on the News
Votes In 'Large Parcel' Rates
The school board's newest member, David Patterson, who cast the only
dissenting vote on the option, complained about a "cowardly legislature"
which put pushed the dirty work onto local school boards but Onteora,
critics point out, is only one of two boards out of scores of eligible
districts in the state which choose to adopt the plan and the other
was in an industrial district for which the large parcel bill was actually
representatives have always maintained that the law was not designed
to make every neighborhood's taxes equal regardless of other factors
but for special circumstances in industrial districts which are utterly
different than those which prevail in Olive. They have a right to feel
scammed, they say quietly, because they, unlike Shandaken and Woodstock,
were left "out of the loop" when the bill was in assembly
and learned of it only after its passage. They also question the mysterious
disappearance of certain lines in the bill during this period which
would have clarified its intentions in regard to reservoir properties-
details which Olive officials say would clearly have exempted their
situation from the bill's purpose.
of Olive point out that, in a time of soaring property values, Woodstock's
property re-evaluation of 2004 lowered the town's worth from $1,035,000,000
to $945,000,000, giving itself a 10% reduction in its taxes. Meanwhile,
Olive's successful press on ORPS for a new assessment on reservoir properties
gives Woodstock another 40 plus% reduction while raising Olive's taxes
York City has been filing legal claims against the Town of Olive since
the reservoir was completed- the first on record being (in) 1917,"
Olive Supervisor Brendt Leifeld said at the meeting as a pair of New
York State Troopers looked on from the back of the room, as if expecting
continued by noting that after all of the ensuing decades of a profoundly
undervalued assessment from ORPS, a more realistic figure had finally
emerged to allow Olive "to move forward as it has wanted to do
for many years..." with their own new re-val (to be conducted by
the specialty firm of Cole Layer Trumble) which is expected to hike
taxes yet higher.
this board adopts the large parcel option," reads a missive from
Olive's law firm to the school board, "Woodstock will see another
3% reduction in its taxes, while...Olive will see an additional 27%
increase." The memo asks what was "fair and equitable"
member Neil Eisenberg, at the meeting, said he thought the notion of
the LP option "taking money from one pocket and putting it into
another" was "ridiculous" but Olive residents insist
that is precisely what is happening under the law and that Woodstock
officials are snickering behind their hands about it.
York City took our land and now Woodstock is going to take the taxes
that the City pays on it! How is that fair?" asked an Olivebridge
consensus of opinion among Olive residents after the vote seemed to
be that, once adopted, the large parcel tax shift, like the reservoir
itself would be forever in place or, at least, in place as long as the
present school board sits. Not only that, someone added in the hallway
during the recess between the large parcel vote and the rest of the
day's business, a serious look at how the board has been administering
the funds is long overdue.
Town Clerk, Sylvia Rozzelle, numbers herself among those disaffected
by the school board's position. She recounts her recent attempts to
obtain contact numbers for school board members being rebuffed by a
woman at the school snarling "Well, if you folks in Olive have
to pay the taxes we do in Woodstock, you'd..."
what did that have to do with getting phone numbers for publicly elected
officials?" Rozzelle wondered and tried again on another day. On
this occasion, she reached a business administrator who told her that
the numbers weren't public information and "If you and the Town
of Olive had done a reval, you wouldn't be in this situation!"
was made to file a written request for the numbers and make another
phone call a week later when the promised fax wasn't forthcoming.
wasn't asking for home phone numbers, just contact numbers for public
officials," she says shaking her head in amazement. "But that's
what I got-home numbers with their business numbers blacked out."
alternate strategy, which began forming immediately after the vote,
incorporates New York City into the mix. The City, it is observed, has
had no say in the large parcel option and isn't it, after all, THEIR
money which is being shifted about by the option?
a lot of people in town, right now, who want to secede from the Onteora
School District," Rozzelle observed. "That would give Olive
its OWN option and people want to look into those aspects of it... New
York City can spend $2.8 million for a new police barracks here, they
may very well entertain the idea of building us some new buildings so
they wouldn't be paying as much taxes to the Onteora School and subsidizing
Woodstock and Shandaken. Years ago, we would contract to send our kids
to Kingston High School if they wanted the sports activities or other
things not provided here. So, there's a way to contract per child and
send them to other districts. Meanwhile, both New York City and Olive
would benefit enormously by having our own system."
