on the News
In a colorfully
blunt talk punctuated by images of his project “hijacked by environmentalists,”
stalked by the City’s “hired assassins,” and opposed
by “environmental Jihadists,” the controversial developer
also lashed out publicly for the first time at the state’s ongoing
review process and by inference, at decisions made by presiding judge
Richard A. Wissler to permit wide public input into the ongoing review
of the project.
“The SEQRA process is broken and needs to be fixed,” said
Gitter, who asserted that his project’s public review “has
be hijacked by professional environmentalists who make their living
by obfuscation, delay, distortion, perversion of process, and just plain
dirty tricks.” That process stinks,” he said.
Gitter, long regarded as a regional champion of SEQRA, appears to have
reconsidered that position in light of his project’s increasingly
Each year since 2001, he has publicly expressed hopes of breaking ground
the following year, though recent statements on the subject more consistently
include the phrase “in my lifetime.”
Gitter, who’d been invited to speak on the progress of his plan
to build a nearly 1,300 room resort on 1,960 acres surrounding the state-run
Belleayre Mountain Ski Center, now in its fifth year of review, was
charactistically confrontational. At his last address to the Chamber
in 2002, Gitter drew heavy flak for referring to those who opposed his
project as “not as far along their spiritual paths” as those
who support it. Although steering clear of that subject this time, he
did take aim -in addition to the SEQRA laws - at New York City’s
Department of Environmental Protection, and at the eleven member groups
of the Catskill Preservation Coalition opposing the project as “interveners”
in the SEQRA process.
Singled out for attack from amongst the environmental community were
CPC lead counsel Marc Gerstman, a former state DEC lead counsel, NRDC
attorney Eric Goldstein, and Catskill Center for Conservation &
Development Director Tom Alworth, whose presence Gitter noted in the
According to Gitter, these “environmental holy warriors are smart,
organized, and relentless.”
He took particular umbrage that Riverkeeper’s Bobby Kennedy Jr.
once sent a letter to the Kingston Freeman urging full adjudication
of the issues raised at last summer’s SEQRA Issues Conference.
And he seemed similarly irked that Alworth and Goldstein once met with
the editorial board of the Albany Times Union, a common practice for
those seeking to influence public opinion and one he frequently engages
“That’s not environmental protection,” said Gitter
of the process, “it’s environmental persecution.”
None of the three alleged holy warriors singled out seemed terribly
concerned by Gitter’s comments.
“First of all,” said Alworth, “when someone calls
you a jihadist and makes apologies to any Taliban who might be present,
I mean, frankly, how seriously can one take that person? To the substance,
I think the way Dean portrayed both the participants and the process
was pure hyperbole and absolutely incorrect. I think it was unfortunate
he said many of the things he said. It was a pretty unbelievable rant.”
Regarding the City’s role in the project’s review, Gitter,
who has long sought to portray the proposed resort as a test case of
the viability of the 1997 MOA with the watershed towns, repeated his
frequent assertions that its regulators have sought not only to obstruct
his project, but to suppress all economic development in the watershed
and reduce the population in the Catskills. He also accused the NRDC
and other “fundamentalist organizations” of pressuring the
city into that position, saying “they are virtually guaranteeing
that the MOA would, in time, be dead as a smelt.”
Responding to Gitter’s “hired assassin” comment, Craig
Seymour of RKG Associates, the city’s prime consultant on the
project, said that “We were hired to provide technical advice
on the adequacy & correctness of the applicant’s information,
not to kill anything. While we agreed with some of the analysis provided,
we also found their consultants sometimes didn’t provide the depth
of analysis that was needed. If anything, that’s what’s
slowed the process down.”
