Up on the News
calls himself "the original tube king", having started the
business of sending people down the Esopus on massive inner tubes 35
years ago. At the time, he recalls, "They tried to throw me out
of town There were probably 200 people at the town hall complaining
I was bringing trash into town and creating problems. I just walked
out and kept going-legally, they couldn't stop me. And now look at Phoenicia.
Most people in town love the tubers, the restaurants have grown, kids
that came up to tube with their families fall in love with the place
and buy summer homes. One thing led to another. It's taken a lot of
work, effort, and pain."
He takes credit for the introduction of wooden seat bottoms to local
tubing. "I'd been doing this for ten years, and people came to
me and said they had a great time, and then I wondered why they didn't
come back. I had a seat in my tube, so I thought, let me try this. Next
thing, I had a line all the way down to the gas station. People had
a good time, and they didn't get beat up."
More recently, the Internet has been a great stimulus for his business.
Bedner is optimistic about the coming season. "Last year, June
was terrible because of the weather. This year, Memorial Day was excellent,
but now it's tapered off because of graduation. The weather's the key.
Even gas prices didn't really hurt us. I expect [the positive trend]
At Phoenicia's other tubing concern, the Town Tinker, owner Harry Jameson
agreed, "Tubing lives and dies by the weather. When it's rainy
and cool, that has a much bigger effect than the economy. The rule of
thumb is, four out of every five Memorial Day weekends, you get one
that has at least one good sunny day. This year, we had a really nice
one that kickstarted the season. After graduation people are free to
take their vacations. Now it'll start to pick up."
Not much changes in tubing, year after year, he says, except that he
now has a Facebook account. "We don't have friends, only fans,"
he explains. "We put up two posts a week to give people an idea
of what conditions will be with regard to the river and the weather."
An interesting quirk of the business: "It's definitely a generational
thing. You get regular customers that you see year after year, and then
they're gone, and you wonder what happened. Fourteen, fifteen years
later they pop back up with their kids-all those years, they were busy
Then Jameson switches hats, donning his metaphorical railroad cap, to
discuss the Catskill Mountain Railroad (CMRR), where he is chairman
of the board of directors. Due to increased ridership on the tourist
line, which runs out of the Phoenicia railroad station on High Street,
CMRR purchased a new engine this spring. The bright blue, 660-horsepower
locomotive will be able to haul more cars and riders than the old one.
Their second passenger coach, dating from circa 1920 and fully restored
by CMRR volunteer craftsmen, will hit the rails next month.
Other changes this year include the addition of Fridays to the summer
weekend schedule, as well as the opening of tracks in Kingston, where
weekly themed rides include the Lollipop Express, an ASPCA benefit,
and the Teddy Bear Train Ride.
The Phoenicia-Mt. Tremper line will also feature two Twilight Limited
rides on July 10 and August 21, featuring refreshments and live music
with Earl Pardini and the Slide Mountain String Band. It will conclude
with a ride down the extension south of Route 28 to Rock Cut for a spectacular
view of the night sky.
Schedules and prices for all rides are available at the CMRR website,
Carl Guendel, who works at the state-run Woodland Valley Campground,
says the place had a good year in 2009. This year, "Everybody says
reservations are up. And we just had walk-ins," he observes, nodding
at the quintet of young people filling out registration forms on a sunny
Thursday afternoon. Like the tubers, campers are expected to increase
in number now that school is out.
This year the campground is selling heat-treated firewood, in an effort
to prevent invasion by insects such as the emerald ash borer, which
have been destroying trees in neighboring areas. It's now illegal to
transport firewood more than 50 miles unless it's specially heated to
prevent infestation, and signs at the campground read "Burn it
where you buy it."
"Local businesses don't like that we're selling firewood,"
Guendel admitted. Normally they encourage campers to buy goods in nearby
towns, but the insect crisis demands stern measures, he says.
Campground employees make an effort to create a comfortable atmosphere,
checking each site to see if campers need anything, keeping the bathrooms
as clean as they can manage. Assistant caretaker Linda Spielman has
planted flowers around the office, and Guendel thriftily made planters
from a hollow, downed paper birch.
