on the News
“If I did what Bob’s suggesting,” said Di Modica,
“The town wouldn’t own the water system today. What he
was suggesting was that I should have forfeited the $1.6 million we
had on hand to resubmit our application in a high-risk process that
the Environmental Facilities Corporation itself recommended we not
do…all in the hopes that maybe a year later we might have somehow
qualified for their maximum award level of $2 million. It’s
Cross’s comments included an accusation that DiModica had “forfeited
the chance to apply” for the funding in question. He also said
that Di Modica’s payment of the district’s legal bills
to attorney Robert Feller from available loan funding precluded the
town from seeking additional grants.
“The loan had to be spent first, that’s the EFC’s
rule,” said DiModica. “The legal expenses that were paid
to Bob Feller were the ones directly related to the purchase of the
water system.” According to Cross “When he opened that
loan to pay Feller everything was opened, we couldn’t reapply
The system’s history has long been controversial. In 2000, just
after the announcement of the proposed Belleayre Resort, Gitter told
a packed Pine Hill firehouse audience he had no interest in or intention
to purchase the water system. Several months later, he did.
Asked why, on Tuesday, Gitter explained that he bought the system
because “I was asked to by the County Health Department and
the Public Service Commission. There were 14 or 15 houses off-line,
there was a major break, the owner refused to live up to his obligations,
and because the town under Wayne Gutmann refused to buy it.”
“I did refuse to buy it…in the 1980’s,” said
Gutmann. “There were no grant monies available and it would
have been a huge burden to the district. When I took office in 2000,
discussions to buy the system were already on the town board’s
table and it was reported to me that funds to rehabilitate it would
be available. Jane Todd, the town’s grant administrator at the
time, was in charge of this for the town. I remember going to her
office in the SHARP building, where she told me ‘there’s
another buyer for the water system’ but that she did not know
who it was. I didn’t refuse to buy the system at that time,
it was clear the town was already out of the picture. It wasn’t
long before we all learned who the buyer was.”
According to Di Modica, “the town had actually been offered
the system for free by the attorney for its then owner, Ben Odierno,
but “Todd apparently never told that to anyone in town government.”
Todd has previously asserted that that she wasn’t aware of the
offer, despite its having been faxed from Gitter’s attorney
Anthony Bucca to Dean Palen at the County Health Department. Within
weeks of that written offer, Gitter closed on the system’s private
purchase. Shandaken did finally acquire most of the system’s
assets from Gitter three years later, after the lengthiest contract
negotiation in the town’s history. According to DiModica who
negotiated it, Gitter initially offered the town only one of the system’s
three water sources, eventually agreeing to sell two. “Mr. Gitter's
ownership of the system cost us three years, hundreds of thousands
of dollars, and a third of Pine Hill’s water supply,”
said Di Modica. The source removed from the system, Crystal Spring
or “Silo A,” is currently listed as a primary water source
in the proposed resort’s DEIS. Downstream meanwhile, Phoenicia’s
water sources and funding for their improvement have also turned out
to be the subject of contention. Since taking office in 2004, Cross
has repeatedly said that Di Modica personally altered the design of
the hamlet’s water treatment facility, with the end result being
increased construction costs. “During the bidding process”
responded Di Modica, “it became clear we wouldn’t have
enough grant money to complete the project. At that time the existing
infiltration gallery was working, so the engineers recommended we
could defer building a new one until we could find the funding for
it. The County Health Department also said we could defer installing
it until funding could be found. Everything that was done on this
was done in full consultation with the County Health Department and
our project engineers, Brinnier and Larios.” Dennis Larios,
principal of the firm which has served as engineers for Phoenicia’s
water district since 1959, confirmed Di Modica’s account. “We
made the recommendation” said Larios, whose Change Order of
April 4,2003 was approved by the town board at the time the contract
was awarded. According to Larois’ documentation, the changes
made were to “items non-essential to the immediate operation”
of the facility “that cannot be funded through the current grant.”
