Up on the News
Separate from both lobbying efforts, though, the state official closest
to the governor on such matters noted that nothing would be done to
expand the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s
leading ski center until a current environmental review process tied
to that expansion, as well as a proposal to build a massive adjoining
private resort, completed its course.
Which could take up to ten years, she added without irony, given complications
and probable lawsuits and appeals.
“We are now more than 20 years past a Constitutional Amendment
passed by the voters of this state demanding an expansion,”
said Coalition founder Joe Kelly in his own early April press release,
put out after the state’s budget was finalized. “When
the state signed an agreement in principle in 2007, we thought we
were finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel… This
is a picture perfect economic stimulus project with a tremendous spinoff
of benefits, The work can move forward in a timely and expeditious
manner with a real and immediate positive effect on job creation and
“I am concerned that the Obama ‘economic stimulus package’
will pass by without the needed expansion of the Belleayre Mountain
Ski Center being included,” said Ulster County Legislature Chairman
David Donaldson, D-Kingston, in an April 9 letter to the governor.
“The long overdue expansion of this state-owned property is
a $62 million project that will require 200 jobs to build it. Additionally,
150 to 200 permanent jobs coupled with 600 to 800 seasonal jobs will
be created once it is completed.
“The ski center’s expansion was approved by the voters
of New York state by a constitutional amendment twenty years ago,”
Donaldson added, echoing Kelly’s statement. “I hope you
agree this is long overdue, and I ask you to finally make the Belleayre
Mountain Ski Center expansion a reality.”
Gary Gailes, a spokesman for Crossroads Ventures, the company planning
a $400 million resort right next to Belleayre, said funneling stimulus
money to Belleayre makes sense “irrespective of the plans for
“If there was anyplace in need of stimulus money it’s
the central Catskills,” Gailes said, noting closed businesses
and “for sale” signs along state Route 28.
Yancey Roy, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental
Conservation, replied to questions about both statements by stating
that he was not aware of Donaldson’s request and would not say
whether the Belleayre expansion plan, said to still be on the drawing
board, would be ready to accept stimulus funds.
The expansion plan has received considerable attention in the community
since 2007, when it was linked to Crossroads’ proposed Belleayre
Resort at Catskill Park.. a roposed $400 million resort that would
be comprised of two complexes — one with a 250-room hotel and
139 townhouse-style lodging units surrounding an 18-hole golf course;
the other with a 120-room hotel and spa, 60 lodging units in two buildings
and another 60 detached units in up to 52 buildings.
If the resort plan is approved, the state has agreed to build new
lifts and trails next to the resort on 78 acres the state would purchased
from the developer, in addition to another 1400 acres being bought
for the state’s Catskill Forest Preserve holdings from Crossroads.
By state law, Belleayre’s ski trails cannot exceed a total of
Complicating the project’s review process have been requirements
that both the DEC and Crossroads take into account climate change
science in its mitigation processes, along with a wider look at community
character and other effects of such development over the region.
Asked about it all at a private event in Kingston a couple of weeks
ago, the state’s cabinet-level Deputy Secretary for the Environment,
Judith Enck, noted that as far as she had heard, the current hold-up
on new environmental impact statements was coming from the Crossroads
as much as, if not more than, the state DEC.
Furthermore, she added, there would be no state funding, or building
of any sort at Belleayre, until that process was completed.
Which was when she lobbed out the ten year matter…
Albeit with the added statement that she still felt the project was
a good one, and would eventually get built.
Stay tuned… we’ll be sure and do yet another update on
this multi-year process over the coming summer months. And probably
been growing, and very active about going out soliciting new members,”
Karwatowski said of the watershed chapter, now at 130 members. “And
to think that this all started in Michigan, with a few people trying
to protect their local streams, to the conservation of their natural
Started in 1959 by 16 fishermen in Traverse City, Michigan who wanted
to protect their local river, TU defined itself as “the largest
and oldest coldwater conservation organization in America” while
growing to its current size of 140,000 members in 400 local chapters
throughout the country.
“TU has been instrumental in restoring more than 10,000 miles
of rivers and streams around the country and has been a force in protecting
habitat for trout and salmon from Alaska to Maine,” the organization’s
CEO, Charles Gauvin, announced at the start of the current birthday
year. “As it marks its 50th birthday, Trout Unlimited can take
great pride in its accomplishments as a steward of and advocate for
America’s trout and salmon and their watersheds.”
