may well get hurt, especially on the upper stretches, according to
City officials. But they won’t turn the portal off to stem such
They say they have a greater responsibility. It’s a trade off
between our land and lives in the Schoharie Valley north of the Gilboa
This all in after the New York City Department of Environmental Protection,
in coordination with the Ulster County Office of Emergency Management,
held a pair of loudly-attended meetings last week about the city's
recently announced plans to basically empty as much water as they
can from their Schoharie Reservoir into the Esopus Creek over the
coming months to accommodate mandated repairs at its Gilboa Dam in
Schoharie County. On Wednesday night, December 14, over 200 residents
of the lower Esopus valley, who take the brunt of overflow from the
Ashokan Reservoir upstream, angrily spoke at the Ulster Town Hall
in Lake Katrine about the devastating effects of floods this past
April and asked what the City, and Ulster County, would do to avoid
similar flooding in the coming months. On Thursday, December 15, a
smaller but equally vociferous crowd of upper Esopus Creek residents
met at the Olive Town Hall in Shokan and questioned the use of their
creek, already prone to significant property damage from flooding
on an almost-annual basis, as a release valve to solve other problems
not of their making.
The 78-year-old Gilboa dam, the second built as part of the wide-ranging
West of Hudson New York City reservoir system inaugurated during the
early years of the 20th century, was recently discovered to be compromised
by age to the point where it MIGHT NOT be able to withstand a major
flood on a par with that of late January, 1996. After pressure from
the state and federal government, sparked by television news reports
of possible disaster throughout the Upstate Schoharie Creek valley
that stretches into Montgomery and Herkimer counties, and saw the
fatal destruction of a New York Thruway bridge from heavy Catskills
flooding in 1987, the dam was fast-tracked for emergency repairs in
the early spring, before the traditional thaw and flood season. Massive
steel anchors will be driven through the dam into bedrock, anchoring
it from any possible slippage. But to achieve this, and lower the
possibility of dangerous flood damage in the Schoharie Valley during
the interim, the 19.5 billion gallon reservoir needs to first be lowered.
At the recent meetings, a phalanx of DEP engineers, including Deputy
Commissioner Michael Principe, outlined the three of doing this, and
each way’s steps, including the creation of a deep notch to
increase overflow of the already full reservoir system, the insertion
of a series of massive siphons to pull water out, and the opening
of the Shandaken Portal, at the end of a 20-some mile tunnel built
in the late 1920s, to send water cascading down the Esopus into the
Ashokan… itself already at capacity flood levels.
Principe and local system manager Paul Rush noted at both meetings
that they have already been sending an extra 500 million gallons a
day into the Esopus for the last month, an amount that will be raised
to 600 million gallons a day over the coming months.
Both meetings started at 6:30 with Power Point presentations by Rush
about the current situations that attempted to show, using graphs,
that the relative amount of creek risings created by the Schoharie
Reservoir was minimal, especially the further downstream one got.
Rush did admit, however, that effects closer to the portal in Shandaken
would tend to be more pronounced.
Those in attendance at both meetings tended to characterize the city’s
presentation, and direct answering of all questions and heated commentary,
as “dispassionate” at best and “arrogant”
In Olive, attendance of several dozen local home and business owners
was weighted towards those from Shandaken, whom supervisor Bob Cross
Jr. had urged to come out. Cross, in private, accused the city of
lying about how long it had known about the dam problems. But when
asked why the city had done nothing to fix the Schoharie Reservoir
during the near-drought of last summer, Principe appeared completely
honest when he said his agency knew nothing of the problems at that
point. When several audience members pointed out chunks of dam littering
the Gilboa area in recent years, he said such “veneer”
break-offs were purely cosmetic, and that the city has been responding
to its new problems, and threat of possible problems, as quickly as
“You have a problem and are creating another problem for all
of us,” said Phoenicia business owner Gene Gormley at one point.
“How are you going to help us?”
People asked about what they could do to ensure FEMA help later on,
and not just a brush off saying that the feds couldn’t help
a problem created by other agencies of government. They asked, as
well, whether the DEP could shut off the flow of water into the Esopus
should a flood situation arise in the coming months.
Principe said that the City couldn’t help, on either count.
“We’re not assuming any liability,” Principe said.
