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602 N. Franklin St.
Watkins Glen, NY




Peace of Mind Dealer


Tipped-wage credit draws rally support

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, Jan. 22, 2019 -- Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I-Corning) rallied with industry workers, family restaurant owners and fellow lawmakers Tuesday in an effort to protect the tipped-wage credit.

The credit, a press release from Palmesano's office said, is "a tax provision that helps workers earn a living wage while helping restaurant owners keep their doors open and their neighbors on the payroll."

Governor Andrew Cuomo has threatened to revoke the credit and "compromise the livelihoods of service industry professionals and restaurant owners alike," said the press release.

Tip credits allow restaurants to pay tipped employees less than the minimum wage as long as the tips make up the difference.

“Our message is simple," Palmesano is quoted as saying. "If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. The tipped-wage credit helps hardworking service industry professionals earn a good living. Additionally, eliminating the credit for family restaurant owners would increase their business costs and jeopardize jobs for tipped workers at a time they’re already dealing with a very difficult economic climate.

"The last thing we should be doing is taking action that will hurt workers and job creators. If the tipped wage credit is eliminated, it will hurt the very workers they claim to want to help.”

Palmesano noted that if restaurant owners face increasing labor costs, they will have no choice but to lay off workers and pass costs on to consumers.

“In the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes Region," he said, " the hospitality and tourism industries are important sectors of our economy. We should be looking for new ways to reform regulations, provide tax relief and spark investment. Revoking the tipped wage credit would do exactly the opposite by hurting small business owners and employees alike.”

Photo in text: Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (underneath the "tip" on sign top right) rallies with lawmakers and restaurant industry representatives in Albany. (Photo provided)

O'Mara votes against 'extreme action' expanding abortion in New York State

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, Jan. 22, 2019 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats) has voted against legislation known as the “Reproductive Health Act” (RHA) approved Tuesday by the Senate and Assembly, and expected to be swiftly signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Said O’Mara: “Far from simply codifying the federal protections afforded to all women under Roe versus Wade, this new law is an extreme action by Governor Cuomo and a State Legislature now under one-party Democratic control. It continues to impose on all New Yorkers a radical left, liberal political agenda by significantly expanding abortion, legalizing abortion right up until a baby’s birth, authorizing non-doctors to perform abortions, and even outlawing current protections afforded to the pregnant victims of domestic violence. It is a disturbing, extreme, radical action that I strongly oppose along with many of my constituents and many, many New Yorkers.”

Earlier Tuesday, O’Mara joined his Senate Republican colleagues at a Capitol news conference to protest one specific provision of the RHA that eliminates criminal penalties for criminals who commit domestic violence against pregnant women, and to announce the introduction of legislation restoring the penalties.

Livia Abreu, an army veteran from the Bronx who was stabbed repeatedly by her fiancé during a domestic violence attack in May 2018, an attack that critically injured Abreu and killed her 26-week-old fetus, joined O’Mara and the Senate GOP.

The Senate GOP’s proposed “Liv Act,” named after Abreu, which O’Mara will co-sponsor, would establish the crime of assault on a pregnant woman by expressly recognizing that violence against pregnant women is a felony. Passage of this legislation, O'Mara said, would ensure that there would still be a criminal statute in New York that recognizes that violence done to a pregnant woman puts her reproductive freedom at stake.

According to O'Mara's office, 38 states currently have laws holding perpetrators accountable for violent attacks against pregnant women that result in the loss of their babies, including California and Massachusetts. It said another eight states, including Colorado, enhance existing criminal penalties for crimes committed against pregnant women.

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara

Palmesano blasts Cuomo's cuts to localities

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, Jan. 22, 2019 -- Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I-Corning) expressed deep disappointment Tuesday with a provision in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s executive budget proposal which would slash millions of dollars in state aid for towns and villages called AIM (Aid and Incentives to Municipalities) funding. Over 1,300 municipalities would see their AIM funding slashed to zero.

Palmesano noted that the funding cut would total nearly $60 million.

“AIM funding is extremely important," said Palmesano. "Local government officials rely on AIM to help complete infrastructure projects, hire municipal workers and balance budgets. To threaten to revoke aid that they’ve come to rely on is irresponsible.”

Palmesano said the funding is particularly important for municipal officials attempting to provide needed services while shouldering unfunded mandates from the governor.

“We have a governor who consistently tells municipalities that they need to pay for new things without helping them foot the bill," the Assemblyman said. "It makes it very difficult for them to remain compliant with the tax cap. The last thing they need is a funding cut, particularly when the money is such a small allocation in the context of a $176 billion budget.”

Palmesano said he will work with his colleagues on both sides of the aisle and in both houses of the Legislature to reverse the cuts.

“Budgeting is about priorities. The governor is sending a toxic message to public servants and property taxpayers,” said Palmesano.

Photo in text: Assemblyman Phil Palmesano

Schuyler suit proceeds after guilty plea
in 'Big Pharma' opioid kickback scheme

Special to The Odessa File

SCHUYLER COUNTY, Jan. 12, 2019 -- The former chief executive of Insys Therapeutics Inc., one of the pharmaceutical companies being sued by Schuyler County and other area municipalities over prescription painkillers, pleaded guilty on Wednesday, January 9 to participating in a nationwide scheme to bribe doctors to prescribe an addictive opioid medication.

Michael Babich, who resigned as the company’s CEO in 2015, pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiracy and mail fraud charges. The government alleges that, from 2012 to 2015, Babich and others conspired to bribe doctors to prescribe Subsys, a prescription opiate for managing severe pain in cancer patients.

Insys is one of the big pharmaceutical companies being sued by various New York State municipalities, including Schuyler County. In May of last year, Schuyler County Attorney Steven Getman (pictured at right) filed a nearly 250-page Summons and Complaint for damages to the County arising out of the fraudulent and negligent marketing and distribution of opiates in the County.

“This plea is potential evidence to Schuyler County,” Getman said. “A criminal conviction establishes guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and, in certain circumstances, can establish civil liability for fraudulent activity.

“Under the plea, Insys paid doctors kickbacks in the form of fees to participate in speaker programs that were actually sham events,” Getman noted. “The allegation that Insys created a sham ‘speaker program’ is part of our complaint.

“Schuyler County’s lawsuit will move forward to seek reimbursement for expenses related to the opioid crisis as well as to provide the County with financial aid to fight addiction, overdoses, drug-related crimes and drug deaths.”

In 2017, the County Legislature voted to retain the firm of Napoli Shkolnik to work with Getman, as special counsel, to bring an action against the manufacturers and distributers of prescription opiates for damages to the County.

According to Schuyler County Administrator Tim O’Hearn, that lawsuit was filed at no risk to the County, as Napoli Shkolnik will work on a contingency basis that will cover all costs associated with the lawsuit.

“By going forward with litigation, the County Legislature hopes to lessen the burden to taxpayers and hold manufacturers and distributors responsible for their role in the opioid epidemic,” O’Hearn said.

Schuyler County is one of several New York municipalities filing lawsuits against the manufacturers and distributors of opioid pain killers. At least 14 counties across New York are suing pharmaceutical companies for what they are claiming are deceptive marketing practices.

Also, in February 2018, New York State officials filed a lawsuit against Insys alleging that it deceptively promoted Subsys for unsafe uses and violated state law by downplaying the drug’s addictive risks.

A complete copy of Schuyler County’s Summons and Complaint can be found here:

Photo in text: Schuyler County Attorney Steven Getman (File photo)

Italian American Festival future takes center stage at Village Board session

WATKINS GLEN, Jan. 8, 2019 -- The Watkins Glen Italian American Festival will celebrate its 40th anniversary on Aug. 9-11 this year -- an event at Clute Park that festival president Louis Perizzini said “will be something to behold.”

Somewhat ominously, he also painted it as the festival’s “last hurrah as you know it” -- a precursor to a year off while Clute Park undergoes project construction in 2020. As for 2021, he seemed to say at first that there might be no festival, but amended that to suggest “a smaller festival,” possibly at an alternate, undetermined site.

That was the mixed message Monday night delivered by Perazzini on behalf of the festival committee to the Watkins Glen Village Board -- which reacted with surprise; alarm at the suggestion that the festival might be moved, shrinking or even ended; and assurances that the festival committee would be included as much as it wants in discussions regarding the upcoming Clute renovations.

And therein lies another complex layer of the story. What, exactly, is going to happen at Clute, and when? What space might be left at the park for an event as large as the festival has been for years?

The festival committee's’s intentions were broached after a presentation by County Planner Kristin VanHorn to the Village Board -- an update on the plans at Clute, which call for $4.8 million in upgrades and enhancements. She said the RFPs -- Requests for Proposals -- have been received “for the whole shebang” from “local, state and even national firms” regarding the project. A local committee composed of village and county officials will review these on Jan. 15, she said, and follow with in-person interviews by the end of January. After that, “we’ll get an engineer on board for designs.”

There will be no construction until the autumn of 2019, she said, followed by construction throughout 2020, with “the park fully open in 2021. There will probably be one season of disruption at the park.”

This was followed by a cautionary note from Mary Churchill, who said she had formerly served on the Village Planning Board. She was concerned about the trees in the park and the fact that the land might prove unstable for heavy development since it was a landfill before it was a park. And regarding the proposal to replace the pavilion with a two-story structure with a restaurant on the second floor, she asked: “Why privatize the only public space we have?”

Mayor Sam Schimizzi responded that the Clute Park plans are “a concept right now; nothing’s for sure. And input is good. We’ll take it into consideration.”

VanHorn told Churchill that the committee too is concerned about the trees -- 125 of which populate the park north of Rt. 414. “The general consensus of the committee,” she said, “is to save as many as possible” and to replace each one lost with three new ones.

That all led to Perazzini, who told the board that the Clute Park plan as published on-line indicated the festival would not have the room it has experienced in the past, and that accordingly the festival committee was looking ahead with certainty only to 2019 -- although it would not disband, taking 2020 off and then determining, based on the ultimate Clute renovations, what it might do in the future.

“The park needs upgrading -- bathrooms, the whole shooting match,” he said. “That is no problem.” But 2019, he said at first, could be the festival’s last “because of the construction as we know it” -- as presented on-line. Or, Perazzini added, it could be the last in its longstanding configuration; that a reduction in size and possibly a move to another site might be in its future.

“The plan that came out is what the people think is going on” -- how the park will be developed, he said. The published plan includes not just the two-story pavilion, but a nearby ice rink as well.

“If not, you need to clear that up," he said. "You need to put out somehow that you’re still working on it.”

That prompted a question from Mayor Schimizzi: “Why can’t you continue in the park?”

To which Perazzini responded: “Nobody’s consulted us” regarding the park projects. And he pointed to a nearby table, said it was of finite size, and that the park space utilized by the festival for craft and food vendors was like that table. “We need to know what we have to work with,” he added. “We need to know where we stand; how small we need to go.”

While trustee Gary Schmidt said that “seven public meetings were held last year” regarding the park and trustee Laurie DeNardo said the Downtown Revitalization Initiative process -- which is providing some of the park funding -- included public meetings, Schimizzi took a different tack, reiterating: “Everything is in concept form. Nothing is final.”

VanHorn then reentered the discussion, saying the plan publicized is “a master plan, a guideline for development; just a plan” although “we don’t want to venture too far away” from it because of previous public support for it. The plan, she said, “helps guide the discussion” as the park project progresses.

Schimizzi suggested that a representative from the festival committee should attend the project committee meeting on the 15th, and “can be part of everything, as far as I’m concerned. The last thing we want is for the Italian Festival to stop.”

Perazzini said that with the 2020 construction, the festival and its committee can “take a little break. A year off is not going to break anybody’s heart. Hopefully, in 2021, we can get back to what it was ... or smaller.”

To which Schimizzi reiterated: “We don’t want to see the Italian Festival end.”

In other business:

--Code Enforcement Officer Greg Larnard told the board he was busy preparing for implementation of the short-term rental regulations approved by the Village Board late last year. There are, he said, 104 or 105 such rentals, which will be covered by the amended Local Law once the state approves it. "We're waiting for New York to bless the law and send it back to us" so that "we can put it into effect," he said.

--The board approved a state-required Anti-Sexual Harassment Policy for the village.

--Trustee Nan Woodworth was present by Skype. She is visiting in Texas, but her disembodied head was present at the meeting on a laptop screen turned to face the audience and other board members. Village Clerk Lonnie Childs said Municipal Law requires visual contact if a member is to participate and vote at a meeting.

--The board received an update from 4 Guys Fire Trucks regarding the pumper damaged in a rollover near Burdett several weeks ago as it was en route to a barn fire. The 4 Guys letter explained that the pumper, now at the company's plant in Pennsylvania, has yet to be assessed -- and that because of a complicated work schedule, "it may be a year or more before the truck is completed."

The board also heard from Watkins Glen Fire Chief Charlie Smith III that a temporary replacement -- a used (2001) pumper truck obtained from the Gang Mills Fire Department for $78,000 -- is being readied and "will hopefully be running calls by the end of the week."

Photos in text: From top: The Italian American Festival's Louis Perazzini; Schuyler County Planner Kristin VanHorn; Mayor Sam Schimizzi; Trustee Nan Woodworth, present by Skype; and Code Enforcement Officer Greg Larnard.

Area legislators urge tastings-proposal veto

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, Dec. 20, 2018 -- A group of Finger Lakes-area state legislators Thursday urged Governor Andrew Cuomo to veto legislation that was delivered to the governor for final action this week calling for the establishment of uniform standards for tastings of New York manufactured beer, wine, cider, and liquor.

The legislation (S9040/A11203) received near-unanimous approval by both houses of the Legislature in the closing days of the 2018 legislative session in late June. Following the Legislature’s action, however, numerous wine industry stakeholders sounded the alarm that if enacted, the new law will result in burdensome, unnecessary, unreasonable, and otherwise objectionable new requirements and costs.

The legislation was delivered to Cuomo on Monday, December 17.

Thursday, state Senators Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats) and Pam Helming (R,C,I-Canandaigua), Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb (R,C-Canandaigua), and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I-Corning) urged the governor to reject the proposal.

In a joint statement, the legislators said, “It was never the intent of the legislation or its sponsors to create potential hardships for a growing industry which we have supported for years. However, it has become clear to us and to many others within the affected industries that the legislation as currently written will have unintended consequences including increased costs and lost jobs.

"We hope Governor Cuomo will agree that we cannot risk the positive impact state policies and programs over the past several years have had on our wineries and craft beverage producers. Working together on state-level tax and regulatory relief has helped spark remarkable growth for these industries throughout the Finger Lakes region and statewide. These regulatory and tax reforms, and other actions, have strengthened their economic outlook and position for the future. New York State cannot afford to take any steps to jeopardize this progress. Approving this legislation would be a serious step in the wrong direction.”

Specifically, the measure calls for the establishment of uniform standards governing tastings of New York manufactured beer, wine, cider and liquor, as well as authorizing craft beverage producers to implement a new charge for tastings.

If enacted, the area lawmakers and industry leaders said, the new law would prohibit anyone under 21 years of age from handling open containers of alcohol, including during the production process, or from serving alcohol at on-premises tastings at wineries, breweries, cideries, and distilleries. Numerous wineries and craft beverage producers employ regional college students, for example, to work tastings and other events. This provision alone would lead to layoffs, limit opportunities for young workers, particularly those studying viticulture or pursuing a career in craft beverage manufacturing, and prove to be a significant and unintended hardship on producers.

Photo in text: Governor Andrew Cuomo (File photo)

From left: Village Trustees Gary Schmidt and Nan Woodworth; Police Sgt. Steven Decker.

Watkins Village Board OKs Local Law designed to regulate short-term rentals

WATKINS GLEN, Dec. 18, 2018 -- The Watkins Glen Village Board Monday night passed a Local Law amending the Village Zoning Code to regulate short-term rental properties -- the vote following a lively public hearing at which short-term rental owners made it clear they thought they were being discriminated against.

The two-hour meeting also saw the Board stymied as to what path to follow with the loss three weeks ago of a fire truck -- damaged when it flipped onto its side on the way to a barn fire outside Burdett.

And it heard from former mayor Bob Lee, upset with plans to alter Clute Park -- turning it, in his view, from cherished family destination into an operation robbing the public of a rare village-based green space.

The Zoning amendments

The Local Law tackled the growing issue of short-term rentals, attempting to bring them into compliance with all existing housing laws -- and imposing a $400 application fee every two years. Short-term rental owners present seemed unified in the belief that long-term rentals should be held to the same standards -- to as many details regarding building conditions as were being demanded of the short-terms.

“We’re not making these laws just for the hell of it,” said Mayor Sam Schimizzi. “We’re trying to level the playing field” following growing complaints of the virtually unregulated rise of short-term units.

As for applying similar standards to long-term apartments -- many of which, the short-term contingent insisted, are in disrepair -- Schimizzi said it’s “something we have to work on.”

When one such critic asked if there could be a minor word change in the document, she was assured by consulting attorney William N. La Forte that to do so would require the board to start again with advertising and another public hearing -- which it had already done before. The board clearly wanted the issue settled on this night.

“So,” said one woman, “whatever comments we’re making, you’re not making any changes.” Her accusation was met with a shrug by La Forte and Schimizzi.

The board, which tabled the issue at a meeting in September and again in November, had settled at that last meeting on the matter of commitments already made by short-term rental owners prior to attainment of a newly required permit -- application for which is required within 30 days. Any housing commitment prior to or during that 30-day window will be honored. And once the village has a permit application in hand, the short-term operator can continue unabated until and after approval is granted. Only a permit rejection would alter that.

But there were still questions about Americans with Disabilities Act regulations, electrical questions such as whether older houses would be held to the same hard-wiring regulations as new construction (yes, the board said, after some initial confusion), and when the board might turn its similarly detailed attention to both long-term rentals and, indeed, to every residence in the village. “This should be just a start,” said one observer.

The fire truck

Watkins Glen Fire Chief Charlie Smith III told the board the damaged engine, out of service since the accident, would be sent to its Pennsylvania manufacturer -- 4 Guys Fire Trucks -- this week, where a determination will be made as to whether the vehicle should be repaired or replaced. Also factoring in to that decision will be whatever action is taken by the insurance company, Perry and Carroll, which had an adjuster recently examine the truck.

Smith estimated the loss of the truck would run from 12 to 18 months, prompting Mayor Schimizzi to say the board needed “to act ASAP” to replace it, possibly by purchasing an available used truck from the Gang Mills Fire Department or, in the alternative, renting one by the day.

The other board members said they were not opposed to getting a replacement vehicle, although Trustee Laurie DeNardo pointed out that there was mutual aid available from other area fire departments.

“Yes, but they might be out on another fire” when one breaks out in Watkins Glen, Schimizzi noted.

That’s fine, said Trustee Tony Fraboni, “but we need to know where the money is coming from.” Added DeNardo in opposing any immediate action: “We don’t know what we’re talking about financially.”

“We have to do something,” said Schimizzi, noting that budget considerations would appear minor “if the town burns down. We can’t be waiting on the insurance company. I want to do something before our next meeting” -- possibly at an emergency session.

“One way or another, we need to replace that truck,” the mayor added, and raised the matter again later in the meeting, when the board was expressing its final concerns for the evening.

“My concern -- a big one -- is the fire truck,” Schimizzi said. “We’ll set up something, figure a way to pay for it.”

The former mayor

Bob Lee, who was mayor from 1986 to 2005, said he had heard that plans for Clute Park -- where grants, Downtown Revitalization Initiative money and other funding sources are expected to lead to a winter ice rink/summer splash pad and new climate-controlled pavilion with bathrooms and changing rooms (and possibly containing a restaurant) -- will rob it of its green-space charm.

“Put the grant money someplace else,” he said. “It’s a sin to take that green space away from the public. I will be very vocal about it. We need to fix the park up for the people who use it. That and Lafayette Park are the village’s only green spaces.”

Trustee Laurie DeNardo said that while it was true a restaurant was in the current plans, “we’re saving the green space.” She said she would gladly have a cup of coffee with Lee to discuss it further.

Added Mayor Schimizzi, in possible reference to the restaurant: “Just because it’s in the plans doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.”

Lee also said he had heard that a village property owner along the lake was planning to charge the village rental for the lake intake -- but said the pumphouse there is village property.

“Nobody came to us to say anything,” said Schimizzi. “It’s my understanding that it’s village property. I don’t see how they could charge us rent.”

“Was this a street rumor?” asked DeNardo.

Since there was no further information, the matter was dropped at that point.

In other business, the board:

--Approved the use of the Community Center on January 4th by the school district for a fund-raising event for the girls varsity swim team.

--Heard park manager Michelle Hyde say the village would start taking reservations for camping spots in the park on January 4th.

--Approved a resolution naming the Village Hall Court Room in honor of the late Nicholas J. Dugo, a longtime Watkins Glen High School teacher who served as Village Justice for 28 years.

--Approved an updated Village Zoning Map to incorporate a greater contrast in colors to differentiate one zone from another.

--Approved Joint Project Committee invoices for the new Wastewater Treatment Plant in the amount of $828,646.63, bringing expenditures on the $32 million project to almost $8 million.

--Was given its first look at a proposed Local Law designed to strengthen animal protection rules. The board will review it and, should it wish, schedule a public hearing and enactment.

Photos in text:

From top: Former Mayor Bob Lee; Mayor Sam Schimizzi; Atty. William La Forte (right) and Streets Superintendent Don Perry; Fire Chief Charlie Smith III; Trustee Tony Fraboni; and Trustee Laurie DeNardo.

Morris will retire from bench on June 1

WATKINS GLEN, Dec. 13, 2018 -- Schuyler County Judge Dennis Morris has notified the Bar Association of his intent to retire on June 1, 2019, well ahead of the end of the 10-year term he won in a November 2011 election.

Morris said he cannot officially announce his retirement until 90 days before the date, but that he wanted to give advance word -- including to the district office in Binghamton, which will likely provide visiting judges to cover his role between June 1 and the general election in November. In that election, the office -- which includes Surrogate’s Court and Family Court -- will be available again for a full 10-year term.

He said an alternative would be an interim appointment from June to November by the governor. But he said it hasn’t happened here since 1982 and that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has not exhibited such a tendency.

Morris, who also has been serving as Acting Supreme Court Justice for two years, said coverage of other areas by visiting judges is a common practice -- that he has done so, including in Chemung County.

Morris, 67, when asked why he was retiring, said “it just seemed like it was time.” He said he notified the Bar Association last week.

“My intention was to let people know,” he said -- which includes anyone interested in running for the office. And according to word circulating, several people are considering such a run. He said he couldn’t comment on that, though -- a limit on politics being part of his job.

Once he retires, among his pursuits will be his artwork -- Civil War scenes (diographs) created by computer using toy soldiers as subjects on a tabletop created to resemble Gettysburg. He has sold many such works -- including at a re-enactment weekend at Gettysburg. He intends to go there again in 2019 after his retirement.

“In the past three or four years I haven’t been producing as many as in the past,” he said of his diographs, a situation he plans to correct. Examples of his art can be found at

Morris, who lives outside of Burdett with his wife Julie, is a graduate of Grove City College with a Bachelors degree in History, and has a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Akron.

His most significant case likely came when he presided at the trial of Alice Trappler of Addison following the shooting death in 2012 of Daniel Bennett. Trappler was found guilty of orchestrating the murder, enlisting her ex-husband to kill Bennett in his Town of Dix home. Trappler had had a relationship and a child with Bennett. She was sentenced by Morris to 25 years to life in prison.

Photo in text: Schuyler County Judge Dennis Morris. (File photo)

Officials warn of property-deed 'scam'

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, Dec. 3, 2018 -- Schuyler County Clerk Theresa Philbin and County Attorney Steven Getman are warning homeowners to be aware of a property deed "scam" that may be taking place in Schuyler County.

“Reports have surfaced recently of a company soliciting homeowners in the area who recently have completed real estate transactions, asking them to pay $89.00 for records which contain public information about their own property,” Getman said.

However, according to Philbin, deeds for every parcel of land in Schuyler County are already recorded and kept on permanent record at the Schuyler County Clerk's Office.

“After a real estate closing the original deed is returned to the property owner or their attorney at no additional charge and if you ever need another copy, you can request one from the county clerk for as little 65 cents per page and often less than five dollars,” Philbin explained.

“All public records can be searched in the county clerk’s office through its indexes Monday- Friday frm 8:30 a.m.- 4:30 p.m.”

Philbin and Getman also warned that the assessment profile the company is trying to sell includes information that the homeowner does not need, and that could be obtained for free from the County’s Real Property Tax Division or other municipalities.

Currently there is no law against companies selling you your own information, or a limit on what they can charge.

Getman says the best way to protect yourself is to stay vigilant and informed.

"We want the residents of Schuyler County to be aware that the entities marketing such requests are not related to the County Clerk's Office or any other department inside Schuyler County government," Getman said.

If you receive anything in the mail about your property records that seems questionable, Philbin and Getman said that you can contact the county clerk or, in the event of possible criminal activity, local law enforcement.

The Schuyler County Clerk is responsible for all books, files and other necessary equipment for the filing, recording and depositing of documents, maps, papers in actions and special proceedings of both civil and criminal nature, judgment and lien dockets and books for the indexing of the same as directed or authorized by law

The Schuyler County Attorney is the legal advisor for county government and its various officials. The County Attorney prosecutes and defends civil actions on behalf of the county and county employees acting pursuant to their official duties.

Photo in text: County Attorney Steven Getman (File photo)

The Watkins Glen fire truck alongside County Route 9 as snow fell.

How the Watkins Glen fire truck rolled over

WATKINS GLEN, Nov. 28, 2018 -- Watkins Glen Fire Chief Charlie Smith III has issued a statement regarding an accident Tuesday in which a Watkins fire truck ended up on its side alongside County Route 9 after its driver lost control of the vehicle on the way to a barn fire on the Dolphsburg Road.

The accident occurred about 100 yards from State Route 79 outside Burdett, with the truck on its right side on the right side of the roadway. Smith, who on Tuesday had declined comment on any aspect of the incident, said this on Wednesday:

"At approximately 16:36 p.m. the Watkins Glen Fire Department responded mutual aid to the Burdett Fire Department for a barn fire with flames through the roof on Dolphsburg Road. The request was for a tanker with manpower to the scene. The tanker responded and shortly thereafter additional manpower loaded onto the fire engine (KE-30) for response.

"The engine traveled State Route 79 and made a turn onto County Road 9. Due to diminished visibility caused by weather, the engine was unable to successfully navigate the road. As a result, the truck went into the ditch and tipped over onto its side. The operator of the engine at the time of the accident is a 35+ year veteran of the WGFD. There were four crew members inside the vehicle at the time of the accident. All crew members were assisted out of the vehicle by the Montour Falls Fire Department.

"The Schuyler County Ambulance crew assessed all occupants of the vehicle and were all determined to be unharmed and released. The truck was inspected by the New York State Police. The scene was investigated by the Schuyler County Sheriff's Department. The truck was recovered by B&W towing. All other WGFD personnel responded to the fire and assisted with extinguishment."

Photo in text: Law enforcement was on the scene, investigating the truck crash.

Tyrone man found guilty on sex charges

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, Nov. 29, 2018 -- Shawn M. Wheeler, age 33, of Tyrone was found guilty Thursday by Schuyler County Judge Dennis J. Morris of Criminal Sexual Act in the Second Degree, and three separate counts of Sexual Abuse in the Third Degree.

The verdict stems from a four-day bench trial conducted earlier in November, prosecuted by Chief Assistant District Attorney Matthew C. Hayden.

The DA's office said the conviction for Criminal Sexual Act in the Second Degree, a Class D Violent Felony, is based upon the defendant (older than 18) engaging in oral sexual conduct with a female victim who was 13 years old. The Sexual Abuse charges, it added, stem from additional sexual contact with that same victim without her consent.

The matter has been adjourned for sentencing, at which time the defendant faces a possible sentence of up to 7 years in state prison, with up to 10 years post-release supervision.

O-M 12-year-old's 'school shooter' comments draw Social Service ruling from Family Court

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, Nov. 6, 2018 -- A 12-year-old Schuyler County boy who made online threats he was going to be a “professional school shooter” at Odessa-Montour's Hanlon School was placed in the custody of Social Service officials Monday by the Schuyler County Family Court.

The boy, whose name was not released because of his age, was found to be a “Person in Need of Supervision” in June of this year, based on allegations that he made statements constituting “a terroristic threat,” in text messages and in person, a felony if committed by an adult. Sheriff’s deputies charged the boy after being contacted by school staff who discovered the comments. County officials took immediate action to ensure that the boy had no access to firearms and that the threats were false.

The case was prosecuted for the county by Schuyler County Attorney Steven Getman’s office. At Monday’s sentencing hearing, the prosecution recommended that the boy be placed in detention, due to the underlying charges as well as the boy’s failures to behave in school and cooperate with probation supervision since the June court date.

After reviewing the evidence, Schuyler County Family Court Judge Dennis Morris determined that the boy should be removed from the home for his own good. Therefore, Morris ordered the boy placed in the custody of the Schuyler County Department of Social Services for up to six months.

Assisting in the investigation and prosecution of the matter were the Schuyler County Sheriff’s Department, Odessa-Montour Hanlon School officials, the Schuyler County Probation Department and caseworkers with the Department of Social Services.

Watkins Board weighs in on BID, tax limit

Says it wants to correct the record

As many are aware, the Village Board has been asked to consider enabling legislation that would allow the creation of a Business Improvement District (BID) to manage and promote our downtown. If created, the BID would be funded by a tax levy that would be limited to the businesses within the boundaries of that district. The affected business owners supporting this initiative recognize that they will be providing the funding, but in turn will have control of the expenditure of those funds as they relate to improving our business climate and in theory improving their respective business profitability. In reading recent letters published locally, it is clear that misconceptions exist relative to this topic, and while the Village Board has not taken a position on this proposed legislation as of yet, we feel it is important to correct misinformation associated with this initiative. You may have the perception or may incorrectly assume that the Village is in poor fiscal condition. In reality this couldn’t be farther from the truth.

In the interest of providing accurate information, the following is our attempt to correct some misconceptions:

Recent reports that the Village is approaching its Constitutional Tax Limit are incorrect. While it is a rather complex calculation, a municipality’s tax limit is equal to 1.5% of its total assessed valuation averaged over a five-year period. In essence, every taxing jurisdiction in NY state must annually calculate and submit to the NYS Comptroller this number. In our Village’s case, we are actually at 31% of our taxing limit. Relative to other governments in NYS, 31% is a very respectable amount and generally the average is in excess of 50% among governments. We surmise that there may be confusion between Constitutional Tax Limit and the NYS Tax Cap, and in the interest of allowing for informed decision making, wish to clarify.

The NYS Tax Cap, which was initiated by Governor Cuomo and signed into law in 2011, is a commendable effort to contain the high cost of government in NYS and it has largely been successful. Under the tax cap legislation, municipalities (again, applying a complex formula) must stay within the calculated amount for each year’s tax levy or enact a local law overriding that cap should the governing board deem it prudent and necessary. The base amount of the calculation is a 2% increase, but local economic conditions, growth in tax base, and prior year surplus can all impact that percentage. While the Village has had to override the cap in past years, there have also been a number of years that we were well under the calculated cap. The takeaway here is this: Our levy isn’t determined by how much we are allowed to spend, rather it is limited to only what we need to spend. If our cap is calculated to be 3.5% and we come in at 1.5%, all the better!

With respect to the proposed Business Improvement District, if created, that may require the Board to adopt a higher tax cap limit for that particular year. However, this is to be expected and the additional tax burden is limited only to the businesses within the BID. Our residents are not impacted. The businesses within the district pay for the BID and receive the services. The owners of said businesses were invited to and engaged in multiple public meetings on the formation of such BID. The ultimate decision falls on the business property owners within the BID district.

In closing, the Village Board works diligently to be fiscally responsible to our residents and businesses alike. We respect the challenging fiscal times we live in and the responsibility associated with funding public services in NYS. With that in mind, we continually strive to be good stewards of the public’s money while seeking ways to improve our local economy. We offer this information to clear up any confusion related to our legal tax limit. Thank you.

--Watkins Glen Board of Trustees

Congressman Tom Reed, left, and gubernatorial candidate Marc Molinaro at the GOP rally.

GOP faithful gather as Molinaro visits Glen

WATKINS GLEN, Nov. 2, 2018 -- About four dozen Republican Party officials and supporters were on hand late Friday morning at the Seneca Harbor Station restaurant for a rally in support of New York gubernatorial candidate Marc Molinaro.

The candidate was the center of attention as Congressman Tom Reed, State Senator Tom O'Mara and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano were on hand to sing his praises as he tries to unseat incumbent Democrat Andrew Cuomo in the Nov. 6 election.

It had the feel of a club, since Palmesano and O'Mara had ties to Molinaro in Albany (where he was an Assemblyman) before he moved on to his job as Dutchess County Executive in 2011.

"I taught hm everything he knows," said O'Mara. "We're very good friends. I was at his wedding, and now he has four children." The fourth is actually due any day now.

"You had nothing to do with that," quipped Molinaro, standing to the side, amid other spectators. The room was quickly filled with laughter, with O'Mara responding, with a smile: "This is degrading quickly."

O'Mara's remarks came after Molinaro's, for O'Mara arrived late after putting in another campaign appearance to the south. In fact, Reed showed up even later, just as O'Mara was wrapping up his remarks.

Molinaro was introduced by the first speaker, Palmesano, whose voice rose an octave or so as he neared his conclusion, fairly shouting out his introduction of a man "who doesn't just talk the talk; he walks the walk! I give you the next governor of New York State, Marc Molinaro!"

Molinaro, acknowledging the resultant applause, smiled at the assemblyman. "Who knew that Phil Palmesano had that much fire in him?" he said.

Molinaro said he has "spent every day of my adult life in public service, since I was a mayor at 19." Now 43, he was mayor of Tivoli, NY, at that early age, and then served in the Dutchess County Legislature and the state Assembly before being elected to his current post.

He said that there are "problem makers and problem solvers. I need you ... to be problem solvers, to show up on Election Day and send a message that we can't afford to continue with the policies that are strangling our independence. If we show up (at the polls), we win. By holding government accountable, we can have a state we can afford to live in. If elected, I will not let you down."

Reed, once he arrived, wondered how O'Mara had beaten him there, coming from the same stop earlier in the day in the Elmira area. He suggested that perhaps O'Mara had broken some speed laws, to which O'Mara replied: "No, I just know my district," an indirect slam that drew "ooohs" from the audience and a laugh from Reed.

The Congressman spoke in largely national terms, touting the most recent jobs report, which reflects a healthy economy; criticized his opponent, Tracy Mitrano -- they debated the night before in Olean -- and said the "silent voices of America will speak on Nov. 6" in favor of the Republicans, who "believe in the power of the American people."

After some photos and interaction with the audience, the Molinaro show was heading to Corning and then to Jamestown. "We're gonna be a loud voice for Marc Molinaro," concluded Reed.

Photos in text: From top: Marc Molinaro, right, with Schuyler County Legislator Phil Barnes, who is seeking re-election on Nov. 6; Molinaro greets Assemblyman Phil Palmesano; State Senator Tom O'Mara, foreground, next to the gubernatorial candidate; and area businessman Ted Marks posing with Molinaro.

Water Quality Forum held in Dundee

Special to The Odessa File

DUNDEE, Oct. 25, 2018 -- State Senators Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats) and Pam Helming (R,C,I-Canandaigua) on Wednesday sponsored a public roundtable discussion, “The Future of Water Quality: A Discussion on Challenges, Crises and Responses.”

The water quality forum was held at Starkey’s Lookout in Dundee (5428 State Route 14).

O’Mara and Helming were joined at the forum by a panel of water quality educators and experts, and agriculture and environmental advocates representing the Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries, Cornell University, Cornell Cooperative Extension, Clarkson University, the Finger Lakes Institute, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, the New York Farm Bureau, the Keuka Lake Association, and regional Soil and Water Conservation Districts.

The group identified challenges and shared information, data, and resources.

Harmful algal blooms (HABs), invasive species, non-point source pollution and other contaminants, flood and erosion control, habitat preservation, and water quality infrastructure highlighted the range of issues discussed by the panelists.

Senator O’Mara, Chair of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee since 2015, said, "We know that the issue of water quality is here to stay. These challenges and crises have dominated the Legislature’s attention over the past several years during which I have served as Chair of the Environmental Conservation Committee. Water quality is one of the high priority challenges facing the future of the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions. From harmful algal blooms to invasive species, and from non-point source pollution to water quality infrastructure, how we understand and proactively respond to these concerns is fundamentally important. It is important for drinking water, the tourism economy, and the recreational use of lakes and other waterways. I greatly appreciate this opportunity with Senator Helming to welcome the participation of so many water quality experts, educators, and concerned citizens. Their input in the days, months and years ahead will make the difference.”

Senator Helming, Chair of the Legislative Rural Resources Commission, said, “The Finger Lakes have experienced significant amounts of harmful algal blooms and invasive species in recent years. These contaminants threaten municipal water systems that many residents count on for their drinking water supply, and they pose serious dangers for local residents who draw their water directly from the lake. They also hinder the recreational uses of the lakes that draw countless tourists to our region. Even before I became an elected official, my family and I were involved in water quality monitoring on Canandaigua Lake, and protecting our water still remains a priority for all of us. As State Senator, I have been working diligently with Senator O’Mara, water quality experts, municipal officials, and community leaders to come together and find solutions for these problems. We must continue to address water quality issues in order to preserve the health of our people and our environment as well as to protect our economy and our tourism industry. I appreciated taking part in this roundtable discussion with Senator O’Mara and others to share information and resources as we continue to identify and address the water quality challenges before us."

Over the past several years, O’Mara and Helming have helped develop a comprehensive series of Senate initiatives to combat invasive species, address flood control, respond to HABs, and improve drinking water safety and the overall quality of water infrastructure in New York.

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara

Susan Kimmel and David Kimmel of Lakewood Development interact with the audience at Wednesday night's Watkins Glen Planning Board meeting in the Village Hall.

Planning Board OKs Franklin St. project

WATKINS GLEN, Sept. 19, 2018 -- The Watkins Glen Planning Board followed a twisting, turning path before granting Final Site Plan approval Wednesday night to a mixed-use building being planned to replace the former Clifford Motors building at the corner of Franklin and West Second Streets.

That building, said representatives of Lakewood Development, the current owner, will have to be demolished in its entirety due to structural defects, with the front rebuilt in a style similar to the one there now. It will house a coffee house run by former building owner Doug Thayer in the front as well as commercial office and kitchen test space, while the back of the building will hold 24 apartments on a total of three stories, the second story opening onto Madison Avenue.

Present to address the Planning Board were Susan Bacon Kimmel and David Kimmel of Lakewood. Susan Kimmel is managing general partner of Lakewood, which is part of the family of companies that form Two Plus Four -- a construction and property management firm from Syracuse which Kimmel serves as president. Two Plus Four also oversaw the renovation of, and manages, the apartment complex in the former Watkins Glen Middle School on Decatur Street. The pair outlined the project before a half-hour public hearing that they hoped would lead to Final Site Plan approval by evening's end.

But concerns, including one about a possible brownfield beneath the property -- a onetime motor vehicle service facility -- brought Planning Board Chair Joe Fazzary to say at one point that he thought such approval on this night was not feasible. That raised the ire of a couple of members of the public, who pointed out -- as Susan Kimmel had -- that there is a timetable in place on the project, with Oct. 19 a key application date in state-level competition for grant money.

Eventually, Fazzary relented, permitting the board to go through the SEQR (State Environmental Quality Revew) process, which resulted in an always desirable Negative Declaration -- meaning there were no known environmental impediments. But in order to grant Final Site Plan approval, Fazzary and other board members insisted on the condition that Kimmel provide letters from appropriate government agencies assuring that the project could move forward with proper oversight should concerns such as a brownfield actually be found -- and that the village, as lead environmental agency, would be apprised of any such developments.

Susan Kimmel told the board she would secure the necessary letters and assurances, and left with an approval that could prove key to those Oct. 19 grants. Those would be in addition to a $1 million commitment from the state through the local Downtown Revitalization Initiative. The apartment portion of the project calls for 24 units -- 20 one-bedroom apartments and four with two bedrooms. Parking is planned on the north side of the building, with an entrance to elevators there for residents. Another entrance would be installed from Madison Avenue.

The apartments will rent from $650 to $1,000 a month, aimed at young professionals who earn from $27,000 to $46,000 annually.

A point of discussion: village parking, an ongoing challenge, and more so with the addition of new structures downtown in the coming years. A parking garage was suggested somewhere downtown or even on Fairgrounds Lane at the south end of the village, but dismissed by officials as a non-starter -- described by one as "a money pit," or revenue loser.

After Final Site Plan approval was granted (after an hour and 20 minutes), the meeting moved swiftly, with one agenda item passed over -- a Preliminary Site Plan Review of a proposed apartment complex on Second Street. That was put on hold while a zoning variance was being sought. According to Code Enforcement Officer Greg Larnard, that project is "far from the final stage. There is a lot of work to do."

The board then decided to schedule an extra meeting, on Oct. 3, to hold a public hearing and presumably give Final Site Plan approval to the planned Seneca Cheese Company business at 29 N. Franklin St. And after a Concept Plan Review of the planned Glen Racing Grill at 107 Eleventh St., the board scheduled a Preliminary Site Plan review for the project on Oct. 3 -- as well as a public hearing and Final Site Plan approval the same day on a house demolition on West Second Street.

DRI Report: Judy Cherry, executive director of the Schuyler County Partnership for Economic Development, updated the Planning Board on upcoming Downtown Revitalization Initiative projects approved by the state. Several projects will be coming before the board in two or three months, she said, while a couple "might not be going forward" due to environmental issues.

Photos in text: From top: Planning Board Chair Joe Fazzary; a drawing of the planned structure at Franklin and West Second Streets; and Code Enfrocement Officer Greg Larnard and Village Clerk Lonnie Childs at the meeting.

Resident Tony Compese addresses the Village Board. He was one of many speakers.

Board tables short-term rentals proposal after lengthy hearing; plans to 'tweak' it

WATKINS GLEN, Sept. 17, 2018 -- The Watkins Glen Village Board listened for nearly two hours Monday night to residents who crowded into the board meeting room, then tabled a controversial Local Law designed to amend the Village Zoning Code “to provide for the regulation of short-term rentals in the Village.”

The hearing drew a standing-room-only audience that produced many speakers regarding the rentals, some pro and some con.
Throughout, everyone maintained their composure, a fact pointed out with something approaching admiration by one of the later speakers, Chelsea Roberts, executive director of the Southern Tier Regional Planning and Development Board.

She said the Village Board knows that “growth is coming to Watkins Glen,” a community with limited expansion possible geographically -- leaving, she seemed to suggest, the option of building "up" -- which, one would assume, means multi-level residential units. She said that upon reading the proposed Local Law, she “didn’t find it overly restrictive. It all seems reasonable.”

Opponents of the proposal in particular pointed to a planned permit fee of $500 every two years for short-term rentals. That, said several speakers, was restrictive to the point where those establishing short-term rentals as supplemental income -- as opposed to corporations operating them in absentia -- might be disinclined to pursue such a business.

Since such small businesses invest money in the renovation of buildings which, in many cases, were dilapidated, restrictive permit fees could mean that the buildings stay dilapidated and, perhaps, unsold. And, accordingly, worth little, repressing the tax base.

Beyond that, an attorney present, Josh Navone, termed the proposal seriously flawed and possibly litigious on constitutional grounds.

This trend toward short-term rentals -- in particular Airbnb's -- is widespread, with efforts at strict control underway in larger communities such as Ithaca or, one person pointed out, Asheville, North Carolina. But Watkins Glen is unique -- dependent on tourism and thus obliged, some feel, to provide as much housing for those tourists as possible.

One speaker noted a rudeness in some such visitors -- a tendency toward loud parties and disrespect for long-term residents. Another said that the issue -- the fears and resentment of residents -- might be alleviated if visitors showed such respect. But still others maintained that visitors they have encountered have been unfailingly polite, and enthusiastic about the small-town, peaceful nature of Watkins Glen.

Beyond that, one property owner on South Madison Street said of 13 buildings in her block, nine are now short-term rentals with room for 96 tenants. She said she supported the legislation, but said it ignored the matter of density. “Do you really want nine of these rentals in one block?” She also wondered if the Board wanted available housing “taken up” by short-term rentals village-wide. That, said a couple of others, is of prime concern, cutting into the number of family residences and, by extension, into school enrollment. The Watkins Glen school district has, for various reasons, experienced a significant decline in enrollment in the past 30 years.

Also of concern by various speakers were property setbacks, building height and size, and the desire to maintain neighborhood character.

At the end, the board said that while it believed rules and regulations were needed to control the growth of short-term rentals, they would table the law “until the next meeting,” in the words of Mayor Sam Schimizzi.

The mayor said the proposed $500 permit fee would “help pay for a part-time code enforcer” to supplement the efforts of current Code Enforcement Officer Greg Larnard. It might also help pay for related software. By collecting such fees, the village “wouldn’t have to raise taxes, though it is a tax. We’re just trying to do the right thing.”

When Schimizzi first suggested “we could hold off” on a vote, Trustee Laurie DeNardo said she was “not comfortable voting” for the law in its current form. Trustee Tony Fraboni said the situation -- a growing short-term rental wave -- was “not unique to Watkins Glen.” The proposal “might need a little tuning,” he said, “but we need something.”

After resident Phyllisa DeSarno said the board should “tell developers to give us the best they have, or go to Philadelphia,” Schimizzi said that “with developers there’s gotta be a balance. That’s why I ran for the board -- the only reason.” He was elected to a four-year term in 2015.

After the hearing was ended after nearly two hours, the board voted quickly to table the proposal -- to, as Schimizzi said, “tune it up a little bit, bring it back, probably at our next meeting.”

He said that "no matter what we do, we're not going to please everyone ... we're trying to find a happy medium. We have to be mindful of everybody."

After the hearing, the board also:

-- Approved an increase in Camp Rates at Clute Park, raising the daily rate to $60 from $55, and the seasonal rate by $50, to $2,450 from $2,400.

Photos in text: Speakers included Brian Eslinger (top) and Phyllisa DeSarno (bottom). Some speakers addressed the board and the audience extemporaneously, and some with prepared remarks (middle).

Scouts from Troop 2674 pose behind Schuyler County legislators' seats after the meeting.

Scouts interact with Schuyler legislators

WATKINS GLEN, Sept. 10, 2018 -- The Schuyler County Legislature Monday night had a group of inquisitive visitors: 11 members of Boy Scout Troop 2674.

The troop, sponsored by the Elks lodge and meeting twice a month at the Watkins Glen Fire Department, are led by Rick Evans, who told the Legislature the boys were there "for a civics lesson."

The Legislature, after attending to nearly two dozen resolutions -- most minor in nature -- opened the floor to questions, and had each of the boys introduce himself. The legislators in turn introduced themselves, and thanked the boys for their interest.

Among the questions was one by Ben Swinnerton, asking how the Legislature decided which grants to seek. Several resolutions had dealt with the subject. He was told by County Administrator Tim O'Hearn that a key element is whether a grant has hidden costs. The Legislature "might not go for a grant at all," he said. "If it's not truly free, we're not interested."

Scout Aidan Thurston asked for the Legislature's position on the Tobacco 21 movement that would make 21 the age at which a person can purchase a tobacco product.

Legislator Mark Rondinaro said he personally opposed the movement, because "anyone capable of joining the military (at 18) is enough of an adult to make a decision" regarding the use of tobacco. Legislature Chairman Dennis Fagan added that the county position on tobacco use itself is that for health concerns, its use is not permitted in county buildings and parks.

Another question: How long does it take a resolution to pass? The answer: Up to two months. "Nothing moves quickly," observed Clerk Stacy Husted.

Evans asked about the amount of the budget, which O'Hearn said consists of $49 million in expenditures, and $11 million in tax levies. The 2019 budget process is beginning now, with a preliminary budget expected in a couple of weeks, and passage in November.

Resolutions: Among the resolutions passed was one approving a bid by Economy Paving Co. Inc. in the amount of $1,095,590.15 for the rehabilitation of the Mill Street Bridge over Shequagah Falls above Montour Falls. It is 95% covered by federal funds.

The legislators also voted to seek bids for repairs needed in the Seneca Harbor Park stone breakwall.

Sales Tax: Chairman Fagan said that the latest available totals reported on Schuyler County sales tax revenue shows it up 8.9 percent from the same point last year through early August, or about $560,000. But the "catch," he noted, is the impact the county will feel from cancellation of the revenue-producing Phish concert at Watkins Glen International in mid-August due to the effects of the August 14 storm. Sales tax, he noted, is key to helping keep property tax increases in check.

Photos in text: From top: Legislature Chairman Dennis Fagan addresses the Boy Scouts; Legislator Van Harp thanks the Scouts for attending the meeting; and Legislator David Reed, after the meeting, tells the Scouts about a trip he took to Alaska.

Thornton resigns from Watkins Village Board

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, Aug. 22, 2018 -- Watkins Glen Village Trustee Kevin Thornton has resigned from the Village Board, effective immediately.

Thornton cited several reasons, including a lack of "communication from (and within) the board" and a disagreement by him with some of the projects approved in the Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) funded and propelled by the state. He also mentioned health problems.

He read his letter of resignation at the outset of the Village Board meeting Monday, and promptly got up and left. The session was a contentious one regarding a proposed Business Improvement District and the effect of short-term vacation rental properties.

Thornton was elected to a four-year term in 2015. His vacancy can be filled by mayoral appointment good through the remainder of his term, which ends on March 31, 2019. Or the seat can remain vacant until a successor is elected in the March balloting and takes office on April 1.

The letter of resignation reads as follows:

"Mr. Mayor, Board of Trustees, employees and residents of Watkins Glen; It is with a heavy heart that effective immediately I resign from my term as Village Trustee. This wasn’t an easy decision and there are several reasons behind it.

"I feel communication from (and within) the board is severely lacking at times, especially when it comes to letting residents and business owners know what’s happening in difficult situations like we faced this past week. I think Mayor Schimizzi is a good, honest and fair man, but there are areas of leadership that need work.

"The DRI is a quandary for me. Some of the projects are good and others I don’t support at all. The real bottom line for me is why many of the funds from New York State were given for beautification projects when we have so many infrastructure problems in the village now. There is a tank at our water plant that could leak anytime. There are water main breaks regularly and many of our village streets are in terrible condition. I am also not in favor of the proposed apartment building project on the Jefferson Village lots. I think single-family homes are a much better alternative for the future. This is just the short list. I have heard many residents say, “Why does Franklin Street always get all of the attention of the village?” I think they know the answer.

"Over the last year I have also had health problems that I need to concentrate on, so this just seems the right time to move on.

"I have enjoyed meeting so many great people in this village and being able to try and help work toward the common good. Thank you for the opportunity. I wish you all the best of luck."

Photo in text: Kevin Thornton at a recent Village Board meeting.

Schuyler, Yates to share public health director

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, Aug. 18, 2018 -- In a move toward continued cost savings and increased efficiency, Schuyler and Yates counties have adopted resolutions authorizing the sharing of a Public Health Director between the two counties.

At their respective meetings on Monday, August 13, county legislators voted to authorize an Intermunicipal Agreement (IMA) permitting the consolidation of this position within the two counties.

The aim of the project is to work collaboratively while maintaining two distinctive health departments with shared leadership and integrated service delivery. Both departments will be governed by their respective legislatures and/or boards of health.

Said Yates Chairman Doug Paddock: “As we continue to seek efficiencies for our residents and taxpayers, this most recent move exemplifies the commitment of both counties toward improving service delivery while lowering costs.”

Schuyler Chairman Dennis Fagan added: "While we continue to struggle with unfunded mandates and their associated escalating costs, it is great to be able to partner with our neighbors to the north, to achieve real savings for our residents.”

Both Chairs expressed their appreciation to County Attorneys Steven Getman (Schuyler) and Scott Falvey (Yates) for their efforts in crafting an IMA that both Legislatures agreed upon.

The agreement, which now goes to the NYS Department of Health for approval, is in response to the announced retirement of Schuyler Public Health Director Marcia Kasprzyk, and the desire for further collaboration between the two counties.

According to Schuyler County Administrator Tim O’Hearn, while the combined savings approach $100,000 annually, the move will actually provide increased levels of service as each county shares departmental resources.

By combining some resources, functions, and staff in their health departments, the two counties provide services that enhance their role as public health facilitators and educators in their respective communities, including:

--Public health education
--Emergency preparedness
--Childhood Early Intervention Programs
--Residential sanitary inspections
--Flu clinics
--Rabies clinics

Added O’Hearn: “I commend both Marcia and Deb for their initiative in bringing this recommendation to their respective Legislatures. It is not often in government that such a collaborative and non-parochial approach to administration is achieved, and this is a testament to their professionalism and dedication to public health!”

This is the latest shared service initiative between Yates and Schuyler, who currently share a Director of Weights and Measures and Code Enforcement responsibilities.

Photo in text: Schuyler County Administrator Tim O'Hearn (File photo)

State Health Department and Schuyler County cite health concerns, cancel Phish concert

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, Aug. 16, 2018 -- The Phish concert scheduled for this weekend at Watkins Glen International has been canceled by state and county officials due to health concerns in the wake of Tuesday's storm and flooding.

"This week's severe storm created untenable conditions, including the inability to deliver clean drinking water to patrons and vendors as confirmed by test results delivered today," the state Department of Health and Schuyler County officials said in a joint statement. "Working collaboratively with Watkins Glen International and Phish, the county and state explored all options to allow the event to continue as scheduled."

However, "With a 14-county State of Emergency still in effect, the prospect of additional inclement weather, and a mandatory boil water order for the Village of Watkins Glen issued today, Schuyler County and the New York State Department of Health are unable to issue the required permits for this weekend's Curveball Festival."

It added: "While all parties acknowledge the inconvenience of this cancellation to patrons, we have a responsibility to act in the best interest of public health and safety for all. Phish and Curveball Festival organizers will be notifying ticketholders about how to obtain a refund."

Said WGI President Michael Printup: “Public health and safety is a concern for all events at Watkins Glen International. While we are disappointed Curveball has been cancelled, we understand and support the county and Department of Health’s decision."

Added Statae Senator Tom O’Mara (pictured at right): “I appreciate the hard work and perseverance of state and local health officials, concert promoters, and everyone at The Glen to try to find a way to give the go-ahead for Phish this weekend. Unfortunately, Mother Nature did not cooperate and threw a curveball of her own over the past several days. It’s disappointing for the band, the fans, and the community at large -- and I was looking forward to attending myself -- but it’s really the only decision that could be made for the overall sake of the public’s health and safety.”

Assemblyman Philip Palmesano said, “I share the disappointment of fans, Watkins Glen International, and the local community. But we appreciate the diligent efforts of state and local health officials, concert promoters, and Glen officials to try to find any way possible to give a green light to this weekend’s festival. Unfortunately, the cancellation is the only decision that can be made to appropriately and responsibly protect the public’s health and safety.”

The band, which was preparing to go onstage at WGI for a sound check, expressed its regrets for the cancellation in an announcement to fans:

"Dear friends, our Phish family:

"The four of us are writing this from directly behind the stage at Watkins Glen. We were about to walk onstage only moments ago for our traditional soundcheck jam for Curveball when we were told the heartbreaking news that due to the unsafe water conditions in the Village of Watkins Glenour beloved festival is being canceled.

"We are still in shock. The entire site is already set up and ready to go after literally months of work by our beloved hardworking crew, many of whom have been here for weeks. Our families are here, our gear is set, our tents are up. We keep waiting for someone to come over and tell us that there is a solution, and that the festival can go on. Unfortunately, it is not possible.

"We are so terribly sorry for the inconvenience that this is causing so many of you. We hope from the bottoms of our hearts that at the very least this news will reach you before too much disruption takes place in your personal lives. We know that people traveled far, at great expense. We understand that people are missing work, and changing their schedules around ... we wish so much that there was some way that this wasn't happening.

"This summer has been absolutely joyous, with each gig building on the previous one, and we were all buzzing with excitement about Curveball. Please accept our deepest apologies for the disruption that this has caused all of you. We wish there was something else we could say.

"Thank you all from the depths of our souls for the joy that you continue to share with us every night. This has been the greatest summer we can remember. Travel safe and know that we are as heartbroken as all of you. We are standing back here behind the stage, at our party that we've been planning for over a year, and we have just been told that it won't happen. There's just nothing we can do."

Some 85,000 people were expected to attend the three-day festival, at which Phish was expected to play two sets.

Boil Water Notice issued for Watkins users

Note: The following notice was ultimately lifted on Friday, August. 24, 2018.

WATKINS GLEN, Aug. 16, 2018 -- In the wake of the heavy storm this week and attendant water problems, a Boil Water Notice has been issued for the Village of Watkins Glen, and for the Dix and Reading Water Districts.

Officials urge that residents "bring tap water to a rolling boil, boil for one minute, and cool before using. Or use bottled water certified for sale by the New York State Department of Health. Boiled or bottled water should be used for drinking, making ice, washing dishes, brushing teeth, and preparing food until further notice. It is likely that you will need to boil water for the next five days."

DOH warns of potential Legionella bacteria exposure from July 16-Aug. 1 at Glen hotel

The following press release was issued by the New York State Department of Health.

ALBANY, August 9, 2018 -- The New York State Department of Health announced today that individuals who were guests at the Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel between July 16, 2018 - August 1, 2018 and were in proximity to the hotel's pool and spa may have been exposed to Legionella bacteria.

The Department is working closely with the hotel to reach guests who were on site during the period of potential exposure. At the request of the State Health Department, Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel has closed their pool and spa to patrons as they continue to remediate the situation.

Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel is located at 16 N. Franklin Street, Watkins Glen.

Legionella bacteria can cause a serious type of pneumonia called Legionnaires' disease. The bacteria can also cause a less serious illness called Pontiac fever. Legionnaires' disease is very similar to other types of pneumonia, with symptoms that include cough, shortness of breath, fever, muscle aches, and headaches. Less common symptoms include diarrhea, nausea, and confusion. Symptoms usually begin two to ten days after being exposed to the bacteria, but it can take longer so people should watch for symptoms for about two weeks after exposure.

Pontiac fever symptoms are primarily fever and muscle aches; it is a milder infection than Legionnaires' disease. Symptoms begin between a few hours to three days after being exposed to the bacteria and usually last less than a week. Pontiac fever is different from Legionnaires' disease because someone with Pontiac fever does not have pneumonia.

Most healthy people exposed to Legionella do not get sick. People at increased risk of getting sick are:

  • People 50 years or older
  • Current or former smokers
  • People with a chronic lung disease (like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or emphysema)
  • People with weak immune systems or who take drugs that weaken the immune system (like after a transplant operation or chemotherapy)
  • People with cancer
  • People with underlying illnesses such as diabetes, kidney failure, or liver failure

In general, people do not spread the bacteria to other people. Legionella bacteria are found naturally in the environment, usually in water. The bacteria grow best in warm water, like the kind found in hot tubs, cooling towers, hot water tanks, large plumbing systems, and decorative fountains. People get infected when they breathe in a mist or vapor containing the bacteria.Any individual that develops symptoms that could be associated with Legionnaires' disease should share this information with their health care provider.

For additional information on Legionnaires' Disease, please visit:

Photo: The Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel (File photo)

Schuyler may join suit against Interior Dept.

Special to The Odessa File

SCHUYLER COUNTY, Aug. 8, 2018 -- The U.S. Department of Interior may have underpaid Schuyler County for payments in lieu of property taxes on federal lands within the county.

In response, the County Legislature’s Legislative Resolution Review Committee moved on August 8 to authorize Schuyler County Attorney Steven Getman to file papers joining a federal class action lawsuit initiated by Kane County, Utah.

According to Getman, the United States Court of Claims has held that underpayments on federal Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) programs in Kane County and other local governments may have occurred during 2015 to 2017. The PILT Act is intended to compensate local governments for tax revenues lost from federal lands in their jurisdictions, and the costs of providing services to those lands, Getman said.

That could include the part of the Finger Lakes National Forest in the Town of Hector, Getman said.

“If court determines the county was underpaid under PILT agreements for lands in the National Forest, the county can recover additional money,” Getman said. “There is no cost to participate in the lawsuit and no disadvantage to the county to do so.”

According to County Administrator Tim O’Hearn, “any money collected would go to the county as direct revenue to offset the cost of services to the forest and lost tax revenue, in order to reduce the local tax burden.”

“Given the fiscal stresses placed on local governments by state and federal mandates, county officials have a duty to make sure that any funds due Schuyler County taxpayers come back to Schuyler County to pay for necessary services,” Getman noted.

County Treasurer Harriett Vickio has reported that the County received payments for the affected years as follows:  2015, $16,526.00; 2016, $17,244.00; 2017, $17,091.00.   

Any additional amounts for those years obtained from the lawsuit would be calculated by the court, Getman said.

The measure now goes to the full legislature for a final vote on August 13 at 6:30 p.m.

Photo in text: Schuyler County Attorney Steven Getman (File photo)

The red area marks the location, at North Franklin and Second Streets in Watkins Glen, where a mixed-use building with 24 apartments is being planned.

Planning Board fields 2 apartment plans, gives prelim OK to Arc, cheese projects

WATKINS GLEN, July 18, 2018 -- The Watkins Glen Planning Board handled four construction proposals Wednesday night, approving two Preliminary Site Plans and asking questions on two Concept presentations.

The board, which generally hears concepts first, then gives preliminary approval a month or more later, which in turn leads to a public hearing and then Final Site Plan approval, handled the four cases detailed below.

Photo in text: Map shows the layout of the proposed mixed-use housing complex and childcare center on East Second Street. The hand belongs to Hunt Engineers' Dan Bower.


1. Bob and Barb MacBlane's plan to establish the Seneca Cheese Company in the former Eyes on Seneca building at 29 North Franklin Street was granted Preliminary Site Plan approval. The matter will go to the County Planning Commission for review and then to a public hearing at the Village Planning Board session on Aug. 15. Barring any serious objections, Final Site Plan approval is expected the same night.

The Seneca Cheese Company will be a store that sells local cheeses, as well as local beers and wines, and trays of various cheeses that might be paired with beer and wine and enjoyed on site -- including on a second-floor deck. The building, now about 2,000 square feet, will have a second floor added -- one that will include a two-bedroom, year-round upscale apartment.

The Planning Board thanked the MacBlanes for the detail presented in their plan, which answered all questions raised at a June meeting.

The MacBlanes, who have been living in Horseheads, are moving to Burdett. Mr. MacBlane was until recently the Director of Physician Recruiting at the Arnot Ogden Medical Center and before that served in the same role at Robert Packer Hospital. Mrs. MacBlane is a pharmacist connected to the Gerould's store in Horseheads. The couple have two children, ages 18 and 19. They have summered on Seneca Lake at a home they purchased years ago.

Photo in text: Bob MacBlane at Wednesday's Planning Board meeting.


2. The Arc of Schuyler presented a Concept Plan with such detail that the Planning Board deemed it a Preliminary Site Plan and approved it. The plan calls for the Arc building at 210 12th Street -- across from its main building at 203 12th St. -- to be enlarged by 3,840 square feet.

The addition will be on lawn-covered land at the rear of the current 5,980-square-foot building, built in the early 1990s as a daycare center but, after five years, turned by The Arc into administrative offices and community-use rooms. The upcoming addition will also be designed for community use, with a large room and a number of conference rooms.

It is all part of a move being undertaken as the result of changes in the law that call for the integration of the general population and citizens with development disabilities who perform tasks such as packing foods at The Arc. Part of the Arc's programming, a social program, will move from the main building to the one at 210 12th Street.

The expansion plan will go to the County Planning Commission for review before a public hearing at the Village Planning Board meeting on Aug. 15. Barring any surprises, Final Site Plan approval will come immediately after that hearing.

Photo in text: The existing Arc of Schuyler building at 210 12th Street.


A rendition of the apartment complex envisioned for East Second Street. The childcare center is on the right.

3. The Planning Board viewed a Concept Plan prepared by Hunt Engineers regarding a proposed apartment building on East Second Street, across from the Jefferson Village apartment complex. The new building, which would include a childcare center, would contain 34 apartments -- two on the ground floor and 16 each on the second and third floors.

The building, the brainchild of Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services, would occupy what is currently a vacant lot, in an otherwise residential area. The INHS mission statement says it is "dedicated to helping people of modest incomes find -- and stay in -- high-quality housing throughout Central New York, a goal that benefits the entire community."

A spokesman said meetings have been held with neighbors, at least one of whom had specific concerns that Hunt has worked into its plans -- including a fence between the complex and that resident's property, and a repositioning of the building. "I think the plan is a real compromise with neighbors," the spokesman said.

The childcare center at the western end of the complex will have a parking lot immediately outside its doors, and entrance to a playground from the building's rear. A larger parking lot will be positioned on the south side of the complex.

The INHS and Hunt are expected to return to the Planning Board with a Preliminary Site Plan next month. It will incorporate alterations based on concerns -- parking spaces and building color schemes among them -- discussed by Planning Board members at Wednesday's meeting.

Photo in text: Planning Board Chairman Joe Fazzary.


The front of the mixed-use building as it will appear on North Franklin Street. Second Street is on the left.

4. The Planning Board heard an outline and saw drawings of a plan to eliminate much of the building complex at the corner of North Franklin and Second Streets -- running back to Madison Avenue -- that used to house Clifford Motors. The building in the front, at 107-111 N. Franklin, currently housing a Doug Thayer liquor store and a tasting room and brewery, will retain the tasting room and liquor store. Being added: a commercial test kitchen, where local farmers and other food-related business people can prepare samples of products they might hope to mass produce if found successful on a smaller scale.

But connected buildings to the rear will be razed and a new three-story apartment complex built there by Two Plus Four -- a construction and property management firm from Syracuse that also oversaw the renovation of, and manages, the apartment complex in the former Watkins Glen Middle School on Decatur Street. The new project, guided through the recent Downtown Revitalization Initiative with the help of the FLX Collaborative Group, attracted $1 million in DRI funds.

Susan Bacon Kimmel, president of Two Plus Four, told the Planning Board that further financing is being sought through other New York State sources. She said that the firm is operating under a fairly tight window in order to maximize its chances of further grants, and so is looking for approval soon. Acccordingly, her firm will be back next month with a Preliminary Site Plan. Should it gain that level of board approval, the proposal will be referred to the County Planning Commission for review, and then gain Final Site Plan approval after a public hearing the next month, assuming everything goes smoothly.

The apartment complex would have 24 units -- 20 one-bedroom apartments and four with two bedrooms. Parking would be on the north side of the building, with an entrance to elevators there. Another entrance onto the apartment building's second floor would be installed from Madison Avenue. Kimmel said Two Plus Four is "trying to attract young, upstart professionals" to the complex's long-term rentals.

Current plans call for significant green space in keeping with state grant regulations, but the Planning Board raised some concerns regarding parking -- there might not be enough -- and drainage, matters that will be addressed in the Preliminary Site Plan.

Photo in text: An overview of the plan at North Franklin and Second Streets.

Blue is seen now at the center of the Walmart strorefront, and orange at the northwest corner.

Village Board sees red as Walmart tries a blue-and-orange exterior color scheme

Walmart attorney: firm got clearance before project began

"What we got here is a failure to communicate."

WATKINS GLEN, July 16, 2018 -- That line from the film "Cool Hand Luke" might sum up the Color War unspooling in Watkins Glen.

Or perhaps it will boil down to simply this: "Words matter."

The war has to do with the Walmart store out on Fourth Street, the colors being painted on its front wall (bright blue and bright orange), opposition to those colors, a village-directed stop-work order that has halted the painting midstream, and a Village Board meeting Monday night where it all boiled over.

It turned into a stare-down, more or less, with an attorney representing Walmart -- Leslie Mauro of the Corning law firm of Harter Secrest & Emery LLP -- telling the village trustees that the stop-work order is "unfair" and might well interfere with a planned Grand Opening celebration at the store, which is currently being renovated.

The whole matter seems to come down to email exchanges between Walmart and the village building inspector -- Code Enforcement Officer Greg Larnard, who issued the stop-work order after some complaints by area residents who recalled that the original Walmart construction included an understanding that the store would always retain earth-tone colors: muted and soothing. Not strident nor detracting from the area ambience.

Larnard was not present at Monday's meeting, nor immediately available for comment.

Trustees recalled such an agreement, too -- with Trustee Tony Fraboni saying that the lengthy approval process those years ago included an understanding with the Planning Board regarding just such an arrangement. "They probably wouldn't have approved it if they'd known Walmart wouldn't keep its word," he said.

But protestations to the contrary, said Attorney Mauro, the building inspector "was specifically asked in written dialogue" in May whether the colors could be changed, and told Walmart that "no specific approval was needed." Besides, she said, Walmart in its initial negotiations to build the store "would not have committed to no change forever."

Mauro, who said her firm "also represented the company when the store was first approved" following a lengthy and contentious debate, maintained that "none of the approvals mandated a certain color" and that when Larnard was asked about it, "we were advised there were no restrictions." There was "no mandate on keeping the colors" originally selected, she added.

She said half of the building had been painted when the stop-work order was issued -- although one village official said that certainly doesn't seem to be the case ... that not that much has been completed.

Mauro also said there was nothing in village codes to suggest such a restriction, and that none were "reflected in the approvals" of the store construction. "There was no agreement that there would be the same color for eternity."

Fraboni maintained that there was "a clear understanding with the Planning Board that the building would be and would remain" painted in earth tones.

"I hope to avoid a dispute," answered Mauro in what was clearly the middle of a dispute.

Trustee Laurie DeNardo said the village had been in touch with its attorney, David Ealy of Rochester, and was awaiting word back from him.

Added Fraboni: "There is a groundswell from people who remember the original agreement on earth tones. We're gonna have to work this out. There's going to be resistance from this end."

Answered Mauro: "There has been a substantial investment" by Walmart in materials and labor on the color change to date, with an added cost likely should the Grand Opening celebration be rescheduled from Aug. 17 due to the stop-work order.

Mayor Sam Schimizzi interjected that "we're not going to settle this today." but Mauro was insistent on the Walmart position, saying "my client is not willing not to do blue and orange. There's nothing in the code or in the design guideline against it."

Trustee Kevin Thornton weighed in by saying "being a good neighbor goes a long way, too."

Answered Mauro: "We're a good neighbor. We did due diligence. Now we're being told 'no.' It's unfair."

Trustee DeNardo echoed Fraboni when she said: "We'll have to work through it."

"I'm sorry this happened," added Mayor Schimizzi -- but with no offer to end the stop-work order.

"We are, too," answered Mauro.

After the meeting, one village official said that in addition to word from the village attorney, Ealy, the board was waiting to hear from Hunt Engineers, which played a role in the original agreement putting Walmart on the Fourth Street site.

As for Mauro, she had nothing to say as she exited the meeting, responding twice to questions from a reporter with a terse "I'm not allowed to talk to the press."

Nickel's Pit BBQ:

Two nearby residents complained about noise after designated hours at the Nickel's Pit BBQ eatery on North Franklin Street -- in particular on weekends.

One of the residents, a woman who lives across the street, said the music was so loud that "they might as well be at the foot of my bed."

The complainants said that Nickel's was in violation of a 2014 noise ordinance. Nick Thayer, who runs the business, told the board the law was pushed through two years after Nickel's opened and "without our input."

Trustee Tony Fraboni said there had been input -- in fact public hearings and "a great deal of outreach" by the village in the decision-making process. He said the village came down on the side of residents, as opposed to tourists enjoying the Nickel's night life.

Thayer suggested the village seek a compromise, perhaps splitting the ordinance into seasons, extending the time limit of 11 p.m. to a later time during the tourist season. Or, he said, it could make the permit application process easier when special events (like Wine Fest weekend) called for special nights.

He said that while he is willing to comply with the law, "I think you should change this anti-business stance ... where there is no problem other than noise." He wondered if he will have to "give up all of this business" on big weekends "for a couple of people."

A couple of trustees suggested sending out a letter to businesses, as the board did when the law was first enacted, reiterating the hours in which the music can be played.

Concluded Mayor Schimizzi: "We can't solve this tonight. For now, just adhere to the law. Just follow the law for now, and we're good to go."

In other business:

--Village Police Sergeant Steve Decker submitted his expected letter of retirement, effective July 21 after 22 years on the village police force. "And then I'll be back part-time on the 23rd," he said, putting in 20 hours a week at the department helm.

"I'll still be here," he said. "I'm not going anywhere."

Among others on hand in the department will be David Waite, a retired state trooper who has been serving through the department as the School Resource Officer at Watkins Glen High School. He has left that post.

--The board approved audit items totaling $554,514.53 that had been previously approved by the Joint Project Committee overseeing the planned construction of the new wastewater treatment plant along the canal between Watkins Glen and Montour Falls. That brings expenditures for the project to about $6 million of a total budget of $32 million, said Trustee Tony Fraboni.

--The board approved a resolution in support of an effort by County Planner Kristin VanHorn and SCOPED (Schuyler County Partnership for Economic Development) Executive Director Judy Cherry to secure, through a U.S. Department of Transportation non-matching grant, up to $25 million for a project that would involve heated sidewalks along Decatur Street, up Steuben Street and along a walkway being developed on the waterfront.

Heating could be done through the use of treatment plant effluent, or through "deep earth source heat," geothermal in nature and under study at Cornell University.

Photos in text:

From top: Mayor Sam Schimizzi, Attorney Leslie Mauro, Trustee Tony Fraboni, Kristin VanHorn (left) and Judy Cherry, Nickel's Pit BBQ, Nick Thayer, and Sgt. Steve Decker.

DEC rejects proposed LPG storage plan

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, July 12, 2018 -- The top official in the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Thursday rejected the proposed storage of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) in abandoned salt caverns along the western shore of Seneca Lake.

DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos denied the Crestwood Midstream energy firm's plan on the grounds the facility would have a "significant adverse impact on community character" both locally -- which means Watkins Glen and Reading Center -- and in the Finger Lakes region.

The decision came years after the proposal was first issued, and just days after the Schuyler County Legislature, reversing a vote four years ago in support of the plan, rescinded its initial resolution based on safety concerns raised in a recent letter by Creestwood itself. That letter dealt with a cavern that might be leaking.

Most municipalities along the lake, including the Village of Watkins Glen, had opposed the plan -- a plan that sparked frequent protests at the Crestwood gate located along Route 14 north of Watkins. There were, accordingly, hundreds of arrests over a period of time that clogged the court calendar in the Reading Town Court.

Gas Free Seneca, which steadfastly opposed the storage plan, issued a press release saying "the people of the Finger Lakes region are rejoicing at news" of the rejection.

The DEC, in a press release, said that "in evaluating the impact on community character, the Commissioner reviewed local land use plans, resolutions adopted by local municipalities in opposition to the project, and the area's development of tourism, the wine industry, and agriculture as economic drivers.

The Commissioner, the release added, also "determined that the record supported denying the project at this stage of the administrative process and noted four issues that raised significant concerns that would have otherwise required further adjudication: the proposed facility brine pond, integrity of caverns at the site, public safety preparedness, and availability of alternative sites ... as well as the need for the facility."

It concluded: "No further proceedings are required with the denial of this project based on community character."

Gas Free Seneca, in its press release, quoted its vice president, Yvonne Taylor, as saying:

"This is truly a great day for our region and we thank everyone who helped make this day possible. Don't ever let anyone tell you that David can't beat Goliath. We raise a glass of Finger Lakes bubbly to all who have worked so hard in our region and offer a toast to Governor Cuomo and his administration for finally standing up for the people of our region and keeping us safe from this dirty and dangerous gas storage project."

Added Jeremy Alderson, who was editor of the now-defunct No Frack Almanac, had continued to publish a related NFA newsletter, and was among those arrested in 2014 while opposing the proposed project:

"This fight has dragged on for what, eight years? I am totally glad to be done with it and am ready to go back to just being an old curmudgeon on a farm. The victory belongs to all of us who fought for it and to everyone who benefits from it, including children and grandchildren who have yet to be born. Long may we enjoy it."

Photos in text: From top: DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos, Gas Free Seneca's Yvonne Taylor, and project opponent Jeremy Alderson.

'Drug Take Back Act' is signed into law

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, July 11, 2018 -- Legislation sponsored by State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats) to further combat the abuse of prescription drugs and prevent unused drugs from contaminating water supplies has been signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo.

The legislation was also sponsored in the Senate by Senator Kemp Hannon (R-Nassau), Chair of the Senate Health Committee.

The “Drug Take Back Act” (S9100/A9576, Chapter 120 of the Laws of 2018) will establish an industry-funded, statewide pharmaceutical drug take-back program. It advances a “product stewardship” approach to the challenge of disposing of unwanted medications.

Pharmaceutical manufacturers will be responsible for all of the costs of the initiative, including public education and awareness, as well as the collection, transport and proper disposal of unwanted drugs. The Act further requires chain pharmacies and mail-order pharmacies to provide consumers with on-site collection, prepaid mail-back envelopes, or other federally approved methods to encourage safe drug disposal.

