The Poncic Case?
was geared toward the seven member board absorbing and reviewing the
remarks made at a recent public hearing on the proposal, a hearing
where the public made an overwhelming and unified statement that no
one wanted to see Andrew Poncic get permission for his plan to suck
water from a natural spring on his property and ship it elsewhere
for reasons that remain unclear.
Regardless, the tone at Tuesdays session was one that dismissed much
of the concern loudly stated when over 150 people packed the same
meeting hall to demand that the planners place the health, safety
and welfare of the community over Poncic’s hope of operating
an enterprise that only he would benefit from.
The session included some tense moments, such as when board secretary
Marie Stutman stomped out of the room after failing to control the
seating arrangements of the press, but for the most part was quiet
as dozens of audience members strained to hear the thoughts of mumbling
board members seated in a coffee clutch arrangement at the front of
Of particular interest to all was the written response from Poncic’s
consultants, which now claims that concerns about large tractor-trailers
running up and down the narrow and windy dead end lane were ill founded.
In a long statement that was prepared specifically to respond to concerns
raised at the hearing, a Hydrogeologist for Spectra Environmental
Group named Jason Kappel claimed that the trucks that would run on
the road were not as big as people thought, and certainly not as big
as the ones depicted in a shocking video played at the hearing.
Kappel wrote that the truck in the video was “significantly
oversized,” and went on to explain that “the intention
of the project is, and always has been, to employ a ten wheel water
haul truck in the HS20 classification.”
It should be noted that during the separate environmental review phase
of the project’s plans, Poncic could not specifically state
what size truck would be involved, but had presented drawings of a
turnaround designed to handle the largest 18 wheelers. The board chose
to review the project as if those trucks were involved. Now that the
environmental review has passed, Poncic is claiming that only the
smaller truck will be used.
Kappel’s letter goes on to say that the remarks made at the
hearing “do not address environmental concerns to the community,”
a stance that planner Gerry Setchko took to the extreme when he announced
that in his opinion, screening issues for the project could be mitigated
if neighbors uphill of the project site didn’t look down.
The majority of the board, led by Chair Joan Munster, appeared satisfied
with Kappel’s reaction to public concerns, but member Beth Waterman
threw a wrench into the works by saying she felt the application did
not meet the standards to allow the board to grant approval.
The board, however, will probably have more time to mull the matter
over. While a decision on the application was expected next week at
the August, 9th session, Poncic submitted a request to delay the decision
until October, as he will not be able to attend either the August
or September meetings.
The board unofficially agreed to wait, though they cannot make such
a decision until the meeting on the 9th.
During discussion on this, audience members were overheard describing
this delay as a tactic to set the board’s decision during a
time after all the summer folk have left the Valley.
Lawsuits To Continue
According to Kav-anagh’s ruling, the petitioners –
who have also filed a Civil Rights action against the town related
to the same tax hikes – was improperly filed by having come
through after a four month period for complaint, as required by law.
He further noted that even though later amended by the petitioners,
the original lawsuit’s failure to mention two other effected
taxing entities – Onteora School District and the county –
rendered it moot.
According to the attorney for those suing, Brian Matula of Albany-based
Cooper, Erving & Savage, the Civil Rights lawsuit, with three
additional petitioners, is still valid, and an appeal of Kavanagh’s
ruling is currently under consideration.
“The plaintiffs are concerned that Judge Kavanagh’s dismissal
will create a dangerous precedent that severely curtails the amount
of time that a taxpayer has to bring a proceeding challenging a Town’s
method of assessment,” Matula wrote. “Sooner of later,
the Town of Shandaken and its officials will have to deal with the
substantive issues and merits of the taxpayers’ allegations
of unconstitutional taxation and unlawful assessment practices.”
The lawsuit came about after local landowners learned that the Town
had raised all taxation on parcels over 20 acres in size to $600 an
acre, per the town’s equalization rate of 28 percent. The move
was later noted by town supervisor Bob Cross Jr. as being part of
his eventually successful negotiating tactics to settle a longstanding
lawsuit from New York State charging that Shandaken had overassessed
its holdings. Cross said last week that he based his assessment values
on comparable property value figures given him by Shandaken planning
board member John Horn, who unsuccessfully ran for a town assessor’s
position last November.
The plaintiffs and others in town have charged that Cross’ tax
manipulations were politically motivated, arbitrary and capricious.
Shandaken has not had a full revaluation of its tax rolls since 1983.