“You’re filling the bathtub on us, destroying our property,”
said one enraged business owner, noting how she had already lost access
to some excavation equipment she can’t get off an island now
inundated by the risen Esopus in Shandaken.
“Hopefully, we won’t have a major event in the coming
months,” Principe said.
When town officials started pushing him about timetables, the DEP
Deputy Commissioner outlined the hastened work process ahead…
noting that being the City, procedures were key. Things, he said,
have been pushed up from the Spring into an early January start for
the dam notching and drainage siphons work. Hopefully, everything
can be completed by late February.
“The sooner we can get this all done the better,” he said.
When Cross said some of the work should have been done earlier, Principe
pointed out that his agency is moving as fast as it can. He noted
that the cost of the mediation work, all total, would likely top $200
“We’re trying to balance risk to human life, north of
the dam, compared to the risk of property damage, here in the Esopus
valley,” said City DEP Police Chief Ed Welch at one point during
the heated back-and-forth in Olive. “These are hard questions.
For matters of liability, which seems to be the main problem here,
we suggest you go to the lawyers.”
Towards the end of the Olive session, it was suggested that the Catskill
Watershed Corporation, the regional partnership between the City and
upstate communities charged with overseeing conservation regulations
and development issues in the Catskills watershed, utilizing city
funds, should set up a fund for flooding problems. Principe, a member
of the CWC board, said he would look into the matter, as did Olive
Supervisor Berndt Leifeld, a fellow CWC board member.
“This is a tough period. It’s a real balancing act,”
said Principe, to none of his audience’s comfort.
Last Wednesday night, December 14, the planners themselves
didn’t seem quite sure what exactly was going to happen. The
environmental impact statement for the controversial proposal, which
neighbors protested because of its plan to send giant tractor-trailer
trucks up narrow Woodland Valley Road, is now subject to a 30 to 40
day review period by the public and several agencies such as the Ulster
County Health Department and the Shandaken Town Board, according to
planning board secretary Marie Stutman.
The planning board, excepting member Beth Waterman, appeared to assume
that nothing during the review phase would upset the apple cart for
developer Andrew Poncic. But when asked what would happen if an agency
or individual found fault with the document, board members were hard
pressed to explain.
“I suppose it would start all over again,” said planner
But Chairman John Horn didn’t agree.
“I don’t think we know,” he said.
What was agreed on was that the impact statement did address all the
concerns it needed to about the plan to draw two truckloads of water
per day from a spring on Poncic’c upper Woodland Valley Road
But after the meeting audience members said they didn’t believe
some of the board even looked at the paperwork. Howard McGowan asked
Setchko if he even knew what type of truck was to be used. Setchko
replied that there was a photo of it, but he couldn’t recall
what it was.
Planner Glenn Miller said he was sure it was outlined in the document,
but he couldn’t say what it was.
McGowan, a valley resident, wishes the board had more knowledge of
the project which they have approval over because he remembers the
proposal, from when he was on the board, calling for the trucks to
be tractor trailers, and 18 wheelers, that could crush parts of the
5 mile long dead end road and possibly wreak havoc on the many bridges
On several occasions in recent years, Woodland Valley’s bridges
have had problems with heavy loads, including a side road bridge’s
collapse from the weight of a local dumptruck 16 years ago. Horn described
the truck as “one that holds 5800 gallons,” but was unable
to say what kind it was.
Previously Poncic described the truck as a 60-foot long semi but that
was over a year ago. When it was clear that the project site didn’t
have the space to allow such a truck to turn around, Poncic added
another piece of property to the project further up the road for the
truck to turn around on.
Poncic, who has apparently made many changes to his plan, said nothing
at the session. But Robert Kalb, a former planning board member who
describes himself as Poncic’s representative, spoke up frequently
to move the process along toward a vote.
Things got tense once Horn and Miller refused to allow anyone other
than Kalb to speak from the audience. Refusing to be shouted down,
McGowan, who was removed from the planning board on a technicality
after running unsuccessfully for town board two years ago, asked if
it was appropriate that Kalb represent the developer. Kalb is the
town’s representative on the Ulster County Planning Board.
“This is not a public hearing,” Horn replied.
And there won’t be one either, according to Horn. The board
has the authority to waive the hearing... and did so, decreeing that
any comments on the impact statement must be submitted in writing.