harkened back to the "old days" when the Onteora District
centralizing and "Olive was the only school district operating
in the black." In the years between 1947 and 1952 when Olive voted
to take in Shandaken and Woodstock, who were both financially in the
red and needed a wider and stronger tax base, it was the neighborly
thing to do. Those days may be numbered, however, according to a distinct
rumbling through the hills of Olive carried on the voices of many irate
bought a shotgun, thinking I'd be able to use it to protect my home,"
Cox explains a few days after the end of his ordeal. "But when
the bear started in on the door all I could do was pick up a fireplace
shovel and hit it square in the face when it poked through! It was like
that scene in 'The Birds' where they start pecking through the windows
and the doors, only with a big bear's face and claws."
Saturday evening, August 28, around 6:45 PM, DEC biologist and informal
bear trapper Dave Cree says the 220 pound female "problem bear"
finally climbed into the trap he'd laid for her- after taking its bait
without springing it the previous night.
bait that finally caught the bruin, Cree said, was something "sweet
spare ribs and cinnamon rolls," said the biologist, who lives in
Olive. "I've also used bacon and Dunkin Donuts-"
been a nightmare up there," said Baldwin, who lives on Silver Hollow
Road in Willow. "That bear they caught at Jim's house had entered
at least three houses in the area before we caught him."
in the week, Baldwin added, Phoenicia-based DEC officer Vinnie Bernstein
came out to chase the bear out of Cox's kitchen and shoot it with bean
bags, a practice known as "negative conditioning" designed
to persuade the bear that the home he or she has entered is not worth
police chief noted how bears in homes can be truly dangerous, not stopping
at anything to get out of a place it feels cornered in.
said the bear had broken into his house three times Thursday and three
times Friday, going after dog food instead of cat food, opening the
refrigerator, and destroying a toaster over for the crumbs in it.
the Saturday morning incident with the shovel, Cree came back and readjusted
the trap, "fine tuning and customizing it to the animal,"
as he puts it.
and Cox said that included the addition of log steps to aid the bear's
entry into the culvert trap. And the better bait.
heard this big, metallic slamming sound," Cox said of the bear's
ultimate capture that evening. "But then I couldn't reach anyone
until Sunday morning. All night he's in the thing, quieted down now."
with Cree, Baldwin, and other DEC biologists on hand, the sow bear was
shot with a dart that immobilized her as they dragged the bruin out
of the trap. A tooth was removed for research purposes, says Cox. The
bear's temperature was taken. Hoisted by a winch hung from a tree limb,
the bruin was weighed in at just over 220 pounds.
dodn't have a collar big enough to fit around its neck so we had to
wait around for an extension," Cox said. "Meanwhile, the clock's
ticking on the knock-out drug. And we're all realizing that this bear's
actually awake and watching us all, even though it couldn't move. It
was quite weird to be that close to an animal that big."
the tests had been run, Cox said, he was told the bear would be take
away to some place "they wouldn't say just where."
releasing them as far away as possible," Cree said. "Hopefully,
that's fifty miles, although such a distance isn't always possible.
The point is that a Catskills bear stay a Catskills bear."
DEC biologist added that he's seen a fivefold increase in incidents
where bears have entered homes in the region. And complaints are up
fifty percent over last year, itself the record for such calls.
were up on Sickler Road there in Willow and counted eight different
bears in one shot," he said. "You've got two or three resident
bears in the hamlet of Phoenicia now."
said the problem was simple. A growing bear population on the one hand,
and a growing human population on the other. The result is a marked
increase in the number of bear/human interactions. And a marked increase
in the lack of knowledge of what to do when one encounters a bear.
live to eat. They need to conserve as many calories as possible as quickly
as possible before they hibernate. And garbage is healthy for them,"
Cree said. "A bear walks out of the wood towards the smells of
a picnic and sees everyone run away to hide behind glass on a porch,
leaving all the goodies there on the table for him, he remembers this,
And he adjusts his or her behavior. The bear needs to be chased away
the first time he or she is encountered. And we need to eliminate their
sources of food."
have to be thinking about people's safety here," said Chief Baldwin,
after wondering why the DEC has been reluctant about extending its annual
bear season as a means of quelling what he and others see as a growing,
and potentially even more dangerous local problem. "I don't know
what the answer is- I'm just happy this one didn't have to be destroyed."
have to say, I heard more euphemisms for 'taking him out' and 'doing
the right thing' than I've ever heard before," said Cox of the
ordeal. "There was a close to unanimous opinion that something's
going to have to be done. It was a real machismo festival- but also
A Pause In The
and which issues will be explored in that setting is up to DEC Commissioner
Erin Crotty, based on rulings expected early next year by presiding
judge Richard Wissler, who explained that the record will remain open
until all closing arguments and subsequent reply briefs have been received.