O’Mara, Chair of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee, said, "It's incredibly important to do anything and everything we can to complement and support the efforts of local law enforcement and other community leaders to combat prescription drug abuse. These efforts include National Prescription Drug Take-Back Days and other initiatives like this one to facilitate the collection and safe and responsible disposal of unused medications. This new law will greatly expand the number of permanent, locally based drop-off locations and be a very positive, cost-effective addition to the state's ongoing, overall strategy to protect our communities and local environments."

O’Mara noted that while law enforcement agencies have drop-off points and collection boxes -- and other government agencies conduct drug take-back days to help properly and safely dispose of many drugs -- additional efforts are needed. Other state-level initiatives to expand the number of permanent collection sites in communities are conducted on a voluntary basis, are limited in scope, and participation remains low.

From left: Speakers Jeremy Alderson, Yvonne Taylor and Legislator Michael Lausell.

Legislature -- citing safety concerns -- rescinds 2014 LPG storage resolution

WATKINS GLEN, July 9, 2018 -- The Schuyler County Legislature Monday night rescinded its support -- issued in June 2014 -- of the proposed LPG (Liquefied Petroleum Gas, or propane) storage project in salt caverns near the western shore of Seneca Lake.

The unanimous reversal from a 5-3 vote 49 months ago was safety oriented, according to Legislature Chairman Dennis Fagan -- adopted, added County Attorney Steven Getman, "after reports that one of the caverns may have leaks."

It repeals support, said Getman, "pending completion of future pressure testing and subsequent review and approval by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation."

A letter made public recently to the DEC from a subsidiary of Crestwood Midstream Partners -- which was planning the storage -- suggested that an underground cavern is "communicating” with one or more other caverns, meaning essentially that there appears to be interaction, with water from one reaching another through the soil, or fissures. If so, “it is not sealed tight” and poses a safety threat, said Fagan.

The decision Monday was met with thanks from members of the anti-storage movement present in the audience, including Yvonne Taylor of Gas Free Seneca and Ruth Young, an outspoken advocate of alternative forms of energy.

That was in marked contrast to sessions four years ago -- when opponents hotly contested the Legislature’s move, both on the night that project approval was adopted, and a month later when a move by Legislator Michael Lausell to rescind was voted down. The Legislature’s 2014 action was a rarity as a vast majority of the municipalities around Seneca Lake voting on the matter opposed the project, including the Village of Watkins Glen.

The storage project has been hung up for years now, and Fagan said he does not foresee it moving forward -- with or without the recent Crestwood letter. Politics have stalemated it in Albany.

The years 2014 and 2015 marked a period in which anti-LPG storage demonstrations were routinely mounted at the Crestwood gate along Route 14 north of Watkins Glen, and a period in which arrests were plentiful, clogging the nearby Town of Reading court.

Though not among the protest organizers, Gas Free Seneca was outspoken. "For years," said Taylor in a statement issued earlier Monday, "we've been saying that the unlined salt caverns under Seneca Lake were never engineered to store anything, let alone explosive gas. As more facts come out, Crestwood is losing support daily. It's time for Governor Cuomo to reject this proposal once and for all."

Among the speakers Monday was Jeremy Alderson, among those arrested in 2014. He was editor of the now-defunct No Frack Almanac (NFA) and, more recently, has published an NFA newsletter. He said that considering the dangers posed by the storage project -- to the environment and, in particular, to the lake -- “we should appreciate how fortunate we’ve been” in the failure of the project to gain traction.

Gas Free Seneca’s Taylor thanked Lausell for his “steadfast opposition” to the storage project, and added Legislator Van Harp to the mix. Harp had voted in favor of the initial resolution, but soon changed his opinion and has been on Lausell’s side since, vocal in his concerns about the project's possible environmental effects.

Stephenie Monroe, campaign manager for Lausell as he seeks to unseat State Senator Tom O’Mara in the November election, said the change in the county’s direction offers an “opportunity for technical training in the renewable energy field.”

And Lausell urged his fellow legislators to further discuss the dangers of the project and said, in words echoing those he uttered four years ago, that they have “no business promoting this project until we are fully educated” about it.

One voice of opposition was that of David Crea, who identified himself simply as an employee of US Salt. He said he was “a little disappointed that the Legislature bought into the anti-business stance” and that New York State “is a bad place to make a living.”

Fagan, in speaking to reporters afterward, said the Crestwood letter was brought to the full Legislature by Lausell, discussed in committee in June, and “voted on tonight. It comes down to a matter of safety. It’s as simple as that.”

And if the concerns of the letter were ultimately allayed?

“Well, we’ll come to that bridge at that point in time. It depends on all the details. No way would I be supporting a project unless it was absolutely certain that it was safe. I don’t even know if they’ve got approval to do the tests.”

To see the full resolution, click here.

In other business:

--Fagan reported that sales tax in Schuyler County to date this year has totaled $4,570,000, up $295,000 from the same point last year, a 7% increase. Beyond that, room tax revenues through the first two quarters are at $169,000, up $40,000 from last year, or more than 30%. The bulk of that room-tax money is directed to the Chamber of Commerce to promote tourism.

--The Legislature approved an increase in the salary of the County Highway Superintendent to $91,152, up about $13,000 to reflect a shift of Buildings and Grounds responsibilities to the Highway Department in a streamlining and cost-saving move.

--Approved Public Entertainment Permits for four events at the Watkins Glen International racetrack in the Town of Dix: the Finger Lakes Wine Festival (July 13-15), the NASCAR race weekend (Aug. 2-5), the Phish Concert (Aug. 17-19) and the Vintage Grand Prix (Sept. 7-9).

Photos in text: Legislature Chairman Dennis Fagan (top) and speaker David Crea.

Rural transportation funding unveiled

ALBANY, June 26, 2018 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats) and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I-Corning) Tuesday said that localities across the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions they represent will receive approximately $8 million in combined state and federal funding for rural public transportation projects.

In a joint statement, O’Mara and Palmesano said, “Upstate rural populations rely on these local transit systems as absolute lifelines to get to work and back, secure educational opportunities, access health services, go to the grocery store, and access other needs and services. Investments to modernize, upgrade and strengthen rural public transportation systems are investments in economic growth, and community development and stability.”

The regional funding was announced as part of $57.7 million in state and federal funding for 136 rural public transportation projects statewide. The funding will go to support rural public transportation operations, purchase buses and related equipment, enhance coordination between local transportation agencies, and construct new transit-related infrastructure. Overall, $34.3 million of the new funding will be used for vehicle replacement and infrastructure renewal projects, and $23.4 million to support service operations. It is expected that the total investment will leverage nearly $85 million in rural transportation improvements across Upstate New York.

The following projects in localities represented by O’Mara and Palmesano will receive funding:

    Chemung County: $407,000 in operating assistance, and $109,000 for projects that support mobility;
    City of Corning: $214,000 in operating assistance;
    City of Hornell: $536,000 in operating assistance, $274,000 to replace four transit buses, and $7,000 to maintain a vehicle lift;
    Schuyler County: $485,000 in operating assistance, $124,000 to replace two transit buses, $91,000 for technology equipment, and $269,000 for projects that support mobility;
    Steuben County: $403,000 in operating assistance, $41,000 for technology equipment, and $578,000 for projects that support mobility;
    Tompkins County: $525,000 in operating assistance, $1.68 million to replace four transit buses, $420,000 for sixteen bus shelters, technology equipment, facility maintenance and construction, and $490,000 for projects that support mobility; and
    Yates County: $86,000 in operating assistance, and $4,000 for new bus signs.

Palmesano, who also represents a part of Seneca County, said that Seneca will receive $150,000 in operating assistance, $393,000 to purchase five transit buses to expand services, and $18,000 for one bus shelter for RTS.

The Watkins Glen State Park's entrance area has gone from blacktop to green.

A ribbon-cutting concluded the dedication of the refurbished Watkins Glen State Park. State Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey wielded the scissors.

Ceremony marks State Park renovation; Watkins' winning DRI projects unveiled

WATKINS GLEN, June 18, 2018 -- State and local dignitaries, park employees and members of the public gathered Monday morning at the Watkins Glen State Park's new amphitheater for a ceremony marking the dedication of the refurbished park's green entrance area.

The setting also served as the place to announce the state has settled on 14 projects selected re receive $9.7 million in funding under the Downtown Revitalization Initiative program in Watkins Glen. The village won $10 million in development grants and investments last year -- prompting a flurry of project proposals. A list settled upon by the Local Planning Committee (LPC) was sent to the state, which whittled it down to 14. A total of $300,000 of the $10 million went to accompanying costs, primarily for state-appointed consultants who helped guide the selection process.

Speakers at the hour-long gathering Monday -- in rising heat under an intense sun -- included State Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey; State Senator Tom O'Mara; Finger Lakes State Park Regional Director Fred Bonn; State Parks Central Region Commission Chair Dave Banfield; Watkins Glen Area Chamber of Commerce President Rebekah Carroll; Schuyler County Partnership for Economic Development Executive Director Judy Cherry; Watkins Glen Village Trustee Laurie DeNardo, who served with Cherry as co-director of the LPC; and NYS Deputy Secretary of State for Development, Planning and Community Infrastructure Kisha Santiago-Martinez -- who announced the 14 DRI projects selected for funding (see list below).

Each speaker marveled at the facellift the State Park has undergone -- transformed from grim parking lot to a green landscape with features such as the amphitheater, information signs, a Visitor Center, a sculpture by Peter Jones, and gardens ... all leading to the world-famous gorge itself, which attracted more then 900,000 tourists in 2016 and is expected to top one million visitors this year.

The $7 million renovaton project, which includes a parking lot across Franklin Street and improved traffic signaling designed to curb gridlock experienced in past years, was part of an initiative spearheaded by Governior Andrew Cuomo -- whose presence at Monday's ceremony was considered a possibility but which didn't happen. He was present last August at the Watkins Glen International racetrack for the announcement of Watkins Glen as a DRI winner.

Of that DRI, Cherry said that "if we get this right, we should see $175 million of investment" in the area "over the next couple of years."

With the DRI, a new water treatment plant on the canal, the State Park renovation and other ongoing improvements under the umbrella of Project Seneca, "Watkins Glen is soaring," said DeNardo.

Added O'Mara: "There is so much going on here in Watkins Glen. It's great to be a part of it."

And this from Carroll: The State Park is "the sparkling gem of the Finger Lakes" -- a place where "Mother Nature meets Main Street."

Photos in text: From top: the State Parks' Fred Bonn; State Senator Tom O'Mara; the Chamber's Rebekah Carroll.


The 14 projects selected by the state to receive Downtown Revitalization Intiative funds, as detailed on Governor Andrew Cuomo's website:

Implementing Year-Round Recreation at Clute Park, including design and construction of an ice rink/splash pad, lighting, entrance/driveway/parking, landscaping, signage, and related improvements. ($2,017,428)

Installing New Lighting on Franklin Street in coordination with NYSDOT repaving work. Funds will be used to install conduit and foundations and purchase new fixtures once the below-grade work is completed. ($1,500,000)

Improving East 4th Street for Pedestrians and Cyclists and Improving Connection between Downtown and Clute Park, a major corridor to encourage residents and visitors to walk or bicycle between the locations. Improvements will include wider sidewalks, landscaping and pedestrian-activated crossing at Boat Launch Road. ($1,034,565)

Redeveloping Captain Bill's Port of Seneca Lake to Improve Site Plan and Enhance Views, including construction of a two-story building to house Captain Bill's Seneca Lake Cruise Terminal. The project will allow the company to expand operations to include event space and include redesign of the site that will enhance views of the lake and draw visitors to the waterfront. ($500,000)

Renovating the Former VFW Building into a Full-Service Spa and Fitness Center for guests of the Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel, as well as other visitors and local residents. ($250,000)

Updating the Zoning Code to Address Short Term Rentals, Design Guidelines, Historic Districts, and Other Revisions, to encourage appropriate type and scale of development consistent with the village character. The changes will address the challenges of a short-term high demand seasonal rental housing market and update design guidelines. ($50,000)

Upgrading Lafayette Park with New Equipment, Lighting and Landscaping to build on recent private donations. The improvements include a permanent public restroom, signage, safety surfaces around the play area, lighting, perimeter sidewalks, and a new bandstand roof. ($276,047)

Redeveloping 109-111 North Franklin St. with Mixed-Uses to include additional ground floor commercial space and 24 mixed-income apartments on the second and third floors. The project will accommodate the existing brewery and restaurant on-site, and provide open-concept co-working space operated by FLX Works, including a shared commercial kitchen for hourly rental. ($1,000,000)

Installing Gateway and Wayfinding Signage to welcome visitors at four major gateways to the Village. Wayfinding signage will orient pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers while promoting local businesses and attractions. ($644,875)

Transforming Multiple Buildings and Sites in the DRI Area, including improvements to building façades, increasing upper story long-term housing, improving or expanding commercial space, and supporting new businesses. A local entity will administer the program providing five property owners with matching funds of up to 50 percent. ($1,039,585)

Revitalizing the Vacant Filling Station and Repair Shop at 15 North Franklin Street for commercial and residential uses. Improvements will include facade and roof renovations, interior improvements, and landscaping of this strategic northern gateway site. ($287,500)

Updating a Former School Auditorium as the Watkins Glen Performing Arts Center, a place for musical performances, live theater, and multi-media events. Improvements will include a new air condition system, construction of a dressing room, ticket and concession areas, new energy-efficient lighting and sound systems, a new screen, projector, and audio-visual equipment and historically appropriate signage. ($250,000)

Developing a new Mixed-Income Housing and Childcare Center on a vacant site owned by the Watkins Glen Housing Authority. Forty-two apartment units and a 5,000-square foot daycare center will be designed to fit into the existing character of the neighborhood. ($500,000)

Creating a Downtown Revitalization Fund to support small businesses and building owners to improve the built environment in the DRI area with competitive matching grants. Eligible activities include façade improvements; conversion of vacant upper-floor space to residential units; business expansion; and other site improvements. ($350,000)

Photos in text: From top: the state's Kisha Santiago-Martinez; SCOPED's Judy Cherry.

While Monday's ceremony was going on, tourists passed by, including the family here that stopped to study a display detailing Watkins Glen's Great Flood of 1935.

Partially installed steps will lead to the north rim Indian Trail. State Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey said that will be ready next year.

A circular planting area is surrounded by a walkway near the Visitor Center, which is on the left. Beyond that is the Gift Shop.

The State Park amphitheater, located to the right of the walkway leading to the gorge. Large cut stones provide seating.

Schuyler opposes Depot incinerator plan

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN June 12, 2018 -- Schuyler County is the latest local government to oppose the proposed “Circular enerG” garbage incinerator project at the former Seneca Army Depot in Romulus, Seneca County, New York.

Citing environmental concerns, negative effects on agriculture and tourism, and local opposition from the Town of Romulus and County of Seneca, the Schuyler County Legislature voted Monday, June 11 against the project, which would be the state’s largest trash incinerator. The vote was unanimous.

“The wine, craft beverage, agriculture, and agri-tourism industry is driving job creation and economic growth in the Finger Lakes,” the legislature held, further noting that, “trash incineration is not compatible with current or future economic development goals of the region, nor with New York State’s renewable energy standard.” Therefore, the resolution says, state and federal officials should reject the project.

In a separate vote, the legislature unanimously resolved to support legislation introduced by Senator Tom O’Mara, Senator Pam Helming, Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, and Assemblymen Phil Palmesano and Michael Cusick, that would help block the facility. That legislation would prevent power projects that burn garbage from receiving expedited permitting through the “Article X” process. Instead, those projects would be required to conform with local laws, applicable environmental rules, and the state solid waste management permitting process.

Both resolutions were submitted to the legislature by the County’s Planning Department (Kristin VanHorn, Director), with assistance from the County Administrator (Tim O’Hearn), the Schuyler County Attorney (Steven Getman), the Clerk of the Legislature (Stacy Husted) and the County’s Community Development and Natural Resource Committee. The motions to pass each were made by legislator Mark Rondinaro (Town of Reading) and seconded by legislator Van Harp (Town of Hector).

Romulus Town Supervisor, David Kaiser, an opponent of the project, praised Schuyler County officials.

“I want to personally thank the Chair of the Schuyler County Legislature, Dennis Fagan, and his fellow county officials who worked to pass these resolutions,” Kaiser said. “If this incinerator project is approved, it will have a devastating impact on Romulus and the Finger Lakes region. Allowing a giant trash incinerator disguised as a power plant to move forward over local opposition is unfair to our residents and existing businesses.”

The Circular enerG facility would require the daily delivery of more than 1,000 tons of trash to the site, primarily from New York City, and withdraw 445,000 gallons of water daily from Seneca Lake. News reports indicate that a 260-foot smoke stack would emit chemicals that may be harmful to human health, and that the facility would be located near the Romulus Central School and the Hillside Children’s Center.

After the project met strong opposition from the community, the company asked for “Article X” approval from the state's Public Service Commission rather than the Town of Romulus in an attempt to bypass local review. Circular enerG also sued the town in a bid to overturn recent local zoning decisions blocking its construction.

Schuyler County joins county legislatures in Seneca, Tompkins, Yates and Ontario as well as the town boards of Romulus, Geneva, Lodi, Ovid, Seneca Falls, Varick and others -- and the Village of Watkins Glen -- in opposing the project.

The text of each Schuyler County resolution is available here:

Photo in text: Legislator David Reed, center, makes a point while Legislators Carl Blowers, left, and Michael Lausell listen at the June 11 Schuyler County Legislature meeting.

Legislators Barnes, Blowers seek re-election

Special to The Odessa File

SCHUYLER COUNTY, June 11, 2018 -- Incumbents Phil Barnes (R, Dist. 6) and Carl Blowers (R, Dist. 5) on Monday jointly announced their intent to seek re-election to the Schuyler County Legislature.

Barnes, who is completing his second 4-year term on the Legislature, said similarities of the two men led to their decision to run as a team in this year’s election. "Carl and I share a fiscally conservative philosophy and a true desire to better our community," said Barnes. "We are both proud of the accomplishments of the Legislature and excited about the future opportunities that present themselves."

“The past four years," said Blowers, " have been extremely rewarding as a Legislator, given the great success the County is enjoying. There is still much to be done to ensure the sustainability of current initiatives, and I would very much like to remain a part of this team. Continuing this service would be both an honor and a challenge to further the good work that is currently being done here.”

Barnes currently chairs the Management and Finance Committee of the Legislature. He is a retired Under Sheriff of the Schuyler County Sheriff’s Office and is currently a Security Manager at AMRIC Security Consultants. Additionally, he represents the County as a member of the NY Western Region OTB Board of Directors, where he is the Vice Chairman. He is a member of SCOPED, an officer of the FLX Gateway Community Development Corporation, and a member of the Watkins-Montour Lions Club and the Community Services Board of Schuyler County. He is a regular participant in Spirit of Schuyler and other community service organizations.

Blowers boasts a distinguished career in private industry, retiring from Corning Incorporated as Vice President and General Manager of Advanced Materials and Process Technologies Division in 1997 after a 29-year career. Post retirement he served as Vice Chairman and principal of Jostens Incorporated through 2004. He currently owns and operates Hawk’s View Consulting, a private consulting firm. Blowers is involved in many community organizations. He serves as Chair of the Corning Community College Board of Trustees and as Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Arnot Art Museum, and is the immediate past Chair of the Watkins Glen Area Chamber of Commerce. He is a past member of SCOPED, a charter member of the Project Seneca Steering Committee, and a member of the Schuyler IDA board. He is a graduate of Bordentown Military Institute, holds a B.S. degree in Finance from Boston College, and is a graduate of the Dartmouth College Executive Management Program.

Both Barnes and Blowers say their top priorities are fighting unfunded mandates, controlling property taxes, preserving natural resources, and promoting economic development and job growth.

“While we have enjoyed great success as a County in the past four years," said Blowers, "much remains to be done. We are asking our respective constituents to allow us the opportunity to continue the great work that is being done in Schuyler County.”

Photos in text: Phil Barnes (top) and Carl Blowers.

Montour earns Clean Energy Community designation for drive to cut energy use

Special to The Odessa File

MONTOUR FALLS, May 21 2018 -- The Village of Montour Falls has been designated a Clean Energy Community by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), recognizing its leadership in reducing energy use, cutting costs and driving clean energy locally.

Announced by Governor Cuomo in August 2016, the $16 million Clean Energy Communities initiative supports local government leaders across the state by providing grants to eligible municipalities to implement energy efficiency, renewable energy and sustainable development projects in their communities. New York has a goal of having half of the state's electricity coming from renewable energy resources by 2030.

Montour Falls received the designation for completing four of 10 high-impact clean energy actions identified by NYSERDA as part of the Clean Energy Communities initiative. In addition, the designation gives the Village an opportunity to apply for $50,000 toward additional clean energy projects, with no local cost share.

Village Trustee Jim Ryan praised the initiative, saying, "These grants allow local governments to set the example for the rest of the community. We want to show our residents that we can use their tax dollars even more efficiently by conserving energy. We also want to show them that they don't need to choose between putting food on the table or buying LED light bulbs -- NYSERDA also funds programs that can assist many of our businesses and residents with conserving energy and saving money." Mr. Ryan was referring to the Smart Energy Choices Program.

"I commend the Village of Montour Falls for providing effective leadership in helping their community reduce energy use and costs," said Alicia Barton, President and CEO, NYSERDA. "Communities in every corner of the state are realizing the environmental and economic benefits of clean and renewable energy and we appreciate their leadership and partnership in advancing Governor Cuomo's nation-leading energy strategy."

Added Mr. Ryan: "We are also exceedingly grateful for the assistance from the Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) of Schuyler County, without which we could not have attained designation. The accessibility and expertise of Clean Energy Communities Coordinator Katherine Herleman ensured that we had someone knowledgeable helping us every step of the way. CCE Schuyler ensured we felt prepared to make both financially- and technically-informed decisions about the future of our community."

Village Mayor John P. King added that he is very supportive of clean energy not only in his community but also across but the whole planet: "We want to show everyone that we can move into the modern world while preserving the past and acknowledging our history."

Pending the outcome of a comprehensive energy study which will make use of NYSERDA's FlexTech Program, which assists facilities owners with the cost of making investments on energy projects, the Village plans to renovate its Village Hall. In doing so, the Village would be able to reclaim the second floor, which is only used seasonally due to poor insulation and the high cost of heating.

To earn the Clean Energy Community designation, the Village completed the following high-impact clean energy actions:

--Adopted a Benchmarking policy to track and report the energy use of the Village's municipal buildings.
--Streamlined the local approval processes for solar projects through adoption of the New York Unified Solar Permit.
--Completed energy code enforcement training on best practices in energy code enforcement for the Village's Code Officer.
--Installed an electric vehicle charging station in a municipal parking lot near West Main Street in the Village.

Photo in text: From left: Montour Falls Village Trustee Jim Ryan, DPW Foreman Michael Hughey and Mayor John King unbox the EV charging station installed in a municipal parking lot behind the village's Farmers' Market park. (Photo provided)

Officials shovel ceremonial dirt at the Kayak/Canoe Launch groundbreaking. From left: Watkins Glen Superintendent of Utilities Lee Kent; Kristin VanHorn, Director of the Schuyler County Planning Department; Watkins Glen Mayor Sam Schimizzi; Watkins Glen Village Trustee Gary Schmidt; Watkins Glen Village Trustee Laurie Denardo; State Senator Tom O’Mara; Assemblyman Phil Palmesano; Schuyler County Administrator Timothy O’Hearn; Judy McKinney Cherry, Executive Director of the Schuyler County Partnership for Economic Development and CEO of the Schuyler County IDA; and Dennis Fagan, Chairman of the Schuyler County Legislature. (Photo provided)

Kayak/Canoe Launch ceremony held

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, May 18 -- State, village and county leaders were on hand Friday morning for an official groundbreaking ceremony for the new Kayak/Canoe Launch at the eastern end of Clute Park.

The launch is a key project in the village’s overall Waterfront Revitalization Program being undertaken with state and local support. Accordingly, State Senator Tom O’Mara and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano were present along with Watkins Glen and Schuyler County leaders.

"Today is an exciting day for all of us here in Schuyler County as we have waited patiently to break ground on this exciting opportunity at Clute Park," said Village Trustee Laurie DeNardo, one of several speakers.

In attendance: Mayor Sam Schimizzi, Village Trustees DeNardo, Tony Fraboni, Kevin Thornton and Gary Schmidt; county Legislators Dennis Fagan, Carl Blowers, Mark Rondinaro and Jim Howell; and Friends of the Seneca Lake Byway President Janet McCue.

The Kayak Launch and other improvements will be built by Silverline Construction, with design and engineering by Hunt Engineers. The project is funded through a $500,000 NYS Department of Environmental Conservation grant, with additional funding from the county Legslature.

Completion is expected later this summer.

Photo in text:
Among the speakers was Schuyler County Legislature Chairman Dennis Fagan. (Photo provided)

Dignitaries on hand for the groundbreaking ceremony toss shovelfuls of dirt.

Groundbreaking heralds coming of new Burdett Fire Station, with village offices

BURDETT, May 11, 2018 -- Ground was broken Friday morning in a ceremony marking the start of construction of a new Burdett Fire Station and Village Office complex along Route 79 on the eastern edge of the village.

The 11,000-square-foot structure will house five truck bays, a 2,500-square-foot Community Room, and various village offices. The cost is $3.3 million, $2.9 million of it through loans from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development arm, and $211,000 through a USDA grant. The village and surrounding municipalities served by the fire department are providing $120,000.

The station, replacing a small structure in the heart of the village that has long been thought inadequate, will sit on the front end of a 12-acre parcel purchased by the department. The back of the property has fields, separated from the station site by a tree line.

"We looked at other sites," said Mayor Dale Walter. "It took us 120 years" from the foundation of the department "to get here, so we wanted to make sure we'd do it right."

Present for the groundbreaking were various officials -- such as Schuyler County Legislators Jim Howell, Phil Barnes, Van Harp and Michael Lausell, and Hunt Engineer representatives Chris Bond and Chuck Franzese. Also on hand were State Senator Tom O'Mara and Sharon Murphy, representing the office of Congressman Tom Reed.

Bond said that Hunt, which designed the structure, was involved in a study 12 to 14 years ago, and that the project "went quiet for a while" before re-energizing three years ago, when Hunt signed a design contract. He said the department hopes for a November completion date, but that the construction process is beginning a little later than hoped, "so we'll see."

Rural Development spokesmen on hand said their office became involved about 18 months ago, and provided two loans -- for $2,669,000 over 30 years at 3.25% interest, with a supplemental loan for $300,000 at 3.5%. Plus there was the $211,000 grant. The USDA, said Rural Development Area Specialist Thomas D. Becker, is active throughout the state in providing financing "for housing, business and infrastructure. We have a $16 billion portfolio" in the state.

These particular loans come under Rural Development's Community Facilities Program.

The new building will be back about 120 feet from the road, down a slight slope, and will provide parking for about 100 cars. It calls for a bay area of 5,253 square feet, with a Fire Chief/Assistant Chief office, a pump room and a washer-dryer area at the rear; the Community Room; a kitchen; a shower room; a mechanical room; a conference room; a clerk's office, a records room and a storage room.

Mayor Walter said the structure was "a long time coming. This is a long-awaited groundbreaking." It culminated with the dignitaries on hand tossing shovelfuls of dirt from a pile near the front of the property -- surrounded by an area that has already been cleared in preparation for the start of construction.

Photos in text:

Top: State Scnator Tom O'Mara was present for the groundbreaking.
Middle: Burdett Mayor Dale Walter was the ceremony emcee.
Bottom: Among the dignitaries on hand was Burdett Fire Chilef Jason Kelly.

Hunt Engineers' Chris Bond next to a drawing of the fire station and its layout.

An overview of the planned fire station and parking area was on display at the ceremony.

Left: This sign facing Route 79 announces the site of the new Fire Hall. Right: Thomas D. Becker was on hand from USDA Rural Development, which provided loans for the project.

Schuyler has 2 of New York State's recommended Opportunity Zones

Special to The Odessa File

SCHUYLER COUNTY, April 24, 2018 -- Empire State Development (ESD) has announced that New York State has recommended 514 census tracts to the U.S. Department of the Treasury for designation as Opportunity Zones, a new federal community development program administered by Treasury. Locally, Schuyler County has 2 recommended tracts.

Empire State Development President, CEO & Commissioner Howard Zemsky said, “In New York State, we’ve focused on revitalizing our downtowns and investing in the communities that need it most. The Opportunity Zone Program will be a complementary initiative that helps to attract additional private investment to the hundreds of communities that Governor Cuomo has recommended for this designation.”

The federal program establishes Opportunity Zones, or low-income census tracts, to boost private investment in under-served urban and rural communities. These census tracts may receive funding from Opportunity Funds, which allow a wide array of investors to pool their resources to rebuild distressed neighborhoods.

The Governor may designate up to 25 percent of New York State’s low-income community census tracts as Opportunity Zones. The U.S. Treasury identified over 2,000 eligible tracts in New York State eligible for designation, with the Governor able to designate up to 514 Opportunity Zones by April 20, 2018. Final nominations were made by Governor Cuomo and submitted to Treasury on Friday, April 20.

For additional information on the 514 census tracts, visit Maps there show the two tracts in Schuyler are large sections of land in the western and southeastern portions of the county.

To accomplish the State’s goal of submitting the best Zones in a limited time-frame, ESD engaged in a process that included participation from the 10 Regional Economic Development Councils (REDCs), ESD’s Regional Offices, NYS Homes and Community Renewal (HCR) and the Department of State (DOS).

"Locally," said the Schuyler County Partnership for Economic Development, "Amanda Arnold Rodriguez (SCOPED's Economic Development Specialist) did an extraordinary job in getting the word out about this opportunity for Schuyler County. Her effort, combined with the many e-mails supporting the selection of census tracts in Schuyler, made this happen."

The 514 suggested census tracts, including the two located in Schuyler County, will now be reviewed by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, which has 30 days to review and approve the nominees.

O'Mara: Prescription Drug Take Back Day is important in fight against abuse, addiction

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, April 29, 2018 -- Saturday, April 28, 2018 was National Prescription Drug Take Back Day. Law enforcement agencies across the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions operated drop-off centers to allow for the safe and responsible disposal of unused prescription drugs.

State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats), a member of the Senate Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction, said this before the collection day: “It’s incredibly important that our local law enforcement leaders continue to participate in National Prescription Drug Take Back Day. Their ongoing leadership in this overall effort to combat prescription drug abuse makes all the difference.” He noted that the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in partnership with local police agencies coordinates the annual event across the nation.

On Saturday, law enforcement agencies throughout the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions established drop-off centers to allow people to anonymously dispose of unwanted prescription drugs between 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. In Schuyler County, the drop-offs were at the Odessa and Tyrone Fire Departments.

O’Mara also strongly praised the inclusion in this year’s state budget of approximately $250 million in funding to continue enhancing and expanding the state’s heroin and opioid addiction prevention, treatment, recovery, and education services. He said the budget reflects input he and his Heroin Task Force colleagues have received at numerous local public forums they’ve conducted since 2014, including in Elmira and Penn Yan.

“The abuse of prescription drugs," he added, "is directly tied to and in many ways responsible for the burgeoning heroin epidemic. It’s incredibly important to do anything and everything we can to complement and support the efforts of our local law enforcement leaders to combat prescription drug abuse. These efforts include National Prescription Drug Take Back Day and other initiatives to encourage the collection and disposal of unused prescription drugs. This year’s increased budget funding goes hand in hand with other funding the Senate has fought for over the past several years to enhance the state’s awareness and education, recovery and treatment services.”

The federal Centers for Disease Control has identified the abuse of prescription medicine as one of the nation’s fastest-growing drug problems with nearly 15,000 people dying every year of overdoses due to prescription painkillers. In 2010, 1 in 20 people in the United States over the age of 11 reported using prescription painkillers for nonmedical reasons in the previous year. Moreover, an estimated 70 percent of people who abuse prescription painkillers obtained them from friends or relatives who originally received the medication from a prescription. The problem is of particular concern, say law enforcement officials, with respect to young adults and teens.

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara (File photo)

The golden shovels held near the 1948 race marker symbolized the upcoming Route 14 road project through the village. Hands to shovels, from left, were DOT Regional Director Brian C. Kelly, Village Trustee Laurie DeNardo, County Administrator Tim O'Hearn, Assemblyman Phil Palmesano, NYS DOT Chief of Staff Todd Westhuis, Chamber of Commerce President Rebekah Carroll, and Legislature Chairman Dennis Fagan.

Ceremony marks upcoming road project

WATKINS GLEN, April 6 -- Village, county and state officials joined with state and regional Department of Transportation representatives Friday morning in front of the Schuyler County Courthouse to celebrate the upcoming reconstruction of Route 14 through Watkins Glen's downtown.

The officials, gathering in a spring snowstorm, spoke to a small group of DOT workers, media representatives and area residents, extolling the ongoing projects that look to bring Watkins Glen increased tourism in the coming years: the State Park renovation, the new water treatment plant along the canal, the $10 million state-driven Downtown Revitalization Initiative, and the Route 14 project.

That project will not only upgrade the roadway from the southern edge of the village to a point beyond its northern border, but will bring new sidewalks and lighting and signage -- a large project that will take place this year and next.

The keynote address at Friday's snowy gathering was presented by Todd Westhuis, the New York State DOT Chief of Staff, who extolled the road project as part of an overall move to revitalize the village. He was followed by Assemblyman Phil Palmesano, who said "the damp weather can't diminish the excitement" of the road project and all the other ongoing projects in the village.

Other speakers included Schuyler County Legislature Chairman Dennis Fagan, Watkins Glen Mayor Sam Schimizzi, and Rebekah Carroll, president/CEO of the Watkins Glen Area Chamber of Commerce. Emcee was Brian C. Kelly, the DOT's Regional Director.

Also on hand were village trustees Tony Fraboni, Kevin Thornton, Gary Schmidt and Laurie DeNardo, and County Administrator Tim O'Hearn.

The ceremony concluded with Kelly, DeNardo, O'Hearn, Palmesano, Westhuis, Carroll and Fagan putting hands to golden shovels for a symbolic "ground breaking" -- although no ground was actually upturned. It took place next to the start-finish line of the first road race in Watkins Glen in 1948.

Meanwhile, traffic along Route 14 -- the soon to be improved Route 14 -- flowed by, windshield wipers pushing aside the snow.

Photos in text:

Top: Assemblyman Phil Palmesano, his hair turning white with the snow, was among the ceremony speakers.

Middle: New York State Department of Transportation Chief of Staff Todd Westhuis was the keynote speaker.

Bottom: Among the village representatives on hand was trustee Kevin Thornton.

State unveils 2018-19 local-road assistance

Special to The Odessa File

SCHUYLER COUNTY, April 5, 2018 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C,I- Big Flats) and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I-Corning) say the 2018-2019 state budget maintains strong state support for local roads and bridges, and restores an “Extreme Winter Recovery” allocation for area counties, cities, towns and villages.

O’Mara and Palmesano have collaborated with local highway superintendents and other local officials from throughout New York State over the past several years to urge fairer and stronger state support for local transportation infrastructure. It has been a growing, bipartisan effort since 2013.

Earlier this session O’Mara and Palmesano helped organize a bipartisan group of 142 senators and members of the Assembly, nearly 70% of the entire Legislature, who joined county and town highway superintendents and work crews, and other local leaders from throughout the state to call for support for local roads and bridges. They noted that local roads and bridges account for 87% of the roads, 52% of the bridges, and 48% of the vehicle mileage logged in New York State.

In a joint statement, O’Mara and Palmesano said, “Beginning in 2013, the state’s recognition of the importance of CHIPS and parity in statewide transportation funding has made a significant difference for our local governments, local economies, local property taxpayers and motorist safety locally and statewide. We will continue to work with Governor Cuomo, our legislative colleagues and local highway superintendents and leaders across this region and state on this vitally important challenge and priority, but this year’s budget continues a stronger state commitment. The improvement and upkeep of local roads and bridges is a wise use of taxpayer dollars. Every additional dollar of state support means a dollar less that our local property taxpayers have to pay. It’s also an important investment in economic growth and job creation throughout the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions."

The 2018-19 budget provides $438 million in base funding for the Consolidated Highway Improvement Program (CHIPS). The Legislature also restored a $65 million “Extreme Winter Recovery” allocation, and the budget includes $100 million of PAVE-NY funding for local roads distributed through the CHIPS funding formula.

O’Mara and Palmesano said that area counties will receive the following 2018-19 CHIPS (including the Extreme Winter Recovery allocation) and PAVE-NY funding under this year’s budget:

2018-19 CHIPS Aid -- 2018-19 PAVE-NY -- TOTAL

Chemung County: $1,871,818.35 -- $376,284.66 -- $2,248,103.01

Schuyler County: $976,728.33 -- $196,538.46 -- $1,173,266.79

Steuben County: $5,072,386.98 -- $1,011,150.07 -- 6,083,537.05

Tompkins County: $2,309,936.92 -- $460,880.01 -- $2,770,816.93

Yates County: $1,338,380.82 -- $266,477.95 -- $1,604,858.77

Area cities will receive the following CHIPS and PAVE-NY funding:

Corning: $464,653.52 -- $91,689.44 -- $556,342.96

Elmira: $913,868.73 -- $180,783.68 -- $1,094,652.41

Hornell: $277,894.18 -- $55,304.08 -- $333,198.26

Ithaca: $502,360.69 -- $99,471.72 -- $601,832.41

Palmesano, who also represents a part of Seneca County, said that Seneca County’s 2018-19 CHIPS allocation (including Extreme Winter Recovery) is $1,169,727.20 and the county’s PAVE-NY allocation is $233,496.06 for a total of $1,403,233.26.

Funding breakdowns for regional towns and villages can be found on O’Mara’s website:

Photos in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara (top) and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano.

16-year-old charged with Hector arsons

Special to The Odessa File

HECTOR, March 28, 2018 -- The Schuyler County Sheriff’s Office has arrested a 16-year-old male in connection with a pair of arsons.

The 16-year-old, whose name is being withheld due to his age, was arrested after an investigation into two structure fires. The fires, which occurred on March 24 and March 26, were both located on Williamee Road in the Town of Hector in the Mecklenburg Fire District.

The accused was charged with Arson in the Fourth Degree, a Class E felony, and is scheduled to appear in Town of Hector Court at a later date.

The Mecklenburg Fire Department and the Schuyler County Emergency Management Office assisted in the investigation.

From left: Legislators Jim Howell, Carl Blowers, David Reed and Michael Lausell at Monday night's meeting.

Local Law to help recover opioid costs draws emotional response from mother

WATKINS GLEN, March 13, 2018 -- The Schuyler County Legislature Monday night approved a Local Law declaring the opioid epidemic "and its effects on the county a public nuisance and establishing a cost recovery procedure" aimed at making "Big Pharma" -- the pharmaceutical industry -- liable for the costs the county has accrued as a result of the crisis.

The enabling resolution, passed unanimously, said "a cause of this increasing crisis is the overabundance of prescription opioids" that has "created a public health and safety hazard affecting the residents of the county, resulting in devastation to county families, a negative effect on the economy of the county, wasted public resources, and a generation of narcotic dependence."

By declaring the "public nuisance," said County Attorney Steven Getman, the county can pursue reimbursement of burgeoning costs through the courts -- through suits designed to hold the "responsible parties" -- which, Getman indicated, means the pharmaceutical companies -- accountable. Specifically, the resolution says it means "any person or corporation whose negligent, intentional, or otherwise wrongful conduct causes the incident resulting" in costs borne by the county.

The language of the resolution -- in particular "public nuisance" -- was a point of contention in emotional remarks issued by Elizabeth Grieco of Elmira, who lost her son Bryan, 25, to a drug overdose last June. Her statement:

"You obviously have never loved or lost someone who suffered from addiction. Although you talk about it, you do nothing but that. The government says they have this much money for this, so much money for mental health. I would like to know what the plan is. People are dying everywhere.

"I saw an article that said we are losing our children at a higher rate than from gun violence. I believe doctors are being strictly monitored as far as pain medication. Do you think that's enough? You need to work on extensive in-house rehab programs, tougher sentencing for drug dealers, and educate all of you people about this disease. Yes, disease! It's not a choice. Nobody wakes up one day and says 'I want to be an addict.'

"The nation needs to wake up! In 2016 , the number of overdose deaths involving opioids (including prescription opioids and heroin) was five times higher than in 1999. From 2000 to 2016, more than 600,000 people died from drug overdoses. On average 120 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose. If you want to recoup your money, get it from pharmaceuticals. (But) start doing something for the addict instead of shunning them.

"As far as your platform this evening, what unreasonable interference has this had on your life? What substantial injury have you suffered? Each and every one of you. Because to be called a public nuisance, it would have to pertain to all. Why not say that people who have one kid, five kids who are on Social Service ... free food, free medical, money handed to them, rent ... are they a public nuisance?

"To put 'opioid epidemic' and 'public nuisance' in the same sentence, how dare you? What you are saying is that my son, Bryan Joseph Grieco, who died June 25th, 2017 of a heroin overdose, is the equivalent of dog feces on the curb that was never picked up. You should all be ashamed of yourselves!"

County Attorney Getman gently told the woman that she had misunderstood -- that they were not referring to drug addicts as a public nuisance; that the term was established in law and necessary to crafting a local law to try and recover costs. But he said that since it clearly offended her, "I apologize."

Grieco said later that she had attended the meeting after reading about the local law and the "public nuisance" tag attached to the epidemic. She said that while she lives in Elmira, as did her son, he has a 7-year-old daughter in Watkins Glen. Her son "fought really hard" against the addiction, she said, because "he wanted to be clean" for his daughter. But fentanyl-laced heroin proved his undoing.

She said, after listening to Getman's explanation about the offending term, that she understood the need to recover funds from Big Pharma -- but said more effort should be made for the treatment of those addicted.

Photos in text:

Top: Elizabeth Grieco speaks to Legislator Van Harp after the meeting. Grieco lost her son Bryan to a drug overdose in June..

Bottom: County Attorney Steven Getman makes a point.

Final Downtown Revitalization Initiative public workshop held; submission soon

WATKINS GLEN, March 8, 2018 -- The third and final public workshop regarding Watkins Glen's $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative drew about 90 people to the village’s Community Center Wednesday night to hear project consultants outline those projects they plan to forward to the state for consideration.

The announced projects seek DRI funding totaling $16,301,330, and with other funding -- both private and through grants -- would total $55,964,004. All are located within the DRI project zone, which focuses largely on Franklin Street and the two parks, Clute and Lafayette.

Of the $16,301,330 in proposals, the state is expected to pick up to $10 million worth, and possibly less -- depending on which ones meet with final approval. There is one more meeting of the Local Planning Committee (Tuesday, March 13 at the Village Hall) before the proposed projects are finalized and submitted to the state -- no later than March 30. Selections are expected from the state in the summer, with signings and development plans to follow into 2019.

Wednesday’s session was broken into four segments as the projects were outlined under four headings: Downtown Living, Culture and Entertainment, Economic Development and Quality of Life. The accompanying charts give brief outlines of each project.

Each segment was followed by comments and questions from those present.

In sending along the electronic images of the charts (presented here) of the project proposals, consultant Simon Kates wrote:

“Please include a reminder that this list of projects is not final. At the Local Planning Committee meeting next week, the LPC will determine if there are any changes. It is possible that some of the projects discussed Wednesday night may come off the list -- and Wednesday's input (as well as input throughout the entire process) will help the LPC make those decisions."

Photo in text: Consultant Susan Favate of BFJ Planning discusses the Downtown Revitalization Initiative at Wednesday night's workshop.

Students Conlin Wysocki, center left, and Pat Bannon discuss issues with (from left) Ken Wilson, Phil Cherry and Tom Gifford near the end of the meeting.

SCOPED holds its annual meeting, and gains fresh insights from WGHS students

WATKINS GLEN, Feb. 27, 2018 -- A look back at 20 years of the Schuyler County Partnership for Economic Development, a look at the strides made in economic development in the area in the past year, and the expectations for the next few years were focal points of Tuesday's annual SCOPED meeting at the Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel.

And in a new feature, a dozen students from Watkins Glen High School were added to the mix for an inter-generational mingling of ideas -- and what a couple of them had to say perhaps surprised the assembled officials.

In addition to SCOPED board members, officials on hand included several Schuyler County legislators and John King, the mayor of Montour Falls, who outlined the progress being made in the planned construction of a regional wastewater treatment plant along the canal between Seneca Lake and Montour.

King said a road is currently being constructed to the site from the Yatcht Club south of the Watkins Glen Community Center property. The $30 million plant project -- more than a third of which is covered by grants -- has a target completion date of October 2019. It is considered key to ongoing economic development -- focused on tourism -- in Watkins Glen and the surrounding area..

Also on the program Tuesday was Fred Bonn, Finger Lakes Regional Director of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation, who outlined the ongoing $7.5 million project at the Watkins Glen State Park. It is designed to improve visitor experience, reduce traffic congestion and connect better with Franklin Street and the downtown. He said the project is running on time and on budget, adding that the lot across the street where Mr. Chicken once stood will be used as a staging area for tour buses, but might take "another year to fit out."

County Planning Director Kristin VanHorn discussed the upcoming Department of Transportation $5.5 million Franklin Street paving project, which will run from Fairgrounds Lane north to 14A and include new sidewalks and various extras such as water fountains. New lighting is also being planned, partially financed as part of the $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative in Watkins Glen. She also discussed the DRI, noting an upcoming public workshop in the Watkins Glen Community Center on March 7 from 6-8 p.m. as projects included in the DRI near finalization.

Ben Stamp, vice chair of the FLX Community Development Corporation, discussed that organization's role in securing the DRI funding as well as other CDC projects, but the presentation that prompted the biggest buzz came from those WGHS students.

The group consisted of eight seniors and four juniors selected from a group of 40 students who shared their ideas on the present and future of economic development in Schuyler County. The final 12 were chosen largely based on their ability to clear their schedules for the meeting. They were accompanied by Superintendent Greg Kelahan and High School Principal Kai D'Alleva.

Students present were seniors Alex Schimizzi, Amber Benjamin, Daniel Paradiso, Hanley Elliott, Sean Holland, Conlin Wysocki, Pat Bannon and Tanner Ryan, and juniors Isabella Fazzary, Kai Sutterby, Kishan Patel and Joe Chedzoy.

They brought with them a chart with their own and their fellow students' thoughts, with Fazzary (who wants to be an attorney) and Sutterby (who wants to be a surgeon, possibly orthopedic) acting as spokespersons.

Speaking calmly and yet forcefully, the two young women offered up such thoughts as:

--Summer jobs are hard to come by.
--Winter employment is tough to find.
--There is little to do here in the winter.
--There is a lack of diversity here.
--There are limited opportunities here after high school.
--Health care here is limited.
--There are limited career paths and limited upward mobility.
--It's a beautiful environment.

And the kicker:

--There are no large companies, and tourism alone cannot sustain growth.

Put another way by Sutterby:"The focus here is too much on tourism. We need to focus on bigger industries."

And put yet another way by Fazzary: "The focus on tourism doesn't keep people like us here," nor does it "encourage us to come back."

Coming after presentations that did, indeed, focus on tourism, the presentation was both unexpected, but not unwelcome.

"No, I didn't know what they were going to say," said one SCOPED representative. But that, she added, was the point of the "generational interaction" -- to hear opinions from an oncoming generation.

The session closed with gatherings at various tables featuring a mix of government and business officials with students, discussing issues of the day.

Photos in text:

Top: Watkins Glen High School juniors Kai Sutterby, left, and Isabella Fazzary spoke on behalf of the student group.

Middle: Montour Falls Mayor John King discusses the wastewater treatment plant and anticipated sewer rates.

Bottom: SCOPED Executive Director Judy Cherry.

Left: Fred Bonn, Finger Lakes Regional Director of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation. Right: Don Chutas of Cargill Salt, president of the SCOPED Board of Directors.

O'Mara, Palmesano urge Cuomo to include Keuka and Seneca Lakes on priority list

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, Feb. 16, 2018 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats) and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I-Corning) have urged Governor Andrew Cuomo to amend his 2018-2019 state budget proposal to add Canandaigua, Keuka, and Seneca lakes to a list of 12 priority lakes in New York State considered vulnerable to harmful algal blooms (HABs) threatening drinking water sources.

The governor’s proposed budget calls for $65 million in funding to establish a state program to provide assistance and establish action plans to combat HABs threatening the 12 priority lakes statewide. Cuomo has identified the following 12 priority lakes: Conesus Lake; Honeoye Lake; Chautauqua Lake; Owasco Lake; Skaneateles Lake; Cayuga Lake; Lake Champlain at Port Henry; New York portion of Lake Champlain at Isle La Motte watershed; Lake George; Lake Carmel; Palmer Lake; and Putnam Lake.

In January, O’Mara, Chair of the Senate Environmental  Conservation Committee, Palmesano, Assembly Minority Leader Brian M. Kolb (R,C,I,Ref-Canandaigua), and Senator Pam Helming (R,C,IP-Geneva) wrote to Cuomo urging him to include Canandaigua, Keuka and Seneca lakes on the priority list.

Their letter says: “As you stated in your 2018-2019 budget presentation, filtration systems for drinking water can cost billions of dollars. This is why we are supportive of the $65 million budget initiative to combat harmful algal blooms (HABs) in Upstate New York that threaten drinking water sources, upstate tourism in the Finger Lakes Region, and recreational use of lakes.

“However, your budget proposal falls short of fully supporting Upstate lakes and tourism as the twelve priority lakes listed in your proposal that are considered vulnerable to HABs is incomplete. You state that the reason these twelve lakes were chosen is due to their importance as critical sources of drinking water and their vitality to tourism in Upstate NY. Yet Seneca, Canandaigua, and Keuka Lakes are pivotal tourism centers, are largely used for drinking water, and have been left out of the priority lakes list eligible for funding.”

Over the past week, Cuomo has been announcing amendments to his original 2018-19 Proposed State Budget. He had until the end of this week to complete the annual 30-day budget amendment process.

O’Mara, Palmesano, Kolb, and Helming have warned the governor that not identifying Canandaigua, Keuka and Seneca lakes as priorities would unfairly jeopardize the Finger Lakes region: “It is imperative that our localities are equipped with support to combat algal blooms and there is awareness amongst residents and tourists of how to respond to these threats in the water if they should come upon them. The presence of HABs in our lakes will only increase if we are not proactive.

“As such, we respectfully request that you amend your proposal to include Seneca, Canandaigua and Keuka Lakes on the priority list for funding in your $65 million 4-point initiative to aggressively combat harmful algal blooms to target HABs. Anything less would be a disservice to the residents of the region and the valuable contributions the lakes play to the growing tourism and economic vitality of our area.”

Photos: Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (top) and State Senator Tom O'Mara (File photos)

$80 million in projects under way in Glen

WATKINS GLEN, Feb. 6, 2018 -- “Look at the money coming in. It’s huge. There’s a lot of money coming in,” Judy Cherry told the Watkins Glen Village Board Monday night.

Cherry, executive director of the Schuyler County Partnership for Economic Development (SCOPED) and co-chair (with Village Board trustee Laurie DeNardo) of the Local Planning Committee of the ongoing Downtown Revitalization Initiative, made the comments in an update report on various village projects.

The amount of money she was talking about: more than $80 million, and that doesn’t count possible leveraged funds that could be offshoots of those projects.

A breakdown of what's happening in and near the village, as she outlined it:

WWTP: She pointed to the Wastewater Treatment Plant being built along the canal between Watkins Glen and Montour Falls -- to be shared by those two villages -- as $30 million of that $80 million.

That project, she explained, had overruns of about $6 million beyond its initially projected price tag. Half of the overrun, $3 million, was covered by “re-engineering,” she said, and $2.5 was provided by the state with funds originally earmarked for Camp Monterey, which the state closed. The other $500,000 was found by our State Senator, Tom O’Mara, from whichever financial wells such officials can dip into.

The treatment plant is the centerpiece for many ongoing projects now and in the future known under the collective umbrella as Project Seneca. The plant project -- under way now physically with construction of a road to the site from the “Yacht Club” setting along the canal near the Watkins Glen Community Center -- “has to work for everything else to happen,” Cherry said.

Completion of the plant is planned for mid- to late-2019.

Cargill: Another $30 million, Cherry said, is embodied in the plant expansion at Cargill, the salt manufacturer on the southern shore of Seneca Lake, as it embraces a new product line: the production of Potassium Chloride. That expansion includes the installation of processing equipment ”within our existing facility footprint,” according to Cargill, and explains what those traffic tie-ups along Fourth Street between Cargill and Walmart were all about last summer: "re-establishment of the eastern rail crossing" -- a line running to the eastern side of the plant.

Also involved, notes Cargill: “Development of a new brine gallery, upgrades to the brine infrastruture, warehouse expansion on the south side of the mill," and the installation of packaging equipment.

Cargill says it is investing in the new product line “to meet food customer demand.” The plant manager is Keith Klug (pictured).

According to Wikipedia, potassium chloride is “a metal halide salt composed of potassium and chloride. It is odorless and has a white or colorless vitreous crystal appearance” and “dissolves readily in water, and its solutions have a salt-like taste.” It is used in a number of agricultural, medical and scientific processes, and “in food processing.”

DRI: The state-awarded Downtown Revitalization Initiative, in which $10 million is being invested in local projects yet to be announced, was unveiled last summer and has been in the planning stage for months. The next public workshop at the Watkins Glen Community Center at Clute Park is set for March 7 from 6-8 p.m. A meeting of the Local Planning Committee will be held Feb. 15 in the Village Hall meeting room on the second floor.

A look at "Preliminary Project Profiles" can be found on the SCOPED website,

Business Park: Yes, after all these years, there is a facility planned at the Schuyler County Business Park up the hill along Rt. 414 -- one with a price tag of $4.4 million ... and soon. Cherry says the Business Park, owned by SCOPED, will see construction of a 20,000-square-foot facility this spring in which 5,000 square feet will house a beer and wine processing distribution business.

The park, the first study of which came in 1998 and for which land was broken years ago, will welcome a building with portable walls that can be moved to accommodate other businesses that lease space inside in the future. SCOPED will continue as owner (and landlord) of the building until a buyer is found.

Waste from the production of the beverages will be “scrubbed,” Cherry said, before being sent down the hill to the wastewater treatment plant.

The price includes $3,350,000 for construction and another $1,050,000 in other costs. There were five bids from general contractors, and the low bidder was Elmira Structures. The bid opening was in October, and the contract execution a month later. Construction and site work is expected in March or April, with “tenant fit-out” planned between June 15 and Sept. 30 of this year.

Watkins Glen State Park: As any passerby can see, there is an ongoing project at the entrance to the State Park along Franklin Street. Part of that project was installation of a parking lot across the street that stretches from Franklin Street to Decatur Street along 10th Street. The park project, announced by the state in 2016, totals $6.5 million and includes removal of the old parking area fronting the entrance to the gorge and a greening of the land there, with a couple of new structures (a welcome center and a “covered interpretive area”) to serve a public that -- with all of the other projects ongoing in Watkins Glen -- will likely continue to grow annually.

Other projects: There are the:

-- $500,000 being spent on the Kayak Launch at Tank Beach at the eastern end of Clute Park (at the curve on Rt. 414 leading out of Watkins Glen) with completion expected in late spring. This has been slowed by the need for regulatory approvals and over-budget bidding;
-- the $3 million Watkins Brewery Vacation Rentals in the overhauled Frozen Food Locker building on the north end of the Watkins Glen business district. It will remain a rental structure at least five years; then, under terms of grant funds, its units can be sold as townhouses.
-- The Route 14 Repaving Project set for this year, including improvement of the Northern Gateway (for which a grant of $300,000 was awarded). The state DOT project will include new curbing and various aesthetics along Franklin Street -- features such as planters, a water fountain and dog-walk bag dispensers.
-- Franklin Street Lighting, for which a $100,000 grant has been awarded by the State Dormitory Authority. It must be used for that very purpose.
-- $4.6 million in Clute Park projects, for which $2.4 million in grants have been awarded by the state, and $2.2 million is being sought through the DRI. The idea: "to create an overall park master plan" to make the park more enjoyable, with a new weatherized pavilion, a new bathhouse and a recreational ice rink/events site. Also envisioned: improved play areas and improved pedestrian walkways.
-- $1.8 million Inflow and Infiltration Projects which impact the wastewater treatment plant capacity. The I&I project in Watkins Glen is completed; the one in Montour Falls is expected to be finished in the spring.
-- $150,000 on a Catharine Valley Trail extension connecting the trail to the Montour Falls Marina. Bidding came in over budget, but Senator O'Mara found $50,000 in state funds to offset that.

Photos in text:

Top: SCOPED Executive Director Judy Cherry, right, with Village Board trustee Laurie DeNardo at Monday's board meeting. The two are co-chairs of the Local Planning Committee of the Downtown Revitalization Initiative.

Second: Cargill plant manager Keith Klug. (File photo)

Third: Rendition of planned Business Park facility. (Provided)

Bottom: Rendition of Watkins Glen State Park renovation. (Provided)

O-Mara seeks Veterans Hall nominations

Special to The Odessa File

ELMIRA, Feb. 5, 2018 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara (R-C, Big Flats) is seeking nominations for the New York State Senate’s “Veterans Hall of Fame,” an online tribute to the military and civilian lives of distinguished veterans from the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions, and throughout New York State.

“So many veterans served our nation courageously and honorably, and then returned home to lift the lives of our local communities," O'Mara said. "The Senate Veterans Hall of Fame is just one more way to give a local veteran a well-deserved and well-earned expression of our gratitude and admiration.”

O’Mara represents New York’s 58th Senate District encompassing Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben and Yates counties, and part of Tompkins County (the city and town of Ithaca, and the towns of Enfield, Newfield and Ulysses).

The Senate established its Veterans Hall of Fame in 2005. It honors New York State veterans whose service in the United States Armed Forces has been accompanied by service to the community and accomplishments as a civilian. It pays tribute to veterans representing Senate districts statewide. Senators conduct induction ceremonies within their respective legislative districts and at the Capitol coinciding with veterans-related observances throughout the year.

This year’s Senate Veterans Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Albany is planned for Tuesday, May 15, to coincide with this year’s Memorial Day observances.

O’Mara is accepting nominations for this year’s 58th Senate District inductee until Friday, April 13. Nomination letters, which should include a short biography highlighting the nominee’s military and civilian service awards and achievements, can be e-mailed to

O’Mara has inducted the following area veterans into the Senate Veterans Hall of Fame:

    --Philip C. Smith, a highly decorated Korean War combat veteran and well-known figure in Schuyler County government and veterans’ affairs as the former director of the Schuyler County Veterans’ Service Agency;
    --J. Arthur “Archie” Kieffer, longtime Chemung County historian and a World War II combat veteran;
    --Steuben County native, former Painted Post Mayor, and World War II combat veteran Roswell L. “Roz” Crozier, Jr.;
    --Anthony J. “Tony” Specchio, Sr., a lifelong Watkins Glen resident and a fixture in civic and veterans affairs; and
    --P. Earle Gleason, a lifelong Yates County resident and the former, longtime director of the Yates County Veterans’ Service Agency

Other area veterans who are Hall of Fame members are Frank C. “Fritz” Pesesky, a veteran of World War II and former director of the Chemung County Veterans Service Office (2005); William K. Kastner, a Vietnam veteran and longtime director of the Steuben County Veterans Service Agency (2006); and Robert Laskaris, a highly decorated combat veteran and well-known figure in Chemung County veterans’ affairs (2008).

The online Veterans Hall of Fame can be found on O’Mara’s Senate website,

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara (File photo)

At the Organizational Meeting

Members of the Schuyler County Legislature and other officials gathered for a group photo at the Legislature's annual Organizational Meeting held Wednesday morning, Jan. 3 in the County Office Building. From left standing: Legislators Jim Howell, Carl Blowers, David Reed, Michael Lausell, Mark Rondinaro, Van Harp, Phil Barnes and Dennis Fagan, who was re-elected chariman in a 7-1 vote. Seated from left: County Attorney Steven Getman, Deputy Clerk Jamee Mack, Clerk to the Legislature Stacy Husted, and County Administrator Tim O'Hearn. (Photo provided)

Schuyler to get $2.8 million in state grants

WATKINS GLEN, Dec. 13, 2017 -- Schuyler County was awarded $2.8 million Wednesday as part of the state’s 7th annual Regional Economic Development awards. The Southern Tier will receive $67.3 million of the statewide disbursement of $755 million.

The $67.3 million covers 83 projects, including a four-season pavilion and a commercial-grade kitchen at Clute Park, where $800,000 was pledged last year by the state for bath houses. The new Clute grant, together with a feasibility study involving the "reuse" of the "soon-to-be-decommissioned" lakefront wastewater treatment plant, totals $1,319,362.

Wednesday's announcement also included funds for:

--Water-system improvement and upgraded bathrooms at the Town of Hector’s Smith Park ($204,206);
--A new Hector salt storage facility "to prevent runoff and contamination issues" ($352.414);
--Expansion of the Lucky Hare Brewing Company in Hector ($198,000);
--Improvements to the water treatment and distribution systems in Montour Falls ($750,000).

“We’re pretty happy the way things went today,” said Schuyler County Partnership for Economic Development Executive Director Judy Cherry, emphasizing that the Clute award is on top of the Downtown Revitalization Initiative funding awarded Watkins Glen last summer and currently being developed into a plan of action. DRI projects being considered include further development of Clute.

Committee members gather in the Watkins Glen Village Hall for the meeting, which started a few minutes later.

Committee extends DRI proposal deadline, discusses those submitted; workshop ahead

WATKINS GLEN, Nov. 29, 2017 -- The deadline for submitting applications seeking funding under the $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative awarded to Watkins Glen by New York State has been extended to 5 p.m. Friday, Dec. 8.

The decision came at a meeting Wednesday night of the Local Planning Committee, which meets periodically to discuss the process involved in securing funding from the DRI and to study projects that were proposed by the intital deadline, which was Nov. 20.

The committee meeting, overseen by state consultants and including local business and government leaders, was held in the Watkins Glen Village Hall. Counting the consultants, 19 people were seated at tables set up in a square in the building's meeting room on the second floor.

The extension was granted in an effort to receive more proposals and, in some cases, more details on proposals that met the first deadline. "We don't want people" who submitted those proposals "to think 'Our project wasn't any good,'" said one committee member, Ken Wilson. There were, in fact, 30 proposals submitted, on top of a number already in the mix that were proposed in the village's initial pitch to the state seeking the funding.

Added committee member Dennis Fagan: "If we get even one more (proposal) that's a good one, then it (the extension) is worth it."

Added committee member Tim O'Hearn: "I don't see any downside to it."

The session was a precursor to the second public workshop set for Wednesday, Dec. 13 from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. at the Watkins Glen Community Center on Boat Launch Road. "The purpose of this interactive design workshop," a flyer says, "is to get your input on potential DRI projects. Come share your vision for Watkins Glen." This will be the second of three public workshops.

Nothing was settled Wednesday night, for this is a lengthy process that will stretch well into 2018. The committee will meet several more times, starting with a session on Jan 10.

In addition to Wilson, O'Hearn and Fagan, its members include Ben Stamp of Lakewood Vineyards, Keith Klug of Cargill, Watkins Glen International's Jon Beckman, Middle School theater chief Eric Hollenbeck, Physical Therapist Amanda Smith-Socaris, Watkins Glen Chamber of Commerce Tourism Director Brittany Gibson, Arc of Schuyler Executive Director Jeannette Frank, businessman Peter Honsberger, Watkins Glen Village Board members Gary Schmidt and (committee co-chair) Laurie DeNardo, Schuyler County Partnership for Economic Development Executive Director (and co-chair) Judy Cherry, and County Planner Kristin VanHorn.

Consultants hired by the state and a state representative provided their expertise, offering the group information on earlier project proposals as well as a spreadsheet listing each of the 30 "open call" proposals that were received for this DRI project by the Nov. 20 deadline. The consultants included Simon Kates and Susan Favate, while Julie Sweet represented the NYS Department of State.

They pointed out to the committee that 1.) Not all submissions will be selected. 2.) Some projects may be combined into multi-site projects. 3.) Project details can be refined in coordination with applicants.

They also noted that a wide range of project types had been proposed among the 30, including "upper floor renovations, facade improvement, business development, building renovation, large-scale development projects, and open space. The largest DRI project request is $1.5 million."

Under the heading Project Selection Matrix, the consultants listed "six criteria for selecting projects for DRI funding":

Cost: Estimated cost to public- and private-sector partners and operating costs.
Community Benefits: Potential tax revenue and other anticipated community benefits.
Catalytic Potential: Potential to transform downtown, leverage additional funding, make a long-term impact.
Job Generation: Estimated employment and workforce development potential.
Feasibility: Capacity to implement, project readiness, site control, regulatory challenges.
Public Support: Demonstration of support based on Public Engagement Events and prior planning.

Discussion in the latter half of the workshop dealt with specific projects -- those which committee members liked, those they thought needed more detail, and those that seemed like non-starters.

There was also discussion of specific sites that committee members would like to see renovated or developed, and talk of which kind of attractions would be appealing to tourists.

One proposal, a mini-golf course, was rejected by several members who said one such course failed near the waterfront, and that such a project would not fit with the vision of the DRI -- would not be in keeping with the area's heritage or "in accentuating our strengths."

Among the 30 proposals, some were detailed, while others lacked specificity. They included proposals to renovate the Franklin Street Gallery and Gift Shop, including residential conversion and facade improvement; renovation of the former VFW building into a full-service spa and fitness center; new housing and construction of a childcare center on 2nd and 3rd Streets; renovation of the Inner Peace Floats business on 4th Street and of the Madison Guest House on Madison Avenue; construction of an outdoor adventure and discovery center at Clute Park or along the canal; and renovation of the CarQuest building at North Franklin and 2nd Streets "with mixed uses."

"Preliminary Project Ideas" floated at the first public workshop session several weeks ago included: upper floor residential conversions; zoning revisions to address seasonal housing; Clute Park year-round recreation improvements; Watkins Glen Performing Arts Center upgrades; development of a Captain Bill's Seneca Lake Cruise Terminal; a "waterfront multipurpose pathway"; sidewalk upgrades and repairs; new street lighting on Franklin Street; "gateway development" that would include redevelopment of two sites at the northern end of the business district; and a Lafayette Park fountain and clock.

Photos in text:

Top: From left, committee Co-Chairs Judy Cherry and Laurie DeNardo, and Schuyler County Planner Kristin VanHorn.
Middle: Consultant Simon Kates makes a point.
Bottom: Schuyler County Administrator Tim O'Hearn, a committee member, discusses a DRI point with the state's Julie Sweet.

Among the committee members at Wednesday night's meeting were, from left: Ken Wilson, Peter Honsberger, Jeannette Frank and Brittany Gibson.

Fire Chief: There was no gas detected during or after Veterans Day ceremony

WATKINS GLEN, Nov. 20, 2017 -- The Watkins Glen Fire Chief told the Village Board Monday night that he doesn't know what caused the collapse of three people at the Veterans Day ceremony in the fire department bays, but that it wasn't caused by carbon monoxide or other measurable gases.

Charlie Smith said that there were handheld detectors in use by several department personnel during the ceremony without any gas readings displayed -- as well as during a test afterward, with doors closed and the heating system turned up. That too produced similar non-readings.

Three people -- two boys and an elderly man -- collapsed in short order on Nov. 11 during the annual Veterans Day service normally run in front of the Schuyler County Courthouse. It was shifted to the closed fire department bays because of cold weather.

The two boys fell to the concrete floor during the keynote speech by Assemblyman Phil Palmesano. The older man fell ill shortly thereafter. All three were transported to the hospital, one of the boys with a fractured jaw. That boy's father later said the hospital found a high level off carbon monoxide in the boy's system.

At Monday's meeting, after Trustee Gary Schmidt noted that it was "odd that the two" boys "went down" and that he was "worried" about it, Chief Smith said "we tested the building" both during and after the ceremony, closing the building and "running all heaters on high" without any reading.

He later explained that any device that burns fuel -- such as the heaters -- has the potential to produce harmful gases.

Beyond that, he told the board, a couple of the bay doors were kept open for 45 minutes before the ceremony, after trucks had been moved outside, and that none of the trucks were running while sitting outside.

Responded Mayor Sam Schimizzi: "It's just something that happened. Nobody's at fault. It's just one of those things, I guess."

In other business, the board:

--Heard from Superintendent of Utilities Lee Kent, who said the power outage that plagued Watkins Glen for more than two hours on Nov. 11 was caused by a squirrel found dead on the ground near equipment with a burn mark alongside Cass Road. The incident, he said, will result in "a better plan in place for the next time" such a thing happens, including an operational battery backup. Toward that end, he is planning a meeting with the contributing Power Authority and NYSEG to discuss the matter.

--Heard that the Kayak Park at Tank Beach will go to bid soon. Development of a kayak launch had been planned for last summer, but was delayed for environmental reasons.

--Heard trustee Laurie DeNardo say that applications for 29 proposed projects had been submitted under the Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI), with a deadline of midnight Monday, and that they would be discussed, and eventually whittled down, through an open session of the Local Planning Committee and through the DRI meeting next month. The number of applications "was more than I expected," said DeNardo, co-chair of the local committee. The DRI is a program under which Watkins Glen is receiving $10 million in state funding and investments.

Photos in text: From top at Monday's meeting: Mayor Sam Schimizzi (left) and trustee Gary Schmidt; Fire Chief Charlie Smith; and Superintendent of Utilities Lee Kent.

Harp lead in Dist. 2 race shrinks to 1 vote

SCHUYLER COUNTY, Nov. 13, 2017 -- As Yogi Berra said: “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

The District 2 race for the Schuyler County Legislature seat now held by Van Harp -- with Republican Harp leading Democratic challenger Joseph Campbell by four votes on election night --was down to a one-vote Harp lead as of Monday afternoon.

Campbell, who was trailing 295-291 on election night, has received 20 absentee votes and one affidavit vote, bringing his total to 312.

Harp has received 14 absentee votes and four affidavit votes, bringing his total to 313.

And it might not be over yet.

Election Commissioner Joseph Fazzary said that there is still the possibility that one or more military ballots could arrive. While they had to be postmarked by Nov. 6 -- the day before the election -- they have until Nov. 20 to arrive.

“But they very seldom come in after a week or so,” said Fazzary, noting that exactly one week will have passed on Tuesday since the election.

The Board of Elections can tell how many potential military votes there are because the process calls for a form to be downloaded and then mailed in. Sixteen were downloaded, but only two had come back as of Monday, and one of them was rejected because it was postmarked three days too late -- on Nov. 9.

The affidavit votes were key, since Harp received four of them and Campbell only one.

An affidavit vote occurs when a voter finds that his or her name is not carried in the poll book. The voter is allowed to cast a ballot, but the ballot is placed in a separate envelope and later researched by Board of Elections staff to determine if it is legitimate -- if in fact the voter is registered and had, for some reason (like inactivity) fallen from the poll book.

Six such incidents occurred in the District 2 race, and five were found to be valid votes. With Harp’s 4-1 lead in affidavits, their importance became paramount.

(Countywide, there were 30 such incidents, with 17 of the ballots found to be legitimate.)

If Nov. 20 comes and goes without any further military ballots, then Harp -- who has served one 4-year term on the Legislature -- will be certified the winner by a single vote.

Fazzary said a challenge is unlikely, since Harp and Campbell or their representatives have witnessed the vote-count process, and “neither side has raised objections to it.”

It is conceivable that Campbell -- should the vote-count stand -- might challenge it, but it would have to be done through a court.

If Campbell receives another vote, forging a deadlock, Fazzary -- who has never seen balloting this close locally -- said he isn’t sure what would happen because “it’s not provided for in election law.”

It’s possible that, in the event of a tie, that the governor might order another election, or the matter might be solved by appointment.

But first things first, meaning waiting until Nov. 20.

In other words, stay tuned.

Photos in text: Van Harp (top) and Joseph Campbell. (File photos)

Glen committee seeks DRI project proposals

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, Oct. 31, 2017 -- The Watkins Glen Local Planning Committee (LPC) is seeking proposals for private projects to be considered for Downtown Revitalization Initiative funding.

The purpose of the Open Call for Potential DRI Projects, say committee members, is to hear from members of the community who have "potential transformative projects on private sites that provide economic and community benefits."

The village of Watkins Glen this past summer was awarded $10 million in state funding and investments as part of the statewide DRI program. The local project is in the planning stages now.

"This process," the LPC said of the Call for Projects, "will enable the LPC to fully vet private projects that could transform the downtown, in the open. Submissions should include capital/construction projects; demonstration of commitment of private funding sources; demonstration of the project’s transformative nature and potential community benefits. All submissions should include as much information as possible on potential projects in order to demonstrate that the idea is feasible and will have a meaningful impact on downtown Watkins Glen."

All requirements for submissions can be found in the Open Call for Potential DRI projects. A PDF of the Open Call for Potential DRI projects can be downloaded at this link:

Project submissions should be emailed to Kristin VanHorn at by November 20, 2017. All questions should be emailed by November 13, 2017.

Visit for more information on opportunities for public input and the DRI planning process. You can follow the Watkins Glen DRI on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @WatkinsGlenDRI.

District 2 candidates for the Schuyler County Legislature. From left: Joseph Campbell, Van Harp and Steven Crout at the League of Women Voters forum.

Forum features county-level candidates

WATKINS GLEN, Oct. 26 -- Candidates seeking county-level positions in the Nov. 7 election were featured on stage Wednesday night at the Schuyler County League of Women Voters' traditional Meet the Candidates Night forum in the Watkins Glen Elementary School auditorium.

About 50 people were on hand, including the speakers and various town candidates introduced by moderator Judy Phillips.

The contested Schuyler County Legislature race in District 2, part of the Town of Hector, features three candidates: incumbent legislator Van Harp, Joseph Campbell and town worker Steven Crout.

They drew several questions, most notably on their view of zoning, which "we don't have, to speak of," in the words of Campbell, who said the "hot-button topic" is being studied by a committee, "and I applaud that."

Harp said he is "principally against zoning ... but I don't agree with undisciplined growth. This is an opportunity for Hector to come out a winner on both sides of the issue" through a coordinated effort that takes into account all stakeholders, including developers.

Crout said there is "a need, but not necessarily a want, for zoning" but that "it doesn't need to be done now." He added: "It never hurts to be prepared for the future."

They also discussed Seneca Lake -- all were in favor of measures to secure its long-term health -- and the future of the vacant business park along Route 414 on the road to Corning. Crout said "I'm not sure what's going to happen there," while Harp said he had given a lot of thought to that land but had not come up with "much of an answer." Campbell called it a "boondoggle," but said he'd "like to see something growing there besides weeds."

The District 1 Legislature candidates -- John Van Soest and David Reed -- offered different approaches. Van Soest, supervisor in the Town of Catharine, said he is "no idealogue," and that if elected he will offer "values" he practices in his own family: he will be "hardworking ... humble ... honest, and I'll try to be kind."

Reed said he is an idealogue who follows "conservative principles, Republican values, Republican everything." He said he would enter the Legislature "with an open mind, but I'm not willing to compromise my principles, the way I think, for anyone. If (Legislature Chairman) Dennis Fagan or (Legislator) Phil Barnes think I will be a yes man sitting in the corner, they are wrong ... Everybody knows where I stand, and we can take it from there."

The District 4 (including Montour Falls) Legislature candidates -- incumbent Jim Howell and challenger Richard Ballard -- agreed with one another that the key issues for district residents are "jobs and taxes."

Ballard said he was also devoted to preserving the environment -- that this county had drawn him from New Jersey seven years ago because of its beauty. Howell touted the team effort of the Legislature in keeping taxes down -- citing the 2018 budget's zero increase in the tax levy and reduction in the tax rate.

Also speaking was Bill Yessman, the incumbent sheriff, who is running unopposed. He noted that there is a lull currently in the methamphetamine trade in the county because "most of the key players are in prison or heading to prison," and said that opioid overdoses, while present in Schuyler, "are not on the scale " of other areas.

Theresa Philbin, running for county clerk to succeed the retiring Linda Compton, said her major goal is to scan the office's existing documents -- of which "there are thousands, or perhaps hundreds of thousands" -- for incorporation into a database: to "update technology in the clerk's office and make it more available" to interested users. She said she is looking into grants to finance such a project.

And Michael Lausell, incumbent legislator from District 3 (North Hector) who is running unopposed, said he is a lifelong Democrat who believes "in the middle class, in furthering small business, and in the environment." He said "it's time to look at zoning along the Rt. 414 corridor."

Photos in text: From top: Sheriff Bill Yessman, County Clerk candidate Theresa Philbin, and County Legislator Michael Lausell.

District 1 Legislature candidates David Reed, left, and John Van Soest.

The District 4 candidates: Incumbent Legislator Jim Howell (left) and Richard Ballard.

Part of the power-point presentation outlined the evening's objectives.

Community meeting in Watkins sets table for Downtown Revitalization projects

Committee meetings, more public input ahead

WATKINS GLEN Oct. 19 -- More than 120 people were on hand Wednesday evening at the Watkins Glen Community Center as consultants hired by New York State outlined the parameters of the Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) for interested residents and local officials.

