No one seemed happy by the
surprise, whether they had been for or against the long-pending resort
when they arrived. And many quietly asked how they could be offered
such a gargantuan proposal for winter-based developments when all evidence
seemed to indicate a diminishment of the season over the next few decades,
if not sooner.
The next evening, as news that the polar caps were disappearing exponentially
faster than expected, almost twice the crowd from Monday evening showed
up to make public commentary at a formal “Scoping Session”
required by state law to outline concerns to be addressed in formalized
proposals by the state and Gitter’s development corporation, Crossroads
Ventures, set to match the AIP announced by Governor Eliot Spitzer and
other state and federal officials in September… and then trumpeted
around the state by Spitzer in recent months.
By a margin of nearly eight to one, people rose and spoke counter to
DEC officials’ requests against the evening being about people’s
opinions or a “publicity contest” and denounced the state
agency’s audacity to claim objectivity reviewing its own project,
as well as utilize public funding to aid a private developer when the
region, and state, was sorely in need of straight infrastructure investment.
At one point it seemed the evening would be drawn to a close as a trio
of elderly citizens claiming to be the “Go Go Gitter Girls”
used irony and satire to lampoon the entire proceedings in a discomforting
bit of classic agit-prop. Their microphones were briefly turned off
as people started shouting at each other.
But by then what may have been the evening’s most potent statement
had already been made.
“We are not preparing for the demise of skiing in the Catskills,
I can guarantee you that,” said Coalition for Belleayre chairman
and Belleayre Conservatory president Joe Kelly, after noting a $100
million New Jersey investment in a private ski area as answer to a growing
litany of concerns about spending such large public sums for private
ski resort development in the Catskills. “The area has to move
forward. We’ve all seen the shrill letters in our papers. Delay
does not solve our situation. The economy can’t take any more
or we’ll end up with a new endangered species here… people!”
The proposal to be reviewed, according to the DEC press release on the
matter, includes a private development (the proposed construction and
operation of the Wildacres Resort and Highmount Spa Resort complex by
Crossroads Ventures LLC) and related proposals by DEC that include the
expansion of Belleayre Mountain Ski Center, including “ski-in,
ski-out” access to Gitter’s Highmount Spa Resort; the acquisition
of a parcel known as the Big Indian Plateau (1,200 acres); and the acquisition
of the former Highmount Ski Center (78 acres) and an easement (21 acres)
on the Highmount Spa property. The latter acquisitions total $14 million,
according to the agreement in principal announced by Spitzer in September,
and have raised hackles among competing ski resorts in the state at
the amount being paid by the DEC to shore up its own holdings in competition
with the private sector. Earlier, Ulster County Legislator Brian Shapiro
of Woodstock gave what ended up being the first of a series of speeches
greeted by a majority of the assembled audience with cheers and applause.
After raising questions about the planned development’s effects
on local roads, community character, ands run-off, the head of the county
Environmental Committee asked for full studies of similar developments
around the nation, the closing of any “sunset clauses” on
environmental requirements within the proposal, from gold courses to
shuttle buses, and “a full disclosure of all DEC Tie-ins, business
relations, and so forth.”
Shapiro furthermore asked for an extension of the current Scoping Session’s
January 7 deadline by at least two weeks, especially given that the
DEC official in charge of its review had not been able to even make
it to the hearing.
Project-supporting declarations from town supervisors Bob Cross of Shandaken,
leaving office at the end of this month, and Martin Donnelly of Andes,
were met with boos and hisses, as was a statement by Gene Bruner of
the Ulster County Chamber of Commerce that his group was in favor of
Margaretville businessman Lew Kolar, president of the new pro-resort
Patterns for Progress, read at length from a statement speaking about
the region’s economic woes, “underutilized businesses”
and “silent majority of project supporters” ignoring DEC
officials attempts to have him keep within time limits for the 100-plus
speakers lined up to talk.
Late on Tuesday evening,, the DEC’s Region 3 Director, Willi Janeway,
announced that the evening’s meeting would be extended into Wednesday
night… even though such an extension could not be properly advertised.