There haven't been many bears around this year. "The campers are
good," he says. "They keep their coolers in the car. We explain
to them that bears know what coolers look like. And we keep the recycling
behind locked doors."
The forest rangers visit on Fridays. "They help us with enforcement,
and they give people peace of mind," says Guendel. "They hike
the trails all the time, so they tell people where the good trails are.
Most people are here for hiking."
One perk of the job for Guendel is getting to drive around the campground
in the late evening, when fires, campstoves, and lanterns flare in the
dark. He says, "It's so peaceful."
Turns Ten Years Old
Peter Fairweather, a planning
consultant, had been speaking about conceptualizing better focus for
a municipality by identifying existing land use patterns, surrounding
housing markets, economic changes to an area, regional environmental
concerns, commuting times and transportation costs and needs, and
the role of growing tourism and creative economic forces. Later, he
and discussed the need for communities to identify their architectural
Suddenly, he stopped and pointed out the beauty of two walls of windows
in the meeting room they were in. Light dappled in softly through
grape vines and Fairweather noted how you just don't find such things
in New Paltz, where he lives.
PHCC Director James Krueger, who lives in a small cottage behind the
former garage and research and development warehouse donated to the
organization as partial pay for the umpteen hours he puts in at his
supposedly part-time job, smiled at the recognition.
Throughout the morning envisioning session, sparked by the Center's
recent receipt of a Catskill Watershed Corporation planning grant
to help move it along towards enactment of a Main Street re-envisioning
(a process started with similar Catskill Center grants, and work,
over the previous decade), Krueger received kudos for his work helping
the village that adopted him move forward. He had spearheaded the
regular sessions, about to move to a monthly schedule, and helped
bring in Fairweather, Ulster County Regional Planner Jennifer Schwartz
Berky, and the Catskill Center's Peter Manning, with whom he serves
as a member of the Central Catskills Consortium currently preparing
a Route 28 Scenic Byway application.
The idea was simple... Find ways of bringing new investment to the
community's unique mix of classic 19th century hotels and boarding
houses, most currently out-of-use. Establish a new identity attractive
enough to bring in the tourists and new residents needed to attract
new businesses, and keep those already in the community alive and
thriving. Provide simple means of reigniting the community's pride
in itself, through historic signage or other means, and figure out
how to reconnect it to the Route 28 corridor and its own business
When talk came around to the gathered group's need to address the
Shandaken town board and municipal planners, Krueger offered the Community
Center's services. When some worried about possible political blowback,
he said PHCC's reputation was strong enough to counter any such claims,
Later, speaking at a picnic table outside the Center, bustling as
always with a mix of crafts sales, seniors meeting, kids playing,
Krueger spoke a bit about how things got where they are today.
The Pine Hill Community Center was founded after the tragic death
of a local ten year old shook the community, which felt they needed
a safe place where people could gather regularly. That was 1999. By
2000, a board of directors had come together and set up a nonprofit
entity. Bernie and Florence Hamling offered use of the old Griffin's
Garage he had been using for his fiber ceramics insulation business.
Krueger was hired in the summer of 2002 to run a youth program funded
by the Ulster County Youth Bureau. Very quickly, the board - tired
of running the growing Center on its own steam - asked Krueger to
stay on as director.
The rest, including a burgeoning number of weekly youth and senior
activities, counseling programs, concerts and other events - including
an ongoing web media project, Catskill Radio - is quickly becoming
history (and legend, as far as PHCC's inspirational effect on other
communities around the region).
"In the beginning days, I used to wonder what I was doing,"
says Krueger, a singer-songwriter who also works as a counselor. "The
board was burned out, I was making it up along the way. But I also
learned to give the community what it wanted, and have kept going
in that direction. I think that's what's made this place successful."
He recalls local history projects that brought in local elders, continuing
kids projects, expanding to include a regular after-school program
come September, and increasingly regular funding coming to the Center
form the UC Youth Bureau, the Albert Panick Fund, the Catskill Watershed
Corporation, and the Dutchess County Arts Council.
"People now say we're the hub of the Pine Hill," Krueger
added. "It's given people a venue in which to serve their community.
And now, with this new focused planning process, we're reaching out
to a greater regional sensibility..."
