The Year in Review: October-December 2013

October 2, 2013

Becker's Tire destroyed by fire
A fire of undetermined origin broke out at approximately 12:30 a.m. on Friday morning, September 27 and totally destroyed Becker's Tire Service, located on Route 30 in Grand Gorge.
Firemen from Grand Gorge, Roxbury, Margaretville, Prattsville, and Stamford found the building totally involved when they arrived. Fighting the fire was complicated by hundreds of burning tires stored in the building. Fireman used foam to combat the burning rubber. Firemen were still at the scene at 8 a.m. Friday morning wetting down hot spots in the building.
According to a source, Becker's Tire service has 11 full-time employees. The business sells car and truck tires at its Grand Gorge location and services a wide-area of farm clients with several service trucks. The remains of at least one of the service trucks could be seen inside the building. The historic building had served as home to Becker’s Tires for more than 40 years.
For the past five years, the business has been owned by Rick and Machelle Haight.

Film shot locally opens to critical acclaim
“We Are What We Are,” a film shot in locally last year, opened in New York and Los Angeles over the weekend to excellent reviews.
Director Jim Mickle’s movie received award nominations at the Sundance Film Festival and the 2013 Cannes Film Festival’s Directors’ Fortnight. 
“We Are What We Are” is actually a remake of a 2010 Mexican movie, “Somos Lo Que Hay,” but has been re-imagined by Mr. Mickle and co-writer Nick Damici. Although the story delves into a family’s long history with cannibalism, Mr. Mickle said that gory aspect is actually a backdrop, rather than an overriding theme.
They rewrote many of the details and changed the setting from the slums of Mexico City to rural upstate New York. The co-writers also wanted to explore a theme that could justify the family’s “lifestyle.” The answer they came up with was religion.
Ironically, a massive flood is also central to the plot and the local region provided real-life evidence of post-flood devastation when it was shot in the spring of 2012. Many area residents filled roles as extras.
The director said that an authentic Greek Revival farmhouse in Bovina serves as the family’s home, the Titan Drilling office in Arkville was transformed into a police station and the streets of Halcottsville served as the setting for a festival scene. Carlson’s Trailer Park in Arkville is another key location, as is Hogan’s Store in Andes.

Resident, 91, escapes burning home
Early Sunday morning Hank McCann of Dunraven went into the basement of his Ben Meeker Road mobile home to add some wood to the fire. But when he got there he saw wires arcing and flames that had spread well beyond the furnace and were about to engulf his entire home.
McCann is 91 years old and has lived by himself for the past five years, so for his safety, he wears a medical-alert pendant. Sensing the emergency, he pushed the button and he told the person who answered that his home was on fire. The medical alert service called the Margaretville Fire Department for him.
McCann was able to make it to his brother’s home, about 100 feet away, on Ben Meeker Road. He credits to the pendant he was wearing for saving his life.
His nephew, Louis McCann, said Hank lost everything in the fire. He is staying with his sister who lives a bit further up Ben Meeker Road.

October 9-16, 2013

Mike Triolo elected president of CWC board
The Catskill Watershed Corp. (CWC) Board of Directors has a new president.
He is Michael Triolo, supervisor of the Town of Stamford, and former economic development director of the CWC.
Triolo was unanimously elected to the position by fellow board members, including the outgoing president, Georgianna Lepke. The Sullivan County representative is relocating to Florida.
During the 1990s, Lepke participated in the negotiations for the NYC Watershed Memorandum of Agreement that led to creation of the CWC in 1997. She has been intimately involved with Watershed policy making as a member of the CWC Board since its inception.
Triolo was on the CWC staff from 2003 until his retirement in 2012. He was elected to the CWC Board in April of that year. Following his election as president last week, Triolo remarked, “If I can do half the job Georgie’s done, I’ll be happy. And if at any point I lose sight of the fact that this is a regional organization, representing people in Delaware, Sullivan, Schoharie, Greene and Ulster counties, you let me know.”
Said Wayne Marshfield of Delaware County, “Mike’s the most experienced of anyone on this board, he knows the programs inside and out, and is a good fit for the organization.”

Sundaes in Grand Gorge lost to fire
Another Grand Gorge business was destroyed by fire when flames swept through Sundaes Restaurant & Dairy Freeze early Monday morning [October 14]. The building, located on Route 23, and its contents, are a complete loss. Fire fighters from Grand Gorge, Roxbury, Prattsville and Stamford responded to the blaze, which was fully involved when the call came between 3 and 4 a.m.
The Sundaes’ fire follows a blaze that destroyed Becker’s Tire Service on September 27. Sundaes is owned by Walt Carman of Conesville who purchased it more than a year ago and, following renovations, opened in August 2012. Bernice Strand, who owns Creekside Café across Route 23 from Sundaes, told the News on Tuesday that the entire community is shocked and is ready to help in any way it can. Fire investigators were scheduled to be on the scene Tuesday morning in an attempt to determine a cause of the fire.

New businesses planned for former G. Willikers factory

Last week the Middletown Planning Board approved Margaretville businessman Peter Molnar’s plan to put three new businesses in an historic Arkville building that has been unoccupied for several years. It most recently was the factory for G. Williker’s children’s clothing.
The 18,000-square-foot building on county Route 38 has a long and storied history. Early television legend Milton Berle used to spend summers in Arkville, as the building was his uncle’s furniture factory. 
In later years it was used to manufacture suitcase handles. In the 1960s, Adirondack baseball bats were made there.
Molnar purchased the building several years ago in the county tax sale.
One [space] will be by appointment only. It will sell baby gift baskets. The other store will be a 4,000-square-foot discount beer and beverage store.
The third business will be an indoor storage facility for cars, boats, and equipment like forklifts. Customers would be able to use the facility 24 hours a day.