Karwatowski, who headed the Kingston-based Catskills Mountain Chapter
of the organization before moving to West Shokan 20 years back, said
that more than membership numbers, TU’s importance, as well
as the local chapters’ role in the larger whole, have come from
the many tangible contributions they’ve made, from significant
reforms to state and federal water laws to careful looks into dam
removals, minimum flow standards, and other modern-day policies accepted
“We are undeniably the group that has had the most impact on
our water policies, outside of the government,” he noted. “Here
in New York State and the Catskills, our importance has had as much
to do with the financial support fishermen from the city have given
the organization, as well as the number of key figures who have emerged
around flyfishing along our local streams.”
Karwatowski said that although originally from the Schenectady area,
and used to lake fishing throughout the nearby Adirondacks, he didn’t
get the trout, or Catskills Mountain fishing bug until he moved to
the area for work with IBM, where he is still employed to this day.
“I just happened into some folks tying flies at a sports show
at the Armory in Kingston,” he recalls. “I had never thought
of trying to catch fish that way. Now, looking back, all I can think
of is all the trout I’ve landed…”
When he joined TU in the 1980s, its Catskills Mountains chapter was
fresh from a battle preventing the building of a Prattsville water
power system that many felt would decimate the Schoharie Creek’s
Eventually, from that single chapter, from which Karwatowski became
regional TU vice president, then the state’s Council Chair,
new ones spawned in Greene County, Sullivan County, the southeastern
Catskills, and for a while in Delaware County… as well as within
the Ashokan Pepacton Watershed corridor whose members now meet the
fourth Wednesday of every month at the Boiceville Inn.
“It’s been an organic growth,” he said. “Issues
change, river to river, and distances get too long to travel.”
In addition, Karwatowski noted the numbers of people who have moved
into the region over the years, carrying with them conservation awareness
and a love for Catskills streams, and those streams’ long history.
On that latter note, he talks for a bit about how there were four
fishing-oriented shops in Phoenicia when he moved to the area. As
well as about all the fishing legends to have come from the Catskills,
from flyfishing’s ancestral godfather, Theodore Gordon, to its
scientist, Art Flick, and homey local characters, including the Dettes,
Woodstock’s Frank Mele, and the Wulffs of nearby Hardenburgh.
“Inevitably, there will be bits of conflict. It’s a club
with members holding many different opinions,” Karwatowski added,
speaking of things from the Prattsville fight to lengthy court processes
over Hunter Mountain water diversions to more recent internal policy
battles over the Belleayre Resort, stream releases, and general development
pressures throughout the area. “This is not a bad thing; collaboration,
in the end, is really the thing we’re after.”
In the final round, the organization has found itself returning over
and over again, at least on a larger basis (withstanding its membership’s
individual opinions), to what its local chapter president calls “the
“We only make comments on our areas of expertise,” Karwatowski
said. “And it’s not like a chapter ever stands alone.
We pool our resources for research purposes, for backing.”
He paused, thinking back over folks who had left the fold over the
years because of single issues, only to come back later… even
if in new chapters.
“The reality is you have to be in it for the long haul,”
he added. “From development to sewage treatment plans…
there’s lots of lots of issues always coming up. No one issue
can ever be a ‘make it or break’ it one. That’s
how we’ve made it fifty years.”
So are their Boiceville Inn meetings all political business? Or is
there an element of fish tales being told?
And what about other activities?
Karwatowski spoke about the regular meetings being fun… but
often boisterous and lively in their discussion elements.
There were also a host of special events the Ashokan Pepacton Watershed
Chapter of Trout Unlimited were sponsoring on a regular basis, from
a regular mentoring relationship with cadets from the West Point military
academy, who’ll be coming up this coming weekend to fish, to
the support of ten fish tanks as part of the regional Trout in the
Classrooms project, regular stream clean up days, flytying workshops
each winter and spring, and a regular series of guest speakers that
have included state and New York City environmental officials, leading
scientists, and various authors.
“The only pronlem,” Karwatowski quipped, “is that
some of us end up spending more time in meetings now than actually
And yet it’s all added up to a busy and productive fifty years
on a national basis, built chapter by chapter, that gives TU’s
local members a strong feeling of comraderie with similar trout fisherfolk
in Montana and Wyoming, Connecticut and New Mexico. As well as a continuing
sense of purpose, and connectness to the local worlds they all inhabit.