The DRI program administered by New York awarded Watkins Glen $10 million in state funds and investments for village projects yet to be identified and approved. The award -- announced in early August -- comes with "some strings," consultant Simon Kates of BFJ Planning told Wednesday's audience.

The meeting drew input from residents at five stations set up around the Community Center -- ideas that join many previously offered, such as lighting and sidewalk work, second-story renovations, Franklin Street facade improvements, Clute Park projects, and so on. The ideas are many. One station provided a review of the DRI vision and goals, while the others dealt with Downtown Living, Culture/Entertainment, Economic Development, and Quality of Life.

The vision chart, for instance, said: "The vision of the Watkins Glen Downtown Revitalization Initiative is to leverage the accessible Seneca Lake waterfront famous wine trails, vibrant arts scene, internationally recognized racetrack with a storied auto-racing heritage, and world class State Park for progressive community development that retains and enhances our unique character to sustain a year-round innovative and prosperous economy that is supported by our community."

Participants added post-it notes to each chart, as well as writing on the charts with Sharpies. For instance, where a picture of a dilapidated building is shown under the heading "New Development or Renovation," a note said "Pass an ordinance and force these people to repair their property." That particular property, the chart suggested, could be a mixed-use space but "is privately owned and not currently for sale." Added another Post-It: "Great location for a mini version of the Windmill."

Other notes included:

--"Fix the water run-off in downtown after heavy rains so businesses do not get flooded."
--"Extend DRI area to Salt Point/Rt. 14 and get village water to them to spur more dense development."
--"Future development of WG will need to be on west side, so need water and sewer in town of Reading next to village."
--"Need to upgrade the water and sewer lines before you start putting more people into our community."
--"Parking is a very large problem."
--"Remember disabled, service workers, and needy."
--"Ask trucks from NYC with garbage to find different route than through town."
--"Traffic (truck) noise a hindrance to downtown living."

The focus in the planning stage, said Kates, will be "on capital projects that can be implemented in the short term."

He and fellow BFJ consultant Sarah Yackel led a power-point presentation that Kates admitted was "a lot of words," and a lot to digest, but essential in a process that any DRI community must embrace. But the audience was engaged and, according to Local Planning Committee Co-Chair Judy Cherry, provided many new ideas and proposals that will be distilled by the consultants and considered by the local committee at its second meeting, set for Oct. 25 at 6 p.m. at the Village Hall. Committee meetings are open to the public.

"It was really heartening to see such an outpouring of interest" Wednesday night, said Cherry, who noted that the Local Planning Committee is composed of a cross-section of village officials, business people and other residents. They include Schuyler County Legislature Chair Dennis Fagan, County Administrator Tim O'Hearn, vintner Ben Stamp, businessman Peter Honsberger, Arc of Schuyler Executive Director Jeannette Frank, County Planning Director Kristin VanHorn, Watkins Glen International's Jon Beckman, arts entrepreneur Eric Hollenbeck, community leader Ken Wilson, village board member Gary Schmidt, physical therapist Amanda Smith-Socaris, and the Chamber of Commerce's Brittany Gibson. The other co-chair is village trustee Laurie DeNardo.

Cherry told the gathering at the meeting's outset that the DRI provides an opportunity for the community at large to decide on a course that will help Watkins Glen build on its foundation "and grow and evolve."

The goal, Kates said, is not just to spend $10 million, but to help boost the economic development of the village through leveraging that investment with others that might bring the impact to "$20 million, or $30 million, or $40 million. Some have mentioned $100 million, and that would be great." Projects selected, he said, will be chosen in part on how they fit into a larger mosaic and not just as "single projects on single sites."

The process, he explained, is a complex one best tackled with maximum community input. Accordingly, another public session like Wednesday's will be held at a yet-to-be-designated date in early December. The deadline for ideas is late November, so -- as one power-point chart said -- "the Local Planning Committee (LPC) can review submissions before presenting at the next public workshop." And a survey of the village will be conducted in January, all with an eye -- together with LPC meetings -- to formulating a document in 2018 that will serve, presumably, as a blueprint for the overall DRI project and, by extension, for further projects down the road that are proposed during this initial process.

In other words, planning will beget planning and, in the long term, development that is foreseen going far beyond the Downtown Revitalization Initiative.

Photos in text:

Top: Local Planning Committee co-chairs Judy Cherry, left, and Laurie DeNardo.
Second: The project timeline.
Third: A chart at one of the evening's four stations in the Community Center.
Fourth: Post-It notes were affixed to the evening's charts by audience members.
Fifth: Consultant Simon Kates addresses the audience.

Constitutional Convention talk slated

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, Oct. 2, 2017 -- Every 20 years, New York voters have the opportunity to voice their opinions on the need for a convention to amend or otherwise improve the state’s constitution. The question will be asked again on the November ballot.

The League of Women Voters of Schuyler County is offering an explanation of the proposed constitutional convention with a talk on Oct. 11 by Dr. Jim Twombly, associate professor of political science at Elmira College.

“The Politics and Process of New York’s Constitutional Convention Referendum” will be presented at 6:30 p.m. at the Watkins Glen Elementary School auditorium.

The talk is free and open to all.

Twombly earned degrees from Slippery Rock University and the State University of New York at Stony Brook. His doctorate included specialties in American politics and public policy.

He serves as chairman of the Social and Behavioral Sciences Division at Elmira College and is a political analyst for Elmira’s WENY-TV and has appeared on many of the station’s news programs. Twombly is a member of the New York State Political Science Association, for which he served as chairman of the American Politics Section from 2013 through 2016.

Twombly’s courses include Congress, The Presidency, Political Parties, State and Local Government and Public Policy. His research interests include behavior of government officials, policy implementation, the presidency, political parties and political volunteers. He has co-authored articles appearing in the American Political Science Review, American Politics Research, Politics and Policy and Policy Studies Journal, and a book chapter in “Presidential Leadership and Civil Rights Policy.”

He is the author of a text, “American Presidency: The Progression of the American Presidency: Individuals, Empire, and Change.” Twombly has started work on a second book on unicameral state legislatures, and plans another on political scandal as pop culture.

Public Health unit warns about harmful algae blooms on Seneca and Waneta Lakes

Special to The Odessa File

SCHUYLER COUNTY, Sept. 26, 2017 -- Schuyler County Public Health is warning the community that harmful blue-green algae blooms have been identified on the east side of Seneca Lake in Schuyler County.

Blooms have also been discovered in Waneta Lake. “If you see blue-green algae blooms on the lakes -- avoid them,” said Schuyler County Public Health Director Marcia Kasprzyk. “These types of algae can cause health issues in people and animals.”

Blue-green algae is naturally present in lakes and streams. However, sometimes blue-green algae can form into blooms that discolor the water or make floating mats or scums on the surface of the water. This can occur when water is warm, shallow, undisturbed, or nutrient-rich.

Contact with blue-green algae can cause health effects in people and other animals if water with blooms is touched, swallowed, or if airborne droplets of water are breathed in, health officials caution. Large amounts of the toxins from some algae blooms can cause diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, allergic reactions or breathing problems, and irritation of the eyes, skin, and throat.

If you see blue-green algae blooms: do not swim, fish, boat, or wade in those areas. Blooms can be reported to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, your local health department, or to To learn more about blue-green algae blooms, visit the New York State Department of Health’s page about them:

For further information, visit Schuyler County Public Health online at or follow Schuyler County Public Health on Facebook and Twitter.

The Seneca Clipper Inn, where the Best Western hotel was proposed, but no longer is.

Watkins Best Western plan 'dead in water'

'We screwed up,' says Larnard; any future plan on site will be 'completely different'

WATKINS GLEN, Sept. 21, 2017 -- The plan for a three-story Best Western hotel proposed on land currently occupied by the Seneca Clipper Inn is “dead in the water, for lack of a better term,” says Watkins Glen Code Enforcement Officer Greg Larnard.

The plan, which foresaw a three-story Best Western on the site -- at the corner of Franklin and South Streets -- had been granted three of four variances sought by the property owner, Bharat “Bob” Patel. But Larnard admits that he should have first directed the process through the Schuyler County Planning Commission instead of through the Village Planning Board (in May) and the Zoning Board of Appeals (on July 27).

“Basically, we screwed up, and gotta start over,” said Larnard, adding that Patel has said he will not continue with the site plan as envisioned, and “maybe not at all. It’s probably not right to say that it’s on hold; it no longer exists. We’re back to where we started."

If Patel “comes back with a plan, it will be a completely different site plan, a completely different everything.”

Patel, operating under Kishan Hospitality LLC, runs the 12-room, one-story Seneca Clipper Inn, the Budget Inn across Franklin Street, and the Relax Inn in Montour Falls. The Best Western plan called for the Clipper Inn to be leveled.

The advisory County Planning Commission, on Sept. 14, rejected as unacceptable the variances granted by the ZBA, which included a reduced front setback on the Franklin Street side of the proposed building. There was also a variance in the two-story limit, permitting three stories (although, at 31 feet, it was, Larnard said, under the maximum allowed of 35); and a parking variance, with Patel short by about 7 spaces. The ZBA had rejected side variances on the north and south sides of the property.

The Planning Commission ruling came, however, after a press release Larnard issued in which he in effect said the village needed to review its process. He says now that the plan should have gone to the county first under a regulation requiring such action when the property is within 500 feet of a state road, in this case Rt. 14, Franklin Street.

“The ZBA needed the county’s thoughts and recommendations prior to making its decisions," he said Thursday. "It didn’t have them. Plus, we were required to let the residents at the ZBA meeting express their opinions.” But that was not permitted.

“My press release said in effect that I realized we screwed up. We were going to repeal everything at the next meeting, the date of which is yet to be determined. In between, Mr. Patel decided not to move forward with the project at this time. In effect, it’s dead in the water.”

And the woman next door to the property in question, Sandra Bartone, filed suit in State Supreme Court seeking a reversal of the variances granted by the ZBA. That hearing is Friday, and Larnard said in effect the court will likely do what the ZBA was going to do -- either vacate or repeal the variances.

“It will be taking care of it for us,” he said, and thus eliminating the need for a ZBA meeting on the matter.

Meanwhile, two members of the ZBA have resigned: chairman Mark Stephany and member Thomas Gossett. Neither resignation, said Larnard, appears connected to the controversy over the Best Western.

Stephany cited health and family concerns, and wrote his letter of resignation, Larnard said, “before my press release. In fact, he indicated he had hoped to stay on,” but couldn't. And Gossett had found it difficult to find the time to attend meetings.

Those resignations were approved Monday night by the Village Board.

“I know the timing looks peculiar,” Larnard said. “But I don’t think any of this (controversy) had anything to do with their decisions.”

Photo in text: Code Enforcement Officer Greg Larnard.

Bond hike, ZBA resignations mark session

WATKINS GLEN, Sept. 19 -- The Watkins Glen Village Board Monday night approved a motion to increase by $3 million the amount permitted under the bonding resolution for the upcoming water treatment plant, and accepted the resignation of two members of the Zoning Board of Appeals, including its chairman.

The bonding resolution of $25 million was increased by the board to $28 million as a means of permitting the project to proceed this fall instead of waiting for incoming funds expected with the new year.

Board member Tony Fraboni explained that the Joint Project Committee, with members from both the Watkins Glen and Montour Falls Village Boards -- the two villages are pursuing the new plant jointly -- were confronted recently with overbids of $6 million on the project.

"To keep it moving along," said Fraboni, the JPC "had to identifyy" funding sources to make up the difference between the initial $25 million estimate and the higher bids -- which are being rebid in November. The group "came up with $4.5 million in cost reduction" and $3.5 million in grants and in money obtained by State Senator Tom O'Mara.

So, said Fraboni, "we're gonna have it (the necessary funding) without passing on added cost to the users." But to avoid delay in the project, a $3 million increase to the bond resolution was needed in order to proceed in the fall with road construction and "the pile project -- the loading of the lot" -- that mark the first construction steps. The grant funds and O'Mara money would be available after Jan. 1.

The additional bond resolution money could be added to the total cost if needed, Fraboni noted, but that situation is not currently anticipated.

The four board members present -- Laurie DeNardo was absent -- voted in favor of the motion.

Zoning Board of Appeals

The board accepted letters of resignation, "effectively immediately," from Zoning Board of Appeals chairman Mark Stephany and ZBA member Thomas Gossett, and noted that there is no new meeting currently scheduled. There was no indication as to what prompted the resignations.

In place of Stephany and Gossett, the Village Board appointed Stacy Gray, who was present for the vote, and Roger Hugo, who was not. Gray, when interviewed afterward, said she did not know why the resignations occurred.

The new chairman of the ZBA, village officials noted, would be appointed through a vote of the five ZBA members whenever they next meet.

Meetings meeting

Village trustee Kevin Thornton announced that NYCOM -- the New York Conference of Mayors -- will hold a meeting at 6 p.m. Oct. 11 at the Community Center to discuss with village, town and county officials, and the public at large, how open meetings are conducted and what people attending them should know. It will also outline "what's expected from elected and appointed officials," he said. "It's worth checking out." And being in the Community Center, "there's plenty of room to fit lots of people."

Police contract

The board approved a new contract with the Village Police Department covering the dates of June 1, 2017 to May 31, 2020. No details were divulged.

Photos in text:

Top: Watkins Glen Village Board member Tony Fraboni at Monday's meeting.
Bottom: Village Board members Gary Schmidt, left, and Kevin Thornton.

County rebounds from system hack attack

WATKINS GLEN, Sept. 9, 2017 -- Schuyler County is looking to return to full functionality Monday, nearly two weeks after its computer system was compromised by what County Administrator Tim O’Hearn said was a “brute force” malware attack that threw county workers back to a paper recording and filing system.

“We are very dependent on technology,” said O’Hearn, added that he has long been a proponent of “paperless” government, "which is fine until something like this happens.”

The New York State Office of Cybersecurity has the lead in the investigation, assisted by the FBI. O’Hearn said the Cybersecurity office “has been phenomenal to deal with,” sending staff members on-site as well as fielding a team in Albany to probe and analyze the incident.
The forensic investigation is ongoing, and the state is expected to share its findings when it has something to report. For now, O’Hearn describes the attack as “a forced entry” from outside and random in nature, the malware “not let in by an employee.”

It occurred on Tuesday, Aug. 29, discovered when computers that day slowed to a crawl. They were taken off-line, and a massive restoration of files was undertaken, with a priority on the 911 emergency system, the treasurer’s office and the Board of Elections, which has a primary election coming up next week. (There is a town contest in Tyrone, and a primary for the county clerk’s job.)

The 911 system “was impacted, but never lost functionality,” said O’Hearn. “The dispatch center was never unable to respond.” That system is now being restored to its normal performance level.

While there was “no evidence of an extraction of data from the system, financial or otherwise,” he added, “it slowed down customer service” as county workers returned to operations of a bygone age -- a decade and more ago -- where paper reporting and filing was the norm. Meanwhile, the computer file system has been rebuilt and “the further spread of infection” eliminated.

“All file servers have been re-imaged,” he said, as the county has “followed state and federal protocol” and benefitted from an alliance with the Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES), which contains Schuyler backup files that made the restoration effort easier -- "though very detailed and time-consuming."

State operations within the county offices in Watkins Glen and Montour Falls were not affected -- those at the Department of Motor Vehicles and the Department of Social Services, the latter a county unit but one that works under a state system and “is pretty much an extension of state government.”

The attack “was bad luck,” said O’Hearn. “We’re seeing more and more of it as government becomes a bigger and bigger target.

“But we’re getting through it.”

And getting back fully on its computer system, it appears, come the start of the new work week.

Area counties in line for security grants

Special to The Odessa File

ELMIRA, Sept. 8 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara says that each of the counties he represents as part of New York’s 58th Senate District will receive public safety and security funding as part of a new package of $220 million in federal grants being distributed statewide to support local emergency response operations.

The federal “Homeland Security Grant Program” awards were announced in Albany. The grants will be administered by the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services (DHSES) and go to support local emergency preparedness, response, and training initiatives.

“These timely and important public safety and emergency response grants will make a difference to counties and local first responders across the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions,” said O’Mara. “Emergency preparedness, response, and recovery are fundamental government responsibilities.”

The homeland security grants are targeted to enhance county-level counterterrorism initiatives, and emergency preparedness and response capabilities, including training for first responders and equipment purchases.

The following grants are being awarded to the counties comprising O’Mara’s 58th Senate District: Chemung ($169,561), Schuyler ($54,984), Steuben ($129,963), Tompkins ($114,967), and Yates ($39,988).

From left with the $10 million check are: Watkins Glen Village Trustees Tony Fraboni and Laurie DeNardo, State Senator Tom O'Mara, Governor Andrew Cuomo, Watkins Mayor Sam Schimizzi, Empire State Development CEO Howard Zemsky, and Village Trustee Gary Schmidt. (Photo by Holly Baker)

Watkins Glen wins $10 million state grant, part of Downtown Revitalization Initiative

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, Aug. 3, 2017 -- Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced Thursday morning that Watkins Glen is being awarded $10 million in state funding and investments to revitalize its downtown. It is one of 10 awards statewide as part of a $100 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative, now in its second year.

The announcement, made at the Media Center of Watkins Glen International, came a year after Watkins Glen had fallen short of the prize when it was one of three finalists, against Elmira and Ithaca. Elmira was awarded the grant last year. The other finalists this year were Ithaca and Endicott, with presentation teams from each community making their pitches to a panel of judges recently during a gathering at Cornell University.

The Watkins Glen presentation was a virtual reality one, complete with goggles, that highlighted the village's economic strengths and its potential to ride those strengths -- with the proper infusion of funds and vision -- into a role as world-class destination. Specifics of how the money will be spent have yet to be determined, and will likely include consultants provided by the state. One goal is to leverage the $10 million in assistance into much more -- through private investments that can lead to more projects and more jobs.

More than 150 members of the community turned out to hear Thursday's announcement from Governor Cuomo, who started the session about a half-hour late while he toured the WGI track -- behind a pace car that he said "slowed me down." Also speaking were Commissioner Howard Zemsky, president and CEO of Empire State Development and Commissioner of the New York State Department of Economic Development; WGI President Michael Printup; Watkins Glen Mayor Sam Schimizzi, and State Senator Tom O'Mara.

Cuomo was introduced by Printup, who called the governor "a car guy" and "a great friend of the Glen,” and presented him with a custom-built racing helmet with "I Love NY 355 at The Glen" on it -- the name of the NASCAR race this weekend at WGI now that the state has joined as its sponsor.

Cuomo said said the state has "a three-point strategy" to develop its economy:

1. Reduce taxes by reducing state spending, which is the state’s “single greatest accomplishment.”

2. Invest in infrastructure. New York is spending $100 billion on infrastructure across the state, the most ambitious program in the United States right now. “We really are re-building and re-tooling this state for the future,” he said, with "new airports, new roads and new bridges."

3. A bottom-up economic development strategy, whereby local communities create their own plans and compete for state investment funds: the Downtown Revitalization Initiative.
“Watkins Glen is interesting and has phenomenal potential," he said. "You have what most communities would die for. You have volume. You have traffic. ... People are coming. You have the reverse issue, which is all this traffic and all these people. They need to eat. They need to sleep. You just need the economic activities that capitalize on the volume that you have.”

Whereas he thought the DRI contest might attract 20 or 30 applicants across the state's 10 designated regions, Cuomo said, "There were 104 applications for 10 grants of $10 million. It's harder to win one of these grants than to get into Harvard University.

"I'm here to tell you: Thanks to you and the great work that you did, congratulations! You have won $10 million.”

That brought a standing ovation.

“You did it!," said Cuomo. "Congratulations to all of you! The potential is here. You can feel it. It’s in the air.”

In his remarks that followed, Mayor Schimizzi said “What an amazing day at Watkins Glen. This was a huge win for the village and region."

After thanking people instrumental in the effort, and singling out County Planner Kristin VanHorn and Village Trustee Laurie DeNardo -- both members of the presentation team, he added: “We’re a small, close-knit community. We know how to get things done.” And he said the village leaders were looking forward to a “downtown that’s worthy of an international destination.” Finally, he thanked Cuomo for "helping us build a better future."

And Senator O'Mara, in remarks closing the presentation, called the $10 million prize "fantastic" and said it was "truly the best of the three plans that were presented." He noted the USA Today contest polls that Watkins Glen has recently won or in which it finished near the top -- as the favorite NASCAR track, favorite Wine Festival, favorite Waterfront Hotel and best State Park.

"We have a great region," he said. "We've got the assets. The DRI is targeting Watkins Glen, but it's really all about the region and building on its strength." And in closing, he addressed Cuomo: "Governor, show us the money, will ya?"

The check presentation followed, with dignitaries in different combinations posing with it.

Special guests included members of the Governor’s Regional Council, elected officials at the local, regional and state level, and members of the FLX Gateway Community Development Corporation who spearheaded the proposal process and led the presenting team. The presenting team members included County Planner VanHorn, who is also the FLX Gateway Chair; Village Trustee DeNardo; Jon Beckman, Vice President at WGI; Ben Stamp of Lakewood Vineyards, and Tim O’Hearn, Schuyler County Administrator.

Afterward came more comments.

“The FLX Gateway Community Development Corporation first and foremost must thank Governor Cuomo for this award and sharing in our vision for Watkins Glen," said VanHorn. "What Watkins might lack in size, we make up for in our endless ambition, and commitment to the future. Downtown Watkins Glen is a symbol of the local quality of life, economic growth, community pride and history. This funding will be the catalyst for transformational development which will allow Watkins Glen to become the premier small town in New York State. The FLX Gateway CDC could not be more excited and proud to work with the community and be part of this transformation.”

Added WGI's Beckman: “The Village of Watkins Glen is the gateway to multiple world-renowned attractions. As stewards of those icons we are honored to have helped deliver a transformational victory through the Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant.”

“We are thrilled," said O'Hearn, "to learn of our selection as this year’s DRI winner! It has been said that success is the art of preparation, and Watkins Glen has certainly been proof positive of this saying. Our community has spent the past decade preparing for this moment by collaborating and developing a vision for the future. The DRI award will continue the momentum that has been steadily building, and will be the critical link in transforming this community into a world-class destination while enhancing the quality of life for our residents and businesses. We thank Governor Cuomo and the Regional Council for their vote of confidence and look forward to the future with great excitement."

Said DeNardo: "It was an honor to be a part of this effort. The team was energized and worked so well together that I am confident the Village will have a renewal that each and every citizen will be proud of. I was especially moved by the citizen input for suggestions and needs that came during a public meeting at the Chamber."

Other Village trustees weighed in:

Trustee Kevin Thornton: "This was our second attempt at this and we learned much from last year. That's what is so special about Watkins Glen; we have tenacity, creativity and vision."

Trustee Gary Schmidt: "I'm very proud of the work that was done and the acknowledgment of the vision, purpose and transformational concepts that were recognized."

Trustee Tony Fraboni: "This is a great day for Watkins Glen and the area. Each and every citizen and business will benefit from this award."

From the local economic development perspective, Judy McKinney Cherry, Executive Director of SCOPED, added this:

“This effort met the Governor’s goal of having our community step in and get involved while stepping up to articulate a clear vision and defined path. We had so much support for this effort from the community. From the IT support to make the virtual reality technology work, to the community members who came to a public meeting to voice their concerns, vision and desires, to the staff that worked this project into their everyday work responsibilities, this was a grass-roots collective effort -- truly a collective effort. Our governmental agencies, private sector and non-profits all played pivotal roles in making this dream into a reality. Now the real work begins -- and Governor, we have our sleeves rolled up and we’re ready to get to work! Thank you again for helping Watkins Glen and the Southern Tier continue our effort. Ever Upward.”

Photos in text: From top, Governor Andrew Cuomo at WGI; Cuomo receives a racing helmet from WGI President Michael Printup; Watkins Glen Mayor Sam Schimizzi; State Senator Tom O'Mara; and Empire State Development CEO Howard Zemsky. (Photos by Holly Baker)

Driver Ross Chastain is greeting race fans, encouraging seat belt use in Schuyler

Special to The Odessa File

MONTOUR FALLS, July 31, 2017 -- The Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee and Schuyler County Office for the Aging are partnering to promote seat belt use in Schuyler County. As part of that effort, the agencies are bringing the "Protect Your Melon" campaign here to raise awareness about the importance of wearing seatbelts.

The event features NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Ross Chastain and his No. 4 Xfinity Series “Protect your Melon” racecar. Chastain was at the Human Services Complex in Montour Falls on Tuesday, August 1 from 11 a.m. to 1p.m., setting up in the parking lot with his trailer, where he greeted and talked with visitors about the importance of wearing a seatbelt.

Chastain’s No. 4 Xfinity Series racecar is adorned with the words "Protect Your Melon" and the campaign’s logo. Chastain will be racing this week at Watkins Glen with the logo and other “Buckle Up NY” messaging affixed to his race car.

In response to older drivers in Schuyler County being involved in crashes or killed due to the lack of wearing a seatbelt, the Schuyler County Office for the Aging is collaborating with GTSC to provide attendees with helpful information related to the need for seatbelt use. Created though a partnership with JD Motorsports, Ross Chastain and the Governor's Traffic Safety Committee, “Protect Your Melon” is centered on the annual “Buckle Up New York” seatbelt enforcement.

In addition to the event on August 1st, Chastain and his No. 4 Xfinity Series racecar will be at Watkins Glen State Park on Wednesday, August 2 from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. That event will once again raise awareness about the importance of highway safety and wearing seat belts.

In 1984, New York became the first state in the nation to pass a seat-belt law, and its efforts to get drivers and passengers to buckle up has resulted in a steady rise in compliance over the last eight years, say state officials. New York’s compliance has consistently remained at or above 90 percent over that time frame, they have said.

For more information related to Chastain's appearances, contact the Schuyler County Office for the Aging at 607-535-7108.

2 in sex case sentenced; one gets 21-to-life

WATKINS GLEN, July 20 -- Two area men found guilty last month by Schuyler County Judge Dennis J. Morris on rape-related charges were sentenced Thursday by Morris -- one of them to 21 years to life in state prison.

Jeffrey A. Forney, Jr., 22, of 2260 State Route 414, Watkins Glen (pictured at right), drew that sentence after being convicted of two counts of Predatory Sexual Assault and one of Unlawfully Dealing with a Child. Predatory Sexual Assualt is a Class A felony that carries a minimum sentence of 10 years to life in prison and a maximum of 25 years to life. Officials said Forney was charged with that crime because he had a prior sex offense conviction from 2013 for Attempted Sexual Abuse in the First Degree. Unlawfully Dealing with a Child is a Class A misdemeanor.

Forney becomes parole eligible after 21 years, but could spend his life in prison. The prosecution had sought a 25-years-to-life sentence. In a press release, the DA's office noted that Forney had 24 previous interactions with law enforcement and the criminal justice system, and spent three years in prison. He was released in June of 2015, two months before the August 2015 incident that prompted the latest arrest and conviction.

An accomplice in the August 2015 incident, Aaron G. Bowen, 24, of 1435 DeMunn Road, Beaver Dams -- found guilty by Morris last month of Rape in the First Degree, Criminal Sexual Act in the First Degree, and Unlawfully Dealing with a Child -- was sentenced Thursday to "a determinate term of eight years in prison, with seven years of post-release supervision." The first two charges were Class B Violent Felonies, which carry a minimum sentence of 5 years and a maximum sentence of 25 years. Unlawfully Dealing with a Child is a Class A misdemeanor.

The prosecution had sought at least 15 years in prison for Bowen.

Officials said the two men were charged relating to an incident on August 25, 2015 in which each had oral and vaginal sex with an 18-year-old female who was "intoxicated by alcohol to the point of being physically helpless." After the sexual assault, "the defendants drove the victim to Horseheads, where her body was found in a field by a Good Samaritan as he drove to work at approximately 6:30 a.m."

Forney's trial was held before Judge Morris on May 22, and Bowen's before that -- on May 8th. They were retrials of a joint trial that occurred during January 2017, which had resulted in a mistrial due to a hung jury.

Both cases were prosecuted by Chief Assistant District Attorney Matthew C. Hayden.

Photo in text: Jeffrey A. Forney, Jr. (Photo provided)

Village trustees Laurie DeNardo and Tony Fraboni listen to resident John Dahl.

Treatment plant rebid, area opioid issue highlight Watkins Village Board session

WATKINS GLEN, July 18 -- The Watkins Glen Village Board meeting Monday night served as a primer on such topics as a rebid on the planned water treatment plant and the response time of rescue personnel on overdose calls.

It also saw a public hearing on a new Local Law, and announcement of a replacement for retired Superintendent of Utilities Mark Specchio.

That latter is Lee Warren (Corky) Kent, a 10-year veteran of the Cargill salt firm, where he has worked as an electrician. Kent, who takes over the superintendent's role -- in fact, with a new title, Superintendent of Public Works -- on July 31, said he was "excited" by his new job.

The Local Law succeeds two previous ones dealing with revitalization of the waterfront and making the village eligible to apply for grant funding from various state agencies. There is little change from Local Laws of 2009 and 2016 -- consisting mostly of what Village Clerk Donna Beardsley called "tweaks" called for by the state. Nobody spoke at the public hearing, and no action was taken, but will be soon.

The rebid on the water treatment plant's general construction was needed when the previous bids came in too high. Village Trustee Tony Fraboni, a member of the Joint Project Committee (JPC), said the high bids resulted from confusion among the bidders regarding the specifics of site preparation. The plant is planned on land on the east side of the canal, across from the Watkins Glen High School property.

The part of the specs regarding the site prep will be rewritten to be more concise, and the bidding opened again, possibly in August. Fraboni said the delay will not affect the overall schedule of the project.

The board also approved the purchase of the nine acres at the site for $40,000 from the New York State Power Authority. Fraboni said the land used to belong to the Canal Corporation, which was going to give it to the village, but that ownership was shifted by the state to the Power Authority, which asked for $280,000, basing its appraisal on vacation lakefront property. Mayor Sam Schimizzi said the village "pushed back," the result being a reduction in the request to $40,000 -- which Fraboni indicated was still too high but "we thought we don't have time to fight it any more." The money, in any event, was already provided in the budget for the estimated $25 million project.

Rescue caution

Fire Chief Charlie Scaptura, in his monthly report, said that department personnel have been undergoing rescue training dealing with the growing problem of opioid overdoses -- specifically heroin-based and fentanyl cases.

Carfentanyl -- which he said was designed as an elephant sedative that has made its way to large cities and now into the rural countryside -- provides a specific challenge to the health and welfare of rescue squads.

He told of a case in the Boston area in which a rescue worker got some of the carfentanyl powder on his hands and almost immediately went into arrest. He was brought back by the rapid application of Narcan, which combats fentanyl's effects.

He said future responses might take longer as rescue workers clothe themselves in long-sleeve shirts and long pants -- providing themselves with as much protection as possible. And on any call, he said, a tanker will be provided to wash down the scene "if there is a possibility of contamination" -- water serving as "a perfect antidote" in such cases.

"Eventually," the chief said, "the feds" might "take control" and send Hazmat teams instead of local rescue squads to such scenes.

In other business, the board:

-- Heard from resident John Dahl of Pine Street, who said work on that road -- dealing with infrastructure underneath -- has left the surface unsettled and treacherous. He also complained about a culvert that clogs where his driveway meets the road, ultimately breaking up his blacktop.

-- Heard from Schuyler County Partnership for Economic Development executive director Judy Cherry, who reported on the presentation by a team -- including Village Board member Laurie DeNardo -- before a panel as part of an effort to secure $10 million in Downtown Revitalization Initiative funds. Watkins Glen was a finalist along with Endicott and Ithaca. The team, said Cherry -- who served as a judge -- did an "exceptional" job with a virtual reality presentation. A decision is not expected for several weeks.

-- Discussed camper vehicles that park on village streets, instead of at campgrounds. Officer in Charge Steve Decker said no such vehicle over 16 feet long should be parked on a village street for more than 72 hours, unless part of a construction project.

-- Approved a resolution that will, in effect, enable the village to pursue additional grant funds to be applied to construction of the new wastewater treatment plant. The resolution noted that "$2.5 million of grant funding is needed to address a budget gap for this project." Said Mayor Schimizzi: "We're trying to get all the funding we can get. It can't hurt."

Photos in text:

From top: Mayor Sam Schimizzi, Fire Chief Charlie Scaptura and Village Trustee Gary Schmidt at Monday's meeting.

Chart shows some of the work planned at the Franklin Street-4th Street intersection.

DOT holds public meetings on Rt. 14 plan

WATKINS GLEN, July 12, 2017 -- The New York State Department of Transportation (DOT) held two public meetings -- on Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning -- to outline to the public proposed improvements along State Route 14 in Watkins Glen in 2018.

The meetings were held at the Village Hall in Watkins Glen. An identical presentation was given at both meetings, followed by question-and-answer sessions that allowed residents and businesses the opportunity to discuss the project further.

Preliminary drawings were hung on the walls of the meeting room -- the village court -- and positioned on easels. They showed the envisioned project from its southernmost point, where Rt. 14 meets Fairgrounds Lane, to its northernmost point on the other side of the village, far up the hill from the business district.

The project specifically proposes to:
--Resurface State Route 14 from Fairgrounds Lane to the State Route 14A intersection.
--Replace all sidewalks along Route 14/Franklin Street.
--Replace signals and improve pedestrian crossings along Franklin Street.
--Enhance the gateway and slow traffic for those entering from the North.
--Coordinate with improvements constructed this year by the Watkins Glen State Park.

According to the meeting emcee and project director, the DOT's Michael J. Griffin -- present with four other DOT representatives, all from the DOT's Hornell office: the project will begin in the spring, probably in March, and continue until the end of the school year before being suspended for the summer. It will resume when school is back in session in the fall.

It will be done step by step, with as little disruption as possible -- although Griffin said there will obviously be "hiccups." Accordingly, a team of DOT representatives will be on hand to coordinate with businesses and with residents along Franklin Street.

The project started as a repaving effort, but then expanded, he said, to include sidewalks and some traffic signals. As part of that, "all intersections will be brought up to compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act."

A purpose of the project, he added, is "to try to improve how traffic moves through the community." That includes eliminating some parking spaces near the intersection of 4th Street, where "traffic can be gridlocked whenever a truck turns there." That will open a passing lane on the western side of Franklin Street in order to keep traffic moving. But the loss of spaces there will be "re-allocated" elsewhere, so that the total loss of parking spaces in that portion of the village will amount to "just four."

Also envisioned: signs along the original racetrack above and to the west of the village. These would identify specific points of the course, such as Townsend Corner or the Stone Bridge.

The overall DOT project will include a grant project for installation of a raised median at the curve on the northern end of the business district, where traffic often enters speeding. An effort will also be made from that point north to encourage slower traffic by vehicles coming from the north. That might include squeezing traffic down to one lane each way sooner that now exists on that downhill approach. It might also include signage and "visual tricks and operational tricks to slow people down," Griffin said.

As for the sidewalks, Griffin said they will not be entirely concrete, but include bricks near the curbing. This will be visually appealing, as well as making installation of future Walk of Fame plaques easier in the future. He said existing plaques will be replaced in the new sidewalks right where they now sit.

Because of the construction plan -- spring and then fall -- construction will include "long hours, 12 to 14 hours Monday through Thursday." There will be "impacts," he said, but added: "You have to break eggs to make an omelet."

When a section of sidewalk is being torn up and replaced, parking at that point will be suspended, with the parking area serving as a walking space for pedestrians, separated from traffic by a line of orange cones. There will be entry points from the walking lane to storefronts, he noted, although there "might be short periods" when store owners should urge customers to use the back door.

"There are gonna be some difficult times we have to work through," Griffin said, adding: "We want to limit the amount of disturbance at all times."

For more information about the project, contact Michael Griffin, Design Manager, who can be reached by telephone at (607) 324-8557; or by mail at 107 Broadway, Hornell, NY 14843.

Photos in text: From top: The DOT's Michael Griffin; Two of the 35 people present Tuesday evening study one of the charts; and Griffin explains the project.

Charts on easels and on the wall outlined the various aspects of the DOT project.

O'Mara, Palmesano urge online votes as WGI competes again in 'best track' poll

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, June 22 -- Watkins Glen International (WGI) is once again among the 20 nationwide finalists in USA Today’s online Readers’ Choice competition to decide “America’s Best NASCAR Track.”

State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,I,C,-Big Flats) and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,I,C-Corning) are urging area residents to vote for The Glen once a day, every day, on every Internet-capable device they have until the contest closes on Monday, July 17, at noon.

In a joint statement, O’Mara and Palmesano said, “Let’s deliver our support and keep voting every day to help Watkins Glen International once again take the checkered flag as the best NASCAR track in America. It’s a great opportunity to help keep the Finger Lakes region on the national map and to show our pride in The Glen as a favorite destination for visitors
from across the country, a cornerstone of our leading tourism industry, and a driving force for charity, community service, and economic development."

WGI won the designation the last time USA Today conducted the competition in 2015.

O’Mara and Palmesano noted Thursday that WGI is currently running in the lead for the 2017 designation.

The local legislators have long singled out The Glen for its unique contributions to American motorsports. WGI events annually generate over $200 million in economic activity across the region and account for more than 2,000 local jobs. The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series weekend in August is one of New York’s largest sporting events and attracts fans from all 50 states, as well as 16 different countries.

To vote in the “Best NASCAR Track in America” competition, visit O’Mara’s Senate website ( or Palmesano on Facebook at,
or go directly to the USA Today website:

Voters can vote once every 24 hours from every Internet-capable device they have.

Schuyler man convicted of meth sales

WATKINS GLEN, June 16, 2017 -- Michael L. Doane, 52, of 2355 Baker Hill Road, was convicted Thursday of three counts of Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance in the 5th Degree by a Schuyler County Court jury.

Authorities said Doane sold methamphetamine out of his residence on three occasions, including on one occasion to an undercover police officer.

The cases were investigated by the New York State Police CNET (Southern Tier) division and its Special Investigation Unit (Rochester).

The prosecution called 17 witnesses (13 from the State Police) and entered 22 exhibits into evidence.

The jury took less than an hour to convict Doane. He faces up to 7 1/2 years in prison. The case was adjourned to August 3 so that a presentence investigation can be completed.

Schuyler County District Attorney Joseph G. Fazzary prosecuted the case.

Schuyler Youth Bureau marks 40 years

Special to
The Odessa File

MONTOUR FALLS, June 13, 2017 -- The Schuyler County Youth Bureau recently celebrated its 40th Anniversary with a reception and ceremony at the Silver Spoon Cafe in the Human Services Complex in Montour Falls.

The ceremony featured several guest speakers, including County Administrator Tim O’Hearn and Social Services Commissioner/Youth Bureau Director JoAnn Fratarcangelo, who highlighted the program's impact on the county and its youth.

Special recognition went to:

-- graduating Youth Court member Diana LaFever;
-- the Montour Falls Library and its director, Roxanne Leyes, for providng year-round learning opportunities for youths and adults in the county;
-- Tim and Michelle Benjamin for their dedication to youth through the Student Exchange program and theater groups;
-- Hannah Pastrick, former Runaway and Homeless Counselor at Catholic Charities; and to
-- Youth Bureau Director JoAnn Fratarcangelo.

The event was a mixture of laughs and tears as stories -- including some from former Probation Director Ron Alexander (read by current Director Chris Rosno) and former Youth Bureau Director Lyman Flahive (read by his daughter, Chandra Flahive) -- were told, reaching back to the agency beginnings in 1977.

The evening, said one observer, "proved to be a solid testament to the Youth Bureau’s dedication and lasting impact to the youth in Schuyler County."

Photos in text:

Top: Youth Bureau Program Coordinator Adam Lawton with honoree Hannah Pastrick.
Bottom: Honorees Tim and Michelle Benjamin. (Photos provided)

2 men found guilty in Schuyler sex case

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, June 2 -- Two area men were found guilty Thursday by Schuyler County Judge Dennis J. Morris on rape-related charges following bench trials in county court.

Jeffrey A. Forney, Jr., 22, of 2260 State Route 414, Watkins Glen, was convicted of two counts of Predatory Sexual Assault and one of Unlawfully Dealing with a Child. Predatory Sexual Assualt is a Class A felony that carries a minimum sentence of 10 years to life in prison and a maximum of 25 years to life. Officials said Forney was charged with that crime because he has a prior sex offense conviction from 2013 for Attempted Sexual Abuse in the First Degree. Unlawfully Dealing with a Child is a Class A misdemeanor.

Sentencing has been set for July 20.

Aaron G. Bowen, 24, of 1435 DeMunn Road, Beaver Dams, was found guilty of Rape in the First Degree, Criminal Sexual Act in the First Degree, and Unlawfully Dealing with a Child. The first two are Class B Violent Felonies, which carry a minimum sentence of 5 years and a maximum sentence of 25 years. Unlawfully Dealing with a Child is a Class A misdemeanor.

Sentencing has been set for August 3.

Officials said the co-defendants were charged relating to an incident on August 25, 2015 in which each had oral and vaginal sex with an 18-year-old female who was "intoxicated by alcohol to the point of being physically helpless." After the sexual assault, "the defendants drove the victim to Horseheads, where her body was found in a field by a Good Samaritan as he drove to work at approximately 6:30 a.m."

Forney's trial was held before Judge Morris on May 22, and Bowen's before that -- on May 8th. They were retrials of a joint trial that occurred during January 2017, which had resulted in a mistrial due to a hung jury.

Both cases were prosecuted by Chief Assistant District Attorney Matthew C. Hayden.

Former assemblyman welcomed to Albany

Special to The Odessa Fil

ALBANY, May 18, 2017 -- Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I-Corning) was pleased to meet with his predecessor, Jim Bacalles, during Bacalles’ recent return to the Capitol. 

“It was an honor and great privilege for me to welcome Jim back to Albany,” said Palmesano. “Jim is a true friend of this house. His commitment to our Southern Tier and Finger Lakes community set a standard for public service that we’re all striving toward to this day.”  

Palmesano noted that he and Bacalles have maintained an excellent relationship over the years.

“Jim was my mentor and he’s still a very good friend," said Palmesano. "I worked for him from 1995 to 2004, and during that time I learned so much. He epitomizes what public service should be all about. I again want to thank him for his many years of faithful service to our community.”

Photo in text: Former Assemblyman Jim Bacalles, left, with Assemblyman Phil Palmesano. (Photo provided)

Municipalities fight Walmart tax claim

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, May 12, 2017 -- A preliminary conference has been scheduled for June 23 in the case of Walmart Real Estate Business Trust (“Walmart”) against the Town of Dix Board of Assessment Review and other affected Schuyler County municipalities.

In the meantime, attorneys for the affected municipalities, Schuyler County Attorney Steven Getman and Town of Dix Attorney Robert Halpin, have served a demand to audit Walmart’s books and records to substantiate the retail giant’s statement of income and expenses.

In July 2016, Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, filed suit alleging that their store in the Village of Watkins Glen was over-assessed. The current assessment values the property at $11,700,000. Walmart has claimed its property is only worth $7,500,000. In 2012, Walmart agreed that its property was valued at $11,400,000.

Because any such assessment reduction would adversely affect all real property tax jurisdictions in the county deriving taxes from the Walmart property, the affected municipalities -- the Town of Dix, the Village of Watkins Glen, the Watkins Glen School District and Schuyler County -- joined forces to fight Walmart’s claims.

According to Schuyler County Administrator Tim O’Hearn, “this continued collaboration among municipal partners is a testament to our resolve to ensure that all property taxpayers pay their fair share. If granted a reduction, Walmart would in effect be shifting its portion of the tax burden to the rest of our taxpayers.”

According to Getman, the June 23 preliminary conference will likely result in the court fixing a date for trial, as well as directing the parties to obtain appraisals and sales reports, and to exchange and file appraisal reports and sales reports.

In anticipation of that trial, the defendants have already served a demand upon Walmart to make its relevant books and records available for audit. That audit should be completed in approximately 120 days, Getman noted.

The Schuyler County case is being heard in Schuyler County Supreme Court with Hon. Dennis J. Morris presiding. Walmart is being represented by the Buffalo law firm Kavinoky Cook LLP. Halpin and Getman are jointly representing the affected municipalities.

Watkins girls basketball state champions visit Albany, honored with Resolution

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, May 9, 2017 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats) and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I-Corning) hosted the Watkins Glen High School girls varsity basketball team at the Capitol Tuesday where the Senate and Assembly paid tribute to the team’s 2017 Class C State Championship.

In a joint statement, O’Mara and Palmesano said, “It was our great pleasure to host the Watkins Glen state champs at the Capitol. We were grateful for the opportunity to introduce the Senecas to our Senate and Assembly colleagues and to help celebrate such a memorable and remarkable season. This team exemplifies the finest qualities of achievement, commitment to excellence, hard work and success, and they have made their school, their families, their community and our entire region very proud.”

The Senecas captured the program’s first-ever New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) basketball championship when they defeated Port Jefferson, 65-63, on Sunday, March 19 at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, New York. The game
was highlighted by a 16-point fourth-quarter comeback and by sophomore Hannah Morse’s buzzer-beater, a baseline floater to capture the state title and cap off a 22-2 season.

The team was led by Head Coach Alicia Learn, Assistant Coaches Scott Morse and Harold Chaffee, and Strength Trainer Ralph Diliberto. Team members are: Mikenna Ayers, Emilia Bond, Clara Chedzoy, Makenna Fraboni, Mariah Gonzalez, Taylor Kelly, Katlyn Kernan, Ryanna LaMoreaux, Kendra Larson, Hannah Morse, Amanda Pike, Julia Reilly and Jazmin Shea.

Watkins Glen Superintendent Tom Phillips and Athletic Director Rod Weeden accompanied the team to Albany Tuesday.

The Senate and Assembly Resolution adopted in the team’s honor reads, in part, “Proudly donning the school's colors of navy blue and maroon, family, friends, and the community at large loyally and enthusiastically supported the Senecas throughout their journey ... In a sport such as basketball, which demands athletic prowess, speed and agility, Head Coach Alicia Learn and her skilled coaching staff worked hard to hone the skills of this championship team, teaching these outstanding athletes lessons which will prove invaluable both on and off the court ... The Watkins Glen High School Girls Basketball Team has clearly utilized dedication, determination and teamwork in providing a lasting contribution to the spirit of excellence which is a tradition of their school.”

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano with the Watkins Glen girls varsity basketball team in the State Capitol prior to the team’s recognition during Tuesday's Senate and Assembly sessions. (Photo provided)

Shared Services Initiative meetings set

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, May 10 -- Schuyler County Administrator Tim O’Hearn has provided an update on the status of the County’s efforts to comply with the recently enacted County-wide Shared Services Initiative (Enacted by Part BBB of Chapter 59 of the Laws of the State of NY 2017).

“In an effort to generate property tax savings by facilitating operational collaboration between local governments," said O'Hearn, "the new law mandates the creation of a Shared Service Panel (SSP) in each county. In Schuyler’s case we have had an active Council of Governments (established 2005) which mimics the makeup of the SSP. As such, the regularly scheduled COG meeting in April became the inaugural meeting of the SSP.”

O’Hearn, who under the legislation, is tasked with chairing the panel, said that all but one municipality attended the first meeting and that the group actively engaged in offering suggestions for possible future shared service opportunities designed to lower the cost of providing government services.

Under the newly enacted legislation, local governments are under a tight timeline to develop a plan which must be submitted to the County Legislature by August 1st and voted on by the panel no later than September 15th. Between now and August 1st, O’Hearn -- as chair of the panel -- must conduct at least three public meetings to provide residents the opportunity to offer direct input as to any ideas or suggestions they would like to be considered by the panel. O’Hearn has scheduled the requisite meetings as follows:

May 17 at 7 p.m.
June 21 at 1 p.m.
July 12 at 7 p.m.
All meetings will be held at the County Legislative Offices, 105 9th St., Watkins Glen.

The shared service panel is scheduled to reconvene on May 25th at 7 p.m. at the Human Services Complex in Montour Falls.

The public is encouraged to attend any of the above meetings.

A full explanation of the legislation and other supporting documents can be found at:

Photo in text: County Administrator Tim O'Hearn (File photo)

Congerssman Tom Reed addressed the Tyrone audience from a spot beside a fire truck.

Reed faces angry crowd in Tyrone session

TYRONE, April 1 -- About 130 area residents gave Congressman Tom Reed a piece of their minds Saturday afternoon in a town hall meeting in the Tyrone Fire Hall.

It was one of four such stops by Reed during the day. He had already visited Tioga Central School to meet with almost 100 constitutents, and encountered about 250 people at Broadway Academy in Southport, near Elmira. After his Tyrone stop, he was heading to Avoca.

Each meeting ran an hour or more, and dealt with such subjects as the environment, health care, Russia's involvement in the U.S. election in 2016, President Donald Trump's taxes, and the ongoing investigations by House and Senate intelligence committees.

The folks on hand in Tyrone were heavily opposed to ongoing Washington politics, and to Reed's votes and expected votes on those various subjects. The event was punctuated by a standing ovation in reaction to a fervent plea in favor of Planned Parenthood -- for which Reed wants to see federal funding cut off -- and loud "boos" when Reed said he wanted to "stay on the side of privacy" when it came to Trump's tax returns.

Associates of Reed's said the contentious nature of the Tyrone visit was similar to those at the day's three other stops and at town hall meetings in recent weeks around the congressional district.

The first 20 minutes or more of the session -- the gathering was held in the bay area of the fire department -- dealt with the environnment, and the Trump administration's moves to reduce the effectiveness of the Environmental Protection Agency.

"I'm not advocating closing the EPA," Reed said in answer to questions on his position, "but I do favor a reasonable role" in protecting the nation's air and water. "I come at it from a position of reasonableness." He said while he favored the development of alternative forms of energy such as wind and solar, "fossil fuel is part of" our country's future dependency.

He kept saying "we" when explaining his support or positions, and was asked if "we" meant the Republican party or a subgroup of it. No, he said, that was a habit he had -- which he has been chided for in the past -- of describing himself. "That's the royal we," yelled one man in attendance.

Reed pointed out that he believes in climate change -- unlike many of his GOP colleagues -- and signed on to the Paris Climate Change Accord although "I think it saddled America with too much" ... which was met with loud heckling.

Reed was verbally accosted a number of times -- in particular by one woman who said he should "be ashamed of yourself" for opposing Planned Parenthood funding when one of that organization's founders, birth control activist Margaret Sanger, was from Corning, just as Reed is. That was met by a standing ovation, but as he did on other subjects, Reed kept his composure, saying "I appreciate your concern" or similar bromides.

The crowd wanted explanations for his positions -- largely pro-GOP -- on rolling back environmental safeguards on coal, on steep budgetary cuts in the EPA and State Department, on the administration's proposed budgetary cutbacks on such social programs as Meals on Wheels, and on the cutback of regulations designed to curb the worst environmental impulses of big business. The budget, said one woman, is a work "that substitutes cruelty for compassion."

He defended his position on each, pointing out that he represents 717,000 people and can't reach agreement with all of them -- that opinions vary "180 degrees." He became more specific on the issue of abortion and how it plays into his opinion of Planned Parenthood, saying "it is not a political position for me," but instead one of a long-held belief in the sanctity of life, including that in the womb.

He was opposed to mandating a look at the president's taxes, saying that would begin a trip "down a slippery slope," but that he was in favor of the current investigations into Russia's interference in our election process, and that he would "let the facts control where I go on this."

Afterward, Reed shook hands and talked with a number of the constituents, including some who had verbally challenged him during the hour-long session.

Photos in text:

Top: Congressman Tom Reed speaks to constituents after the Tyrone town hall session.
Second: One of the many signs that appeared among the Tyrone audience.
Third: Reed makes a point.
Bottom: The subject of President Trump's taxes was raised.


Two more of the signs brought to the town hall meeting by area residents. About 130 people filled the bay area of the Tyrone Fire Hall.

Schuyler shares in communications funds

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, March 29 -- Schuyler County is among counties statewide that have been selected to share $45 million in state funding to help enhance and support local emergency communications systems.

“This timely and important public safety and emergency response grant should make a great difference to local emergency response teams,” said State Senator Tom O’Mara. “Emergency preparedness, response and recovery are fundamental government responsibilities.”

Counties throughout New York State are being awarded a total of $45 million to undertake infrastructure, equipment and technology upgrades. The assistance is part of the latest round of funding through the Statewide Interoperable Communications Grant program, a competitive grant program supporting regional communications partnerships throughout New York. The
state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services administers the program.

To date, the state has awarded $275 million for interoperable radio communications and emergency dispatching services. Participation in the program has more than doubled since 2010, when the program was established.

O’Mara said that the counties he represents as part of New York’s 58th Senate District are receiving the following awards:

-- Schuyler County, $398,500;
-- Chemung County, $566,034;
-- Steuben County, $862,857;
-- Tompkins County, $738,565; and
-- Yates County, $355,205.

New state budget will increase funding
to compensate direct service professionals

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, March 28 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara Tuesdayday hailed an agreement between both houses of the Legislature and Governor Andrew Cuomo to provide increased funding in the final 2017-2018 state budget to compensate direct service professionals (DSPs) for the work they do to support people with disabilities.

The Senate and Assembly recently included $45 million in their respective “one-house” budget plans for the increased funding. Tuesday, at an advocates’ “Ring of Care” rally at the Capitol, Cuomo announced his support for providing $55 million in increased funding for the DSPs.

O’Mara applauded the announcement that the new state budget will help "appropriately adjust salaries" at not-for-profits that employ workers who provide state services for individuals with autism, serious brain injury, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, and other developmental disabilities.

“This has been an absolute priority all along for me and many of my colleagues," said O'Mara. "We cannot afford to risk the health and well-being of people with disabilities because New York State fails to invest in a stable, long-term workforce of trained and skilled direct care professionals.”

Currently, many direct service professionals (DSPs) earn an average of $10 to $13 per hour -- just above the state’s minimum wage. Last year, the state implemented minimum wage increases that did not provide funding to account for the “compression factor” -- the need to increase the salaries for more experienced DSPs and supervisors in order to maintain the current salary gap with minimum wage workers. "Without new funding provided to the DSP employers providing services on behalf of the state," said a press release from O'Mara's office, "the salary gap would compound the existing high turnover rate among those providing these critical services, and would lead to significantly increased vacancies as qualified individuals sought less strenuous minimum-wage work."

Added Assemblyman Chris Friend: "I'm glad the state is doing its part to correct the unintended consequence increasing the minimum wage would have on these government supported programs."

And Assemblyman Phil Palmesano said: "I applaud the governor for listening and delivering."

A new state budget is scheduled to take effect on April 1, the start of New York’s new fiscal year.

Photo in text: Governor Andrew Cuomo (File photo)

Schuyler County District Attorney Joe Fazzary, left, village police Sgt. Steve Decker and Chief Assistant District Attorney Matt Hayden at the scene after the incident.

Man arrested after fleeing Watkins Glen vehicle stop where police car damaged

WATKINS GLEN, March 23 -- A Burdett area man was arrested Thursday afternoon following a bizarre vehicle stop in Watkins Glen. Police said his car rammed and disabled a village police car and struck three other vehicles before heading south on Franklin Street -- leading a chase that ended near his home.

Police said Norman B. Covert, 76, was in custody and facing numerous vehicle and criminal charges including Criminal Mischief -- that charge, they said, for driving his car deliberately into two marked police vehicles.

One of those vehicles, a Watkins Glen police car, sustained extensive damage to its right front corner as well as dents in both passenger-side doors. The right front tire was cantered in, so the car, being undrivable, was towed from the scene.

The incident began in Watkins Glen between 12:30 and 1 p.m., according to police, who said Covert ran a red light while turning from Fourth Street south onto Franklin Street. Witnesses said he then negotiated Franklin for two blocks at an extremely low rate of speed: "like two miles an hour," said another driver.

Officials said Covert was pulled over between Sixth and Seventh Streets -- in front of the Post Office -- and boxed in by a Village Police car driven by Sgt. Steve Decker, a Sheriff's Department car on the sidewalk and, just up the road, a state police vehicle.

After Covert had been cornered, police said and a video taken by a bystander at the scene shows, he moved his car forward into the village police car, likely leaving a dent. He then backed into the front bumper of a Guthrie van that had pulled up behind him after he was stopped. Next to the Guthrie van was a jeep that had also pulled up and stopped. Sgt. Decker and other police at the scene exited their vehicles and tried to get Covert to exit, the video shows, and then started striking his windows, one of which apparently was shattered since glass was later seen in a small area near where the car had been.

After about a minute and a quarter of those efforts, the video shows Covert's car moving forward forcefully, trying to get past the village police car and severely damaging it. It was not clear from the video whether the sheriff's car, located on the sidewalk nearby, was touched. Covert's vehicle then backed into the van again and, glancing off of it, struck the jeep, pushing it back; the impact tore the rear bumper off the Covert car.

The fleeing vehicle then backed at an angle to the far corner, where Sixth Street meets Franklin, and went forward in the left lane past the four other vehicles. One official at the scene said a state police vehicle out of the video picture was struck in a minor fashion at that point.

Officials said that Covert headed south at a high rate of speed toward Montour Falls, where he slowed as police approached -- but then accelerated again, turning up Skyline Drive toward Burdett and his home in that area. He was soon "taken into custody without incident," a state police spokesman said.

No one was injured in either the vehicle stop or in the chase, police said. Franklin Street between Fourth and Seventh Streets was closed, and traffic rerouted, for a couple of hours while the investigation -- led by state police -- was conducted.

To view a Facebook video of the incident in Watkins Glen, click here.

Photos in text:

Top: Village police officer David Waite carries the back bumper left behind from the Norman Covert car.
Bottom: The Village Police car struck at the scene was hauled away.

Man indicted on perjury, contempt charges

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, March 23 -- Gary Kline, 61, of Mills Road in the Town of Montour has been indicted by the Schuyler County Grand Jury on two counts of Perjury in the Second Degree and one count of Criminal Contempt in the Second Degree in connection with a recent trial in Schuyler County Court.

The Schuyler County District Attorney's office said the charges stem from Kline’s jury service, beginning in January, on a rape case that ended in a hung jury and mistrial. In that case, Jeff Forney and Aaron Bowen were tried for allegedly raping a physically helpless 18-year-old woman at Forney’s home in the Town of Dix. The defendants are alleged to have then dumped the victim’s unconscious body on the side of the road in Horseheads, in Chemung County.

The trial lasted nearly four weeks and will be re-tried in May. The perjury charges against Kline are Class D felonies which carry a maximum penalty of 2 1/3 to 7 years in prison. The contempt charge is a misdemeanor which carries a maximum penalty of up to one year in jail.

The indictment alleges that Kline lied during jury selection about having no prior criminal convictions and that he failed to disclose that the Schuyler County District Attorney’s Office had prosecuted his wife (Katharine Bartholomew) for giving a student a combination stun gun and plastic knuckles, and that in association with that, he failed to disclose that he was familiar with District Attorney Joseph G. Fazzary, who had conducted that trial against Kline's wife.

Bartholomew was employed by the Watkins Glen Central School District as a biology teacher when she gave a special needs student the weapon. She was acquitted in January of 2016 after a bench trial by County Court Judge Dennis J. Morris, who concluded that it wasn’t proved that she knew the item was a weapon. Although not convicted, she ultimately resigned her position as a teacher. It is alleged that Kline failed to reveal this relationship to the court, the prosecutor and the defense attorneys during jury selection (a fact, the DA's office said, that was material to the selection of jurors and unknown to the prosecution).

The indictment also alleges that Kline did not reveal to the court, when asked, that he had been convicted of a crime, when in 2006 Kline was convicted in Federal Court in Binghamton for damaging federal property. In that instance, he pleaded guilty to splashing his own blood on the Federal Courthouse, and then further smearing his blood on the building with his hand, in protest of the trial of several of his friends for committing a similar act in Tompkins County. Oddly enough, Kline’s protest and arrest were a result of the decision to retry his friends in Federal Court, after the previous prosecution of his friends in Tompkins County was declared a mistrial due to a hung jury.

Additionally, the indictment alleges that Kline intentionally disobeyed the lawful orders of Judge Morris during the deliberation phase of the Forney/Bowen trial. Kline appeared in Schuyler County Court on March 15 to be arraigned. The matter was adjourned for further proceedings to April 3.

Photo in text: Gary Kline (Photo provided)

Operation proposals sought for Arts Center

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, Feb. 23, 2017 --The Schuyler County Legislature is seeking proposals from interested groups or agents for the management and operation of the newly acquired Watkins Glen Performing Arts Center -- formerly the Watkins Glen Middle School auditorium.

Control of the Center by the county comes as a result of the development of the former Middle School into a senior housing complex. According to County Administrator Tim O’Hearn, the Legislature, in securing a long-term lease on the facility, “did so with the intent of enhancing cultural offerings within the area while at the same time promoting increased economic development through attracting increased numbers of residents and visitors to events held at this venue.”

The purpose of the RFP, O'Hearn added, "is to establish the role of a private-sector business or not-for-profit organization in the creation and maximum utilization of a quality performing arts venue for the residents and visitors of Schuyler County.”

Strong consideraton, O'Hearn said, "will be given to proposals that envision events that attract large attendance and in so doing, serve to generate additional economic activity for the downtown business districts. Also important is creating a venue that provides access to community groups and organizations to accommodate public gatherings and meetings.”

The entire RFP can be found at

Responses are due no later than March 29, 2017.

A Hunt Engineer layout of the planned Kayak Launch at the southeast corner of the lake.

Planning Board OKs Glen Resort, hears tentative plan on fast-food restaurant

WATKINS GLEN, Feb. 22 -- The Watkins Glen Planning Board Wednesday night handled two public hearings, gave the go-ahead on the proposed hotel in the Chamber of Commerce building, heard plans for a Kayak Launch at the southeast corner of Seneca Lake, approved facade changes at an upcoming pizza shop, and considered the possibility of a fast-food restaurant on the vacant Pudgies Pizza lot.

The last first: the fast-food restaurant.

Kurt J. Charland of Bergmann Associates -- architects, engineers and planners -- was present representing Kashyap Shah, owner of the Franklin Plaza that houses the Subway shop and a Chinese restaurant, and used to be home to Pick-a-Flick. Shah, according to one Watkins Glen village official, is the franchisee of a Taco Bell in Painted Post.

Charland said Shah has an option on the vacant property at the corner of North Franklin and West 8th Streets that used to hold a Pudgies Pizza. It is next door to the Colonial Motel. Shah envisions a fast-food restaurant on the site, but Charland said "we don't know" which one it would be. Another speaker at the meeting -- who owns property near the site -- said it would be a Taco Bell, but Charland just smiled and said "People say lots of things."

What Charland was seeking was a preliminary sense from the Planning Board that it might be receptive to the plan, which he noted will require at least three zoning variances -- among them on regulations regarding drive-throughs and dumpsters. While the board expressed cautious optimism, it noted that any variances need to come from the Zoning Board of Appeals, which might be resistant if too many variances are sought. And Code Enforcement Officer Greg Larnard suggested that more than three might be needed in order to meet Shah's needs.

Charland's next stop, then, was to be the Zoning Board of Appeals. The Planning Board will wait on its decisions.

Next: The Glen Resort

This is the planned 17-room boutique hotel in the current Chamber of Commerce building at 214 N. Franklin Street. A wine and beer bar is also planned on part of the ground floor, displacing part of the Chamber operation. The building is owned by Jim Guild, currently in Florida and represented by a business partner Wednesday night who said the hotel will be "a great addition to the village."

The Planning Board held a public hearing on the project, but nobody spoke. It then gave final site-plan approval, meaning the project is free to proceed. "I guess you're on your way," said Planning Board Chair Joe Fazzary.

Work on the hotel is expected to begin in October as engineers, developers, facility officials and the Code Enforcement office grapple with the specifics. The target date for opening is April 2018.

Next: The Kayak Launch

The Planning Board gave preliminary site plan review to a planned Kayak Launch on the southeast corner of the lake, adjacent to State Route 414. Hunt Engineers representative Chris Bond outlined the plan, which provides for a launch dock and for parking on the lake side of the roadway.

Bond said he hopes that construction can start by Memorial Day, and that the project is ready for the summer traffic. The Planning Board set a public hearing on the matter for March 15 at 6:30 p.m.

Next: Atlas Pizza

This new pizza business will be opening in the former Procare building at 304 N. Franklin St., next to the Chemung Canal bank drive-through. Its owners were seeking -- and received -- approval by the Planning Board of facade changes that include signage in the front window and on the south side of the building, facing the bank.

When asked when the pizza shop might open, the Planning Board was told there was a delay due to the need to "tear up the sidewalk" in order to secure NYSEG gas service. Even so, it is expected to open soon -- in May, one Planning Board member said after the meeting.

Photos in text:

Top: A drawing of the tentatively proposed, unnamed fast-food restaurant on the former Pudgies lot. It would encompass 2,000 square feet and include a drive-through, greenery, 10 parking spaces and, in the northwest corner, a dumpster enclosure.

Second: Kurt Charland, who was speaking on behalf of Kashyap Shah regarding the fast-food venture. Shah holds an option on the property, but Charland said Shah "needs to feel comfortable" regarding zoning "before moving forward."

Third: The Chamber building at 214 N. Franklin St., where an upscale hotel has the green light to proceed with development.

Fourth: Planning Board members Tom Fitzgerald, left, and Joe Fazzary.

Bottom: The storefront at 304 N. Franklin St., site of the future Atlas Pizza.

Palmesano: Organ-donation law is in effect

ALBANY, Feb. 14 -- Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I-Corning) has announced that one of his priority bills from last year is now in effect. The law will expand the pool of eligible organ donors by allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to register to become an organ donor.

Palmesano co-sponsored the legislation in the Assembly. It was signed by the governor during the summer of 2016.

“This law is about saving lives," said Palmesano. "Expanding the pool of registered organ donors means that more of our family members, friends and neighbors will get the transplant they’ve been waiting for. When New Yorkers head to the DMV to apply for their learner’s permit, they can choose to give the gift of life that day. This law is just our latest effort to encourage people to register by making it more convenient. We’re going to continue the fight this session.”

Aisha Tator, Executive Director of the New York Alliance for Donation, said, “In my years of working with the donation community, I have encountered countless young New Yorkers who feel strongly about registering as lifesaving donors. However, because they have been unable to register their consent to donate when they visit the DMV for the first time at age 16 or 17, they often do not have another opportunity to join the donor registry until they reach their late twenties. It only takes one organ donor to save the lives of up to eight people. With this change to the law, we can now allow anyone who wishes to make a generous, anatomical gift the opportunity to join the registry.”

Forty-seven states have similar laws on the books.

Palmesano said he and his colleagues still have a lot of work to do when it comes to encouraging more New Yorkers to register as organ and tissue donors. In 2015, more than 500 men, women and children died waiting for an organ transplant. Nearly 10,000 New Yorkers are on the waiting list. More than 1,500 of them have been waiting for more than five years. Twenty-eight percent of New Yorkers are registered organ donors -- "a dismal percentage," said Palmesano, "made worse by our state’s high level of need. Our donation rate currently ranks 51st in the country ahead of only Puerto Rico. The national average is 50 percent, and Montana, the nation’s leading state in organ donation registration rate, is at 87 percent.

“These numbers," Palmesano added, " are simply unacceptable, particularly when you consider the profound impact an anatomical gift can have. Donating at the time of death can save up to eight lives and impact up to 50 others. We can, and must, do better, and I’ll continue fighting to pass legislation that makes signing up for our registry more accessible for more people.”

Palmesano has seen firsthand how a donation can make a profound impact on an individual and their family. His sister was a two-time recipient. Palmesano donated his kidney to her in 2006.

To register as an organ donor today, you can visit your local DMV, call 1-866-NYDONOR, or log on to the New York State Donate Life registry at:

Photo in text: Asssemblyman Phil Palmesano advocates at a press conference last year in Albany for the passage of the organ-donor law. (Photo provided)

O'Mara, Palmesano give annual update

WATKINS GLEN, Feb. 9 -- New York State Senator Tom O'Mara and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano paid their annual visit Thursday to a meeting of the Watkins-Montour Rotary Club at the Watkins Glen Elks Lodge.

The event was held in conjunction with the Schuyler County League of Women Voters.

The two men provided an update on state politics, touching on:

The budget: O'Mara said reaching consensus will be "a bit more difficult this year with a looming deficit" in the $152 billion spending plan.

Education: Spending, he said, "has been averaging a five-and-a-half percent increase" in recent years but "less this year" after the removal last year of the Gap Elimination Adjustment that had adversely affected school aid.

Minimum wage: The coming increase will leave "not-for-profits" like The Arc struggling to keep up unless the state increases the revenues it provides them.

Library funding: Proposed cuts are "ridiculous," said Palmesano, noting that libraries provide education, and should see an increase, not a decrease in funding.

Organ donation: Palmesano, a strong proponent, said New York lags behind all other states in that area. He urged everyone to consider donating their organs upon death, for such an action can lead to life-saving transplants.

Crestwood: O'Mara said that he has "no idea" when there will be a resolution on the proposed storage of LPG in abandoned salt caverns on the west side of Seneca Lake. His message to the state: "Let's come to a conclusion."

The Governor: "We're not on the best of terms" with Andrew Cuomo, said O'Mara, noting that the governor did not present his budget to the Legislature this year, a past tradition. "We're an equal branch of government and want to be treated that way," he added, noting that the Legislature has tried to be cooperative with Cuomo, "but that might end this year."

Federal policies: "It's too early to tell what impact" policies enacted by President Donald Trump and the Republican-led Congress might have on New York State. That is especially true, he said, of the proposed repeal of the Affordable Care Act and any replacement.

Heroin and Opioid crisis: There are "positive advances" in the proposed budget regarding the battle against "a scourge that knows no discrimination," said Palmesano, "but we need to do more" -- from the state level down to the local level.

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara, right, speaks as Assemblyman Phil Palmesano watches at Rotary session.

Roche running for Steuben judge's post

Special to The Odessa File

BATH, Feb. 5 -- Philip J. Roche has announced his candidacy for Steuben County and Family Court Judge.

Roche, a Painted Post resident, has more than 30 years of legal experience in Steuben County courts.

He is the leader of the Steuben County Public Defender’s Office, where he supervises a staff of 12 attorneys and also represents clients in County Court. He was previously a partner in the Painted Post law firm of Yorio and Roche, where he litigated cases, including several murder trials, in County Court, Family Court, and Supreme Court. He served as an Assistant District Attorney under DA John Tunney.

Roche is an active member of the community, having served on various boards and agencies, including United Way and the Family Service Society, and is currently chairman of the Corning Hospital Board and the Steuben County Industrial Development Board.

Roche was the chairman of the Steuben County Legislature for six years and the County Legislator for the Town of Erwin for 16 years.

“I believe my experiences have prepared me very well for this critically important role in our justice system,” he said.

The position of County and Family Court Judge is currently held by Judge Joe Latham, who will be retiring at the end of this year.

“I will work very hard to continue the tradition of fair and impartial judges in Steuben County,” said Roche, who thus far is unopposed.

O'Mara retains Environmental chair

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY Jan. 12 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats), beginning his fourth term representing New York’s 58th Senate District, has been reappointed Chairman of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee and has also been named Vice-Chair of the Senate Transportation Committee.

Senate Majority Leader John J. Flanagan announced the appointments this week at the Capitol. O’Mara has headed the Environmental Conservation Committee since 2015. He has been a member of the Transportation Committee since 2011.

O’Mara (pictured at right) said that he hopes to continue the Environmental Conservation Committee’s focus on numerous regional and statewide challenges including: soil and water conservation and quality; water infrastructure development and improvement; energy-related demands including the development and promotion of cleaner sources of energy; preservation initiatives impacting farmland, forests and other state resources; brownfields cleanup; solid and hazardous waste management; invasive and endangered species; and fish and wildlife

In additional to his chairmanships, O’Mara will also serve as a member on the following Senate committees: Agriculture; Banks; Codes; Energy; Finance; Insurance; Investigations and Government Operations; and Judiciary.

He will also continue to serve on the following special Senate task forces: Heroin and Opioid Addiction; Lyme and Tick-Borne Diseases; and Workforce Development.

O'Mara's 58th Senate District is comprised of Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, and Yates counties, and part of Tompkins County (the city and town of Ithaca, and the towns of Enfield, Newfield, and Ulysses).

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara (File photo)

O'Mara sworn in for 4th term as Senator

ALBANY, Jan. 5, 2017 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats) took the Oath of Office in the historic New York State Senate Chamber on Wednesday, January 4 to begin his fourth consecutive two-year term representing the state's 58th Senate District.

O’Mara was sworn in by New York State Court of Appeals Chief Judge Janet DiFiore.

The 58th Senate District encompasses all of Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben and Yates counties, and a part of Tompkins County.

O'Mara was first elected to represent the region in 2010 and has been re-elected by the voters in 2012, 2014 and, most recently, on November 8, 2016.

O'Mara also announced this week that he would continue to operate district offices in Elmira and Bath, in addition to his office in Albany, in 2017.

He encouraged 58th District residents to contact any of his offices for state government assistance throughout the coming year.

"No one should hesitate to contact our offices for assistance, to address concerns, answer questions, help facilitate access to state programs and services, or even just as a sounding board for suggestions and ideas for better government," said O’Mara.

Contact information can be located on O’Mara’s website, He can be e-mailed at the following address:

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara is sworn in by New York State Court of Appeals Chief Judge Janet DiFiore. (Photo provided)

O'Mara, Palmesano rip Cuomo veto

Call on governor to live up to his mandate relief promise

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, January 3, 2017 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano on Tuesday strongly criticized Governor Andrew Cuomo’s veto of legislation they co-sponsored in 2016 to provide mandate relief to local counties by requiring the state to take over the cost of legal defense services for the poor, commonly known as “indigent criminal

The legislation (S8114/A10706, Veto #306 of 2016) would have phased in a state takeover of the full cost of indigent defense by 2022. It was unanimously approved by both houses of the Legislature in June and, in his last action of 2016, rejected by Cuomo in a late-night veto issued on New Year’s Eve.

“Governor Cuomo’s end-of-the-year, close-to-midnight veto," said O'Mara, "once again shows that he refuses to get serious about or make the commitment to meaningful mandate relief for local governments and local property taxpayers. When the tax cap was first enacted five years ago, the governor promised that it would go hand in hand with rolling back the heavy burden of unfunded state mandates on local governments, school districts and taxpayers. While there have been some important mandate relief actions since then, including long-term pension reform and the takeover of the growth in local Medicaid costs, not nearly enough has been done to ensure a future of long-term property tax reductions for local property taxpayers.

"We need a future defined by property tax cuts, not smaller property tax increases. The governor’s decision to reject this strong, unanimously approved, bipartisan legislation is another missed opportunity to begin truly turning things around for local property taxpayers.”

“This legislation," added Palmesano, "could have saved property taxpayers between $300 and $400 million dollars per year. Families, seniors, farmers, manufacturers and small-business owners would’ve felt this relief in a real way. The governor promised to deliver mandate relief when we instituted the tax cap. The legislature presented him with a commonsense, bipartisan plan, and he rejected it. He continues to break his promise. I hope that taxpayers are mindful of this veto when the governor goes on his public relations tour and tries to convince New Yorkers that is he committed to property tax relief.”

Palmesano also emphasized that the bill would have protected the civil liberties of vulnerable New Yorkers.

“Our constitution takes very seriously the right of every New Yorker to have fair legal representation," he said. "That right should never be compromised because an individual does not have the resources to pay for counsel and their municipality cannot provide the required assistance because it is financially unable to do so. The governor is shying away from the state’s responsibility to protect civil liberties.”

The bill was drafted following a legal settlement between New York State and the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU). The NYCLU sued the state in an effort to require it to pay for indigent legal services in five particularly under-served counties: Ontario, Onondaga, Schuyler, Suffolk and Washington. The NYCLU prevailed.

“The state is already paying for these five counties. What about other counties facing similar financial stress?" said Palmesano. "The governor had a chance to promote fairness, protect municipalities, provide property tax relief and uphold due process. He failed.”

Photos in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara (top) and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano.

Jury finds Elmira man guilty in burglary

WATKINS GLEN, Dec. 19 -- A 31-year-old Elmira man was found guilty by a Schuyler County Court jury Friday of four charges in connection with an Odessa burglary.

Joseph G. Sindoni was convicted of Burglary in the Second Degree, Grand Larceny in the Third Degree, Unauthorized Use of a Motor Vehicle and Criminal Mischief. The case was prosecuted by Assistant District Attorney John Tunney.

According to a press release from the DA's office, "Sindoni was leaving the victim's Odessa home with a bag of stolen property when the victim came home. She was able to give the police a description of Sindoni, the truck he was driving, and the license plate number of the truck. She was actually on the phone with the Sheriff's Department while Sindoni was getting into the truck to leave."

Sindoni abandoned the truck in Waverly on his way to North Carolina, and disposed of "the bag which contained some of the victim's property near his sister's residence in Waverly. A concerned citizen turned the bag over to the Tioga County Sheriff's Department." A DNA analysis linked Sindoni to gloves found in the bag, the press release said.

