principal Lance Edelman warned of cutting BOCES while
“I hear alternative education be synonymous with INDIE and I keep
hearing filmmaking,” said Edelman. “Not all of our alternative
education students are interested in filmmaking; you have to remember
BOCES provides a wide range of programming.”
As an example he listed, cosmetology, auto repair and culinary arts.
In other budget talk on the 17th, the school board approved a ballot
measure that will ask voters to purchase two buses for the coming school
year. The request was approved 4-1, with Osmond voting no based on her
request that all departments make sacrifices, including transportation.
Trustees Michelle Friedel and Donna Flayhan were absent.
Director of Transportation Dave Moraca said that with the exception
of last year, voters have consistently refused the purchase of new buses
and they have a backlog of old, high mileage buses in need of expensive
On the ballot voters will be asked to vote on a 65-passenger bus at
a cost of $100,000 and the purchase of a 28-passenger bus at a cost
of $50,000. Moraca said the 65-passenger bus would replace a 1999 bus
with over 200,000 miles on it, while the smaller vehicle replaces a
van with 216,000 miles, at present.
On March 3, the board approved the extension of Mulligan bus contracts
for the 2009/2010 school year, with Trustee Donna Flayhan the only no
vote, feverishly still supporting the re-bidding of contracts.
In other recent matters, OCS Trustee Anne McGillicuddy asked if the
board could explore the possibility of having coffee chats with the
public as a means of better reaching out to the community, based on
a protocol set up in Kingston in recent years.
Trustee Rick Wolff said he was uncomfortable with the idea because of
the way misinformation moves around the district during annual election
McGillicuddy said she perceived the chats more as a means for the board
to listen to community input and listening than getting info out.
Superintendent Ford, for her own part, suggested having talking points
in order for the board to stay consistent.
Spencer, who was elected to fill the board seat left vacated by Legnini
on March 9 by a 5-1 vote, with only Trustee Rick Wolff not supporting
his candidacy, made suggestions on how the district website can be better
for public use at his first official meeting on March 16. He said information
does not get out to people, leaving the general public attitude towards
the district negative, and noted that the creation of an automated email
response system, along with an email distribution list and direct links,
would help solve the problem.
“I think we have a lot of good ideas, but we are not getting it
out quick enough,” he said.
The district now has a public comment phone line. The communications
committee organized this as an extension of the public-be-heard format.
Anyone can leave a district related message at 657-2677. Once you hear,
“Onteora faculty mailbox,” press extension 490.
Spencer was one of four candidates who made statements and answered
questions from board members in a recent interview process for the vacancy,
where he primarily addressed budget and enrollment conflicts within
the district with a calm, politically neutral sense of style. Voting
was done alphabetically, with he the definitive winner over former board
candidate Tom Hickey, who gained only four votes, and two others, Rita
Vanacore and student William Melvin, who received one and zero votes,
Spencer is a Senior Applications Engineer and Project Manager at Ametek
Rotron. He lives in Mt. Tremper and is guardian to a child who attends
school in the district. He is a member of the Woodstock Rescue Squad,
has a Bachelors of Science in Electrical engineering, with a minor in
computer science and an Associates degree in Civil Technology.
He has said that he pondered running for school board in the past, but
was unsure how much time was involved in the volunteer job. He will
hold the seat through May and said this will give him opportunity to
decide if he can handle the time committed to run for a seat.
In other news since our last issue, the board rejected all contract
bids on the high school auditorium renovation project at a special meeting
on February 27, where they also re-authorized a re-bid due to cost overruns.
It turns out that with money approved for the project by voters in 2007
totaling $1.862,711, partly from an EXCEL State Grant stalled for two
years, final bids ened up coming in $160,000 over what was budgeted.
McLaren said there was a shining ray of hope, besides the possibility
of a new low bid. The Onteora auditorium job, she said, is currently
on a State-approved list of shovel-ready projects and could qualify
for stimulus money to make up for the shortfall.
Finally, Corey Cavallaro of the Onteora Teachers Association has continued
to address the school board and administration in public forum on contract
negotiations. He noted that the district has stalled in bargaining negotiations
for over 250 days and offered to meet in executive session and answer
questions the board may have.
So far, though, Cavallaro says he has met with no response except a
memo seeking a fact-finding request through a third party.
“The board of education and the superintendent have firmly established
the un-written policy of abdicating any responsibility for negotiations
and would rather hire consultants at taxpayer expense than do the work
they were hired and elected to do,” he stated.
The board’s next meeting is at Bennett School on March 31, the
same day the long-awaited state budget is officially supposed to be