Alluding to the volume of material he anticipates, Wissler, jokingly
and amongst counsel, referred to the to the briefings period now beginning
as "the issues conference that follows the issues conference."
issues, in many cases, hinge on what exactly is required both of the
applicant and of DEC under SEQRA and elsewhere under New York State's
broader Environmental Conservation Law. Both were subjects that often
drew widely differing opinions from counsel and which will likely be
determined, after briefings, almost entirely on their legal merits.
Dynamically however, Crossroads counsel Dan Ruzow, a co-author of The
SEQRA Handbook, generally sought the last word on what SEQRA doesn't
require, while Catskill Preservation Coalition counsel Marc Gerstman,
a former lead counsel for DEC, generally aimed for the last word
on what it does. Their exchanges, polite but sometimes charged, seemed
heightened at times by occasional condescending reference from the Crossroads'
table, as when Ruzow referred to CPC as "supplicants" in the
process, to which Gerstman responded by asking the judge whether any
special liturgical procedures should apply.
substance however, the issue of community character was revisited on
two of the conference's three closing days. Olive Supervisor Berndt
Leifeld spoke of three letters sent to DEC, none responded to, seeking
traffic studies on behalf of his town in connection with the project.
"We'd heard about increases of 300-400 cars per hour. If that's
true we're going to need some kind of traffic control." Leifeld
also referenced a 1990 DOT report that included feasibility studies
for 4 lanes of traffic on Route 28 through the town's principal hamlets.
"You'd have to take half of Boiceville's business district out
of there," he said.
witness Dr. Nicholas Miller, whose work includes studies for the National
Park Service, testified that the DEIS contains "no evaluation"
of the project's noise impact on the forest preserve, which he said
"would be intrusive." Miller said that actual sound audibility
is its "real measure of impact," and that current DEC policy
"is not the appropriate approach."
site is zoned for development and use," responded Crossroads' Ruzow,
calling Dr. Miller's testimony "another novel approach to analysis
that we find objectionable."
the most surprising witness to speak, called on behalf of Delaware County,
was Hardenburgh's Kingdon Gould, the Catskills' largest landowner and
one of the original founders of the Catskill Center for Conservation
and Development. Gould's unprepared remarks, both quiet and passionate,
seemed to capture a measure of the emotional struggle surrounding the
issue. "I see our community being driven apart by the proponents
of this project and the contestants of it," he said. I hope that
conciliation will take place. "
generally spoke favorably of the project, calling it "restoration-
surely not radical change," though he also called it "overly
ambitious" from the standpoint of its environmental impact.
Watershed Corporation Chairman Alan Rosa, speaking personally and as
a former Middletown supervisor, spoke of changes over time in the region,
about how "the second-home industry tears our mountains all to
pieces," and about the need as identified in two 1990's studies
for a destination resort in the area. When Gerstman raised the issue
of Crossroads' managing partner Dean Gitter's role in those studies,
Ruzow said that "the records speak for themselves" and that
"it's inappropriate to suggest those reports were somehow biased
in favor of the project." CPC co-counsel Cheryl Roberts responded
by placing into evidence a May 22, 2003 Phoenicia Times article, indicating
Gitter had actually chaired both committees and selected the consultants
used, many of whom have also played central roles in the preparation
of the resort's DEIS.