“We now have tools,” he said, after noting how some who
have grown up in the area tell him how happy they are trout has finally
become a key element in local school life. “We’re passing
on a better awareness of what the environment means for all of us,
as well as some of the ways we need to show stewardship for it.”
On a national basis, Trout Unlimited will be celebrating this year’s
big birthday by having its quarterly magazine, Trout, publish a special
50th anniversary issue in June and its weekly television Outdoor Channel
program, On the Rise, focus on key conservation efforts throughout
“As TU celebrates its 50 years of conservation, we must bear
in mind that it is TU volunteers who have made the organization what
it is today,” said Bryan Moore, Vice President for Volunteer
Operations and Watersheds. “TU members are the backbone that
keeps the organization growing and moving forward in everything from
on-the-ground restoration of rivers and streams to involving young
people in conservation. The 50th anniversary celebration is really
a celebration of our 140,000 members around the country.”
Meaning, of course, our local folk, as well.
For more on the bigger celebrations, visit www.TU50.org.
For more on the local Ashokan Pepacton Watershed Chapter of TU, including
upcoming scheduled events, visit www.apwctu.org.
April 13, all the talk following a special public hearing called for
by the town board was about how angrily some speakers denigrated news
coverage of the farmstand law, while others charged that the town
was becoming somewhat like a socialist state, per refrains being used
elsewhere in regards to bailouts and the nation’s entitlement
Then, at a special session held Tuesday, April 21 by the Shandaken
Planning board, things were back to a town officials only, pouring
over the actual detail work involved in passing any new law correctly.
The planners were required, by town zoning law, to review the proposed
town law and recommend its passage by the town board, with mitigation.
Or not. After nearly two hours of discussion, they chose to suggest
a couple of minor changes that the town board will now consider and
likely include before adoption. After, again as required by law, another
public hearing on the matter.
With Ulster County Planner Dennis Doyle present in an advisory capacity,
the planners waded through the proposed law despite a few warnings
from the sparse audience that they were rushing through what is a
complicated issue that required more research.
The planners recommended that lighting restrictions be loosened to
allow for security lighting. They also recommended dropping specific
restrictions on products sold. Instead, they suggest simply limiting
non-produce items to no more than 20 percent of the size of the operation.
As for limiting the size of the produce stand to 2000 square feet,
the planners agreed, noting that variances would be available for
a larger size operation.
Hours of operation will still be regulated, with a maximum of 8:00
AM to 9:00 PM. There will still be restrictions on what can be sold.
And yes, all the lights would still have to be turned off when the
stand closes for the night..
At one point, Doyle warned the board that they might be setting up
a situation where existing stands would need to come in for permits.
Almost immediately, the discussion veered to the situation involving
former supermarket owner Al Higley, whose Hanover Farms enterprise
on Route 28 drew the law’s opponents at the previous public
“This being Shandaken, this is aimed at some existing stand,
correct?” Doyle quipped, later adding that, “Farmstands
are usually fairly simple in most communities”
At the meeting’s opening, Higley approached the planning board’s
seven members and handed each an 8 1⁄2 by 11 manila folder filled
with correspondence concerning his business and the town’s permitting
process over the years.
Now the law is back in the hands of the town board, which is expected
to hold a public hearing and adopt the law at its May 4th meeting,
if all can be accomplished in one evening. If not, the denouement
of the months-long process, and all its necessary procedural elements,
will come in June.
The most recent public hearing on the law on April 13th was held open
on the advice of Zoning Board of Appeals member Keith Johnson, who
told the town board that if they closed the hearing it set a clock
ticking for making a decision on the law. Holding it open, he said,
gave the board leeway.
In a telephone interview just prior to the Planning Board session
Tuesday, Supervisor Peter DiSclafani explained the intent of the law.
He said that currently the only new, lawful activity permitted for
such markets in hamlet residential zones is the severely limiting
farm stand law. That law, which is unaffected by the produce stand
law, allows only 100 square feet to do business, and then only if
it is attached to an actual farm.
Since there are no farms in town, another law must be drafted to allow
stands. The trick, DiSclafani said, is providing enough restrictions
to protect the rest of the neighborhood.