But by then the Scoping’s tone was well set… with people
asking repeatedly for a deeper look into how the DEC could judge a plan
it would be profiting by, and which the state had already trumpeted
as though a done deal. With folks ignoring calls for specifics to express
anger over what they felt was a steamroller effect on the governor’s
part. And with project supporters, most of them from the region’s
business elite, expressing horror at the lack of respect they had been
offered via the proceedings.
What specifics that did arise regarding issues in need of added review
in the upcoming impact statements to be put together by Crossroads and
the DEC, then coordinated by the state agency for their own review process,
tended to concentrate on community character, further growth potential
created by the accumulated effects of the two developments, storm runoff,
possible harm to local water sources, economic feasibility and completion
assurances, and deep worries about how a shift to the state-owned ski
resort of such a major nature would effect its current appeal to middle
And, of course, the entire proposal’s failure to address anything
to do with climate change.
Several parties who had been involved in the closed door, gag-order
silenced negotiations that led to Spitzer’s announcement of the
current public/private development plan in September said that the subject,
although big in other areas of state environmental policy all year –
and the subject of a growing number of major, regionally-specific reports
in recent months – had never come up before or from the governor.
Neither, they said – still under threat of past gag orders –
had anyone talked up in Albany about the shrinking of the high carbon
footprints necessitated by snowmaking and other ski industry requirements.
“All the checks and balances are out of order,” several
people said in their comments, taken down faithfully by a state-paid
“This proposal needs lesser and no build alternatives put into
consideration,” said former Woodstock Land Conservancy Director
Dale Hughes at one point. “We need to ensure that the flood standards
being used are up to date and revised to flooding occurrences of recent
Moreover, he said, the very precepts for buying new state land for development
purposes in the Catskill Park, as well as more obtuse issues such as
the shifting of water resources from the Hudson River to the Delaware
River basins, needed constitutional clarification.
“One of the biggest challenges facing this community today is
whether it can come together in coming months and find ways of bridging
the remaining differences with respect to this project,” said
Eric Goldstein of the Natural Resources Defense Council late in the
evening, showing his signatory support for the current “lower
build” proposal for a project he had once fought. “ The
Supplemental Environmental review process provides the best vehicle
in years for rational dialogue and analysis. Let’s hope that all
of us can seize this opportunity.”
Yet he also asked for a lengthening of the process, despite others saying
enough was enough.
The night before, Crossroads attorney Dan Ruzow had said that although
his own estimates had his part of the new plans being finished by March,
he expected full DEC plans, and coordination of parts for the actual
review process, could take another six months beyond that.
“This agreement in principle is not perfect; however, the Belleayre
Resort alternative, which is the subject of tonight’s scoping
session, represents in our view, a substantively and significantly improved
project over the original plan,” said Catskill Center for Development
and Conservation Director Tom Alworth, once the spokesperson for the
consortium of environmental groups that formed to oppose and fight Gitter’s
project, on Wednesday. “We are glad to see that the draft scope
includes community character and secondary and cumulative growth impacts.
I mention it here for emphasis. We all need to understand fully these
two important impacts because the more we know about them, the more
affectively they can be mitigated…particularly along the Route
28 corridor and route 49A.”
Silently, both men smiled and nodded when it was suggested that the
issue of Climate Change might end up being the stumbling block all the
best new plans can’t surpass.
And yet it was singer/songwriter James Krueger who may have earlier
summed things up best, as evidenced by the three nights of skewed presentation
and scoping December 10 to 12.
“All our arts and imagination, our donations, community centers,
schools, emergency response teams. Seniors, youth, and those social
services we still have… all have had to take a back seat as we
argue with each other like bickering school children about this project,”
he said. “It’s already destroyed our community. Why sell
it all off to someone who says he can make it better for us? Has he?”
In the week following the sessions, Janeway announced that the DEC was
extending its deadline for written comments, per Shapiro’s request,
by a week to January 14.
There also seemed to be a battle brewing between project proponents
and opponents with press accounts of the scoping sessions.
Finally, it was noted that although invitations for the upcoming January
26 Belleayre Conservancy Snowball, sent by Kelly, had mentioned that
Spitzer would be on hand to accept a Spirit of the Catskills award in
the coming month, a press alert from the Governor’s office adamantly
noted that would not be the case. The governor would not be going to
Belleayre this season, at least officially, and would be sending his
environmental advisor Judith Enck to the event in his stead.
