the town board took the official step to begin putting the referendum
in place. Kevin Young, the attorney for the town working on the project,
said he expects the vote to take place next month. A letter is being
prepared to be sent to all property owners in the sewer district explaining
who can vote in the referendum and who cannot. That letter will be
the subject of discussion at a special town board meeting at 1pm on
Thursday December 14th at town hall. The meeting is open to the public.
The letter has become a bone of contention, for a draft supplied by
Young Monday was criticized by sewer committee members Mike Ricciardella
and Paul Pettinato. Both thought it unfairly encouraged readers to
support the project and that it contained unfounded claims of money
that may be used to offset the costs of hooking up to the system and
later running the system.
Young advised that the letter be approved immediately so it can get
into the hands of the voters as soon as possible, but board members
felt there was not enough time to review the document on the spot
There are 52 non-residential hookups in the sewer district, Young
said, and his calculations show that the median estimated cost for
the service is $300.
“Half will pay more, half will pay less,” he added.
On the low end some businesses will pay only $200 a year but on the
high end the price would be about $2000, Young said. Ricciardella
claimed Young’s figures were invalid and said that he knew of
businesses over in the village of Hunter, which has a system that
was built under the same program already operating, that were paying
much more than that.
Hunter, Windham, Roxbury, Prattsville, Andes and Fleischmanns are
community’s that have taken advantage of the program faster
than Phoenicia. None of those communities saw any opposition to their
respective projects. The program is a part of the 1997 watershed deal
made between the City of New York and Upstate communities to keep
the water clean while at the same time allow for economic growth in
the watershed region.
To Do Battle
Planning Board chair Joan Munster said Tuesday that the session,
to be held later that evening, would be a private one between an attorney
and client. Such a decision does fall within the parameters for the
board holding a closed door session.
“Yes, that’s how it’s going to be,” Munster
It was just 24 hours prior to the Tuesday meeting that the town board
hired Grant for the job. In fact, the board still has no idea what
Grant will cost the town. No one even knows what she charges per hour.
Grant last worked for the town helping to prepare town planners remarks
regarding the Belleayre Resort project during the state Department
of Environmental Conservation’s 2004 Issues Conference on the
controversial proposal. The Rhinebeck-based attorney has served as
the Woodstock Planning Board’s consulting attorney for years.
Her opponent on the case, former DEC Counsel Marc Gerstman, is likewise
considered an expert on state environmental review and planning issues.
Town of Shandaken officials were served the legal papers, dated November
16th, informing them of a lawsuit filed on behalf of several individuals
in the Woodland Valley area. The lawsuit challenges the recent planning
board decision to allow Andrew Poncic’s Good Water Corporation
to build a water harvesting system in the Valley.
The 31 page action comes after a fundraising campaign by valley residents
to pay for the lawsuit. The Woodland Community Association put out
the call last month that they need a commitment of substantial funds
from the community to launch a legal attack on the town for approving
the controversial water harvesting project.
Petitioners ask for an Order of the Court which voids and vacates
the Board’s approval of the application, and find that the application,
as amended and approved, is not a specially permitted use pursuant
to the Zoning Code. Other alternatives the petitioners would accept
would be as follows:
*An order that voids and vacates the approval of the application due
to the Board’s failure to refer the application to the Ulster
County Planning Board, finds that the Board violated law by accepting
plans that were not signed by a licensed surveyor or engineer and
order that the Board require the applicant to submit signed and sealed
drawings depicting the entire proposal on both lots, including accurate
grading plans and quantities of fill and demonstrating compliance
with applicable setbacks.
*An order including findings that the Board violated the Zoning Code,
Town Law, and the State Environmental Quality review Act (SEQRA),
voids and vacates the approval based on the Board’s violation
of SEQRA and orders the Board to prepare a Supplemental environmental
impact statement based on the complete, current proposal.
*An order that enjoins Respondent Good Water Corp. and Poncic from
taking any action pursuant to the Board’s prior approvals.
* An order awarding Petitioners costs, disbursements and attorney’s
The plan to draw two truckloads of water daily from a spring at the
head of the dead end Woodland Valley road in Phoenicia was given the
go ahead on October 11th by the Shandaken Planning board after a six
Hisses and boo’s from the audience were heard following the
5-1 vote, with one woman shouting “shame on you” to the
majority of the board that supported the project. The session included
an unusual Police presence, but no one got out of hand.
weeks ago we reported on one such gathering down at departing Governor
George Pataki’s Manhattan offices… and all parties having
agreed to stick to a strict gag order not to tell ANYONE what was
Very reminiscent, it turns out, of the meetings between New York City,
state and Upstate municipal officers that took place years ago when
Pataki first came into office. Those garnered serious complaints from
the environmental community and press as a sign of the then-new governor’s
penchant for secrecy.