Gitter’s comments on his project’s obstacles may reflect
concern with the changing political environment in which its review
is proceeding. Governor Pataki, who in the past has interceded for the
developer, may or may not be willing to risk further political capital
on the project. Ulster County’s legislature, long supportive of
Gitter under Ward Todd and Richard Gerentine’s leadership, has
recently taken a more circumspect view, and continued GOP leadership
there appears less than entirely probable. Finally, future control of
Shandaken’s town board under supervisor Bob Cross, Jr. and his
pro-Gitter majority seems hard to predict. Leadership changes at any
of those governmental levels could precipitate an end to, or a significant
downscaling of the project.
“We are not going away,” Gitter concluded. “This project
will not succumb. This project will be approved and we will build it.”
Decisions from Judge Wissler as to which issues will go forward into
the next, adjudicatory hearings phase of the project’s review
are expected in the coming months.
end of the day-long get together, Lucas, who sat quietly on the sidelines
of the pow wow wearing a work jacket and baseball cap, found out that
while that may have been the case in previous years, this year he
Claiming the New York City Department of Environmental Protection
has been making decisions that harm the Catskills - beginning with
its objections to Dean Gitter’s proposed Belleayre Resort voiced
last Spring - the Coalition of Watershed Towns has convinced the State
Department of Environmental Conservation to step into the fray.
On Friday, December 10th, the annual meeting of the Watershed Partnership
and Protection Council was held in Hunter, where dozens of officials
from several involved agencies got together for what promised to be
a refresher course on the happenings with the unique watershed partnership
forged in 1997.
The Watershed Protection and Partnership Council was created by the
historic New York City Watershed Memorandum of Agreement, signed on
January 21st, 1997, to provide a regional forum to aid in the long-term
protection of New York City’s drinking water, and the economic
vitality of the upstate watershed communities. This landmark agreement
was an attempt to forge a new partnership to protect New York City's
Watershed and ensure the economic vitality of the Watershed communities.
But the feeling of partnership was scarce on Friday when Coalition
Attorney Jeffrey Baker made an appeal to Erin Crotty, the Commissioner
of the State Department of Environmental Conservation. Ignoring the
feel-good vibe that was in the room for the rest of the session, Baker
accused City officials of dragging their feet on allowing full recreational
use of the thousands of acres, to the detriment of the region, while
enjoying the land acquisition rights the City was granted in exchange.
Baker also complained that the City is in the process of drafting
revisions to other regulations that would govern land use throughout
the region, and that as written they give the City “unfettered
discretion” in matters that will kill many small development
projects before they even begin.
City Officials fought back, with acting Department of Environmental
Protection Commissioner David Tweedie stating that his agency has
acted within its legal rights. He then added that “the body
language in the room” indicated that the agency might not have
communicated very well with upstate about things.
After Tweedie said his staff would take another look at the recreational
use issue, Baker said that Tweedie’s agency, left to its own
devices, has spent 8 years looking things over with little progress
and that enough was enough.
“We are not interested in bilateral discussions with the city,”
Furthermore, Baker said the Coalition’s review of the draft
regulations indicates that the DEP would require mammoth engineering
costs for small development projects that create minimal environmental
disturbance. The result, he said, is that a $25,000 expense on a small
sub-division, before the applicant even knows if the project would
be approved, is enough to keep many projects from even getting on
the drawing board.
Following their bosses’ lead, Department of Environmental Protection
officials defended the agency’s actions. Attorney Sandy Jackson
said her office has met all legal requirements when it comes to opening
up City-owned lands for recreation. Deputy Commissioner Mike Principe
stood by the draft regulations, saying he was aware of the Coalition’s
objections but that “there are things in those regs that are
very important to us.”
In the end, Crotty established a list of stakeholders within the room
with the intention to assemble the group and discuss the issues. The
meeting, she said, will take place after she has “an offline
discussion” with Tweedie, who has been acting Commissioner for
only the past few weeks, following the resignation of former Commissioner
With that, Crotty announced it was time for a lunch break. By then
it was almost 2 pm. Several officials, including Tweedie, took that
as an opportunity to hop into their SUVs and rumble away.
The troubles between the City and Coalition re-started when the Voalition
came out against the DEP for raising objection’s to the Belleayre
Resort project last Spring.