She Decays Away
Now with winter here in
full force it appears the legendary Phoenicia Hotel is here to stay,
for better or worse, at least until the grass again turns green.
During the first week of December town building inspector Tom Burt instructed
Richie Stokes, the owner of the property, to remove the air conditioners
that were perched in several windows on the charred building. He also
had to remove the doghouse style dormer that sat atop the roof of the
structure overlooking Main Street and cover the severely burned portions
of the building’s roof with snow fence.
The idea is to batten down the hatches and secure the building and hope
that snow pack doesn’t knock it down. Still unclear is whether
the town will again barricade off Main Street in front of the hotel
to keep vehicles and pedestrians from passing anywhere near the danger.
The future of the building, which Stokes says can be salvaged, has been
the subject of discussion in town for almost five months. According
to published reports, Phoenicia businessman Declan Feehan is hoping
to purchase the property, and has a contractor in line to tear the place
down for $65,000. The Phoenicia library has also considered purchasing
the property, as have some private citizens. The Catskill Watershed
Corporation, which holds a mortgage on the land, is still considering
taking over the property, according to the agencies attorney, Tim Cox.
Just one month before the hotel burned, The Board of Directors of the
Catskill Watershed Corporation (CWC) authorized the purchase of the
former Delaware Inn in Stamford which will be the pilot project for
a new program to rehabilitate historic structures and return them to
The Board approved the purchase of the property from sisters Madeline
Hitt and Laura Thonnesen through a CWC subsidiary which will own the
building while it is being renovated. The subsidiary will make payments
in lieu of taxes while it owns the structure; once renovations are completed,
the building will be sold to a credit-qualified buyer who develops an
acceptable business plan and agree to program conditions.
CWC’s Business District and Historic Structure Rehabilitation
Program is intended to rehabilitate to viable commercial and mixed-use
deteriorated buildings in business centers and gateways of Watershed
communities. Dadras Architects of Liberty, consultants to the CWC, are
preparing the renovation/restoration plans for a modernized hotel and
conference center at the venerable Delaware Inn. The building will retain
the historic integrity of the imposing structure, a Main Street landmark
for nearly 200 years.
Cox said that the Phoenicia Hotel was under consideration for inclusion
under the program.
Nine fire companies converged on Phoenicia’s main street early
Sunday morning, July 29th to battle a blaze that ultimately destroyed
the historic Phoenicia Hotel, established in 1854, that became a haunt
for the likes of Legends like Babe Ruth and Dutch Schultz.
Long considered the physical heart of the Phoenicia business district,
the hotel was the victim of a blaze that has been determined to be of
While firefighters fought to keep the blaze from spreading to neighboring
buildings, the Key Bank building located next to the Hotel suffered
water damage after firefighters broke through the banks roof with water
from the high pressure hoses they use. The bank had damage to the roof
as well its hung ceiling. The carpet had some damage and some computer
equipment was damaged as well.
The hotel, which was a fixture on Main Street, had been vacant for months.
Before that, it served as a hotel with rooms on the second floor and
a restaurant and bar on the first. It also had three storefronts. The
hotel is a two-story, wood-frame structure.
For The Handoff
And while there is no indication
of any action to be taken at the session, surprises remain a possibility,
like the one last week at Belleayre Mountain Ski Center where Cross,
speaking as the Supervisor of the town, went on record at the scoping
session for the proposed resort development at Belleayre. Cross said
he was against the State Department of Environmental Conservation reviewing
community character issues within its overall environmental review of
DEC is holding the scoping sessions to determine what, and what not,
Cross said that in his last four years in office he received many complaints
about the project, but that the majority of those complaints were about
the eastern side. Now that the eastern side of the project is gone,
Cross said, the project has become much more palatable. Cross also tried
to diffuse efforts by some to force the DEC to review the community
character issues that may be impacted by the development, saying that
he felt those were issues better examined by local planning boards.
“Who better than a community to know the character of a community?”