In a press release from the town, Shandaken’s representative
before Kavanagh, David Hagstrom of Poughkeepsie-based Van DeWater
& Van DeWater, noted that, “Contrary to the petitioners’
allegations, the assessments by the Board of Assessors were aimed
at achieving the equality among all taxpayers of the Town of Shandaken
in accordance with statutory requirements. The settlement with the
State (achieved by Cross), represented by counsel from the Office
of Real Property Services, confirms that the petitioners’ assessments
This past May, the petitioners, who have continued to state that Shandaken’s
tax assessment process is not kosher, went through all proper grievance
procedures so as to qualify them for another Article 78 procedure
in the coming year. Their grievances, again about procedure and not
amounts, was duly denied by the town in May and again in June.
The point about all this, they have said in recent releases and statements,
is that they feel it is about time the town revaluate all its properties
together. Their frustration stems from there seeming to be no proper
avenue, legally, to redress such procedural complaints.
At Shandaken’s most recent town board meeting July 10, Cross
and one of the involved plaintiffs, Peter Vinci, ended up in fisticuffs.
Cross has recently started calling the lawsuit, in his communications
with one local publication, “politically motivated,” adding
that he is planning to get out “the truth” about his fisticuffs
and the lawsuit in one of his privately-produced newsletters, or possibly
even a press release.
The supervisor, however, has been reluctant to release his materials
to the pres unless they promise to run his statements in full, a request
most have refused.
If The City Filters?
The Environmental Protection Agency, along with the State
Department of Health, is taking a close look at how things are going
in the vast watershed region before deciding whether to allow the
City to continue avoiding a Federal mandate to filter its water supply.
Such a filtration system is estimated to cost $8 billion to build
and hundreds of millions a year to run.
On Thursday Alan Rosa, the Executive Director of the Catskill Watershed
Corporation, said that EPA is seriously considering a filtration requirement,
and if they come to that conclusion people can blame Mother Nature.
The rampant flooding over the past couple of years has caused more
water quality problems than anything man made, he said, and unless
the City devises a method to get that under control filtration may
Rosa said that back in the 1990’s a number of programs were
designed to keep the water, which mostly comes from the streams and
brooks of the Catskill Mountains, running clean but most were designed
to take care of man made pollution. Many of the programs have benefited
the people of the Watershed region, Rosa said, like the popular septic
program, in which the City pays to replace inadequate systems with
state of the art ones. An average system costs about $8000, complicated
ones can cost 10 times that.
The City has also paid millions to build wastewater treatment plants
for Hamlets and Villages. Only a handful are complete, but 22 are
The list goes on, with even more millions sent to the watershed for
stream corridor protection, extensions for existing sewer districts
and forestry management programs. There is even a fund for public
education, a program that doles out grants to schools, arts organizations
and even individual artists that teach the wonders of water.
But all this could go away if EPA says filter.
It is, of course, a little more complicated. Rosa said that When the
Coalition of Watershed Towns was negotiating the terms of the 1997
watershed deal it made sure to tie the fate of those programs to one
big one. The Land Acquisition Program gives the City hundreds of Millions
of dollars to buy up as much land as it can in the watershed. Back
in 1990’s the Coalition saw this is the main threat to the regions
economy because the City’s goal is to buy land that would otherwise
be developed and leave it undisturbed as a natural buffer against
man made pollution. The big question, Rosa said, is whether the City
would keep buying land if forced to spend billions to filter the water.
“Everything is tied to the land acquisition program. If the
City decides they don’t want to buy land the programs go away,”
Only two, he added, would remain. The Catskill Fund for the Future,
a large bank account the Catskill Watershed Corporation uses to fund
economy boosting projects, and a program to reduce the effects of
storm water. Between the two, Rosa said, about $90 million has been
Ian Michaels, a spokesman for the New York City Department of Environmental
Protection, would not comment on the fate of the watershed programs,
but said that his department if confidant that EPA will allow filtration
avoidance to continue.
Rosa’s not so sure, and he added another element to the mix.
Another part of the 1997 watershed deal is a slew of restrictive land
use regulations to keep the water clean. They would remain intact
even if filtration were required.
Dan Ruzow, the former Counsel for the Coalition of Watershed Towns
and a major voice in the development of the watershed agreement, said
Thursday that he believes that all elements of the deal would be reviewed.
“In the event of filtration, still an unlikely event in my view,
I think that renewal of the the City’s land acquisition permit
would be questionable along with the need for several provisions of
the Watershed Regulations,” Ruzow said.
Even more disturbing,
state Department of Transportation engineers working on the road repairs
have started to express worry that changing weather patterns, and
older mountain roads, may cause further problems in the coming years
as rains worsen… along with roads.
Barbara Mattice, a regional construction engineer for the department,
said a large culvert under the main thoroughfare leading into the
central Catskills was damaged during the heavy rain that fell between
June 22 and 28. The downpours caused so much stormwater runoff that
the culvert pipe could not handle the volume, causing portions of
the road to wash away between Dancing Rock Road and Runge Road, about
1 1/2 miles west of the Pine View Bakery in Shokan. She said the culvert
is so damaged it needs to be replaced.