Meetings were set up at the time by Baker and his former attorney-partner,
Dan Ruzow, who is now working for Gitter’s project.
More recently, Baker and some of his associates have provided testimony
on behalf of the Belleayre resort project before a state DEC judge
hearing cases for and against which issues should be adjudicated as
part of the large project’s compex SEQRA review.
No mention was made of Gitter’s project at the meeting last
Ulster County’s representative at the meeting, former legislator
and current county Chamber of Commerce director Ward Todd, made no
comment at the meeting.
Todd is considered by many to be a close supporter, and friend, of
Gitter, the developer.
to District Superintendent Justine Winters, the decision to set and
release such a schedule before this year’s closing is part-and-parcel
with recent decisions to do everything possible to increase communication
regarding all district matters, the better to avoid a repeat of last
year’s vote against the board’s proposed budget.
Onteora is currently operating under a restrictive contingency budget
based on 2003-2004 figures.
“We started meeting this week with all our faculty members at
the various schools,” Winters said on Monday, December 12. “We
want to involve everyone in this process as best we can.”
She noted how a number of recent meetings addressing issues raised by
the public at meetings, including Special Education, the INDIE Program,
and sports, have not been attended by those who originally raised such
issues. Winters added that she’s hoping better scheduling, and
communication of such scheduling, may overcome such instances in the
According to the just-released Budget Presentation Calendar, Transportation
and Cafeteria departments will give a presentation on their budget needs
at a January 11 meeting at the Bennett School. Technology and Capital
Projects, including long-term debt, will be the subject of a January
25 meeting at the Phoenicia School.
On February 1, Athletics and Extra-Curricular school activities, as
well as budget requests from the district’s Building and Grounds
Department, will be the focus of the district’s regular meeting
at the Middle-Senior High School. Instruction will then be the focus
of a February 15 meeting at the Woodstock School, with Pupil Personnel
Services and BOCES presented at a March 8 meeting at the Middle-Senior
The Superintendent’s Budget recommendations for the 2004-2005
school year will be presented at the district’s regular meeting,
again at the Middle Senior High School, on March 15, along with an Open
Public Discussion of those recommendations.
Further discussion of the Superintendent’s recommendations will
be the focus of a meeting scheduled, again for the Middle-Senior High
School, on April 19… when the Board of Education is also scheduled
to adopt its own budget proposal for the coming year.
Further discussion of the budget will come up, according to the new
calendar, on Wednesday, April 27, as well as on May 3, both meetings
set for the Middle-Senior High School.
The district-wide budget vote and election of new trustees is set to
take place in all three of the Onteora District’s elementary schools
from 2 to 9 p.m. on Tuesday, May 17, with a special meeting to accept
votes cast set for 9:30 p.m. at the Middle-Senior High School.
Unless noted, all meetings take place on Tuesdays and start at 7 p.m.
The next meeting of the district’s new Communications Committee,
initiated to help avoid a budget defeat next Spring, has been scheduled
for Tuesday, January 4, 2005, at 7:00 p.m. in the MS/HS Cafeteria.
At the same time, Tom Rosato announced on December 8 that he was resigning
from the Onteora school board in order to care for his ailing parents.
The board asks any member of the public interested in taking his place
for the rest of the school year to submit a letter of intent and, possibly,
a resume by January 10.
The candidate chosen will serve until the end of June and may run to
fill out the remaining two years of Rosato’s term at the school
board election in May. Three other seats will be up for election in
May — those held by board president Marino D’Orazio, Neil
Eisenberg, and Kathy Hochman.
“It’s going to be very interesting,” D’Orazio
commented. “When four seats are up on a seven-member board, there’s
a chance the whole makeup of the board could change.”
This year’s defeat of long-time board member Meg Carey and the
rejection of two budget proposals were attributed to widespread dissatisfaction
with the board’s decisions to close the West Hurley Elementary
School and to invoke the large parcel legislation, which raised the
taxes of Olive residents by fifty percent or more.