Copies of the document are available at Shandaken Town Hall.
Before last week’s planning session, news of the Poncic proposal’s
place on its agenda spread among local trout fisherfolk, many of whom
prize the Woodstock Valley stream as historic. A concerted fight against
the proposal, via letters given the lack of a public hearing, and
possibly via lawsuit, once it moves to approval, seems imminennt.
In other news, Miller resigned his position as planning board member,
effective at the end of the month. As current code enforcement officer,
Miller felt it was a conflict of interest to have that power while
at the same time helping to rule on matters as a planner. His resignation
was sent to the town board, but only after the recent meeting where
he voted on the Poncic matter.
It remains unclear whether the town board will advertise the opening,
or just appoint someone at the annual reorginizational meeting on
January 2nd at 7pm.
Year To Remember?
Last Winter: Closing briefs
summarizing the proposed Belleayre Resort’s 2004 issues conference
were filed, sending the matter into judicial review for much of the
year. DEC Commissioner Erin Crotty resigned and assemblyman Kevin
Cahill called for a range of local impact studies on the project which
town and county officials promptly ignored. Governor Pataki authorized
5 casinos for Sullivan County, the first of several pro-gambling positions
taken throughout the year, and Shandaken’s town board passed
a resolution supporting a proposed traffic circle in Mt. Tremper.
Local docs Marty Krakower and Randy Rissman acquired Phoenicia’s
health center, now Maverick West, from Benedictine Hospital. The town
board awarded Delaware Engineering a contract to build Phoenicia’s
$11.6 million DEP-funded septic treatment plant, while acknowledging
the money “may not be sufficient.” Reportedly to save
taxpayers money, Supervisor Cross proposed changes to lifetime health
insurance promised to 27-year town employee Gloria Braman. The town’s
4-man Comprehensive Plan committee, the last of three, accepted a
new draft from the Stantec Corporation, shorter and less specific
than previous onest. A proposed $20 million “Catskill Water
Discovery Center” was unveiled for Arkville, the successor project
to a watershed museum first proposed for Shandaken.
Spring: Up to six inches of rain on top of snowpack lead to townwide
flooding April 3. Over 100 residents were evacuated, many structures
seriously impacted, and Phoenicia’s Bridge Street bridge sufficiently
damaged to close it until October. On the morning of April 25, the
showpiece 23-room, $20 million plus Emerson Inn burned to the ground,
the result of a fire of unknown origin. The town’s draft Comp
Plan was hammered at two public hearings, over a perceived lack of
public input into the document and a last-minute weakening of its
environmental protections. The administration’s cell tower committee
drafted a new law that was similarly received. At Onteora, a failed
budget vote reflecting Olive’s united opposition to the adoption
of the large parcel legislation lead to an electoral sweep for that
town’s candidates. Shandaken’s school taxes went up 10.3
percent. Assessments were raised up to 50% for most of Shandaken’s
private landowners with 20 or more undeveloped acres.
Summer: A second budget vote narrowly passed at Onteora. Retiring
Highway Superintendent Dick Merwin battled with Cross over whose budget
had to cover the mowing of town parks. At town hall, a highly controversial
Comp Plan was adopted along party-line vote by the town’s GOP
majority. Bob Cross and Pete DiModica were again selected to lead
their tickets at their party’s caucuses. Cross announced the
settlement of the town’s lawsuit with the state over the assessment
of public lands, resulting in an unexpected revenue. The town’s
first “Shandaken Day” event was received by most accounts
as a success, and “Shandaken Remembered,” a documentary
focused on last year’s bicentennial, was released. Election
season unofficially kicked into gear with charges from Cross that
his office had been broken into and papers moved around.