DiModica also took exception to published comments attributed to Todd,
suggesting that he over-reacted to the threat of county imposed fines
for the system’s noncompliance. Todd had reportedly said “the
Phoenicia water district had been threatened with fines by the County
Health Department for over 10 years and that as long as there was
progress was being made, the fines were waived.” “By the
time I took office in 2002,” said Di Modica, “they weren’t
threatening fines anymore. They had a court order with a strict compliance
timetable. I’m sure Jane just forgot that.” As for the
status of current work, Cross reports that with respect to Pine Hill’s
system, “We’re OK for this year, working with what’s
in place. Next year we’ll have to reapply for a Small Cities
grant.” Last year the town was unsuccessful at obtaining those
grants for either Pine Hill or Phoenicia, as applications submitted
for water system improvements to both hamlets were recently rejected.
According to Glen Gidaly of Shingebiss Associates who was retained
by the Town Board to write the grants, “The Small Cities program
is highly competitive and infrastructure projects like Pine Hill and
Phoenicia have to prove that there are significant health and safety
Our problems apparently may not be severe enough to qualify in the
future. As for 2005 funding, the town will not be submitting grant
applications in time for this year’s April 4 deadline. According
to Cross “We don’t have the time right now to put the
package together in a way that will score high enough to be approved.”
Asked about funding issues for Phoenicia, Water Commissioner Ric Ricciardella
said that “Bob handles everything now. I’m out of it…I’m
just an employee.”
Likely To Refuse
For several Phoenicia
Business owners that have been worrying what it will cost them if
the town decides to go ahead with an $11 million sewer system, that
is the deal outlined by Supervisor Robert Cross Jr. and Attorney Kevin
There’s about 300 septic systems in the hamlet, most of which
are inadequate, so the City of New York gave the town millions to
build a system that eliminated them and any threat of pollution to
the City’s pristine water supply that flows right past the hamlet
on its way to the Ashokan reservoir.
The problem is that while residences will only pay $100 a year for
the service, there is no cap on commercial costs. Business owners
have been working too get a clear read on what to expect, but so far
have only received rough guesses from the committee overseeing the
project. They are told the average business rate would be about $500,
but the large water users like restaurant owners and motel operators
scoff at that claim and say they calculate annual fees to be a crippling
few thousand dollars each.
Paul Pettinato, the owner of Al’s Restaurant, was at the hearing
to find out what would pay. “We’d really like to know
our total liability,” he said, speaking for the several major
water users in Phoenicia. He didn’t get specifics but was told
that it be clear by the time the town board takes action on the plans
Monday night’s public hearing provided more information, but
not all questions were answered, particularly about business costs.
Almost exclusively filled with business community members, many shuddered
upon hearing about other costs beyond those annual usage fees.
It turns out the City will pay to build the plant, not fix it. When
things need replacement or upgrade the hamlet would bear the burden.
Young, hired by the town to handle the process, said there might be
a time when extra fees may be levied to all users to fill a capitol
account. He gave the example of another hundred a year for residences
and a proportionate hike for businesses to make such an account.
And then there is the hook up fee. There is some money available to
help pay to hook in to the system, which is only going to the property
line, but some places stand to pay thousands for the link. Even residential
users should expect to a thousand for the hook –up, maybe $2000.
A painful example is the Phoenicia trailer park, which has a 700-foot
run, more than the length of two football fields, to reach the last
place on the property. Plus it looks like the site might be below
the street, so a special pumping station may be required. There’s
also Rays cabins. They have about 20 camp trailers, a dozen cottages,
and a main house. Even if these are all charged as separate residences
the annual fees will run into several thousand dollars, plus most
of the trailers are below street level, making this another place
for a pump station. Those pumps for both businesses would be paid
for by the city, but just like the plant, the City won’t fix
or replace them, the property owners will.
And there is the Cobblestone Motel. Owner Kimberly Wendt says the
property has about five septic systems on it to handle the main house
and the many motel rooms. Some are new and cost over $5000 to install.
According to Young, these would need to be filled in and replaced
with piping to reach the sewer mains that will probably be in the
street. Wendt figures that to be about 300 feet worth of pipe, with
many tie-ins along the way. That combined with discontinuing the present
septic mechanism will wreak havoc on the property and the business.