Rosato served for four years on the school board and was reelected this
May. He served a partial term several years ago, resigning in protest
over the controversial Indian mascot issue. Employed as supervisor of
buildings and grounds at Ulster County BOCES, he made use of his professional
experience to form and chair a Facilities Committee that oversees the
maintenance of Onteora’s infrastructure, as well as any construction
projects the district undertakes. He has also been a part of the recently
created committee on the future of the district.
D’Orazio acknowledged that Rosato’s resignation comes at
a difficult time. “We have a lot of very big issues that are going
to be happening again this year, like the large parcel bill. I hope
we don’t get into a situation where everyone is worried about
one issue. There are so many other things we need to worry about. The
Future of the District Committee is going to be making recommendations
to the board about long-term goals, such as how many elementary schools
we should have. There’s a feeling we should have a separate and
distinct middle school with three grades.”
Rosato said the committee is also considering the district’s technology
needs. “The facilities need a lot of work. We’re behind
the times with technology. We’re looking at what the community
needs and can afford. In the last four and a half years, I’ve
accomplished quite a bit, and I’m leaving at a time when I would’ve
liked to accomplish more.”
Despite the challenges, D’Orazio expressed optimism about the
future, praising Justine Winters, who took over as superintendent of
schools this summer. “We have a really good superintendent with
a new team, a new assistant superintendent and a new business administrator,
Victoria Garone, from Webatuck, Justine’s old district. She’s
very good so far and extremely qualified. Everyone seems happy and excited
with the new superintendent. She’s very positive but not afraid
to tell it like it is. The board doesn’t run the district on a
day-to-day basis. That’s the superintendent’s job.”
Any applicant for the seat on the board must be a qualified voter of
the Onteora school district and a full-time, continuous resident of
the district for the past year. The deadline for application is January
10, 2005. Send a letter of intent and, if possible, a resume to: Jeanne
Shultis, District Clerk, Onteora Central School District, PO Box 300,
Boiceville NY 12412 or firstname.lastname@example.org
County Hit’s In
Legislators were able
to whittle down a 24 percent tax increase in the tentative budget
to about 11 percent by maintaining cuts to contract agencies and imposing
a tax on hotel and motel rooms (although an increased tax on mortgages
was not enacted).
To the chagrin of minority Democrats, though, management salaries
and the so-called ‘flex’ plan for county managers, which
provides enhanced benefits not available to rank and file workers,
including a year-end payout that could amount to $2,500, if left alone.
Democrats claimed that elimination of the payout alone could have
And for the town of Olive, the combined budget hikes and recent instating
of “large parcel” legislation by the legislature will
mean an average 91 percent tax hike for the coming year.
“We didn’t cut any jobs in this budget,” said county
legislative chairman Richard Gerentine, in casting his positive vote
at the tail end of the marathon meeting. He praised the work of the
county administrator’s office during the two-month budget deliberations,
noting that originally county administrator Art Smith had faced spending
requests that would have raised property taxes by 40 percent, a figure
Smith had reduced before legislators began working earnestly on the
spending plan in late October.
“The process was very tough, very trying but I think we made
great progress going from 40 percent down to 24 percent and now less
than 12 percent,” added Gerentine. He said the legislature had
tried to maintain as many services as possible and had removed the
home heating energy tax, which amounted to about half a million dollars,
a figure roughly equivalent to one cent per dollar of the county property
Democrats saw it differently. “I am definitely not supporting
this, because we have not done a good job of going back and looking
at the fundamentals of this budget,” said legislator Peter Kraft.
“I think it’s important we get a grip on the fact that
our budget problems are long-term. Rather than address the problem,
we are using short-term fixes.”
Two Democrats, Jeanette Provenzano of Kingston and Joan Feldmann of
Saugerties, joined with all 17 Republicans to create the final 19-14
margin in favor of the plan.