As we get up to head back inside to those grape-vine-covered windows,
Krueger introduces a smiling woman at a table with friends. It's Floence
Hamling, who donated the building to the center two years ago.
"You know what my husband says, " she notes with a smile,
grabbing Krueger's hand. "Community Center is a way of life."
For further information on all things Pine Hill Community Center,
including their ongoing radio station, call 254-5469 or visit www.pinehillcommunitycenter.org.
second "Farm-stand Summit" meeting, the first of which was
last month, the divide widened between those that want more restrictions
and those that want less. At one point, Stanley proposed that the size
of stands be based on a percentage of the lot size, but it was pointed
out that if Al Higley's farmstand, at its current size, is allowed,
that would mean that other farm stands could be as big as 8000 square
feet on larger lots.
Stanley, and planners Joanne Kalb and Charlie Frasier, seemed to be
trying to push for relaxing prohibitions on farm stands, while planners
Maureen Millar and Barbara Redfield were more vocal about making sure
there were protections established that would prevent development that
could harm the town and any neighborhood where they would be allowed.
Then there was the age old disagreement of restricting hours of operations,
with Stanley trying to avoid restrictions and Millar wanting restrictions.
At the midway point of the meeting, Millar said what was on the minds
of everyone, but something that saying out loud seemed considered taboo.
"We're trying to make Al legal and everyone knows it," Millar
said of the process.
Higley's Farmstand has been in operation for several years in Mount
Tremper on Route 28, and is considered by the town to be illegal because
it has expanded in size to be way larger and more comprehensive than
Higley's permit allows for. Higley and his attorneys have disputed that
notion, claiming that they are in good standing. For years legal battles
over the matter have ensued and do not appear to be slowing down.
Critics of the process complain that it appears that the town ignored
the matter until spring when the stand opens, then takes several months
to talk about solutions and then, at the end of the Farmstand season
each fall, concludes that more discussion is needed. The result is that
Higley keeps his stand open another year, and some say it leaves the
town liable in the event of a traffic accident at the site.
At the sparsely attended session Tuesday, Higley was not present, which
was unusual, but his attorney was on hand, although he did not participate
in the discussion.
Stanley argued that he only wanted a general law for the town, but Millar
noted that regardless of Stanley's position, everyone knows the reason
for the discussions and meetings about new laws was Higley's stand.
"Everything the planning board came up with last week is being
attacked because it doesn't make Al legal," Millar said.
Councilman Vince Bernstein, who was on an earlier committee that drafted
an earlier law that he later voted against, finally had it, saying he
doesn't want to participate in the process anymore. He suggested that
the Planning Board handle the matter by themselves. Councilman Jack
"Something needs to be brought forward so the town board can make
a decision," he said, just before adding that Higley's enterprise
benefits the town. "But we're not moving forward."
Councilman Tim Malloy said the town needs to come up with a plan because
he does not like people just building what ever they want and telling
the town to just accept it. Then he added another element to the argument.
"The Commercial businesses already in town are now getting pissed,"
he said, noting how many invested based on current laws, and now there
is talk about changing the rules to allow new business more leeway.
Kalb said that the planning board recommends 2000 square foot maximum
for new farmstands, plus allowances for a farmers market somewhere in
town that could be larger. It was mentioned that the Phoenicia Plaza,
a place that the Planning Board previously discussed as a location for
Higley, could be a good spot for a farmers market.
Finally, Stanley asked if the town board would hand the matter over
to the planning board and see what they come up with. They would have
until October to come up with something, he said.
The vote was unanimous in favor. Now the planners have it, and all attention
turns toward that entity's meetings.
In a separate
interview, School Board President Laurie Osmond said, "When the
BOE chooses not to act there is no vote taken."
This allows Ford's contract to expire. By taking inaction, there is
only one fiscal year left on Ford's contract with the district. The
board can review her contract again by June 30, 2011.
It was recently reported in the Saratogian newspaper that Ford was one
of the finalists for Superintendent for the South Glens Falls School
district and rumors continue to swirl around her actively seeking employment
Osmond is not aware if Ford has found a job or is looking for work,
calling all the talk "hearsay."