According to the DOT’s regional spokeswoman, Colleen McKenna,
a final design for the project is under way and no definite plans
for when and how repairs will be done have been established yet. And
neither has a final detour.
She did, however, corroborate information Mattice gave the press when
McKenna was away last week, in which the engineer said that work was
likely to occur “either at the end of August or the beginning
of September,” and another engineer noted that current detour
[pans call for running Route 28 traffic, which is currently the main
access route to Hunter and much of Greene County’s mountaintop,
as well as Delaware County, Oneonta and points west, through Woodstock
via state Route 375 in West Hurley, Woodstock’s main thoroughfare,
and either Route 212 or Wittenberg Road all the way to Route 28 in
McKenna added that alternate plans are being developed to try and
create a repair design that does not involve tearing up the road.
The main problem, she said, is that the culvert in need of repair
is 50 feet below the road surface.
“We don’t really know what we are going to do,”
she said when asked if a one lane traffic pattern, as occurred briefly
on Route 28 in recent weeks, could be the answer.
Meanwhile, Olive town supervisor Bert Leifeld said that he had not
been told anything by anyone, and any detouring along the lines the
DOT were discussing, especially in the period of time that includes
Labor Day and the start of the school year, would be “nuts.”
Woodstock supervisor Jeremy Wilber called the idea of rerouting truck
traffic through his already-crowded town at the height of the tourist
season “horrendous.” Shandaken highway superintendent
Keith Johnson said he just hoped the county could get Wittenberg Road
back in shape in time.
All said they had received no official word about anything to date,
though, and had been relying on press reports for information.
As for Route 23A, a visit to the site showed a series of cave-ins
along the windy mountainside roadway near Kaaterskill Falls. According
to lead engineer Tom Jakobowski, who has been in charge of keeping
the road open for the past ten years, the recent rains overwhelmed
newly released culverts and tore away the entire 1908 footings for
the roadway. Upgrading, he added, had just been finished six days
before the roadway was lost.
Jacobowski added that he had pilings crews working 24 hours a day
to put in a new infrastructure “to hold the mountain back”
so a new roadway could then be built up in the coming months.
“I’ve been working these repairs since 1999 and the rains
keep getting worse,” Jacobowski said. “In my view, we’ve
got some big problems ahead. These roads weren’t built for tour
buses and tractor trailer traffic.”
Bus traffic to and from the Greene County Mountaintop area, as well
as to and from Saugerties and points west between Hunter and Oneonta,
has been suspended indefinitely until repairs are completed. Meanwhile,
all traffic is being rerouted either up 28 through Phoenicia or Shandaken
via routes 214 or 42, or up Route 23 from Catskill via Windham.
With much of the Hunter area’s economy based on winter skiing
and fall foliage events, local businesses are worried, the DOT engineer
who lives in Windham said.
“I’ve told my contractors we have to be done by November
1,” he said. “But that’s with the decent weather
Meanwhile, some local businesses in Phoenicia have seen an upsurge
in business from the new traffic while others have concentrated on
worries about how a closure of Route 28will effect them… especially
if repairs go beyond one week… which has been known to occur
– frequently – with such projects.
We’ll keep you informed…
But now Michael Lang, the
eternally youthful-faced producer of the eternally renowned Woodstock
Festivals of 1969, 1994 and 1999, warmly laughs when it’s observed
that he’s about to start spending a majority of his time in
Phoenicia, where his twin sons will begin attending the local elementary
school next month.
Lang, who lives on Wittenberg Road just over the town line in the
place whose name he’s been tied with for decades, says he’s
always liked the quiet of Shandaken, and described Phoenicia as a
“town that seems to have been caught in a time warp.”
He adds that he and his family have tubed the Esopus on several occasions,
and enjoy the pancakes at Sweet Sue’s. But no, he’s never
taken to flyfishing.
Lang’s nibbling at an omelette while fielding business calls
from London and New York as we talk on a recent morning, bemused that
he’s somehow found a pocket of cell phone service. Or better,
that pocket’s found him.
37 years ago at this time, he says, he was still new to the area,
crazily trying to keep up with a host of critical changes to his plans
to hold a music festival. He says he was operating in a panic, yet
learning the joys of rolling with life’s punches.