Sindoni was caught in North Carolina, waived extradition and was returned to New York. The trial lasted five days, and the jury took barely an hour to reach the guilty verdicts. Sentencing is set for February. He faces a minimum of seven years and a maximum of 15 years in prison as a second violent felony offender.

Schuyler receives $2.5 million for projects

WATKINS GLEN, Dec. 9 -- Schuyler County will be awarded about $2.5 million as part of the $60.4 million going to the Southern Tier in the 2016 Regional Economic Development Council Awards announced Thursday by Governor Andrew Cuomo.

The Schuyler County Partnership for Economic Development said that Project Seneca -- the long-term vision to transform our immediate area into a more robust business and tourist destination -- received more than $1 million in development funds.

The awards, said SCOPED in a press release, "also included improvements to Clute Park, the Catharine Valley Trail, Watkins Glen International marketing initiatives and Schuyler County Soil and Water Conservation projects."

The awards, said Judy McKinney Cherry, SCOPED executive diretor, "will take our county to a new level of transformation. Thank you to Governor Cuomo (pictured at right) for the support for Schuyler County."

The regional award was part of $700 million in subsidies presented to 10 regions in an annual development competition. The Southern Tier share was the smallest of the 10 amounts, missing out on five top prizes of $25 million each available to "priority projects."

According to a list provided by the state, the Schuyler County projects include:

--$1,091,500 for Project Seneca strategic planning and implementation. "Schuyler County," the list designation reads, "will prepare a regional strategic plan for Watkins Glen and Montour Falls and implement projects identified in the Watkins Glen Local Waterfront Revitalization Program. Capital projects include the rehabilitation of the Clute Park bathhouse, Catharine Valley Trail Connector extension and enhancements at Clute Park and Montour Falls Marina." The applicant was Schuyler County.

--$250,000 for an "ultrapremium wine production, warehousing and distribution facility" at the Schuyler County Business Park along Rte. 414 in the Town of Dix "that will focus on exports across the United States and internationally." It will be created by Fagan Engineers Land Surveyors. The applicant was SCOPED.

--$350,000 for a Schuyler County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) project in which it will "purchase materials needed to stabilize streams and road ditches and repair and replace infrastructure. The project will create habitat, and prevent erosion and sedimentation and the associated nutrient deposition in nearby streams and lakes." The SWCD was the applicant.

--$50,000 for a Town of Dix Water and Sewer District extension study with funds used "to complete a Public Infrastructure Preliminary Engineering Report." The Town of Dix was the applicant.

--$20,000 for a Town of Reading-Town of Dix inflow and infiltration study in which the two towns "will complete an engineering study to identify sources of inflow and infiltration to the Village of Watkins Glen Wastewater Treatment Plant." The Town of Reading was the applicant.

--$119,000 for a Project Seneca Quality of Life Catharine Valley Trail Connector and Bridge that will, the state said, "create a pedestrrian bridge over the Catharine Valley Trail system, helping create a multi model system for bicyclists and pedestrians, connecting to the village parks in Montour Falls from the trail, and creating safer access for pedestrians acoss NY Route 14 on the State trail." The Village of Montour Falls was the applicant.

--$415,700 for facilities upgrades at Clute Park in Watkins Glen that include replacement of a "bathrooms/comfort station" that is "deteriorating from 50 years of use. The new facility will be designed and constructed for year-round use." The park is used by 70,000 visitors annually. The Village of Watkins Glen was the applicant.

--$150,000 for Racing Promotions, in which "Watkins Glen International will utilize funds to engage in a marketing plan designed to attract millennial travelers from Canada and Pennsylvania to the NASCAR weekend in Watkins Glen." Watkins Glen International was the applicant.

--Schuyler County is also included with Tioga and Tompkins counties in a $62,000 study involving the Cayuga Lake Watershed Plan. The Town of Ithaca was the applicant.

Photo in text: Governor Andrew Cuomo (File photo)

O'Mara rips Cuomo's transit board veto

Special to The Odessa File

ELMIRA, Dec. 1 2016 -- Legislation sponsored by State Senator Tom O'Mara to establish a new "Upstate Transit Funding Board" within the state the Department of Transportation (DOT) has been vetoed by Governor Andrew Cuomo.

O'Mara (pictured at right) -- at the forefront of the issue of rural public transportation's future -- says that Cuomo's veto keeps thousands of Upstate residents at risk of losing a public transit system they rely on for many necessities.

O'Mara, a member of the Senate Transportation Committee and the Legislature's joint, bipartisan Commission on Rural Resources, said:

"Over the past several years we've built a strong case for this action, which has been reflected in the fact that this year it finally received nearly unanimous legislative support. Governor Cuomo's veto ignores the realities facing the ability of our localities to provide a service our residents absolutely depend on for many necessities. We need to take steps to ensure the long-term operation and viability of public transportation systems throughout the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions, and across Upstate New York.

"For thousands upon thousands of Upstate residents, these systems provide critical links to jobs, medical appointments, school, shopping destinations, and other necessities. Our public transit systems also stand as cornerstones of regional transportation networks vital to economic development, job growth, anti-poverty and housing initiatives, energy and environmental conservation. Governor Cuomo has put this challenge off for another day. That unfairly and unacceptably keeps Upstate public transportation systems at risk."

O'Mara and other supporters stress that fares alone are not sufficient to cover all the costs of providing public transit services and the systems must rely on annual state funding. He said that legislation creating an Upstate Transit Funding Board would ensure that discussions remain ongoing to continually identify sustainable funding options to provide for growth and stability in public transportation operating assistance and create additional opportunities for supporting mobility options for Upstate New York residents.

Appeals Court rejects hotel tax challenge

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, Oct. 27, 2016 -- The New York State Court of Appeals has let stand a prior ruling that vacation rentals may be taxed along with hotels and motels -- upholding Schuyler County’s local hotel tax on vacation rentals and other tourist facilities.

The court issued the order Thursday, denying a motion for leave to appeal filed by Thomas Schneider, owner of “Seneca Lake Vacation Rentals,” and thus letting stand a June holding from the Supreme Court, Appellate Division, that the Schuyler County Treasurer properly applied the four percent local tax to those properties

In 2014, the Schuyler County Treasurer found that Schneider owed $6,100 in back taxes under the "Schuyler County Hotel or Motel Room Occupancy Tax Law.” Under that local law, Schuyler County imposes a 4% local tax upon the rent for every occupancy of a room or rooms in a hotel, motel, bed and breakfast or tourist facility having one or more rooms in the county. The purpose of the tax, officials say, is to promote local tourism and to enhance the local economy.

Schneider, a resident of New Jersey, had argued that his properties were exempt from the tax as “bungalows” under regulations of the State Commissioner of Taxation and Finance.  He sued in state court to overturn the treasurer’s findings, but his lawsuit was dismissed. He then filed an appeal to the Third Judicial Department, Supreme Court, Appellate Division.

In the previous appeal, Schneider’s attorneys, Schlather, Stumbar, Parks & Salk argued that the properties could not be taxed because they are furnished and do not provide housekeeping, food or other common hotel services.

Representing the County Treasurer, Schuyler County Attorney Steven Getman argued on appeal that the state exemption was specifically limited to state-administered taxes, not locally administered hotel or room taxes. The local tax, Getman said, more broadly defined hotels and motels to include “bed and breakfasts” and “tourist’ facilities,” such as bungalows.

In its decision, the Appellate Division ruled that the State Commissioner's interpretation does not apply to the locally administered tax. The court noted that other local taxes, including the City of New York’s, did not exempt bungalows and that the definition of "hotel" in the enabling statute was expansive enough to include bungalows such as the properties owned by Schneider. Therefore, the Appellate Division stated, the prior decision upholding the treasurer should be affirmed.

In addition, the Appellate Division rejected Schneider’s argument that the retroactive imposition of the tax against his property was unjust. Schneider had been operating his vacation rental business for approximately five years, but had never filed a tax return with the county treasurer’s office, due to his belief that the “bungalow exception” excused his doing so.

In July 2016, after the Appellate Division ruled against him, Schneider’s attorneys moved the Court of Appeals for leave to appeal to that court. The county attorney opposed.

On Thursday, the Court of Appeals issued an order denying Schneider’s request to appeal. It also imposed $100 in costs.

The Court of Appeals decision, Getman explained, means that the prior decisions upholding the county’s tax become final and binding.

Today’s order can be found here:

The prior decision being appealed (and upholding the tax) can be found here:

Schneider’s motion papers can be found here:

The county’s opposition papers can be found here:

Forest Service provides hunter safety tips

Special to The Odessa File

HECTOR, Oct. 26, 2016 -- With rifle season fast approaching, Forest Service officials on the Finger Lakes National Forest (FLNF) are encouraging the public to use extra caution and to be visible and mindful of their surroundings in the coming weeks. Saturday, November 19 marks the opening day of the white-tailed deer hunt in New York, a lifelong tradition for many New Yorkers and visitors to the Empire State.

Through prescribed fire, timber and wildlife management programs, the FLNF works year round to enhance wildlife habitat, including that for large and small game. Officials want to remind hunters and other forest users that the entire 16,000-acre National Forest is open for hunting, the only exceptions being trails and facilities within developed recreation sites. As with any recreational opportunity on the FLNF, all applicable state and federal laws and regulations must be followed. Below are some safety tips for hunters that may be helpful when planning to hunt on the FLNF:

Check weather reports before visiting the forest -- dress properly and be prepared for the worst possible conditions.

Tell someone where you will be hunting and when you will return -- be familiar with the area that you are hunting.

Wear blaze orange and try to be visible from all directions.

Check hunting equipment before and after each outing, and maintain it properly. Familiarize yourself with the operation of your firearm before using it in the field.

Carry a spare set of dry clothes. Use layering techniques to prevent moisture retention, while maintaining body warmth.

Always bring waterproof gear.

Have a first aid kit, flashlight, cell phone, food and water in case of an emergency.

Clearly identify your target before shooting to prevent accidents or fatalities. Fire only at clearly identified wildlife and know what is beyond your target.

Be alert when hunting near developed areas and trails. Other recreationists are in the forest as well.

For more information on New York State hunting regulations, please visit:

Suicide ends Predatory Sexual Abuse trial

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, Oct. 13 -- The defendant in a Predatory Sexual Abuse trial in Schuyler County Court committed suicide by gunshot Wednesday morning in Montour Falls, bringing the trial -- which had been scheduled for closing arguments that day -- to an end. It also terminated plans for a second, related trial on Child Pornography charges against the same defendant.

The Schuyler County District Attorney's office, in a press release, said that Timothy R. Kelly, 57, of Watkins Glen was being tried on two counts of Predatory Sexual Offense Against A Child in a trial that started last week. Kelly had also been charged by a Schuyler County Grand Jury with "numerous counts of Possession of Child Pornography," which were severed from the Sexual Offense counts into a separate, future trial under a ruling by presiding Judge Gerald Keene.

Judge Keene, the Tioga County Court Judge, was handling the trial "due to a conflict for Schuyler County Court Judge Dennis Morris," the DA's press release said, adding:

"On Wednesday, October 5, 2016, a jury was empaneled after nearly 150 potential jurors were selected. The prosecution, handled by Schuyler County District Attorney Joseph Fazzary, presented its case from Wednesday through Friday last week. Fazzary rested his case Tuesday morning after calling 11 witnesses, including a sexual assault nurse examiner, two DNA witnesses from the New York State Police Forensic Investigation Center in Albany, and an expert on child sexual assault from New York City. The defense called three witnesses on Tuesday, October 11. Timothy Kelly did not testify.

"(Wednesday) morning, shortly before summations were to commence, DA Fazzary was informed that he needed to immediately contact Schuyler County Sheriff William Yessman. Upon doing so, he learned that the defendant may have committed suicide. Fazzary took defense attorney James Baker of Ithaca to the remote scene where the suicide had taken place (off of Rock Cabin Road in Montour Falls). After the body of Timothy Kelly was positively identified by his lawyer, Fazzary and Baker returned to the courtroom to advise Judge Keene. The jury was discharged and both cases against Timothy Kelly were dismissed.

"Kelly's body was discovered by a bow hunter in the area after he heard a gunshot."

Suit against Corning, Schuyler dismissed

Special to The Odessa File

ROCHESTER, NY, Oct. 12 -- A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by the family of a man who froze to death after fleeing law enforcement officials.

Plaintiffs Charles Harrison and Kathryn Harrison filed a complaint claiming that the Schuyler County Sheriff’s Department and City of Corning Police Department violated their rights and the rights of their deceased adult son, Joshua Harrison, in connection with a police chase that ended in Joshua Harrison’s death.

According to the Schuyler County Attorney's Office, court documents showed:

"On the night of February 5, 2015, Joshua Harrison was involved in a motor vehicle accident in the City of Corning that caused damage to another vehicle, and then fled from the scene.  Corning police officers attempted to pull the car over. Joshua refused to pull over and kept driving. The officers pursued Joshua out of the City of Corning and into the County of Schuyler, where members of the Schuyler County Sheriff’s Department joined in the pursuit.

"Joshua exited his vehicle and ran into a forest. Police continued to search for approximately two hours, but eventually determined that it was too cold to continue searching, since the temperature, with wind chill, was approximately twenty degrees below zero. The next day, searchers found Joshua Harrison’s body. It is undisputed that he froze to death. At the time that Joshua had run into the woods, he was dressed in a hooded sweatshirt, three t-shirts, jeans, and a pair of work boots."

The County Attorney's office continued:

"On November 25, 2015, Plaintiffs commenced their action. On January 22, 2016, the City of Corning Defendants filed a motion to dismiss. On January 25, 2016, the Schuyler County Defendants also filed a motion to dismiss. On March 8, 2016, Plaintiffs filed an opposition to Defendants’ motions to dismiss, and a cross-motion for leave to amend the Complaint. On May 24, 2016, the court heard oral arguments on the motions.

"Ruling Friday, October 7, 2016, Charles J. Siragusa, United States District Judge, held:

"-- The proposed Amended Complaint does not allege sufficient facts to plead a substantive due process violation by any defendant.

"-- The facts alleged indicate that the officers’ pursuit of Joshua was a legitimate response to the fact that he was driving a car that had earlier left the scene of an accident, and that he had refused the officers’ demands to pull over.

"-- There is no allegation that the pursuit, in and of itself, was unsafe or resulted in injury to Joshua.

"-- The officers spent approximately two hours attempting to locate Joshua. The officers attempted to track Joshua through the snow using a canine officer.

"-- Joshua actively evaded the officers by hiding in wooded property. There was no indication of anything preventing Joshua from either surrendering to the officers, seeking shelter, or telephoning an acquaintance for a ride. The officers could not have suspected that Joshua would choose to risk freezing to death rather than face questioning concerning a minor traffic accident.

Accordingly, the County Attorney's office noted, "the court dismissed the complaint." It added that "the complete decision can be found here":

Schuyler among counties named drought-disaster areas

May be eligible for emergency loans; officials weigh in

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, Sept. 1, 2016 -- Governor Andrew M. Cuomo has announced that 24 counties across Upstate New York -- including Schuyler County -- have been designated as a natural disaster area by the federal government as a result of this summer's drought.

These designations mean that farmers in those areas may be eligible for assistance, including emergency loans, from the United State Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency.

State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball, state lawmakers and other farm leaders will be conducting on-site assessments of farms affected by the drought, while the state works closely with Cornell University expert hydrologists and climate professors to help understand and study the outlook for recovery.

"Strong agriculture is critical to the vibrancy of Upstate New York, and this year's hot, dry summer has created significant challenges to this crucial industry," Governor Cuomo said. "From Western New York to the North Country, New York's growers and producers are major drivers of our economy and the benefits they provide to the community are immeasurable. In these difficult times, we must ensure that they have full access to all the resources necessary for making a full recovery."

Said State Senator Tom O'Mara: "I commend Governor Cuomo and the federal government for declaring 24 counties in Upstate New York a natural disaster area due to drought conditions. Many of the counties are in the 58th Senate District, which I represent. As I drive through my district every day, I see how this drought has negatively impacted many of my farming constituents. Although we've seen some rain recently, the majority of the growing season has passed, which leaves farmers with low performing crops this year. This disaster declaration is the first step in getting farmers who live and work here the help they need and deserve."

O'Mara noted that he is planning an Agricultural Roundtable on Tuesday, Sept. 13 at 11 a.m. at Prattsburgh Central School titled "The Impact of the 2016 Drought on Southern Tier and Finger Lakes Farmers." It will, he said, be an opportunity for the farming community "to discuss the potential short- and long-term impacts" of the drought. A number of farm service officials will be present.

The disaster declaration is based on reporting of crop loss to the federal Farm Service Agency and a D3 designation by the U.S. Drought Monitor. The federal government declared 15 counties as primary natural disaster areas and an additional nine counties as contiguous disaster counties. In addition, several other counties in the state are also requesting primary disaster declarations.

The primary counties included under this designation are in Western New York, the Finger Lakes, Central New York, and the Southern Tier. They include:

Western New York: Erie and Niagara
Finger Lakes: Genesee, Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, Seneca, Wyoming and Yates
Central New York: Cayuga
Southern Tier: Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Tioga and Tompkins

The federal government also named nine counties in the Finger Lakes, Western New York, the Southern Tier, and Central New York as contiguous disaster counties. They include:

Western New York: Allegany, Cattaraugus and Chautauqua
Southern Tier: Broome
Central New York: Cortland, Onondaga and Oswego
Finger Lakes: Orleans and Wayne

In addition, the Governor's office said, the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets under Commissioner Ball will continue to work with its partners in monitoring the drought situation and its effect on New York farms in these and other counties across the State, including in the North Country, Capital Region and on Long Island. The Department will also tour affected farms in Western New York, the North Country and the Southern Tier.

A disaster designation makes farm operators in primary counties and those counties contiguous eligible to be considered for certain assistance from the Farm Service Agency, provided eligibility requirements are met. This assistance includes emergency loans. Farmers in eligible counties have eight months from the date of the disaster declaration to apply for emergency loans.

The Farm Service Agency considers each emergency loan application based on the extent of production losses on the farm, and the security and repayment ability of the operator. Local FSA offices can provide affected farmers with further information. Contact information for the offices can be found here.

Officials weighed in as follows:

United States Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack: "Our hearts go out to the farmers and ranchers affected by the drought in New York. President Obama and I are committed to ensuring that agriculture remains a bright spot in our nation’s economy by sustaining the successes of America's farmers, ranchers, and rural communities through these difficult times. We're also telling New York producers that USDA stands with you and your communities when severe weather and natural disasters threaten to disrupt your livelihood."

State Commissioner Richard A. Ball: "The lack of rain we have been seeing this summer has been presenting serious challenges for farms in areas of the state. While it's too early to tell what the overall impact will be, forage, hay, corn, and grain crops to feed animals over the winter will likely be affected, so it’s critical that these counties be declared as disaster areas so they can apply for the assistance they may need. We will continue to survey farms across the State and encourage our farmers to reach out to us or to FSA if they have any questions."

Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Senator Patty Ritchie: "This summer's unusually hot, dry weather has meant severely damaged crops and lost profits for hardworking farmers across our state, including many in the region I represent. In light of these recent, arid conditions, our farmers need help -- and I would like to thank Governor Cuomo for recognizing that. This disaster declaration is a start toward getting farmers the assistance they need to rebound from the devastating drought, and I look forward to the designation being expanded to other impacted counties so our farmers can continue to contribute to the growth of New York’s leading industry."

Assembly Agriculture Committee Chair Assemblyman Bill Magee: "I thank Governor Cuomo and Commissioner Ball for their concern during this difficult and unpredictable time for farmers across the State. They have been working in partnership with our agricultural industry partners to help farmers stay informed and report their losses, ensuring they could take advantage of the federal assistance available in extreme circumstances like this."

New York Farm Bureau President Dean Norton: "New York Farm Bureau is pleased that USDA Secretary Vilsack acted quickly and recognized the impact that this summer's drought has had on our farmers in New York. Many of our farmers in these affected areas are in need of assistance with feed, water and other resources. The declaration is the first step in working to get assistance to those farmers in their time of need."

The New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, along with its Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Farm Bureau, Cornell Cooperative Extension and the Cornell Eden program, recommend that farmers affected by the drought should continue to document their conditions (pictures and video), and any losses. Farmers can also file a CCC-576 (Notice of Loss) with their local USDA Farm Service Agency.

Photos in text: From top: Governor Andrew Cuomo, State Senator Tom O'Mara, and Agriculture and Markets Commissioner Richard Ball. (File photos)

Fed grant, loan to help on WWTP project

Special to The Odessa File

SCHUYLER COUNTY, Aug. 29 -- Montour Falls will receive a $500,000 federal grant and a $695,000 loan to assist with relocating and rehabilitating the wastewater collection systems for Montour Falls and Watkins Glen as part of continued efforts to redevelop the area from the Seneca Lake waterfront in Watkins Glen to the village of Montour Falls, Congressman Tom Reed announced Monday.

“This is a great step forward for the people, the economy and the environment of Schuyler County and everyone near Seneca Lake," said Reed. "We care about helping everyone call the region home for generations to come and by investing in our wastewater treatment systems we are making it easier to achieve that goal.”

Reed's office said "the money is coming from Congressionally appropriated funds designated to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development programs. The loan term is 38 years at 1.625 percent interest."

The project was originally developed in 2012 to encourage economic development and environmental preservation along Seneca Lake in Watkins Glen. Degraded infrastructure systems, including the wastewater treatment plants in both Watkins Glen and Montour Falls, are causing environmental concerns in the region.

"This latest award is a testament to the value of partnerships to accomplish what was previously thought to be the impossible," said Schuyler County Administrator Tim O'Hearn. "The new regional wastewater treatment plant is the first phase of Project Seneca and will be the largest initiative in County history. The vision and tenacity of local leaders coupled with tremendous state and federal support have made this possible. Schuyler County is extremely grateful for Congressman Reed’s support."

Photo in text: Congressman Tom Reed (File photo)

Palmesano applauds new law

Expands pool of eligible organ donors to 16-, 17-year-olds

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, Aug. 20, 2016 -- Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I-Corning) says he is pleased that the governor has signed into law a bill which will expand the pool of eligible organ donors by including 16- and 17-year-olds.

Palmesano co-sponsored the legislation.

“I applaud the governor for signing this important bill that will save lives," said Palmesano. "This legislation expands the pool of eligible organ donors by allowing people to sign up to make a life-giving choice when they turn 16. It puts us in line with 47 other states and gives hope to countless New Yorkers.”

Added Aisha Tator, Executive Director of the New York Alliance for Donation, a statewide non-profit dedicated to ensuring that every New Yorker waiting for a transplant receives one:

“On behalf of the approximately 10,000 New Yorkers waiting for a transplant, we want to thank Assemblyman Palmesano, his colleagues in the legislature, and the governor for taking this important step toward saving and improving lives through organ and tissue donation. With the passage of this legislation, New York joins 48 other registries, including Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, in allowing individuals under the age of 18 to document their wish to be an organ and tissue donor."

Palmesano noted that he and his colleagues still have a lot of work to do to promote organ and tissue donation in New York State. In 2015, more than 500 men, women and children died waiting for a life-saving organ transplant. Nearly 10,000 New Yorkers are currently awaiting an organ transplant, more than 1,500 of whom have been waiting longer than five years. He said that while need is high, only 23 percent of New Yorkers are registered organ donors, placing the state 51st in the country ahead of only Puerto Rico. The national average is 50 percent, and Montana, the nation’s leading state in organ donation registration rate, is at 87 percent.

New York's numbers "are simply unacceptable," said Palmesano. "We can, and must, do better.”

It is particularly troubling, he added, because choosing to donate can make such a dramatic impact.

“A person who donates at the time of his or her death can save up to eight lives and impact up to 50 others,” said Palmesano.

“The issue of organ donation is very personal to me. My sister was a two-time organ transplant recipient, so I have seen firsthand how organ donation can impact someone's life. She was lucky to receive a transplant. Until I became a member of the state legislature I did not realize how abysmal New York's registration numbers were and how many people have been waiting for a life-saving organ transplant. This legislation is an important step forward to help save lives all across our state.”

Photo in text: Assemblyman Phil Palmesano speaks at a press conference with other officials regarding the state's Organ Donor efforts. (Photo provided)

Crestwood alters storage plan

Would eliminate butane; opponents still not convinced

WATKINS GLEN, Aug. 8 -- Crestwood Midstream announced Monday that it has notified the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation that it is "voluntarily modifying its proposal to store propane" in abandoned salt caverns at its US Salt facility north of Watkins Glen -- reducing the amount of gas to be stored, among other mitigated measures.

But opposition groups -- Gas Free Seneca, the Finger Lakes Wine Business Coalition (FLXWBC) and the Seneca Lake Pure Waters Association (SLPWA) -- said in a press release that they still are not satisfied.

The Schuyler County Legislature Monday night approved a resolution supporting the revised plan at its regular monthly meeting, a press release from Crestwood said. The Legislature resolution -- passed 6-2, with Legislators Van Harp and Michael Lausell opposed -- noted that the Legislature, which in 2014 approved the storage plan, had obtained agreement from Crestwood on the changes due to oppositional circumstances:

--"well-organized opposition to the project based on perceived public safety threats centering around transportation and the overall scope of the project"; and

--"civil disobedience" by the We Are Seneca Lake protesters that "has strained County law enforcement resources while adversely impacting public safety and County taxpayers."

"Whereas," the lengthy resolution read, "the Schuyler County Legislature considers the safety and well-being of its residents and visitors, preservation of natural resources, and the economic impact of tourism related industry and activity to be among its greatest priorities, and while originally satisfied that the proposed project would not adversely impact same, in the interest of being responsive and representative has sought modification from (Crestwood) to directly address concerns raised by opponents of this project."

Those modifications, which the resolution said were agreed to by Crestwood, include -- according to a letter to Administrative Law Judge James T. McClymonds at the DEC from the law firm of DLA Piper:

--"Elimination of Butane; and Reduction of Propane Storage Capacity by Almost 30% from 2.1 Million Barrels to 1.5 Million Barrels (Only Propane Would be Stored in Caverns.) (See Letter to the Editor regarding this on Forum)
--Eliminating the brine pond on the lake side of Rt. 14, and "the construction of rail and truck transportation infrastructure," and transport by rail and truck; and
--"Providing resources to support community initiatives to monitor and improve Seneca Lake water quality."

"Now, therefore, be it resolved," the related Legislature resolution says, that "through its submissions and compliance with all regulatory requests, including its most recent agreement to change the scope of the Project," Crestwood "has adequately responded to all legitimate community concerns and that the caverns to be used for LPG storage are well-suited for such use; and be it further resolved that given all of the information supplied to the DEC (in the past) supporting the Project and the time which has elapsed since the application was submitted and public hearings held, the Schuyler County Legislature hereby requests that the DEC finalize its review and make a final determination and issue the permit requested."

Gas Free Seneca -- in a joint press release with the FLXWBC and the SLPWA -- offered strong reservations and a critical suggestion, saying "private negotiations between Crestwood and the Schuyler County Legislature are not enforceable" and that it was urging Crestwood "to submit a formal amendment of its application so that the changed terms can be memorialized in binding permit conditions subject to review and comment."

The new Crestwood proposals, added Joseph Campbell, President of Gas Free Seneca, "are effective admissions that we were right about the original proposal all along: it's not safe, it threatens the Watkins Glen State Park, it's too noisy and ugly, and it's generally inconsistent with the character and brand of the Seneca Lake communities."

Beyond that, the press release said that in addition to negatively impacting Crestwood's property tax assessment and "the number of jobs created by the project ... the risk of cavern collapse, fire, explosion, pollution ... and a spike in the salinity of our drinking water all remain."

"So," said Campbell, "we are still being asked to accept the risks inherent in gas storage and transport, but with even less benefit to the county."

Added Will Ouweleen, secretary of the FLXWBC: "The bottom line is that the Finger Lakes Region does not need to be the sacrifice zone for gas industry export. It will not significantly benefit the region, (and) we are being asked to accept all of the risk with none of the reward."

Photos in text: Legislature Chairman Dennis Fagan (top) and Gas Free Seneca President Joseph Campbell. (File photos)

Note: A Letter to the Editor from Mr. Campbell takes exception to the propane storage reduction claim. Forum.

Senator Chuck Schumer speaks to officals outside the Schuyler County Office Building after the news conference. Board of Elections Commissioners Joe Fazzary, left, and John Vona are in the background.

Schumer visit touts legislation

Bipartisan federal effort targets 2 dozen synthetic drugs

WATKINS GLEN, July 29 -- U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer, the afternoon after he had a front-row seat at the final night of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, arrived at the Schuyler County Office Building Friday for a press conference announcing legislation he is helping push that would make nearly two dozen synthetic substances illegal.

The goal, he said, is to create "a federal hammer" to counteract the introduction of these drugs, including K2, before they spread farther. Their movement, he said, has been rapid, from New York City up to the Southern Tier. The legislation -- bipartisan in nature, he said -- would give local police agencies more tools to combat "this scourge," created by "chemists who cook up batches of synthetics from China and other places." It should pass quickly, he said.

On hand for the press conference, held in the Schuyler County Legislature's chambers, were various law enforcement personnel, including Schuyler County District Attorney Joe Fazzary and Chief Assistant DA Matt Hayden; Steuben County DA Brooks Baker; Watkins Glen Police Chief Tom Struble; representatives from the Chemung County DA's office and Schuyler Sheriff's office, and several other uniformed police officers.

As with many of Schumer's visits -- this was his 18th over the years to Schuyler County -- he brought with him a theme, and in this case a warning that such legislation is needed to combat the constantly shifting landscape of synthetic drugs, whose makers "have been a step ahead of" federal enforcement efforts for years. This legislation would make 22 chemicals -- including powerful forms of fentanyl -- illegal and thus easier to block.

"These dangerous, often deadly substances leave our emergency rooms bulging with stupefied users with zombie-like symptoms -- and this is a sign of what's to come if Congress doesn't act quickly," said Schumer. "Banning these drugs quickly will help the feds step up their game ... so that we can help stem the tide of synthetic drug use here in New York State and across the country."

Said Fazzary, who hosted the gathering: "I applaud Senator Schumer for being on the forefront of public safety when it comes to synthetic drugs like K2 and Spice. These chemically altered herbs and compounds are as dangerous, if not more, than any illegal substances that have been sold on the street in our neighborhoods for the last 50 years ... Adding these compounds to the federal ban list can only enhance public safety and will give law enforcement a greater tool to combat the surge of overdoses from these drugs."

After the news conference, Fazzary spoke outside the building to Schumer about the challenge faced by law enforcement in handling the multitude of arrests and court cases created by the ongoing protests over the proposed storage of LPG and current storage of methane in abandoned salt caverns west of Seneca Lake. Schumer, noting that the protesters are probably from outside of Schuyler County (most of them are), said he would look into it. Asked what that might mean, Fazzary said he wasn't sure, but that it might involve help from another source such as the state Attorney General's office.

From Schuyler County, Schumer -- who noted that he was seated in the front row of the New York delegation at the Democratic convention, and that the event "went very well" -- headed for Herkimer and another meeting with constituents.

Photos in text:

From top: Schumer makes a point while Watkins Glen Police Chief Tom Struble watches in the background; Schuyler County DA Joe Fazzary, left, and Schumer shake hands; Schumer passes by his picture on the Legislative Chamber's wall.

Court conducts 4 meth-bust arraignments

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, July 14 -- Four people involved in the three-country meth bust on May 4 and 5 were arraigned in Schuyler County Court Thursday. In addition, guilty pleas were entered in a separate meth case and in a burglary.

Ronald I. Lafever, 37, of Beaver Dams was arraigned by County Judge Dennis Morris on two counts of Conspiracy (a Class B felony and an A misdemeanor). Lafever, represented by counsel, entered a plea of not guilty and was remanded to the Schuyler County Jail in lieu of $5,000 cash or $10,000 bail bond. The District Attorney's office said the court also addressed charges of Manufacturing Methamphetamine 3rd Degree and Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance 7th Degree against Lafever, the result of a search warrant executed at his residence on May 4.

Deanna M. Lewis, 33, of Montour Falls was arraigned on two Conspiracy charges (a Class B felony and an A misdemeanor). She is the wife of Jack Lewis, who was also arrested in the meth sweep. She is represented by Attorney Paul Corradini. The District Attorney's office said she also faces a felony burglary charge for an alleged theft from Walmart. Her cases were adjourned to August 18 for further proceedings.

Chelsa M. Hojnoski, 26, of Bath and Tammy L. Snell, 38, of Montour Falls were each arraigned by Judge Morris on two counts of Conspiracy (a B felony and an A misdemeanor). Both entered pleas of not guilty, and their cases were adjourned for further proceedings.

Nine other defendants from the meth bust were arraigned in county court on June 29.

In separate cases:

Eugene Gilbert, 52, of Syracuse pleaded guilty to Burglary 3rd Degree (a Class D felony) for his part in a theft from Walmart. He is due to be sentenced on July 28 and is facing 1.5 to 3 years in prison. The DA's office said Gilbert and a co-defendant entered the Watkins Glen Walmart in January and stole a significant amount of baby formula. They were apprehended by the Village of Watkins Glen Police Department shortly after the theft occurred.

Robert A. Stevens, 22, of Montour Falls pleaded guilty to Unlawful Manufacture of Methamphetamine 3rd Degree (a Class D felony). This was unrelated to the large meth bust. Stevens and another man, Eric Storms, 43, were arrested in mid-March at a residence on CR 14 near Catharine Corners where a meth lab was discovered. Stevens is due to be sentenced on Thursday, July 21. He faces a prison sentence of one-and-a-half years.

SWCDs awarded state funds to assist
water and soil quality on area farms

Special to The Odessa File

ELMIRA, July 12 -- The Chemung and Schuyler County Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCD) have been awarded a combined total of $587,885 to work with local
farms to undertake agricultural water quality conservation projects, it was announced Tuesday by State Senator Tom O’Mara, chair of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee.

The funding is being provided to 25 county SWCDs statewide through New York’s Agricultural Nonpoint Source Abatement and Control Program. Forty-two projects, benefitting more than 120 farms, will share a total of $13.1 million in new funding. The projects being supported will assist farmers in addressing water quality issues in priority watersheds. The overriding goals are to prevent water pollution, reduce erosion and limit the amount of harmful sediments and other deposits in New York’s waterways. This year’s state budget increased funding for the program to $19 million.

“These are wise state investments to keep our farmers competitive and, at the same time, protect our natural resources for the long run and strengthen local economies,” said O’Mara, who also serves as a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “We’re investing in the longstanding and successful partnership between local farmers and local conservation
districts to achieve vital economic and environmental quality protection goals.”

Local conservation districts, including Chemung and Schuyler, work to implement plans in line with the goals of local farms and the needs of local watersheds.

Under this round of funding, O’Mara said that the:

> Chemung County SWCD is slated to receive $388,985 for the implementation of best management conservation practices to address agricultural water quality concerns on three farms in the Upper Susquehanna River watershed. The watershed ultimately drains to the Chesapeake Bay, where the EPA has assigned a Total Maximum Daily Load with the goal of reducing contamination in order to restore biological function.

> Schuyler County SWCD has been awarded $198,900 for the implementation of best management conservation practices to address agricultural water quality concerns on two
farms in the Seneca Lake watershed. The best management practices to be implemented include: livestock heavy use area runoff management systems and riparian buffers. These systems will keep nutrients, sediment and other pollutants out of the watershed while helping the farms remain economically viable.

Burdett man charged with meth manufacture

Special to The Odessa File

SCHUYLER COUNTY, June 29 -- The Schuyler County Sheriff’s Office has arrested a Burdett, NY man on charges relating to the unlawful manufacture of methamphetamine.

Craig J. Church, 27, of 4482 Satterly Hill Road, Burdett, is charged with one count of Unlawful Manufacture of Methamphetamine in the Third Degree (a Class D felony); one count of Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance (a Class A misdemeanor); and on alleged traffic infractions relating to excessive speed and driving without a valid driver’s license.

Church was arraigned in the Montour Falls Village Court and sent to the Schuyler County Jail in lieu of $5,000 cash bail or $10,000 bond.

9 from meth bust arraigned

Not guilty pleas entered; bail set for 'kingpin'

WATKINS GLEN, June 29 -- Nine people swept up in a meth bust by police in early May were arraigned Wednesday in Schuyler County Court -- with bail set at $75,000 cash or $150,000 bond for the man District Attorney Joe Fazzary has called the case's "kingpin."

That man, Scott L. Kennedy, 39, of 44 Campground Road, Beaver Dams -- whose home police have said was an active meth lab and where meth manufacturing items and several vehicles were seized -- was in court in his orange Schuyler County Jail jumpsuit. He had been held without bail since a litany of charges were leveled against him.

Those include:
--Operating as a major trafficker, a Class A1 felony that could bring up to a life sentence;
--Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance, a Class A2 felony;
--Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance, 2nd Degree, an A2 felony;
--Two counts of Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance, 3rd Degree, a B felony;
--Unlawful Manufacture of Methamphetamine (5 counts), each a C felony;
--Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance, 7th Degree, an A misdemeanor;
--Criminal Conspiracy, 2nd Degree, a B felony;
--Criminal Conspiracy, 5th Degree, an A misdemeanor.

DA Fazzary (right in file photo), while pointing out that Kennedy has three felony convictions on his record, asked County Judge Dennis Morris -- if setting bail -- to set it "at an appropriate amount or remand (to jail) at this time." Morris opted for the $75,000/$150,000 amount, and told Kennedy that if he does get out, failure to appear at a scheduled future date "is bail jumping" and will result in another felony charge. Kennedy was represented by Ithaca Attorney Jerome Mayersak.

Kennedy and each of the other eight defendants appearing Wednesday pleaded not guilty to the charges against them. Seven of the eight beyond Kennedy face Conspiracy 2nd Degree and Conspiracy 5th Degree counts, which officials have explained means each is accused of possession of more than two ounces of meth. In addition, one faces a misdemeanor possession count.

Each was arrested in connection with a multi-day sweep in Schuyler, Steuben and Chemung counties following a five-month investigation led by a New York State Police Special Investigations Unit. Search warrants -- fueled with information derived by eavesdropping on the phone at Kennedy's Beaver Dams residence -- were executed on May 4.

In each case Wednesday, Fazzary mentioned "intercepted communications" used by authorities in building the cases. The cases of each of those arraigned Wednesday were interconnected, said Fazzary.

In order of their appearances in court, the other defendants included:

--Jack L. Lewis III, 38, of Montour Falls, also facing an unrelated violation of probation charge, and held in jail since his arrest. Bail was set by Judge Morris at $20,000 cash/$40,000 bond, covering both the meth and probation counts. Lewis was represented by Ithaca Attorney Joseph Joch.

--Bryon Schwartz, of Veteran Hill Road, Horseheads, represented temporarily by Attorney Matt Hughson pending appointment of regular counsel. Bail of $10,000 cash/$20,000 bond -- the bond was posted by Schwartz -- was continued at the same amount by Judge Morris (right) after DA Fazzary noted that the defendant had turned himself in.

--Tammy L. Palmer, 40, of Beaver Dams, represented by Ithaca Attorney Ed Kopko. Fazzary suggested bail of $10,000/$20,000, but after Kopko argued that his client was the mother of two and employed, and no flight risk, the judge continued her ROR -- whereby she is Released on her Own Recognizance.

--Melissa M. Whitney, 51, of Beaver Dams, represented by Lockwood Attorney Sarah Soutar. Whitney is out on bail, which the judge continued.

--Jamie L. Iocco, 38, of Corning, represented by Corning Attorney Christopher Tunney. Bail set by a lower court, which she posted, was continued. A request was made for a pretrial conference, but Fazzary said an immediate one wasn't advised. "We haven't talked about an offer yet, (so) I don't know that (a meeting) today would be very fruitful," he said.

That, in fact, pointed up the expectation that most of these cases will, in keeping with the norm, end up with plea bargains. Fazzary said well over 90 percent of cases in the state end up that way.

--Daniel M. Celelli, 46, of Painted Post, represented by Ithaca Attorney Robert Lalonde. Celelli has been free on his own recognizance, a status that Judge Morris continued without objection from the DA.

--Quinton Harrison, represented temporarily by Hughson pending appointment of regular counsel. He had posted bail of $12,500/$25,000, which Morris continued. The age and residence of Harrison were not immediately available.

--Terry L. Champion, 46, of Bradford, represented by Waverly Attorney Todd Miller. In addition to the Conspiracy counts, Champion faces a misdemeanor charge of Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance, 7th Degree. He was present in a drab green jumpsuit, courtesy of Steuben County Jail, where he is being held on other charges in lieu of $10,000/$20,000 bail. Judge Morris set bail on the Schuyler charges at another $15,000/$30,000.

Defendants from other cases related to the May 4th roundup will appear in court for arraignment on dates in July, Fazzary said.

Photos in text: District Attorney Joe Fazzary (top) and Schuyler County Judge Dennis Morris. (File photos)

Judge tosses Hansen charge, says Phillips action 'not lawful'

Cites constitutional rights; lawsuit against district looms

WATKINS GLEN, June 13 -- Watkins Glen Village Justice Connie Fern Miller has dismissed a refiled misdemeanor trespass charge against Kristina Hansen, saying the order by Watkins Glen School Superintendent Tom Phillips upon which it was based "did not have a legitimate basis" and is not "lawful," not to mention that it was "procedurally defective."

The charge was leveled against Hansen on April 28, as a followup to a violation-level charge that came with her arrest by Watkins Glen Village Police on March 21 as she arrived on school district property to attend a School Board meeting. She was met on the sidewalk by Phillips, who ordered her to leave. When she protested, he had her arrested by two village patrolmen standing at the ready nearby.

In her 12-page ruling, dated June 9 and made public June 13, Judge Miller found that:

-- Phillips should have let Hansen into a meeting March 11 that precipitated her arrest 10 days later. The March 11 meeting, with four School Board members present, should have been open to the public.
-- The only "disruption" at that March 11 incident, when Hansen was blocked at the front door by Phillips, "was wholly on the part of Superintendent Phillips."
-- The subsequent order by Phillips banning Hansen from district buildings without his written permission "curtailed (Hansen's) exercise of federal and state constitutional rights, including freedom of movement, assembly and speech."
-- Even if the Phillips order had legitimacy, it was "vague and ambiguous," and did not include the school grounds in its parameters, instead specifying buildings. Both of Hansen's arrests -- en route to the School Board meeting on March 21 and at a school tennis match on May 4 -- occurred outside.
-- The superintendent's order, if it had been allowed to stand, would have had "a 'chilling effect' on defendant's (and others') exercise of those constitutional rights ... "
-- "No citizen of the United States, the State of New York or the Watkins School District needs to ask 'permission' of anyone in order to exercise her constitutional or statutory rights."


The ruling, said Hansen, "clearly debunks any claim of lawlessness on my part. It should be concerning to all citizens that I was arrested three times."

Hansen's attorney, Ray Schlather of Ithaca, termed the judge's ruling "very emphatic" and "a very clear statement about constitutional rights" and about the "ill-conceived, ill-implemented and unconstitutional" nature of Phillips' order leading to those three arrests.

While the charge in the third arrest -- which came May 4 when Hansen attended the tennis match on school grounds -- was dismissed by Miller on May 19, the judge had done so "without prejudice," meaning it could be refiled.

But "I can't imagine any further criminal charges" in the case now, said Schlather. "This ruling was a clear declaration of constitutional issues. If there is an attempt to enforce anything further under that letter -- or so-called order (issued by Phillips) -- we will add monetary damages and possibly punitive damages to our lawsuit."

That suit, notice of which was filed in mid April, is being brought by Hansen against the Watkins Glen School District, Superintendent Phillips, School Board President Kelly McCarthy, the Village of Watkins Glen and its Police Department, and in a minor fashion against the two March 21 arresting officers.

Schlather said he would be meeting shortly with Hansen to further discuss the suit, which he said was helped by Miller's ruling. "We are claiming in the suit that (Hansen's) constitutional rights were violated," he said. "Judge Miller has validated those claims.

"We will proceed full steam ahead."

How it started:

Hansen, a frequent district critic, tried to enter a meeting of school staff on March 11 at which Phillips was presenting an update on finances and jobs -- on the "state of the district," in the words of School Board President McCarthy, who attended that meeting with three other members of the Board ... which constituted a quorum of that seven-member body.

Hansen, stopped at the building's entry point by Phillips, made it into a vestibule separated from the building's interior by locked doors. She refused to leave until escorted by police called to the scene. Phillips later, in a written memorandum, effectively banned her from school buildings without his written permission -- which led to her arrest 10 days later as she approached the School Board meeting without such permission.

The charge lodged in that arrest -- a violation -- was later dismissed by Judge Miller "for facial insufficiency of the Accusatory Information." It was done so "without prejudice" to a refiling, which indeed followed. Hansen was re-arrested on April 28 on a trespass charge that had moved up a notch to a misdemeanor.

A motion to dismiss was issued that day by Attorney Schlather, but Judge Miller gave the prosecution, led by Seneca County District Attorney Barry Porsch, time to respond, which Porsch did at a Village Court session on May 19. Miller then said she was providing time for Schlather to respond if he wished, and that she would subsequently issue her ruling -- which she now has.

Arrested again:

Hansen, meanwhile, was arrested a third time on May 4 when she attended the high school tennis match on Watkins Glen school grounds -- a charge dismissed by Miller on May 19, again "without prejudice," leaving the possibility (now doubted by Schlather) of a refiled charge. Again, the Accusatory Instrument in that case -- which also charged misdemeanor trespass -- was not drawn properly. Attorney Schlather explained at the time that the arresting officer, Jordan Walrath, did not have sufficient knowledge of the Phillips edict and did not accordingly supply a supporting deposition, presumably from Phillips.

Any forward movement that might have been entertained by Phillips or Watkins Glen police in that case appears to have hit legal shoals in view of Judge Miller's 12-page ruling. It takes to task the superintendent's order against Hansen -- issued after that March 11 confrontation -- as "not 'lawful,' in the manner of its issuance, its basis, purpose, scope or implementation."

About that March 11 session:

The ruling notes the attempt by Hansen to enter the school building near the district office on March 11, how she was met by Phillips at the outer door, and how he prevented her from entering beyond the vestibule. Inside the building, at the staff meeting she wanted to attend, were four School Board members.

"The Court takes judicial notice," the ruling says, "that the Watkins Glen School Board is comprised of seven members, and that four members at a meeting would comprise a quorum. The Court concludes, on the basis of the NYS Open Meetings Law and Education Law, that regardless of the declarations of Mr. Phillips and Mrs. McCarthy that the meeting was 'not open to the public,' it should have been. Ms. Hansen was within her rights in requesting and attempting to attend the 'State of the District' address scheduled to be given at this meeting."

The ruling added: "It is true that defendant, Kristina Hansen, circumvented the security system of the school building when she entered into the lobby area by following persons who used their 'key card' to open the outside doors. However, it is obvious to the Court that if Ms. Hansen had followed 'security protocols' by ringing a buzzer and using the intercom system 'to state the reason for her visit' (as described by both Mr. Phillips and Ms. McCarthy), her efforts would have been futile, as she would have been refused entry. While the Court does not condone her method of entry, under the circumstances, it appears that she utilized the only practical course of action available to her in her attempt to exercise her right to attend what should have been a public portion of the meeting.

"The Court expressly finds, based on statements of both Mr. Phillips and Ms. McCarthy, that no students were threatened or endangered by defendant's actions, as they occurred on a day when regular classes were not in session. As the surveillance videos clearly show, Ms. Hansen entered the lobby area of the school building without breach of the peace, disruptive behavior, or physical contact with any person. The only 'disruption' was wholly on the part of Superintendent Phillips, who can clearly be seen confronting Kristina Hansen in an aggressive fashion, flailing his arms, shaking papers in his hand, and repeatedly pointing to the door. In contrast, Ms. Hansen kept her hands at her side, spoke only when it appeared she was asked a question, and waited patiently for the police to arrive after she was denied permission to enter through the second set of locked doors."

She was escorted out by two officers, but not charged.

The letter:

Phillips' letter to Hansen, sent by certified mail, followed, in which he stated: "If you have a need to visit a school or district office you must request permission from the Superintendent by stating the specifics of the need to come to the district, including time necessary to complete any business. Before coming to school, wait for the Superintendent to grant permission in writing. Written permission must be presented at the time of admittance to the building."

However, Judge Miller's ruling went on as follows: "The order/letter issued by Superintendent Phillips did not have a legitimate basis. It appears to have been an overreaction to a relatively benign infraction of school rules by a citizen who reasonably believed she had a right to attend" the meeting along with a quorum of the Board of Education. "Furthermore, the issuance of the Superintendent's letter/order was procedurally defective," failing "to comply with the requirements of Penal Law ... as it was not 'personally communicated' to defendant," but instead sent by mail.

"The letter itself," the ruling said, "is ambiguous and vague as to whether it purports to ban Ms. Hansen from 'school grounds' as asserted by Mr. Phillips in his Supporting Deposition, or whether it applies only to entry into a school building. Reading the letter as a whole ... it appears to restrict entry only in a 'school or district office' (i.e. a building) ...

"Per Mr. Phillips' Supporting Deposition, he confronted Ms. Hansen on March 21 at about 5:37 p.m. and had her arrested, on 'the grounds' of the High School. She had not entered into any building. Inasmuch as the conduct which led to defendant's arrest did not even violate the terms of the letter sent to her, the charge of Criminal Trespass, Third Degree, could be dismissed solely on those narrow grounds."

But there was more.

Constitutional rights:

"The Court," Miller added, found that the prosecution failed to show that "enforcement of the order/letter issued by Superintendent Phillips" would not "unlawfully inhibit or circumscribe the defendant from engaging in constitutionally or statutorily protected conduct ... The blanket restriction issued by Superintendent Phillips was clearly unlawful in that it purports to bar Kristina Hansen for all times and all purposes from public school property. It does not matter that Mr. Phillips left open the possibility that she could be allowed into a school building with his written permission ...

"No citizen of the United States, the State of New York or the Watkins School District needs to ask 'permission' of anyone in order to exercise her constitutional or statutory right. Furthermore, no person in authority should have unlimited and arbitrary control to decide when 'permission' will be granted."

Judge Miller added that Hansen "unquestionably ... had a legitimate reason, purpose and business for being on school property on March 21," the day when she was arrested en route to the School Board meeting. She was, per the law, "licensed and privileged to be there," said Miller, "unless she defied a lawful order not to enter or remain." The Open Meetings Law, she said, is clear that "meetings 'of all (school) boards shall be open to the public.'"

The ruling continued:

"The letter/order issued by Superintendent Phillips unduly infringed upon defendant's protected statutory right to attend a school board meeting. It also curtailed her exercise of federal and state constitutional rights, including freedom of movement, assembly and speech. Furthermore, the order" -- if permitted to stand -- "would have a 'chilling effect' on defendant's (and others') exercise of those rights ...

"The charge of Criminal Trespass, Third Degree, pending against Kristina L. Hansen, is hereby dismissed on the merits. So ordered."

Photos in text: From top: Kristina Hansen and Attorney Ray Schlather; Attorney Schlather; Hansen's first arrest, on March 21 on her way to a School Board meeting; Hansen's third arrest, on May 4 at the WGHS tennis courts; School Superintendent Tom Phillips; School Board President Kelly McCarthy, and Schlather with the media. (File photos)

Van Etten man draws 4 years in meth case

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, June 10 -- A Van Etten man was sentenced to four years in state prison on June 9 after pleading guilty in Schuyler County Court to meth-related charges.

Jason A. Miller, 32, pleaded guilty to Unlawful Manufacture of Methamphetamine in the Second Degree, a Class C Felony, and Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Fourth Degree, a Class A Misdemeanor.

In addition to the four-year sentence, imposed by County Judge Dennis Morris, Miller was assigned three years of post-release supervision.

Miller was arrested in the Town of Hector on Feb. 27 by the Schuyler County Sheriff's Department, which said a search of his vehicle resulted in the seizure of components of a meth lab and about $2,400 in cash. Miller forfeited the cash to law enforcement as part of his negotiated plea.

Reed: It's time to back Trump

But says the GOP nominee's words are 'problematic'

WASHINGTON, June 8 -- With the primary season over, Congressman Tom Reed (R-Corning) -- in a press release from his office -- is calling on Republicans to unite behind presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump "to defeat Hillary Clinton." But while not stated in the press release, he is also calling Trump's remarks regarding a federal judge "problematic."

The press release makes no mention about the controversy swirling around Trump over what many perceive as racist remarks he made concerning Judge Gonzalo Curiel's ability -- as a person of Mexican descent -- to rule fairly in two class-action civil lawsuits brought against Trump University for (as one columnist put it) "allegedly using predatory marketing practices to sell worthless real estate classes." Curiel, born and raised in Indiana, failed to issue a summary judgment in Trump's favor -- although the motion in one of the cases is still pending.

Trump has said Curiel is "a hater of Trump" who is likely to rule unfairly because of Trump's calls for construction of a wall between the United States and Mexico. "He's Mexican; I'm building a wall," Trump has repeated several times.

The press release instead quoted Reed as saying that Trump's "history as a deal maker proves he can help us achieve" needed change, adding that it is time "to unite and move forward. With Donald Trump in the White House, we can work together" to reach "commonsense, fair solutions" regarding poverty, the economy, and jobs.

It also quotes Amy Hasenberg, Tom Reed for Congress spokeswoman, as saying: “Our nation and our district cannot afford to have anyone who has helped further the Obama agenda" -- a reference to Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, and to the opponent for Reed's Congressional seat, Democrat John Plumb.

When asked by email whether Reed considered Trump's remarks about the judge to be racist -- many journalists and politicians have said they are -- and if the Congressman condoned them, Hasenberg referred to a story stemming from a recent conference call with reporters. It was written on the WBFO radio website -- WBFO being Buffalo's NPR news station.

"Obviously," Reed is quoted as saying, "the comments and the rhetoric are very concerning to me, just as we've expressed concern with other rhetoric that Donald Trump has issued. This is another example of something (where) we disagree with his tactic. As Donald Trump has demonstrated, he's his own candidate. We've always expressed some concern about his rhetoric, and this is additonal rhetoric that I have concern with. To challenge a judge based on his personal background is problematic."

Photo in text: Congressman Tom Reed (File photo)

Scalers Alvin Walker (white helmet) and Dustin Karius unfurl the American Flag in front of a rock face overlooking the Watkins Glen State Park gorge entrance.

Flag unfurling at Glen State Park signals opening of trails at 6 Finger Lakes parks

WATKINS GLEN, May 25 -- The American flag was unfurled along a rock face above the entrance to the Watkins Glen State Park gorge Wednesday morning to symbolize the opening of the park's trails and those in the five other parks in the state's Finger Lakes system.

The flag was unfurled by two members of the Finger Lakes State Park Scaling Team, a group of people charged each year with removing loose stones and growth from the rock walls of the park system to help ensure the safety of the millions of summer visitors to the region.

Head of the team is Sonny Howard of Watkins Glen, who said the idea for utilizing the flag as a symbol of the park openings came from photos in the 1930s that showed a flag fronting a rock wall near the gorge entrance. Back then, he said, the flag was left up for the tourist season, but the practice apparently ran into complaints about flag desecration.

Fred Bonn, regional director of the Finger Lakes state parks -- on hand for Wednesday's unfurling -- said the flag would be removed from its perch by day's end, and that there are no plans to leave it up any longer in the future, although he hopes to see the flag ceremony repeated as a symbol of the park openings and -- through the participation of scalers -- a reminder of the need for safety in the parks and the importance of heeding signage.

The two scalers -- among a team that has been working for the past six weeks to make the park system safe -- were Dustin Karius of the Hector area and Alvin Walker of Romulus. In interviews afterward, they acknowledged that the flag ceremony was "great," with Walker saying plans for it started last year -- on "how to rig the flag, who was going over ..."

"It was pretty simple," Karius concluded.

The ceremony, which attracted scores of onlookers, will be different in the future if only because the paved parking area where people gathered to watch will be changed in the next two years to green space, part of a $6.5 million state project which, said Bonn, will enhance the visiting experience.

The green space will include a small amphitheater and improved educational displays on the park's human history and natural and geologic features, including a touchable model of the gorge, and a new overlook at the base of the gorge where people with mobility challenges will be able to enjoy the waterfalls.

The entrance area will include a new visitor welcome center where park staff can provide information about the park, and where the Watkins Glen Area Chamber of Commerce will have a counter to provide information about other attrractions in the region.

Construction is expected to begin this summer, with the renovation complete in time for the 2018 tourist season.

Meanwhile, the focus was on the season-opening flag ceremony Wednesday, with three other members of the team atop the rock wall, 186 feet above the gorge entrance. They were helping guide the ropes used to control the flag.

"This has great potential for an annual event," Bonn said, noting that the Watkins Glen State Park alone had 860,000 visitors last year, and has "a good chance of setting a new record this summer."

A ceremony like Wednesday's, he said, "is a good oppotrunity to remind people that the parks are open" -- parks that include Stony Brook, Robert Treman, Taughannock Falls, Buttermilk Falls and Fillmore Glen, and which collectively attracted 2.2 million visitors last year.

Each has a rich history, and the flag ceremony, Bonn said, "is a great opportunity to recreate a practice" from that history, one from many decades ago.

Photos in text:

From top: Finger Lakes Parks Regional Director Fred Bonn with TV reporters; scalers Alvin Walker, left, and Dustin Karius; the back of a team member's t-shirt; and Scaling Team Coordinator Sonny Howard.

All eyes, and camera lenses, were pointing up toward the rock face and the flag -- shown at left from a vantage point across the gorge. (Photograph on left by Katey Cheplick).

Fire Academy gets federal training funds

Special to The Odessa File

MONTOUR FALLS, May 20 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats) welcomed Friday’s announcement that the Frederick L. Warder Academy of Fire Sciences in Montour Falls has been awarded $500,000 in federal funding to provide enhanced training for first responders in incidents involving crude oil and other ignitable liquids.

The announcement was made in Albany by Governor Andrew Cuomo, who noted that the funding is being awarded through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA)
Assistance to Firefighter’s Grant Program and will be administered through the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services Office of Fire Prevention and Control.

“This is great news and yet another valuable addition for all New Yorkers to the incredible training provided at The Academy of Fire Sciences in Montour Falls,” said O’Mara. “The Academy remains vital to Schuyler County and surrounding communities, and it continues to make irreplaceable contributions to New York’s firefighters and first responders.”

More than 6,000 emergency services providers come to the Academy annually to receive education and training in over 130 courses.

Another Hansen dismissal; action on April motion delayed

WATKINS GLEN, May 19 -- One case against Kristina Hansen was delayed and another was dismissed Thursday in Watkins Glen Village Court. Meanwhile, Hansen's attorney announced that the lawsuits announced against the Watkins Glen School District, the village of Watkins Glen and its police department related to the first Hansen arrest on March 21 will be filed in June and seek "substantial monetary damages."

Hansen -- first arrested March 21 when she tried to attend a Watkins Glen School Board meeting after being banned from district buildings by Superintendent Tom Phillips for trying to attend a staff meeting on March 11 and refusing to leave the entry vestibule -- was facing two charges Thursday.

One was a refiling of the initial trespass complaint after the first one was dismissed by Village Justice Connie Fern Miller for insufficiency. The other was a different trespass charge leveled May 4 when Hansen was removed in handcuffs by a police officer from the school grounds while watching a varsity tennis match.

The refiled charge is still active. A motion to dismiss was filed by Hansen's attorney, Ray Schlather of Ithaca, at their last court appearance, on April 28. Miller had given the special prosecutor in the case, Seneca County District Attorney Barry Porsch, until Thursday to respond, which he did in writing upon arriving 20 minutes late for court. Miller granted several days for Schlather to study the response and reply if desired before she rules on the motion to dismiss.

The second charge -- the one from the tennis court -- was dismissed by Miller "without prejudice," meaning it can be refiled (like the March 21st one was) if the "accusatory instrument" is drawn properly. It was deemed insufficient Thursday, Schlather later explained, because the arresting officer, Jordan Walrath, did not have sufficient knowledge of the Phillips edict and did not accordingly supply a supporting deposition.

If the matter is refiled by police, that deposition would likely stem from Phillips regarding his edict. But Schlather said the ban on Hansen by Phillips did not, in fact, call into account the school grounds -- only the buildings thereon.

A copy of the Phillips edict provided to the media reads: "If you have a need to visit a school or a district office you must request permission from the Superintendent by stating the specifics of the need to come to the district, including time necessary to complete any business. Before coming to school, wait for the Superintendent to grant permission in writing. Written permission must be presented at the time of admittance to the building."

Schlather tried repeatedly to push that point to Justice Miller Thursday, but she said it was not the time to do so. As he explained later: "I wanted the prosecutor to know that any effort to recharge is, in our view, harassment." It is time, he added, for the school district "to back off and let (Hansen) exercise her constitutional rights. She has been deprived of her rights under the color of law by people who should know better."

The lawsuit -- which also names Superintendent Phillips and Board President Kelly McCarthy -- will proceed in June, said Schlather, and will target any law enforcement actions against Hansen and anybody "complicit" in the cases against her. The monetary damages sought will be "sustantial," he said, but he declined to provide any dollar figure.

"This has gone too far," he said. "Even if we accepted the validity" of Phillips' order against Hansen, "and we don't, it does not constitute a violation of its terms to watch a tennis match."

As for Hansen, she said she has "no intention of ever asking for permission" from Phillips for anything. And when asked if she had voted on the school budget and board election Tuesday, she said she had.

She had entered a district building without permission sought or granted, and exercised her constitutional right to vote, she said.

And she did so -- perhaps surprisingly, given recent history -- without drawing a rebuke, a police officer or handcuffs.

Photos in text: Kristina Hansen with her attorney, Ray Schlather, after Thursday's court appearance; and Schlather answers reporters' questions.

Meth arrest total reaches 17

From news reports

SOUTHERN TIER, May 8 --New York State Police have updated information about the series of meth busts at midweek that culminated in the arrests of 17 people around the Southern Tier.

The arrests in Schuyler, Steuben and Chemung counties followed a five-month investigation led by a New York State Police Special Investigations Unit. Search warrants were executed Wednesday, May 4.

Police have identified those arrested Wednesday and in the days that followed as:

--Scott Kennedy, 39 of 44 Campground Road, Beaver Dams, whose home police said was an active meth lab, and where meth manufacturing items and several vehicles were seized;
--Wendy R. Kennedy, 37, of Beaver Dams;
--Daniel M. Celelli, 46, of Painted Post;
--Ronald I. LaFever, 37, of Beaver Dams;
--Chelsa M. Hojnoski, 26, of Bath;
--Daniel R. Gillespie, 38, of Woodhull
--Tammy L. Palmer, 40, of Beaver Dams;
--Hilary A. Losey, 28, of Bath;
--Melissa M. Whitney, 51, of Beaver Dams;
--Tammy L. Snell, 38, of Montour Falls;
--Jack L. Lewis III, 38, of Montour Falls;
--Deanna M. Lewis, 33, of Montour Falls;
--Jamie L. Iocco, 38, of Corning;
--Terry Champion, 46, of Bradford;
--Basil A. Rhoads, 52, of Beaver Dams;
--Michael L. Doane, 51, of Dix; and
--Kevin J. Teed, 53, no known address.

Each arrestee faces a charge of conspiracy in the second degree, a felony. It means each is accused of possession of more than two ounces of meth.

Further charges and arrests are expected, according to state police.

"I've been here for 24 years now, and I've never had any case that had the magnitude this has, with respect to the number of individuals that have, or are suspected of having, been involved in this," Schuyler County District Attorney Joseph Fazzary told WENY-TV.

Assisting in the bust were the Schuyler County Sheriff's Office and various state police investigation and enforcement teams.

Hansen not-guilty plea entered as Schlather moves to dismiss

Village Justice Miller wants prosecution response by May 19; will rule then

WATKINS GLEN, April 28 -- Kristina Hansen was arraigned Thursday in Village Court on a second trespass charge lodged against her following her attempt to attend a March 21 Watkins Glen School Board meeting. Her attorney, Ray Schlather, entered a plea of not guilty for her, and she was released on her own recognizance -- with a motion for dismissal hanging in the air, filed by Schlather and awaiting a prosecution response.

Village Justice Connie Fern Miller did not outrightly agree with dismissal this time, as she had on a previous trespass charge against Hansen that was of the violation variety. This one, involving the powers of school officials, is a misdemeanor.

Miller said she would wait to rule on the motion -- which calls for dismissal for both "facial and legal insufficiency" and cites case law and open meetings law provisions that Schlather says trump the trespass charge -- until the prosecution can respond, as long as it does so within 20 days. The judge indicated a ruling was coming before or at a court session on May 19, with or without attorneys present -- meaning arguments could be provided either orally before Miller, or beforehand in writing.

Asked afterward if he was disappointed with the delay, Schlather said no -- that presenting a motion at arraignment was an unusual move, and one the judge wanted the prosecution to have time to absorb and respond to.

In releasing Hansen on her own recognizance, Miller noted that there was no bail "since you have appeared here twice voluntarily with your attorney." At that first appearance, on April 7, Miller had dismissed the trespass violation charge without prejudice, meaning a new charge could be filed that appeared more pertinent to the facts of the case.

Schlather said after the arraignment that he had not received the latest accusatory instrument -- with a supporting deposition of Watkins Glen School Superintendent Tom Phillips -- until Thursday, and that having now seen it believes "this case should not have resulted in re-arrest. The School Board or Superintendent can prevent" certain actions by people on the school campus, "but have no right" to prevent members of the public from attending public meetings such as the March 21 School Board session.

If a person were admitted to such a meeting and was "disruptive, then certainly there are things (school officials) can do," said Schlather. "But the Court of Appeals has spoken clearly on this issue. It's not a lawful order."

Phillips issued a ruling that Hansen needed his written permission to be on campus following an attempt by Hansen to attend a staff meeting at the school on March 11 attended by, in addition to faculty and staff, four members of the School Board. She was met at the outer door by a gesticulating Phillips telling her she had to leave, but she refused, saying later she was reacting to what she deemed as his bullying attitude. She was ultimately escorted from the entrance vestibule by two police officers, but not charged.

Ten days later, emboldened by an opinion from the State Committee on Open Government's executive director, Robert J. Freeman, saying nobody could be prevented from attending a public School Board session without a court order, Hansen approached a Watkins Glen School Board meeting, only to be met on the sidewalk by Phillips, who ordered her to leave school grounds. Standing nearby were two Watkins Glen village police officers who arrested and handcuffed her when she tried to argue her right to be there.

Lawsuits against the school district, Phillips, Board president Kelly McCarthy, the village, its police department and the arresting officers were subsequently announced through Notices of Claim prepared by Schlather's firm on behalf of Hansen. Unspecified monetary awards will be sought -- which reportedly would be covered by insurance.

But Phillips, in concert with police and the Special Prosecutor in the case, Seneca County District Attorney Barry Porsch, soon filed the new charge against Hansen, leading to Thursday's arraignment. Porsche left court immediately after Thursday's session, without comment.

Hansen, following her court appearance, was transported to the Schuyler County Sheriff's Office by Schlather, where they met with police officers for fingerprinting as part of the arrest procedure effected with her voluntary appearance at the Municipal Building, site of the courtroom. She had been ordered to report for arrest in an email sent to her by Police Chief Tom Struble a week and a half ago.

Schlather, speaking both after the arraignment and after the fingerprinting, remained optimistic about the case, saying he will come to Watkins Glen again from his Ithaca office "if necessary" for further court proceedings, "but might not have to" -- if Justice Miller were to dismiss the charge based on written arguments.

If she were to do that, he said, "this is over." But another appearance in court depends not only on her ruling, but on "what they (the prosecution) file" (in response to his motion), whether they prefer oral arguments, "and if I come up with something unusual, different ..."

He let the thought hang there.

Photos in text: Attorney Ray Schlather talks to the media after the arraignment; a sign in the Municipal Building points the way to the courtroom; and Hansen, second from right, leaves the Schuyler County Sheriff's office with Schlather (left) and friends after she was fingerprinted there following arraignment in the Municipal Building.

Legislators table EMC vote

Plan has evolved; council won't be abolished, but reduced in size

WATKINS GLEN, April 11, 2016 -- The Schuyler County Legislature, scheduled to vote on a resolution that would rescind the 1974 Local Law that created the Environmental Management Council, tabled the resolution Monday night after a public hearing at which speakers were overwhelmingly in favor of the EMC.

But the tabling move -- while a reaction to the audience as well as to the lobbying efforts of Legislator Michael Lausell -- was seemingly also in keeping with alterations in the plan that have occurred in recent weeks. While the rescindment move (as introduced in the form of another Local Law last month) is likely to be passed in the near future, things have changed on the EMC front.

Since the Legislature meeting in March, the plan to replace the EMC with a subcommittee of the county Planning Commission has evolved into a plan to revamp the EMC into a body similar to the existing one, but with a smaller membership and with term limits.

Legislator Carl Blowers (pictured at right) told the audience of about 30 people Monday that the lawmakers had listened in March to the protests of EMC members and their supporters, and subsequently decided in committee to discard the plan to make the EMC a subcommittee. Now the plan calls for an organization that would report to the Legislature through the Planning Director. It will have different by-laws which, said one official, comport with changes in the law since the EMC was first formed in 1974. "So much has changed," said the official, "that it's better to wipe the slate clean and restart."

The matter of membership will be flexible at first, with existing members continuing until the conclusion of their individual two-year terms. Terms were approved by the Legislature in the past, as they will be in the future. And the proposed six-year term limit under the proposed, revised EMC might be raised to 12 years, as suggested by Legislature Chair Dennis Fagan, who pointed out that 12 years is applicable to county legislators and the county Industrial Development Agency. "I would be okay with that," he said.

Yet to be worked out: whether terms would be for two, three or four years.

Eventually, the EMC (under current plans) will be 12 members instead of the current 25, with half of the membership picked by the Legislature and half suggested by outside sources but approved by the Legislature. The goal of the current EMC has been to have representation from every town and village, but that will evidently not be the avowed goal of the new organization.

Until about four or five years ago, one official explained, the EMC was a contract agency under the auspices of Cooperative Extension. That arrangement ended when Extension funding was cut. Since then, the adjustment period has resulted in some friction between EMC and county officials.

Monday's tabling move, introduced by Lausell, was supported by all but Legislators Blowers and Phil Barnes. Lausell said it leaves the Legislature time to consider the comments of the people attending Monday's session, held in the County Courtroom to handle an audience too large for the legislative chambers.

Officials explained afterward that the postponed vote could occur at next month's meeting or the month after -- the farthest point at which a tabled resolution can still remain active. A proposed Local Law establishing the revamped EMC is likely to be introduced next month, with the vote approving or rejecting it following in June after a public hearing. The proposed by-laws for that unit are expected to be ready soon, and posted on the county website.

Many of the speakers Monday seemed focus on the reduction of the EMC into a subcommittee as discussed in previous months -- not on the revised plan. News of the changes had not evidently reached all of the EMC supporters and members.

But one constant among several speakers was the term limits, which county legislators seem intent on imposing. Speakers said it made little sense to limit terms of people who during their tenure would gain important information and contacts relating to environmental matters. To limit their terms, it was argued, would be to limit valuable sources of information. Said one: "If you diminish the EMC, you diminish yourselves."

However, in the end, EMC members seemed satisfied with the flexibility shown by the Legislature -- with the delay in action and with the alterations in the EMC plan -- although term limits will remain a matter of contention.

Photos in text: From top, Legislators Michael Lausell and Carl Blowers; EMC Chair Kate Bartholomew addressing the Legislature; and Legislator Mark Rondinaro.

Trespass charge dismissed

Schlather: Lawsuits coming against school district, cops

WATKINS GLEN, April 7, 2016 -- The trespass charge lodged against Watkins Glen School District resident Kristina Hansen when she tried to attend a School Board meeting on March 21 was quickly dismissed by Watkins Glen Village Justice Connie Fern Miller in Village Court Thursday afternoon.

"It was dismissed outright," said Hansen attorney Ray Schlather of Ithaca, who was sharply critical afterward of the school district's role and said that his law firm plans "to commence legal action in State Supreme Court in Schuyler County" against the district and School Superintendent Tom Phillips -- and possibly members of the School Board -- in the near future. He also said his firm is gathering information for a suit against the Watkins Glen Village Police for what he deemed an "illegal arrest."

Hansen had been taken into custody by Village Police officers Isaac Marmor and Jamie Coleman on the trespass charge on March 21when she approached the high school entrance leading to the School Board meeting room. A public meeting of the board was being held that night. Hansen was intercepted en route by Phillips, who ordered her off the school property, and when she protested she was arrested by the officers waiting nearby. Phillips' order to her was in accordance with a recent ban he had issued against her presence on campus without his written permission.

That ban had been leveled after a March 11 incident in which Hansen had tried to enter the school along with staff and School Board members for a briefing by Phillips on the state of the district. She said she felt she had a right to attend as a member of two school-related committees. But she was met at the door by Phillips, who ordered her to leave in a manner that she considered "bullying," and she decided to protest by staying in the vestibule inside the school entry near the district offices. She was ultimately escorted from the scene by two police officers, but wasn't charged. She was effectively banned from campus, though, by Phillips, without his written permission.

Later Hansen, in checking with the New York State Committee on Open Government, had obtained an opinion that said nobody could be banned from a public meeting, such as the School Board session was to be on March 21. She tried to explain that to the arresting officers standing by after Phillips had ordered her to leave, but they handcuffed her (see photo below) and took her to Village Hall for processing, anyway.

Hansen later obtained the legal services of Schlather, Stumbar, Parks & Salk, which led to Thursday's scheduled arraignment in a crowded Village Court. After dispensing with several other cases, Justice Miller called Schlather and Special Prosecutor Barry Porsche, the Seneca County District Attorney, to the bench along with Hansen, who had been waiting in the spectator area. Porsche was assigned the case by Schuyler County Judge Dennis Morris, Schlather explained, because Schuyler County DA Joe Fazzary had been excused due to a conflict of interest. The dismissal was issued "without prejudice," he noted, meaning Porsche could conceivably "refile" if he found "proper allegations."

Schlather didn't comment on that likelihood, saying instead that the dismissal was "due to insufficient circumstances" and issued "outright," the entire process taking mere minutes. "You can't be charged with trespass," Schlather said, "on property open to the public, particularly when the public is invited." Hansen, he added, "has the right to attend as a member of the public without restraint or impediment."

This country, he said, "is a nation of laws, not of people. And the laws allow people to attend public meetings. We can come and go" guided by "our constitutional rights. Our concern is, if personnel in the school district are able to get away with misconduct" concerning Hansen, "it can happen to anyone."

He said notice of intent to file a lawsuit against the school district and Phillips will be served next week or the week after, with the filing following in State Supreme Court. A suit against the Village Police will likely follow shortly thereafter, he added.

While monetary reward is the only one that can be sought in these cases, Schlather said, "the issue is not one of price, but of principle. The rights of Ms. Hansen as a member of the citizenry have been violated in a most egregious way." He declined to speculate as to the amount of monetary damages that might be sought.

Between now and the filings, he said, "we are gathering facts as to which members of the school district beyond the superintendent" might be named in the school suit. "The facts will determine how far down the chain" of district personnel his firm will go -- and which, if any, School Board members might be included.

In the meantime, he was asked, what happens if Hansen is arrested trying to attend another School Board meeting? She bypassed a chance earlier this week, cautioned ahead of time by police that she would be arrested if she tried.

"If she's arrested again," said Schlather, "then that would be another illegal arrest."

Addendum: When asked to comment on the court action dismissing the trespass charge and on the intended lawsuits, School Superintendent Phillips responded: "Please refer to the letter that was sent to The Odessa File from the Board President," Kelly McCarthy. "I don't believe you have published that letter."

Editor's Note: The March letter, a defense of the ban placed by Phillips on Hansen, and arguing the right of arrest based on that ban, felt excessive and too personal in its criticism of Hansen. Thus the decision not to run it.

Photos in text: Attorney Ray Schlather and Kristina Hansen after the trespass charge was dismissed; and the scene on March 21 when Hansen was led away by police.

The home near Catharine Corners that investigators say housed a meth lab.

2 charged in Meth lab case

CATHARINE CORNERS, March 17 -- Two men were arrested Wednesday when a suspected meth lab was discovered after Schuyler County Sheriff's Deputies responded to a report of a disturbance at a house near Catharine Corners.

"Responding deputies," said a press release from the Sheriff's Office, "discovered materials used in the production of methamphetamine," leading to the arrest of the two men "for Unlawful Manufacture of Methamphetamine in the Third Degree, a Class D felony."

Eric J. Storm, 43, and Robert A. Stevens, 22, were taken into custody at the scene, a residence they shared on County Road 14, just east of the intersection with County Road 15. That locale, known as Catharine Corners, is just south of the Village of Odessa.

The discovery brought State Police hazmat investigators to the house, which resulted in the removal of what deputies said was meth production-related materials. Odessa firefighters and Schuyler Ambulance personnel were present, too, as precautionary measures.