Fall: The judge overseeing state review of the proposed Belleayre
Resort ruled that its developer’s analysis of nearly every major
aspect of the project’s impact was inadequate under state law
and would need to undergo trial-like adjudication, setting its timetable
back another 2 years and casting serious doubt over its long-term
prospects. Despite the setback, developer Crossroads Ventures promised
to persevere and filed appeals of substantially everything covered
in the ruling. Congressman Hinchey proposed halving the project’s
scale, a position rejected by Crossroads’ Dean Gitter. Shandaken’s
20+ acre landowners filed suit against the town, claiming illegal
and discriminatory taxation procedures in 2005. The town board adopted
a sewer use ordinance for Phoenicia, moving ahead despite unresolved
issues of costs to local businesses. Cross was narrowly reelected
by an apparent 22-vote margin. Also elected to the Town Board for
2006-7 were Democrat Pete DiSclafani and Republican Rob Stanley, the
latter by one vote over Doris Bartlett. Keith Johnson , lacking major
party endorsement, was elected Highway Superintendent. Countywide,
control of the legislature shifted to the Democrats. The town adopted
a cell tower law and signed a contract, personally negotiated by Cross,
providing for a single tower at Glenbrook Park. As of now, the application
submitted to the planning board to build the tower remains incomplete,
with no data yet provided concerning its effective coverage area.
A funding request to repair Pine Hill’s water system was finally
approved for submission, with local residents prevailing over Cross
to borrow most of the funds needed. In his first post-reelection act,
Cross sought to disband the committee of local residents advising
the town board.
As the first snows of winter settled in, Andrew Poncic’s plan
to fill water tanker trucks from deep within Woodland Valley appeared
to be winding forward toward a planning board decision, and ground
was broken for a $5 million, 23-room lodging expansion of the Emerson
Place complex, with the goal of reopening by next July 4.
Man Of The Catskills
The deep voiced Mr. Cytryn,
one of just 77 master falconers in New York State, looks like a cross
between Santa Claus with his white beard and a biker with his long
white braid. He has long been an obsessed bird man in these mountains,
studying various species of falcons, hunting with them when the weather
permits. In 1988, he retired from his job as vice president of creative
services at McGraw Hill, packed up his wife and kids, and vacated
his brownstone on West End Avenue. He drove up to the mountain’s
summit where he had built his house from the ground up “without
contractors or architects” and he didn’t look back.
“The first years were hard because we didn’t have electricity
or running water. We were pioneers. But look at it now,” he
said, opening a door that was milled from hemlock. Immediately, Apache,
his oversize Alaskan malamute, greeted him excitedly, stretching taller
than Mr. Cytryn when the dog stood on its hind legs. After stopping
near a bookshelf which prominently displayed thick tomes on falconry,
Mr. Cytryn showed off birds which he had stuffed, everything from
turkeys to pheasants perched on railings and on walls. “Aside
from the birds, everything in this house is an antique,” he
said, “including me.”
Mr. Cytryn’s fascination with birds began when he was a child
in wartime Leipzig. His grandfather Felix, an artist and engraver,
had songbirds and finches around his house. “But the birds ended
when my grandfather was taken away by the Nazis. He was part of the
Nazi Death March. The only way he survived was by doing portraits
of the wives of the SS and engraving plates for a plan the Nazis had
to flood the European markets with counterfeit money.” Mr. Cytryn’s
grandfather endured, surviving the concentration camps, emigrating
to the Bronx in 1948. Mr. Cytryn lived with him after escaping from
East Germany in 1951 and staying briefly in a Hamburg, Germany refugee
camp. Soon after he arrived in New York, Herb Cytryn was raising his
own birds, homing pigeons and quail.
In 1988, Mr. Cytryn met master falconer Ray Pena after a birds of
prey show on Bellayre mountain, and somewhat sheepishly inquired about
becoming an apprentice. Like many before, he became captivated by
the 4,000 year old sport of kings. As he researched falconry, Mr.
Cytryn felt a kinship when he read King Frederick II’s observation
in his 1250 treatise, “The Art of Falconry”: “falconry
is an art more noble than other forms of hunting.” He realized
becoming a master would be a hard slog which included lengthy study
and practice. “But I was determined. I knew I had two years
before I could become a general class falconer and then five years
as a general falconer ahead of me before I could be a master.”
When Mr. Cytryn traveled to Albany to take his falconry exam, his
wife Enid wondered why he was done so quickly. “She said, ‘You
better go back there and make sure you did it right.’ But I
had studied hard and I got 99 of 100 questions right. Without going
Mr. Cytryn looked out at the northwest part of the former paddock
where there is a bronze statue of him on a horse. “That’s
where I buried my Morgan stallion. His name was Loki, after the god
of mischief. I had a big fur coat and I’d ride him all over
the mountain. Once he died, I didn’t want horses anymore.”