And guess what… Gitter was heavily involved in a majority of
the state capital “red room” meetings.
Shhhh… now we’ve heard that state Watershed Inspector
John Tierney of the state Attorney General’s office –
about to be handed over to the aegis of newly elected Andrew Cuomo
now that former AG Eliot Spitzer’s moving into the Governor’s
Mansion come January — has said that a second meeting was held
between Gitter’s people and reps from the state, New York City
and a coalition of environmental organizations known as the Catskill
Preservation Coalition. And again, it was in Manhattan.
Furthermore, Tierney was saying that while the gag order would hold
for most parties, a spokesperson had been named to handle requests
for information. Namely, Pataki Deputy Secretary Glen Bruening.
But no, Bruening’s office said, he could not speak to the press
because of protocol matters. All inquiries to him would be handled
by the governor’s press office.
What did we want to know, Mary McCleave asked.
Were rumors that Pataki had promised Gitter an answer to his appeal
before leaving office true? That only the western portion of the project
would be given a go-ahead? Was there any announceable timeline for
that process? What was going on in the secret meetings? When could
we know something definitive?
Shhhhhh…. An answer, McCleave phoned back, would be e-mailed
from the Governor’s office shortly. Everyone wanted to help
as much as possible.
Finally… from Michael Marr, Governor Pataki’s spokesman:
”Some of the parties are meeting and trying to find common ground.”
And then, from the parties involved, word slipped out… there
would be yet another meeting at the Governor’s behest in the
coming weeks before Spitzer takes office January 1. The incoming head
man wanted the issue gone before he got to Albany, was the quiet word.
And then yet another word… did we know about the group of local
business people who all went, as private citizens, to meet with federal
Environmental Protection Agency Region 2 Administrator Alan Steinberg
about their “concerns?”
We asked the EPA’s press people what was what. After all, they
were clear, as was Steinberg this past autumn, about how the administrator
is not about to subvert the state process regarding Gitter’s
proposal, even if the EPA has the muscle to do so.
So what went on?
“The administrator had a listening opportunity,” spokesperson
Elia Rodriguez said. “About a dozen people came down. They all
spoke from prepared remarks for about an hour… Mr. Steinberg
didn’t say much, not much at all. He listened.”
Who was there?
Rodriguez sent on an e-mail from Shandaken resident Heidi White requesting
the meeting. In it she listed those who wanted to attend and speak
on the developer’s behalf: NY State Assemblyman Clifford Crouch;
Margaretville banker Lew Kolar; Delaware County Industrial Development
Agency Chairman Jim Thomson; Ulster County Chamber of Commerce Board
Chairman and M-Ark Project Director Joan Lawrence-Bauer, a former
employee of Gitter’s; Delaware County Chamber of Commerce Director
Mary Beth Silano; Margaretville realtor Eric Wedemeyer; Belleayre
Lodging & Tourist Association founder Eric Griesser; and Shandaken/Middletown
residents Carol Urban, Janet or Ernest Steiglelhner; and Thomas H.
Had the Chamber reps been there on behalf of their memberships?
Rodriguez didn’t know.
We contacted the Whites who replied that they would rather not discuss
An e-mail to Gitter’s spokesperson, Paul Rakov, referred us
back to the Whites… and Bauer.
“Regarding the Steinberg meeting, we are grateful for the initiative
a group of local citizens took to get involved in this process and
we greatly appreciate their support,” was all he said he could
And that was that… for now.
Shhhhhh… seems we’re all back where we started, once again.
Did anyone mention a Santa’s wish list?
By An Illegal Trap
On Wednesday, November
29, West Shokan resident Lesley Sawhill and her 10-year-old son, Brandon,
were walking their dogs, Alyja, a shepherd-border collie mix, and
Twilight, on a neighbor’s property. Alyja, who had run ahead,
began making sounds as if in distress. Sawhill held back Twilight
while Brandon went up to see what was the matter. “By the time
Brandon got to him, within a minute, he was dead,” she said.
“When I got there, Brandon was poking him with a stick, calling
out, ‘Mommy, something’s wrong!’ I have never experienced
anything like this. The trap went all the way around his head and
choked him. I couldn’t unclamp it. It was a horribly desperate
feeling. There was nothing I could do.”