“I’m seriously thinking of opting out of this program,”
But Young warned that any business considering opting out was taking
a great risk. He said that the system being designed could only hold
a certain amount of input, and that the town was not going to reserve
space in the system and wait until places like the Cobblestone or
Rays Cabins need to tie in once their existing systems fail. If the
town board allows users outside the district to tie in, then the system
may run at full capacity and those businesses in the district will
not be allowed. And given the requirements for individual systems,
those businesses would likely shut down, because new mandated private
systems, which could run in the millions, would be cost prohibitive.
In the end, Young and Supervisor Robert Cross Jr. urged business owners
to cooperate, even if they are going to get stung by high costs. They
were supported by John Brusk of Delaware Engineering, the firm hired
to design the system, who said that although most in the hamlet will
find the fees painless, a chosen few will not.
“There are a few people in Phoenicia that use a lot of water,
and they are going to be impacted,” Brusk said.
To try and ease the pain, Cross said he was looking into charging
residential users more, even if that has never happened in any of
the other communities getting similar systems.
“You wouldn’t believe the difference $125 a year makes
to the commercials,” he said.
There was talk about the need to establish a sewer district. It turns
out that process may be the only opportunity for the people of Phoenicia
to control whether the project continues. If ten percent of the district
wishes the matter to go a public, then it must. Should it go to a
vote and not pass, there would be no district to give the treatment
system too, so that $11 million would likely go to some other community
on the long list of trouble spots within the watershed.
“If it doesn’t pass, we’re through,” Young
That can bring even more problems. As previously stated, new regulations
will require astronomical costs for residential and commercial upgrades.
Many properties in the hamlet don’t even have the space to install
The next sewer committee meeting is April 5th at 7pm at town hall.
Committee Chair Charles Frasier, who said he “felt left out
in the cold” when the town first tried unsuccessfully to launch
the project in the 1990’s, said he hoped everyone in Phoenicia
takes interest in the planning of the project this time around.
“This committee is formed for the people of Phoenicia,”
he said. “For those of you interested we all have phone numbers,
we hope to hear from you.”
Despite the committee’s claim of having an open door policy,
it’s track record shows they close the doors when discussing
anything important or controversial.
thought we’d be catching my dad in a big bunny suit or something,
Like Santa Claus,” added R, the younger of the two. “We
really didn’t think we’d end up with a rabbit in the trap.”
“Make that an angry, foul-mouthed rabbit with a broken foot,”
Upon which he unhooked the shed door and shone a flashlight in on our
unexpected profile subject for this issue: a 6 foot rabbit, disheveled
and bruised, wrapped head to toe with various types of ropes and bungee
cords, a rolled sock duct-taped in his mouth.
Carefully, the boys got to either side of the thrashing bunny and swiftly
removed the tape and, with it, the attached sock.
“Youch. Show a bit of murthy, why dontcha, boyth,” screeched
the furry creature, shaking his head with the pain. “And where’th
the water you promithed me, huh? Where’n tarnathon’th the
carrot-th, the friggin’ thigaret all prithonerth thuppothed to
This was one mad bunny’s all I could think as F and R jumped back
for their own safety.
I approached in trench coat and reporter’s fedora, notebook in
one hand, pen in the other.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“What-th up with you, fat-tho,” replied the rabbit. “I’m
the bleepin’ Eath-ter Bunny. Got it? Real ath rain. Happy, you
thlimy ambulanthe chaither?”
Gathering my wits fast, I asked the trussed animal before me how he
happened to get caught. What it might mean for his legend and lore to
let two kids lasso him on the outskirts of some Podunk hamlet in Shandaken,
NY. How he thought he’d get out of this mess.
“Meth, shmeth,” the bunny responded, spitting onto the dirt
floor. “At leath-t give a man a clean thock to chew on, eh boyth?”
After spitting again, he started talking… spilling the jelly beans,
as it were.
“It-th thpring, okay? Earlier than this bunny’th uthed to.
That time a’year when the futhd robin alwayth get-th hithelf thmacked
by thum pick-up doing theventy up Pine Hill headed Arkville wayth. When
you heathenth go hangin’ effigeeth of uth wabbit-th in bare treeth
with a bunch of plathtic eggth and th-tuff. Sheeth manatanee.”
The bunny sighed and shook his head, then spat again.