The horse was gone, but working with the birds appeared to offer him
the kind of youthful energy attained by drinking multiple Red Bulls.
Within the maze-like self-constructed chambers made from wide wood
slats inside and wire mesh outside, he kept a dozen falcons and hawks,
and six owls. The owls were a hooting, haunting lot, including everything
from a tiny saw-whet owl to a looming great horned owl. Mr. Cytryn
appreciates the owls almost as much as the falcons, as was evidenced
by a silver dollar-sized rosette of a mule deer antler hanging around
his neck. Onto it, he had carefully carved the wise face of an owl.
“The owls here are mainly ones I rehabilitate. They’ve
flown into something or were hit by a car or attacked by another animal.”
He pointed to a bard owl, perched high in a dark eve within the chamber,
its heart-shaped disk of a face sleepy in the late afternoon. “That
owl over there. He won’t leave because he can’t fly. I
can’t release him into nature. He’ll be here until he
During the summer months, he’ll put the birds he has been rehabilitating
into a sky blue 1961 Apache 10 Chevy Suburban and take them on the
road to festivals to educate the public about birds of prey. When
he’ll bring the owls to schoolrooms in the fall, he’ll
bone up on Harry Potter and talk about the series’ owl characters,
Hedwig and Errol. “During the winter, the birds and I stay put
because of the heavy snow,” he said.
While there is a good number of falconers who make a touristy business
with their birds, Mr. Cytryn does it primarily as a hobby and to rehab
the birds. He eschews the gaudy medieval garb and sales pitches full
of folksy banter in favor of blue jeans and blunt candor. “People
always ask me if they can hold the birds,” he said. I tell them
it takes training. If they’re not trained, they could be hurt.
These birds are wild, not pets. They’re not cute. They’re
predators. They’re cunning animals.”
Moving on, he stopped at the home of two prairie hawks. He noted that
the males are always one-third smaller than the females. After spewing
a litany of facts, he hoped they would breed and that their eggs would
hatch by end of June. Stroking his beard, he said, “They bred
two years ago. Last year, it got cold and the eggs froze. That’s
the way it is. Things die.”
As he removed some splinters from his hand (gotten when moving some
wooden beams earlier in the day), he wondered aloud about those who
move to the Catskills but fail to take time to learn about indigenous
nature. As an example, he recalled receiving an angry call from a
woman who said a peregrine falcon was attacking her morning doves.
He told her that there were no peregrines closer than New Paltz and
that there were only 100 peregrines in the whole state. “Really,
it was a cooper’s hawk. She said, Get rid of him; he’s
eating my morning doves. I said, lady, they aren’t your morning
doves. They belong to nature. She asked, Well, why doesn’t he
hunt in the woods? I said, The hawk isn’t stupid. It sees a
bird feeder and it’s like going to the A&P. There’s
20 different birds he can eat right there in your yard.”
He led me to a sprawling new art studio (again, self constructed)
and unveiled a medium-sized brass sculpture of a red-tailed hawk attacking
a chipmunk, a memorial to his favorite raptor. “That was Luna,
which I found on the night of a full moon. Someone once said I should
have called it Lunatic.” That may have been because Mr. Cytryn
would come home with hands bloodied by the bird’s sharp, curved
beak while he was trying to train it.
Birds of prey are part of just about every endeavor he pursues. Mr.
Cytryn, an avid sports fan, coaches the Onteora high school ski team
and once coached the district’s high school football team. He
even brought Utah the gryfalcon to the sidelines during games as a
kind of avian mascot. The bird occasionally screeched as the team
marched toward the goal line. Just as he has a way with birds, he
seemed to have a way with his rangy high school athletes. “That
year, the football team had a winning season. I don’t know if
the winning had anything to do with the bird, though.”
Before I left, he took stock of his existence, saying, “I live
in the middle of woods. I have bears coming to the house all summer
long. I have wildlife here up the yin yang. And the birds keep me
hopping. But these critters were here before I came here. I live with
them, and there’s nowhere else I would rather be.” It’s
true. Mr. Cytryn hasn’t felt the urge to return to Manhattan
since he left the city, not once in 17 years.