"All I know is what I read in the papers."
Ford was out due to illness and did not attend Monday's board meeting.
In a separate phone conversation, past school board president Marino
D'Orazio said he couldn't recall contract renewals or discussions during
the ten years he served. He said Dr. Hal Rowe retired during his time
on the board, followed by the untimely death of Rowe's replacement Justine
Winters. He served for one year with Ford and supported her as Superintendent.
He could not give an opinion based on experience, but said any contract
purposely allowed to lapse sends a message to look for work elsewhere.
"The way I would read it as a past school board member," said
D'Orazio, "is this kind of inaction sends a message of no confidence."
In other news... The district is considering changing the way it retains
lawyers based on the increased number of hours that they have been used.
This past school year, the district used approximately 150 hours over
its retainer, but was able to modify the overtime hours with Donahue,
Thomas, Auslander and Drohan law firm. General legal counseling in 2009/2010
was budgeted at $34,900 with an additional increase of $13,000. Osmond
said the board plans to use a "different formulation to reflect
reality," based upon increased costs and mandates requiring legal
Over the years, legal fees have consistently increased. In the 1998/99
school year, 101.5 hours were used in legal council. Ten years later,
in 2008/2009, that number increased to 402.80 hours. During the reorganization
meeting in July the board will consider upping the legal retainer to
$48,000. General legal council does not include contract disputes or
other special disputed lawsuits.
During this past year's budget discussions, several public pleas were
made demanding that the board address the aging district facilities,
declining enrollment and Middle School options. As a result, at Monday's
meeting, the board discussed holding community forums over the summer,
but decided the summer months would not draw enough community interest.
The end of September was penciled in as a target to begin discussions.
The board plans to contend with recent arguments on whether an additional
elementary school should be closed.
In 2004, West Hurley Elementary closed amid district wide protest. The
reason given was declining enrollment and expanding budget. Community
members demanded that district plans be put in place over the future
of the remaining buildings and West Hurley School. The board of education
at that time promised to find ways to make use of the West Hurley building,
but a plan never surfaced. It remains unused at a cost of approximately
$40,000 per year, in fuel and other expenses. To completely shut the
building would make it unmarketable and also fall derelict according
to State regulations.
In 2005 the school board at the time and newly hired Superintendent
Justine Winters created the Future of The District Committee. Their
responsibilities included the viability of reopening West Hurley School.
After lengthy research, four recommendations were made: hiring a firm
to recommend facility upgrades, redistricting to level out student population,
and the creation of a separate middle school and continue with three
elementary schools (instead of four). In 2005, KSQ architects were hired
and based on several community forums, made a recommendation in 2006
to keep the remaining three elementary schools open and create a six-through-eight
middle school. This was followed by a Board of Education rejection of
the plan and substitute choice of another plan that would close an additional
elementary school. This was followed by public protest and the successful
election of a school board that promised not to close any more schools.
The primary purpose of
the event, and five others around the state, was to urge passage of
the "Englebright-Addabbo Bill" calling for a moratorium
on the issuance of drilling site permits until the completion of a
recently commenced EPA study of the potential impact of the process
is completed. The coordinated demonstrations emphasized damage to
the regional eco-system along the Gulf Coast from what they term another
form of "extreme drilling" with inadequate "back-up"
plans for potential environmental contamination.
for drilling is quite a long process," observes Nadia Steinzor,
a Willow resident and Marcellus Regional Organizer for the Oil &
Gas Accountability Project (OGAP) of Earthworks, part of a 20 group
coalition calling for the moratorium. "There are applications
in front of the DEC currently and a lot of land is already leased;
40% of Tompkins County, around Ithaca, the Finger Lakes, Delaware
and Sullivan Counties... There's an effort in progress to do some
lease-mapping- find out where it is and how much."
Later, Steinzor said there
is concern beyond the oil industry's track record of leaving ruin
in their wake.
"New York is not
the only state looking to close its budget gap in this way,"
Steinzor said. "But there's very little calculation as to cost
to municipalities and long term cost in building out the gas industry
areas of the state which would lose tourism, farming, vineyards, fishing,
and other areas that are difficult to put figures to...There's no
attention being paid to that end and what it would mean; extensive
build-out for thousands of wells, where municipalities are saddled
with the costs around road damage, health care issues and other things."