Such sentiments were echoed April 13 by Pine Hill resident Mary Herrmann,
who noted that the law, if passed, allows produce stands all over
town. Herrmann said she, like most folks, would not want a huge operation
next to her house running fully lighted 24 hours a day.
On the other hand, Oliverea resident Joan Lawrence Bauer said she
was “heartsick and frightened” by the town board’s
effort to overregulate.
“If you pass this law now,” she wondered, “ what
will you pass next week?”
That was before the town’s officials got back to procedures,
with the county’s help.
Earlier this year the town board passed several new laws regarding
property use, as do all towns, looking to changing trends, as well
as other municipal entities.
Oliverea resident Sean Lathrop offered a fresh perspective on the
matter at the last public hearing, urging the town and produce stands
owners such as Higley and the nearby Alyce and Roger’s Fruit
Stand to form a coalition and use “forward thinking leadership”
to cultivate a much larger produce selling industry — sort of
a giant farmers market concept.
“Let’s make something out of this,” he said. “It
wouldn’t be a bad thing if people came from all up and down
the 28 corridor to our town for produce nine months a year.”
Truly Natural Uproar
a lot of misinformation put out there about the bill. A lot of people
have been concerned," Lieberson said, echoing many of the bill’s
defenders. They point to claims that the husband of the bill’s
original sponsor (Rosa DeLauro, D-CT), was working for Monsanto, implying
that if that fact was untrue, then the rest of the criticism of the
bill must be unfounded. Actually, DeLauro’s mate, Stanley R.
Greenberg, CEO of globally influential Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research,
lists Monsanto, along with Boeing, British Petroleum and numerous
other business titans on his "private sector clients" list
in his profile. But even the mere mention of Monsanto, whose sinister
reputation in health, environmental and agricultural circles was enough
to send ripples of dread through the organic and small farm community,
sent a message that the company was at the root of the bill.
Monsanto itself was quick to post an oddly defensive denial, expressing
near indifference to the bill and asserting that Greenberg hasn’t
represented them for over a decade. Many took this apparent inaccuracy
about Greenberg’s terms of association as indication that the
rest of the criticism could be dismissed.
Conversely, a closer look at the critics’ charge that DeLauro
had received $183,500 in PAC money from the agricultural sector in
2008 showed no trace of Monsanto among the donors (though Agri-giant
Cargill is present and American Crystal Sugar, prepared to launch
a product based in genetically modified sugar beets, is a large donor,
as is the Western Peanut Growers Association, which is of interest
because the marketing of GM peanuts was approved in early 2007.).
Natural foods and farms organizations are divided in their positions
on the bill and much of that difference of perspective can be discerned
by weighing in the funding sources of the groups in question. Some
groups, for instance, are calling for a boycott of the Kellogg’s
company due to their interest in Monsanto’s genetically engineered
beets while other organizations billing themselves as farmer advocates,
including local ones, boast Kellogg’s among their sponsors.
The industrial ties of funding foundations can markedly slant a group’s
A large part of the concern about HR 875 and a cluster of other food
bills poised on the brink of introduction is grounded in mistrust
of federal government legislation in the post-9/11 era, with all of
the unanticipated effects and fallout from inclusions in a number
of bills and the vague and adaptable language employed in some which
have become troublesome laws.
With small farmers and the organic community having been stung by
agribusiness-inspired legislation repeatedly in the past two decades,
many are staying alert to new food legislation and when news that
biotech arch-villain Michael Taylor had been recruited to help direct
personnel traffic on President Obama’s transition team emerged,
the huge reaction which Lieberson noted became inevitable.
One of the more vocal and astute critics of what he considers abuses
of biotechnology, Jeffery Smith, portrays Taylor’s trapeze act
of swinging easily from one branch of industry to a branch of government
and back again as a blatant example of what most ails the Food and
Drug Administration. After a five-year stint at the FDA and some years
lobbying for Monsanto, Taylor was on hand back at the FDA to oversee
that agency’s acceptance of the GM bovine growth hormone rbGN
(or rbST, as well as increased antibiotics and other substances) in
milk as basically the same as milk without those extra treats. He
also authored the "substantial equivalence" doctrine used
to presume that genetically engineered foods are safe, hence marketable,
because they are as essentially the same as natural foods- a profundity
which led to the infamous contradiction which Monsanto and other biotech-based
firms feast upon- that, at the same time, GM foods are "substantially
equivalent" yet essentially different enough to be patented and
Now, prepared to persuade regulators that the products of nanotechnology
are as harmless as the genetically-modified fish proteins in Breyer’s
ice cream, Taylor has returned to the trade-secret spotlight.