York City's DEP for its part, continued to maintain a fairly low profile
at the conference, though it did re-call as a witness Jeff Donahoe,
president of RKG Associates, on the subjects of secondary and induced
growth, housing, labor, and other issues.
conclusions in the DEIS defy reality," said Donahoe, who said the
project would "cannibalize" the area's existing workforce,
to which John Feingold of AKRF, responding for Crossroads, said that
"we remain convinced there is an adequate labor pool within a commuting
distance." Donahoe also challenged the comparative relevancy
of the three case studies used in the DEIS; Windham, Gore Mountain,
and Greylock Glen in the Berkshires, which isn't actually built. Crossroads
Ruzow however defended their choice, saying "in any case, SEQRA
has no requirement for case studies."
it was on the issue of the Belleayre Mountain Ski Center, and of the
resort's potential cumulative impacts that the most heightened dialogue
of the closing sessions took place. Since late July, Crossroads
Ventures has issued two press releases on the subject, one of which
appeared verbatim as a page1 news story in a Margaretville newspaper.
But both, according to Gerstman, attributed fictitious positions to
his group of 11 local, regional, and national organizations.
want to make our position perfectly clear, "said Gerstman. "The
CPC supports the Belleayre Mountain Ski Center expansion. I will not
tolerate our position being mischaracterized in order to drive a divisive
stake into this community. And that's the only reason why those press
releases were issued by Crossroads Ventures."
are concerned," he continued, "that the exploitation of resources
by this project will leave little room for the future Belleayre Mountain
Ski Center expansion; that the project may create conditions, may deplete
water resources, or may have impacts on traffic which somehow will not
allow the ski center to expand. The Belleayre Mountain Ski Center must
be protected-The lack of analysis here represents a gaping hole in the
evaluation of the cumulative impacts of this (resort) project."
Gerstman saved his most cutting remarks on the issue for his old employer:
actually find it astonishing that DEC staff will not step up and protect
the potential for its future project," said Gerstman, who introduced
into evidence a March 2003 Powerpoint presentation given by Superintendent
Tony Lanza at a well-attended public meeting on the ski area's expansion
plans. "For (DEC Regional Attorney Vincent) Altieri to talk about
(that) as if it were not a DEC record "just defies logic,"
is a project that was moving forward," concluded Gerstman, "that
had the official imprimatur of the director of the Belleayre Mountain
Ski Center, and the brakes were put on it; we believe as a result of
the Belleayre Resort project. The DEC staff should be aggressively protecting
its resource and the ability of that resource to expand, and they have
not done so-This project is married to the ski center-to ignore the
potential cumulative impacts of this (resort) violates both the spirit
of SEQRA and the letter of SEQRA."
however, expressed a different view on behalf of Crossroads, essentially
saying when the mountain's ready to expand, it'll just have to factor
the resort in, but not the other way around.
can't analyze the impacts of premature or speculative projects"
said Ruzow-"The Belleayre Mountain Ski Center has not yet reached
the stage of planning for any future expansion-Projects that are dormant
or lack funding or are glimmers in somebody's eye do not belong in a
cumulative impact statement-other developments have an obligation to
take into account our project from a cumulative impact point of view.
These projects came up after our scoping outline. We don't have an obligation
to amend or supplement our environmental analysis every time somebody
comes forward with a project."
Altieri, for his part, maintained his position that there is no project
or expansion slated for Belleayre, and that that "our vision of
the future of this mountain" is contained in its 1998 Unit Management
on the conference as a whole, Crossroads' Ruzow said that it had been
"run in a different way than other issues conferences, providing
the prospective intervening parties essentially an unlimited opportunity
to present their case. The decision as to which issues, if any, are
appropriate to go forward is really a blank slate for the judge, because
he has been so broadly informed about what they're saying. We think
that many of the offers of proof submitted reflect an academic interpretation
of what are regulatory requirements. They don't rise to the level of
'significance.' And so we feel confident that the judge will be able
to dispose of many of the arguments without actual adjudication."
simple fact is that our experts have repeatedly and consistently revealed
the shoddy analysis and incomplete assessment put forth by Crossroads
Ventures." said Gerstman. "SEQRA and the hearing process require
full disclosure of the significant impacts, reasonable alternatives,
and even the benefits of the project so that the Commissioner can make
an informed decision. Thanks to CPC's independent, nationally-renowned
experts, the Commissioner will have that record."
Middletown supervisor Len Udder's view that the project's impacts
"don't amount to a pimple on an elephant's ass," "This
is only a hotel project," concluded Ruzow. "Not a nuclear
from the conference isn't expected to be measurable for a number of
61, initially dropped roots in the area with his friend, legal legend
William Kunstler who died in 1995, the two first renting a house together
in Olivebridge and later building on adjoining properties on South Hollow
Road. "Bill used to defend everybody in Olive," Ratner laughed.