“Tho’s dere’s like an army of uth around… more’n
any of you ever thought. Trying to do good deedth. Th’taying out
of the newth, making sure no one’th makin th-tupid moveeth about
the whole bunny conthept and what-th behind it.”
Bunny concept, I ask? You mean the whole thing’s not about a religious
usurpation of pagan fertility ritual?
“It-th about commerth, dummy,” shrieked the rabbit, stretching
at his bounds and glaring at the two boys just outside the woodshed.
“We’re a corporation, with a 501(C)3 thide-thingie to avoid
taxeth. And we got a legal thtaff that’th gonna put thethe boyth,
your whole town, in a thling if you don’t friggin…”
At which point I backed off, after quickly re-applying the large rabbit’s
sock-guard. The boys asked that nothing be said to their dad, or the
local school. Or, heavens forbid, the town officials who were being
threatened by their boyish actions.
The end of the story, you ask? The subject’s history and all that
other stuff you usually read these profiles for?
Forget it, our lawyers say. All I can give you is the above story, vetted
by our legal staff, plus the added information that somehow, the bunny
got gone. Historied, as they say.
And the lawyer’s words, when asked for comment on the entire sad
What’s the story?
According to Gary Gailes, official spokesperson for Dean Gitter’s
Crossroads Ventures, developers of the controversial Belleayre Resort
golf and hotel project and longstanding president of the Watershed
Museum project, the latest missive was designed to open up a new $20
million fundraising campaign and indicate a “re-thinking”
of his effort’s educational objectives.
“Late last Spring the Catskill Watershed Corporation, together
with the New York Community Trust Foundation, presented us with $60,000
in matching grant monies to do a planning study for the museum,”
Gailes explained this week of the slick brochure and package that
was making the rounds of local press outlets, as well as a number
of key philanthropists, both individual and corporate, throughout
the region. “In formatting a capital campaign for the museum,
the consultants we hired asked us to sit down and reassess what we
intended to do.”
What that was, originally, was a museum designed to expound about
the usefulness of New York City’s watershed, its history and
future. During the final rounds of negotiations between upstate towns
and the city in the mid-1990s, $1 million was set aside in city funds
for the creation of exhibits just for such an entity.
A concurrent push by Gitter for the placement of that Watershed Museum
in Shandaken, where he was then head of a committee studying ways
to increasing the economic usefulness of state-owned and run Belleayre
Ski Center, resulted in considerable controversy when a Sullivan County
planner claimed, in the press, that Gitter had attacked and threatened
him after a presentation in which the planner had made a case for
having the museum placed in Sullivan County, or the money split to
allow for two museums.
Gailes said this week that his involvement with the Watershed Museum
project, now retitled the Catskill Water Discovery Center, dated back
to December, 1998, when he donated three acres of land along the road
to Belleayre to the Town of Shandaken for the museum. Soon after,
Gitter made several presentations for a museum that would include
a Vietnam Memorial-like bluestone wall of names listing everyone who
lost land to the building of New York’s reservoirs, a simulated
water aqueduct, and other high tech exhibits. He claimed to have made
strong connections with the New York Museum of Natural History for
coordination of the new museum, and around the same time opened, for
a few months, an “interpretive center” on watershed matters
at his then newly-opened Catskill Corners complex in Mt. Tremper,
which recenmtly changed its name to Emerson Place.
Gitter first proposed his Belleayre Resort project in the year 2000,
unveiling its massive plans in late2001.
Gailes noted this week, in speaking about the Catskill Water Discovery
Center, that the $1 million originally set aside for the museum project
“sunsetted” in January, 2002.
“While we fought to extend the money for another year, it became
clear we could not raise the several million needed to complete a
structure for the exhibits that money was pegged to fund,” he
explained. “We basically ended up trading off the $1 million
for the City’s commitment to help our fundraising efforts.”
Which ended up with the NY Community Trust grant… and as a result,
the current reconfiguration of the museum into a Discovery Center.
Some of the benefits of the new approach, which Gailes noted would
include a 20,000 square foot Exhibit Center, a Sculpture Garden, an
Amphitheater, Nature Trails and a restaurant, is that its “broadened”
approach would open fundraising beyond the local community “to
include major global issues.”