In the event that the project moves forward it would be reviewed by
the planning boards of Shandaken and nearby Middletown.
The planning board in Shandaken is expected to have at least one new
face on it come January 3rd. that’s when the new administration,
led by Democrat Peter DiSclafani, will hold the town boards annual reorganization
meeting. At that session, set for 6pm at town hall, the incoming town
board is expected replace planning board member Keith Holmquist, who
is up for reappointment.
“I spoke with Keith,” DiSclafani said Tuesday. “He
understands my position.”
As for who would replace Holmquist, at press time it was too soon to
DiSclafani has been in contact with Councilman Robert Stanley and Tim
Malloy and Vincent Bernstein. Malloy and Bernstein, one Democrat and
one Conservative, respectively, were both elected in November to take
office in January. The four have been discussing possible replacements
for Holmquist and they have been talking over whom to place beside themselves
to fill out the five member town board.
With DiSclafani becoming Supervisor, he leaves a vacancy on the town
board where he has sat as a Councilman. With two more years to go on
his council term, the incoming town board can vote to appoint someone
for a year, to go up for special election next November.
At press time DiSclafani said no decisions have been reached, but that
the incoming town board has interviewed a few hopefuls including former
town Supervisor Peter DiModica, former Chair of the Shandaken Democratic
party Doris Bartlett, also ran town board candidate Jack Jordan and
local contractor Randy Ostrander.
“We haven’t decided yet,” DiSclafani said, “but
I want to have this hammered out before the meeting.”
DiSclafani, who was present when Cross spoke at the scoping session,
said that he expected the new town board would draft comments about
the proposed resort and submit them to DEC before the January 14th deadline.
“The first thing we
do when any machine comes in,” says Edwards,” is to completely
erase and reformat the hard drive. Then we customize them for their
new owner, install all new software and security systems, and make them
internet-ready. After that, we make sure its new owner can use it for
what they need.”
Begun as a non-profit project of Edwards’ computer services business
Minutech which provides software and hardware repairs and local, low-cost
internet access, the organization began to take shape last year when
Dave Sorenson from Boiceville walked in looking for a used keyboard.
“I had about a hundred that day,” said Edwards, “and
we talked about why I had all this equipment here since I’ve been
doing these rebuilds and quietly finding them good homes for the past
Sorenson’s background as a non-profit administrator goes back
30 years, including senior positions with Sullivan County ARC and the
Children’s Home of Kingston. He immediately offered help organizing
her efforts, and they soon found to serve as Secretary Betty Djerf of
Shandaken, a former conference planner for non-profit groups, who often
worked with her late husband Don Meineke on other local volunteer projects.
The rest of their board quickly fell into place; Chris Baltz, Mona Jacobs,
Carol Stack, and Ann Maroney, along with treasurer Marie Stutman.
Christina, who grew up in Marbletown, met her husband Ron Edwards in
1997, when both were working for a ministry based in West Hurley providing
counseling, food, shelter and jobs to people transiting from jail, rehabilitation,
and hospital environments. They live in Chichester with their son Harrison,
a junior at Onteora. “I see Reboot,” says Christina, as
a natural outgrowth of my 20 years working with computers and my experience
in the ministry and with helping people.“
“So this is my passion”, she says. “We have to get
computers and the knowledge of how to use them to as many people as
we possibly can. And keeping these functional machines working, machines
that are otherwise headed for the landfills and poisoning our planet,
that’s a huge benefit too. But the main thing is to get them to
people who really need them, because they can make a huge difference
in people’s lives.”
For now, Reboot’s focus is local, here in Shandaken and Olive.
But they’re hoping in the near future to start serving a wider
community throughout the Catskills and Hudson Valley, where requests
for new partnering relationships are coming in fast.
So is someone in your household maybe getting a new computer this Christmas?
Well the message from Christina is Please, don’t throw out the
old one, no matter what you think might be wrong with it. Instead call
us at 688-1544. We’ll come get it, or you can always drop it at
the shop or leave it on our doorstep.. on the boardwalk in Phoenicia.
She also asks that you let them know if there’s anyone who might
need one of their machines. The group can also be reached online at
Reboot4u@gmail.com or at their website www.reboot4u.org