The owner of the instantly recognizable Woodstock Festival brand name,
still standing for peace love and three days of music all these decades
later, as well as that bird and guitar logo, wants to talk about his
recent decision to license out the concept he created. Feels a need
to comment on the new $70 million Bethel Woods Performing Arts Center
that’s coming together around the site of that first behemoth
he produced. And just speak about living in the same place all these
Asked about the long delay in utilizing the Woodstock mystique, Lang
says it took him a long time to even look at what he created in terms
of branding, in terms of its very concept being a product. He remembers
realize at one point that he may have been looking at the whole idea
“from the wrong end of the tunnel” and that he could have
more control over how the ideals behind what he had worked so hard
for in the late 1960s were used than he had first thought.
“Obviously, ours is a brand that’s got to be the greenest
brand in the world or it’s bullshit,” Lang said.
Does that mean there’s a political aspect to what he’s
planning for its use?
“Everything has political ramifications,” he answers,
avoiding the specific term. “We are not specifically political,
and yet we are reaching critical points in a number of survival issues.
And there was a lot of activism in the sixties. We would like to help
bring that consciousness back.”
Lang adds that when he and his Woodstock Ventures partners started
suing to stop seemingly innocuous or small-potatoes uses of their
name and bird-on-guitar logo in the lead-up to their 1994 event in
Saugerties, they did so because they realized that copyright law is
such that unless one protects against all infringements, one can lose
what one was hoping to protect.
“We knew that what we had was something back in 1991 when I
was trying to get someone to give me $35 million to put on another
show,” he says. “We realized that they would want the
name of what we were doing protected. If you don’t protect it,
you lose it… And you have to be vigorous about these things.”
Looking somewhat pained by this less idealized aspect of what he does,
Lang shrugs. Had he ever thought in terms of branding in 1969?
“Think of the fact that we never even made t-shirts,”
So what about Bethel Woods, the Alan Gerry-sponsored regional economic
development, with ample government funding, whose performing arts
shed opened July 1, and whose Woodstock Museum and Interpretive Center
is expected to be up and running by next summer?
“I think it’s a good thing they didn’t plant anything
right in the bowl,” he says of the site of his festival’s
famous stage. “I think they have their hands full…”
Lang adds that he has visited the new center, finding it somewhat
discombobulating in its siting. And he has been holding talks with
Gerry about matters he doesn’t want to divulge much of.
Would he be giving memorabilia for the museum, as Bethel Woods Executive
Director Jonathan Drapkin ad suggested in a recent interview?
“There wasn’t much stuff. It was not that kind of moment,”
Lang replies with another of his ironic smiles. But there is his BSA
Victor motorcycle, made famous from the Woodstock film, which has
been sitting in his driveway off Wittenberg Road for years now. He
adds that he hasn’t ridden it in years.
“You need a pneumatic leg to kick start it,” he explains.
“I tried retrofitting it with an electric starter..”
“Getting back to Bethel Woods,” he says. “I think
that they have a difficult time ahead in terms of making the venue
successful because there isn’t enough population to support
it… I think they have to develop some unique properties there,”
So what is Lang himself working on these days?
“A lot of stuff I’m not willing to talk about,”
Why has he always been so reticent about what he does in between actual
accomplishments? Is this a form of business acumen or just something
else like the town he’s lived in all this time?
“Because talk is cheap,” Lang says. “And also because
the nature of what I do – trying to figure out what that is
– involves a lot of ideas. I work on all of them and a few of
He says it’s a trait he’s always had, from his boyhood
in Bensonhurst through his days working Coney Island through Florida
headshops through the festival to managing Joe Cocker for years.
“It always seemed to me that things happen in my life when they
happen. I can’t push them, I can’t plan them,” he
explains of his life, his success, what it is he does so well that
Lang himself has become something of an elusive brand. “But
when I get ideas they’re fairly well formed. They’re usually
most of the way there and it’s like I have a blueprint to follow.”
“I’ve always regretted not having owned the festival sites,
especially Saugerties,” Lang adds. “Because that’s
always been the biggest deterrent from doing this festivals again.
The nature of the events is that you build a temporary city, putting
millions of dollars in the ground. Then you rip it all out again.
It’s too much of a burden to do again and again.”
What have been the biggest changes he’s seen over the years
that have most taken him by surprise?
“It’s been odd having acts play places like Foxwoods and
has been for a number of years,” he says. “Corporate sponsorship
of tours felt odd but excepting Neil Young, none of that is questioned
He notes that he likes what HITS has accomplished in Saugerties, including
its benefits for Family, an organization he helped support with his
1994 festival. Then he calls the county jail project and its cost
overruns “a complete surprise.”
“The project at Belleayre was kind of surprising, too,”
he adds with a smile.
Is he going to take his twin five year olds to the new Bethel? Probably,
he answers. For Neil Young.
In the meantime, he’s just expecting to be spending more time
in our town.
“See you in Phoenicia!” he adds, with that grin again…