The neighbors, who had moved in recently, said they had no knowledge
of traps placed on their land. The DEC and the police were summoned,
but neither officer was able to open the trap, and they finally cut
the trap off the dog with boltcutters. A criminal investigation is
underway. “According to the police, it’s an illegal trap,”
said Sawhill. “It had no identifying tags, and it was set on
private property without the landowner’s permission. That kind
of trap is supposed to be in a box so it’s visible. It could
have been an old trap, but people are saying it would have to have
been scented for the dog to be attracted to it. The land wasn’t
posted [with ‘No Trespassing’ signs], and neither is ours.
We’re getting an education about posting land more clearly.”
In an email circulated to friends and neighbors, Sawhill’s husband,
Ron Aja, wrote: “I think there is a broader issue here regarding
the use of our public lands
and the use of traps. How does the DEC control trapping? Are the current
regulations too slanted to trappers and hunters? What about the non-hunting
public and our rights to use the woods in safety? Why are traps not
labeled or warning signs posted on public land? Most people do not
know how the DEC functions and in whose interest. I think there is
a need to know, so I plan to research this further. If you would like
to become involved in establishing better regulations and controls
over trapping please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.”
On Monday, November 27, Claudette Covey of Woodstock was walking her
dogs and a neighbor’s dog, Stanley, on the bicycle trail accessed
by a back entrance to Wilson State Park on Cold Brook Road. The dogs
were ahead of her and a few feet to one side of the trail when they
became excited, with Stanley growling and thrashing. He had a front
and back paw caught in two foothold traps. Unable to open the traps,
Covey returned to the road and sought help from a nearby house, where
she called the police. The resident’s niece was able to open
the traps before the police and DEC forest ranger Marie Ellenbogen
“I was really frantic. I thought Stanley’s paws were broken,”
said Covey. “He wasn’t walking. I took him straight to
the vet, and he got stitches in both paws.” By Friday, Stanley
was back to normal. Ellenbogen accompanied Covey to the trail on Tuesday
morning, dug up the traps, and checked for more but didn’t find
“I’m not going on trails any more, other than the Comeau,”
Covey said. “I think the DEC should try to keep trapping a further
distance from public trails. I don’t hate hunters or anything.
I just think there ought to be a more civilized way to share the woods.”
As reported in last week’s Woodstock Times, Phoenicia resident
Kelly Ward’s dog Bo, walking on a leash, was caught on Tuesday,
November 28, in a trap set a few inches from the same trail in Wilson
State Park but a good deal deeper into the woods than the traps that
snagged Stanley. (Covey estimated they were only about 1/8 to 1⁄4
mile from the road.) Ward was able to open the trap herself, and Bo
got away with a bruised foot. Ward, however, was disturbed and frightened
by the incident and will not return to the park.
The traps at Wilson were legally set except for the absence of a label
noting the trapper’s name and address, which is required by
law, as are a trapping license and an eight-hour training class. While
traps may not be set directly on a trail, said DEC spokesperson Wendy
Rosenbach, “There is no distance requirement. Of course, we
prefer them to be farther off the trail. But there are leash laws
in the campground. Dogs aren’t supposed to be running loose.”
The foothold traps themselves are of a legally permitted variety,
without the teeth that were common in the past and were designed to
break the animal’s leg. The type of body trap that killed Alyja
is used to trap beavers and other large animals, said Rosenbach. Although
that incident did not occur on state land, the DEC will investigate,
since the trap was set illegally. No results will be reported until
the investigation is complete.
When asked how the DEC might respond to public pressure to enhance
protection from traps, Rosenbach replied, “We can’t control
someone setting an illegal trap on private property. We’re investigating,
but it’s hard to discover who set an unlabeled trap.”
She noted that trapping is forbidden when the campground section of
the park is open.
Covey said she had considered putting up a sign to warn other dog
walkers and hikers that there were traps along the Cold Brook Road
trail, but was told she could not legally do so. Rosenbach agreed
that it would be up to the DEC to post any signs on the trail.
Goes The Winter...
On a local basis, a quick
glance at the big picture shows that half the Catskills’ ski
areas have closed in the last dozen years. And those that remain,
all but state-owned Belleayre Resort agreed, are facing rising odds
“Industry-wide, the amount of uphill capacity – the number
of skier days, lifts, slope acreage and so forth – has not gone
down, but the small ski areas have suffered. The big guys have gotten
bigger and the smaller areas have dropped off,” said Windham
Mountain owner/manager Dan Frank of what’s been happening this
week, on the verge of a Wednesday, December 6 opening he was set to
share with Hunter Mountain. “The problem is that this isn’t
necessarily very good for the industry since the smaller areas served
a purpose introducing a lot of people to skiing. They were what we
call our breeder areas.”