“”The Catskill Water Discovery Center’s plans perfectly
match the goals set forth by the U.N. and the ‘Water for Life’
decade,” Gailes is quoted in his first press release for the
Center, referring to a new global effort to put greater focus on water-related
issues. “Our mission is teaching people of any age or nationality
about the delicate balance between the world’s water consumption
needs and availability. We are using the area’s greatest natural
resource, the Catskill/Delaware Watershed, as just one example of
how the world’s water supply supports all life.”
Set to be located on 44 acres of Delaware River bottom lands between
the Delaware County towns of Margaretville and Arkville, sold to the
museum by the Town of Middletown based on an option for an eventual
$65,000 purchase, the new Center is designed to not only be a tourist
attraction, but home to “an online resource for water education,
preservation and conservation programs that study different cultures
and their relationship to water” as well as a new “Catskills
Today center that will serve as a launch pad to prominent tourist
activities and cultural facilities throughout the region.”
A list of the Catskill Water Discovery Center’s initial 17 board
members includes Gailes’ wife Martie, along with Gitter’s
wife Lynn (the two couples recently took a long trip to the Angkor
Wat ruins in Cambodia together); Kingston-based attorneys Wayne and
Michael Graff, Margaretville banker Lew Kolar, local architect Joseph
Hurwitz, former Shandaken planner and current Crossroads Ventures
employee Bob Kalb, Middletown and Shandaken planning board members
Michael Porter and Glenn Miller, Middletown supervisor Len Utter,
Chichester-based insurance agent Carol Urban, Emerson Place Executive
Assistant Fentriss Stickeler, Frost Valley YMCA Public Affairs Director
Carol O’Beirne, digital company owner Robert Levin, West Hurley
architect Joe Hurwitz, local farmer Sally Fairbairn, and board Chairman
Dr. Keith Porter, director of Cornell University’s Water Resources
“I see this as a major center for the region,” Gailes
said of the project that elected him President in 2001, after Gitter
handed over the reins of his original effort.
So was Gitter still involved in any way in the new Discovery Center?
“Absolutely not!” Gailes replied. “This is a project
the entire community can stand behind and support. I see nothing about
this project that is controversial and in my mind, it’s about
bringing people together and not dividing them, and any suggestion
to the contrary is a terrible disservice to what we’re trying
to accomplish here.”
Instead, Gfailes referred to his current fundraising letter, going
out this week. He added that the project had had its first outing
earlier this month, at the March 6 meeting of ther Catskill Center
for Conservation and Development, where he noted “great enthusiasm.”
“The Catskill Water Discovery Center can play a globally significant
role in marshaling the world’s water technology resources, from
California to New York, from Israel to China, from universities to
commercial prototypes, and showcasing them to students, policy leaders,
development agencies, technology exporters and micro-enterprise institutions
that can finance, license and empower communities to adopt life-saving
water technologies,” that fundraising letter notes. “At
the Catskill Water Discovery Center, we are committed to innovative
global citizenship. Global citizenship reflects how a company or community
advances its objectives, engages its stakeholders, implements its
policies, applies its social investment and philanthropy, and exercises
its influence to make productive contributions to society. Global
citizenship means putting partnership and community engagement at
the center of our work.”
But, again, what about Gitter’s previous involvement?
“He came to that original meeting way back when and bade us
all good luck with our efforts, but that was the last time he was
involved in what we’re doing in any way,” Gailes said.
“If you want to insist on making him a part of it I can’t
stop you. I would very much hope and expect that we could get his
support for what we’re doing at some point. But this project
speaks to everybody… it’s in no way Dean’s project.”
Gailes added that his original three acre land donation, which he
and his board moved beyond when the previous Shandaken Democrat-controlled
town board didn’t move quickly at setting aside money for the
construction of a $350,000 metal museum facility, was still “being
worked on” by the town, now in Republican hands. And he didn’t
regret the shift, noting that it seemed more appropriate to have first
the Watershed Museum, and now the Catskill Water Discovery Center,
sited with “some direct access to water.”
“It’s a grand vision, but we know where we’re going,”
Gailes summed up, back from the Gitter diversions. “I truly
believe we are going to get major support with what we’re doing.
For further information on the project, or to join the 100 or so founding
members brought over from its previous incarnation as a museum, call