Another group sponsoring
the New Paltz rally, FrackAction, estimates budgetary shortfalls from
the 29 new DEC positions the Governor proposes to oversee gas extraction,,,
Meaning taxpayers would subsidize the methane gas industry by $5 million
over 2 years. Calculated over a 20 year period, potential total gain
from gas extraction is seen as $22 billion (by FrackAction estimates),
to be sized against an unmeasurable decrease in the $392 billion the
state realizes from the farm, tourist and other revenue expected to
be affected . Under a chart with these figures, they add: "Other
deficits not included here are up-front lease payments, or costs from
damage to the infrastructure or loss of farmland and potable water."
Horizontal hydraulic fracturing
or "fracking" is a relatively new process elaborated from
drilling techniques developed by the Halliburton Corp in the 1940s
which injects huge amounts of water with chemical additives far below
ground surface to break shale layers and free the gas, a process which
critics claim endangers aquifers and water systems through the region
because the chemicals can "travel for miles along underground
fissures to groundwater and ultimately streams that feed reservoirs."
Even EPA's 2004 report concluded that 30% of toxic components of fracking
fluid, like benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene ans xylene, remain underground
after injection and were "likely to be transported by groundwater
supplies." A 2008 investigation identified at least 65 chemicals
used in gas drilling that were classified as hazardous or toxic under
federal environmental laws.
Although the industry
denies contaminating wells, a letter from Northeast Pennsylvania residents,
Craig and Julie Sautner, offered first-hand testimony stating otherwise.
The Sautners, now dependent upon delivered water, enjoyed "pristine"
well water before drilling began. In less than a month their well
had "high levels of manganese, aluminum, iron, sodium, chloride,
TDS and heavy metals with highly satured methane gas." Their
tale is echoed by residents in other states where the process has
been used, as documented by Josh Fox in his film Gasland, which won
a documentary award at the Sundance Film Festival in January and scheduled
for a screening on July 17 in Woodstock.
The contaminants in the
Sautner's well are only a few of the toxins routinely involved in
the fracking process, points out SUNY professor, public health expert
and Woodstock resident Donna Flayhan. She spoke at the demonstration
about how there are many ingredients which have remained "trade
secrets" because of an addition to the 2005 energy policy act
now called the "Halliburton Loophole" which (besides giving
the energy companies federal eminent domain powers) exempts the oil
& gas industry from federal statutes to protect and environment,
including the Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Water Act, Resource Conservation
& Recovery Act, Clean Air Act, Emergency Planning and Community
Right-to-Know Act, National Environmental Policy Act and the Comprehensive
Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act.
Flayhan's prime concerns
are with synergistic effects, compounds which, when combined, cause
escalated and unforeseen effects. Her experiences working with toxin
synergies in Gulf War Syndrome, toxin exposures of 9/11 and other
unusual ailments drew her attention to the potential fallout from
frack-drilling in the watershed.
When groundwater and aquifers
are contaminated, it effects everybody,' Flayhan said. Efforts to
close this loophole are included in the so-called FRAC Act (Fracturing
Responsibility and Awareness Act sponsored by Rep. Maurice Hinchey
, among others. Hinchey, like Earthworks, does not oppose drilling
per se but is demanding that it be approached responsibly and safely.
A companion bill has been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Charles
Schumer , with others. The debate has formed along roughly partisan
lines, with Hinchey's opponent for the 22nd District seat, George
Phillips, making the issue a major platform in his campaign, accusing
Hinchey of an "anti-drilling agenda" and "opportunistic
fear-mongering" due to the "troubling events" in the
Gulf of Mexico, which he contends is completely unrelated to the Marcellus
Another bill, introduced
the day before the rally, was less favored at the gathering because
it proposed only a one-year moratorium regardless of how long the
EPA study took to complete. A previous EPA study, undertaken with
Christie Whitman at the helm, provided foundation for the loophole
the FRAC Act hopes to erase, provoking controversy when Vice President
and former Halliburton CEO Dick Cheney cited executive privilege to
keep the deliberations between EPA and his drilling task force secret.