Storm and Stevens were arraigned and sent to jail in lieu of $5,000 bail or $10,000 bond.

Photos in text: Eric J. Storm (left) and Robert A. Stevens. (Photos provided)

Firefighters from Odessa were on hand during the meth-lab raid as a precaution.

WG Board has questions about State Park project's traffic flow

WATKINS GLEN, March 8, 2016 -- The Watkins Glen Village Board Monday night decided it wants more information regarding the traffic pattern changes planned with the renovation of the Watkins Glen State Park entry area this year.

Those plans were announced by state officials at a news conference at the Chamber of Commerce office last month. The project calls for relocating the existing parking area away from the gorge to a lot across the street, creating what is envisioned as a greener, more welcoming atmosphere at the park for the many tourists who visit each summer.

Both Mayor Sam Schimizzi and Police Chief Tom Struble said they thought the plan to eliminate the traffic light at the Park entrance and establish one nearby at 9th Street might not improve traffic flow, and might in fact worsen it. That, together with the pedestrian traffic coming from the parking lot across the street, seems to mean gridlock equal to or worse than it has been in the past, they suggested.

The mayor said he hadn't seen the actual plan, and would like to be able to do so, and to make any suggestions he saw fit. Struble said he too wanted more details, but that when he raised the matter at the Chamber news conference, "I felt we were put on the back burner."

If there are problems in the plan, Schimizzi said, "now is the time to do something ... rather than after the fact. Maybe we can try to get together with the park manager and get more information." Such a meeting, it was decided, would be pursued.

The board also:

--Approved a four-year pact with the Electric Department Employees Association, retroactive to June 1, 2014 and extending through May 31, 2018. Among other things, it includes 2% wage hikes this year and next.

--Expressed enthusiasm over a planned kayak guided tour business from the village launch near the Community Center off Fourth Street. It will be operated by Paul Deiseroth (pictured at right), who ran such an operation for a dozen years in Westchester and Orange Counties.

--Approved requests for the staging of the annual Cardboard Boat Regatta in June, and of the annual Seneca Lake Wine and Food event at Clute Park on May 21, contingent on Fire Department approval and proper insurance.

--Rejected a request for use of the Fire Hall for a wedding reception.

--Approved a request for use of the Community Center for a dance fitness class run by Marla Doan on Thursday nights, at a use charge of $35 for each one-hour session.

--Decided, in answer to a query by Movies in the Park organizer Sara Caldwell, that there can be fund-raising conducted during that weekly summer event, although any funds raised by games of chance must be approved by the Village Clerk's office.

--Acknowledged the community contributions of Rose Ciccone, who died Feb. 9. She served as a trustee on the Village Board, and was the moving force for years behind the Concert in the Park series that is still held weekly during the summer at Lafayette Park.

--Discussed the pending vacancy on the Planning Board created by the decision of Chris Bond, who serves as chairman, not to seek another term. An effort will be made to find a replacement.

--Decided to meet soon for the first of several budget workshops leading to adoption of a spending plan by May 1.

--Was reminded by Village Clerk Donna Beardsley that the village election day is Tuesday, March 15. Ballots will be cast from 12 noon to 9 p.m. at the Community Center.

Photos in text:

Top: From left: Trustees Laurie Denardo and Tony Fraboni, and Mayor Sam Schimizzi.
Bottom: Paul Deiseroth, operator of a planned guided kayak tour business.

The Glen's 'No' vote will stand

WATKINS GLEN, Feb. 22, 2016 -- The Watkins Glen Village Board said at its meeting on Monday, Feb. 22, that it was standing by the vote taken by the board preceding it, back on August 24, 2014, opposing the Crestwood energy firm's proposal to store Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) in abandoned salt caverns near Seneca Lake.

Members of the board at that time were Mayor Mark Swinnerton, Deputy Mayor Scott Gibson, and trustees Tony Fraboni, Paul Clifford and Kevin Smith.

Members of the board now are Mayor Sam Schimizzi, Deputy Mayor Gary Schmidt and trustees Kevin Thornton, Tony Fraboni and Laurie DeNardo.

The summary of that earlier measure, in a document prepared by the village, reads as follows.

VOTING ITEMS -- August 24, 2014

Mayor Swinnerton then brought forth a proposed resolution opposing the construction and operation of an underground liquefied petroleum gas storage facility. Trustee Scott D. Gibson made the motion to approve the following resolution in opposition of the construction and operation of an underground liquefied petroleum gas storage facility. Trustee Kevin J. Smith seconded the motion.

Trustee Clifford stated that it may be misconstrued as conflict of interest if he were to vote on this matter, so he will abstain from the vote, but his personal opinion is that LPG storage is not the way to go because the risks are not worth the minimal number of jobs the facility would create. He also stated that he feels the resolution is more symbolic than anything else. Trustee Fraboni stated he was not in favor of the proposition and feels there is no benefit to the Village of Watkins Glen taking a stand on this issue. However, he did state that the Village does “hang our hat” on tourism and is not in favor of the Crestwood Project. Mayor Swinnerton stated that the Village’s opinions do matter and that taking a stand on behalf of the Village residents is what the Board was appointed to do.

Trustee Smith stated that he is in favor of industrialization, but has to vote on how the constituents would like him to vote and not on personal opinions, and the majority of them are against this project. Trustee Gibson stated that every business has risks and environmental issues, but looking at it from an economic standpoint, which is overwhelmingly tourism, this project does not seem to fit. The Mayor then called for a vote on the motion. The vote was as follows:

Yea: Mayor R. Mark Swinnerton, Jr., Trustee Scott D. Gibson, Trustee Kevin J. Smith
Nay: None
Abstain: Trustee Paul E. Clifford, Trustee Anthony J. Fraboni.
Motion Carried.

WHEREAS, Crestwood Midstream Partners LP (formerly known as Inergy Midstream, LP) submitted an application to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (“DEC”) to construct and operate an underground Liquid Petroleum Gas (“LPG”) storage and transportation hub at the former US Salt property approximately three miles north of Watkins Glen, NY; and

WHEREAS, the DEC has been Lead Agency for the project under the State Environmental Quality Review Act since February 2010; and

WHEREAS, the LPG facility would have the ability to store up to 2.1 million barrels of LPG in underground salt caverns created by former US Salt’s mining activities; and

WHEREAS, in summary of previous comments documented in annual reporting from the former Inergy Midstream Company, the potential to expand the facility in the future beyond what is currently being proposed is a real possibility; and

WHEREAS, current proposals include the construction of a rail facility capable of processing thirty-two rail cars per day, a truck facility capable of handling forty-five transports per day and several brine ponds with the capacity to store almost 1.2 million barrels of brine; and

WHEREAS, the Village of Watkins Glen geographic center is located at the intersection of two single lane State highways, a juncture which currently sees problematic high load truck traffic; and

WHEREAS, studies produced to evaluate risk, environmental impact, safety concerns and integrity of structural geology by those who support or oppose the project provide opposing points of view; and

WHEREAS, the Finger Lakes Region, including Seneca Lake, is home to New York’s largest and the country’s second largest wine producing trade, a source of commerce and economic benefit to the area; and

WHEREAS, the Finger Lakes Region, including Seneca Lake, is an area known for its natural and scenic beauty; and

WHEREAS, Seneca Lake is the source of drinking water for over 100,000 people of which, the Village of Watkins Glen draws its supply just south of the proposed project; and

WHEREAS, the Village of Watkins Glen and the surrounding area has become a major tourist destination sought after for its fishing, hiking, boating, camping and the natural wonder that is the Watkins Glen State Park, home to 19 waterfalls and gorges; and

WHEREAS, the Village of Watkins Glen has made great strides in developing partnerships with the community to help expand tourism and improve growth throughout the area; and

WHEREAS, the Village of Watkins Glen will partner with the Village of Montour Falls in a new jointly-owned wastewater treatment plant situated at a geographic location between both communities to help save in operating costs, consolidate municipal operations and to provide new development opportunities at the location of both former treatment plants; and

WHEREAS, significant financial investment in the area from Local, State and Federal agencies have been made in recognition of the vital importance that tourism has on the area through programs such as,

--Project Seneca, a multi-million dollar state and federally supported investment to help revitalize the shores of Seneca Lake

--The 2011-2013 NY Main Street Grant Program, which provided $500,000 for Village of Watkins Glen commercial district building front improvements.

--The 2012-2014 RARP Program which provided $150,000 for the Village of Watkins Glen commercial district exterior lighting improvements, general building beautification needs and Main Street apartment renovations.

--Transportation grants for gateway improvement studies and eco-tourism concepts to enhance Village entrance ways; and

WHEREAS, the Village of Watkins Glen recently adopted a comprehensive plan which identifies tourism as the most vital economic benefit to the community; and

WHEREAS, the Village of Watkins Glen and surrounding area have been called a “diamond in the rough” by winery interests looking to invest in the area, stating that the Crestwood Project is contrary to that goal; and

WHEREAS, the Crestwood Project has polarized the region with valid concerns of rampant industrialization, negative environmental impacts, safety risks, negative impacts to infrastructure and the potential to negatively affect the economic livelihood of a region dependent on tourism; and

WHEREAS, the majority of Village constituents who have approached the Village of Watkins Glen Board have spoken out against said project for reasons stated above;

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, in keeping with the majority opinion of the local Village community, the Village of Watkins Glen Board respectfully requests that the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation withhold approval of any plan for mass storage of LPG adjacent to or under Seneca Lake and exercise its power in identifying a more appropriate location for any such storage site.

Photo in text: From left, 2014 members of the Village Board included, from left, Deputy Mayor Scott Gibson, Mayor Mark Swinnerton and Trustee Kevin Smith. All three voted against the Crestwood storage plan. Other members, abstaining, were Tony Fraboni and Paul Clifford. (File photo)

D.A.: Let's dismiss 111 cases

WATKINS GLEN, Feb. 18 -- Schuyler County District Attorney Joseph Fazzary, citing insufficient evidence, Thursday asked Town of Reading Justice Raymond Berry to dismiss 111 pending cases against defendants arrested for trespassing on property allegedly owned by the Crestwood energy firm along State Rte. 14 north of Watkins Glen.

However, nearly 260 other cases remain pending.

The cases stem from protests staged at the Crestwood gates in opposition to Crestwood's storage of methane in abandoned salt caverns and its proposal to store Liquefied Petroleum Gas in other caverns just west of Seneca Lake. Protesters warn of the possible contamination of Seneca Lake, which provides drinking water for tens of thousands of area residents.

Fazzary's office, in a press release, said the DA "has made his request to dismiss based upon his extensive review of hundreds of photographs, video, police reports and interviews with witnesses. His investigation has revealed that there is insufficient evidence to prosecute these 111 individuals for trespassing against Crestwood. In some cases he found that individuals had been arrested for trespassing at Crestwood's south gate. An examination of this gate, a survey map of the area, and interviews with New York State Department of Transportation officials, showed that the south gate is actually located on property owned by the State of New York.

"It was determined through legal counsel for the State DOT that it does not wish to pursue charges against these individuals for trespassing on State land.

"In other cases where arrests were made at the north gate, the evidence showed that these individuals were either not trespassing or it could not be determined if they were trespassing. In either event, the charges could not be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. Unfortunately, when many of these arrests took place, the "Posted" signs had been placed by Crestwood officials on land owned by the State of New York. Although the signs gave notice to potential trespassers that they were about to trespass, they did not clearly demark the line for police officials. That issue has been remedied."

The motion to dismiss the charges, the release went on, "is in no way intended to suggest that DA Fazzary supports the cause of the protesters. In fact, as required of his position, he takes no stance on either side of this issue. This decision is based solely on his evidentiary findings after a full and complete investigation."

The press release said Fazzary also told the court that he is "in all respects ready to continue with the prosecution of the nearly 260 cases which will remain pending if the court grants his motion to dismiss." His office, he added, is "ready for trial in each and every case not covered by this motion," and he asked the court "to begin scheduling trials of these actions."

In his letter to Berry, Fazzary also said that the dismissal of charges "against those arrested at the south gate only pertains to those charged with trespass. All cases charging disorderly conduct at that gate remain subject to prosecution," as do those cases charging disorderly conduct at the north gate.

Photo in text: District Attorney Joe Fazzary. (File photo)

A look at the park entrance layout, with parking across Franklin Street.

$6.5 million plan to transform Watkins State Park entrance

Parking to be relocated; new 'green' amenities planned

WATKINS GLEN, Feb. 11 -- Local and state dignitaries gathered Thursday at the Waktins Glen Area Chamber of Commerce visitor center for the announcement of a $6.5 million project at the Watkins Glen State Park -- to start this year -- that will relocate the existing parking area away from the gorge, creating a less congested and more welcoming approach to what is a leading Finger Lakes tourism destination.

The project, part of Governor Andrew Cuomo's environmental improvement vision, brought to the Chamber center Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, State Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey, State Senator Tom O'Mara, Assemblyman Phil Palmesano, Watkins Glen Deputy Mayor Gary Schmidt, and area Chamber of Commerce President Rebekah LaMoreaux -- each of whom spoke.

Among the other dignitaries present were Schuyler County Legislature Chair Dennis Fagan, County Administrator Tim O'Hearn, Watkins Glen Police Chief Tom Struble, and Schuyler County Sherlff Bill Yessman. Scores of other interested parties attended, along with various media representatives.

The State Park's main-entrance parking lot -- built west of Franklin Street in Watkins Glen -- will be returned as it once was to green space, and new park amenities will be created, including a visitor center.

“Watkins Glen State Park is one of New York’s greatest tourism success stories, and as more and more people visit the park each year, we must ensure it remains a premier destination,” Governor Cuomo was quoted as saying in a press release. “This project will do just that and we will continue to invest in our natural assets to attract more visitors and economic activity to regions across the state.”

Lt. Governor Hochul told Thursday's gathering that she is no stranger to the Finger Lakes -- that she and her husband have regularly visited area wineries and other attractions -- and said that to have the State Park gorge "in your backyard ... I hope you all appreciate it." She called the existing parking lot fronting the gorge "a little design flaw" that will be replaced with a green setting that will "take the park to the next level."

Added O'Mara: “One of the nation’s greatest state parks certainly deserves a grand entrance. We’re grateful to Governor Cuomo and everyone at the State Office of Parks and Recreation for this long-awaited enhancement to Watkins Glen State Park. We’ve been extremely proud here in the Finger Lakes region to have Watkins Glen recognized as the third best state park in America, and we’re appreciative to have a park entrance that’s a worthy welcome to all of the natural wonders awaiting the park’s hundreds of thousands of annual visitors.”

Commissioner Harvey said the traffic light in front of the park entrance will be eliminated, and that parking will be across Franklin street -- in space now occupied by a dirt lot and beyond. A string of properties from Franklin Street to Decatur will be utilized for parking purposes.

The state’s $5 million commitment is expected to leverage an additional $1.5 million in grants and private investment.

According to a press release: "The hardscape entrance to the gorge will be transformed into a more natural landscaped park setting. The area will include a new visitor welcome center where park staff can provide information about the park, and the Watkins Glen Chamber of Commerce will have a counter to provide information about other attractions in the region.

"Other improvements will include a small outdoor amphitheater and improved educational displays on the park’s human history and natural and geologic features, including a touchable model of the gorge, and a new overlook at the base of the gorge where people with mobility challenges will be able to enjoy the waterfalls.

"Other improvements include renovating the park’s existing concession/rest room building and reopening the “Indian Trail,” which has been closed for over 50 years.

"Construction is expected to begin this summer and be completed for the 2017 summer season. Access to the gorge will be maintained during the project."

The visitor entrance renovations will be funded through Governor Cuomo’s New York Parks 2020 program, a multi-year commitment to leverage $900 million in private and public funding for State Parks from 2011 to 2020. The Governor included $90 million toward this initiative in his 2016-17 Executive Budget.

Last April, Watkins Glen State Park was selected as the third-best state park in the country through a USA Today Reader’s Choice Poll. The park is one of the most heavily-visited in New York, with the 1,000-acre park’s trails taking visitors through a deep gorge and along 19 waterfalls by way of stone bridges and stone steps. The park also features 300 campsites, a playground, and an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

Photos in text: An artist's conception of the park-entrance plan, as seen from above.; Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul; Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey; Chamber President Rebekah LaMoreaux presents a Finger Lakes monopoly game to Hochul; and State Senator Tom O'Mara (left) and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano.

A small outdoor amphitheater is part of the park's renovation/transformation plan.

Another look at the envisioned Watkins Glen State Park, near the front entrance.

The Watkins Glen State Park entrance as it exists today.

Chief: We need community's help in fighting heroin spread

Union, salt reps seek new Village Board propane vote

WATKINS GLEN, Feb. 1 -- The Watkins Glen Village Board dealt Monday night with event requests, with department reports, with several resolutions, and with an attempt to sway its members in favor of Crestwood's proposed propane storage. But for sheer drama, Police Chief Tom Struble took center stage.

The Chief, asked by Mayor Sam Schimizzi about the extent of of heroin use in our area, called it "an epidemic" --weighing in on the very evening that a forum on the subject was being held at the Watkins Glen Elementary School auditorium.

That forum, alluded to by the Chief, drew about 30 people to hear speakers that included a couple of recovering addicts as well as Timothy J. Dewey, Senior Investigator for the New York State Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement. The event was sponsored by the Schuyler County Coalition on Underage Drinking and Drugs (SCCUDD) as a means to build awareness of the problem in the region.

And it is a problem, said Struble, that goes far beyond the borders of Watkins Glen, although the village was spotlighted this past week with an overdose fatality. "We're still working that investigation," he said.

Several people in the region have met the same fate in recent months, he said, including four in Yates County in the past month.

He said he has been meeting with other law enforcement officials to discuss the matter and hopefully devise effective countermeasures, "but I can't get into the nuts and bolts."

The problem is exacerbated, he said, by the fact that heroin "is easy to get" and is relatively inexpensive compared to prescription drugs. In addition, he said, it's being mixed with other ingredients, in particular the opiate Fentanyl, with increasingly dangerous results.

"It's a broad-spectrum problem," the Chief said, "and it's a community issue. If a resident knows about anything going on" involving heroin or other drugs, "come to us, to law enforcement. This is an uphill battle without community help."

In other business:

--The board was invited by a US Salt representative to visit the propane facility operated in Savona by US Salt's parent company, the Crestwood energy firm, to "become educated" regarding the safety of propane storage.

David Asbury, US Salt Maintenance Planner, told the board that with that education, its members might well reverse the vote of the previous village administration in opposition to the propane storage plan. Only one member of that earlier board has retained a seat.

Asbury was joined by David Marsh, business manager of Laborers Local 785 out of Ithaca, who pointed out to the board that the storage project, if approved by the state, will provide for more jobs -- in particular under a memorandum of agreement being worked out now by Crestwood and the Southern Tier Building and Construction Trades Council. He said that once that agreement is finalized, he might visit other municipal governments urging them to support the project.

Only the Schuyler County Legislature and the Town of Reading Board have given the project their blessing. A concerted effort by protesters has led to opposition votes by various governing units around Seneca Lake.

--The board gave its preliminary approval to a Seneca Swim at Clute Park on Aug. 20, and to the annual Italian American Festival at Clute on Aug. 12-14.

--The board heard from Code Enforcement Officer Greg Larnard that about 20 apartments on the second and third floors of the former Middle School have been spoken for as the facility nears its grand opening, and that construction of the Seneca Terrace Apartments near the Elks Lodge is proceeding, with the lower of the two buildings set for completion by late summer. Construction of the building higher on the hill will follow.

Photos in text: From top: Mayor Sam Schimizzi, Police Chief Tom Struble and labor representative David Marsh at Monday's meeting.

Getman named to County Attorney post

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, Jan. 6 -- The Schuyler County Legislature on Wednesday named Steven J. Getman to a four-year term as Schuyler County Attorney. The appointment passed unanimously.

Getman, a resident of Watkins Glen, had been serving as interim county attorney following the August 2015 resignation of Geoffrey Rossi. Prior to that, Getman served as assistant county attorney, responsible for juvenile and family court prosecutions.

He is a 1986 graduate of Cornell University, a 1987 graduate of Ithaca College and a 1991 graduate of Hofstra University School of Law. He has practiced municipal and criminal law since 1992. He also serves as an adjunct instructor of criminal justice at Keuka College.

Getman has named Kristen Hazlitt of Hector and Heidi Paulino of Ithaca as assistant county attorneys. Hazlitt has been with the office since 2002, concentrating on Social Services law. Paulino was named to fill the vacancy created by Getman’s promotion to county attorney.

Under New York State law, the county attorney is the legal advisor to county government in all matters involving official acts of a civil nature. The county attorney prosecutes and defends civil actions and proceedings brought by or against the county and also represents the County Department of Social Services in child abuse and other cases involving children and vulnerable adults.

Photos in text:

Top: County Attorney Steven J. Getman (Photo provided)
Bottom: Assistant County Attorneys Kristin Hazlitt (left) and Heidi Paulino (Photos provided)

WG, Montour get $5M grant

SCHUYLER COUNTY, Dec. 15 -- Watkins Glen and Montour Falls will be awarded a $5 million grant to assist in the planning, design and construction of a Joint Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant that will combine the villages’ sewer systems to improve the water quality in Seneca Lake.

The funds were among $75 million in grants announced Tuesday as earmarked for 45 projects statewide. The grant program was created through the New York State Water Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2015 (WIIA) established as part of the 2015-2016 state budget. In addition to the grants, the state Environmental Facilities Corporation (EFC) provides interest-free and low-interest loans to communities to further reduce the cost of infrastructure projects.

Said State Senator Tom O’Mara said: "It’s great news that these villages will receive this
valuable assistance to undertake these critical projects. We're hopeful that ongoing state assistance will prove successful in helping localities undertake these critical projects, including sewer and pipeline repairs. We're also hopeful that it can represent a long-term model for how the state-local partnership can be strengthened for the good of local
environments, local economies and local property taxpayers by helping municipalities meet critical infrastructure needs while remaining within the property tax cap."

The EFC invests more than $1 billion each year to fund water-quality improvements through the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF).

More information on how to apply for these loans are available at (for wastewater projects) and
(for drinking water projects).

Grant funds cheer SCOPED

Organization lists opportunities for use of URI award

WATKINS GLEN, Dec. 10 -- The Schuyler County Partnership for Economic Development on Thursday reacted with enthusiasm to Governor Andrew Cuomo's announcement that the Southern Tier Regional Economic Development Council (STREDC) is one of three New York State Upstate Revitalization Initiative (URI) winners.

As a URI winner, the Southern Tier has been granted $500 million to be allocated over the next five years to implement transformational economic development initiatives.

“We are very excited about this announcement and applaud the Governor’s decision in selecting the Southern Tier as a winning region,” said Jeff Confer, chairman of the Board of Directors of SCOPED. “This win validates the efforts that have been made to date in our region.”

As one of eight counties in the Southern Tier, Schuyler County has four projects that are in line for funding in the first year alone. These projects include (1) an Ultra Premium Beverage Center at the Schuyler County Business Park, (2) a Vineyard Reclamation program to provide low-interest loans to vineyards looking to upgrade to Vinifera grape varieties or re-plant abandoned vineyards, (3) the establishment of the Southern Tier Agriculture Education Fund, including a Viticulture NYS Certified Apprenticeship Program and (4) additional funding for the Watkins Glen-Montour Falls regional wastewater treatment plant.

In addition, Project Seneca’s efforts to continue the revitalization of the Seneca Lake waterfront and canalway were specifically identified as a “Signature Project” in Year 2 and beyond.

“This award will provide the additional resources that are critical for the betterment of the businesses and workers in our community,” said Judy McKinney Cherry, CEcD, Executive Director of SCOPED and member of the Southern Tier Regional Economic Development Council.

For additional information about the URI and projects within Schuyler County, visit the Project Seneca page of the SCOPED website:

Photo in text: Governor Andrew Cuomo during a stop in our region in 2013. (File photo)

O'Mara trumpets 'big wins' for S. Tier in competitions

Area development councils win 2 of 3 grants at $500 million each

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, Dec. 10 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats) applauded today’s (Thursday's) announcement that the Southern Tier and the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Councils (REDC) are two of the three winners in this year’s Upstate Revitalization Incentive (URI) economic development aid competition.

Along with the Central New York REDC, each region will receive a $500 million portion of the $1.5 billion in URI grants being awarded for the first time this year. The URI awards will be distributed over the next five years, $100 million per year.

The long-awaited announcement was made in Albany.

O’Mara (pictured at right), who attended the awards ceremony at the Empire State Plaza, said, “The Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions have stood out as top performers throughout these competitions over the past several years, but this is a big, difference-making win for each region. It’s a real tribute to the regional leaders across the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes whose commitment and hard work have been unmatched. They have continually assessed our regional strengths and weaknesses, identified specific economic priorities, and diligently put in place short- and long-term strategies to keep hope alive for a stronger and more secure economic future. It’s been great work and they’ve earned today’s victories. Now moving forward it’s going to be up to all of us in the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions to put these incredible resources to good, effective use to revitalize our regional economies. It’s time to change our pessimism to optimism.”

Since 2011, the Southern Tier council has been awarded $303 million, and the Finger Lakes council $306 million in REDC economic development aid. Each of the regions were among the five regions recognized as a “Top Performer” in last year’s competition.

Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature established New York's 10 regional economic development councils as part of the 2011-2012 state budget. The councils are aimed at putting in place a more locally based approach for distributing state economic development aid and in guiding the development of local economic development strategies that have competed for
state assistance.

Read more on today’s specific regional project awards at It’s important to note that even those regions not winning a URI award today are still receiving more funding than the largest winner in last year’s REDC awards, so that every region of the
state benefits from today’s funding awards.

O’Mara’s 58th Senate District includes Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben and part of Tompkins County, all of which fall under the Southern Tier REDC, and Yates County, which is included in the Finger Lakes REDC.

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara (File photo)

Board member: 'I'm done'

Discussion leads to walkout, resignation by Planning unit's Merrill

WATKINS GLEN, Nov. 19 -- A seemingly low-keyed Watkins Glen Planning Board session turned dramatic Wednesday night when board member Tom Merrill -- expressing frustration over the body's ineffectiveness -- said "you'll have my resignation" and "I'm done" as he rose and left the session before its conclusion.

Planning Board Chairman Chris Bond, when asked afterward if Merrill's action actually constituted a resignation -- one is required in writing -- said "maybe it was, maybe it wasn't. I'll reach out to him tomorrow, after he has a night to sleep on it."

Merrill confirmed Thursday afternoon, however, that he had submitted his resignation earlier in the day to Village Clerk Donna Beardsley and to Bond.

Merrill, with a background (like Bond) in engineering, was specifically upset by a board action Wednesday giving preliminary approval to a site plan calling for construction of two buildings at 135 Old Corning Road with three apartments in each -- to be built following demolition of a home on the nearly half-acre of land there.

The project is being proposed by Kirk Sorensen of Watkins Glen and Nathan Caplan, who has constructed apartments in the Waverly area. With them to explain the project in detail -- it was first brought to the Planning Board in October -- was Andrew Harding of AJH Design in Elmira Heights.

Merrill first was concerned about the parking planned at the apartments -- three-bedroom units that could be rented by the year, but might also be rented by the week. Merrill said that if the rental is short-term -- say for a race weekend -- chances are the seven parking spots shown on the design plans will fall far short of the need since short-term rentals often result in three or four cars per rental unit.

That argument resulted in an agreement to amend the plan to meet a minimum requirement of 12 parking spaces -- two for each of the six units. But even that, Merrill insisted, could be completely inadequate. The board was given assurances, though, by Caplan and Code Enforcement Officer Greg Larnard that there is room on the property to deal with such contingencies.

Merrill also raised the issue of engineering to meet the needs of storm sewer runoff, but was assured by Larnard that such an action is required only on parcels of an acre or more.

It was after the vote -- after the preliminary site plan approval, after the project planners had departed, and after Merrill had again raised the issue of storm runoff with Larnard, saying he was confused by the fact that such facilities as Burger King and Dunkin' Donuts had less than an acre of land but were each required to undergo a storm sewer engineering study -- that the evening turned dramatic.

Larnard -- saying he was willing to tell Sorensen and Caplan about the need for an engineering study, and then left the meeting, citing another appointment -- had just departed when Merrill raised the issue again and expressed a "frustration" with limitations within which the Planning Board operates, and complained that Larnard's actions tend to help developers and not the Planning Board.

Bond tried to short-circuit the discussion by saying that Larnard interprets the rules and regulations differently sometimes from the Board, but Merrill shifted subject, complaining that having given preliminary site plan approval -- leading to a public hearing next month -- "there's no way we can turn around now and tell them" they have to do an engineering study.

That, said Bond and Fazzary, might not be the case; that Sorensen and Caplan seemed amenable to change. And Bond suggested the board "do a little research" into the issue to determine definitively what the regulations require, and said that in any event, "the time for discussion was before the vote."

Merrill said he understood that, but was "frustrated with the whole level of what we can do as a board." (As Fazzary and Bond later pointed out, that frustration likely included a seeming inability to reach resolution on placement of a dumpster in the Franklin Street Plaza, and the failure of the board to get Dunkin' Donuts to complete a parking lot project that was started last spring.)

Further discussion between Merrill and Bond led Merrill to finally say "this will be my last meeting. I don't think we take it seriously enough."

"I'm sorry you feel that way," said Bond. "I take it seriously."

"I don't think the Village Board stands behind us," Merrill responded, adding: "I'm not trying to argue. You'll have my official resignation. I'm done."

And with that he walked out, leaving the board momentarily in stunned silence. Finally board member Jim Adesso spoke up. "That's why it's called a preliminary site plan review," he said, alluding to the possibility of changing the plan to include the engineering.

Added Fazzary: "I sense where (Merrill) is coming from. But I'm not sure he understands some of the things we're required to do ... He's frustrated that (a couple of businesses) haven't complied. But I'm not sure this was the time or place ..."

Noted Bond: Discussions regarding Planning Board frustrations are in the works. "I tried to say to Tom, we need to try to work those out. I tried to tell him this wasn't a productive way to do it. What other resolution could we have come to?"

Photos in text:

From top: Architect Andrew Harding explains the apartment plan on Old Corning Road; the Planning Board's Tom Merrill; and Code Enforcement Officer Greg Larnard.

A number of races on Election Day, Nov. 3

WATKINS GLEN, Oct. 28 -- The Schuyler County Board of Elections has provided a list of candidates on the ballot Nov. 3rd on the county level and in towns throughout Schuyler County.

To see the list, click here.

Jim Barrett works alongside Beach Road after the June storm. (Photo provided)

Responding to desperate times

Many workers pitched in to help clean up following June's storm, and one man in particular stood out, says the Soil and Water Conservation District.

(The following article was prepared by the Schuyler County Soil and Water Conservation District.)

WATKINS GLEN, Sept. 3 -- June of 2015 brought catastrophic flooding impacts to Schuyler County when 5 inches of rain fell in less than two hours. Damage from this event was vast and costly to both public and private infrastructure. The storm had widespread impacts, but especially focused its devastation in the Towns of Tyrone, Reading, and Catharine.

Flooding events have become more and more numerous annually in New York State. We have been very thankful that our County has fared relatively well until June's storm. However, with damage and devastation the storm brought something else to the forefront of our county -- resiliency, dedication, and a true shared services effort to help repair the infrastructure that was lost and in order to preserve our needed tourism season, but most importantly for the thousands of year-round residents who depend on it daily.

Our Town, County, and Village Highway Departments shined. Municipal boundaries didn't exist. The Emergency Management Department, our local fire departments and our Sheriff's Department all put forth a swift and immediate response.

The most cost-effective means to ensure that issues could be rectified in a timely manner was what mattered most. The area received many phone calls, many pieces of equipment, and immense amount of labor from all of the Chemung Town Highway Departments, the Chemung County Highway Department, the Chemung County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), and the Town of Wayne Highway Department, to just list a very few of those who came to our aid.

Within our own Schuyler County, the towns that did not feel as great an impact jumped immediately to the aid of those that did. Every highway department aided one another to help shoulder the seemingly impossible burden that lay ahead, making that burden more bearable.

The Schuyler County Soil and Water Conservation District focused its efforts first to assess damage, prioritize work, get permitting in place, and to obtain and utilize funding to assist with these efforts of rehabilitation. The next phase was to construct as many projects as possible to aid in lessening some of the burden. This would not have happened without the joint effort of support from all of our highway departments, and from one individual who is a true asset to the Schuyler County Soil and Water Conservation District and to our towns, villages and county: Jim Barrett.

Jim has been an equipment operator for nearly 40 years in Schuyler County, working much of that time for the Schuyler County Highway Department. More recently, over the last several years, he has worked as the seasonal equipment operator for the Schuyler County Soil and Water Conservation District. His talent and abilities are known throughout every highway department, not only in our county, but throughout the region.

What stands out most about Jim Barrett is his selflessness. He sees a job that needs to be done and he finds a way to do get it done. He does this with a smile on his face and with one of the best attitudes you could ever have at work or in life. He helps with team morale no matter what the situation because his work ethic and attitude are infectious. If it means staying late to finish the job in a less costly manner, or to come in on the weekend, you don't even have to ask, Jim is there. The abilities he has shown time and time again on an excavator can only be mimicked by a handful of operators throughout the region, at best.

During these trying times over the last several months, Jim has worked literally with every one of our town highway departments, county highway department and even many Chemung County town and highway departments. The common theme you hear back from any of those folks he has worked with is gratitude and appreciation for making an impossible situation manageable and bearable. Jim Barrett has received formal letters of appreciation from the Schuyler County Legislature and Town of Reading, and informal recognition from another dozen municipalities in the region, and too many private residents to list.

With the assistance of many to make this possible, the Schuyler County Soil and Water Conservation District has stabilized over 18,000 feet of road ditch, nearly 6,000 feet of stream, and utilized over 9,000 tons of rock rip-rap, all accomplished in just the past few months' time. All 9,000 + tons of rip rap were set by Jim Barrett, and paid for with competitive grant funding obtained by the Schuyler County Soil and Water Conservation District. This again took a monumental effort of borrowed equipment, trucks to bring the material, operators to run loaders to assist with bringing the rock to be placed, and many individuals to provide the necessary hand labor to finish the jobs, all while each highway department worked on dozens and dozens of its own projects.

Again, one common theme existed -- "Whatever we can do to help Jim. If Jim is running the equipment, you can use whatever you need." These statements and many others were heard time and time again. Although the storm magnified this work, this is the type of effort Jim Barrett has shown year in and year out for the Schuyler County Soil and Water Conservation District.

There is still a great deal of effort that is needed ahead. The Schuyler County SWCD has applied for an additional $942,000 in funding through the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation's Water Quality Improvement Program to help bring even more funds to our region to assist with continued work and clean up from this challenging event.

When you see your local highway department personnel, take the time to thank them for their united effort. Each department has many dedicated workers that put forth this type of effort daily to help ensure the integrity of our stressed public infrastructure. Oftentimes they put their own safety aside to ensure our safety.

Photos in text:

From top: Jim Barrett operates an excavator along Beach Road; Kendall Hill Road in the Town of Tyrone before and after; Beach Road in the Town of Reading before and after. (Photos provided)

Members of the Concerned Residents of Reading at the pre-meeting press conference.

Reading board, residents clash

READING CENTER, July 9 -- A movement by a Town of Reading citizen group to generate opposition to Crestwood's proposed LPG storage met with tension and a brick wall at Wednesday night's meeting of the Reading Town Board.

The group, calling itself Concerned Reading Residents (CRR), has gathered 230 signatures of town residents in an effort to get the town board to express its concern about the proposed Crestwood energy firm's storage of millions of gallons of propane and butane in abandoned salt caverns on the west side of Seneca Lake, within the Town of Reading.

The town board, which the CRR group said first urged it in April to gather information on any opposition by residents, and which listened to a growing number of those residents at its May and June meetings, wanted no part of the subject Wednesday.

Town Supervisor Marvin Switzer said at the meeting's outset that "we're not going to have any comment on Crestwood tonight ... at all."

However, he permitted the submission of signatures gathered from residents concerned about the project, and listened while one resident, Gita Devi -- who operates a bed-and-breakfast facility on the nearby Altay Road -- questioned why the town had prohibited opponents from distributing a survey questionnaire at the town dump during operational hours.

Switzer said it was "a matter of safety" because vehicles move "in and out" of the facility. When Devi persisted, arguing that town residents have a right "to assemble" on town property, Switzer said the town attorney said otherwise, and "we're going with what he says." Devi again tried to debate the issue, but Switzer cut her off with "I'm not going to argue with you."

Town resident Tamra Jankowski then approached the board. She had been an organizer of a press conference preceding the board meeting -- a conference at which several residents spoke in opposition to the LPG storage plan and urged the board to express concern about the project to the state Department of Environmental Conservation and Governor Andrew Cuomo. Other muncipalities around the lake have done that and expressed outright opposition, they pointed out. The press conference ended with its participants signing such a letter to be sent to the governor, and with Jankowski being interviewed by a TV reporter.

In that interview, she said the CRR movement was born at the urging of the town board and because residents are "concerned about the health and safety of the community We don't even have a fire department. How do we respond" to an emergency should one occur related to LPG storage?

"And there are water quality concerns," she said. "This is a very very big project that needs an awful lot more research. If something goes wrong, it can go very very wrong."

Now, at the board meeting, Jankowski said she "wanted to update the board" on the CRR campaign and its increasing number of signatures. "We're kind of excited about that," she said.

"I thought," interrupted Switzer, "that we weren't going to (discuss that)."

When Jankowski continued her presentation, Switzer said she was "disrespecting our order" not to discuss Crestwood. A few moments later, with Jankowski still talking, Switzer slammed his hand on the table, stopping Jankowski and bringing the attention of those in attendance -- some 35 people -- to the front of the room.

"Enough! Switzer said, raising his voice.

Jankowski tried to interject: "I was just trying to get ..."

"You got our attention," said the supervisor, ending the discussion.

The meeting was over in 31 minutes, and Switzer, before heading toward the hallway outside his office, was asked why the Crestwood discussion was cut off.

"We've heard this for the past two months," he said. "The same people are here (tonight). I didn't see the comments changing."

When asked what the board would do regarding the project, he said it was "in a holding pattern. We'll wait to see what the state does."

The DEC decision on the storage project, under consideration now for years, is expected in the near future.

Photos in text:

Top: Supervisor Marvin Switzer listens to resident Tamra Jankowski, with Town Clerk Alice Conklin next to him.
Bottom: CRR members' signatures on a letter being sent to Governor Cuomo.

Meth labs are making their way into residential areas

Watkins arrest, says chief, underscores need for 'vigilance' by communities

WATKINS GLEN, July 8 -- Watkins Glen Police Chief Tom Struble points to the arrest on Tuesday, July 7 of a man in a Second Street apartment on a methamphetamine-related charge as an indication that the spread of meth labs is "a community problem" that requires "vigilance" on the part of residents in organized communities from villages to cities.

With the advent of a "one-pot cooking method," he said, meth labs are cleaner and less odorous than their country brothers normally associated with backwoods sheds and, often, with mobile operations where meth "cookers" drop the remnants of their trade alongside highways while moving from one locale to another.

The "substantial amount of paraphernalia" and the ingredients found in the apartment of Christopher S. Coy on the second floor of an apartment building at 117 East Second St. in Watkins Glen on Tuesday morning was indicative of a stable, established meth lab, Struble said, although nothing was being cooked at the time. The arrest was accomplished with a search warrant wielded by members of the Watkins Glen Village Police, Schuyler County Sheriff's Office and State Police Contaminated Crime Scene Emergency Response Team.

The raid saw law enforcement personnel close off Second Street, with most of them parking in the Guthrie medical facility lot directly across the street from the apartment building. Struble said that Coy, surprised by their arrival at his door, "put up a struggle," which led to a charge of Resisting Arrest on top of the primary charge of Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance, 3rd Degree, a Class B felony. He was arrested, arraigned and jailed in lieu of cash bail.

On hand to assist were members of Schuyler Ambulance and the Watkins Glen Fire Department, a representative of the Drug Enforcement Administration, and a representative from the District Attorney's office.

The felony sale charge stemmed from an incident "within the last month," Struble (right) said, which was part of an ongoing investigation into the meth trade in Schuyler County. "Obviously," Struble said, indicating the material that police found in the apartment, "further charges are pending. We'll inventory the evidence and go from there."

Coy, he said, has "no rap sheet with us," but had come to the attention of law enforcement as a person "who was possibly cooking at that location." Struble said he believes Coy has lived at that address "a long time, at least a few years. I think he kept to himself quite a bit."

The fact that an alleged meth lab was found in the village, the chief said, points to "a trend throughout New York State" where such labs are finding their way into populated areas, "even cities. The trend is toward urban and other residential" settings.

Meth has "become an epidemic," he said. "It's not going away unless communities and police work together." Residents, he added, should "be forever vigilant. If anyone sees something suspicious -- thinks there might be a lab -- they should call us and let us make that determination.

"I realize there's a fine line there, that people don't want to be nosy neighbors. But they should call us."

Photo in text: The apartment house at 117 E. Second Street. Coy's apartment occupies the front of the second floor.

Finger Lakes Region eyed as National Heritage Corridor

Gillibrand legislation would trigger feasibility study

Special to The Odessa File

PENN YAN, June 23 -- U.S Senator Kirsten Gillibrand announced Monday she is introducing legislation that would authorize the National Park Service to take steps toward designating the Finger Lakes region as a National Heritage Corridor.

If the legislation passes, the Finger Lakes will undergo the Feasibility Study Process to determine if the region meets the necessary standards to become a National Heritage Corridor. National Heritage Areas are designated by Congress as places where natural, cultural and historic resources come together to form a cohesive, nationally important landscape.

“I am honored that we are taking the first steps needed for the Finger Lakes region of New York State to be designated by the National Park Service as a National Heritage Area,” said Gillibrand in an appeararnce in Penn Yan. “It comes as no surprise to me or anyone who visits this beautiful part of our state, the Finger Lakes region deserves to be recognized alongside so many other historic landmarks and natural wonders as part of the National Park Service as a natural service area.”

“We are in an area that is rich in natural beauty with parks, waterfalls, hiking, boating. We are a destination tourism attraction,” said Ken McConnell, Chairman of the Finger Lakes Tourism Alliance Board of Directors. “These assets, combined, tell us a history of our area that is important to each of us, and it should be important to each of us that this area’s assets are preserved for future generations.”

Tourism is a $2.8 billion industry in the Finger Lakes and employs 58,384 people. Designation as a National Heritage Area has led to an incremental but substantial increase in tourism in other areas that have received the designation. There are currently 49 areas designated as National Heritage Areas. Each supports historic preservation, natural resource conservation, recreation, heritage tourism, and educational projects.

Founded in 1919, the Finger Lakes Tourism Alliance is recognized as one of the oldest destination marketing organizations in the United States. FLTA is an association of private-sector attractions, tourism-related businesses and county tourism offices working together to enhance and promote visitor businesses for the 9,000-square-mile Finger Lakes region.

Photo in text: U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (File photo)

Watkins Glen Mayor Sam Schimizzi, left, and trustee Kevin Thornton at Monday's meeting.

Board ponders streaming need

Considers curtailment, but opts for further study

WATKINS GLEN, June 16 -- The Watkins Glen Village Board Monday night discussed the possibility of ending its streaming coverage of board sessions, but decided to put off a decision until it can contact the company in charge of the program and ask what options might exist in its operation.

The issue had been raised once before, with possible termination based on the cost of the program -- an estimated $1,000 a month with only 20 or fewer area residents tuning in to watch on their computers. But as Ttrustee Tony Fraboni said, maybe the village wants to keep the program for record retention and archival purposes.

The suggestion that the streaming be eliminated and the sessions recorded and downloaded for later viewing was raised, but more information on the cost and bother of such a practice needed to be studied, trustees indicated.

In other business, the board:

--Heard from Boy Scout Alex Gibson, who presented a concept for an Eagle Scout project he is planning: the revitalization of Gifford Park near the downtown, used primarily now as the site of the village Christmas Tree each December. Gibson said he wants to enhance the park with a bench and a sign extolling the life of Stuart L. Gifford, a once-prominent Watkins Glen resident whose son, Thomas, a retired banker, recently concluded a long tenure on the Schuyler County Legislature.

Financing for the bench and sign is still in the planning stages, Gibson said, but might include fund-raising through an online service.

The board unanimously agreed that the plan was a good one, and gave its blessing for Gibson to proceed. He said he hopes to complete the project in September.

--Approved a special-event application for the upcoming Cardboard Boat Regatta at Seneca Harbor Marina, set for this Saturday -- to be preceded by a Harbor Lights festival at Seneca Harbor Park Friday night.

--Heard from several residents about damage in the village caused by the Sunday night storm, and assured them that village crews were doing all they could to effect repairs and would be meeting with members of the Schuyler County Soil and Water Conservation District to discuss further plans.

Mayor Sam Schimizzi said he appreciated all the work that the village crews, police, and fire department did in combatting the storm damage. "I was impressed with everybody," he said. "They did an awesome job."

Photo in text: Boy Scout Alex Gibson at Monday's session.

7 protesters arrested, bringing total to 279

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, June 2 -- Wearing surgical scrubs and lab coats, seven gas storage protesters led by area healthcare professionals -- including family physician doctor Susan Soboroff, MD; midwife Monica Daniel, CNM, LM; OB-GYN nurse Mary Menapace, and psychiatric nurse practitioner Denise Kooperman -- formed a human blockade shortly before 7:30 a.m. Monday at the north entrances of Crestwood Midstream on Route 14 and prevented all traffic from entering or leaving.

All seven were arrested at 8 a.m. by Schuyler County deputies who charged them with trespassing and disorderly conduct. They were transported to the Sheriff's Office in Watkins Glen, processed and released pending their court appearances.

The blockaders held banners that said, “Health Care Providers (& Patients) Against Crestwood” and “Our Health is Not Negotiable.”

Twenty other health providers and patients rallied near the highway at the site.

None of the protesters had been previously arrested as part of the We Are Seneca Lake movement, which opposes Crestwood’s plans for methane storage expansion in abandoned salt caverns west of the lake. The total number of arrests now stands at 279 in the seven-month-old civil disobedience campaign.

Crestwood’s methane gas storage expansion project was approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last October.

Those arrested Monday:

Marie Ely Baumgardner, 67, Burdett, Schuyler County
Monica Daniel, RN, CNM, LM, 54, Enfield, Tompkins County
Jacke Jablonski, 69, Ithaca, Tompkins County
Denise Kooperman, NP, MACS, 68, Trumansburg, Tompkins County
Mary Menapace, 55, Skaneateles, Onondaga County
Susan Soberoff, MD, Ulysses, Tompkins County
Louise Sullivan-Blum, 54, Corning, Steuben County

Photo in text: Protest sign (File photo)

League student representative visits Albany

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, May 22 -- Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I-Corning) welcomed Bradford Central High School student Karilyn Rutledge -- a League of Women Voters representative -- to the Capitol earlier this week.

Rutledge shadowed Palmesano for the day and enjoyed a unique glimpse into the legislative process. She attended an Education Committee meeting with Palmesano and witnessed legislative debates on the floor of the Assembly.

“The intellectual curiosity and enthusiasm that Karilyn displayed on her visit to Albany are a testament to the bright future she has ahead of her,” said Palmesano. “She is a credit to her family, her school and the entire League of Women Voters program. I wish her the best of success as she pursues her future goals.”

Rutledge is a senior at Bradford. She balances her academic coursework and affiliation with the league with a part-time job at the Corning Museum of Glass. She plans to attend Corning Community College in the fall.

Photo in text: Assemblyman Phil Palmesano and Karilyn Rutledge. (Photo provided)

The WGHS students, with Senator O’Mara (far left standing) and, standing from right to left, Assemblyman Friend, Assemblyman Palmesano and teacher Travis Durfee. (Photo provided)

WGHS students visit reps in Albany

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, May 19 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats), Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I-Corning) and Assemblyman Chris Friend (R,C,I-Big Flats) welcomed a contingent of Watkins Glen High School students to the state capital Tuesday.

The students were accompanied to Albany by instructor Travis Durfee, who also serves as President of the Watkins Glen Faculty Association. Over the past several weeks, as part of his ninth-grade Humanities curriculum, Durfee has focused on debate studies in which students have selected and researched a variety of issues, prepared debate briefs and other background materials, and engaged in formal debates.

He took his students to Albany Tuesday to meet their state lawmakers, discuss a variety of ideas and issues, visit the state government complex, and watch a live session of the State Senate.

In a joint statement, O’Mara, Palmesano and Friend said, “We appreciate Mr. Durfee’s efforts to engage his students’ interest in government and the political process. His enthusiasm and his knowledge will go a long way toward instilling in the next generation the sense of civic responsibility so vital to the strength and well-being of our democracy. And it’s always exciting and refreshing to see young people respond to a subject with curiosity, enthusiasm and hard work.
We’re seeing a classroom that’s inspiring and training our future leaders. That’s what learning is all about. It’s truly a worthwhile achievement.”

The following students were in Albany Tuesday: Amanda Armstrong, Emilia Bond, Ashley Caslin, Maria Chedzoy, Sean Holland, Ryanna LaMoreaux, Daniel Paradiso, Tanner Ryan, Seth Swinnerton, Julian Thronton, Kaitlyn Valla, Simon Wigmore and Conlin Wysocki.

Photo in text: Students listen to Assemblyman Chris Friend (Photo provided)

Student Sean Holland, left, addresses State Senator Tom O'Mara, center at end of table, who is flanked by Assemblymen Chris Friend (left) and Phil Palmesano. (Photo provided)

Meth lab legislation gains Senate OK

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, May 19 -- The New York State Senate Tuesday approved legislation sponsored by Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C-Big Flats) to crack down on clandestine methamphetamine labs locally and across the state by significantly increasing the criminal penalties for manufacturing meth.

As it did last session, the Senate approved O’Mara’s proposal with strong bipartisan support by a vote of 54 to 8. The legislation is currently in the Assembly Codes Committee, where it’s sponsored by Assemblyman Sean Ryan (D-Erie County).

If enacted into law, O’Mara’s legislation (S.1440/A.5617) would increase the criminal penalties for the possession of meth manufacturing material and the unlawful manufacture of meth, implementing a series of increasingly severe felony offenses.

“Meth labs continue to pose unacceptable risks to our neighborhoods, threaten the safety of police officers and first responders, and burden local systems of health care, criminal justice and social services,” said O’Mara, who also continues to serve as a member of the Senate Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction. “The only byproducts of meth are addiction, tragedy and violence.”

In early March, the Senate approved a second piece of meth-related legislation sponsored by O’Mara (S.1150/A.5577) that would increase the criminal penalties for the possession and/or sale of the drug by implementing an increasingly severe set of felony offenses. If enacted, state penalties in response to meth would be brought more in line with the penalties for possessing and selling cocaine and heroin. That piece of O’Mara-sponsored legislation is also sponsored by Ryan in the Assembly and remains in the Assembly Codes Committee.

Watkins Glen Board OKs
joint treatment plant project

Reaffirms construction of new facility along canal

WATKINS GLEN, May 5 -- The Watkins Glen Village Board Monday night surprised some people by approving in a 4-0 vote the continuation of the joint regional wastewater treatment plant project planned along the canal.

Following statements from several people in attendance at the board's monthly meeting and the reading of two letters to the board -- all strongly in favor of the project -- Trustee Laurie DeNardo said that the board had not been opposed to the project -- "I don't think any one of us want it stopped" -- but had merely "needed time to digest" its scope and details.

With that, she made a motion "to move forward with the project," and was quickly seconded by Trustee Kevin Thornton. The vote followed: 4-0 in favor.

A couple of area residents in attendance said afterward that they were taken aback by the vote, since recent comments by Mayor Sam Schimizzi had given the appearance, at least, of a reluctance to embrace the treatment plant project. And discussions on the street in recent days had reflected a feeling that approval might be a 50-50 proposition; nobody seemed to know which way the board might move.

Area residents speaking at the meeting before the vote included:

-- Rev. Michael Hartney (pictured at right), who described the project as a "positive for the community," and resulting development of the waterfront "a huge benefit for future generations."

-- Retired Village Justice Nick Dugo, who said he couldn't "imagine we won't go ahead" with the project. He said he had lived for many years in the village because of the services it offered, and that he would be fully willing to pay for the service provided by the new plant.

-- Jefferson Village maintenance representative John Bond, who said he knew 50 residents at that facility who would like to be rid of the smell that often emanates from the existing, nearby treatment plant.

-- Lake resident Joseph Campbell, who said the existing, sometimes out-of-compliance plant "was never designed for the load it's expected to carry in today's world."

Letters were also read aloud by Trustee Tony Fraboni from Jo Pat Wright and Mark Franzese, both strongly in favor of the new plant.

Schimizzi said that such responses from the public were "what we want," for "the people to tell us what they feel."

DeNardo (pictured at right) then expressed the sentiment about needing time to "digest" the project information, and offered the resolution to continue forward with the project. And the vote passed without further comment.

After the meeting, though, Schimizzi said he wasn't sure "why we even had to vote" since "we never said we were gonna stop it. We just wanted to see what's going on. We wanted to see what the project was" since, along the way, the public had not been kept fully apprised until public information meetings in Watkins Glen and Montour Falls shortly before approval of the project by the Village Boards in both villages.

Since, as mayor, he had not had to vote on the measure to move forward -- his vote is required only to break ties -- he was asked what his position on the issue was.

His answer was succinct.

"If there'd been a tie vote, you'd know," he said.

The board also:

-- Discussed the cost effectiveness of the streaming and recording of Village Board meetings, accessible on the village's website. Kevin Thornton said it appeared the cost was in excess of $9,000 a year. Other officials said there were hidden costs that put it above $10,000 and perhaps as high as $12,000 a year. The problem, said Thornton, is that available numbers show only about 20 people view the meeting a week, which makes it "a very expensive movie. I'm just throwing it out there" for consideration.

Mayor Schimizzi said he wanted input from residents as to their preference -- whether to keep the service intact or eliminate it because it isn't "getting the bang for the buck. If enough people want us to keep it, we'll keep it."

-- Heard a reminder that Saturday, May 9 is village Dumpster Day from 8 a.m. to noon at the Clute Park boat launch area. There will be no shredder truck on hand this time, said Village Clerk Donna Beardsley, because the company providing the dumpsters "double booked it."

-- Heard from coordinator Sam Maggio (pictured at right) of Solar Schuyler, a volunteer-based organization approved by NYSERDA (the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority) that is encouraging the installation of solar units in buildings in Schuyler County. Informational meetings are scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 6 at the Harvest Cafe in Montour Falls, and 7 p.m. Thursday at the Reading Town Hall.

-- Approved Special Event Applications clearing the way for the annual Seneca Lake Wine & Food Event and Italian Amercian Festival, both at Lakeside Park.

-- Gave conceptual approval to a proposed combination kayak/paddleboard launch site at Tank Beach off Fourth Street and a walkway connecting Tank Beach to Lakeside Park, utilizing a pedestrian bridge. The project would be funded by a $500,000 grant, said Superintendent of Utilities Mark Specchio.

The walkway would stretch as far across Lakeside Park as funds allowed, he said, with the hope that more of the walkway can be constructed in future years until it reaches Seneca Harbor Park. Parking would be available in a lot constructed at Tank Beach and possibly across the street from there.

Retired Village Justice Nick Dugo and Police Chief Tom Struble cautioned that downhill traffic at that point is often moving above the village speed limit, and that the project should incorporate some sort of signage to discourage speeders.

Photos in text:

From top: Mayor Sam Schimizzi, Rev. Michael Hartney, Trustee Laurie DeNardo, and Solar Schuyler's Sam Maggio.

Fazzary switches position on charges; protesters objecting

WATKINS GLEN, May 1 -- From his earlier words, what Schuyler County District Attorney Joe Fazzary has done this week seems to have been predictable. He has, in short, opened the door to the prosecution of protesters who had seemingly been heading toward a dismissal of trespass charges against them.

In response, We Are Seneca Lake -- the protesters' organizational arm -- reacted with a strongly worded press release Thursday claiming the DA was going back on an agreement involving 84 protesters arrested over a period from October to February for trespassing on Crestwood energy company property. The group is protesting federally approved methane storage in abandoned salt caverns and the possible storage of Liquefied Petroleum Gas there.

Fazzary has indeed stepped back from the agreement, reached several weeks ago, under which trespass charges against scores of protesters would be dismissed "in the interest of justice." Understood in the agreement, he has said, was a disinclination by the protesters to block the Crestwood gates any more. They would, he says it was understood, still protest, but within legal bounds.

But on April 22, another 19 protesters new to the cause were arrested for blocking the Crestwood gates along Rt. 14 north of Watkins Glen. We Are Seneca Lake said at the time that the arrests were not in violation of the dismissal agreement because the 19 had not been involved in any previous arrests or court cases.

Fazzary, in response, said last week that he was "very very disappointed" in the protest action, that the 19 would be prosecuted without chance of a dismissal deal, and that "all potential sanctions" regarding the remaining court cases awaiting dismissal were "back on the table."

We Are Seneca Lake, in its press release Thursday, said Fazzary had the day before officially "rescinded his support for the dismissal of 84 Seneca Lake protesters that was to take place today." Noting that charges have been dismissed for 60 protesters since the agreement was reached, the press release noted that the DA "had (previously) made an agreement to dismiss the remaining 84 ... in the same fashion...

"As this writing, 60 have had their dismissals, and the only thing that separates them from the remaining 84 that were scheduled to be dismissed this evening is that the first 60 people had the luck of having an appearance date scheduled sooner than today’s defendants.

"We are Seneca Lake is surprised by the sudden change in plan," the press release added, "but, more than that, concerned about the allegation that any of us have gone back on our word. There has never been any promise that there would be no more protests or even more arrests. We and our legal advisors have been very clear, in court and out, that the extent of our promise was what we committed to in the statement we negotiated," which reads:

We only have this planet. We must safeguard it for those who follow. Would that it not be necessary, but sometimes citizens of good conscience must engage in non-violent acts of civil disobedience to protect that sacred trust. As long as Crestwood Midstream Partners, or any other corporate or public or private entity, continues to threaten our way of life by the proven dangerous storage of highly compressed gas in the crumbling caverns at the Salt Point facility, I reserve the right to act as my conscience dictates in order to protect Seneca Lake, its citizens, and the surrounding environment. I reserve all rights to protest further at the Crestwood facility, although it is not my intent at this time to break the law in doing so.

"No one" in the protest camp, the press release went on, "has violated the terms of the dismissal, in spirit or in letter."

However, Fazzary sees it differently.

"First," he said, "I did not rescind my support, because I never gave my support." Instead, he says, what he did at the time of the dismissal agreement was this: "I did not object to the motion to dismiss" since it would clear clogged court dockets and, he thought, end the months-long cycle of arrests and court cases.

"I was led to believe by their attorneys," he said, "that if we did not object, the protests would be conducted in a legal manner. They can say what the language was, and say they never promised" to stop the blockades, "but we had numerous meetings with their lawyers where we were led to believe there would be no more arrests. I believe, based on that, that they have breached.

"You can say that I am no longer not objecting."

Where this is all heading was not clear Thursday night, although it appeared the calendars in several courts might be once again full.

As for the protesters, looking ahead, the press release noted that "public opposition" to the storage plan has continued to grow -- "as evidenced by the now 24 municipal resolutions against it" -- and that "it is little wonder that new groups of people feel morally compelled to take non-violent action.

"It is each citizen’s right," it goes on, "to protest under the First Amendment, and our role, to the extent that We Are Seneca Lake is an organized group, is to train and organize people and groups that want to protest so that if they protest, whether risking arrest or not, they know how to do it so that the protest is peaceful and nonviolent, and there is cooperation with law enforcement."

From left: Watkins Glen Mayor Sam Schimizzi and trustees Gary Schmidt and Kevin Thornton talk among themselves prior to Monday's special session.

Glen board urged to move on treatment plant; decision due

WATKINS GLEN, April 27 -- Watkins Glen Mayor Sam Schimizzi said Monday that the Village Board will make a decision soon on whether to pursue completion of the regional wastewater treatment plant that the previous administration helped plan.

The mayor -- at a special meeting of the board and of the Montour Falls members of the Joint Project Committee overseeing the proposed plant's development -- said he and the village trustees "gotta talk about it ... make sure everybody's on board with it."

His words were in response to an outline of the plant's history and planned financing presented in the Village Board meeting room at the late-afternoon session by Rick Weakland, a leader of the Project Seneca group that helped spearhead the effort that led the villages of Watkins Glen and Montour Falls to join forces in planning the joint facility.

Both villages have aged treatment plants, with the one on the waterfront in Watkins Glen under pressure from the state to raise its performance levels. The state has fined Watkins $20,000 over the issue, but eased its demands when it became clear the village was seriously pursuing a new plant in conjunction with Montour Falls.

An initial $1.8 million state-based grant allowed preliminary planning and signaled the expectation that a few million dollars more would be forthcoming for a new plant. In addition, the plant planners lined up a zero-interest $18 million loan through the state Environmental Facilities Corporation (EFC). The anticipated project cost is just under $25 million, with another $4 million targeted for separate Inflow and Infiltration upgrades in the two villages.

But Weakland -- in presenting his outline -- said a perception on the state level that Watkins Glen's new administration might not be committed to the project could be endangering the grants and the loan -- a situation requiring the new board (which has only one holdover, Tony Fraboni) to "get up to speed ... to get into a position where you feel comfortable making these decisions."

Added Montour Falls trustee Jim Ryan, a member of the JPC: "I understand it's a big pill to swallow in a short time ... But we're committed. It's best for both villages to become partners."

The advantages include a 30-year commitment on the part of Schuyler County to share sales tax revenues with municipalities in the county, including Watkins Glen and Montour Falls, as long as this joint venture moves forward to fruition. A reversal of that commitment, said Weakland, would "have a significant impact" on the finances of those municipalities.

Also advantageous is what Weakland and others said was support on the state level in the EFC and the Legislature from officials watching closely because of the unusual, shared nature of the treatment-plant effort. And building one plant for two villages instead of one plant for each translates to signficant savings while coming in line with the state's environmental demands.

But Weakland -- in describing, with charts and spread sheets, how the Montour board and the previous Watkins board had worked for a couple of years to reach a point where they had, in January, given the green light to proceed with the design and financing of the new plant -- said the momentum that has been built in the early development stages could be endangered. "I'm worried that the train from a funding perspective could leave the station" if the Village Board doesn't act soon, he observed..

Added Montour Falls Mayor John King, a member of the JPC, "We've looked upon this as an opportunity that comes but once."

The new board, in addition to Fraboni, consists of Schimizzi and new trustees Gary Schmidt, Kevin Thornton and (appointed at the last board meeting) Laurie DeNardo. Gone in election defeat are former mayor Mark Swinnerton and former trustee Scott Gibson, joined by Kevin Smith (who did not seek re-election) and Paul Clifford (who moved from the village).

Mayor Schimizzi, in response to Weakland's outline and discussion by Mayor King and Montour trustees Steve Lawton and Ryan, expressed some reservations. He noted that correction of significant Inflow and Infiltration issues could fix "98 percent of the problem" at the existing Watkins Glen treatment plant "in the short term," and that the consent order issued by the state insisting on an upgrade of that plant's performance "doesn't say you need to move your plant to the canal." The new plant would be constructed alongside the canal between Watkins and Montour, roughly across the water from the Watkins Glen High School property.

When one Watkins Glen department head, Mark Specchio, mentioned that more stringent standards are expected from the state Department of Environmental Conservation -- which would, logically, make strains on the existing plant even more challenging -- Schimizzi said that those regulations, if enacted, would emanate from the federal level. "So they might not (come)," he said. "It depends on what's going on in Washington, who's President. My biggest concern is with the people who live here, and the cost."

When Weakland urged a decision soon by the Village Board -- by the first week of June, and preferably earlier -- Schimizzi said the board "will get together and discuss it," noting once again that he wants "to make sure everybody is on board.

"One way or another," the mayor added, "we have to decide something."

When the suggestion was made that the matter might be discussed by the board in executive session, Schimizzi was insistent that it be aired in front of the public, in open session.

"There's no sense messing around much more," he said. "We'll give you your answer soon."

And then, with a smile, he added this seemingly plant-positive note: "Maybe you'll want to call up the EFC and start buttering them up."

Photos in text:

Top: Rick Weakland, who outlined the proposed treatment plant project and its planned financing to the new mayor and trustees.
Bottom: Montour Falls Mayor John King.

DA is 'very very disappointed'

Fazzary says 'no deals' for new protesters; mulls pending cases

WATKINS GLEN, April 23 -- Schuyler County District Attorney Joseph Fazzary says the 19 protesters arrested Wednesday on trespass charges for blockading the Crestwood energy firm's gates along Rte. 14 will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law -- with "all potential sanctions back on the table."

And the estimated 60 or so defendants still in the system from previous arrests -- dozens have had charges dismissed "in the interest of justice" -- might not be let off the hook, although Fazzary said "we haven't decided what we're doing" about those yet.

The protesters, operating under the auspices of a group called We Are Seneca Lake, are opposed to the federally approved storage of methane by Crestwood in abandoned salt caverns the protesters say are inherently unsafe. The group had through late February made a point of submitting to trespass and disorderly conduct arrests at the Crestwood gates, with an eye toward clogging the court system and, in the beginning, toward watching some of their number spend a few days in jail for refusing to pay their fines. There were more than 200 arrests from late October to late February.

That all changed when the DA's office sought, and Town of Reading Justice Raymond Berry promised to dispense, judgments against those refusing to pay the fines. Judgments serve as liens and credit black-marks, and protesters noticeably avoided them by either paying the fines or, mostly, by seeking adjournments. The court system was clogged, as the protesters had wanted.

Some of the workload landing in Judge Berry's lap -- scores of cases -- was being distributed to other courts at that point to help streamline the judicial process ... and then the DA offered a deal to the protesters: stop blocking the gates and the charges would go away.

The protesters agreed to the offer, essentially verbal in nature, and crowed about the "precedent-setting victory" they had attained, when in fact the move by Fazzary's office served to unclog much of the area's court calendar and, it seemed, ensure that the Sheriff's Office would not be called repeatedly to the Crestwood gates any more. Protesters would protest there, but not blockade. Or so the DA's office thought.

But Wednesday, 19 new protesters from outside Schuyler County blockaded, and were arrested, processed and released, with court appearances set on trespass charges.

"I'm very very disappointed," Fazzary said Thursday. "When I agreed to not object to the dismissals" of the previous cases, "I thought these people were so principled" that they would adhere to what he perceived as a clearcut agreement. "I never gave a thought that they'd send more people" who had not been among the previous arrestees.

He said he has been in touch with the protesters' attorney and expressed his displeasure, and made it clear that "if they think they'll get the same deal with these people ... it's not happening."

For their part, the protesters, through key organizer Sandra Steingraber (pictured at right), said in a statement aired on TV that the new arrestees were "not party to the previous agreement," and so the group has not violated it. "The individuals who came to the gate on Earth Day were led by their conscience to take that step," she said. "These are people who had never been arrested before and are not party to any agreements made by people who have previously taken a step."

Fazzary is of a different opinion, noting that We Are Seneca Lake broke the spirit of the agreement and has "tried to skirt the issue by using all new people. I don't feel they kept their end of the bargain. It was understood that they'd take a different route (in their protest movement) other than going up there" and blocking the Crestwood gates.

And now that they've done it, he said. "They seem proud of it. Well, I've told their lawyer that if a wave of 200 or 250 new people think they are going to get a new deal .... no."

The sanctions now in play, he said, include fines, jail time and judgments -- although "I can't say what the judge will do," whether it's Berry or another judge in another court outside of Reading. "I say let the judge do whatever he wants. If it means having 75 trials in three weeks, then we'll do 75 trials."

Does that mean that the two sides are once again engaged in legal combat?

"I wouldn't call it combat," he said. "Both sides are just going through the process."

Photos in text:

From top: District Attorney Joe Fazzary and We Are Seneca Lake's Sandra Steingraber

Schimizzi, 3 others sworn in

Confusion lingers as trustee appointment is delayed

WATKINS GLEN, April 7, 2015 -- The new mayor of Watkins Glen, Sam Schimizzi, was sworn into office along with two new trustees and a new village justice during Monday night's Village Board meeting.

Schimizzi was sworn in by Village Clerk Donna Beardsley, as were trustees Gary Schmidt and Kevin Thornton. New Village Justice Connie Fern Miller took the oath of office from her predecessor, Nicholas Dugo.

The meeting was also marked by a spate of appointments by Schimizzi, but one appointment that was not made left some confusion among participants.

Schimizzi, who designated Schmidt as the Deputy Mayor, said that while the board intends to fill the seat vacated by Paul Clifford last month when he moved from the village -- a seat occupied for the past two weeks by Rick Evans -- it was not yet ready to do so.

The mayor thanked Evans early in the meeting "for filling in the post for the past two weeks," a seeming dismissal even though nobody, on this night, was being named to replace him. "We will be filling the position in the near future, just not at this time," the mayor said.

Later, when asked by audience member Scott Gibson -- who was defeated by Schimizzi in the race for mayor in the recent village election -- if Evans wasn't still on the board, given that there was no replacement yet, clerk Beardsley said a ruling from the New York Conference of Mayors and Municipal Officials (NYCOM) said a mayoral appointment from one term can't carry into the next term, and that Evans's brief tenure ended at noon Monday.

"Because the last mayor was voted out and I'm in with these guys," added Schimizzi, pointing to Schmidt and Thornton, there is "somebody we're going to appoint, just not today." He added: "Nothing against Rick."

But later in the meeting, Evans, who did not leave his board seat, said during a board comment period that he had not been voting at the meeting because of confusion over his role, which he said he would be "sorting out" with Beardsley the next day. And after the meeting, he said he considered himself still a member of the board, having been appointed to fill the unexpired portion of Clifford's term -- although he realizes the new administration can oust him in appointing someone else.

"I'm abstaining," he said of his non-voting evening, "but not conceding."

Added Gibson: "It makes no sense to say he's not on the board when there is no replacement. Why would they want to deliberately short themselves by one member?"

But that confusion aside, the meeting went smoothly, with Schimizzi feeling his way through the formal process of the agenda, asking for help from Beardsley on occasion, with trustee Tony Fraboni offering procedural advice.

The board dealt with three water-bill adjustment requests (approving all three), and:

--Approved sending one of the village's two backhoes as surplus to an auction;
--Approved a request by the Dolls of Destruction roller derby team to practice and compete at the Community Center;
--Approved renting a street sweeper for a month at a cost of $7,700, with Montour Falls expected to use it for a week and Burdett for a couple of days, trimming the village share of the cost;
--Approved a Grand Prix Festival application setting the annual event from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Sept. 11, with Franklin Street closed from 1-9 p.m.;
--Approved the resignation of Amedeo Fraboni from the village Planning Board;
--Approved a Dumpster Day for Saturday, May 9 at the boat launch near the Community Center off 4th Street. It will run from 8 a.m. to 12 noon.
--Approved a long list of mayoral appointments, such as Jim Scaptura as Village Historian and a Planning Board consisting of Joseph Fazzary, Tom Fitzgerald, Chris Bond, James Adesso and Tom Merrill. Several village appointments not yet made will be completed "in the near future," said Schimizzi.

Photos in text:

Top: Mayor Sam Schimizzi makes a point during the meeting.

Second: Trustee Tony Fraboni, right, with Rick Evans, who was appointed two weeks ago to the trustee seat vacated by Paul Clifford. Even though he was effectively dismissed by Mayor Schimizzi and Clerk Donna Beardsley (who said his tenure ended at noon Monday), Evans remained in his seat and said later he still considered himself a member of the board.

Third: Former deputy mayor Scott Gibson, inquiring at Monday's meeting about the status of Rick Evans as trustee.

Fourth: Deputy Mayor Gary Schmidt is sworn in by Village Clerk Donna Beardsley.

Bottom: Trustee Kevin Thornton is sworn in by Beardsley.

Palmesano: Budget missed opportunities

ALBANY, April 1 -- Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I-Corning) Wednesday assessed the state budget approved in the early morning hours that day as a document that provides some positives for the state and the Southern Tier but " missed opportunities in a number of important areas."

“I am pleased this budget provides: for an increase in education aid to our school districts," he said, "particularly $603 million towards eliminating the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA)...

"I am disappointed," he added, "that this budget fails to provide any tax relief for our families and small businesses or mandate relief for our municipalities and school districts. In addition, although I was pleased we were able to achieve a $50 million increase above the Governor’s proposed budget to restore his cut to local municipalities to fix and repair their local roads and bridges through the Consolidated Local Street and Highway Program (CHIPS) formula, it is woefully inadequate.

"With $5.4 billion in settlement funds available to disperse towards infrastructure improvements, we missed a tremendous opportunity to really partner with our local governments to address the growing need of repairing our crumbling local infrastructure. A stronger commitment would have promoted economic development and job creation while helping to ensure a safer and more reliable local transportation system for motorists and families.

"Finally, one of the biggest problems with the budget is the governor's unflinching insistence on the inclusion of teacher evaluations generated by high stakes Common Core testing. We should have sent a clear message that we reject subjecting our children to more standardized testing. Quite frankly, it is a big gamble to put our trust in the State Education Department to iron out this issue. This is the same entity that brought us Common Core and oversaw its disastrous implementation and rollout, while ignoring the concerns raised by parents and educators all across our state.

"On top of that, tying the teacher evaluation system to school aid is heavy-handed and wrong. To improve our education system, we must treat parents as partners, teachers as professionals and ensure our children’s self-worth and bright future is not measured by the results of high stakes standardized test scores. We can and must do better for our children."

Photo in text: Assemblyman Phil Palmesano

Schuyler County Administrator Tim O'Hearn outlines the purpose of the informational meeting as Legislature Chair Dennis Fagan listens and a TV reporter records.

Shared services effort will continue in wake
of CGR report; merger on the backburner

MONTOUR FALLS, March 25 -- The proposed merger of Schuyler and Yates Counties was, from the outset, "not considered likely at all in the short term," Schuyler Legislature Chair Dennis Fagan said Tuesday night after officials from the Center for Governmental Research (CGR) in Rochester outlined their report on the merits and challenges of consolidation..

More to the point, said Fagan, the steering committee formed to study the issue saw from the beginning that any moves toward merger would be incremental -- "phased to overcome hurdles" like the difference in sales tax distribution in the two counties. "The committee saw this as an opportunity to share services, to see how we worked together. Over time, it would become more transparent whether it would work."

Now, after the report was outlined by CGR's President Joseph Stefko and Paul Bishop before two-dozen people in the Human Services Complex in Montour Falls, the first phase of the process -- a detailed study -- is complete. "And now," says County Administratior Tim O'Hearn, "it's up to us" to continue the effort beyond study numbers into the area of shared services. But it's clear that merger is not likely to be approached anytime soon, if at all.

Fagan said that Schuyler will not force the creation of shared services, but will try to take advantage of any circumstances -- through vacancies created by retirements, for instance -- that might offer an opportunity. The county shares a director of Weights and Measures with Yates and Chemung Counties, but a move toward a single Yates-Schuyler Highway Superintendent was recently derailed when Yates legislators balked.

Any move forward, Fagan said -- particularly toward consolidation -- would take "political will" as well as consistency in the makeup of the two counties' respective legislatures. When seats change hands, oftentimes political philosophies -- and "political will" -- can change just as quickly.

While the CGR report outlined various similarities in the two counties -- in population, land mass, average income, number of towns, and budget size -- it also showed a number of differences that any consolidation would first have to address. Among those is the distribution of sales tax to towns. Schuyler shares with its towns, while Yates does not.

Benefits to consolidation, the study said, would include a savings of $1.45 million, with the largest share coming from the elimination of duplicate positions. The study also showed that the average property tax rate in Schuyler would be reduced by 16 percent while Yates increased by 2 percent.

The biggest hurdle in a general sense would be as-yet unidentified challenges, since no two counties have ever merged. "We have large-scale examples" in the nation "where a county and a city have merged," said Bishop, "but not two counties."

Even with the movement toward consolidation on the backburner, and for that matter the movement toward a shared highway superintendent rejected, "a positive that has come out of this," said Fagan, is improved networking and joint problem-solving among department heads in the two counties..

"We want that to continue," he said, while leaders in the two counties watch for other shared service opportunities.

Photos in text: CGR's Paul Bishop outlines the options in the study; CGR President Joseph Stefko addresses the audience.

The recent electees arrive for the meeting. Gary Schmidt pauses (center) to speak to county legislator Phil Barnes while Sam Schimizzi (foreground right) and Kevin Thornton (background right) walk toward their seats near the front of the room.

Passing the village torch

Outgoing mayor, deputy present a primer for electees

WATKINS GLEN, March 23 -- The Watkins Glen mayor and deputy mayor, defeated in last week's village elections, read and expounded upon a lengthy outline Monday that they prepared for the incoming mayor and trustees -- a list of ongoing projects and responsibilities facing the electees and designed to help in the transition process. The presentation came at a special Village Board meeting that also saw the appointment of a new trustee, Rick Evans.