The meeting featured about 90 minutes of public comment, with several
speakers protesting the $7,500 in taxpayer money going to the Federated
Sportsmen program to enhance pheasant hunting by raising and releasing
birds to be shot by hunters. That money ultimately remained in the
budget. Other speakers criticized legislators for raising taxes or
urged full funding for cooperative extension programs. No speaker
praised the legislature.
Earlier in the process, Democratic legislators had offered an array
of spending cuts, including a generously publicized across-the-board
cut of 3.5 percent in each department, starting with freezing management
salaries at 2004 levels and to be achieved by not filling vacancies.
The minority members said that would have reduced the tax-levy increase
nearly to zero. Department managers filed spending plans based on
a 3.5 percent cut without sacrificing management raises in the cuts.
Still, Democrats charge that budget fat remains in numerous patronage
positions as well as buried in budget lines with labels such as “miscellaneous
contractual expenses.” They particularly targeted the flex plan,
which pays not only medical expenses for managers, but can also reimburse
such costs as divorce proceedings, traffic tickets and expenses related
to filing personal bankruptcy claims, plus year-end bonuses ranging
up to $2,500. But Republicans refused to consider any changes to the
Mike Stock of Woodstock, the Republican majority leader, said that
the legislators should not consider changes in the flex plan during
budget deliberations. He said he pledged to look at the flex plan
at the beginning of the year, not at budget time. “The point
is we came in with a package that we think could pass the budget,”
Stock said that Republicans opted to impose a hotel-motel tax instead
of the mortgage-tax hike that Gerentine had initially endorsed, because
Stock said, it was easier to calculate the financial outcome of a
tax on lodging, and because he believed that the long boom in refinancing
mortgages would end with rising interest rates. He said it was easier
and more lucrative to tax lodging than tax mortgages. He said officials
estimated that a hotel-motel room tax would garner about $2.4 million
That figure may face scrutiny. Though the legislature authorized a
two percent tax to begin in January on each hotel room, it wants to
switch to a flat $5-per-room tax beginning in July. There is some
question as to whether state legislative action would be required
for the switch.
Stock received support from Democrat Joan Feldmann, a real-estate
broker who said she could not have supported a tax on mortgages because
she feared it would financially harm first-time homebuyers. She said
she voted to support the budget because the tentative budget would
be adopted if the vote went against the proposal put forth on December
13. “However, there’s no way I can give this county a
24 percent tax increase, so I vote yes,” said Feldmann.
Provenzano said that Democratic efforts at budget reductions could
have accounted for all the savings necessary to enact a budget without
additional taxes. But if taxes were going to be enacted, “A
hotel-motel tax is the way to go because that is going to be our future.”
Other Democrats were far more skeptical. “We’re still
miles and miles apart,” said legislator Hector Rodriguez. “The
reality is there still is a lot more that could have been cut.”
Ways and means committee chairwoman Sue Cummings said that Democrats
should be willing to unite behind a budget that was a compromise,
saying she herself had agreed to cuts in programs at contract agencies
such as the Ulster County Development Corporation and Cornell Cooperative
Extension. She said that “it’s not a Republican budget,
it’s not a Democrat’s budget, it’s a vote for all
of us.” Added Cummings, “Part of the problem from the
beginning was [Democratic legislators] wanted to attack and go after
the [county] management.”
But political comments in the heat of the moment are often forgiven.
At the end of the lengthy meeting Donaldson, the Democratic minority
leader, stood up to publicly compliment Cummings on the skill with
which she had chaired recent contentious meetings of the ways and
means committee, a statement applauded by other Democratic legislators.
Opponents of the spending plan charged that the 2005 adopted budget
was arrived at without addressing many structural budget concerns,
a point tacitly conceded by the Republican majority leadership, who
promised to start work on the 2006 budget as early as January. While
only one seat separates the majority from the minority and all 33
seats of the county legislature are up for grabs next November, predictions
from both sides of the aisle are that the 2006 fiscal year looks even
more problematic than 2005’s.