According to a WCNY story
by Susan Arbetter, the NY legislature is vulnerable to some sway on
the issue due to the fact that State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, as
Trustee for the NYS Common Retirement Fund, has significantly invested
state pension monies in gas-drilling companies. The new elements of
the fracking process were first worked out on Barnett Shale deposits
in North Texas, using an average of 2,226 gallons per million cubic
feet of gas in a drought-troubled region with 10,000 new wells and
thousands more in the works. In a report from that state which speculates
that 100,000 wells may be targeted for the Marcellus Shale Project,
it is stated that the gas companies are already "bankrupting"
the Lone Star water supply. Billions of gallons of fresh water have
become "polluted beyond use, and the portion that surfaces from
the drilling hole, called flowback, is pumped into a disposal well
deep into the earth under a 'containment barrier.' This permanently
removes the water from our hydraulic cycle."
Those Calls, Folks
Off that beaten path,
on either side, it is even more hit and miss. A tower built in Woodstock
a couple years ago has provided a healthy signal in that town's central
hamlet and immediate environs, but that drops like rock once you get
beyond Bearsville proper and into places like Wittenberg or Lake Hill.
Another tower in West Shokan that went online around the same time
as Woodstock's gives phoners signal over in the West Shokan area,
but folks in the Samsonville area don't have much of one. Over in
Olive the most recent reports are that there are no plans for any
new towers anywhere. Last year Verizon considered building its own
tower near the Olive Transfer Station in Olivebridge, but pulled out
of the plan almost as quickly as it they announced it.
Beyond Boiceville there is pretty much no signal, despite cries for
it from the Town of Shandaken, where Verizon began ripping out pay
phones last year, leaving the area high and dry when it comes to public
Ulster County stepped in and convinced Verizon to leave a couple pay
phones along Route 28. Meanwhile the town itself continues to try
and get Verizon to expand coverage into, well, anywhere in town.
Nothing has happened yet, but motivation can come in strange ways.
Ever hit a deer at night and have to walk two miles before finding
a phone to call for help? Shandaken Town Councilman Jack Jordan has.
Jordan, a Pine Hill resident and the point man charged with trying
to increase cellular phone service in town, plans on making a note
of the incident, and he wants others to do the same.
Jordan interfaced with Verizon representatives Friday, June 11, to
talk about why the communications giant has yet to install any significant
system in the vast town, which has almost 20 miles of the well-travelled
Route 28 corridor within it. The majority of the corridor remains
a dead zone for cell phone users.
No promises were made, Jordan said Monday, but there was some good
"We've moved up on the priority list," he said.
Shandaken has certainly rolled out the red carpet for Verizon. Three
years ago a 180 foot tower was erected on town- owned land and all
cellular service providers were invited to locate on the structure.
To this day, it remains vacant. Town Officials like Jordan and Supervisor
Rob Stanley say they continue to work with county officials to try
and convince companies like Verizon to set up shop. But the communications
giant, this year anyway, has other plans in terms of new infrastructure.
Rather than build in remote, unpopulated areas like the Catskills,
Verizon is building new towers in places like Saratoga where they
already provide plenty of service coverage. The reason for new towers,
despite complaints from nearby residents, is that Saratoga overloads
the existing network during the summer months.
In the meantime, there is no service in the Catskills to speak of,
save for a few pockets in the Highmount area, where Verizon does have
equipment, but that signal heads westward mostly, hitting some parts
of the Hardenburgh and Denning areas, but not much due to the intense
mountain terrain of both towns.
So it is true that right now it doesn't look good for improvements.
But that could change, Jordan said, if Verizon is convinced that there
are too many emergencies to ignore. The company's representative told
Jordan that such data would help the cause.
"I'll talk to (Shandaken Police Officer in Charge) Jim McGrath,"
Jordan said. "We will start documenting."
He urged that anyone with stories about how a cell phone could have
saved a life, or a home, or prevented a burglary, or just been needed,
should notify Jordan at 688-7165.
Sometimes you have to work for the things the rest of the world already
Remember when cable started being offered, anyone?