And while he hasn't taken up his old buddy's mantle as the town's public
defender, he and his wife Karen do host the annual Bill Kunsler Memorial
Softball Game at Davis Park, where nobody needs to umpire and fairness
always decides who's on first.
over a cheeseburger at the Boiceville Inn, Ratner talked about his latest
high-profile case, successfully defending some of the 700 or so Afghans
and others held by the US government, some since January 2002, at "Camp
Delta," the military's maximum-security facility at Guantanamo
Bay, Cuba. His new book, Guantanamo; What the World Should Know, has
quietly become required reading in Washington, and may soon trigger
a congressional investigation into the subject.
is something vastly different from what the average American would think
of as a prison," Ratner writes. "It is a twenty-first century
pentagon experiment that was, in fact, outlawed by the Geneva Conventions
of 1949. It is an interrogation camp and interrogation camps are completely
and flatly illegal-It has provided an opportunity for the US government
to hold people outside any legal or moral system-where cruel and inhuman
and degrading treatment ' even torture ' is practiced, and it is all
utterly illegal-Guantanamo is like Dante's ninth circle of hell. Temperatures
often reach 110 degrees-the place is infested with scorpions and banana
rats, the detainees sleep on concrete floors with no mattresses and
the toilet is a hole in the floor-it is a horrific situation from a
physical, psychological, and legal point of view."
9-11," said Ratner, "one of the worst aspects of the 'war
on terror' has been these indefinite detentions; imprisonment without
hearings, no legal process, and on top of it, torture. The official
line was that these guys were the worst of the worst, but actually many
weren't guilty of anything. A lot of them of them got turned in for
money. We were offering $5,000 - a fortune in Afghanistan or Pakistan
- for 'suspects', and a lot of them were picked up for the reward, or
to settle old grudges."
victory in Rasul v. Bush will assure that these people can finally have
access to counsel and to our legal system to plead their cases. And
the court's 6-3 vote does affirm that their detention without hearings
violates both US and international law, with its majority opinion citing
as precedent and actually quoting the Magna Carta, the 800 year-old
foundation of our Common Law with its basic guarantees of process, the
right to trial, and its prohibitions against executive detention.
just shows how far beyond the pale this administration really is,"
said Ratner. "It's really off the charts. What the Supreme Court
said is that there's no place that's outside the law, everyone should
get a hearing, and even the President is bound by prohibitions against
prohibitions do appear to figure prominently in the formulation of Bush
administration policy, based on opinions from John Ashcroft's Justice
Department and White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales that prisoners detained
in the "war on terror" overseas are not prisoners of war,
and not entitled to protection from coercive interrogation, torture
and other basic rights under the Geneva Convention. Central to their
argument is that recognizing international law on this matter could
result in the prosecution of the president and others for war crimes,
in the event violations occur. Within the administration only
Secretary of State Colin Powell, opposes this view, saying amongst other
things, that "it reverses over a century of US policy and practice
in supporting the Geneva Conventions, and undermines the protections
of the law of war for our troops."
has become THE symbol in the Moslem world for everything that's gone
wrong with America," said Ratner. "What really worries
me is the message we're sending to the Moslem world, because to them
Guantanamo and Abu Ghirab are pieces of the puzzle we represent, and
inhumane treatment has become the order of the day. Do you think these
people believe that torture and sexual humiliation of prisoners is something
that's dreamed up by 20 year-old privates working in a Baghdad jail?
No, the US military is a disciplined force. And do you think Al Jazerra
didn't show the pictures of Donald Rumsfeld and a table full of generals,
refusing to answer the simple question 'Who was in charge there?' They
did show them, over and over."
they must figure if we can do these kinds of things, why can't they?
I'm not saying those beheadings and so on might not have happened had
it not been for this climate we've created. But it used to be that the
US really was a moral force in the world. And right now the whole
notion that we have any moral authority at all is just absurd to the
rest of the world. It's like we've precipitated an end to the
Age of Enlightenment. It cuts at the heart of what freedom is in this
country. It's made the world very unsafe. It's made our country very
election coming up is not about Republicans or Democrats, said Ratner.
"It's about getting rid of a clique of people who've run roughshod
over our fundamental rights. I just pray people are going to get it
before it's too late."