Deputy Mayor Scott Gibson -- who co-authored the outline with Mayor Mark Swinnerton -- titled the written version from which they read the "Village Board Transitional Roadmap."

Gibson called the effort, which passes along four year's worth of earned knowledge, "some hand holding" that he and Swinnerton did not receive when they took office, resulting in a lengthy learning curve. Mayor-elect Sam Schimizzi and trustees-elect Kevin Thornton and Gary Schmidt listened to the 90-minute presentation -- held in the Village Board meeting room -- but declined to ask any questions, saying they wanted to first absorb the massive amount of information.

Meanwhile, the current board, at the outset of Monday's meeting, named Evans -- a winemaker at Castel Grisch Winery and a Scout leader -- to the trustee seat vacated last week by Paul Clifford, who is moving to the Town of Hector. The new board can affirm the Evans appointment or select someone in his place when it takes office with the first meeting of April, on the 6th.

Gibson explained that such an appointment, made within 75 days of the end of a mayor's term, can be overturned by an incoming board, which can in turn install its own choice. The appointment is for the final year of Clifford's term of office.

Swinnerton said the appointment of Evans was being made to assure that the board -- in his and Gibson's expected absences over the next two weeks -- will have a quorum with which to act. Evans was accordingly sworn in by Swinnerton in front of an audience of about 20 people, including County Administrator Tim O'Hearn, Montour Falls Mayor John King, County Legislator Phil Barnes, County Planning Director Kristin VanHorn, and Town of Reading board member Pat Gill, among others..

The outline prepared by Gibson and Swinnerton ran for 11 pages, touching on specifics in the areas of:

-- the old wastewater treatment plant and its longstanding shortcomings;
-- the movement toward construction of a new plant along the canal, built in conjunction with the Village of Montour Falls;
-- the enthusiasm of state leaders at the innovative nature of that project, which is designed to improve the treatment abilities and environmental effects in two communities at once;
-- mayoral appointments, due soon from Schimizzi;
-- the arrangement regarding the use of the gym and auditorium in the former Middle School as most of the building is transformed into senior housing;
-- agreements with developer Bruce Nelson regarding his WaterWorks housing project, and some ongoing litigation dealing with easements;
-- a project involving an extension of the Raw Water Intake pipe in Seneca Lake; improvement of underyielding hydrants; possible replacement of the Padua tank and related mains; water main replacement along Rte. 409; and work on the Franklin Street Bridge main, which has frozen the past two years;
-- and the agreement with the county whereby it will continue to provide a percentage of sales tax revenues to municipalities in the county as long as loan payments continue on the new wastewater treatment plant.

All of those points, and many more, can be seen in the document read in turns by Swinnerton and Gibson. It can be accessed by clicking here.

Discussion of the fire department and its many aspects was interrupted by Junior Specchio, a member of the department for more than 60 years. He said the new board should be aware of the drop in volunteerism among fire departments, and the evident move in the not-too-distant future to at least some paid positions. This, he cautioned, will impact the village budget.

And at meeting's end, Specchio complimented the outgoing board for the job it has done, and said it was "good to see the old and the new working together here. To the new board, the best to you."

Meanwhile, village resident Laura Mantius said that unlike the county government, she had found the Swinnerton administration to be "responsive. I feel like you were taking the village and moving us forward. To the new board I say this: You have some very big shoes to fill."

And Montour Falls Mayor King thanked the outgoing board for its help in the development of the wastewater treatment plant plan, and "for your professionalism."

The new board, when the electees take office on April 6, will consist of just one long-term holdover, Tony Fraboni, who has been heavily involved in many of the ongoing village projects, including the new wastewater treatment plant, serving on its Joint Project Committee.

Photos in text:

Top: From left, Montour Falls Mayor John King, Watkins Glen Deputy Mayor Scott Gibson and Watkins Glen Mayor Mark Swinnerton.

Second: Mayor Swinnerton swears in new trustee Rick Evans, appointed to the seat vacated by Paul Clifford.

Third: Mayor-elect Sam Schimizzi listens and takes notes.

Bottom: Junior Specchio addresses the board about a dropoff in fire department volunteers.

To see the Village Board Transitional Roadmap, click here

From left: Trustees-elect Gary Schmidt and Kevin Thornton; mayor-elect Sam Schimizzi, and newly appointed trustee Rick Evans pose after the meeting.

The shock of defeat

Gibson, Swinnerton rejected in tight Watkins Glen vote

WATKINS GLEN, March 19 -- They had spent four years trying mightily to get Watkins Glen's fiscal house in order, to improve the village's infrastructure and to end the cash drain known as the old wastewater treatment plant.

They had installed cameras to enable the public to see what goes on at Village Board meetings, and oversaw installation of the Code Red program that linked the village and its residents in times when communication was either helpful or essential.

They had teamed with Montour Falls and Project Seneca to take large strides toward a new wastewater treatment plant designed to reduce pollution and open the waterfront to further development. The multi-million- dollar project was deemed not only desirable, but necessary.

They stepped on some toes when they studied the possibility of shedding the village police department, distributing its full-timers into employment at the Sheriff's Office -- an idea that never gained traction. And they made news when, out of concern for the village's future and that of the environment, they voted against the proposed storage by the Crestwood energy firm of LPG gas in abandoned salt caverns north of town.

Mayor Mark Swinnerton and his deputy, trustee Scott Gibson, did all of that and more with the help of trustees Kevin Smith, Paul Clifford and Tony Fraboni. And they hoped they would be rewarded for the effort -- for the long days and long nights, for the many meetings and for the sheer nerve it takes to try and establish a streamlined, efficient operation -- by being re-elected.

And they were wrong. They were defeated Wednesday after a single four-year term in office, a term remarkable for the sea change the village was initiating as it faced the future -- governance marked by proaction.

Gibson, who was running for mayor this time while his good friend Swinnerton opted to seek a trustee seat, was defeated by Democrat Samuel Schimizzi, 231-205. Swinnerton was third in the race for two trustee seats, losing to Gary Schmidt's dominating 303 votes and the 226 attained by Kevin Thornton, who four years ago managed a relative handful (17) as a write-in candidate. The winners, each a Democrat, say they campaigned hard door-to-door, the same tactic used by Swinnerton and Gibson four years ago. This time the incumbents did some door knocking, but were running mainly on their record.

Another race, for Village Justice, saw Democrat Connie Fern Miller defeat Republican Keith Caslin (right), 260-157, with Michael Nyre third with 62 votes. Caslin, in defeat, thanked "those who voted for me. And I want to wish Connie the best" as she takes over a post held by the retiring Nick Dugo for 28 years.

That succinct road by Caslin was markedly different from the voluble road taken by Gibson and Swinnerton, who were clearly stung by their loss -- one in retrospect that was probably aided by their decision to attempt a switch of roles in a second term. The attempted switch struck some voters as odd -- or at least certainly out of the comfortable mainstream.

"Well, maybe so," Swinnerton said after his defeat. "But I could no longer devote the time as mayor, and Scott could. But I wanted to stay involved, which is why I ran for trustee. Perhaps, in retrospect, I should have run on the Republican line, too." He in fact ran on the Listening Party line, as did Gibson. When asked why he didn't run as a Republican, Swinnerton said there were "a number of reasons I won't be going into."

But he said, too, that "government at this level shouldn't be about the party line. It should be about commitment and about results. And our record speaks for itself."

With Smith not seeking re-election, and with trustee Paul Clifford resigning effective Wednesday because of a move to the Town of Hector, the Village Board will consist of Wednesday's three winners and Fraboni, with an appointment looming for the final year of Clifford's term.


As Village Clerk Donna Beardsley (pictured at right) announced the vote totals from the single voting machine located in the southwest corner of the cavernous Community Center, Gibson and Swinnerton appeared stunned. Some 32 absentee ballots still needed to be counted, but Gibson was 27 votes behind. (He finished 26 back.) Swinnerton was just three votes back and entertained a hope of making those up (but he finished trailing by one).

"It's an absolute travesty," Gibson was saying, "that after four years of hard work, we couldn't get people to come out and vote for us. But what are you going to do? Apparently transparency and hard work weren't enough. Let's say I'm surprised."

He then related some of the accomplishments of the Swinnerton administation, including those listed at the top of this story, and shook his head. "I think you can look on our time in office as an experiment in the reinstitution of government by and for the people," he said. "But it seems the people want to stay in the 1970s, with industry as the hub. I'm not going to mask my disappointment."

Margaret Swinnerton, wife of the mayor, said she was "ashamed of the voters" in the town where she grew up. "It's a slap in the face" after "the time and energy and commitment that this board put in."

Her husband at first kept his remarks brief, saying only that he has "enjoyed my time as mayor. Obviously that wasn't enough."

But he and Gibson later expressed the fear that the Schimizzi administration might attempt to scuttle the efforts made thus far for the joint wastewater treament plant, sending both Watkins Glen and Montour Falls back to a situation where they try to depend on aging, decaying and increasingly costly 50-year-old plants. Swinnerton said a recent campaign ad run by the Schimizzi team in a local paper suggested opposition to the treatment plant -- was, he said, "pretty much black and white."

While Swinnerton thought such a scuttling action might be difficult given the Intermunicipal Agreement with Montour Falls to build the plant, and agreements with the New York State Environmental Facilities Corporation, he was still concerned about the possibility.

Eliminating the plant, he said, would also terminate an agreement with county leaders whereby sales tax revenue-sharing throughout the county will continue as long as the two villages are paying a bond (over the next 30 years) to cover the cost of the plant's construction. Take those payments away, he said, and the county will join 13 others in the state that don't have revenue sharing. The resultant cost to Watkins Glen would be about $250,000 a year.

Beyond that, Swinnerton said, Watkins Glen "would be a laughing stock" after receiving attention from the state and the governor for the innovative agreement with another municipality -- an agreement designed to eliminate not just Watkins' aging plant, but one in Montour Falls, as well.

A turn back toward the continued use of the existing plants would have unfortunate repercussions, he said. Watkins Glen's plant -- currently under a consent order from the state -- would be required to obtain by eminent domain more land along the waterfront to the east (land currently owned by Scott Welliver) for the addition of concrete structures, extra tanks and other equiipment to meet state standards.

In turn, that would "set development along the shoreline back 20 years," Swinnerton added, "and it would do so when we are on the cusp of something special. We'll never have another chance like this."

Before leaving the Community Center, both sides came together to shake hands (right) near the voting machine, and Gibson suggested the old and new boards get together to provide the new one with information that might ease the transition. In the course of conversation, he said "I can't say I'm not disappointed" by the election, which led Thornton to answer: "We do appreciate all the work you guys have done. We love this place, too."

Gibson responded that he and Swinnerton had heard that "your platform was to tank" the wastewater project, to which Thornton replied: "Not necessarily."

When Schimiizzi, Schmidt and Thornton were asked later whether or not they favor the treatment plant project, they sidestepped the issue.

"We're not ready to say much," said Schimizzi, "except that we're gonna do the best we can for the residents of Watkins Glen. We're going to try to do the right thing for the people."

As for the treatment plant, "we'll talk about it later," said Schmidt. "We're overwhelmed right now because we swept them." Added Thornton, "We'll have to think it over."

So now, one last of order of business remains in the days ahead for the Swinnerton-Gibson-Smith-Fraboni board, which technically remains intact until the organizational meeting of the new board on the first Monday of April, which this year is April 6. The old board has set a special meeting for Monday, March 23, with one agenda item -- the appointment of a replacement for Clifford.

Could it be that either Gibson or Swinnerton might take the seat? Neither was talking about it Wednesday night. In fact, Swinnerton said that in the wake of defeat, he and Gibson have "other community service projects in mind," including some with the Lions Club, to which they belong. "And," he added, "we have more time for our families."

Besides, Swinnerton said, he might be eyeing a different kind of election now

"Maybe I'll run for the School Board" in May, he said as he headed for the Community Center exit.

"Wait, mayor," a reporter called after him. "Are you serious?".

Swinnerton stopped, turned and looked back.

And he just smiled.

Photos in text:

From top: Mark Swinnerton, left, and Scott Gibson talk to friends after losing the election; Keith Caslin came to hear the vote count in his race for Village Justice, which he lost; Village Clerk Donna Beardsley reads off the absentee-ballot totals; and mayor-elect Samuel Schimizzi, right, shakes hands with the man he defeated, Scott Gibson, while trustee-elect Gary Schmidt looks on.

O'Mara honored by Irish Society

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, March 13, 2015 --They were wearing green in Albany this week at the American Irish
Legislators Society’s 41st Annual St. Patrick’s Dinner, where State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C-Big Flats) was honored with the Society’s 2015 Daniel O’Connell Award for Public Service.

The Daniel O’Connell Award is given in tribute to the famous Irish nationalist, known as The Liberator or The Emancipator, who was Ireland’s predominant politician in the first half of the 19th century. The Society presents the award annually to a state legislator demonstrating “untiring
dedication, promotion and continuing support of the goals of The American Irish Legislators Society of New York State.”

“It’s an opportunity for American Irish legislators to express our pride in our heritage, in public service and in all that the Society does throughout the year to support so many charitable and cultural activities throughout New York State,” said O’Mara. “I was especially proud this year to have the opportunity to express my personal gratitude to Major General Murphy for his service to our
state, our nation and to peace and freedom around the world.”

The Society’s guest of honor at Monday’s dinner was Major General Patrick A. Murphy of the New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs, who assumed his current duties as the 52nd Adjutant General of New York State in 2010. He leads the 16,000 members of the New York Army and Air National Guard, as well as the nearly 3,500 members of the New York Naval Militia and New York Guard.

The Society annually recognizes two state legislators for their service. This year, in addition to O’Mara, Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther (D,I,WF-Forestburgh) was also honored.

The American Irish Legislators Society was founded in 1973.

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O’Mara receives this year’s Daniel O’Connor Award at a ceremony March 9th. (Photo provided)

Jones found guilty in burglaries

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, March 12, 2015 --Albert J. Jones, 25, of Montour Falls was found guilty Thursday by a Schuyler County trial jury of four counts of Burglary in the Second Degree, Class C Violent felonies, and five counts of misdemeanor Criminal Possession of a Stolen Property. The verdicts followed a four-day trial.

The case was tried by Schuyler County Chief Assistant District Attorney Matthew C. Hayden, who called nine witnesses. They described how over the course of a week, in June 2014, Jones, Ralph Starace, Jr., and Jacob D. Payne repeatedly entered a home in Mecklenburg and stole thousands of pounds of metal which was then disposed of at local scrap yards.

Evidence included: photos from the scrap yard cameras, which showed the defendant turning in the stolen metal, and testimony about how the defendant dropped a receipt from one of the scrap yard transactions -- with his name on it -- at the scene of the crime.

The defendant testified that he was merely removing scrap metal from fields, and would never have gone into the house because it reminded him of a monster-movie haunted house, and thus scared him. The jury deliberated for less than an hour before rendering its verdict. Sentencing is scheduled for May 21.

Co-defendant Payne pled guilty in February to Burglary in the Third Degree, and is due to be sentenced March 26 to state prison as a second felony offender. Starace pled guilty in November to Burglary in the Third Degree, and his sentencing is pending.

Photo in text: Albert J. Jones (Photo provided)

Palmesano calls on Cuomo to release School Aid information

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, Feb. 26 -- Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I-Corning), in accord with his Assembly colleagues and with education advocates, delivered a message to Governor Andrew Cuomo Thursday: Release the school-aid runs.

The runs are critical education aid estimates that are traditionally provided to each district when the governor releases his executive budget proposal. The governor has withheld the estimates in an attempt to leverage the Legislature to pass his proposed education reforms.

In the process, he has left school administrators around the state in the dark on funding levels and might, says Palmesano, force many schools to cut programs and staff due to the ongoing uncertainty.

“It is time for the governor to work with the Legislature and abandon his bullying tactics and heavy-handed approaches to governance,” said Palmesano. “Instead of helping districts plan for a bright future for our kids, he’s intentionally clouding the process in hopes of coercing the Legislature to follow his agenda."

"Right now, we are wasting valuable budget planning time as a result," said Michael Ginalski, Corning-Painted Post Central School District Superintendent. "He would not be able to build his budget without a revenue forecast, and it's beyond irresponsible for him to expect us to do so. I did not realize that we elected an emperor last November, but it sure feels like we did. Under this current scenario, it's impossible to build a budget."

Palmesano noted the extreme difficulty school districts will have in estimating their annual tax levy, an important budgetary step with a March 1 deadline.

Photo in text: Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (Photo provided)

Miller is candidate for Village Justice

WATKINS GLEN, Jan. 30 -- Attorney Connie Fern Miller has formally announced she is a candidate for the position of Watkins Glen Village Justice in the March 18 village election. She was nominated at the village Democratic Caucus on Jan. 27, and also plans to run on the People's Choice Party line.

If elected, she will succeed Nicholas Dugo, who is retiring after 28 years in the post.

Miller has practiced law in Watkins Glen since 1981. She has been a village resident since 2006. She says that since her law office and residence are only a few blocks from the Village Court, she would walk to work if elected.

In the course of her career, Miller has served as a Law Guardian and Attorney for Children in Family Court; as District Attorney, as Public Defender, and as Watkins Glen Village Attorney (for 19 years). She has also acted as legal counsel for various organizations, including the Burdett Presbyterian Church, the Humane Society of Schuyler County, Cooperative Extension, the Schuyler County Youth Fair, and others.

She said she believes her election on March 18 "would bring professional experience to that position, and would continue the traditions of fairness, balance, knowledge, diligence and competence for which the Village Court has long been known."

O'Mara welcomes LNG ruling, but rips delay

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, Jan. 28 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara welcomed Wednesday's action by the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to adopt regulations authorizing the construction of liquefied natural gas (LNG) facilities for transportation purposes.

At the same time, O’Mara -- chairman of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee -- criticized the DEC for not taking the action soon enough to keep one Southern Tier manufacturer, Dresser Rand, a major producer of engines fueled by LNG, from moving a major manufacturing project and jobs out of the state.

“It’s a step in the right direction and I welcome the action," O'Mara said, "but unfortunately it’s too little too late" for Dresser Rand, which "had been calling for and urging this action. New York State needs to move more swiftly on these decisions.”

According to the DEC, the “adopted regulations enable permits to be granted to safely site, construct and operate new LNG facilities under requirements established in a DEC permit. As a result, LNG will be available to haulers as a cleaner burning alternative to diesel fuel.”

It will be available in storage centers outside New York City, capped at 70,000 gallons per facility

New York has been the only state in the U.S. banning the use of LNG. A moratorium had been placed on it in the mid-1970s following a fire at an LNG facility on Staten Island that killed 40 workers. The Legislature lifted the moratorium in 1999, but left action on a new system to the DEC.

“The nation’s trucking industry and other fleet vehicles are increasingly making the change from diesel-powered engines to engines that run on LNG,” said O’Mara. “New York State has been missing out on enormous economic and environmental benefits. We’ve also been standing in the way of economic growth and job creation for upstate manufacturers like Dresser Rand and others who could use LNG as a more affordable energy source to power their factories.”

Montour Falls Board OKs wastewater treatment plant

MONTOUR FALLS, Jan. 23 -- The Montour Falls Village Board Thursday night agreed -- with one dissenting vote -- to proceed with Watkins Glen in the construction of a new wastewater treatment plant alongside the canal between the two villages.

The lone "no" vote came from trustee Phil Joe Smith, who said he wasn't opposed to a new plant, but believes it should be under the auspices of the Schuyler County government.

"The county should be the facilitator," he expanded after the meeting. "This way, it won't come out to the benefit of Montour Falls. Mark my words. It's going to be Watkins Glen's plant and we will be going to it, using it" as an unequal partner. "That's how Watkins Glen operates."

But Mayor John King and the other trustees were soundly behind the jointly operated plant, which has as its engineer the Syracuse firm of Barton & Loguidice. After the board approved the joint concept and adopted resolutions establishing the Harris Beach law firm of Rochester as bond counsel and approving a bond of $7,181,571 as the village's share of the project (an $18 million no-interest loan is expected from the state Environmental Facilities Corporation (EFC), with the balance of the $24.7 million project covered by grants), the meeting hit a snag.

The Montour Falls board wanted assurances that its village engineer -- the Larson Design Group headquartered in Williamsport, Pa., with an office in Corning -- would have a substantial role in the design work and other planning for the plant -- even though, as Watkins Glen Mayor Mark Swinnerton (present with Watkins trustees Scott Gibson and Paul Clifford) said, "Larson will still be Montour Falls' engineer on Inflow and Infiltration (I & I) issues. It will still be involved on this end, as Barton & Loguidice will be involved in the construction of the plant."

But Mayor King, trustee Jim Ryan and Department of Public Works superintendent Dean Hillyard all voiced a desire for a larger Larson role because the board and Larson representative Greg Cummings had established a "comfort level" -- a working relationship that they said had also given the residents comfort as the village had moved toward the wastewater plant project. The relationship, Ryan said, was akin to that of a family doctor with his patients.

Kenneth Knutsen (pictured at right), senior vice president of Barton & Loguidice -- a key figure in the development of the joint facility project -- was resistant to making any promises, noting (along with Rick Weakland, the head of Project Seneca, another key player) that the project is under the gun from a scheduling standpoint, with application due Feb. 2 to the EFC. The suggestion was clear: rearranging working roles beyond making the Larson Group a subcontractor was ill-advised.

Mayor King was gently insistent that assurances be given that the Village of Watkins Glen and Barton & Loguidice will seriously consider giving the Larson Design Group a greater role than that of subcontractor. Once again, Watkins Mayor Swinnerton resisted, saying that Hunt Engineers is the Watkins Glen engineer, "just as Larson is Montour Falls' engineer." But Hunt is not the engineering group on the wastewater treatment plant, and neither is Larson. Unsaid by Swinnerton, but clearly suggested, was that the Barton & Loguidice firm is best equipped for the job, and that that's why it has it.

Responded King: "We don't want to threaten or coerce you to do this, but would like you to seriously consider it and bring back some recommendations."

Both sides eventually consented to a general agreement on those terms -- with nothing specific at present regarding the Larson role.

Afterward, Weakland said the meeting exchanges constituted a "good discussion," while Swinnerton and Gibson said they were "absolutely happy" that Montour Falls had voted to proceed with the project.

One potential sticking point down the way is the possibility of a permissive referendum on the bond issue, a public vote that can be forced if enough residents sign petitions requesting it. Montour trustee Smith (bottom photo) said he wanted to make sure the public understood that.

Photos in text:

From top: Montour Falls Mayor John King outlines some financial highlights of the joint wastewater treatment plant project; trustee Jim Ryan; Kenneth Knutsen of Barton & Loguidice; and trustee Phil Joe Smith.

Watkins Board gives green light for new treatment plant

WATKINS GLEN, Jan. 20 -- The Watkins Glen Village Board -- beset by the rising costs of an aging wastewater treatment plant that has outlived its effectiveness -- voted unanimously Tuesday night to proceed with plans for the design and financing of a new plant on the canal that runs between Watkins and Montour Falls, presumably in concert with the Village of Montour Falls.

A vote on the joint project is scheduled for Thursday by the Village Board in Montour Falls, a municipality with its own outmoded, patchwork treatment plant. A joint study has been ongoing for a couple of years, and public meetings on the issue have indicated movement in the direction taken by Watkins Glen Tuesday: construction of a $24.7 million plant that will supplant the two existing ones -- neither of which, officials say, can meet modern and evolving state standards.

While the Montour Falls Village Board is expected to approve the joint project, as well, Watkins Glen Mayor Mark Swinnerton has said that Watkins has no choice but to pursue a new plant, either in concert with Montour or alone. The current Watkins plant, located on the southern shore of Seneca Lake, has been operating under a consent order from the state for some time, with the cost of fines and repairs building steadily.

Supporters of the new plant -- a tertiary treatment system ("for lack of a better word, a 'polishing' treatment," Watkins Glen Trustee Scott Gibson said, "that will get it pretty darn near to drinking water quality") -- have explained that it will vastly reduce the negative environmental impact found in the current plants. It will, they say, provide improvement both in modern design and in location, situated near a marsh that can serve as a natural filter. And in decommissioning and removing the 50-year-old Watkins Glen plant along the Seneca Lake shoreline, they have said, the growing area tourism can benefit substantially without the occasionally noticeable smell and unsightly architecture of the old structure.

While sale of that property has been discussed, Swinnerton said the village will keep it -- after removal of the old building -- for use by local residents.

"I think this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the two communities," said trustee Gibson of the new plant. "I think it's a darn exciting time." He serves on a Joint Project Committee with trustee Tony Fraboni (pictured at right).

It was Fraboni who issued the motion Tuesday to join with Montour on the project and kick it officially into motion under a resolution calling for such factors -- under the guidance of the Syracuse engineering firm of Barton & Loguidice -- as environmental review; subcontracting for surveying, mapping, soil and other services; the continuing search for grant money to fill out the $6 million needed to supplement an available low-cost loan from the New York State Environmental Facilities Corporation; the preliminary and then final design plans; and the invitation of bids for different phases of the project, including the decommissioning of the old waterfront plant.

"In other words," asked Gibson, "this is work that will get us up to construction?"

"For now," answered Barton & Loguidice senior vice president Kenneth Knutsen, who had outlined the highlights of the resolution for the board and for Tuesday's meeting audience.

Currently $1.8 million in grant money is in hand, according to Rick Weakland, the head of Project Seneca, an organization that envisions area development on several fronts, with the new treatment plant as a catalyst. Project Seneca has been a continuing player in the study and development of the treatment plant project.

Weakland (pictured at right) explained how the two villages -- through financial examinations involving stakeholders and consultants -- had found that either village retaining its current plant would be an increasingly losing proposition. More than one official has said it would be "throwing good money after bad" to repair the plants with little more than a Band-Aid effect. They are simply "antiquated," officials have said -- systems with no hope of permanent redemption. Age and evolving ecological needs and requirements have turned them into a pair of figurative albatrosses -- a drain on the budget with no upside.

Weakland explained that a comparison of costs borne by local residents in the various alternatives -- keeping the old plants, each village building a new plant alone, or this regional project -- favored this plan over the long term. And, officials have stressed, the environment will benefit as well with discharges that are vastly improved.

"We're under a consent order," said Mayor Swinnerton about the current Watkins plant. "We have to do something. We're not looking at tomorrow, but at the long term" on a new facility that is expected to see a useful and effective life for decades.

Added Gibson: "Getting the wastewater treatment plant off the waterfront is paramount."

The new one will be located on the east side of the canal, roughly opposite the Watkins Glen High School grounds.

Photos in text:

From the top: Watkns Glen Trustee and Deputy Mayor Scott Gibson, left, with Mayor Mark Swinnerton at Tuesday's Village Board session; Trustee Tony Fraboni; and Project Seneca's Rick Weakland.

Watkins Board OKs tanker purchase

WATKINS GLEN, Jan. 6 -- The Watkins Glen Village Board Monday night approved the purchase of a new tanker truck for the fire department.

The purchase is being mostly covered by a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grant, leaving the village share at a maximum of $45,000. The sale of an old tanker covers $15,000 of that total.

The vehicle will be purchased from 4 Guys Fire Trucks at a cost of $323,987. The 4 Guys bid was lower than American LaFrance's $386,000. LaFrance had an alternate bid of $262,500, but the firm did not meet the requirements of the FEMA grant regarding chassis specifications.

The grant will cover $285,000 of the cost, said Fire Chief Judson Smith, who asked that the board include in its approval an extra $6,000 for unforeseen adjustments. That brings the total cost to not more than $330,000.

"At the end of the day," said Mayor Mark Swinnerton, "it's a fantastic deal" in comparison with the usual need to bond truck purchases over 20 years.

Construction of the truck is expected to take 10 to 12 months, Smith said. The village is not liable for payment until it picks up the completed vehicle.

In other business:

--The board approved the purchase of a new municipal server and associated software and services at a cost exceeding $20,000. The old server crashed just before Christmas, Village Clerk-Treasurer Donna Beardsley said.

--The board opened discussion on a possible raise in pay for the mayor and trustees. The mayor currently earns $6,000 a year, the deputy mayor (Scott Gibson) $5,500 a year, and the other trustees (Tony Fraboni, Paul Clifford and Kevin Smith) $5,000 a year.

The increase is warranted, the board said, by the large amount of time required to handle village business, best exemplified by the complex development of a plan to replace the exisiting wastewater treatement plant, possibly with a regional plant in conjunction with Montour Falls.

"This should be a nod" to future board members too, said Swinnerton.

"We should keep it interesting for prospective people coming in. Some will do it out of a sense of civic duty," he said, while others will expect to be duly compensated.

Any increase would take effect on June 1.

Photo in text: Mayor Mark Swinnerton looks up at lighting in the board meeting room that he thought was dimmer than usual. Deputy Mayor Scott Gibson is at left.

Arrestees posed in front of the Sheriff's Office following their release.

41 arrested as storage protest surges at Crestwood gate

WATKINS GLEN, Dec. 17 -- After almost two weeks without a sign of activity, the Crestwood protesters escalated their movement Tuesday with a gate blockage that led to the arrest of 41 people -- 25 of them educators.

That was the avowed theme of the day: educators against the Crestwood energy firm's plan to store methane, propane and butane in abandoned salt caverns off the western shore of Seneca Lake. The methane storage has been federally approved; state approval on the propane and butane has not yet been granted.

The 41 arrests brings to 133 the number amassed since the current protest campaign started in late October. The campaign was triggered by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's approval of the methane storage.

The educators arrested -- all on trespass charges -- included a range of instructors from kindergarten to college. There were 15 other planned arrests, for an even 40. But a photographer for the group, Ross Horowitz, 72, of Danby, was also arrested after inadvertently standing on property posted outside Crestwood's north gate, where the 40 were blocking any incoming or outgoing Crestwood traffic.. "I didn't realize it was posted," he said. "This was an unexpected Hannukah present."

A number of other onlookers were forced by law enforcement officials away from the posted area, with threats of arrest if they did not move. Another was told she had "three seconds" to move off the median across from the gate. The median divides the Rt. 14 four-lane highway there. She moved quickly.

Watkins Glen Village Police, New York State Police, and representatives of the Schuyler County and Yates County Sheriff's Departments made the arrests -- in waves as vehicles became available. First five vehicles appeared, bypassing the Crestwood south gate, where a dozen protesters were prepared to be arrested. That gate was not being used, though; was locked.

So as their fellow protesters were being taken from the north gate site by police, those dozen walked up the road to join them. All 41 arrests thus took place at the north gate.

The arrests were peaceful, although some tempers seemed a little frayed as law enforcement also tried to keep the spectators -- another 50 or so people -- from the area posted by Crestwood in front of the gate and on the adjoining lawn. Said one officer fairly loudly: "This is getting out of hand."

That, in fact, is likely the feeling of a good many in law enforcement as the protest movement -- now amping up -- continues to clog the Town of Reading court, where Town Justice Raymond Berry holds sway every other Wednesday. The interim Wednesday court sessions are run by Justice John Norman, who recused himself from the protest cases since he works for US Salt, which is owned by Crestwood.

One of the arrestees Tuesday, Margaret McCasland of Lansing, said she was given a court date of Jan. 7 -- coinciding with her scheduled appearance there from a previous arrest. But a first-time arrestee, Ian Remmers of Hector, was given a March 4 date. Other cases in which defendants have pleaded not guilty have been adjourned into April.

The arrestees Tuesday, in addition to the photographer, Horowitz, follow. (Notations of "x2" or "x3" indicate the number of times a person has been arrested protesting the Crestwood plans.)

1. (x2) Doug Couchon, 64, of Elmira.
2. (x2) Coby Schultz, 54, of Springwater.
3. (x3) Lyndsay Clark, 53, of Springwater.
4. Andy Moore, 38, of Trumansburg.
5. Suse Thomas, 48, of Trumansburg.
6. Ahrayna Zakos, 39, of Ithaca.
7. (x2) Audrey Southern, 31, of Burdett.
8. (x2) Deborah Cipolla-Dennis, 49 ,of Dryden.
9. (x2) Jodi Dean, 52, of Geneva.
10. (x2) Joanne Cipolla-Dennis, 52, of Dryden.
11. Tom Angie, 62, of Aurora.
12. (x2) Leslie Potter, 71, of Big Flats.
13. John A. Wertis, 81, of Trumansburg. (Not to be confused with John G. Wertis, his son.)
14. Brion Scime, 42, of Newfield.
15. Sue Kinchy, 68, of Brooktondale.
16. (x2) Margaret McCasland, 68, of Lansing.
17. Lisa Trent, 41, of Ithaca.
18. Patty Darcey-Walsh, 53, of Conesus.
19. Mariana Morse, 66, of Brooktondale.
20. Cindy Gorham-Crevelling, 67, of Penn Yan.
21. (x2) Anna Redmond, 30, of Trumansburg.
22. (x2) Jeff de Castro, 61, of Trumansburg.
23. (x2) Paul Passavant, 48, of Geneva.
24. (x2) Catherine Rossiter, 62, of Sayre, PA.
25. Neil Clifford, 44, of Hector.
26. Carol Bloomgarden, 50, of Hector.
27. Marge Ehly, 64, of Hector.
28. Barbara Barry, 78, of Lansing.
29. Richard Figiel, 68, of Hector.
30. Danielle Angie, 36, of Trumansburg.
31. (x2) Elan Shapiro, 67, of Ithaca.
32. Bob Rossi, 42, of Ithaca.
33. David Van Nostrand, 64, of Hector.
34. Ian Remmers, 24, of Hector.
35. Dave Kunath, 37, of Elmira Heights.
36. Terri Radke, 61, of Corning.
37. Warren Radke, 63, of Lodi.
38. Alex Colket, 36, of Ithaca.
39. Sue Schwartz, 38, of I thaca.
40. Emmanuel Cestero, 60, of Trumansburg.

A press conference was conducted by protesters in the afternoon, after all of the arrestees had been processed and given appearance tickets.

The conference, before TV and other media in a conference room of the Watkins Glen Public Library, featured protest organizer Sandra Steingraber, several educators, and a couple of area businessmen previously arrested -- one of whom, Phil Davis, co-owner of Damiani Winery, said he would plead guilty, refuse to pay a fine and be jailed at Wednesday night's Town of Reading court session.

Steingraber said the protest movement now has 1,000 people who have signed a pledge to protect Seneca Lake. It is not known how many of those want to go to jail for up to 15 days (actually more like eight days, after time off for good behavior is factored in), but as Steingraber put it: "We have a very deep bench."

Photos in text:

Top: Ian Remmers of Hector is led to a police car by Watkins Glen Police Chief Tom Struble.

Second: Sheriff's Deputy Andrew Yessman orders a member of the protest movement out of the median on Rt. 14.

Third: Photographer Ross Horowitz of Danby, one of the arrestees, although he didn't plan to be.

Fourth: Arrestee Margaret McCasland, the first one processed and released.

Fifth Damiani Winery co-owner Phil Davis at the afternoon press conference.

Sixth: Tom Angie of Aurora and Patty Darcy-Walsh of Conesus are led to a police vehicle.

Protesters in front of the Crestwood gate wait to be arrested.

9 arrests in morn follow busy court night

WATKINS GLEN, Dec. 4 -- Nine protesters were arrested Thursday morning at the gates of the Crestwood energy firm alongside Rt. 14, just a few hours after a long session Wednesday night in Reading Town Court.

The court session -- with 19 trespass cases related to the ongoing protest against Crestwood's plan to store methane, propane and butane in abandoned salt caverns west of Seneca Lake -- saw six people jailed for refusing to pay fines, although one, given a one-day sentence, was released hours later.

Thursday's arrests brought to 92 the number of arrests at the Crestwood sites since Oct. 29. Charged with trespass were Pete Angie, 34, of Trumansburg; Catherine Johnson, 52, of Ithaca; Margaret McCasland, 68, of Lansing; Kerry Angie, 62, of Aurora; Timothy Dunlap, 60, of Hector; Shirley Barton, 66, of Mecklenburg; Daryl Anderson, 61, of Hector; Kirsten Pierce, 44, of Burdett; and Rosalie Richter-Goldberg, 70, of Ithaca.

4th straight day of arrests; total now 61

WATKINS GLEN, Nov. 20, 2014 -- Nine more people were arrested Thursday morning at the two Crestwood Midstream gates along Rt. 14 north of Watkins Glen, the fourth straight day on which protesters were removed from the sites.

While the number of arrestees reached 36 for the week, the total reached 61 since the current drive against Crestwood's gas storage plans kicked off in late October.

Arrested Thursday were John Burger, 56, of Dryden; Becca Harber, 64, of Newfield; Bruce Agte, 58, of Binghamton; Coby Schultz, 54, of Springwater; Margie Rodgers, 60, of Elmira; Britton Dougherty, 28, of Ovid; Maryl Mendillo of Aurora; Kathy Russell, 67, of Dryden; and Sara Hess, 68, of Ithaca.

Rodgers was among the original Seneca 12 arrested in March 2013 for blocking Crestwood's gates. She is the third person from that group to be arrested again. The others: Michael Dineen, 65, of Ovid, taken into custody Tuesday, Nov. 18; and Sandra Steingraber, 55, of Trumansburg, arrested Oct. 29 and sent to jail Nov. 19 for refusing to pay a fine after pleading guilty to Trespass.

Schultz, arrested Thursday, is the husband of Lyndsay Clark, who was arrested Nov. 3 and paid a fine Nov. 19 in Reading Town Court.

Each of Thursday's arrestees was charged with Trespass. Their scheduled court appointments stretch as far as Feb. 4.

A day later ... 8 more arrests

WATKINS GLEN, Nov. 18 -- One day after 10 protesters were arrested at the Crestwood Midstream gates along Rt. 14 north of Watkins Glen, 8 more were taken into custody on trespass charges early Tuesday morning, bringing to 43 the number of arrests in the past three weeks.

Where Monday's arrests (see story below) did not involve anyone taken into custody previously at the gates, Tuesday's list had four familiar names. Two were also arrested on Oct 29: Roland Micklem, 86, of Geneva, and Nancy Kasper, 55, of North Rose, Wayne County. Their initial cases are pending in Reading Town Court. A third, Laura Salamendra of Geneva, was arrested Nov. 3rd along with 14 other people. Her case is pending in the same court. A fourth person, Michael Dineen, 65, of Ovid, was one of the original Seneca 12 charged in March 2013 and one of three at that time who served a jail sentence for refusing to pay the mandatory fine for trespass.

Others arrested Tuesday included Katie Barrett, 55, of Syracuse; Catherine Middlesworth, 49, of Syracuse; Judy Leaf, 67, of Ithaca; and Peter Tringali, 62, of Ithaca.

Protesters have been blocking the Crestwood gates with some regularity since Oct. 23 in opposition to the federally approved storage of methane (and the proposed storage of propane and butane) in abandoned salt caverns west of Seneca Lake. A rally at the main gate leading to the firm's compressor station attracted an estimated 175 people on Oct. 24, and the first arrests came on Oct. 29.

Many of the earlier cases are scheduled to be processed in the Reading Town Court on Wednesday, Nov. 19. Protesters are planning a rally outside the town hall beforehand, at 4 p.m., featuring arrestees, business leaders and health experts. Sixteen arraignments are scheduled, and some of those facing charges are expected to choose jail time over paying a fine.

Photo in text: One of many protest signs evident in the past few weeks. (File photo)

10 more protesters arrested

Rally planned outside Reading Court Wednesday

WATKINS GLEN, Nov. 17 -- Ten more protesters, including several from a national movement demanding action on climate change, were arrested by Schuyler County Sheriff's deputies early Monday afternoon at two gates on Crestwood Midstream property along Route 14 north of Watkins Glen.

Each of the arrestees was charged with trespass and directed to appear Dec. 10 in Town of Reading Court. Among those arrested were:

Elizabeth Peet, 47, of Hector; Jeff de Castro, 60, of Trumansburg; Mark Scibilia-Carver, 62, of Trumansburg; Richard John Koski, 71, of Trumansburg; Faith Meckley, 19, of Geneva; John Abbe, 49, of Eugene, Oregon; Jimmy Betts, 30, of Iowa; Jane Kendall of New York City; Michael Clark, 29, of Cleveland, Ohio; and Kelsey Erickson, a Cornell University graduate living in Carlisle, Massachusetts.

The arrests came two days before scheduled court action Wednesday, Nov. 19 on 16 protest cases stemming from the arrests of 10 people on Oct. 29 and another 15 people on Nov. 3 at the same Crestwood gates. A protest rally and press conference is being planned outside the Reading court at 4 p.m. Wednesday. According to Sandra Steingraber, one of the initial 10 arrested (and who has spent time in jail before stemming from a previous protest arrest), "some of us will plead guilty, some won't, some will pay their fines, and some of us want to go to jail."

In Monday's action, Peet, de Castro, Scibilia-Carver and Koski were taken into custody first, at the smaller south gate; and the others a few minutes later at the main north gate that leads to Crestwood's compressor station. Unlike in the past, handcuffs were not employed by the arresting officers, witnesses said. All of the arrestees were taken to the Sheriff's office for processing, and released pending a court appearance. Each faces a trespass charge that can bring a $250 fine and $125 state surcharge or, in the alternative, a 15-day jail sentence.

The 10 new cases bring to 35 the number of people arrested at the two Crestwood gates in three weeks as part of a planned civil disobedience campaign in opposition to the federally approved storage of methane gas in Crestwood salt caverns west of Seneca Lake and in opposition to the proposed storage of Liquefied Petroleum gas (propane and butane), also in salt caverns. The latter project is still under state review. The protesters argue that the projects could contaminate the lake water and could lead to a catastrophic accident, such as an explosion.

All but one of the initial 25 cases are still active. One protester, Dwain Wilder of Rochester, served half of a 15-day sentence in Schuyler County Jail after pleading guilty to trespass and refusing to pay the fine. Seven cases were put on hold until this Wednesday evening by Town Justice Raymond Berry due to confusion regarding a second charge -- disorderly conduct -- that protesters said seemed in conflict with an accompanying trespass charge. Trespass, they say, relates to action on private property, while disorderly conduct relates to action on public property. Their question: How can both charges be lodged for the same incident?

There was no such confusion in Monday's arrests, although those arrested and those who showed up outside the Sheriff's Department to support them said the Dec. 10 court date before Town Justice John Norman was "bogus" because Norman -- one of two Reading justices -- recused himself from protest cases last week, at a hearing involving two protesters, due to personal employment with Crestwood. One Monday arrestee reported being told by Sheriff's Department personnel that no such recusal had been transmitted by the court.

Among Monday's out-of-region protesters, Kendall (right) -- who spent eight months with the Great March for Climate Action -- said she was "here today as a New Yorker. I'm really angry" about the gas storage plans. "It's obscene," she said.

The Hector resident, Beth Peet, proudly held up her appearance ticket -- for the Dec. 10th court visit -- and explained that this was her first arrest. "Having so many people on the team ... it wasn't scary," she said. "I consider this a civic duty, even more than voting."

Meckley, an Ithaca College journalism student and the youngest of the 35 protesters arrested since Oct. 29, participated in the Climate March from May 24 to Oct. 10, from New Mexico to Ohio. She then returned home to be part of the gas-storage protest. On the presence of other Climate Marchers, she said: "(It) goes to show that this is more than just a Finger Lakes or a New York issue. This is a national and even a global one. In a world where fresh, clean water is becoming ever more rare, we are sitting on a priceless treasure here that we may eventually have to share. We need to make sure that Seneca Lake and all the lakes are clean and healthy for generations to come."

Photos in text:

Top: Five of the arrestees pose outside the Sheriff's Department after being processed and given appearance tickets. From left: Elizabeth Peet, Mark Scibilia-Carver, Jeff de Castro, Richard Koski and Faith Meckley.

Second through fourth: Colleen Boland, facing charges of trespass and disorderly conduct from an Oct. 29 arrest, was present Monday recording the day's events; Monday arrestee Jane Kendall; and Sandra Steingraber, facing trespass and disorderly conduct charges from Oct. 29, and present outside the Sheriff's Office Monday in support of the latest arrestees.

Sandra Steingraber, center front, addresses supporters after court.

9 protest cases adjourned

1 man jailed; dual charges delay several cases to Nov. 19

READING CENTER, Nov. 6 -- Ten protesters arrested Oct. 29 in a blockade at two Crestwood energy company gates along Route 14 north of Watkins Glen appeared in court Wednesday night, but only one case reached conclusion: a 15-day jail term for a Rochester man.

The appearance of the 10 before Town of Reading Justice Raymond Berry was complicated by the presence of two charges against seven of the protesters: counts of trespass and disorderly conduct. Those seven had been arrested at the main gate to the Crestwood compressor station, where they were lined up, blocking a chemical company truck from entering.

They were protesting the federally approved storage of methane in salt caverns along the west side of Seneca Lake -- a project they say endangers the lake waters and threatens the economic vitality of a region steeped in wineries and tourism. There is also, they say, the danger of a catastrophic event, such as a major explosion that might seriously affect the area for miles.

The other three protesters that day were posted at a smaller gate to the south. At the time of their arrests, they weren't blocking any vehicles, although they said they had earlier prevented a small truck from exiting the Crestwood grounds. Each of the three was charged only with trespass.

Protest organizers said earlier this week -- following the arrest of 15 more protesters (whose court appearances are spread out across November and early December) -- that they were hoping their legal counsel would be able to get the Oct. 29th disorderly conduct charges dropped or any penalty from them eliminated through a plea agreement.

But, said Sandra Steingraber, a key protest organizer and one of Wednesday night's defendants, calls to the District Attorney's office "were made and made and made, but the DA didn't provide an answer."

When Wednesday's first defendant, Colleen Boland, told Judge Berry that she would plead guilty to trespass if the judge agreed to dismiss the conduct charge, he said he was not empowered to do that -- that such a result would have to be approved by the DA.

That set the tone through a two-hour-plus court proceeding. Berry adjourned Boland's case until 5 p.m. Nov. 19th, a pattern he followed in all but one of the succeeding cases. In some, defendants pleaded guilty, in some not guilty, and in a couple neither one, the pleas left up in the air.

Of the 10 defendants, only the case of Dwain Wilder of Rochester reached sentencing, after Wilder pleaded guilty to the single count of trespass lodged against him for his role at the south Crestwood gate.

"I did intend with all my might to block Crestwood's access," he told the judge before being fined $250 and a $125 state surcharge. He refused to pay, was accordingly sentenced to 15 days in the Schuyler County Jail, and was led from the courtroom by a deputy to begin serving his time.

The two defendants with him at the south gate, Rev. Nancy Kasper of Wayne County and Charles Geisler of Ithaca, pleaded not guilty Wednesday to trespass. Their cases were adjourned to Nov. 19.

The dual charges, presumably to be sorted out when the judge contacts the DA's office, are still faced by Boland, Steingraber, Jeanne Judson, Patrick Judson, Roland Micklem, Catherine Rossiter of Sayre and Patricia Heckart of Trumansburg. The latter actually split her pleas, saying "guilty" to trespass and "not guilty" to disorderly conduct, but said afterward that she wished she had entered "not guilty" to both. While a couple of defendants tried to read statements, only to be deterred by the judge, trespass-accused Geisler managed to read aloud a complaint issued by Crestwood official Barry Moon to the Schuyler County Sheriff's Office before the Oct. 29 arrests.

In it, the official said the protesters were "hindering the flow of traffic in and out" of the Crestwood grounds without permission, and that he wanted them "removed and arrested today and in the future" should they reappear at the company's gates.

After court was concluded, the defendants marched out of the building to cheers from about 80 supporters still on hand. A larger group -- about 150 people, counting defendants -- were present in the parking lot before the court opened. Steingraber told the post-court gathering that while she "had planned to go to jail tonight, we are going home ... But if we need to fill the jails to stop this project, we're willing to take that tactic."

The rally beforehand:

Well over 100 people gathered in the parking lot outside the Town of Reading hall more than an hour before the 7 p.m. court proceeding.

TV and online media were on hand, and speeches took center stage. With Steingraber acting as emcee, the microphones yielded speeches by defendants Colleen Boland, Jeanne Judson, Patrick Judson, and 86-year-old Roland Micklem, entrepreneurs Lou Damiani and Justin Boyette, former legislator (and Monday arrestee) Ruth Young, and recent Legislature candidate Sylvia Fox, who noted that she was one of two anti-storage candidates who combined earned more than half the vote in District 6, encompassing the Village of Watkins Glen and nearby environs.

All gave impassioned talks welcomed by the supporters, who occasionally broke into the chant: "We Are Seneca Lake," the term applied to the grassroots movement that has sprung up in opposition to the methane storage project.

Photos in text:

From top: Speakers at the rally preceding court included retired Air Force Master Sgt. Colleen Boland of Elmira; retired teacher Jeanne Judson and her son Patrick; former Schuyler County Legislator Ruth Young, and defendant Roland Micklem.

Left: Recent Schuyler County Legislature candidate Sylvia Fox. Right: Defendants Catherine Rossiter of Sayre (left) and Rev. Nancy Kasper of Wayne County.

15 more protesters arrested at Crestwood

WATKINS GLEN, Nov. 3 -- Five days after 10 protesters had been arrested at a pair of Crestwood energy company gates along Route 14 north of Watkins Glen, another 15 were arrested Monday morning by Schuyler County Sheriff's deputies and State Police.

This time, the protesters at the main gate were not arrested before the protesters at the second, smaller gate to the south. This time, police descended on both locales simultaneously. Arrested this time were 15 people who had not been arrested the previous Wednesday. And this time several of those taken into custody on trespass charges were elderly.

The protesters, who have objected loudly in the past to the planned storage of Liquefied Petroleum Gas in salt caverns to the west of Seneca Lake -- a proposal on hold at the state level -- are currently mobilizing against the federally approved storage of methane in salt caverns. They cite the potential contamination of Seneca and other Finger Lakes, and the threat of an explosion that they said could rock the region.

Among those taken to the Sheriff's Office for processing were 90-year-old Martha Ferger of Dryden, who said this was the first time she had ever been arrested -- at least "the first I remember." She added that she wasn't sure what she would do when she goes to court before Town of Reading Justice Raymond Berry. If a protester pleads guilty, he or she has the option of paying a mandatory fine and surcharge, or of going to jail for up to 15 days -- although the terms actually served by area protesters over the past couple of years have averaged seven or eight days.

Not far behind Ferger in years was arrestee Bob Henrie of Wayne County (right), who said he is 88 -- "the same number of keys on a piano." He said he is due in court on Nov. 12th, and wants to talk to 86-year-old Roland Micklem -- arrested last week -- before he makes a decision on what course to follow in court, and whether to opt for jail. "I know Roland's not going to pay," he said.

Celebrating his 75th birthday Monday was arrestee Kenneth Fogarty of Chenango County (below), a retired City University of New York math professor who in retirement has been teaching a class or two per semester at SUNY Morrisville's annex in Norwich. He said he has been active for years in C-CARE (Chenango Community Action for Renewable Energy), and that he expects to pay the fine instead of going to jail "because I have to teach" a college course, which he dubbed "Elementary Algebra for Frightened Adults."

"I'm in my last quarter on Earth," he said, "and it's time to pay it back. It's not to be desecrated."

And two years his senior was arrestee Ruth Young, 77, a former Schuyler County legislator who said she is a member of People for a Healthy Environment -- one of several grassroots organizations that have sprung up in recent years in reaction to hydrofracking and associated ecological hot buttons -- including the storage of gases in salt caverns. She said the arresting officers were "very gentle and professional," giving a verbal warning before making arrests. But, she added, “I am saddened to see what is going on here.”

Others arrested were Lyn Gerry of Watkins Glen, John Dennis of Lansing, Mariah Plumlee of Covert, Joanne Cipolla-Dennis of Dryden, and Lindsay Clark of the Rochester area, along with several people whose places of residence were not available: Laura Salamandra, Elan Shapiro, Darlene Bordwell, Jodi Dean, Paul Passavant, and Stephanie Redmond.

Dennis was quoted in a press release from protest organizers as saying: “I’m worried about water quality. There are severe salinity problems already, and I’m almost certain those will get worse because we think the existing problems are caused by gas storage started in 1964.”

Plumlee, a mother of three, was quoted as saying: “I think it’s really important to do this, and if everybody did this then we wouldn’t have this problem. We moved here almost ten years ago because we knew it would be a wonderful place to raise a family.”

Gerry, a radio journalist, was quoted too: "Our elected officials have let us down," he said, "so we have to take matters into our own hands. I love Seneca Lake, I love this area. I’m not from here originally. I’ve traveled 3,000 miles to come to this beautiful place by this beautiful lake to live. I’ve come from a place that greed has already destroyed. So I know what a land being destroyed looks like. So now, my back is to the wall and I must defend what I love.”

Serving as liaison with police at the arrest sites Monday were Sandra Steingraber, noted professor, author and activist, who was among the 10 people arrested last week, and Doug Couchon of Elmira, who said more protest plans are in the hopper, but that he isn't about to undercut the strategy by divulging them. "It's a long-term campaign," he said.


The 10 people arrested last week are scheduled to appear Wednesday before Justice Berry. All were charged with trespass, and unlike in the past or on Monday, seven were charged with disorderly conduct -- like trespass a violation. Organizers were hoping the "DisCons," as they called the Disorderly Conduct counts, would be dismissed or simply merged with the trespass counts.

Photos in text:

Top: From left, arrestees Ruth Young, Martha Ferger and Joanne Cipolla-Dennis.
Second through fourth: Arrestee Bob Henrie, 88; arrestee Kennth Fogarty, 75; and liaison Doug Couchon.

Schuyler Room Tax challenge dismissed

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, Oct. 30 -- A New York State Supreme Court judge has dismissed a
challenge to Schuyler County’s Hotel/Motel Occupancy Tax.

In a written decision received by the county Wednesday, October 29, Justice Judith O’Shea ruled that the county properly assessed the taxes against a New Jersey man who owns and leases vacation homes in Schuyler County.

According to County Attorney Geoffrey Rossi, the county had previously found the owner, Thomas Schneider, responsible to pay $6,102 in back taxes under Schuyler County Local Law No. 2, also known as the “Hotel or Motel Room Occupancy Tax."

Court records show that Schneider owns and leases three properties as single-family residential vacation homes in Schuyler County. The properties are located in Burdett and Watkins Glen, and operated under the name “Seneca Lake Vacation Rentals.”

In 2013, the county notified Schneider that he was responsible to pay back room taxes for the years 2010-2012. Schneider objected and, in October 2013, the county held a hearing on the case.

After the hearing, Schneider filed a proceeding under CPLR 78, appealing the county’s ruling. In his petition, Schneider alleged that the county’s decision was “arbitrary and capricious” for several reasons and claimed that the county had misinterpreted the definition of a hotel by including vacation rentals in the definition.

The county, through Rossi, argued that the local law was a permissible use tax under New York State Tax Law and properly applied to vacation rentals and bungalows. The county said that the Schneider properties clearly met the definition of tourist facilities, subject to the tax.

O’Shea agreed with the county. In a written decision dated September 19, and signed October 27, the judge ruled that the county had authority to levy the tax, noting that the local law was intended to promote Schuyler County in order to increase convention, trade show and tourist business in the county.

Therefore, the court “denied and dismissed” Schneider’s petition in its entirety.

The county was represented in the proceedings by Rossi. Schneider was represented by the Ithaca law firm of Schlather, Stumbar, Parks and Salk.

Schneider has 30 days to appeal the decision under New York State law. According to Rossi, it is not yet known if Schneider plans to do so.

SCCUDD awarded federal 5-year grant

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, Oct.10 -- The Schuyler County Coalition on Underage Drinking and Drugs (SCCUDD) has received a federal Drug Free Community Grant that will bring $125,000 into the county each year for the next five years.

“The grant will be used by the coalition to reduce the impact of alcohol, tobacco and marijuana usage by Schuyler County youth,” Schuyler County Public Health Director Marcia Kasprzyk said.
The county Public Health Department is the lead agency for the grant.

SCCUDD was one of only 12 organizations in New York to receive 2014 funding from the National Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Nationally, 197 grants were awarded.

Kasprzyk said SCCUDD’s work will focus on changes to decrease community tolerance of underage substance use and to reduce access to alcohol and drugs.

A recent survey of all 7th- through 12th-graders in Schuyler County showed use of alcohol and drugs to be above the national average in every grade.

“The average age of first use was 11,” SCCUDD President Mel Schroeder said. “The effects of underage drug and alcohol use can be life-changing scholastically, legally and physically. We need to work as a community to do all we can to minimize these negative effects that could change our kids’ futures.”

The mission of SCCUDD is to prevent, reduce and delay the onset of substance use among Schuyler County youth by collaborating with community partners, promoting prevention education and substance-free activities and implementing environmental strategies.

The coalition is composed of agencies, institutions and concerned community members working together toward the common goals of SCCUDD.

Anyone interested in becoming involved with SCCUDD should go to to learn more.

Vickio picks up GOP Committee backing

Special to The Odessa File

SCHUYLER COUNTY, Sept. 24, 2014 -- The Schuyler County Republican Committee has unanimously voted to endorse Deputy Treasurer Harriett Vickio, a Democrat, as its candidate in the November 4th election for the office of Schuyler County Treasurer.

The post opened with the Aug. 1 resignation of Gary Whyman.

According to GOP Chairman Phil Barnes, “In the short time that she has been Deputy, Harriett is already making noticeable and sound fiscal changes in the operation of the Treasurer’s office.”

Barnes said the recent endorsement is the first time in memory that the party has chosen to back a Democrat for a countywide office.

“While we would have preferred to endorse a Republican for this key position," he said, "ultimately the party felt that qualifications and abilities trumped politics. We unanimously agreed that Ms. Vickio is the best candidate for Treasurer and that she will bring much needed reform to that office.”

The Treasurer’s office has come under fire in past years by the County’s independent auditing firm and the Legislature and has recently undergone a review by the NYS Comptroller’s office.

Vickio is running against former Treasurer Margaret Starbuck, who will appear on the Democrat, Conservative and Independent lines. In addition to being on the Republican line, Vickio will be on the Listening Party line, too.

Photo in text: Harriett Vickio (File photo)

Law targets invasive species

O’Mara-Lifton legislation signed by Cuomo; eyes prevention

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, Sept. 2 -- Governor Andrew Cuomo has signed into law legislation sponsored by Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C-Big Flats) and Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton (D/WF-125th District) designed to help stop the spread of aquatic invasive species throughout the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions and statewide.

The new law (S.7851-B/A.9619-B) will require boaters to take reasonable precautions when launching their boats. It directs the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to develop rules and regulations for boaters to take precautions to prevent the spread of invasive species, such as removing all visible plants and animals from, or washing, draining and drying both motorized and non-motorized watercraft and related gear when entering and leaving a launch site.

“Individual boaters are the front line of defense against the spread of invasive species, and this new initiative offers a straightforward approach asking all boaters to do their part to help protect waterways, regional tourism economies and local jobs,” said O’Mara, a member of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee.

“Taking every possible step to stop the spread of destructive invasive species before they take hold is the most cost-effective and common-sense approach to combat this severe threat to the environment and economy of the Finger Lakes and other waterways statewide. I, together with numerous regional leaders, know firsthand how difficult it’s been trying to eradicate hydrilla from Cayuga Lake in Tompkins County. Greater awareness, education and prevention are the best solutions.”

Some estimates have pegged the annual cost of invasive species to the national economy at $120 billion a year.

Similar efforts are being undertaken across the country and major outdoor outfitters such as Cabela’s and Bass Pro are helping educate boaters on clean, drain and dry procedures to prevent the spread of invasive species from one body of water to another.

Following is a link to the Governor's announcement:

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara (File photo)

Protester Alderson opts for jail

READING CENTER, Aug. 21 -- Jeremy Alderson chose jail over a fine or community service Wednesday and was thus sentenced by Reading Town Justice Raymond Berry to 15 days in the Schuyler County lockup.

Alderson was found guilty in the Reading court months ago, but the case was delayed by appeals, first to Schuyler County Court and then to the state Court of Appeals, which earlier this summer rejected the effort.

Alderson had been arrested on Sept. 6, 2012, during a protest at the Crestwood (then Inergy) gate alongside Rt. 14 just south of the 14A overpass. The protest was one of many that have been held in opposition to the Crestwood plan to store Liquefied Petroleum Gas in depleted salt caverns. The plan has long been under consideration by the state.

Alderson faces sentencing on a second trespass charge in Town of Dix Court, where Justice Alan Gregory found him guilty following a trial in mid-June. That charge stemmed from a June 28, 2013 arrest at the same gate. Alderson will face a choice there, too: pay a $250 fine and $125 surcharge or face another jail term. He is due to appear in that court again on Sept. 10.

Wednesday's hearing carried what Alderson attorney Gerald Kinchy called an "unusual offer" for a trespass case. The District Attorney's office, represented by Law Intern Seamus P. Donnelly, gave Alderson options beyond a fine or imprisonment. It offered 120 hours of community service or participation for 15 weekends in a Sheriff's Office work program.

Either service option, if taken, "would have defeated the purpose of what Jeremy wanted to do," said Kinchy -- which was to make a statement of civil disobedience. Several other protesters had chosen jail in previous, related trespass cases.

Alderson declined all options except jail, and in the end told Justice Berry that despite the circumstances, he would remember the judge "fondly." Responded Berry: "That's something I rarely hear." And upon turning Alderson over to deputies, the judge told the defendant "Good luck."

Before departing, though, Alderson asked that the court convey to the jail that the defendant is a proponent of Jewish Vegetarianism in the hope that his jail diet could be shaped to accommodate him. He presented letters from two rabbis who, he said, were attesting to his dietary regimen.

Alderson was led by deputies to an office off the hallway in the town building that houses the court. They then took him outside, handcuffed, as a dozen or so supporters repeatedly yelled "Thank you, Jeremy" and applauded him. He was then transported to jail.

Afterward, Alderson had his son distribute to supporters an email, written by Alderson. It was sent an hour after the sentencing.

"If you're reading this, I'm in jail," it said.

"I'm not asking anyone to keep a vigil for me, because I don't think they're particularly effective. I do hope, though, that people will circulate the press release summarizing my report on the WGFD (another email, asserting that the Watkins Glen Fire Department is not prepared to fight a catastrophic fire at the Crestwood storage facility, should the storage plan be approved and if such an accident were to occur). I'd like it if it could be distributed to businesses and others in Watkins Glen.

"I sent copies to all of our Schuyler County legislators. So far, I've even gotten two responses, one from Phil Barnes, who seems genuinely interested, and one from Barbara Halpin, who wrote, "Please take me off your mailing list." It would be nice if people could write to our legislators -- their e-mail addresses are on the Schuyler County website -- and to Watkins Mayor Mark Swinnerton (who is opposed to the Crestwood project) and let them know that you want these safety concerns taken seriously.

"Lastly, I have another court date coming up before Judge Gregory in the town of Dix court, at 7:00 p.m. on September 10th. At that time, I will be sentenced for my second trespassing conviction related to Crestwood. You never know, I may just have such a good time in Hotel Schuyler that I'll want to go back, but it's never been my intention to go to jail twice. So for the second time around I plan on paying the fine, and I could use some help with that. There's a 'Donate Now' button on the No Frack Almanac website (which he publishes): ( If you can spare a few bucks, I'd appreciate it, and anything left over I'll pass on to the general defense fund for the next wave of civil disobedience."

Photos in text: Jeremy Alderson confers with his attorney, Gerald Kinchy, before sentencing; Alderson and his wife share a moment before he is led away by deputies.

Glen board opposes LPG plan

3 trustees vote against Crestwood project; 2 abstain

WATKINS GLEN, Aug. 19 -- The Watkins Glen Village Board Monday night finally voted on Crestwood's plan to store Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) in depleted salt caverns north of the village -- and opposed it by a narrow margin.

The vote was 3-0, a bare majority that brought the deciding vote from Mayor Mark Swinnerton, who has been clearly against the project for months.

Joining him in passing the resolution were trustees Scott Gibson, who crafted the document, and Kevin Smith -- both of whom said they had been "on the fence" regarding the issue until finally siding with the resolution's sentiment that tourism -- an economic driver in the village -- held sway over a plan that meant only 8 to 10 jobs while creating increased truck traffic and no clear upside.

Abstaining were trustees Paul Clifford and Tony Fraboni, each of whom made it clear they don't favor the project. Clifford, however, felt his abstention was necessary "to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest" in that he works for a Crestwood competitor, the Cargill salt firm. Fraboni said he didn't think board opposition would have any effect on the state's decision for or against the storage plan, and that it would "only polarize" residents of the village. "I don't like the position of being stuck in the middle," he said.

The resolution read in part: "Resolved, in keeping with the majority opinion of the local Village community, the Village of Watkins Glen Board respectfully requests that the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation withhold approval of any plan for mass storage of LPG adjacent to or under Seneca Lake and exercise its power in identifying a more appropriate location for any such storage site."

Gibson said that while he had been vacillating for the past few months, his position solidified while he wrote the lengthy resolution -- which focused in large part on the importance of tourism to the village and its future. "I looked at it from an economic standpoint," he said, with an eye toward "untapped resources" that "we can take advantage of ... and get more money into the area." With an expected increase in truck traffic generated by the project, he said, he had to ask: "Is this .. appropriate for our area and its direction? No."

Smith said he had also been on the fence until "it came to me": He had to vote the way his constituents wanted. And, he said, voting against the plan "is what they want." Even though the project would be outside the village, the village would feel its impact, he said, adding: "This is about us, not the county as a whole, and not (the Town of) Reading."

Swinnerton, in introducing the resolution as an add-on to the agenda, said he would "like to see the board pass it," but first needed a motion to bring it to the floor. Gibson made the motion, and Smith seconded. The mayor said in reaction to Fraboni that "I think our opinions do matter" and that "it's why we ran for office: to speak for the people of the village."

Clifford said that while he was abstaining -- a move suggested before the vote by meeting attendee David Crea, a Crestwood employee -- "I have a personal opinion" on the storage plan, which "is not the direction we want to go ... It comes down to math." He said the project's 8 to 10 promised jobs "are not worth" possible negative consequences.

After Gibson and Smith had supported the resolution, and after Clifford and Fraboni had abstained, Swinnerton said "it comes down to me. I vote in favor of the resolution."

That prompted applause from a small audience of five project opponents.

Photos in text:

From top: Mayor Mark Swinnerton; abstaining trustees Tony Fraboni (left) and Paul Clifford; and trustee Kevin Smith.

From left: Legislators Jim Howell, Michael Lausell and Van Harp at Monday's meeting.

LPG storage opponents renew their pleas to Legislature

DEC announces 'issues conference' on Crestwood plan

WATKINS GLEN, Aug. 12 -- The Schuyler County Legislature Monday night heard a string of people opposed to the proposed storage of LPG gas in salt caverns alongside Seneca Lake, a group buoyed by an announcement from the New York State Department of Conservation of an "issues conference" that could lead to "an adjudicatory hearing" on the project.

The Legislature listened to the speakers but took no action despite pleas from the majority of them that it "step back," rescind its June resolution favoring the storage plan, and "start over" with an open mind and with an open ear to the opponents' objections.

The DEC announcement was in a press release read by Chairman Dennis Fagan to the audience of 30-plus people on hand for the Legislature's regular monthly meeting. Much larger turnouts had been present at the past two months' meetings as protesters organized, marched and heckled legislators. By contrast, this session was the soul of civility.

Opponents speaking Monday responded to the DEC news by declaring it "huge," but one project supporter, Crestwood employee David Crea, suggested it was just another delaying tactic to carry Governor Andrew Cuomo's decision on the project past the November elections. There has been speculation Cuomo is delaying a decision on the political hot potato until he is safely re-elected.

The speakers

Among Monday's opponents was retired Cayuga Medical Center CEO Rob Mackenzie, who presented legislators with copies of an "Independent High-Level Quantitative Risk Analysis" he conducted of the storage proposal -- a study that measured rail transportation, truck transportation and salt cavern risks. He concluded that:

"Rail transport events are scored a very low likelihood at 3%, but risk reduction efforts should be considered because of possibly extreme consequences. Truck transport events are scored a low likelihood at 8-10%, but are an unacceptable risk because of extreme consequences. Salt cavern storage events are scored a medium likelihood at 35%, and are an unacceptable risk because of extremely serious consequences ...

"In aggregate, the likelihood for a liquefied petroleum gas disaster of serious or extremely serious consequences within the county in the next 25 years is scored at more than 40%. From the perspective of community safety based on this analysis, the Crestwood proposal carries an unacceptable risk of serious or extremely serious consequences. Because risk mitigation efforts in salt cavern storage have thus far proven unsuccessful in significantly reducing the frequency of serious and extremely serious incidents, an alternative plan should be considered."

Sylvia Fox, a Town of Reading resident who has been instrumental in the storage-plan protests, asked in a prepared statement: "Why should Schuyler County residents take all the risk for the gain, the profit, of a Texas-based corporation?" She also attacked the Legislature's "unacceptable handling of this obviously controversial issue," concluding with this plea to legislators: "I am asking you, once again, and I will continue to ask: Please revoke this very flawed resolution tonight."

Paul and Mary Ann Wehrung of Burdett said they are "concerned homeowners" recommending that the legislators "stop, step back ... and revote on this." Said Paul: "It's too serious to let it go the way it's been going. Start again." Added Mary Ann: "I think you acted very hastily."

Richard Ballard of Montour Falls said he moved here because of "the beauty ... but had I known the beauty, the water and the air would be put at risk by misguided people, I would have considered moving elsewhere."

The press release

The DEC press release, while both touted and denigrated by attendees, was explained by County Administator Tim O'Hearn: "This doesn't set new public hearings. It is an administrative hearing where groups can petition for party status in order to participate."

The press release read as follows: "Based on extensive public interest regarding a proposal to construct and operate an underground facility for storage and distribution of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) in the Town of Reading, Schuyler County, State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Joe Martens announced that an issues conference will be scheduled through DEC's Office of Hearings to determine if there are any significant and substantive issues that require an adjudicatory hearing.

"Participation in the issues conference would involve DEC staff, the applicant, and any individual or group that has filed a petition for party status. The schedule for the issues conference, as well as for the filing of petitions for party status, will be set by an administrative law judge in the near future.

"Finger Lakes LPG Storage, LLC, c/o Inergy Midstream LLC (now Crestwood), has proposed to construct and operate a new underground LPG storage facility for the storage and distribution of propane and butane on a portion of a 576-acre site located on NYS Routes 14 and 14A west of Seneca Lake in the Town of Reading.

"The storage facility would utilize existing caverns in the Syracuse salt formation created by US Salt and its predecessors' salt production operations.

"DEC will not grant a permit unless it can be demonstrated that the permit is in compliance with all legal requirements and that the proposed activity can be done safely in New York State."

In other business, the Legislature:

-- Acknowledged the appointment of Harriett Vickio as deputy county treasurer in the wake of the resignation of treasurer Gary Whyman and the advancement of Lisa Snyder from deputy treasurer to acting county treasurer. Snyder appointed Vickio -- previously the county's Director of Purchasing -- as her deputy. Vickio, in turn, announced she will seek the treasurer's post in the November election to fill out the final year of Whyman's term.

Photos in text:

From top: Legislator Tom Gifford listens to statement by Sylvia Fox; retired Cayuga Medical Center CEO Rob Mackenzie; Legislature chair Dennis Fagan; and LPG project supporter David Crea.

Vickio announces candidacy for Treasurer

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, Aug. 9 -- Schuyler County Deputy Treasurer Harriett Vickio Friday announced her intent to run for the office of County Treasurer.

In announcing her candidacy, Vickio said: “The office of Treasurer is a critical position within County government and it is imperative that the next Treasurer have the knowledge and skills to ensure financial stability for Schuyler County. I feel that my background both in the public and private sector makes me uniquely qualified to fulfill the significant obligations of this office.”

Vickio, who was appointed Deputy County Treasurer -- effective Aug. 4th -- by Acting Treasurer Lisa Snyder following the resignation of Treasurer Gary Whyman, has served as the County’s Director of Purchasing for the past six years. Prior to that she was employed by Dresser Rand, first in government finance and later in private sector purchasing.

“As Purchasing Director," Vickio said, "I have led efforts to better utilize our financial software as well as streamline procurement and accounting processes county-wide. I am proud to have played a role in correcting many of the deficiencies that have been consistently cited by independent auditors over the past several years.”

Vickio acknowledged the pressures that the Treasurer’s office has been under the past several years. “While the auditor’s reports have consistently pointed out material weaknesses and deficiencies for many years," she said, "I feel that former Treasurer Whyman has instituted a number of corrective action items that simply need strong leadership to fully implement. It is my firm belief that there will be continued efficiencies identified and implemented, correcting many of these longstanding and well-documented problems.”

Vickio is a lifelong resident of Schuyler County. She currently serves as Vice President of Spirit of Schuyler, a non-profit organization that provides assistance to Schuyler County residents in times of emergency. She and her husband Tony reside in the Town of Dix and are the parents of two grown children, Mark and Beth.

Vickio, a registered Democrat, is planning to run as an Independent candidate and will also seek other party endorsements. She said she will be releasing her campaign platform in the coming weeks and welcomes all input from Schuyler County residents.

Photo in text: Harriett Vickio (Photo provided)

Watkins Glen Mayor Mark Swinnerton listens as retired Cayuga Medical Center CEO Rob Mackenzie addresses the issue of LPG storage.

Glen board talks LPG storage again, but fails to act again

WATKINS GLEN, Aug. 5 -- The Watkins Glen Village Board once again Monday night discussed the proposed Crestwood LPG storage project alongside Seneca Lake, and once again failed to vote on its sentiment regarding the project.

This time, trustee Scott Gibson was absent, on vacation. Last meeting, both Mayor Mark Swinnerton and trustee Paul Clifford were absent. The time before that, it was trustee Kevin Smith who was missing.

Swinnerton has said he wants the entire board present for a vote -- and explained Monday that now he is trying to arrange a time when the board can visit a Crestwood storage facility in Bath to better understand the company's position.

And yet, while the board seems to be trying to cross all of its T's and dot all of its I's on the matter before voting, a majority has made it clear it does not favor the project. Swinnerton came out months ago against it, Gibson has expressed opposition, and Clifford -- as he did Monday -- says he sees no benefit to counterbalance the potential risk of the project.

The board heard Monday from four people regarding the project. Only one of them was in favor of it.

Retired Cayuga Medical Center CEO Rob Mackenzie -- who has urged caution in considering the project -- spoke to his experience in safety studies and the expectation that an accident of some significance will eventually occur here as well, based on past performance in the propane industry.

6th District County Legislature candidate Angeline Franzese said she has visited 170 households in her campaign and that opposition to the project was expressed at almost every one. "I haven't found any Silent Majority supporting it," she said, adding to the board: "You are the heart of the county. I think the governor should know how the heart of the county feels. I urge you to take a stand for the village. I'd like to see some action on behalf of the people."

Reading resident Gita Devi said the project is "not going to bring in revenue" and "could negatively impact or destroy" the area wine industry and tourism. "Take a stand against this."

Crestwood employee and outspoken project supporter David Crea urged the board to follow through with its tour of the Bath facility, and to consider that almost any project in life brings with it risks. Despite "an orchestrated effort to get the board to take a stand against LPG storage," he said, "I urge you to make an effort to learn more."

Which, Swinnerton replied, the board intends to do.

The board also:

--Discussed the village policy toward removing trees after Jo Ann and Jack Considine of 222 Third Street complained that a tree on their property had been removed by the village DPW without their knowledge or wishes while they were away in July at their son's wedding in Calforinia. Swinnerton said the board would present its reasons for the removal in writing to the Considines, but agreed that "probably there are some things we could do better, with communication at the top of the list. ... We'll look at the policy to see if it needs to be updated. We feel your pain." While the cause of the tree's removal was not explained, the mayor noted that there was "a very good reason for taking this one."

Photos in text:

From top: Trustee Paul Clifford listens; speakers Angeline Franzese and David Crea.

Wineries urge Cuomo to deny Gas Storage Facility permit

The following information was obtained from various sources.

ALBANY, July 31 -- More than a dozen Finger Lakes winery and vineyard owners, along with other business owners, visited Albany Wednesday to call on Governor Andrew Cuomo to protect the region’s growing wine industry and thriving tourism by denying permission for a proposed gas storage facility in the Town of Reading, north of Watkins Glen.

The winery owners held a news conference at which several of them spoke, trying to pressure the governor to reject the plan, should the Department of Environmental Conservation approve it. Some Schuyler County politicians believe the DEC has already given its blessing for the plan, but that Cuomo is waiting until after elections in November to give final approval.

However, DEC spokeswoman Emily DeSantis said in a statement that the proposed facility's permit won't be approved until the agency's review is finalized -- and that it "remains pending while DEC staff continues to review the public comments submitted on the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement during the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act process."

She said the DEC has no deadline. It has been studying the matter for three years.

The winery owners' appeals included one from Doug Hazlitt, a sixth-generation Finger Lakes vintner and owner of Hazlitt 1852 Winery in Hector.

“Governor Cuomo (right) has been a great supporter of New York’s wineries and the Finger Lakes," he said, "but this proposed gas facility threatens our future growth and place as the Napa of the Northeast. We need Governor Cuomo’s support now to protect the health of our region and the very things that make it great – the local businesses, renowned wine, and our way of life.”