While well aware of the ongoing war between big agribusiness and smaller
agriculture, not all local growers and marketers were aware of HR
875. Matthew Ballister of Sunfrost Farms in Woodstock, for instance,
searched it out online as he answered questions on the phone. About
half of his produce is organic, he said.
"People have a bit of misconception about what it takes to maintain
a steady food supply to them," Ballister said, opining that the
Woodstock Farm Festival was "redundant" because "the
very same farmers, or type of farmers, that go there to sell are the
people we buy from and buy our business on for 37 years... but organic
fruit is very difficult in this region. Fruit is hard enough to get
right because people want big, colorful, unspoiled, picture perfect
stuff without blemishes, so it needs to be sprayed a lot with serious
fungicides. Some companies try organic for a while and discontinue
or have a very short season."
The produce manager at Kingston’s popular Adams Market hadn’t
heard of the bill, explaining that 90% of their produce comes from
California with the 5% percent or so of organic foods they sell coming
from their subsidiary company Mother Earth in King’s Mall.
Other Farm outlets and vendors in the county were unavailable or surprisingly
unaware of the potential regional impact of the bill. Local farm stand
owners on Route 28 either could not be reached or declined comment.
But Brendan McDonough, produce manager of Sunflower Natural Foods
Market in Woodstock was keenly aware of HR 875.
"It could impact us greatly because I try hard to support the
local growers and our customers are very conscientious here in Woodstock,
looking for local product," McDonough said. "Part of the
green impact has to do with where it comes from-not just how it’s
made, so ‘organic’ is certainly a big part of what we
believe in our mission statement. At least 50% of our produce in the
summer is certified organic. There’s very little in the winter
because there’s not many around here doing greenhouse work through
that season. The environmental footprint is much smaller when you
don’t have to truck things all the way from California and a
drop-off of local supply because of what appears to be a misguided
attempt at regulation would certainly effect us adversely. I would
encourage our community to find out more about the law and contact
our congressional and senate representatives to express their views...particularly
Challey Comer, the Farm-to-Market Manager for the Watershed Agricultural
Council’s Pure Catskill Program was less troubled by the legislation.
"On the record, I don’t think I’m educated enough
about it to really comment, especially because we work with all different
types of farms. That’s why the NOFA comments were really valuable
to us," Comer explained, referring to a page on the pending legislation
posted by the Northeast Organic Farming Association. "We’re
a regional bilocal campaign specific to the Catskills. We cover six
counties in the area, including all of Ulster County. We do an annual
farm directory, give out grants for fairs, festivals, farm and food-related
events. We do direct public outreach and also connect farmers with
restaurants, retailers and wholesale buyers."
The three leading points of the NOFA statement about HR 875 states
that it does not ban organic farming or backyard gardening and farmers’
markets or other direct sales of produce.
But while it is true that the bill does not do so explicitly, there’s
no shortage of other organizations who feel it accomplishes these
ends implicitly through cloudy or missing wording or specifics of
The NOFA statement follows with some quite sage observations of how
the law should be tailored, saying it should be "scale-appropriate"
and not apply "one-size-fits-all" regulations on vastly
different operations. It insists "safety solutions must be based
on actual risk assessments for different products and scales of farms,
not assumptions based on an industrial food model."
Their provision that it is based on "sound science" seems
to be a jab at the fraudulent science used to promote GM foods (in
the eyes of groups like the Union of Concerned Scientists and others
concerned with integrity in science.)
The other NOFA recommendations can be viewed at [http://nofany.org/hottopics/food_safety.htm].
So, how real is the threat to organic growers and backyard gardeners?
Quite real, according to 3/5 of the growers and marketers outside
of the conglomerate factory farms.
In the next issue, we’ll take a closer look at the language
of this bill and related legislation, as well as the embracing structure
of the agricultural industry, Hinchey’s related struggle to
clean up the FDA and an astonishingly aggressive corporate plan to
control the world food supply which is being associated with the new
food safety legislation.