Locally, Catskills skiing has seen the loss of former slopes at Highmount,
Andes (Bobcat), Haines Falls (Cortina Valley), and Stamford (Scotch
Valley). Years earlier, the state’s first ski area, Simpson’s
just outside Phoenicia, succumbed to a winter sports scene that was
demanding steeper slopes and more amenities.
Besides the region’s big three ski resorts at Belleayre, Windham
and Hunter Mountain, two other areas have held on in recent years.
Roxbury’s Ski Plattekill is locally-owned and supported, with
a loyal customer base and weekend-only opening hours. And in the Town
of Kingston, between the city of the same name and Woodstock, family-owned
Sawkill has stayed alive through sheer will – and the introduction
of snow tubing, says owner Alan Lund, despite being “North America’s
smallest ski area.”
“Last year it was too warm to make any snow during Christmas,”
said Lund, speaking on a cell phone while working his former bluestone
quarry with a bulldozer to make new runs. “We made it through,
though… You’ve got to be an optimist to be in this business.”
He went on to note how he started his slope on a lark, because he
had some good north-facing property and the equipment to shape it,
back in the early 1980s. He’s kept things running because –
besides the cost of insurance – he maintains a small crew of
ten part-timers, doing much of the work himself. When Ski The Catskills
was a big thing, he adds, he figured he couldn’t afford its
higher fees for advertising. When his own customer base, young and
half from the city, started changing expectations for what they wanted,
he changed, too. Hence the new focus on snow tubing… and snowboarding.
“Those things have saved us, and a lot of us little outfits.
That and the fact that we have so little land to cover, we can make
good snow without much ice. We’re only open on weekends when
the conditions are right,” he said. “Then again, I hear
that Cortina closes and I think, maybe they’re smarter than
us. Maybe I should have quit too…”
Frank, who has helped Lund and other smaller areas around the region,
says he’s glad the smaller areas are still running. It all feeds
the region’s image.
He pointed out how, following industry trends in the United States,
he’s been pushing Windham to be ever-more “green”
in its approach to skiing, and especially the vast amounts of resources
it takes to run a major ski resort.
The industry standard, he pointed out, is increasingly towards using
groundwater for snowmaking, and wind turbines to generate electricity
for lifts and other needs.
At Windham, he’s proud of the efficiencies he had built into
the resort’s main lodge buildings when they were constructed
twenty some years ago.
Over the mountain from him, regional ski pioneer Orville Slutsky of
Hunter Mountain noted how he’s pushed forward by increasing
his ski school activities, to the point where he’s now considered
one of the industry’s leaders again.
Yet he too worries about what’s coming down the slopes, warming-wise.
“It’s an ever-tougher battle to survive,” he said.
“You have to be able to keep operating at a loss and make it
up in other areas.”
At Hunter, condo and time share sales have been a boost in recent
“The one good thing about global warming is that it’s
not going to happen overnight. It’s going to be gradual,”
Slutsky said. “I think about it a lot. But I also figure it’s
just one more hill to cross. We shall overcome, as they say.”
More worrisome to the octogenarian who still rises at 3 am winter
mornings so he can be at his ski center by 4:30 a.m. is the unfair
competition he and other private ski areas in the Catskills face competing
with state-run Belleayre, which can “coast along on the public’s
dime” without having to worry the costs like the others who
are struggling. He wouldn’t be surprised, he said, if it’s
only the state-run ski centers that end up surviving in areas like
“Belleayre’s living off the fat of the land, spending
half a million here, a half million there,” he said, echoing
a refrain he’s been whistling for decades now. “I would
give my left eye to get their support…”
Calls to Belleayre Supervisor Tony Lanza, a former marketing specialist
who has been under fire of late for utilizing local ambulance services
without any monetary remuneration, went unanswered as of press time.
Lund, though, noted how the ski industry as a whole was going to have
to push harder to change people’s opinions about skiing…
to waken them up to the fact that even when there wasn’t snow
on the ground where they lived, it was being made in places like the
Catskills… for now.
According to a new policy statement from the National Ski Areas Association,
meanwhile, the key is perception. “Although our own GHG contributions
are negligible on a relative scale, climate change could impact the
winter recreation experience for our guests and our weather-dependent
business. The best and most current climate models for skiing regions
in the U.S. suggest warmer nights and wetter shoulder seasons. Variability
in climate is not good for our customers, our business or the environment.
The ski industry has an opportunity to take a leadership role in raising
awareness and encouraging solutions on this important issue,”
the new “Sustainable Slopes” paper reads.
Think Snow.. for now, at least.