The wineries are part of the opposition to Texas-based Crestwood-Midstream’s proposal to use old abandoned salt caverns along Seneca Lake to store millions of barrels of liquid petroleum gas (LPG) and billions of cubic feet of natural gas. The proposal, say the project's opponents, has generated opposition from more than 200 businesses, 10 municipalities and thousands of residents in the Finger Lakes region who are concerned about the threat it might pose to one of the state’s largest supplies of drinking water, the local economy, and the area’s wine and tourism industry.

“There is widespread opposition throughout the Finger Lakes to this dangerous proposal – it crosses political affiliation and views, with a clear understanding of what is at stake,” said Seneca County Legislator Steve Churchill. “Hundreds of businesses and thousands of residents don’t want their health and drinking water jeopardized or their way of life trampled on by the hazardous over-industrialization this Texas-based corporation would bring to the Finger Lakes. Governor Cuomo should stand with the people of the Finger Lakes by denying permits for this facility, and he would be remembered as a hero for preserving the jobs and economic growth already occurring in the heart of New York.”

Bill Gautreaux, Crestwood's president of liquids and crude, said the caverns' geology is conducive to LPG storage.

"Our Finger Lakes project will provide significant consumer benefits without jeopardizing the health and welfare of the communities in which we operate and our employees live," he said in a statement.

Governor Cuomo highlighted the success of the wine industry at his 2013 Governor’s Cup Wine Competition in Watkins Glen, near the location of the proposed gas storage facility.

“We buy our grapes from the shores of Seneca Lake, and the dozens of wineries in the area are opposed to this gas facility because it threatens our local businesses and economy," said Will Ouweleen, co-owner of the O-Neh-Da and Eagle Crest Vineyards. “This is a regional issue that endangers the jobs our businesses have provided for local families and residents for generations.”

The region has become so widely known for its winemaking that vintners from outside of the area have begun to invest in the area as well.

“Due to the hard work of so many of our local wineries who have toiled in the Finger Lakes for generations, the area has become an international hotspot for quality wine and has experienced increasing investment,” said Michael Warren Thomas, host of Rochester radio show The Grapevine. "That is why the region has garnered attention from winemakers as far as Napa and Germany.”

“There is no justification for jeopardizing the Finger Lakes’ place as an international destination for world-class agritourism,” said Lou Damiani, owner of Damiani Wine Cellars. “There is no propane shortage, and we have worked too hard to get where we are now. We won't let the Finger Lakes region become the sacrifice zone for the gas industry and risk losing everything.”

Photo in text: Governor Andrew Cuomo (File photo)

No vote yet on LPG storage

WATKINS GLEN, July 22 -- The Watkins Glen Village Board Monday night -- with two of its members absent, including Mayor Mark Swinnerton -- failed to vote on whether to support or oppose the proposed Crestwood plan to store Liquefied Petroleum Gas in salt caverns north of the village.

Swinnnerton had earlier said that if all members of the board were present, they might finally weigh in -- as other governments in the region have -- on the desirability or lack thereof regarding the Crestwood plan. The Schuyler County Legislature has supported it, while various other governmental units in counties bordering Seneca Lake have opposed it.

But the matter wasn't ignored Monday. There was more discussion on the topic, with two women, Barb Cook of Watkins Glen and Syliva Fox of the Town of Reading, urging the board to come out against the storage plan.

Said Cook, referring to the campaign by Swinnerton, Scott Gibson and Kevin Smith three years ago when they ran for the Village Board: "Three gentlemen came to my house and asked me to vote for them. I'm asking each of them to vote for my lake, my little town ... please vote no."

And Fox distributed a handout to those board members present -- Gibson, Smith and Tony Fraboni -- containing a list of "14 reasons based on fact why you should oppose LPG storage." The "facts" dealt with the Crestwood-proclaimed safety of the project, with truck traffic, with the potential effect of the project on drinking water, with industrialization, with a "propane glut," with a lack of emergency preparedness, and with other related items.

"Hold firm," she told the trustees, "and say this is not what our town wants to be."

Both women said after the meeting that they had attended with the understanding that a vote might be forthcoming that night. But with Swinnerton tied up in a business meeting in Owego and Paul Clifford in Ohio, there was barely a majority on hand for the meeting.

Gibson did comment on the subject, though, noting that the board is being careful in arriving at a decision because it will be made on behalf "of the entire community. It's not easy. We all have our opinions."

He added: "The more I talk about this, the more I'm convinced it's not what is economically best for us. Why are we looking to obtain more risk ... on behalf of what? There is no tangible benefit to the community." The storage plan, he concluded, "is not compatible" with the area's burgeoning wine industry.

However, the vote -- whenever it occurs -- will neither green-light nor block the project. Approval or denial will be decided at the state level.

In other business, the board:

--Approved a request by Watkins Glen Promotions to hold the 21st annual Grand Prix Festival in the village on Friday, Sept. 5, with Franklin Street closed from 1 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. This year's featured car will be the MG.

--Gave conditional approval, contingent on the signing of the application form, for the Italian American Festival to run from Aug. 1-3. The festival will be held, as always, at Clute Park, with a parade on Saturday, Aug. 2 along Decatur and Fourth Streets.

Photo in text: Watkins Glen Village Board member Kevin Smith at Monday's meeting.

Whyman quits treasurer's post; special election needed

WATKINS GLEN, July 21 -- Gary Whyman on Monday submitted his resignation as Schuyler County Treasurer, effective Aug. 1. He attributed the decision to "family issues."

The move, in the third year of his first four-year term as treasurer, means a special election will be held in November to fill the unexpired portion of the term. In the interim, Whyman will be succeeded by either a gubernatorial appointee or by Deputy Treasurer Lisa Snyder.

In either case, said County Administrator Tim O'Hearn, the person who assumes the job will have to run and win in November in order to continue in it.

O'Hearn said he learned early Monday afternoon about Whyman's decision, and said he would be meeting with the staff of the Treasurer's office on Tuesday to discuss "the succession and the continuity of office."

Whyman, who won election in 2011 and assumed office on Jan. 1, 2012, said in an email that the "family issue" involves a death in the family. He said he would be staying in the area, and continuing to serve the Spirit of Schuyler, a non-profit organization that helps county residents with emergency needs.

His letter of resignation as County Treasurer follows:

"There comes a time for everyone when family events occur that bring about a change of life focus. I have recently endured such an event… and it has, and is still changing my focus.

"Because of this change in focus, I am officially tendering my resignation, effective August 1st, 2014, from the position of Schuyler County Treasurer.

"I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has been exceptionally patient and understanding during my tenure here. I also want to express my great pride in the teams I have worked with and the forward strides we have made, and improvements that have been put in place for the future of Schuyler County.

"I wish you all the very best in your future ventures."

Photo in text: Gary Whyman (File photo)

LPG storage protesters march up Watkins Glen's Franklin Street from Seneca Harbor Park to the Schuyler County Courthouse.

Legislature won't rescind; protesters heckle Fagan

WATKINS GLEN, July 15 -- The Schuyler County Legislature Monday night turned back an effort to rescind its June 9th vote favoring the Crestwood LPG gas storage plan, and in the process triggered an angry response by protesters waiting outside the County Building. The crowd had gathered there after a rally of more than 300 people at Seneca Harbor Park and a march up Franklin Street.

The vote was 5-3, with Michael Lausell -- who introduced the rescindment measure -- Barb Halpin and Van Harp voting in favor. Chairman Dennis Fagan and Legislators Tom Gifford, Stewart Field, Phil Barnes and Jim Howell voted against it.

After the meeting, as the legislators were leaving, the crowd outside peppered Fagan with shouts of "Shame on You! Shame on You!" and "Fagan Must Go! Fagan Must Go!" as he made his way from the building to the parking lot and his car. According to witness accounts, he was first accosted by one angry man who was soon joined by a swarm of protesters -- one of whom grabbed Fagan's shirt sleeve. A couple of men with cooler heads interceded, and a deputy escorted the Chairman clear of the crowd. When he reached his car, a small group of protesters were still hurling epithets, and he turned to engage one man in a brief debate before saying, "I can sleep at night." He then entered his car and drove away.

Legislator Harp (pictured at right) -- who had voted in favor of the June resolution but this time voted for it to be rescinded -- also encountered some resistance. Witnesses said he was surrounded by three or four people in the lot, and that one shoved him before he shoved back and then broke clear. One observer, noting Harp's career as an FBI agent, said the protester's shove "wasn't very smart."

Legislator Gifford was accosted by one woman, but intercession by a local minister freed him to go to his car without further incident.

Where last month's meeting had attracted about 250 people, nearly 200 of whom were admitted to an alternate meeting site -- the second-floor courtroom in the County Building -- the meeting this time was held in the small, first-floor legislative chambers, which holds about 40 spectators at the maximum.

In those tight quarters, legislators heard a number of arguments in favor of rescinding the June resolution. Those comments, Lausell said later, prompted his proposal to rescind. After he made a motion along those lines, there was silence for several seconds before Harp seconded the motion. Harp later said he did so because he was impressed by the "excellent points this evening, articulated well," and because he thinks the county's emergency preparedness plan "needs to be vetted. I think we should hold on a little bit longer."

The Crestwood plan calls for the storage of Liquefied Petroleum Gas in salt caverns north of Watkins Glen, on the west side of Seneca Lake.

Halpin, who had opposed the June resolution, spoke in favor of rescinding it, and voted accordingly. But Howell (pictured at right), who opposed the June resolution, voted against rescinding it -- explaining later that he was "tired of the personal attacks from the Gas Free Seneca camp" against Fagan and other legislators."It's time to move forward," he said. "I hope the personal attacks will end, and that this will bring the community back together."

Several in the audience said it was obvious by the outpouring of support at the June meeting and at Monday's rally -- which featured speeches and songs in support of the natural beauty of the region and the perceived dangers of industrialization -- that the legislators were not heeding their constituents. Legislator Gifford said his constituents supported the June move, prompting one wag in the audience to ask which constituents he was referring to, considering he only received a couple of dozen votes in the last election, which he lost to Howell. Gifford remains on the Legislature this year in the final year of a term that predated the ongoing, phased-in redistricting process.

Speakers in support of rescinding included Gas Free Seneca co-founder Joseph Campbell, retired Methodist pastor Gary Judson -- who read part of a five-page list of demands prepared by the Concerned Citizens of Schuyler County (its entirety can be read by clicking here) -- and former Cayuga Medical Center CEO Rob Mackenzie (pictured below), who read a lengthy statement regarding his experiences in developing safety procedures. Those led Cayuga Medical Center to be ranked in 2010 by Consumer Reports, he said, as "the safest hospital -- large or small -- in New York State."

"In the case of LPG storage," he said, "it's no secret that significant safety concerns continue to be raised by many county residents and some outside experts. I am no expert in liquid propane, but I am an expert in the design and management of safety practices. I submit that your duty as legislators, in watching over the life and health of God's creatures in this county, is the same as that of the leaders ... at NASA, at Cayuga Medical Center and at Schuyler Hospital.

"As every one of those organizations -- and now GM -- has learned, it's not a question of balancing safety issues against economics, politics, car sales, or the country's need for fossil fuel or nuclear power. Somehow those other priorities just don't seem to matter after a disaster. Our highest duty is to listen to, support, and validate those who raise safety concerns, even if that costs time or money. Then, if -- God forbid -- a crash or explosion ever does occur and that liability suit is brought, sound safety practice is our best defense, individually and collectively

"I'm not suggesting a Cuomo-style moratorium for years and years. But last month I came here to respectfully request that you approve Mr. Lausell's timely resolution to work on safety before the horse is out of the barn. It's still not too late to do that. Please rescind Mr. Fagan's premature resolution until the ethical and safety concerns which have been legitimately raised can be calmly aired and equitably resolved to everyone's reasonable satisfaction."

He added later -- after Lausell (pictured at right) had mentioned, as an example of unexpected disasters, the Ithaca tragedy involving a tractor trailer carrying a load of cars that crashed into a restaurant, killing an employee inside -- that "there are failures that will happen" in the storage of LPG, "and of a magnitude potentially significantly greater" than the Ithaca accident.

But the legislative majority didn't seem to agree with his conclusion. After the vote, Hector resident Marie Fitzsimmons asked the legislators: "What would it take to convince you" of the rightness of the protesters' arguments?. She was told by Legislator Barnes: "You're talking to the wrong group. We have no say in the process. You need to go to Albany. The paperwork is on the governor's desk." (It is the contention of Fagan and others that the Department of Environmental Conservation has already given its blessing to the cavern plan, and that Governor Andrew Cuomo is holding an announcement until after the November elections for political purposes. Gas Free Seneca's Campbell has disputed that, saying DEC officials have informed him the process is still ongoing and that no determination has been made.)

Before the session ended, a woman aligned with the protesters invited Fagan and other legislators to meet with and speak to the group waiting outside. "They're a kind and friendly group," she said.


Other notes:

-- After the Legislature session and the heckling and shoving that followed, a speaker addressing the remaining protesters said that Barnes, running for re-election this fall, is unopposed, and that someone should enter the race against him. Several people in the crowd shouted out that he does have an opponent: former Legislature Chair Angeline Franzese (pictured at right) -- who was on hand and managed to turn the event into a stump speech. She was met with warmth and encouragement.

--The rally at Seneca Harbor Park featured an adult-led singing group of school children called New York Children Against Fracking. Part of their lyrics:

Don't store your gas in the old salt mine,
Crack our land on the old fault line,
Methane in our water and our local wine
Has such a bitter taste,
God what an awful waste.

Seneca Lake it is clear and clean,
The skies are blue and the hills are green,
Prettiest place that you've ever seen,
And we wanna keep it that way,
That's what the children say.

--Rally speeches included one by biologist, author and veteran protester Sandra Steingraber, who tested the audience by asking: "What would you do for this lake? We're the ones who have to make that decision inside our own hearts." And area resident Kate LaMoreaux (pictured at right) said the June resolution was "a serious mistake in leadership." She called on legislators "to truly represent your people."

--Michael Warren Thomas, a Rochester radio personality, told the rally audience -- and later the Legislature -- that Seneca Lake is attracting world-class winemakers like Paul Hobbs, who is developing a vineyard in the Burdett area, thus enhancing the region's reputation. "There are 60 million people within a day's drive of here," he said, adding: "Investors are coming ... but not if we industrialize Watkins Glen. It will take just one accident" related to the LPG storage to curb the growing momentum in the winery and tourism industry.

--Emcee at the rally was Margie Rodgers, one of the Seneca 12 arrested in a protest outside the Crestwood facility off Rt. 14 north of Watkins Glen in March of 2013.

Photos in text:

From top: Legislature Chair Dennis Fagan (white beard) engages a protester in debate before leaving; Legislators Van Harp and Jim Howell; retired Cayuga Medical Center CEO Rob Mackenzie; Legislator Michael Lausell addresses crowd after the meeting; Legislature candidate Angeline Franzese; and rally speaker Kate LaMoreaux.

Rally speaker, biologist and author Sandra Steingraber.

Paula Fitzsimmons prepares a sign at the rally.

Left: One of many signs at the rally. Right: Legislator Phil Barnes.

Members of the Hazlitt family at the rally. Tina Hazlitt, at the microphone, said the Legislature had "overlooked the fact that our economy is based on tourism and agriculture," and that the LPG storage plan risks "hundreds if not thousands of jobs" and "everything (the Hazlitts) have worked for since 1852. Save our lake."

Schuyler among the counties in line
for emergency preparedness grants

Special to The Odessa File

ELMIRA, July 10 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara says that each of the counties he represents as part of New York’s 58th Senate District are included in a package of $185 million in state and federal homeland security and emergency preparedness grants announced Wednesday at the Capitol.

The grants are targeted to support critical infrastructure projects, as well as to enhance county-level emergency preparedness and response functions.

“These timely and important homeland security and emergency preparedness grants will make a great difference to counties and local first responders across the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions,” said O’Mara. “Emergency preparedness, response and recovery are fundamental government responsibilities.”

According to state officials, the funding is being made available by the federal Department of Homeland Security (DHS) through the State Homeland Security Program (SHSP), the Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) grant, and the Emergency Management Performance Grant (EMPG). The state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services (DHSES) administers the programs working closely with local agencies.

O’Mara highlighted the following:

-- as part of a $9 million total allocation for the Public Safety Answering Point Grant Program (PSAP), which covers improvements and enhancements to merge 911-styled public safety answering systems, and funds the implementation of new technologies that facilitate data sharing, greater operating efficiencies and regional consolidation, the following area counties will be awarded the following grant funding: Chemung ($487,869), Tompkins ($500,000), and Yates ($473,600);

-- as part of a $2 million total allocation for the PSAP Sustainment Grant Program to provide reimbursement to counties for operating expenses, Yates County will receive $81,667;

-- as part of a $2 million total allocation for the Hazardous Materials Grant Program, which fosters a regional approach to building and sustaining Hazardous Materials (HazMat) response capabilities by helping meet the costs of equipment maintenance, the acquisition of advanced equipment and technology and cutting-edge training programs, Schuyler County (the lead agency in a regional partnership covering Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben and Tioga counties) will receive $106,000. Seneca County (the lead agency in a regional partnership that includes Yates County) will receive $110,000; and

-- as part of a $7.6 million total allocation for the Emergency Management Performance Grant program, which supports local emergency management planning, staffing, training activities and equipment purchases, the following area counties will be awarded the following grant funding: Chemung ($38,523), Schuyler ($11,922), Steuben ($42,358), Tompkins ($43,329), and Yates ($14,566).

Village Board stand expected soon on LPG storage plan

WATKINS GLEN, July 8 -- The Watkins Glen Village Board Monday night heard from a vineyard project manager and a Schuyler County legislator opposed to Crestwood's LPG storage plan north of the village -- presentations that might serve as a prelude to a board stand on the issue.

Mayor Mark Swinnerton said he expects a board vote for or against the proposal -- a project that would use salt caverns for storage of Liquefied Petroleum Gas -- in the near future, and possibly at the next board meeting, set for July 21. The timing of the vote, he said, will depend on full board attendance. One member, Kevin Smith, was absent while on vacation Monday, but Swinnerton said he expects Smith back for the next session.

One of the speakers Monday was David Hobbs, project manager of a developing vineyard along Route 414 in the Burdett area owned by his brother Paul Hobbs and Johannes Selbach. It is on a 68-acre section of land, 45 of which are being devoted to use as a vineyard expected to produce its first wine next year. The other speaker was Legislator Michael Lausell, outspoken in recent months regarding the safety of the village in the event of a rail accident involving LPG transport.

Lausell recapped the recent move by the Legislature in backing the storage plan in a 5-3 vote, and his concern that there is not a sufficient emergency plan in place should disaster strike with an explosion or if railcars might tumble into the gorge should the rail trestle there fail. In case of a disaster, he said, "the village would be most directly affected ... although it would be bad for everyone in the county."

The plan, first proposed by Inergy, a firm later merged into the Crestwood operation, has been under consideration by the State Department of Environmental Conservation for an extended period of time. Speculation -- voiced by both Crestwood and project opponents -- has the decision being announced by Governor Andrew Cuomo in the fall, after elections. Opposition has been voiced locally by Gas Free Seneca and varous business leaders. The Village Board has been visited by several opponents in recent months.

Hobbs, who said he convinced his brother -- who has vast vineyard holdings in California and Argentina -- to come here and start the vineyard, called this period "the tipping point in the Finger Lakes." It is a time, he said, to send a message that approval of the storage plan will undercut further development of the wine industry "and the culinary arts, and be detrimental to Watkins Glen and Schuyler County."

His and Lausell's remarks were warmly received by the Village Board, with trustee Paul Clifford questioning the benefit of the project, which would provide just 10 new jobs, but doubting suggestions that the U.S. Salt plant would shut down without it. "I have a hard time seeing that happening," he said, since the plant "has been sold four times in the past 20 years" and continues to operate.

Trustee Tony Fraboni said the board has delayed a vote until now in order to gather input from residents. "The more information we can take in," he said, "the better decision we can make when the time comes" to vote.

Swinnerton added that the "first priority is the village residents and what's best for them," and trustee Scott Gibson said that "the majority of residents I've talked to are concerned or don't want" the storage project. Only "a handful are gung-ho" for it, he said.

Swinnerton said afterward that the board has to question "if it's something we want, whether safe or not."

Hobbs, he added, had "talked about the development of the wine industry" and how it is a key part of the tourism industry.

"We're looking at it from the perspective of the village," the mayor said, "and that means promoting tourism." The village is committed to that course, he added, with plans under way to replace the existing wastewater treatment plant along the southern shoreline with one elsewhere -- preferably along the canal -- and an intent to see the waterfront developed.

In other business, the Board:

--Heard from Streets Superintendent Don Perry and Police Chief Tom Struble that the 20 mph signs thought possibly lost in the fire last year at the Shared Services Building on South Decatur Street have been located in a storage container utilized for equipment salvaged from the building following the blaze. The signs -- designed to advertise the new speed limit on village streets under village control (not state roads like 14 and 414) -- are undamaged, Mayor Swinnerton said, and will be installed in strategic locations within the next couple of weeks.

Photo in text: David Hobbs, left, and Schuyler County Legislator Michael Lausell after leaving Monday's board session.

Cuomo at Watkins racetrack; urges 'Ultimate Road Trip'

Roadside signs highlight tourist destinations

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, June 29 -- Governor Andrew M. Cuomo Saturday traveled to Watkins Glen to officially kick off the summer tourism season in New York State, and invite residents and visitors to take a road trip to experience the Empire State's spectacular attractions.

The Governor (right) unveiled a new television advertisement featuring New Yorker Robert DeNiro, which encourages New Yorkers and visitors to hit the road and take the “Ultimate Road Trip" in New York State.

Experiencing New York State via road trips, say state officials, is easier than ever before with an increased number of highway and roadway signs across New York that point travelers to the State’s I Love New York, Path Through History, and Taste NY attractions and experiences. In addition, the Governor announced the launch of a new social media campaign that features New Yorkers and visitors explaining in short video messages why they love New York.

Governor Cuomo made the announcement at the Watkins Glen International racetrack during the Sahlen's Six Hours of The Glen and Continental Tire 150 weekend. The Watkins Glen raceway is featured in the "Ultimate Road Trip" advertisement.

"Tourism is a major driver of jobs and economic activity in communities all across New York State, from the Adirondacks, Niagara Falls, and the beaches of Long Island, to the exciting turns of Watkins Glen International raceway," Cuomo said. "Our investment in tourism is paying off with a record-setting number of visitors coming to the Empire State, and this year we are doubling down on our efforts to promote and market all that New York has to offer. The 'I Love NY' summer tourism campaign encourages visitors to take a road trip, an experience that promises to be more enjoyable and easier than ever with the help of new signage, mobile applications and social media to guide the way."

There are now approximately 4,000 signs across New York State’s highways and roadways identifying the State’s historic and cultural attractions, world class entertainment and dining venues.

The Watkins Glen International competition is one of the many upcoming summer events all across New York State where I Love NY and Taste NY will have a presence to bring attention to summer tourism activities, attractions and locations. Other signature New York State summer events include the BassMasters Elite fishing tournament in the Finger Lakes, Saratoga Race Course Opening Day, Syracuse Nationals Car Show, 50th Annual Antique Boat Show & Auction in the Thousand Islands, Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Weekend in Cooperstown and Great NYS State Fair in Syracuse.

Photo in text: Governor Andrew Cuomo (File photo)

Board is asked to oppose gas storage plan

WATKINS GLEN, June 24 -- The Watkins Glen Village Board Monday night listened to a plea from a resident asking that it take a stand against the planned storage of LPG gas in Crestwood salt caverns north of the community.

Laura Mantius, who with husband Peter lives on West Second Street, pointed to the recent passage by the Schuyler County Legislature of a resolution in support of the storage and said she was appealing to the trustees "to pass a resolution not approving it."

She said the local fire department is not prepared to handle the "massive explosions" that the storage could create should the gas seep out and ignite, as she said it did in a Hutchinson, Kansas accident that "forced the evacuation of thousands."

She said Crestwood "executives and stockholders don't live in this town," and "only care about their profits. I'm appealing to you to protect us."

That prompted a discussion in which Mayor Mark Swinnerton reiterated his opposition to the cavern storage plan while trustee Scott Gibson said he is "on the fence." Trustee Paul Clifford (right), an employee of Cargill, said he might have to abstain, being part of the salt industry, if the matter comes to a vote. Trustees Tony Fraboni and Kevin Smith did not weigh in on the discussion.

In the meantime, Gibson will be meeting with Mrs. Mantius on Thursday to discuss the issue further.

In other business, the Board:

--Approved fireworks at Clute Park on July 4th hosted by the Watkins Glen Area Chamber of Commerce and the Chemung Canal Trust Company provided the fire department signs off on the application form by 5 p.m. Thursday.

--Heard from Code Enforcement Officer Greg Larnard, who reported that Dunkin' Donuts' wooden fence fronting its expanded parking lot will be enhanced with landscaping, and that the dumpster on the property will be surrounded by a faux-brick enclosure replacing the current chain-link one. He said he is also talking to the New York State Department of Transportation about installation of an entrance off Franklin Street at the northern end of the parking lot.

--Heard from Utilities Superintendent Mark Specchio that the Arc of Schuyler wants to move one of its Franklin Street transit stops to Decatur Street, and said County Administrator Tim O'Hearn had suggested using the circular drive in front of the Middle School as that stop, providing permission is granted by the owners who will be turning the building into senior housing.

--Heard from Trustee Kevin Smith, who wondered if DOT might install a 10-second left-turn signal on Franklin Street at 4th Street in order to increase the flow of traffic through the intersection. Specchio said he would check it out.

Photos in text: Laura Mantius at the Village Board meeting; and trustee Paul Clifford.

Alderson found guilty in 2nd trespass case

WATKINS GLEN, June 19 -- Crestwood gas-storage protester Jeremy Alderson had two dates in court Wednesday.

In the first, he appeared in Reading Town Court before Justice Raymond Berry. The appearance involved Alderson's arrest and conviction on a trespass charge stemming from a Sept. 6, 2012 protest at the Inergy (now Crestwood) gate along Route 14 north of Watkins Glen.

Sentencing was deemed a possibility Wednesday, but Berry adjourned the matter to Aug. 20 while awaiting a decision on whether an appeal of Alderson's case will be cleared for a hearing at a state appeals court.

The second date was in Dix Town Court before Justice Alan Gregory two hours later. It involved an Alderson arrest on June 28, 2013 on another trespass charge at the same Inergy gate.

Wednesday night's result: Alderson was found guilty by Gregory following a nearly two-hour trial that featured testimony by a Crestwood manager and Alderson along with two Schuyler County Sheriff's deputies. Gregory set a return date of July 9 "to see where we are" regarding the appeals process in the first trespass case. It was not clear whether the Dix sentencing might occur at that time.

The standard sentence is a fine. If not paid, the defendant can be sentenced to jail time. Alderson has indicated he will go to jail if it comes to that -- that he won't pay the fine.

In announcing the verdict, Justice Gregory said first that he has "spent a lot of time in recent weeks on this case," researching it and studying case law involving trespass. "It is the opinion of the court that the defendant is guilty," he concluded.

Alderson, outside the courtroom afterward in the Town of Dix office parking lot, called the decision "a miscarriage of justice" because, he said, nobody in either trial had definitively shown that the property upon which he was arrested belonged to Inergy (or later Crestwood).

That was part of his argument when he took the stand after the prosecution had called two deputies, including arresting officer Andrew Yessman, along with Crestwood official Barry Moon. Moon, on the stand for nearly a half-hour, is the manager of a Crestwood subsidiary Finger Lakes LPG storage facility in Savona, and in charge of the storage facility planned by Crestwood north of Watkins Glen.

He described how he had given a deposition on March 8, 2013, following the arrest of the "Seneca Lake 12" group of protesters at the Route 14 site. The deposition encouraged deputies to arrest anyone protesting at the site in the future.

That led to an argument by Alderson's attorney, Gerald Kinchy of Sayre, Pa., that the owner of the property had never told the protesters they couldn't be there, and that as a result the penal code requirements for a trespass conviction had not been met.

That argument -- and the defense contention that the protest action was justified on the grounds of "imminent danger" to the community through the possible explosion of gas Crestwood plans to store in vacant salt caverns -- failed to sway the judge. The "justification defense" -- the point of appeal in the first trespass case -- was rejected by Gregory in a pretrial ruling.

The prosecution was handled by Chief Assistant District Attorney Matthew Hayden, who argued successfully against most defense contentions and objections as he presented his case. The only signficant latitude that Gregory granted the defense was in the testimony of Alderson, who presented a lengthy monologue that touched on the "justification defense" as he explained his reason for protesting.

Both Alderson cases have dragged on for months. Sentencing in Reading Town Court has been delayed pending first one appeal (to County Court) and then another, while the case before Gregory was first in Reading Town Court, then Cayuta Town Court, then Tyrone Town Court, and finally Dix.

Photos in text: Jeremy Alderson (top) and Atty. Gerald Kinchy after their Town of Reading appearance, and the sign at the building where the trial was held.

Schuyler County Sheriff's Deputy T.W. Day talks to some of the 250 people who gathered
at the county building.

Legislature OKs resolution
in support of LPG storage

200 pack courtroom, witness 5-3 vote

WATKINS GLEN, June 10 -- The Schuyler County Legislature Monday night -- at an emotionally charged meeting with 200 people crammed into the county courtroom and another 60 waiting outside -- approved by a 5-3 vote a resolution supporting the plan by the Crestwood energy firm to store Liquid Petroleum Gas in salt caverns along the western shore of Seneca Lake.

The resolution also urges Governor Andrew Cuomo to allow the Department of Environmental Conservation to permit the project to proceed.

Whether the move -- which drew both opposition and support from members of the audience -- has any influence on the state is debatable. Said Gas Free Seneca co-founder Joseph Campbell: "No, it won't, though I imagine they hope it will." Voting against the measure were Legislators Michael Lausell, Jim Howell and Barb Halpin. Legislator Van Harp, after moving to table the resolution -- an effort turned back in a 4-4 tie -- voted in favor of it.

The crowd started gathering outside the County Building long before the scheduled 6:30 meeting start, and was told that signs -- and there were a few -- would not be permitted inside the building. However, t-shirts were permitted, and represented both sides of the issue. Crestwood employees and supporters were wearing white t-shirts with the Crestwood name and symbol on them, while some of those opposed to the storage plan were wearing dark blue "Protect Hector" shirts.

Deputy T.W. Day was circulating through the crowd, warning its members to maintain order. As many as possible would be admitted to the building, they were assured. "I have my opinion" on the gas storage issue, Day told those people lined up near the entrance, "but it doesn't come into play tonight. I'm neutral. Just don't push my buttons, or I will push back. I have the legal authority."

The crowd did maintain order, and a good many more than the capacity of the courtroom were admitted. A total of 193 of the estimated 250 on hand got in, and watched the proceedings elbow to elbow in the ornate second-floor meeting site -- moved from the usual Legislative Chambers, which holds considerably fewer spectators. With the eight legislators, county attorney and clerks, the total of people in the room topped 200.

The meeting opened with a half-hour of Public Participation, and it all dealt with the storage plan -- whereby Crestwood Midstream Partners LP, previously Inergy and trying for five years to get permission for the project, would develop an LPG storage hub for the Northeast.

Gas Free Seneca's Campbell was the first to speak, saying the plan "is littered with flaws," so many that "if this was not such a serious issue, it would be laughable." He said he had been in touch with DEC Regional Permit Administrator David Bimber and been assured that no decision had been reached on the Crestwood project, contrary to what Legislature Chair Dennis Fagan has said.

(Fagan, in response later in the meeting, said he stood by his DEC sources; that a decision was made in favor of the project, and "is waiting for a green light" from the Cuomo administration. Bimber's comments, he noted, constitute "a response to be expected.")

Campbell also said that unofficial assertions that the project would enhance the sales tax totals for the county were inaccurate; that other similar facilities have not generated any, and this one won't either. "There are real risks" with the project "with little benefit to the local economy," he said.

Lou Damiani of Hector followed, saying the wine industry has worked hard to build the Finger Lakes into a significant tourist destination, and that an increase of industry could not co-exist with it in the long term. "Please do not ruin" what has been built, he said. "You can't have it both ways. Sooner or later one or the other" -- tourism or industry -- "will break."

William Olean, owner of O-Neh-Da and Eagle Crest Vineyards on Hemlock Lake in the western Finger Lakes, said the wineries in the region employ thousands of workers, while Crestwood is suggesting 10 jobs will be created with its project. "Tourists come to escape traffic and smog," he said. "The Finger Lakes brand hangs in the balance" with the night's vote. "You will honor or betray the trust" of the voters, he told the legislators.

Barry Moon, a local Crestwood official, said that reports of a proposed storage cavern being structurally unsafe are untrue -- a misunderstanding resulting from "sonar issues" while examining the cavern. Byron Thompson, a longtime U.S. Salt employee and longtime Watkins Glen firefighter, said he has "never seen or had concerns with gas storage. I believe in this project."

The meeting went on in that fashion, with more Crestwood representatives favoring the project, and several residents opposed to the project lamenting the possibility of disaster should there be a rail spill of LPG or an explosion related to its storage. Said one woman: "I want to live here, not get blown up maybe." She suggested that Crestwood "pay in advance with a nice big escrow account" to be drawn upon in case of disaster.

Added a physician, pointing to increased pollution resulting from increased industry: "I shake my head with disbelief that you would vote to risk the welfare of each and every one of us. Do not turn my life's work into finding clean water and clean air for my patients." The Legislature's job, she said, was "to do no harm."

An emotional exchange came between outspoken protester Jeremy Alderson and Emergency Management Office official Brian Gardner. Alderson said loudly, his voice quavering, that there is "no emergency preparedness whatsoever" in Schuyler County -- "no training and no equipment" to battle a disaster at the storage facility. He said the Legislature, "with this vote," could be incurring a liability that leads to "great lawsuits" in the future.

Gardner responded loudly and pointedly that "I disagree with everything you just said. Are there plans for that facility? No." But there are plans for the types of emergency situations that could occur, he said, just as there are plans for house fires in general. "We can't train at every house," he noted. He explained that First Responders have trained "on propane trucks. We've had flam-gas workshops, trained on transport vehicles, done scenarios. These First Responders are trained. To say they're not ready to handle something like that is totally wrong."

When it came time for the vote, most of the legislators weighed in with various arguments -- Phil Barnes saying he was speaking for the Silent Majority he represents, Halpin saying she was opposed to the resolution because "I don't have the ability to make a determination as to its appropriateness," and Howell saying he understood the arguments of both camps.

Lausell made a long speech in opposition, saying he is most concerned with the trestle that crosses the gorge and what might happen if a propane-laden rail car were to derail there, with its load carried downhill to the door of the county building itself. And he said he was concerned with the sharp turn at the north end of town that could result in a truck turnover and spill. He noted that he was also bothered by the speed with which the resolution was being handled. It was not his intention to criticize Emergency Management personnel, he added, because the responsibility for preparedness "probably lies with the Legislature."

He also raised the issue of Crestwood allegedly threatening to close the U.S. Salt plant if the storage project is not approved. "That's bullying," he said. "It creates pressure on the Legislature. I don't appreciate it. I don't think it's right, and I don't think the Legislature should put up with it." That drew sustained applause from the anti-storage faction in the audience.

Harp said he had reviewed the emergency preparedness and said it was "very adequate," with personnel "well trained to respond to an emergency." But he also said he thought the Legislature should table the resolution pending an expected annex to the Emergency Response Plan. He issued the motion soon thereafter, but it was defeated with a 4-4 tie, with Harp, Howell, Halpin and Lausell voting in favor, and Barnes, Stewart Field, Tom Gifford and Fagan against.

Fagan then held the floor at length, touching on such subjects as truck traffic (which he said would not noticeably increase, since any product shipped east would go by pipeline), the quality of the plan (which he said has been strengthened with a change in the brine pond from a single liner to a double), his alleged conflict of interest (which he denied, saying he sold his engineering firm that dealt with pipeline design and has had "absolutely no involvement in management since then"), and Crestwood's "bullying." The company, he said, is the largest taxpayer in the county, employing 130 people. If it were to close, he said without denying the threat, there "would be significant economic difficulties" in Schuyler. Besides, he noted, he had received communications from Gas Free Seneca supporters who promised "they would never shop again in Schuyler County" if the project were approved. "And that's a form of bullying," he said.

When the vote was taken, Howell, Halpin and Lausell voted no, and Gifford, Barnes, Field, Fagan and Harp voted yes. Some in the crowd chanted "Shame! Shame! Shame!"

The Harp vote surprised many in the audience, a couple of whom asked him to explain how he could seek to table the resolution and then vote in favor. He said the matter was really geopolitical in nature; that we should strive for self-sufficiency in our energy rather than "spend all our hard-earned money" turning to the Middle East for supplies from people "who have vowed to annihilate us."

Before the meeting ended, another vote -- on a resolution offered by Lausell opposing the storage plan -- predictably went down to defeat, 6-2. Only Lausell and Howell voted in favor.

Outside afterward, the remnants of the crowd milled about, cheering Lausell as he came out of the building, and ignoring others. Fagan and Barnes exited together, and barely drew a look.

Campbell was standing nearby, talking to members of the media.

"U.S. Salt won't close," he was assuring one reporter, telling him its business is good and not likely to be abandoned. As for the significance of the evening's vote, he said, "it was a largely symbolic gesture" lost in the opposition expressed thus far by Seneca County, Yates County, the towns of Waterloo and Geneva, and the City of Geneva.

"We're creating a map" showing that opposition by governmental units around Seneca Lake, he said. When the map is "filled in, it will show how isolated Schuyler County is."

Of course, if the DEC has already determined the acceptability of the planned LPG storage, as Fagan asserts, then neither opposition nor support will really matter.

If that's so, then Monday's meeting, as full as it was of emotion, was merely an exercise -- one in futility for plan opponents.

But there was satisfaction expressed in one quarter: at Crestwood, which issued a press release about the Legislature's backing.

"I am grateful to the members of the Schuyler County Legislature for passing this resolution," it quoted Crestwood chairman, president and CEO Robert G. Phillips as saying. "As a company, we are dedicated to the safety of our employees and the communities where our employees live and work, and the Finger Lakes facility is no exception. This shovel-ready project will create jobs, support the local tax base, advance U.S. energy independence, and help make energy more affordable for consumers across New York, the Northeast and beyond.

"This resolution demonstrates that our critical energy infrastructure project does have local support, despite what our project critics might want Albany to believe," he added, noting that he hopes the Cuomo administration and the DEC act "before yet another winter heating season passes."

Photos in text:

From top: Gas Free Seneca's Joseph Campbell; Legislature Chair Dennis Fagan; Crestwood's Barry Moon; storage opponent Jeremy Alderson; Emergency Management's Brian Gardner; Legislator Van Harp; U.S. Salt's Byron Thompson; and Legislator Michael Lausell receiving a hug after the meeting.

Palmesano greets Bacalles in Albany

Special to
The Odessa File

ALBANY, June 8 -- Assemblyman Phil Palmesano met with his predecessor, Jim Bacalles, during a recent visit by Bacalles to Albany.

“It was a great privilege for me to welcome former Assemblyman Jim Bacalles back to the Assembly,” said Palmesano.

Palmesano noted that he and Bacalles have maintained an excellent relationship over the years.

“Not only was Jim my predecessor, but he is also my mentor and friend," Palmesano said. "I had the honor of working for Jim from 1995 to 2004, and during that time I gained a wealth of knowledge from him. Jim was a dedicated servant to the people of the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes Region, and I want to personally thank him for his years of service to our area.”

Photo in text: Former Assemblyman Jim Bacalles, left, with Assemblyman Phil Palmesano. (Photo provided)

Mayor Mark Swinnerton makes a point at Monday's meeting.

Noise law, skate park proposal draw fire at board meeting

WATKINS GLEN, June 3 -- The new noise ordinance and the proposed move of the skateboard park drew comment and criticism at Monday night's meeting of the Watkins Glen Village Board.

Wildflower Cafe and microbrewery owner Doug Thayer (pictured below) said the Local Law regarding noise -- specifically band music -- late at night is affecting his business, which he said has contributed significantly to the economic development of downtown Watkins Glen.

He said that by adhering to the ordinance-specified 11 p.m. cutoff of music, he was in fact losing business -- and that the board should take note that his business in 2013 had a $610,000 payroll and paid $45,285 in water and electric bills, $32,000 in local property taxes, $33,000 to local firms for repairs and maintenance, $200,000 to local food and wine vendors, and $160,000 in sales tax.

Trustee Scott Gibson acknowleged Thayer's role in helping the community grow, but said the board "represents the entire community" and tried with the noise ordinance to arrive "at a happy medium" in balancing the needs of business with the wishes of residents who don't want to hear loud music late at night.

Mayor Mark Swinnerton interjected that it "is not the intent" of the ordinance -- known as Local Law No. 1 of 2014 -- to have music stop at 11 p.m., but rather to have the noise level dialed down so as not to be offensive to residents who can hear it, specifially those on the side hill not far from the business district. Gibson added that he hoped Thayer "reconsiders" his decisoin to cut off music at 11 p.m.

Discussion continued at length, with other residents weighing in in support of Thayer, and with the board stressing its support of local businesses and its hope that the noise law will "evolve" with give-and-take discussion to the point where all parties are satisifed with its parameters and application.

The Skateboard Park:

The board heard from Patricia Hastings (right) on behalf of the skateboard park located along the western end of Lakeside Park. With the village seeking proposals for the development of more than two acres of land there -- including where the skateboarding takes place -- there has been discussion about moving the skateboarders to a tennis court behind the Community Center across Fourth Street.

Hastings, a former county legislator, told the board that skaters are safer where they are now than if the facility were moved because the current park is within sight of Fourth Street, and anyone passing by can see if a skateboarding accident has resulted in injury -- and can seek help. No such line of sight protection exists with the alternate site, she said. She also said a hidden area like the tennis court is "a good place for a pervert to hang around," or for skaters to smoke.

She also questioned whether skaters will use the alternate site, or if their parents will permit it. If not, she said, there might be a return to the days when skateboarders used village streets. "Please reconsider where you are going with this," she said.

Mayor Swinnerton told her that the board is merely seeking development proposals, and that it might decide to do nothing -- in which case the skateboard park would continue where it is.

In other business:

--The board approved a two-year recycling contract with its current contractor, Arrowhead Disposal, at a cost of $2,100 per month. Similar bids were received from the Casella and Cardinal firms.

--Another season of Concerts in the Park at Lafayette Park were approved. A letter from chairperson Julie Sissel said an effort is being made to provide "a little more variety to appeal to a wider group of people and attract more tourists to the concerts and to the area." The concerts will run from 7-9 p.m. Tuesdays from July 1 to August 19.

Photos in text: Doug Thayer and Patricia Hastings at Monday's board session.

Barnes, Blowers are seeking seats on County Legislature

WATKINS GLEN, June 1 -- Two candidates entered the race Saturday for seats on the Schuyler County Legislature -- one an incumbent and one a well-known newcomer.

Incumbent Legislator Phil Barnes and local community leader Carl Blowers Saturday jointly announced their candidacy for seats on the recently redistricted Legislature.

Barnes, who is completing his first term on the Legislature, is seeking the seat in the new District 6. He said he and Blowers are running as a team because of "the similarities we share."

“Carl and I share a fiscally conservative philosophy and a true desire to better our community,” said Barnes. “We are both excited about the future opportunities that present themselves and feel that we can contribute to future success."

Blowers, in outlining his reason for running, said: “Choosing to live in Schuyler County 22 years ago was one of the best decisions my wife Suzanne and I have made. Since that time I have sought to be active in leadership roles within the community and am proud of the progress this county has made in the last decade. Serving as a Legislator would be both an honor and a challenge to continue the good work that is currently being done here.”

Barnes has served four years as a Legislator and currently chairs the Public Safety and Criminal Justice Committee of the Legislature. In a press release, he said he has been "instrumental in providing increased efforts and resources to combat welfare fraud" and that he "is actively involved in the Schuyler-Yates study that has recently begun to explore opportunities between the two counties to lower the cost of government while increasing efficiencies and effectiveness."

Barnes, who retired as Undersheriff of the Schuyler County Sheriff’s Office after 26 years, is currently an Investigator with AMRIC Security Consultants. He is also Chairman of the local Red Cross, a member and Past President of the Watkins Montour Lions Club, and a member of the Community Services Board of Schuyler County.

Blowers is seeking an open seat in the newly formed Legislative District #5. He has long experience in private industry, retiring from Corning Incorporated as Vice President and General Manager of the Advanced Materials and Process Technologies Division in 1997 after a 29-year career. After that he served as Vice Chairman and principal of Jostens Incorporated through 2004. He currently owns and operates Hawk’s View Consulting, a private consulting firm.

Blowers is involved in various community organizations and has a leadership role in several of them. He currently serves as Vice Chair of the Corning Community College Board of Trustees, Chair of the Arnot Art Museum Board of Trustees, and immediate past Chair of the Watkins Area Chamber of Commerce. He is a past member of the Schuyler County Partnership for Economic Development (SCOPED), a charter member of the Project Seneca Steering Committee, and a member of the Schuyler County Industiral Development Agency (SCIDA) board. He is a graduate of Bordentown Military Institute, holds a B.S. degree in Finance from Boston College, and is a graduate of the Dartmouth College Executive Management Program.

Both Barnes and Blowers say that if elected they will fight unfunded mandates, strive to control property taxes, and attempt to preserve natural resources and the area's quality of life. They said they will also promote economic development, shared services and job growth.

Said Blowers: “We will be releasing our campaign platform in the coming weeks and encourage any resident or business owner to contact us directly to share concerns, thoughts and ideas on improving Schuyler County."

The only other announced Legislature candidate thus far is Angeline Franzese, a former Legislature chair who is running in the same district as Barnes, #6, for a lone available seat.

Photos in text: Phil Barnes (top) and Carl Blowers. (File photos)

The land in question. The village is looking for development ideas.

Proposals sought on Lakeside Park Point

WATKINS GLEN, May 22 -- The Watkins Glen Village Board will soon be seeking proposals for the possible development of 2.34 acres of land at Lakeside Park Point on the west end of the park and alongside the entrance to the canal.

Rick Weakland, project director for Project Seneca -- which envisions lakefront development in the coming years -- outlined the Village Board's intent in a visit Wednesday night to the Watkins Glen Planning Board.

He said the Village Board -- through the Schuyler County Partnership for Economic Development (SCOPED) -- will soon issue Requests for Proposals (RFPs) in an attempt to solicit ideas for projects that might be undertaken on the acreage in question, with an eye toward minimal impact on the park while enhancing the park proper and its standing as a tourist and resident attraction.

The 2.34 acres used to be owned by Cargill Salt, which transferred it to the village in 1994 in return for drilling rights in the park. The parcel extends from Rt. 414 north to the lake, running alongside the canal. Part of it contains the skateboard park built several years ago.

Weakland said the project, should one develop, will be managed by SCOPED on behalf of the village and in consultation with it. He said he was addressing the Planning Board because it would be involved in site plan approval if a project is selected and pursued.

He said the process -- using RFPs -- is similar to the one utilized in the Watkins Glen Middle School project. That building, sold by the school district as it consolidates to a single campus, will be turned into apartments for the elderly, with its north end developed into a community-use gym and auditorium.

He said there are no concrete development plans for the Lakeside site yet -- that the village is seeking ideas which should be submitted by the end of June. If a project is selected out of those ideas, it could take two years before the development is completed.

In the end, Weakland told the board, "we could end up with nothing or something."

Mayor Mark Swinnerton, in a conversation after the board meeting, said the land in question is separate from the park in that it is not subject to the laws that govern the use of the park. He said if a project is selected, the board has no intention of selling the land to the developer, rather intending to lease it long-term.

In order for a sale to take place, he said, "it would have to be the deal of a lifetime."

He said he and the board envision as one possibility a "destination restaurant. It's a great location for one."

As for the skateboard park, he said that in the event of a project on the lakeside site, the skateboard equipment would be relocated to the tennis courts next to the Community Center across the road. One half of the little-used tennis courts would remain available for tennis, and the other half would be used for the skate park.

"When it was built," he said of the skate park, "we made sure its equipment was relocatable. It can be moved in a day's time."

Photos in text:

Top: Rick Weakland hands Code Enforcement Officer Greg Larnard a packet outlining the Village Board's plan to solicit ideas for Lakeside Park Point.

Bottom: The Planning Board's Chris Bond.

New system can issue Public Safety Alerts

Emergency Management Office adopts Ping4 Inc.’s Mobile Alert Platform, designed to keep citizens safe

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, May 22 -- Beginning today, the Schuyler County Emergency Management Office (SCEMO) will use Ping4 Inc.’s mobile communications solution, ping4alerts!. Users can download this free app on their Apple or Android smartphones to be instantly notified of public safety concerns.

“Using Ping4 Inc.’s technology, we are now able to notify Schuyler County’s 18,500 residents of immediate dangers and emergencies,” said Bill Kennedy, Schuyler County Emergency Management Director. “We can set an alert to the boundary of a town, road, building, or any other area, making sure people are only getting the information about events that may affect them.”

Ping4alerts! is a free iOS and Android app that uses the location-based technology inherent in today’s smartphones to deliver notifications within a highly-localized area. Using any web-browser, SCEMO can draw a shape on a map as small as a street or broadcast a message to an entire city. Ping4 Inc. delivers media alerts that can include images, custom audio, video and mobile web links. These features, coupled with the platform’s accuracy, are designed to insure public safety information is targeted, instant and relevant.

Ping4alerts! protects user anonymity and does not require users to provide any personally identifiable information such as a phone number, street address, or email address. These mobile notifications are delivered over the Internet through GPS, cellular, and available Wi-Fi networks. Citizens who download ping4alerts! will also receive NOAA’s National Weather Service advisories for severe weather. Other features include the ability to learn the location of nearby level 2 and level 3 sex offenders. Users can also establish watch locations for home, work, school, or a relative’s house to receive alerts for multiple locations.

“The value of our product is its ability to deliver time-sensitive, relevant information to users based solely on location,” said Norm Archer, VP of Marketing. “This technology provides a timely and relevant communication channel to citizens, whether they be residents or visitors, during emergency situations. The Schuyler County Emergency Management Agency is a fine example of forward-thinking and like-minded individuals who care about making their community safer.”

Citizens and visitors can download ping4alerts! by visiting the App Store or Google Play.

From left: Assemblyman Phil Palmesano, Tony Specchio, Senator Tom O'Mara, Annabelle Specchio and Adam Bradascio, one of the 11 Specchio grandsons, in Albany on Tuesday.
(Photo provided)

Tony Specchio inducted into
Senate Veterans' Hall of Fame

O’Mara pays tribute to Korean War vet, longtime civic leader

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, May 20—At a late morning ceremony in the Legislative Office Building honoring decorated and distinguished veterans from across New York State, State Senator Tom O’Mara (R-C, Big Flats) and his colleagues Tuesday inducted Anthony J. “Tony” Specchio, Sr., a lifelong Watkins Glen resident and a fixture in civic and veterans affairs, into the New York State Senate Veterans’ Hall of Fame.

Specchio represented O’Mara’s 58th Senate District and was among approximately 60 veterans statewide joining the Hall this year. Inductees are chosen annually by state senators from within their respective legislative districts. Tuesday’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony at the capital was held to coincide with the upcoming Memorial Day observances across the state and nation this weekend.

Specchio was accompanied at Tuesday’s ceremony by his wife, Annabelle, and one of his 11 grandsons, Adam Bradascio.

“It’s a great pleasure and a privilege to have this opportunity to honor the service and sacrifice of New York State veterans like Tony Specchio,” said O’Mara. “Tony’s an outstanding citizen who’s given a lifetime of commitment to our nation, our state and the community of Watkins Glen. I’m proud to salute Tony Specchio by inducting him into the Senate Veterans’ Hall of Fame. It will be an enduring tribute.”

Specchio was nominated for the Veterans’ Hall of Fame by Brian J. O’Donnell, former president of the Watkins Glen School Board.

O’Donnell said, “Tony is a real credit to his family, his church, his community and his country. A gentle man who always puts others first, Tony is a true American patriot and I’m proud to call him my friend!”

A distinguished Korean War veteran, Specchio was drafted into the United States Army in 1953. His training included a stint at Camp Desert Rock in Nevada where he witnessed the detonation of an atomic bomb from a distance of less than 10,000 feet, thereby earning him the rare distinction of being called an “Atomic Veteran.” In 1954 he served in Korea on the combat line at the 38th Parallel as a tank driver/commander with the rank of Corporal (Acting Sergeant).

Following his discharge from the Army in 1954, Specchio returned to Watkins Glen, where he and his wife, Annabelle, raised seven children. He has served in local government and remained an active member of the community – known in particular for his dedication and devotion to veterans affairs.

Over the past six decades, he has especially become known as the driving force behind the annual Veterans’ Day, Memorial Day and Flag Day observances in Watkins Glen, and has remained active in numerous organizations, including BPOE Elks Lodge No. 1546, American Legion Post 555, the Watkins Glen Fire Department, the Watkins Glen Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), AMVETS, and Disabled American Veterans (DAV). For over 20 years, he has also been the Veterans Service Representative at the VA Hospital in Bath. He also remains active as a member of St. Mary’s of the Lake Church, where he has served as an usher for nearly 50 years.

Active in local government, Specchio has served as Town of Reading Supervisor, as a member of the Schuyler County Legislature and, since 1978, on the Schuyler County Soil and Water Conservation District Board of Directors, where he’s been the chairman since 1986. In 1995, he retired as Superintendent of Public Works for the village of Watkins Glen.

The Senate established its online Veterans Hall of Fame in 2005. Including this year, approximately 300 veterans have been inducted. It’s designed to honor New York veterans whose service in the United States Armed Forces is accompanied by service to the community and accomplishments as a civilian, and includes veterans representing Senate districts from throughout New York State. It can be viewed through a link on the home page of O’Mara’s Senate website,

O’Mara’s previous Veterans Hall of Fame inductees have been:

-- in 2011, Philip C. Smith, a highly decorated Korean War combat veteran and well-known figure in Schuyler County government and veterans’ affairs;

-- in 2012, J. Arthur “Archie” Kieffer, a World War II combat veteran and well-known figure in Chemung County government as the Chemung County historian; and

-- in 2013, Painted Post Mayor and World War II combat veteran Roswell L. “Roz” Crozier, Jr.

Photo in text: Tony Specchio at the Seneca Lake pier. (Photo provided)

The Schuyler-Yates County Shared Services Steering Committee met with representatives of CGR Tuesday morning in the Yates County Auditorium. (Photo provided)

Study starts with committee meeting

By Gwen Chamberlain
The Chronicle-Express

PENN YAN, May 16 -- The Schuyler-Yates County Shared Services Steering Committee met with representatives of Center for Government Research Tuesday in the Yates County Auditorium to kick off the study of the two counties that could result in anything from sharing some services to an outright merger.

Scott Sittig, associate director of CGR, told those at the Tuesday morning meeting that feedback from stakeholders in both counties will be key to the study.

“The critical role of this committee is to have open dialogue about what is working in each county,” he said.

He said CGR staff — four were present at this meeting — will look for systems that are working well in each county as the study progresses.

To open the brief discussion, Yates County Administrator Sarah Purdy said there are some immediate needs in Yates County. The county is searching for a risk manager, and the Legislature recently learned that Veteran’s Services Director Earle Gleason plans to retire at the end of 2014. While legislators have begun discussing whether that office needs two full-time employees, no decisions have been made.

Yates County Chairman Timothy Dennis said, “We have small departments. Whatever we combine, we’re still going to be small.”

Sittig confirmed Schuyler County Administrator Tim O’Hearn’s assumption that part of the process will be understanding best practices between counties.

“A baseline report is like turning the light bulb on,” Sittig said.

The 18-member steering committee includes legislators and department heads from each county. CGR was chosen from a field of 11 firms that submitted proposals. The study is being funded in part with a $50,000 grant from New York State. The study should be complete in less than a year.

SOS's Vickio honored for his contributions to the community

Among area group at State Capitol tribute

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, May 6 -- New York State Senator Tom O’Mara welcomed senior citizen volunteers from Chemung and Schuyler counties to the State Capitol Tuesday as part of the 2014 Senior Citizens Day Celebration sponsored by the New York State Office for the Aging.

According to the Office for the Aging, Senior Citizens Day is celebrated in New York in conjunction with events across the nation during May to observe National Older Americans Month. Tuesday’s event sought to acknowledge the significant contributions made by older New Yorkers to their communities.

Local county Offices for the Aging submitted nominations. Among the 2014 honorees is Spirit of Schuyler founder and president Tony Vickio of Watkins Glen (pictured at right).

“What a great honor for all of the outstanding and meaningful service these area seniors have provided to so many of their fellow seniors throughout the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions. It’s a fitting tribute to the thousands of hours they’ve volunteered which have made such a difference in so many lives,” said O’Mara.

The following seniors were in Albany and honored as part of Tuesday’s celebration:

-- Tony Vickio: A lifelong resident of Watkins Glen and well-known throughout Schuyler County, Vickio has donated his time and talents to many community organizations and activities over the decades including the Boy Scouts of America, animal shelters and local schools. In 2002, he founded “Spirit of Schuyler” (SOS), a non-profit, emergency response organization that assists county residents with basic needs such as fuel oil, utility costs and car repairs. Vickio remains president of SOS and volunteers countless hours to promote, organize and staff the organization.

-- Donna Barto (Chemung County): Barto, of Horseheads, was co-winner of the Chemung County Senior Citizen of the Year Award in 2013. She has been volunteering since the 1970s at a variety of organizations, utilizing her skills as a retired registered nurse. She was the first woman member and a past president of the Big Flats Lions Club. She especially values volunteering and working with
the visually impaired;

-- Dale Bryant (Chemung County): With Barto, Bryant, of Elmira, was co-winner of the Chemung County Senior Citizen of the Year Award in 2013. He is active in many community organizations, including the Popcorn Truck Preservation Society, Friends of Woodlawn Cemetery and the Eldridge Park Preservation Society. He is the current President of the Chemung County Farmer’s Museum and is co-founder of the Finger Lakes Region Vintage Chevrolet Club of America;

-- Joy Perry (Chemung County): Winner of the “Chemung County Mildred Parfitt Award” in 2013, Perry has been a volunteer at the Arnot Ogden Medical Center for over 25 years, serving as President of the Arnot Auxiliary Board. She is active in many community organizations and activities including the Orchestra of the Southern Finger Lakes, the ARTS Council of the Southern Finger Lakes, the Thursday Morning Musicales and the Wednesday Morning Club.

Two senior honorees unable to attend Tuesday’s event in Albany will be recognized by their respective Offices for the Aging. They are Alise Irwin of Branchport and Lauren Snyder of Penn Yan, the latter recently selected as a "Woman of Distinction" from the 58th State Senate District. She will be honored accordingly in Albany on May 13.

Photo in text: From left: State Senator Tom O'Mara, Tony Vickio, Assemblyman Phil Palmesano and Assemblyman Chris Friend in Albany on May 6th. (Photo provided)

Steering Committee taps CGR for study of Yates-Schuyler

WATKINS GLEN, April 28 -- The Schuyler-Yates Steering Committee has selected CGR -- the Center for Governmental Research, Inc. -- to conduct a study of potential shared services in the two counties.

Schuyler County Administrator Tim O'Hearn said the interviews of five companies among 11 that submitted proposals were completed Friday. Two days of interviews were conducted in Schuyler County and one in Yates.

CGR -- a not-for-profit firm out of Rochester -- has "tentatively accepted," O'Hearn said

CGR was the first firm interviewed, and Berkshire Advisors, headquartered in Austin, Texas, was the last. In between came Bond Schoeneck & King of New York, Florida and Kansas; Management Partners of Cincinnati, Ohio and California; and VMC Independent.

"CGR is the chosen and preferred applicant," O'Hearn said, noting that it had recently done a study for the Village of Watkins Glen into a possible consolidation of municipal police services with those of the county. It conducted a study in 2008 of Yates County and Penn Yan court and law enforcement services, looking for possible operational efficiencies.

"It works strictly with governments," O'Hearn said, "and has an understanding of the scope of the project. Its fact-finding process is solid."

The Steering Committee consisted of 18 people -- the two county administrators, department heads and Legislature representatives. The administrators -- O'Hearn and Yates County's Sarah Purdy -- will next prepare resolutions for Legislature committee consideration, with an eye toward a final vote by the Legislatures themselves. The Schuyler Legislature next meets on May 12. Schuyler County, as the lead agency, will execute the contract.

The study is expected to take no more than a year, and CGR "has indicated it will be less than that," said O'Hearn. It will include focus-group meetings, a public meeting, and development of an interactive website.

The CGR proposal was for a flat $50,000, which is the amount of a state grant for the project -- 90 percent funded by the state ($45,000) with a 10 percent share ($2,500 each) by Schuyler and Yates counties. Two of the five firms, O'Hearn said, had proposals that would have cost close to $100,000 apiece.

Officials from both counties are looking for ways to share services to save tax dollars. Options for savings could range from consolidation of some programs or services to a complete merger of the counties.

Photo in text: Schuyler County Administrator Tim O'Hearn

Study leads to reassessments, drop in WG school tax rate

SCHUYLER COUNTY, April 23 -- The overall assessed value of property in Schuyler County is on the rise.

The Real Property Tax Office has adjusted assessment figures in the county, and overall they're going up -- an estimated 3.7 percent. That was embraced by Watkins Glen school officials as "good news," but village and county leaders counseled caution until the root causes of the increase can be analyzed.

The Watkins Glen School Board, in fact, trumpeted the increase as the cause for an abrupt turnaround in its projected tax rate. Instead of a 33-cent increase to $12.51 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, it says now the tax rate under its proposed budget will go down at least 11 cents, from its current $12.18 to $12.07. The budget will come to a public vote on May 20.

Said district Business Manager Gayle Sedlack: "Many will actually see a decrease in their tax bill from the prior year. An increase would be in the instance that the property was reassessed at a higher value."

Added Superintendent Tom Phillips: "This is a huge sigh of relief for governments; it distributes the cost of doing business more equitably. It's good news for the district -- and we had nothing to do with the assessments. To say we were stunned would be an understatement. We're very happy."

A more measured response came from Watkins Glen Mayor Mark Swinnerton, who -- upon learning of the assessment value increase -- said that even without it, the Village Board's preliminary budget work has the village likely headed for a third straight year without a tax hike. He said he needs to look into the assessment situation before commenting on it. "But it should have an effect," he noted.

County Administrator Tim O'Hearn took a cautious tack, too, saying the cause of the value increase will determine how beneficial it is -- that if it is a sign of growth and physical improvement, then it will be more meaningful economically than if it's a matter of "a shift in properties." He added, though, that it is probably caused by a mixture of factors, including "the correction of inequities" and visible signs of growth -- such as in Bruce Nelson's WaterWorks condo project on Salt Point Road in Watkins Glen, or in improvements to Franklin Street properties with the addition of several upscale apartment units.

Without such investments in the growth of a community, he said, simple assessment adjustments to reflect market conditions can lead to "50-50" situations where tax-rate drops are countered by property assessment increases.

In other words, a decrease in the tax rate doesn't always mean a decrease in taxes.

Meanwhile, the view of homeowners whose assessments rise might be a bit jaundiced -- and there are a lot of properties where that is happening.

In the Watkins Glen School District alone, the assessed value increase will be $28 million, up from $729 million this past year. Real Property Tax Office Director Tom Bloodgood said the increase will be for "the final roll this year. Its first impact will be seen in the September school tax bills."

Bloodgood said the assessment hikes were triggered by an annual analysis comparing existing assessment figures to sale prices of properties, with an eye toward adjusting them to maintain a 100% equalization rate. "We try to maintain the market value" in the assessment level, he added.

Hundreds of properties in Hector and Watkins Glen were affected either up or down, he said -- between 1,500 and 1,600 in Hector and more than 900 of Watkins Glen's 1,100 -- 692 in the Town of Dix portion of the village, and 212 in the Town of Reading portion. The Hector properties include many residences with 10 or more acres, along with vacant lands of different types: forest, pasture and so on. Bloodgood said the focus wasn't on lakefront property, although those with larger acreage might have been included, along with a few others.

The increase in assessed value was not confined to the Watkins School District. Assessed value in the Odessa-Montour portion of the county is going from $275.4 million to $280.2 million. Assessed value in the Trumansburg School District portion of the county is going from $90.3 million to $98.4 million. Bloodgood said that increases in the Town of Reading portion of the Watkins Glen School District are "minimal."

While the assessment adjustments don't relate directly to the STAR (School Tax Relief Program) that reduces tax bills for qualifying homeowners, both affect school taxes. Toward that end, Bloodgood was asked if the state's decision that those people with the STAR exemption re-register this year had possibly reduced the number of exemptions. He said that as of January, 13% of those with the Basic Exemption last year had failed to re-register -- and that while some of those 509 households did so before the registration period expired, there were still some that did not. He didn't have final figures, though.

Bloodgood said that those residents whose assessments are being affected by the value analysis -- begun last autumn, he said, and just concluded -- will be notified by mail. Those not notified can assume their assessments aren't changing, he added.

Asked if he expected complaints from affected homeowners, he concluded succinctly:

"Of course."

Seneca Terrace Apartments get go-ahead from Planning Board

WATKINS GLEN, April 17 -- After 15 months and many Watkins Glen Planning Board sessions, the proposed Seneca Terrace Apartments behind the Elks Lodge at the north end of Watkins Glen are a "go."

The Planning Board Wednesday night gave final site-plan approval to the 24-unit apartment complex following a public hearing at which the project drew both support and concern from neighbors.

With the way clear now to build -- following months of numerous revisions requested by the Planning Board, the Watkins Glen Fire Department and the state Department of Transportation -- the group representing the project, led by owner-developer William Frandsen, were looking forward to breaking ground.

"In about 10 days," said Attorney Charles Guttman, a frequent visitor to Planning Board sessions since the Jan 16, 2013 meeting at which Frandsen and engineer Ted Lauve presented the concept -- which at that time called for 28 apartments in sections of 16 and 12.

One of many changes since then had been a reduction to 24 units -- 12 apartments in each of two buildings, one high on the sharply slanted property, and one downhill from there.

Ground movers will start shaping the hillside soon to accommodate the structures -- one of which will be built before the other. Once the land shaping and infrastructure work is done, construction will begin with an eye toward "closing in" the earliest structure before winter. Occupancy, said Frandsen, could be in the fall of 2015 -- assuming separate Certificates of Occupancy can be obtained for the two buildings. Guttman was more optimistic, saying he thought apartments in the first building might have occupants in the summer of 2015.

The Planning Board approval, without dissent, came following a public hearing that saw a couple of Elks Lodge representatives support the project, with one saying they spoke for the hundreds of members of the club. A retired Watkins Glen resident just back from wintering in the south backed it, as well, saying it was exactly the sort of housing the village needed for people like him and his wife.

And former Mayor Bob Lee weighed in with the argument that the project is needed to increase the tax base of the village.

Concerns were expressed by several residents who live near the planned complex -- the concerns focusing on the effects of increased traffic, the effect of the complex on their property values, and on the matter of whether traffic would be excluded, except in emergencies, from the complex's North Jackson Street access. The answer to that was "no" -- but that an effort will be made to discourage use of that roadway through signage, an issue that would have to be taken up by the Village Board. The main access point would therefore be from North Monroe Street.

In the end, after the public hearing had been closed and the final site plan approved, there was a smattering of applause from the audience, and one low "boo."

And Frandsen, Lauve and Guttman adjourned to the hallway outside the meeting room -- perhaps to get their footing after a long, long rollercoaster ride to approval.

In other business:

-- The Planning Board gave final site-plan approval to a proposal by Seneca Physical Therapy on North Franklin Street to add to the front and rear of its building. The approval came after a public hearing at which no opposition was voiced.

-- Code Enforcement Officer Greg Larnard told the Board the Villager Motel is looking at expanding its office space.

-- Larnard told the Board that he was going to meet with Dunkin' Donuts personnel the next day to discuss demolition of the house Dunkin' Donuts has purchased on the north end of its parking lot -- with an eye toward expanding its parking. The meeting, he said, would include demolition contractor T. Shaw, Inc. of Tully. The house, Larnard said, will be razed "pretty soon, but no date has been set. We'll figure that out" at the meeting.

Shared Services Committee
to interview 5 firms for study

By Gwen Chamberlain
The Chronicle-Express

PENN YAN, April 15 -- The Schuyler-Yates Steering Committee plans by the end of April to choose a firm to conduct the shared services study of the two counties.

Committee members from both counties met in the Yates County Office Building April 2 to review the compiled reviews of the 11 proposals received from various companies.

Teams of two committee members were to conduct reference checks on the five top-ranked companies, and interview sessions with the top five were being scheduled for the week of April 21. The committee plans to make a choice on April 25.

The counties have received a $50,000 grant to help pay for the study. Officials from both counties say they are looking for ways to share services to save tax dollars. Options for savings could range from consolidation of some programs or services to a complete merger of the counties.

The firms that were ranked in the top five, based on their proposals, are:

• CGR-Center for Governmental Research Inc., a nonprofit organization based in Rochester. CGR conducted the 2008 study of Yates County and Penn Yan court and law enforcement services, looking for operational efficiencies that might be possible.

• Berkshire Advisors, headquartered in Austin, Texas, with offices in Raymond, N.H. and Mitchellville, Md. Berkshire Advisors has conducted a study in Cayuga County's Sheriff's Office, Health and Human Services Department and Highway Department.

• Bond Schoeneck & King, a firm with multiple offices in New York, Florida and Kansas, mostly known as a legal firm.

• Management Partners, with offices in Cincinnati, Ohio and California. This company’s website says the firm specializes in helping government leaders improve their operations.

• VMC Independent. Information was not available about this firm.

Yates County Administrator Sarah Purdy, who compiled the committee members' scoring and comments on the 11 proposals, said she felt the scoring process provided some consensus, with three firms — CGR, Berkshire and Bond Schoeneck & King — clustered at the top of the rankings.

While all committee members may be present during the open interview meetings, a team of four — Purdy, Schuyler County Administrator Tim O'Hearn and County Legislative Chairmen Tim Dennis (Yates County) and Dennis Fagan (Schuyler County) — will conduct the interviews.

A website with access restricted to the committee members has been established in connection to the Schuyler County website. Notes from committee meetings and other documents are posted on the website so committee members can share information easily.

Purdy and O'Hearn were contacting the five finalists to schedule interviews. Specifics about the time and location for the interviews were being determined by the possible need for internet connectivity if video conferencing is required.

Photo in text: The steering committee of representatives from Yates and Schuyler County met in Penn Yan April 2 to lay the groundwork for choosing a consultant to conduct the shared services study between the two counties.

IDA approves Schamel lease extension at Seneca marina

WATKINS GLEN, April 10 -- The Schuyler County Industrial Development Agency Wednesday approved a 15-year extension on the lease by which Schamel Brothers LLC operates the Seneca Harbor marina.

According to County Administrator Tim O'Hearn, the agreement will substantially increase the revenue realized by the county both before the end of the current lease in 2018 and going forward to the new lease's end point in 2033.

O'Hearn said the county will see its revenue increase between 2014 and 2017 to $244,000, compared to the $17,500 it would have realized had nothing been done. And the revenue from 2018 to 2033 will be between $1.5 million and $1.6 million. "Extrapolated to current terms, the amount would have been $147,000," he added.

The 15-year extension does not include operation of the Village Marina Restaurant. The Schamels will continue to operate it until 2018 under terms of the old lease. The restaurant operation will be put out for bids in 2017, "and will generate a lot more income," said O'Hearn.

The marina operation came under scrutiny recently with the Schamels' request for the extension, something they deemed necessary if they were to spend $150,000 on the renovation of weathered docks in the coming year. The request prompted reaction from Frog Hollow Marina owners Ed and Theresa Woodland, who wanted an opportunity to bid on the Seneca Harbor operation themselves.

The SCIDA vote was 4-0, with one member absent and Chairman Kevin Murphy abstaining because of related business dealings. One seat is vacant.

No formal action is required by the Schuyler County Legislature, O'Hearn said, although it was aware of the lease provisions before the SCIDA vote and was not opposed to it.

A 90-day period is required by the state from the time of the vote to implementation of the new lease, he added. It will take effect after that period expires.

Photo in text: A dock and boat slips at the marina.

Yates, Schuyler open talks

Note: The following was published March 26, 2014 in the Chronicle Express of Penn Yan. We print it here in cooperation with that paper as a service to the readers of Schuyler County.

By Gwen Chamberlain
The Chronicle-Express

WATKINS GLEN, March 26 -- A group of officials from Yates and Schuyler County have begun a process that could spell some major changes in local government. An Ad Hoc steering committee met in Watkins Glen March 19 to discuss how to choose a consultant to study collaboration opportunities between the counties.

“This is a once in 50 years opportunity,” said Yates County Legislative Chairman Tim Dennis.
Schuyler County Administrator Tim O’Hearn agreed, saying the scope of the study will involve work that’s never been done before. He said he has not been able to find evidence of similar work being done between two counties anywhere else in the country.

Yates County Administrator Sarah Purdy says the counties are likely to identify some opportunities for sharing or saving as the study progresses. “There’s no reason to wait for the study to talk about what is or isn’t possible,” she said.

“We need to keep an open mind. There are a lot of opportunities,” added Schuyler County Legislative Chairman Dennis Fagan (pictured at right in file photo).

The group established a system for evaluating the proposals that have been submitted by applicants, and will meet again in Yates County to review the compiled scores and decide which firm will be awarded a contract to study the two municipalities.

The committee discussed its overall responsibilities and the potential for efficiencies that could be uncovered during the process of the study.

The contingent from Yates County included Dennis, Purdy, Legislators Mark Morris, Dan Banach and Jim Smith; Treasurer Winona Flynn, Highway Superintendent David Hartman, Social Services Commissioner Amy Miller and Legislative Clerk Connie Hayes. Legislator Bill Holgate is also a member of the committee, but was unable to attend Wednesday’s meeting.

Schuyler County representatives on the committee are: Fagan, Legislators Tom Gifford, Barb Halpin, Jim Howell, and Phil Barnes as an alternate; O’Hearn; Social Services Commissioner JoAnne Fratarcangelo; District Attorney Joe Fazzary; Community Services Director Shawn Rosno; and Office for the Aging Director Tamre Waite.

Photo in text: Schuyler County Legislature Chairman Dennis Fagan. (File photo)

Area reps rip Cuomo over Monterey

ALBANY, April 1 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C-Big Flats), Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I-Corning) and Assemblyman Chris Friend (R-Big Flats) Monday criticized Governor Andrew Cuomo for refusing to renegotiate his administration’s plan to close the Monterey Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility later this year.

The final 2014-15 state budget agreed upon by Cuomo and legislative leaders, and acted upon by both the Senate and Assembly, does not contain funding to keep Monterey open.

As part of the new budget, the Monterey facility and grounds will be designated as one of New York’s new tax-free zones in an effort to attract redevelopment initiatives, including new businesses and industries.

O’Mara (pictured at right), Palmesano and Friend said in a joint statement: “Together with our local leaders, Monterey employees, and former Monterey inmates and their families, we tried until the very end of this year’s budget negotiations to convince Governor Cuomo to keep Monterey Shock open. We made our case on the merits and on the undeniable facts that Monterey saves state and local taxpayer dollars, effectively reduces recidivism and turns lives around. The Cuomo administration refused to negotiate a better solution for the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes economy, local property taxpayers, local community services, and local workers and their families. It’s the wrong decision.”

The lawmakers said that despite the budget setback, they will continue their efforts to try to find a way to save a shock program at Monterey. They also said that they would continue to closely monitor the efforts of the Cuomo administration to offer transfer and other reemployment opportunities to remaining Monterey staff.

Since last July when the Cuomo administration first announced its plan to shut down Monterey, O’Mara, Palmesano, Friend and other local leaders across the region have joined together with Monterey staff, former inmates and their families and many concerned citizens to urge Cuomo to
reverse the decision.

In private meetings and at public rallies, they’ve highlighted the facility’s critical importance to the regional economy, especially at a time when so many communities have been hard hit by job losses. They’ve stressed the cost effectiveness of Monterey, noting that the shock program has saved the state more than $1 billion through reduced incarceration times and lower recidivism rates among shock graduates. Additionally, numerous community leaders throughout Schuyler, Chemung, Steuben and Yates counties have stressed that Monterey inmate work crews have saved local communities and taxpayers millions of dollars over the years by assisting with local infrastructure, natural disaster cleanup and repair, and other community enhancement projects.

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara

... but like budget's CHIPS funding level

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, April 1 --State Senator Tom O’Mara (R-C, Big Flats) and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R-C, Corning) said Monday that area counties will see increases in state Consolidated Highway Improvement Program (CHIPS) funding under the 2014-15 New York State budget hammered out by legislators and the governor.

In early March, O’Mara, Palmesano and a bipartisan group of nearly 100 legislative colleagues joined county and town highway superintendents and other local leaders from throughout the state to call for increased support for local roads and bridges. They noted that local roads and bridges account for 87% of the roads, 52% of the bridges, and 48% of the vehicle mileage logged in New York State.

CHIPS provides the bulk of state aid to counties and towns for the maintenance and improvement of local roads and bridges.

Following a similar bipartisan effort last year, the 2013-14 state budget provided a $75 million increase in CHIPS funding to an overall level of $438.1 million. It represented the first funding increase for the program in five years.

O’Mara and Palmesano said that CHIPS funding in 2014-15 will be continued at last year’s funding level, $438.1 million, but with an additional $40 million distributed through the CHIPS program to local governments to fix surface road damage, including potholes, created by this year’s extreme winter.

“This continued recognition of the importance of CHIPS funding will make a significant difference for localities, local economies and motorist safety statewide,” O’Mara and Palmesano said in a joint statement.

Swinnerton 'confident' about new plant

WATKINS GLEN, March 16 -- Watkins Glen Mayor Mark Swinnerton says he is optimistic that the Project Seneca plan for a new sewage treatment plant will move forward despite significant problems in the village's existing plant and the resulting possibility of a heavy fine.

Swinnerton, who two weeks ago expressed concern about the effect such a fine might have on the village's ability to share in construction of the new plant -- a joint facility built in conjunction with Montour Falls, probably along the canal across from the Watkins Glen High School property -- now says that village officials have met in the interim with the State Department of Environmental Conservation and instituted a correction plan in the current plant that has Yaw's Environmental Lab of Ithaca assuming oversight of the daily operation. The firm had recently been providing reports on the plant's progress as it operated under a state consent order -- the result of previous operational shortcomings.

"I'm very confident" the Project Seneca plan can continue toward fruition, the mayor said, although he wasn't yet sure what the fine -- initiated under pressure from the federal Environmental Protection Agency -- might be. One reason for that confidence: "We acted quickly, and I think found a reasonable answer," although some fixes -- such as corrections in chlorine levels -- can be achieved faster than other ones. The DEC, he added, is "partnering with us to find solutions."

A new treatment plant is considered a spur to lakefront and other development in the county.

Photo in text: Watkins Glen Mayor Mark Swinnerton (File photo)

Increased state support for roads sought

Special to
The Odessa File

ALBANY, March 6 -- With final negotiations over the 2014-15 New York State budget kicking into high gear over the next few weeks, a group of state legislators, led by Senator Tom O’Mara (R-C, Big Flats) and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R-C, Corning), Wednesday joined county and town highway superintendents and other local leaders from across New York to call for increased state support for local roads and bridges.

“We’re seeing report after report deliver the message that the condition of local roads and bridges is critical, and getting worse,” O’Mara and Palmesano said in a joint statement. “We need a stronger state commitment to our local transportation infrastructure. Local roads and bridges, in every region of New York State, are community and economic lifelines, but they’re at risk from a severe lack of adequate, dedicated funding. State investment in the improvement and upkeep of local roads and bridges is a wise use of taxpayer dollars. It’s an investment in economic growth, job creation, property tax relief and motorist safety.”

Photo in text: Senator O'Mara (at podium), Assemblyman Palmesano (immediately to the left) and a group of their colleagues joined local highway superintendents on the historic staircase in the State Capitol. (Photo proavided)

O'Mara backs medical marijuana act

Special to The Odessa File

ALBANY, March 5 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C-Big Flats) said Tuesday that he will work with his Senate colleagues this session to gain legislative approval of the “Compassionate Care
Act” -- landmark legislation that would create the most tightly regulated, highly restrictive medical marijuana system in the nation.

“This legislation allows for safe, limited access to medical marijuana, for people who suffer from serious, debilitating diseases. I will continue to work to improve the bill to make sure we maintain a
balance between access and compassion for patients, and maintaining control to eliminate the potential black market,” O’Mara said. “Comprehensive medical research and the ever-growing testimony from medical professionals, health care experts, patients and families show that the use of medical marijuana can help ease the pain and suffering of the seriously ill. I have carefully considered the facts, and after meeting with patients and their families I have come to the conclusion it’s time for New York to offer a highly restrictive, tightly regulated network to provide patients access to treatment that will improve their quality of life.”

Waite set to return as SRO

WATKINS GLEN, March 4, 2014 -- Retired State Trooper David Waite, who served as School Resource Officer in the Watkins Glen School District in the latter part of his law-enforcement career, was approved by the Watkins Glen Village Board Monday to resume the role.

Waite, who also previously served the Odessa-Montour School District before O-M jettisoned the SRO position, is currently serving in a similar capacity in the Campbell-Savona School District. A transition from that job to the one at Watkins Glen will take an unknown amount of time, according to Watkins Glen Mayor Mark Swinnerton.

"We have timing issues to work out," he said.

The mayor added that the Village Board has been in contact with the Watkins school district, and that it too is in favor of the hire. The board decision came after an executive session Monday night at which "that and other police matters were discussed," Swinnerton said.

Waite's salary will be $30,000, all of it coming from the school district. He will replace the current SRO, Sgt. Steve Decker, who has been serving in the post on a temporary basis.

Meanwhile, the mayor said the board has not yet decided whether to to replace police officer Mike Powers with a full-timer on the municipal force . That position -- recently vacated by Powers, who had also served as SRO -- is currently being "backfilled by part-timers," the mayor said. "We'll see how the budget goes, but I will say there would be more consistency with a full-timer."

Photo in text: David Waite

Glen faces 'significant fine' on treatment plant violations

WATKINS GLEN, March 4 -- The Village of Watkins Glen is about to be fined what Mayor Mark Swinnerton said will likely be "a very significant amount" of money for its latest failure to meet established standards in its Wastewater Treatment Plant.

The situation, he said, could lead to one where the village must invest heavily in the plant and thus bypass Project Seneca's proposed joint Watkins Glen-Montour Falls replacement plant -- being touted as a spur to Seneca Lake shoreline development. The current plant sits along that shoreline.

The mayor told the Village Board Monday night that he had received a message from the State Department of Environmental Conservation specifying three instances of excessive chlorine levels exiting the plant, and that it appears the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is pressuring the DEC to come down on the village, which has been operating the plant under a consent order -- the result of previous operational shortcomings.

"It looks like we've backed ourselves into a corner," Swinnerton said. "A fine is coming our way, a very significant one, though it has not been finalized. We need a plan of action, which should be part of our executive session tonight" -- a closed meeting following the public board meeting.

"This isn't good," said Swinnerton, noting that it looks as though the EPA has evidently run out of patience with the way the DEC has handled the plant's shortcomings, thus leaving the village in a position where "anything we can do to expedite any retrofits" should be done as soon as possible.

He said village officials would be meeting with DEC and EPA officials after the expected receipt of an official letter specifying the fine.

"Now we've got to start working with the EPA. If we need to spend -- and I'm just throwing it out there -- $100,000 (on the fine), that's money that could be better spent elsewhere. This is very serious, and I'm very concerned about it."

He noted later that if the fine is $100,000, "we can't just pull it from the General Fund and pay it. That has to be borne by the rates. Users would see an immediate increase to pay it."

The amount of the fine "could be far less or far more" than $100,000, he said -- possibly the latter "because of how long this has been going on." The plant has encountered problems for several years.

"If we're forced to put $1 million into the plant," he added, "that puts a damper on our ability to move" the facility -- to replace it with a facility serving both Watkins Glen and Montour Falls. Such a facility is envisioned by some Project Seneca planners as being situated along the canal, across from the high school grounds.

"It's a very unsettling situation," Swinnerton added.

With the fine "imminent," he said, the village will have to adhere closely to whatever the EPA demands. "We can't deviate from that plan. If an (EPA) engineer tells us to do something, we need to do it exactly."

The plant is currently operated by several individuals, with input from engineers and with reports prepared by an environmental firm. When asked if anyone in particular could be blamed for the current situation, the mayor answered: "No comment."

In other business, the board:

-- Heard a plea from officials of Schuyler County Little League Baseball -- President Matt Walters (pictured at right) and Vice President Jesse Schubmehl -- for use of land behind the Community Center at Clute Park for a second baseball field, one in addition to Fazzary Field, which is located across a parking lot. Development of the land, once landscaped for soccer but sitting unused for a few years, would be financed through fund-raising and donations of materials and labor from local businesses. The board gave verbal encouragement, but said Cargill Salt first needed to be consulted because of a couple of brine wells it owns beneath the land there and uses periodically. Said trustee Paul Clifford, a Cargill employee: "They might ask you to slide a little to the east."

-- Heard concerns from a couple of residents who live near the site of the proposed Seneca Terrace Apartments on the hillside behind the Elks Lodge. The residents said increased traffic on Partition Street created by the apartment dwellers would make the intersection with Rte. 14 dangerous, and travel within the immediate vicinity more difficult. They added that the Watkins Glen Planning Board has been doing "a good job" dealing with the project, but that the chance to voice concerns had been limited by Planning Board rules precluding comments until the issue is essentially decided.

After the residents left the meeting, board discussion led Mayor Swinnerton to ask Police Chief Tom Struble to prepare a report by the next board meeting on the desirability of turning a portion of Partition Street, from Rt. 14 up to Monroe Street, into a one-way street.

-- Heard Code Enforcement Officer Greg Larnard confirm that a third Chinese restaurant is being added to the list of village eateries -- in the former Pick-A-Flick building on North Franklin Street. Trustee Scott Gibson (pictured at right) asked if there isn't "something on the books" limiting the number of identically themed restaurants in the village.

"I'm pretty positive that doesn't exist," said Larnard, who was nonetheless asked to research the matter in order to be certain.

Said Gibson: "I'm all for capitalism and letting things sort out, but I'm also for protecting longtime businesses."

-- Heard from Clute Park Manager Michelle Hyde about a proposal from Sara Caldwell of Watkins Glen for a weekly Movies on the Lake program. A letter from Caldwell said she envisions playing a movie (rated G or PG) at Clute Park on an outdoor movie screen on Thursday evenings at 9 p.m. in July and August, "west of the horseshoe pits and north of the playground." It would be a free event, with Caldwell asking local businesses to sponsor the films in return for advertising. The Village Board -- with one member calling it a "neat" idea -- backed the plan and asked Hyde to keep its members informed on how it develops.

-- Set May 10 from 8 a.m.-12 noon as the time period for the village's next Dumpster Day in the parking area between the Community Center and the canal.

Photos in text:

From top at Monday's meeting: Mayor Mark Swinnerton (left) and trustee Kevin Smith; Police Chief Tom Struble; Little League President Matt Walters; trustee Scott Gibson.

3rd Chinese eatery, historical center aired to Planning Board

WATKINS GLEN, Feb. 20, 2014 -- The Watkins Glen Planning Board Wednesday night heard about two projects that are in the early planning stages -- one involving a third Chinese restaurant in the village, and one involving use of the former Clifford Motors property on North Franklin Street as a center devoted to the history of cars, auto racing and the village itself.

Code Enforcement Officer Greg Larnard, in his summary of ongoing projects in the village, told the board that the former Pick-a-Flick property in the Subway plaza on North Franklin Street has been leased from its Bath-area owners by a group of Chinese speaking individuals from out of the area, apparently New York City. He said he has spoken to the group's English-speaking architect, and that plans call for construction of a kitchen within the confines of the existing structure, with an eye primarily toward take-out service. "There will only be a few dining seats," said Larnard.

As for the starting dates for renovations and the business opening, Larnard said those are not yet known. Thus far, he said, "the renters have the lease. That's as far as it's gone." He noted that the project will not require approval by the Planning Board; just the acquisition of a building permit, for which the group has yet to apply. Larnard said of the few facts he has so far, one is that there is no connection between this eatery and either of the village's other such restaurants: the Orient Hibachi Buffet and the House of Hong.

The "Museum"

Tony Vickio, noted sign painter, author and head of the Spirit of Schuyler service organization, was in attendance at the board meeting informally, in advance of a presentation next month regarding a project he and two of his cousins are planning on North Franklin Street. When asked by the board if he had anything to discuss, he decided to outline the project to the board and to a reporter afterward.

Vickio said the former Clifford Motors building and lot, as well as the former Esso station owned by Clifford at the north end of Franklin Street, where the road curves left on its way out of town, are being sold to Vickio's small group, headed by his cousins Louis Vickio Jr. of Texas and Mark Menio of Penn Yan. He said a purchase offer was made on the properties and accepted, and that he hopes the closing occurs early in May.

When asked the purchase price, he shook his head. "I have no idea. I'm the idea guy," he said, noting that his cousins are "the money guys."

Negotiations, Vickio added, are ongoing in an attempt to purchase the two properties between the Clifford lots -- a building currently leased by the Eyes on Seneca optometry practice, and the vacant former Little Joe's Texaco Station. Both are locally owned.

Whether those properties are purchased or not, he said, the project envisioned by him and his cousins will proceed -- with, first and foremost, use of the former Clifford dealership as "a sort of museum, though I hate to call it that," which will among other things pay homage to the Corvette. The idea for that car is believed to have occurred in Watkins Glen. It was the brainchild of General Motors designer extraordinaire Harley Earl, and accounts say he was inspired by his encounter with various European sports cars during a visit to Watkins for a 1951 race. The first Corvette was created in 1953.

"The idea," said Vickio, "is to have a 1953 Corvette on display here, along with the newest Corvette," with the modern display car replaced each year by succeeding models. He said talks are under way with GM regarding such a display.

"But it wouldn't be just about the Corvette," he said of the history center. "We would be honoring all kinds of cars" that have been part of the fabric of Watkins Glen racing lore. "And it wouldn't just be about the cars. There is no place in Watkins Glen that deals with the history of the village -- where you can go to learn about that history." That void would be filled by this project.

He said he has been in touch with the International Motor Racing Research Center regarding it taking part in some fashion in the Franklin Street project. The Research Center is located on the other side of the village, on South Decatur Street. Vickio indicated that the Research Center would not be moving, but "could have a presence" on Franklin Street, directing people to the Decatur Street site.

"We're excited about the project," Vickio told the Planning Board -- about the cars and equally about the village history aspect. He said the "museum" part of the project "will be set up as a 501(c)3" entity "where people can donate (historical) objects or put them on loan. We'll put out a big search" hunting for displayable objects. "It won't just be about autos. There's gonna be a lot of history in there."

He didn't have further details on what might be developed on the rest of the property -- factors contingent in part on how much property is obtained. But he said the hope is that "there will be shops, and eventually a restaurant."

The Planning Board also:

-- Heard an update on the planned Seneca Terrace Apartments planned for land above the Elks Lodge along Rt. 14 north of the village's business district. An apartment spokesman said a property dispute with a neighbor is still not settled, and that a suit has been filed in State Supreme Court in an effort to resolve it. Board chair Chris Bond said the board cannot act on the plan until the dispute is settled.

Photos in text:

Top: The former Clifford Motors property on North Franklin Street in Watkins Glen

Second: The two properties north of the Clifford Motors site. Negotiations are under way by the Vickio group in an attempt to purchase them.

Third: Tony Vickio (File photo)

Bottom: Planning Board chair Chris Bond.

Area reps rip Cuomo's plan
for 'Free College for Prisoners'

Special to The Odessa File

ELMIRA, Feb. 18, 2014 -- State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C-Big Flats), Assemblyman Chris Friend (R-Big Flats) and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I-Corning) Tuesday rejected Governor Andrew Cuomo’s plan to provide a free college education to state prisoners, and again urged the Cuomo administration to reverse its decision to close the Monterey Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility in Schuyler County later this year.

In a joint statement, O’Mara, Friend and Palmesano said, “We reject Governor Cuomo’s proposal to have state taxpayers pick up the tab for providing inmates with a free college education. Hard-working, law-abiding students and families across the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions are
sacrificing and struggling to find a way to pay for college in the face of rising tuition costs and other expenses, and they’re not asking for a state handout to get that education. It’s another bad proposal at the worst possible time for New York State taxpayers. We need to stay focused on cutting taxes, keeping state spending under control and turning around the upstate economy. Now’s no time to add another questionable – and potentially very expensive -- state spending commitment.

"Governor Cuomo already has a proven way to reduce recidivism that, at the same time, saves state and local taxpayer dollars and gives inmates the discipline and the determination to turn their own lives around. It’s called the Monterey Shock Incarceration program, and the governor should keep it open for the benefit of the local economy, local workers, local communities, and the inmates themselves. Monterey’s a better way to turn lives around and reduce state spending.”

Over the weekend, Cuomo unveiled a proposal to provide college-level education at state correctional facilities in 10 regions at a cost of approximately $5,000 per inmate annually. The state currently spends $60,000 a year to house an inmate and approximately $3.6 billion across the state’s correctional system. There are an estimated 54,500 inmates currently confined in state prisons. In announcing his proposal, Cuomo highlighted studies showing “that by earning college degrees, inmates are far less likely to return to prison. New York’s current recidivism rate is 40 percent.”

O’Mara, Friend and Palmesano again pointed to Cuomo’s emphasis on reducing recidivism as a way of cutting incarceration costs as one of the main justifications for keeping Monterey open. In terms of its impact on recidivism, statistics from the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) have shown that 26% of shock graduates released from shock facilities returned to prison within three years, compared to 42% for all DOCCS releases. Add reduced incarceration times to lower recidivism rates and the shock program has saved the state more than $1 billion over the past 26 years, the area lawmakers said. They also noted DOCCS statistics showing that shock inmates pass General Educational Development (GED) tests at a rate of 80%.

O’Mara, Friend and Palmesano said, “We already know that Monterey Shock works to dramatically reduce recidivism rates and incarceration times while, at the same time, cutting costs, saving taxpayer dollars and giving inmates something even more important than free college classes, and that’s the desire and the drive to turn their own lives around by furthering their education or acquiring a practical skill or trade that offers a livelihood and an independent, success-driven future.”

Seneca Harbor Marina lease extension talks will resume

WATKINS GLEN, Feb. 12, 2014 -- The Schuyler County Legislature Monday night, in a 5-3 vote, approved the resumption of negotiations between County Administrator Tim O'Hearn and the Schamel family over a possible extension of the family's Seneca Harbor marina lease.

Voting against the resolution were Legislators Van Harp, Mike Lausell and Phil Barnes. According to the Legislature office, the move does not empower O'Hearn -- acting on behalf of the Schuyler County Industrial Development Agency (SCIDA) -- to reach an accord with the Schamels "on anything or to extend anything," but rather to reopen negotiations and report back on any progress.

The Legislature had, the month before, put the negotiations on hold, with Chairman Dennis Fagan explaining that its members wanted "to look at it further." County Attorney Geoff Rossi was instructed to "research some contractual questions," Fagan said at the time. "We've asked for more clarification on some of the issues," in particular "relative to specific terms of the existing lease, and to determine safety issues relative to the existing docks."

Since that time, one county official said, Rossi reported his findings to the legislators and the matter was discussed by the Public Works committee, which decided to bring the issue to the full Legislature Monday. The session was attended by the Schamels and by the owners of the Frog Hollow Marina on the south end of Watkins Glen, Ed and Theresa Woodland, who are interested in operating the Seneca Harbor marina themselves and thus want a chance to bid on the lease.

The Schamels have held the lease (overseen by SCIDA) since 1983 and are looking for a 15-year extension from 2018 to 2033. They are seeking the extension, they have said, to ensure that they earn back the $150,000 they plan to apply to an upgrade of the marina docks. The Woodlands have argued that the lease should be put up for bid as "a point of fairness."

The legislators made clear Monday that they will approve an extension only if there are "significant new revenues" for the county, which owns the property and serves as its guardian. SCIDA is, in the words of O'Hearn, the "governing body that leases and subleases" the property.

The Legislature made clear last month that any extension, should it occur, will not include the Village Marina restaurant, currently operated by the Schamels. That will come up for bid in 2018.

Photo in text: Legislature Chairman Dennis Fagan (File photo)

Judge orders incarceration
for Larry and Kimberly States

WATKINS GLEN, Jan. 31, 2014 -- Schuyler County Judge Dennis Morris sentenced Larry and Kimberly States to incarceration Thursday for stealing money from the Monterey Fire Department over a five-year period while serving as officers of the department.

Morris sentenced Larry States -- a former sergeant in the Schuyler County Sheriff's Office -- to 1 1/3 to 4 years in state prison, and States' wife Kimberly to a year in a county jail, likely Chemung County's. Schuyler County has no such facility for women.

The verdicts came after guilty pleas by the pair last year to grand larceny in connection with the theft of more than $100,000 from the fire department. According to a report from the State Comptroller issued following an audit of the fire department's books, "misappropriated funds and questionable payments/purchases" made by the Stateses -- while the husband was chief and the wife was treasurer -- "comes to approximately $134,000." A total of $26,386 of that amount falls under "questionable," but "appears personal in nature."

The sentences were separated by lunch -- Larry States learning his fate before midday, and Kimberly States after. In both cases, arguments were put forth by Assistant District Attorney John Tunney urging state-prison time because of the heightened visibility of the cases and the need for deterrence should any other leaders in positions of public trust consider theft as an option.

And in both cases the defense attorneys -- James Ferratella for Larry States and assigned counsel Wesley Roe for Kimberly States -- pointed to pre-sentence reports that offered the suggestion that probation might be utilized, either by itself or in tandem with a short local jail term. In both cases restitution was expected, and embraced.

Judge Morris asked both defendants if they had anything to say. Larry States said no, although his attorney pointed out that States had been working (at Zotos International, a hair-care products firm in Geneva) and had paid back some of the money, with the intent to fulfill that obligation. Ferratella suggested community service as a sentence, so that States' life "would become work instead of jail."

But while States himself remained mum, his wife had a prepared statement that she read at her sentencing. Among her comments:

"I know that my actions were wrong and immoral. Not a day goes by that I haven't regretted (them)...I am sincerely, deeply remorseful ... I brought shame on myself, and put shame on my family...I've disgraced my profession (nursing)...Please accept my apology." She added that she "accepts" the consequences.

Added Attorney Roe: The defendant "made bad decisions that snowballed out of control." She is a "good person," he said, "taking responsibility for her actions...She has paid a huge price personally."

In sentencing Larry States, Morris said he couldn't "ignore the monumental proportions of this crime" -- a crime that occurred across years. "The defendant made dozens of bad choices over several years," said the judge, "and only a small amount" of the stolen money "has been recovered."

Beyond that, he said, the defendant was employed by both the Sheriff's Office and Fire Department. "You betrayed the trust" of both departments, he said, "and the citizens of the county."

As a result, the judge added, a sentence of "one and a third to four years is required," along with restitution of $115,000.

Larry States' attorney, Ferratella, asked if the judge might "hold off" on the application of the sentence "so the defendant can get his affairs in order."

Tunney quickly objected, saying the defense had "known for some time" that sentencing was coming and that there was "a possibility that Mr. States would go to prison. His decision not to get his affairs in order in the face of that reality was another bad choice."

Morris denied Ferratella's request, and the defendant was taken into custody and, soon after, led from the courthouse and over to the adjoining Sheriff's Department. He was scheduled to be taken to Elmira for processing and a determination as to which state facility would house him.

Afterward, District Attorney Joe Fazzary -- on hand to witness the sentencing -- said he thought the incarceration would likely include a provision that would keep States separate from the general prison population, given his career in law enforcement.

In sentencing Kimberly States, Morris said he couldn't "ignore the comparisons" in the two cases. And he noted the "six-figure" nature of the crime -- money for which restitution was being ordered, but also money that it would be "wildly optimistic to think will ever come in."

He pointed out the violation of the public trust that the defendant committed, and that the crime was committed "over a period of time. You made numerous bad decisions...when you were not financially destitute."

As a result, he said, "incarceration is required."

Following sentencing, the defendant was taken into custody for transport to the Chemung County Jail.

Photos in text: Larry and Kimberly States are led from the courthouse following sentencing.

Larry States exits the courthouse on his way to the adjoining Sheriff's Office after sentencing.

O'Mara, Palmesano will keep fighting against Camp closure

MONTEREY, Jan. 23, 2014 -- State Senator Tom O'Mara and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano marked the day of the final scheduled graduation from the Monterey Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility with assurances that they will continue the fight to keep the facility open.

The Shock camp is targeted for closing in July as part of a Cuomo Administration budgetary move. The final class of inmates on hand to graduate did so on Wednesday.

O'Mara, in a press release, said the local, grassroots effort to convince the governor to reverse
the decision will continue.

"This may be Monterey’s last graduating class for the immediate future," said the Senator, "but we’re far from shutting down our local, grassroots effort to convince Governor Cuomo that closing Monterey doesn’t make sense. I’m disappointed that the Cuomo administration still shows no sign of
reversing its decision to close Monterey this year. But this year’s budget adoption process is just beginning and I will be continuing to work to get the governor to reconsider the closure. I believe we've made a strong case for keeping the facility open and we’ll keep working to ensure that the
governor hears us. It's too important for the local economy, for regional community services and for the effectiveness of correctional services statewide. We’re not giving up on saving Monterey for the long term.”

O’Mara, area state Assemblymen Phil Palmesano and Chris Friend, Congressman Tom Reed and other local leaders across the region have joined together with Monterey staff, former inmates and their families and many concerned citizens to urge Cuomo to keep Monterey open since his
administration announced its closure plan last July.

They continue to highlight the facility’s critical importance to the regional economy, especially at a time when so many communities have been hard hit by job losses. They’ve stressed the cost effectiveness of Monterey, noting that the shock program has saved the state more than $1 billion through reduced incarceration times and low recidivism rates among shock graduates. Additionally, numerous community leaders throughout Schuyler, Chemung, Steuben and Yates counties have stressed that Monterey inmate work crews have saved local communities and taxpayers millions of dollars over the years by assisting with community infrastructure and other cleanup and enhancement projects.

Added Palmesano in a press release:

“As we start the budget process, we will continue to make the case to the Cuomo administration by sharing the facts and the overwhelming grassroots support in place which justifies keeping Monterey Shock open. I have said over and over again, it makes absolutely no sense to close Monterey Shock, which has a proven and well documented record of success over the past 26 years of not just saving state and local tax dollars, but even more importantly, of changing and saving lives by giving new hope and opportunity to the thousands of graduates who have completed this successful program.”

Palmesano said that he, O'Mara and Friend are working to schedule a direct meeting with the administration in the near future.

Photo in text: Sign at the Monterey Shock Camp.

Schuyler County Judge Dennis Morris, left, administers the Oath of Office to (from left) Legislators Van Harp, Michael Lausell, Barb Halpin and Jim Howell. The four were elected in November -- Harp, Lausell and Howell to first terms.

Seneca Harbor Marina lease negotiations are put on hold

New legislators sworn in; Fagan retains chairmanship

WATKINS GLEN, Jan. 8, 2014 -- The Schuyler County Legislature Wednesday put Seneca Harbor Marina lease negotiations on hold, and welcomed three new Legislature members to four-year terms.

Joining the Legislature -- sworn in jointly by Schuyler County Judge Dennis Morris -- were Jim Howell, Michael Lausell and Van Harp, all elected to first terms in the November general election. Also taking the oath was incumbent Barb Halpin, who defeated longtime legislator Glenn Larison in the September Primary and in November as redistricting pitted the two against one another in the new District 1.

In addition, Dennis Fagan was unanimously re-elected Wednesday by his fellow legislators to the position of Chairman. He was first elected to the post in 2011.

The meeting -- a combination of the lawmaking body's annual organizational meeting and its monthly Legislative Resolution Review Committee session -- featured arguments from two families interested in the marina lease: the Schamels, who have held the lease (overseen by the Schuyler County Industrial Development Agency) since 1983 and are looking for a 15-year extension from 2018 to 2033; and the Woodlands, spouses Ed and Theresa, who operate Frog Hollow Marina on the south end of Watkins Glen and want a chance to bid on the harbor marina lease.

The Schamels, noting that they have put extensive funds into the development of the marina area, said they need the extension to ensure that they earn back the money they plan to apply to an upgrade of the marina docks. The Woodlands said the Schamels' performance is not in question, but rather (as Theresa Woodland put it) "a point of fairness" is. By opening the marina operation to a bidding process when the lease expires in 2018, she said, the county and SCIDA would be "giving the most revenue to the county that it can possibly get. It doesn't mean the Schamels wouldn't get it; but other people are willing to invest in the marina" and want at least an opportunity to bid.

County Administrator Tim O'Hearn (right) outlined the situation, saying the Legislature had given its blessing to negotiations by saying it wasn't opposed to a lease extension, and that SCIDA had designated him as negotiator. He explained that SCIDA is the "governing body that leases and subleases" the county-owned property, but that the money paid "flows through the county" government in its role "as guardian of the property."

He said that SCIDA and the Legislature understand how the Schamels, before investing $150,000 in needed dock repairs, want some assurance of monetary recovery -- the assurance being the lease extension. However, he said, the extension would not include the Village Marina Restaurant, also operated by the Schamels through a lease agreement. That will come up for bid in 2018, said O'Hearn.

The Legislature broke for an executive session shortly after the discussion, and the matter was not revisited until after the Resolution Review Committee meeting had concluded -- when a reporter asked O'Hearn and Fagan if any action was expected on the lease extension in the near future. Their response: the issue had been "put on hold," in Fagan's words, during the executive session "because of some of the issues raised" by the Woodlands and by Nick Kelly, an associate in the Frog Hollow operation.

"We decided to look at it further," said Fagan, with County Attorney Geoff Rossi instructed to "research some contractual questions. We've asked for more clarification on some of the issues," in particular "relative to specific terms of the existing lease, and to determine safety issues relative to the existing docks."

Other matters:

--Fagan said that among key issues facing the Legislature in the year ahead are an improvement in the performance of the Treasurer's Office; alternatives to rapidly increasing costs related to homelessness; "enhancing the revenue potential of the Mental Health department"; and continued support for Project Seneca, which envisions a new wastewater treatment plant along the canal, removal of the old one on the southern shore of Seneca Lake, and subsequent lakefront development.

Another goal: development of the long-languishing Business Park on Rt. 414. There is "one potential client we're working with," said Fagan -- a situation "we're hopeful will bear fruit."

--The continued absence of Legislator Mike Yuhasz, absent for many months and currently residing in the Bath VA Medical Center, boils down to the Legislature "simply waiting for Mike's determination on when and if he will return," said Fagan. Yuhasz is entering the final year of a three-year term as legislator.

Fagan said the absence of Yuhasz is not impacting committee assignments, since the eight-person Legislature has an extra member this year -- Tom Gifford in the final year of a three-year term -- due to redistricting. However, the Chairman added, "we're clearly concerned about Mike's continued absence."

Yuhasz, he added, has recently encountered "new health issues -- not major," but significant enough that they "might prevent him coming back in the foreseeable future."

New legislators Harp and Lausell were given committee assignments that would have been held by Yuhasz, with the understanding that -- said Fagan -- "if and when Mike returns, we can reverse" the assignments.

Photos in text:

From top: Legislature Chairman Dennis Fagan, County Administrator Tim O'Hearn, Seneca Harbor Marina lease-holder Guy Schamel and Frog Hollow Marina's Ed Woodland at Wednesday's meeting.

The Watkins Glen waterfront before the Schamels acquired the lease to operate the marina in the 1980s. This photo was distributed at the Legislature meeting by Guy Schamel.

Jones leaving SCOPED post

WATKINS GLEN, Dec. 10, 2013 -- Kelsey Jones, who has guided the Schuyler County Partnership for Economic Development (SCOPED) for 14 years as Executive Director, has submitted his resignation, effective at the end of the month.

Word of Jones' resignation had been circulating over the weekend. When asked after Monday's monthly meeting of the Schuyler County Legislature about Jones' status with SCOPED, County Administrator Tim O'Hearn said simply that Jones had "tendered his resignation" effective at the end of December and would be "pursuing other options.".

But Legislature Chair Dennis Fagan, standing nearby, expanded on that, saying Jones "has done a good job" in the move to upgrade Franklin Street in Watkins Glen and increase the quality and number of apartments along that thoroughfare. "He's had a lot of successes. Franklin Street has made tremendous strides."

But, he added, the 16-member SCOPED Board of Directors feels "a stronger figure" is needed to run the agency now that movement is under way toward development of the southern shoreline of Seneca Lake as envisioned in Project Seneca.

"We needed to go in a different direction," said Fagan. "While Kelsey is good with details, we needed a larger picture type of person."

The departure of Jones, he added, "is not really a negative thing. We felt the time was right."

For his part, Jones implied in an email to The Odessa File that personal matters affected his decision, and said "there are excellent people in place to carry the 'ship' forward ... I feel gratified to know that much was accomplished" during his 14-year tenure. (For a full version of his statement, click here.)

Jones was the second executive director of SCOPED, succeeding Susan Payne, who served for about two years. SCOPED, formed in 1998, was preceded by Five Lakes Development. Among those who led Five Lakes was Rick Weakland, who subsequently was a Corning Enterprises and Corning Incorporated executive and now is project director of Project Seneca.

Fagan said a search would likely be mounted for a successor to Jones after the return of SCOPED Board President Michael Printup, president of Watkins Glen International, who has been out of town.

Weakland, he said, has been doing "a great job" overseeing Project Seneca, which envisions a new wastewater treatment plant likely shared by Watkins Glen and Montour Falls, and probably located on the eastern side of the canal across from the Watkins Glen High School playing fields.

That would lead to the sale and elimination of the current treatment plant, located next to the Village Marina on the southern shore of Seneca Lake.

After that is gone, lakeshore development can begin in earnest, proponents of the plan say.

"We're pleased with (Weakland's) efforts," said Fagan (pictured at right). "And we're pleased with private individuals who are stepping up." He didn't elaborate on that point.

"And getting the two villages to cooperate and collaborate -- that's a major accomplishment," he added.

SCOPED, its website says, assists "in identifying the financial and professional resources needed for business creation and expansion" in the area, and partners with individuals and businesses "to deliver innovative and comprehensive economic development packages."

In other words, it helps line up grants, tax credits and other incentives for various projects, helping bring them to fruition. One recent example was the creation of apartments on the second floor of the Jerlando's building at the corner of Franklin and Fourth Streets.

Members of the SCOPED Board include Printup, Fagan, Legislator Stewart Field, Montour Falls Mayor John King, Kevin Murphy (secretary), Burdett Mayor Dale Walter, Hector Town Supervisor Ben Dickens, Town of Catharine Supervisor John Van Soest, Cornell Cooperative Extension's Danielle Hautaniemi, Jeff Confer (vice president), Jeff Greuber (treasurer), Donald Chutas of Cargill Salt, Michael Donnelly of Corning Inc., Chuck Franzese of Hunt Engineers, David Whiting of Red Newt Wine Cellars, and Watkins Glen Area Chamber of Commerce President Rebekah LaMoreaux.

Photos in text: Kelsey Jones, top, and Legislature Chair Dennis Fagan.

Schumer visits Glen brewery, backs 50% cut in excise tax

Special to The Odessa File

WATKINS GLEN, Dec. 2, 2013 -- U.S. Senator Charles Schumer visited Rooster Fish Brewing in Watkins Glen Monday morning while pushing for a bill he and 20 bipartisan colleagues are introducing that would cut the federal excise tax on small breweries in half.

Such a move, he said, would help small brewers reinvest in their businesses, hire new employees, and revitalize downtown communities.

Brewers curently pay a $7 per barrel excise tax for the first 60,000 barrels they brew per year. Under the Small BREW (Brewer Reinvestment and Expanding Workforce) Act of 2013, that rate would be cut to $3.50 per barrel, resulting in potential savings of $210,000 per year per brewery.

The bill would also cut the tax by $2 per barrel on the next 1,940,000 barrels produced, resulting in potential savings of another $3,880,000.

Rooster Fish Brewing, located on Franklin Street in Watkins Glen, is one of New York State's first "Farm Breweries," which means it uses 20% local products in its blends. Rooster Fish produced 700 barrels of beer last year, and is on pace for 1,500 barrels in 2013.

Based on the Small BREW Act, that anticipated level of production would mean an excise tax savings of $5,250 per year.

"Small breweries throughout Upstate New York, like Rooster Fish Brewing, not only brew great beer," said Schumer, "they also pour jobs into the community. By cutting taxes for these small businesses, we can help grow the economy and put more New Yorkers back to work in stable, good-paying jobs. Breweries are the crown jewels of so many of our communities, and many of them have renovated charming old buildings in downtowns across the state. Putting more money back in these businesses will be good for economic development, good for jobs, and good for Upstate New York."

Any brewery making fewer than 6 million barrels of beer per year would be eligible for the tax cut. That amounts to about 2,400 businesses. The bill would save them more than $17 million nationwide this year.

Schumer was joined during his visit by Rooster Fish Brewing owner Doug Thayer, Watkins Glen Mayor Mark Swinnerton, Watkins Glen Area Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Rebekah LaMoreaux, and Schuyler County Legislature Chair Dennis Fagan.

Photo in text: Rooster Fish Brewing owner Doug Thayer, left, with Senator Charles Schumer during Schumer's visit to Watkins Glen. (Photo provided)

Schuyler man gets life sentence
in sexual exploitation case

Special to The Odessa File

ROCHESTER, Nov. 25, 2013 -- A Schuyler County man, Daryl Vonneida of the Town of Dix, was sentenced in federal court in Rochester to life in prison Monday following conviction by a jury in February on 14 counts related to the sexual exploitation of children across decades.

The charges included production of child pornography, transporting minors in interstate commerce for illegal sexual activity, and possession of child pornography.

The sentence was handed down by U.S. District Court Judge Charles J. Siragusa, who told the defendant: "I think it's unfathomable, 40 years of preying on children."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Marisa J. Miller, who handled the case, said the 63-year-old Vonneida (pictured at right) was sentenced to life in prison on each of the counts of production of child pornography and transportation. Judge Siragusa also sentenced the defendant to 20 years on each of the possession of child pornography counts, all to be served concurrently.

Vonneida had been found guilty in sexual abuse cases three times before, most recently in 1989.

“This case sends a clear message that if you victimize a child, you could spend the rest of your life behind bars,” said U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul. “It also reminds all of us that child predators can include persons who work in positions of trust, and that we must continue to be vigilant with respect to those who interact with our children.”

Vonneida was charged after two minor children came forward with allegations of abuse by the defendant. Authorities said that members of the New York State Police and Federal Bureau of Investigation executed a search warrant at the defendant's residence in September 2011 and recovered videos produced by Vonneida in which he coerced four children to engage in sexually explicit conduct. The defendant, they said, admitted to producing the videos and to taking the children to Hershey Park, PA and Splash Lagoon in Erie, PA.

Evidence presented by the Government at trial showed that the defendant used his position as a volunteer photographer at a church in Horseheads to gain the trust of parents and victims.

The sentencing is the culmination of an investigation on the part of Special Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Brian P. Boetig, and members of the New York State Police, under the direction of Major Mark Koss.

Photo in text: Darryl Vonneida (Photo provided)


For information about protecting children from exploitation and abduction, the U.S. Attorney's Office suggested the public visit the following websites:

NY Sex Offender Registry:

DOJ National Sex Offender Public Website:

What you can do to protect your child (NCJRS):

Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Department of Justice
OJJDP Publications/Child Protection:

National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC):

NCMEC’s website to teach children about dangers on the Internet:

The Federal Bureau of Investigation's Crime Against Children Program webpage:

Planning Board green-lights
parking lot, housing project

WATKINS GLEN, Nov. 21, 2013 -- The Watkins Glen Planning Board Wednesday night gave final site-plan approval to two projects -- clearing the way for the Dunkin' Donuts parking lot expansion and the development of apartments in the Watkins Glen Middle School.

The Dunkin' Donuts parking lot plan, debated before the Planning Board at a public hearing last month, was granted approval without any further fireworks in a 3-1 vote, member Tom Merrill opposed.

One stipulation had to do with alterations to the lot's lighting. Neighbors and board members had expressed concern about bright lighting "spillage" being an annoyance.

The lot will be extended to the north with the demolition of a house there that has been under ownership of Dunkin' Donuts for months.

The hearing last month had brought both criticism and support for the project. Opponents said expansion was unnecessary and the demolition contrary to the village's Comprehensive Plan.

Watkins Glen Apartments

The Planning Board also gave final approval to the plan by the Binghamton-area S.E.P.P. Group (Serving the Elderly through Project Planning) to transform the Middle School into 51 apartments for the elderly. The group has transformed old schools into similar housing projects in the past, and is awaiting a state grant to help finance this one.

The Middle School is being phased out of use by the Watkisn Glen School District, which will consolidate into a single campus on 12th Street, where renovations and expansion are ongoing.

Project approval came immediately after a public hearing at which Dan Whelan of Bearsch Compeau Knudson, Architects & Engineers of Binghamton, explained to the dozen people in attendance the planned layout of the facility, known as the Watkins Glen Apartments.

The complex will be for people 55 and over. It will be separated from the building's gymnasium and auditorium, which will be used for community events. Few exterior changes are planned, other than the addition of a wheelchair accessible entrance in the front of the building, new windows throughout, and some masonry restoration.

Additional parking will be added in the property's northeast corner, and the asphalt playground at the rear of the property will be eliminated, with a grassy area installed for use by the building residents.

Streetscape Project

The Planning Board also gave informal backing to a project that requires Village Board approval -- a streetscape project that is part of the 2011 Main Street Program grant.

This $15,000 project, paid for by the grant but with the proviso that the village maintain it for five years -- a measure that Mayor Mark Swinnerton, in the audience, assured the Planning Board that the village is willing to do -- calls for the installation of a couple of six-foot benches, plus planters and awning, on the sidewalk along the south side of the Chamber of Commerce office on Third Street. Vines will adorn the wall.

The grant funds are time sensitive, so approval is expected at the next Village Board meeting, with development of the project to follow soon thereafter.

Among those on hand to outline the project were Brian Williams of the Schuyler County Partnership for Economic Development (SCOPED) and architect John Barradas of Ithaca.

Photos in text:

Top: Dan Whelan outlines the Watkins Glen Apartments project, set for the Middle School.

Bottom: A model of the Chamber of Commerce building and the planned streetscape project.

From left: Michael Lausell, Van Harp, Jim Howell and Barbara Halpin.

Halpin, Howell, Harp, Lausell win County Legislature seats

Change in Treasurer's post rejected

SCHUYLER COUNTY, Nov. 6, 2013 -- Barbara Halpin, Jim Howell, Van Harp and Michael Lausell were elected Tuesday to four-year terms on the Schuyler County Legislature.

Meanwhile, voters rejected a Proposition to change the elected County Treasurer position to an appointive County Director of Finance.

The proposition, hotly debated by opponents, was defeated 2,841-1,364.

And in the Town of Dix, incumbent Republican Supervisor Harold Russell defeated challenger Scott Yaw, a member of the Town Council, 401-273. Russell had also defeated Yaw in the Republican Primary in September. Yaw was running Tuesday on the Listening Party line.

Halpin, a Republican incumbent, polled 317 votes to defeat Democrat challenger Michael Burns (210 votes) and incumbent Glenn Larison (41), who was running on the Listening Party line after losing decisively to Halpin in the GOP Primary.

Halpin and Larison were pitted against one another due to redistricting -- the realignment of legislative voting districts based on shifts in population.

Howell, a Republican newcomer also running as a Conservative and on an independent line, defeated Democrat challenger Paul Cartwright, 322-170, in District 4. Howell had defeated incumbent Tom Gifford in the GOP primary. Gifford was accordingly not in November's race, but returns to the Legislature for one more year from his previously constituted district. He will be a ninth member of a normally eight-person lawmaking body, which will return to eight members the following year as redistricting continues on a staggered basis.

In the new District 2 in the Town of Hector, Harp -- a retired FBI agent running on the Republican, Conservative and Individual Rights lines -- defeated Democrat Shirley Barton, 423 to 313. Barton was also running on the Community Counts line.

And in District 3, also in the Town of Hector, Lausell -- a Democrat also running on the Community Counts line -- defeated John R. White, 396-367. White was running on the same lines as Harp.

Meanwhile, in other contested races:

Town of Hector: Three Republican-Conservatives were elected to full four-year terms, while another Republican-Conservative was defeated in the race for a two-year seat of an unexpired term.

Elected to four-year terms were Beverly Morley (894 votes) and incumbents Michael J. Bergen (right, with 878) and Alvin J. White (left, with 881). Trailing were challengers Daryl Anderson (770), Debra Reid (769) and Melissa Chipman (759). Anderson, Reid and Chipman are Democrats who were also running on the Protect Hector line.

Bo Lipari, also a Democrat running on the Protect Hector line, defeated Conservative S. David Poyer 761-727 for the two-year seat.

Town of Tyrone: A three-person race for two Council seats saw Republicans elected. Top vote-getter was incumbent Pamela Grimmke with 265 votes, while Christopher Bacon was second with 260. Alan Hurley was defeated with 101 votes.

Town of Orange: A race for Highway Superintendent saw Democrat Jeffrey Sutton defeat incumbent Republican Darold DeCamp, 225-90.

Town of Dix: The supervisor's race wasn't the only contested race. In the election for Town Clerk, incumbent Republican James McMahon defeated Jacqueline Leszyk, 387-245. Leszyk was running on the Listening Party line.

And in a three-way race for two seats on the Dix Town Council, Republican F. Joe Hammond and incumbent Republican Graig W. Gardner were elected with 453 and 372 votes, respectively. Narrowly missing was Democrat Jeffrey J. Meehan, with 370.

Town of Cayuta: A three-way race for two seats on the Town Council saw incumbent Democrat Ted Dudgeon (80 votes) and incumbent Republican Steven Brown (51) returned to office. Democrat William P. Barrett lost his bid for a seat with 43 votes. And in the race for Highway Superintendent, incumbent Republican Thomas J. Beach defeated Democrat Larry D. Vail 112-62.

State Senator Tom O'Mara speaks at the podium as Assemblymen Chris Friend, left,
and Phil Palmesano listen.

Rally sends ongoing message: Save Monterey Shock Camp

BIG FLATS, Oct. 27, 2013 -- An estimated 200 people -- state correctional officers, state and local officials, and supporters -- were on hand Saturday at the Harris Hill National Soaring Museum for a rally opposed to Governor Andrew Cuomo's planned closing of the Monterey Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility.

Speakers told of the economic impact that the shutdown will pose to municipalities and parks and to the Soaring Museum -- where Monterey inmates play a key role in the facility's upkeep. Inmates, through their work around the region, save municipalities an estimated $1 million a year.

This was the second rally in support of Monterey. The first one, attended by about 200 people, occurred several weeks ago at the Watkins Glen Community Center.

Among those invited to the rally by organizers was a former Monterey inmate, Stephen Ray, who spoke in support of the Shock facility. He graduated from it in 1999.

The program at the Shock Camp, which offers GED studies, counseling, and a low rate of recidivism, "is important to me," Ray said, "and it's important to the community. We need a model program like this one."

Ray is partner in a Utica business called Out of Order Fitness Repair, which provides engineering and tech support for fitness equipment at universities and hospitals.

State Senator Tom O'Mara opened the session with a brief talk extolling the virtues of the Monterey facility, including the savings it provides communities through the work of inmate crews.

The Soaring Museum director of marketing and development, Ron Ogden, supported O'Mara's words by noting that the museum is dependent on Monterey workers to provide the tourist attraction with a continually clean, visitor friendly appearance.

"I'm happy to see the turnout here," he said, noting that the Monterey inmates "are great workers, and respectful. They provide us with a service that we really can't provide for ourselves. They are a most important asset to us."

Officials on hand included Assemblymen Phil Palmesano and Chris Friend.

Palmesano noted that organizers are nearing the point where they will deliver to the governor's office a collection of petitions, letters, and municipal resolutions opposed to the Monterey closure.

Friend said that considering all of the positives inherent in the Monterey program, the governor's action "just doesn't make any sense."

Supporters have also noted that Monterey’s closing comes on the heels of another Cuomo administration plan, to shut down inpatient services at and diminish the overall role of the Elmira Psychiatric Center – a move that could result in job losses and other economic consequences.

Other officials on hand Saturday included Elmira Mayor Sue Skidmore, Chemung County Sheriff Christopher Moss, Schuyler County Legislature Chair Dennis Fagan, Schuyler County Administrator Tim O'Hearn, Joe Sempolinski representing Congessman Tom Reed's office, Chemung County Executive Tom Santulli, Schuyler County Legislator Phil Barnes, former Corning Mayor Frank Coccho, and others.

Photos in text:

From top: Rally speaker and former Monterey inmate Stephen Ray, now a Utica business co-owner; Joe Sempolinski, representing Congressman Tom Reed's office; and Chemung County Executive Tom Santulli.

From left at rally: Elmira Mayor Sue Skidmore, Chemung County Sheriff Christopher Moss, and Ron Ogden, director of marketing and development at the Soaring Museum, which hosted the rally.

Legislature appoints new county planner

WATKINS GLEN, Oct. 22, 2013 -- The Schuyler County Legislature Monday night unanimously approved the appointment of a homegrown woman as the new County Planning Director.

Kristin VanHorn, a Watkins Glen High School and Penn State University graduate who has a degree in Landscape Architecture and has been designing comprehensive master plans for Department of Defense installations around the country, "clearly led an outstanding field of candidates," County Administrator Tim O'Hearn said at the Legislature session.

Projects for which the county has been paying money to consultants are "exactly what she does," O'Hearn said. "She has led a team designing DOD communities. Her focus will be on Comprehensive Planning."

She has "worked in the field for five years since graduation," O'Hearn noted, adding: "She very much wants to come home. It's nice when we can attract young professionals back home." Her salary will be $51,000.

She succeeds Rocky Kambo, who moved from the area less than a year after taking the County Planner's job. O'Hearn said VanHorn has "more hands-on experience" than Kambo had when he assumed the Planner's post.

In other business, the Legislature:

--Heard from O'Hearn that the reconstruction of the Shared Services Building, damaged earlier this year in an early-morning fire, is on schedule or a little ahead, and that the county has received .$2,544,000 from the insurance carrier.

--Affirmed, through Chairman Dennis Fagan, that the increase in the tax levy in the coming budget will be "somewhere slightly over 2%, well within the allotted tax cap." A public hearing on the budget was set for Nov. 12 at 6:30 p.m. in the Human Services Complex in Montour Falls. The budget might be adopted at a regular Legislature session that follows the hearing.

--Appointed Dr. Benjamin Saks, D.O., to fill the County Coroner position vacated with the resignation of William J. Saks, M.D., "until such time as a primary can be held to fill the unexpired term."

--Approved the introduction of a Local Law amending the salaries of various county officials, with a public hearing to be held on Nov. 12 following the budget hearing. The salaries, which include 3% increases, will take effect Jan. 1. They include: Commissioner of Social Services $77,250; Real Property Tax Director $81,129; County Attorney $100,940; Clerk of the Legislature $49,890; Deputy Commissioners of Elections $34,750 and $31,827; Personnel Officer $65,920; County Administrator $111,448; Public Defender $84,048; and Commissioners of Elections $12,603.

--Voted unanimously against endorsing the state's Proposition No. 1 on the November ballot, which would extend casino gambling in New York. The move was "a protest vote," Fagan said, in response to the state's plan to close the Monterey Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility. Fagan said he was also protesting the state's gun-control SAFE Act, and a lack of language in the Proposition concerning gambling's negative impacts.

Photos in text:

Top: Legislator Phil Barnes listens to Alan Hurley speak during the Public Participation portion of the meeting.

Bottom: County Administrator Tim O'Hearn at Monday's session.

Dan Whelan of Bearsch Compeau Knudson, Architects & Engineers of Binghamton, outlined some minor changes in the Middle School plan affecting parking, signage and lighting.

Elderly project a step closer

Planning Board gives preliminary OK;
Dunkin' Donuts plan assailed and supported

WATKINS GLEN, Oct. 17, 2013 -- The Watkins Glen Planning Board gave preliminary site-plan approval Wednesday night to the planned Watkins Glen Apartments -- the elderly housing project envisioned in the Watkins Glen Middle School.

The school is being phased out by the Watkins Glen School District and sold to the Binghamton-area S.E.P.P. Group (Serving the Elderly through Project Planning), which has transformed old schools into similar housing projects in the past, and is awaiting a state grant to help finance this one. For an earlier story with maps, click here.

The Planning Board -- after listening to Dan Whelan of Bearsch Compeau Knudson, Architects & Engineers of Binghamton, explain minor alterations in the plan -- found that there was no negative environmental impact in the plan, approved the preliminary site plan as complete, and then approved the preliminary plan itself.

Next stop for Whelan and the S.E.P.P. Group is the Schuyler County Planning Commission next month, and then back to the village Planning Board for a public hearing -- after which the board might give final site-plan approval.

The apartment complex will have 51 units for people 55 years of age and older.

Public Hearing

The ongoing attempt by Dunkin' Donuts to gain approval for a parking-lot expansion was the subject of a public hearing the Planning Board held prior to dealing with the Watkins Glen Apartments matter.

About a dozen interested area residents were on hand, with most of them speaking in opposition to the plan, criticizing it as unnecessary since the existing Dunkin' Donuts lot is empty a high percentage of the time. They were also critical of garbage that blows from the property to neighbors' yards.

Most outspoken was Liam O'Kane, who wondered how the board could approve something -- the proposed elimination of a house at the north end of the Dunkin' Donuts property, with blacktop taking its place -- that is in opposition to the philosophy of the Village's Comprehensive Plan. He said more than 150 people had signed an online petition opposing the parking-lot plan, which he then submitted to the board.

A spokeswoman from the Tudor Rose Bed & Breadfast on Durland Avenue, near the Dunkin' Donuts shop, also opposed the plan, as did Marie Fitzsimmons, a teacher in the Watkins Glen School District, and Travis Durfee, owner of the Madison Guest House on North Franklin -- who said he had thought about purchasing the house that Dunkin' Donuts wants to level.

"I urge you to vote 'no' to see if there might be more productive uses" for such homes, Durfee said.

However, Angeline Franzese, who with her husband runs the Villager Motel downtown, said that parking is an important component in the success of any business, and that if Dunkin' Donuts says it needs increased parking, it should be granted.

And board member John Bond said that he had placed copies of a survey on the counters of various businesses in the village asking people to say whether they were in favor of the parking-lot expansion, opposed to it, or didn't care.

He said 203 of the surveys -- 89 of them from village residents -- were in favor of the expansion, with three opposed and six not caring.

"That tells me," he said, "that most people who don't show up at these meetings are in favor" of the Dunkin' Donuts proposal.

In the end, no action was taken by the Planning Board. Any move would wait until the next meeting, in November, said acting chairman Chris Bond.

Photos in text: From top: Planning Board member Amedeo Fraboni listens to public hearing speaker Liam O'Kane; Angeline Franzese speaks in favor of the Dunkin' Donuts parking-lot expansion; and board member John Bond explains his survey, which showed respondents heavily in favor of the parking-lot plan.

Summer Rec is coming back

Grant to school district will fund Glen program for 3 years

WATKINS GLEN, Oct. 1, 2013 -- The Summer Recreation program jettisoned by the Village Board two-and-a-half years ago for budgetary reasons is being reinstated, thanks to a grant obtained by the village in conjunction with the Watkins Glen School District.

The grant will provide $22,000 to the village in each of the next three years, said Mayor Mark Swinnerton -- the exact amount it cost to run the Summer Rec program before it was axed.

The program will once again provide swimming, basketball, volleyball, arts and crafts and other activities at Clute Park under the guidance of counselors and under the direction of the Village Parks Department.

The Summer Rec funding is only a small portion of the entire school grant, a federal Carol M. White physical education grant to be used by the district to implement PIVOT (Physical Activity is Vital to Our Tomorrow). The entire grant totals $1,083,993 across three years. An outline of its goals can be found on the Schools Page.

“We’re very excited by this,” said Swinnerton (pictured at right), who explained that the village worked in conjunction with the school district in preparing the grant application.

“Any time you can team up with another municipality or entity,” he said, “good things can happen. We need more good news like this to keep coming.”

Although the heavy majority of the overall grant is being directed to the school district, Summer Rec will be operated by the village as it was for “for eons,” Swinnerton said, adding that it “will be open to any student in the school district.”

That posed a problem when the village was funding it, he said, noting that at the time the plug was pulled on the program -- shortly after he took office as mayor -- 75% of its participants were from outside the village. “So the village was subsidizing kids from outside,” he said.

That same scenario could be in place at the end of the three-year grant, but Swinnerton shrugged off the possibility. “It could get back to that,” he said, “but right now we’ll take whatever we can get.”

When the program was axed by the Village Board, the mayor said, the village was in the midst of a budget crunch. “We did it out of the gate,” he said, “and we knew we’d take a lot of flak for it. But we didn’t have any options at the time.”

Now, he said, it will be reinstated after the board approves “a resolution of some sort of support,” and makes sure that “certain criteria are met."

The program is expected to be up and running in time for the summer of 2014.

Photo in text: Watkins Glen Mayor Mark Swinnerton.

Walmart evacuated after threat

WATKINS GLEN, Sept. 26, 2013 --The Walmart store in Watkins Glen was evacuated for about two hours Wednesday night after writing found in the men's bathroom indicated "there might be a bomb" in the store "at a later date," Village Police Chief Tom Struble said. The store, evacuated at 7:30 p.m., was reopened at 9:30 p.m.

Struble said writing of an unspecified nature -- he wouldn't say whether on note paper, toilet paper or the wall -- indicated a future incident "relative" to an explosion, but with no indication of a specific kind of explosive device.

Village police called in bomb-sniffing dogs from Cornell University's security force -- Labradors that "specialize in explosives detection," the chief said -- although the writing did not threaten an immediate incident.

"We erred on the side of caution" in regards to the writing's time reference, Struble said, with the dogs and police combing the store and finding "no threat to the public at this point. We'll be working to pursue the case over the next few days."

As part of the probe, he said, police will be reviewing video of the rest room exterior prior to the discovery of the threat, studying people entering the room in an effort to detect "maybe a unique identifier, how they're acting." He wouldn't go into specifics beyond that, saying he didn't want to jeopardize the investigation.

"We take this very seriously," he said, although "we felt confident enough to reopen the store" after searching it.

Village Board eyes 3rd bridge

Okays $14,500 feasibility study by Hunt

WATKINS GLEN, Sept. 11, 2013 -- The Watkins Glen Village Board Monday night voted 3-2 in favor of a $14,500 feasibility study by Hunt Engineers to determine the need, if any, for a third bridge over Glen Creek, at either Porter or Perry Streets.

Mayor Mark Swinnerton, who approached Hunt with the idea, voted in favor along with Trustees Kevin Smith and Scott Gibson. Trustees Tony Fraboni and Paul Clifford were opposed.

Swinnerton (pictured at right) said afterward that the matter of a third bridge-- the existing ones are on Franklin and Decatur Streets -- has long been discussed, but that there has "never been a traffic study done to show the benefits." Accordingly, he said, he "solicited a proposal from Hunt" for such a study to determine "whether a bridge is required" to alleviate traffic issues in the village.

While those issues manifest themselves during the summer tourist season, he said, an autumn study was preferred by the Department of Transportation, although the summer traffic will be considered.

"The Number One complaint I get in phone calls," Swinnerton said, "is hands down traffic, whether it's gridlock or trucks or how shutting down Franklin or Decatur raises havoc.

"It's safe to say that traffic will only get worse," he added, as the village moves forward with Project Seneca, which envisions a new sewage treatment plant and shoreline development. "And it's bad now."

He said he approached Watkins Glen School Superintendent Tom Phillips with the idea, and that Phillips took it to the School Board.

"The School Board is very much in support of the bridge," Swinnerton said, noting that it would prefer to see it located on Porter Street so that northbound buses exiting the12th Street school campus can go straight to Fourth Street. Right now, buses often log-jam with other buses on Decatur Street.

The impact on the school district factors into the study, he said, because school is in session 10 months each year.

Beyond that, he noted, the county is "anxious to see what the numbers show" -- particularly with the study taking into account "30 years of future growth, what with Project Seneca and the changes ahead. We hope the area continues to grow."

The Hunt study, he said, will "show the Village Board the facts so we can decide if the bridge is needed. Even though studies cost a considerable amount of money, they're important -- as with the police department." The existing Village PD was the subject of a recent study which, officials decided, showed the department's continued need.

While Fraboni and Clifford didn't feel the Hunt study would demonstrate a need for the third bridge, Swinnerton said, "those are their opinions. By doing a study, we'll look at facts."

The study will begin this month, he said, "and we should have the facts in October."

Photo in text: Mayor Mark Swinnerton (File photo)

Taxes, exemptions in focus during Legislature meeting

WATKINS GLEN, Sept. 10, 2013 -- Amid various resolutions, the meat of the Schuyler County Legislature's monthly meeting Monday night came from peripheral issues pertaining to the STAR exemption program, Walmart's assessment reduction pursuit, and a sales tax shortfall.

Among the issues:

-- Jeff Bartholomew, Syracuse regional manager of the state Office of Real Property Tax Services, outlined state legislation mandating that property owners in New York state must re-register with the state in order to retain in 2014 the Basic STAR exemption that reduces school taxes.

Homeowners 65 and older who have the Enhanced STAR exemption are not affected, Bartholomew said, although they must continue to apply annually or participate in an Income Verification Program.

Bartholomew, in a presentation to legislators and spectators, said part of the reason for the Basic STAR re-registration -- the exemptions had been automatically renewed for years -- was because of elements of fraud that had been found in the system.

He said property owners who currently have the Basic STAR exemption are being notified by letter with a registration code to be used on the state website, or by phoning (518) 457-2036. The deadline to register -- and thus maintain the Basic STAR exemption -- is Dec. 31. There will be no need to register every year for the exemption, Bartholomew added, saying: "This is supposed to be a one-and-done process."

Barthlomew will also be at the Odessa-Montour School Board meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday and at the Watkins Glen School Board meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday to discuss the issue.

-- Legislature Chairman Dennis Fagan noted that the county's sales tax revenue is down about 2% from a year ago, and is running "5 or 6% below" what was anticipated in the current county budget.

-- County Administrator Tim O'Hearn noted that the assessment reduction sought by Walmart has been settled with the Town of Dix, with the assessment set at $11.4 million for the next three years, down from $12.4 million. Walmart had been seeking a reduction to $5.7 million.

In other business:

-- O'Hearn noted that the work on the Shared Services Building -- extensively damaged in a March fire -- is well underway, with much of the outer shell of the structure stripped away. "We're looking at design issues," he said, in an effort to determine how the building might be improved from its original architecture. Among the possible changes would be the addition of a sprinkler system "if other economies can be made," he said. Completion date is still set for mid-March.

-- O'Hearn noted that the position of County Planner will be advertised with the announcement by current planner Rocky Kambo that he plans to move to Ohio in October for personal reasons. Kambo has held the post since Jan. 1.

-- Legislators accepted a 2012 audit of county finances, which showed what one legislator said were "significant deficiencies" that are being addressed. The report was being posted on the county website,

Photo in text:

Top: From left, County Administrator Tim O'Hearn, Legislature Chairman Dennis Fagan and Legislator Doris Karius at the meeting.

Bottom: From left, Legislators Phil Barnes, Barb Halpin and Stewart Field.

Here are the GOP Primary candidates

WATKINS GLEN, Aug. 7, 2013 -- The Schuyler County Board of Elections has provided the following list of candidates running in the Sept. 10th Primary Election.

There is no need for a Democratic Primary.

From left: Sheriff Bill Yessman, Congressman Tom Reed, Elmira Mayor Susan Skidmore and Monterey Shock Camp Superintendent Leroy Fields leave the facility's Education Building at the end of the group's tour.

Reed: 'We need Monterey'

Rally planned in Watkins Glen Sept. 9

MONTEREY, Aug. 30, 2013 -- Congressman Tom Reed -- after attending Thursday’s monthly graduation of inmates at the Monterey Shock Incarceration Facility -- said that every effort possible will be made to get the scheduled closing of the facility reversed.

Meanwhile, a conference call of leaders in three counties Thursday resulted in a plan to hold a rally in support of the Shock Camp at 1 p.m. Monday, Sept. 9 at the Watkins Glen Community Center.

Efforts will be made to turn out a large crowd at the rally, said Schuyler County Legislator Phil Barnes, in order to send a message to Governor Andrew Cuomo, whose administration has scheduled a July 26, 2014 closing of the Monterey facility.

Reed, who last week dropped in on a weekly meeting of Monterey employees and supporters at Monterey Jack’s tavern, returned to Monterey for Thursday’s graduation of 18 inmates from the six-month program, which combines group counseling, drug and alcohol abuse treatment and work on public projects.

The Shock Camp, which currently houses about half of its capacity of 300 inmates, has been targeted by Cuomo for closure as a cost-cutting measure, but camp supporters decry the fact that many communities in the region, as well as the state park system, will suffer the loss of a great deal of inmate labor provided without charge. That work will have to be picked up by the communities if the camp is closed.

As one man put it later Thursday at another of the employees’ weekly sessions at Monterey Jack’s, “We lose these guys, (the communities) are gonna be screwed.”

Reed put it more delicately when he spoke Thursday morning to the media gathered on the state roadway that runs through the Shock Facility. He had just attended the graduation, and been given a tour of the camp by Superintendent Leroy Fields. Schuyler County Sheriff Bill Yessman had delivered the keynote address at the graduation, while Reed had told the graduates to “never give up.”

“The Monterey Shock Facility is something we’re going to fight for,” the Congressman told the media. “One of the reasons I came here was to let people know it’s valuable to our communities. I told the graduates to never give up, and we’re never going to. We are saving thousands of dollars in the communities through the work of these young men. This is a bipartisan effort to tell Albany to change this decision.”

Reed said he had yet to hear “a clear answer” as to why the shock camp was put “on the chopping block. We have to stand up and fight for what we need, and we need this facility.” Toward that end, he noted, a petition drive led by camp employees and by State Senator Tom O’Mara and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano is underway to “let the Governor know this was the wrong decision.”

Meanwhile, publicized events will be planned, he said, “to raise community awareness. We need the Monterey Shock Facility to stay opened.”

Added Elmira Mayor Susan Skidmore, also present for the graduation ceremony: the closing “will be a huge loss to us.” Her city often utilizes Monterey labor.

While the graduation was ongoing, state and regional leaders decided in their conference call on the day, time and location of the planned rally. An email campaign addressed to affected municipalities, and a media -- including social media -- blitz will attempt to attract a large crowd to the Watkins Glen Community Center.

The rally was announced at the afternoon session at Monterey Jack’s by Barnes, who chairs the Legislature’s Public Safety Committee. He noted that the Legislature will be passing a resolution soon in support of the shock camp, and said government units in villages and towns around the region are being asked to do the same. Some already have.

Another conference call will be conducted on Sept. 4, he said, adding: “As your elected officers, we’re not going to let this thing drop.”

Mike Dildine, a union representative from Western New York, was also on hand at the tavern session to tell the employees that “you guys are starting in the right direction” with a petition drive, signs, letters to Albany officials and planned message-laden T-shirts. But he cautioned that one of the shock camps staying open -- the Lakeview camp in Chautauqua County -- “is busting at the seams” with inmates.

“They lowered your numbers and filled up Lakeview,’ he said, “That’s how they do it” when a closing is desired by an administration. “They reduce your numbers” to show capacity is not being met.

“That’s the plan. Everything is going to be run through Lakeview.”

Photos in text: Signs in front of the Monterey Shock Incarceration Facility administration building.

Shock Facility inmates march on their way to lunch.

Fagan: Monterey 'shouldn't be closed'

Congressman Reed joins the fight; 50 Cent interested, too

WATKINS GLEN, Aug. 23, 2013 -- A congressman and a rapper have entered the picture as the effort continues to fight the planned closing of the Monterey Shock Incarceration Facility.

Governor Andrew Cuomo has opted to close the facility next year. He bypassed State Legislature participation in the decision by issuing a one-year administrative notice.

Congressman Tom Reed on Thursday attended the weekly meeting of Shock Camp employees and supporters at Monterey Jack's tavern -- a meeting designed to update one another on the growing battle.

A spokesman in Reed's office said the next day that the Congressman plans on taking a role in fighting the closure.

Schuyler County Legislator Phil Barnes, speaking at Friday's Legislature meeting, said the rapper 50 Cent (real name Curtis Jackson) has also indicated he is getting involved. Jackson was an inmate at Monterey in 1994 after his arrest on drug charges -- long before he attained entertainment fame.

Schuyler Legislature Chairman Dennis Fagan is also in the battle, along with State Senator Tom O'Mara and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano, both of whom attended a meeting at Monterey Jack's last week.

Fagan reported Friday, duing the Legislature meeting, on the ongoing battle -- telling how a conversation he had with Governor Cuomo last week resulted in contact from the State Corrections Department's Acting Commissioner, Anthony Annucci. Fagan also outlined that conversation in an email to The Odessa File.

He said the commissioner, in "a 15- to 20-minute conversation," told Fagan the closing was a difficult choice because Annucci was "instrumental in the 1987 legislation creating the Shock Program in New York State" -- but that "an increase in shock vacancies warranted the closing even though the criteria for shock eligibility has been significantly expanded. In 1996 there were 26,000 drug offenders compared to less than 7,000 now."

Of the two other shock facilities in the state, Annucci told Fagan, Lakeview "would not close due to its large size. So the choice came down to Monterey or Moria." The latter was saved by political pressure four years ago, and thus had a political backing that left Monterey as the one to close -- despite millions of dollars in infrastructure improvements over the last decade.

But Fagan said that taking all aspects of the closing into account, "I'm convinced this is something that shouldn't be closed."

In addition to the weekly meetings at Monterey Jack's, he added, efforts are underway by O'Mara and Palmesano -- in conjunction with officials from affected counties -- to mount a rally and a petitoin drive in support of the Shock Camp. Officials from Schuyler, Chemung and Steuben counties are also meeting to discuss the issue.

Chief among the arguments being touted is the work produced by Monterey inmates on behalf of communities in the region -- especially cleanups at parks and cemeteries and along roadways. Opponents of the closing are also gathering testimonials from former inmates who attest to the positve effect the Shock Camp had on their lives.

"But we must move fast," said Fagan, since the state will soon stop sending inmates to Monterey. "And it would be a little difficult to save a camp that doesn't have any inmates," he added.

While petitions are being circulated by hand -- Legislator Glenn Larison was circulating one at Friday's meeting -- there is also one posted on-line. To reach it, click here and register.

Photos in text: Chairman Dennis Fagan at Friday's Legislature meeting; the sign above the entrance to Monterey Jack's tavern in Monterey, where weekly meetings are held.

The conceptual map of the proposed apartment complex.

Apartment complex plan revised, earns conceptual approval from Planning Board

WATKINS GLEN, Aug. 22, 2013 -- The Watkins Glen Planning Board Wednesday night gave conceptual approval to a revised plan for the proposed Seneca Terrace Apartments, a complex planned on the hillside behind the Elks Lodge on the north end of the village.

The revised plan reduces the number of apartments to 24 from the 28 previously envisioned, and eliminates an entrance to the complex from Route 14 due to safety concerns expressed by the board at a meeting earlier this summer.

The board said that in granting the conceptual approval, it will move next toward consideration of specific site plans. Engineer Ted Lauve, in utilizing a concept map to explain the changes, said his firm will move forward with those site plans now. A public hearing will be held before final site plan approval can be granted.

The board also heard from a traffic engineer, Gordon Stansbury, who said a study of traffic flow showed that access to the apartment complex -- and egress from it -- will not significantly impact traffic on the nearby Partition, Monroe and Jackson streets.

The plan now calls for two 12-unit buildings, with primary access from North Monroe Street along a new access drive connecting to North Jackson Street. Construction of the complex would start soon after final approval is granted by the Planning Board, and would take up to 18 months to complete.

The Planning Board also:

--Discussed the Dunkin' Donuts proposal to expand its parking lot -- which would include demolition of a house purchased by Dunkin' Donuts at the north end of the current lot.

Another house north of the first one has also been sold, Planning Board members said -- adding that they believe the second structure belongs to Dunkin' Donuts under a different corporate name.

Planning Board Acting Chairman Amedeo Fraboni asked James Gensel, a representative of Fagan Engineers of Elmira, if Dunkin' Donuts indeed owns that second property. Gensel -- who was substituting at the meeting for a Fagan planner who could not attend -- said he did not know, but would ask. Fraboni and other board members said they need to know what the plans are for that second structure if indeed it is under Dunkin' Donuts' control -- the idea being that if another business is targeted for that property and needs parking, then the need for the lot expansion would be more pronounced.

The board also told Gensel that it doesn't want a fence running the length of the lot along Franklin Street -- with board member Tom Merrill saying he would prefer a landscaped berm.

The board said it would also like a parking/traffic study done of the existing lot, and board member John Bond said "the new lighting should not be offensive." It was suggested, too, that lighting on the south end of the property should be adjusted to avoid annoying the neighbor to the immediate south.

Photos in text:

Top: Ted Lauve of Lauve Engineering explains the apartment concept plan to the Planning Board. The map he was utilizing is shown above.

Bottom: James Gensel of Fagan Engineers, the firm oveseeing the Dunkin' Donuts parking lot plans.

Governor Andrew Cuomo is flanked by Scott Welliver, left, and Gene Pierce during a stop at Pierce's Glenora Wine Cellars along Route 14 north of Watkins Glen.

Cuomo visits 3 wineries, presents Governor's Cup

Touts tourism and the wine industry to downstate merchants

WATKINS GLEN, Aug. 14, 2013 -- Governor Andrew Cuomo -- leading a bus caravan through the Yates and Schuyler County wine country -- capped a day of promotion for tourism and wine Tuesday by presenting the annual Governor's Cup during an awards dinner at the Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel.

The Cup -- a silver chalice signifying the outstanding wine of the year in New York State selected by a panel of experts from 875 entries -- was presented to Keuka Spring Vineyards for its 2012 Riesling. Keuka Spring is located near Penn Yan.

Accepting the honor were Len and Judy Wiltberger, who founded the business in the early 1980s.

Best of Category winners included Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards (Best Red Wine for its 2010 Cabernet Franc), Finger Lakes Distilling (Best Spirit for its McKenzie Rye), and Earle Estates Meadery (Best Specialty Wine for Raspberry Reflections). They and other category winners were considered for the Governor's Cup honor. McCall Wines from Long Island won the “Winery of the Year” award.

Cuomo -- speaking to a dinner gathering of 200 people at the hotel -- also announced the upcoming launch of a TV ad campaign promoting New York State’s award-winning wines. The 30-second ad, with a catch line that says "Discover your favorite New York wine tonight" -- was shown publicly for the first time at the dinner. To view the ad, click here.

The dinner followed a day in which the Governor visited and toured the Anthony Road Wine Company in Penn Yan, Glenora Wine Cellars in Dundee, and Lakewood Vineyards outside of Watkins Glen.

He was on one of several buses traveling together. On board were various officials -- such as State Senator Tom O'Mara, Assemblyman Phil Palmesano and Schuyler County Legislature Chair Dennis Fagan -- and downstate wine merchants and New York State Restaurant Association members recruited to visit the Finger Lakes to familiarize them with the area and all it has to offer in tourism and wine products.

As Cuomo said in a speech at the hotel later, the wine industry and tourism "have a magnificent role to play in the future of this state. It is breathtaking what tourism opportunities there are. There is a synergy between tourism and the wine industry that helps both grow. Both engines are humming."

He urged the visiting tour members to take back home word of "the unparalleled beauty of the Finger lakes" and to tout the wines that they found awaiting them Tuesday at each stop on their journey.

With a number of inhibiting laws and regulations now "out of the way," the governor said, "all we need now is exposure. We need to get (outside areas) to taste New York State wines. I'm glad you people from across the state are here. We want you to help in growing this."

He said it "all comes down to sales and marketing, and we have the best product imaginable."

Photos in text:

Top: Governor Andrew Cuomo presents the Governor's Cop to the Wiltbergers of Keuka Spring Vineyards.

Middle: Chris Stamp of Lakewood Vineyards and John Martini of the Anthony Road Wine Company relax during the bus tour stop at Lakewood.

Bottom: Governor Cuomo samples wine during the stop at Glenora.

Brian McKenzie, left, of Finger Lakes Distilling is congratulated by Governor Cuomo for winning the Best of Spirit category.

Left: Schuyler County Legislature Chairman Dennis Fagan shakes hands with the governor.
Among officials on hand at the dinner was Watkins Glen Mayor Mark Swinnerton.

The dinner attendees watched the premiere of the new TV ad.

Left: Miranda Polmanteer of the Seneca County Chamber of Commerce at the Glenora stop. Center: Assemblyman Phil Palmesano. Right: Governor Cuomo exits the bus upon arriving at Lakewood Vineyards.

Protesters were present outside the Harbor Hotel. Some carried signs protesting the planned closing of the Elmira Psychiatric Center, some objected to the New York SAFE (Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement) Act, and some opposed fracking and LPG storage.

Star-Gazette reporter Jeff Aaron, right, interviews two members of the tour -- both merchants from Brooklyn who had never been to the Finger Lakes before. Both Gilbert Bahadoor, left, of East River Liquors and Jeff Cohen of Tops Liquors praised the region and its wines.

Left: Alan Hurley, who had issues with the legislators. Right: County Administrator Ti