From the issue of October 30, 2013

Margaretville eCenter goes on the sales block
The former Masonic Lodge building on Main Street that was renovated to house the Margaretville eCenter is for sale.
It was meant to be Margaretville’s version of the Delhi eCenter. But more than three years after the project first began, the eCenter has no paying tenants. [Mary Beth] Silano says the project started more than three years ago, during a recession, so the bad economy was one strike. Then there was a significant delay in getting state funding. Strike two. Then there was the flood. All of these factors essentially doomed the project.
Meanwhile, the Delhi eCenter, which had a significant head start in a significantly larger community, is flourishing. Its profits are being used to keep the Margaretville building open and she said they can no longer compromise one building in order to support another.
The asking price is $225,000. Silano says about $400,000 has gone into the building. The money came from the State of New York, several other grants, and private fund raising. She says even though public money was used, it can be sold to private investors. 

Miller cancels debate with opponent Delameter
Middletown Supervisor Marge Miller has cancelled a debate that was scheduled for Friday, Nov. 1.
The debate would have been the only public forum between the Democratic incumbent and her challenger, Republican Nelson Delameter. Middletown Republican Committee Chairman Chuck Freas [said that] a representative of the Miller campaign sent him an email canceling the debate, criticizing the Republicans for alleged personal insults and accusing the Republicans of “character assassinations.”
During a Republican campaign rally Saturday morning at the Crazy River Cafe in Margaretville Freas, while praising the Republican candidates, unleashed a barrage of anti-Miller statements, calling her arrogant and accusing her of offensive behavior toward others, including town employees.

Invesigators seek link in Grand Gorge fires
Investigators are trying to determine if there’s a link between a Grand Gorge man arrested last week for an attempted break-in and two recent devastating fires in the hamlet.
James S. Hartley Jr., 25, was charged on Friday with third-degree criminal trespass after he allegedly tried gaining entry into the Otsego Northern Catskills BOCES early on the morning of October 14.

During that same morning, a fire destroyed Sundae’s, a popular eatery on Route 23 in Grand Gorge. That blaze followed a September 27 fire that swept through the Becker Tire Service building at the Route 30 entrance to the hamlet.
Delaware County Undersheriff Craig Dumond said that both fires have been deemed suspicious. The origin of a leaf fire occurring on October 16 along Intake Road, Grand Gorge is also being investigated.
The undersheriff said that determining any possible links between the fires will be a lengthy process.

November 6, 2013

Election Results: Delameter Knocks Off Miller in Middletown, but Absentees could decide race
Republican challenger Nelson knocked off one-term Democratic Supervisor Marge Miller in a hotly contested race for Middletown Supervisor on Tuesday.
Unofficial results from the Delaware County Board of Elections show Mr. Delameter receiving 489 votes to 467 for Ms. Miller. Absentee ballots are due at the board of elections by November 12.
On the Middletown Town Board, Republican incumbent Jake Rosa and longtime Democratic board member Michael Finberg were re-elected. 
Margaretville attorney John Fairbairn 3rd, a Democrat, was an easy winner in the race to fill an open justice position. He fills the position vacated by Glen George.
Democrat David Goodchild Jr. won a term as tax assessor with 744 votes.
 Veteran Republican Supervisor Marty Donnelly ran unopposed.

Democratic [town board] challengers Thomas Joyce and R. Dale Cole defeated Republican incumbents Martin Liddle and Daniel Grommeck.

Republican assessor Tina Moshier won re-election by a 292-168 margin.

Michael McAdams, a Republican, ran unopposed for superintendent of highways.

Incumbent GOP justices Joseph Grieco and Nicholas Burton were each running without opposition.
longtime Democratic Supervisor Thomas Hynes earned another two-year term over Independent challenger Bill Walcutt.

Two town board positions were decided on Tuesday with incumbents Allen Hinkley and Gene Cronk winning re-election.

Incumbent Democrats Wayne Pebler and Joan Moore ran unopposed for justice and tax collector, respectively.
 Republican Supervisor Tina Mole easily withstood a challenge from Independent candidate Beatriz Sohni.

Superintendent of highways Democratic incumbent Ed Weber defeated Republican challenger Brian McIntosh.

Democrat Evelyn Stewart was re-elected to a town board position and Republican Kenneth Brown won the other open board seat, [which was] vacated by longtime board member Chuck McIntosh.

Republican tax collector/clerk Catherine Hewitt ran without opposition.

Congressional action raises flood insurance premiums
In an attempt to stabilize the finances of FEMA, Congress recently passed the Biggert-Waters Act. The first phase went into effect on October 1.
Peter Sluiter of Margaretville’s Sluiter Agency told the News that the Biggert-Waters Act has resulted in many property owners seeing an immediate average increase of 15 percent on their flood insurance bill, although the increases range from six to more than 20 percent.
In an unusual show of bi-partisan solidarity, 57 members of the House of Representatives, including 19th District Congressman Chris Gibson, a Republican, passed a resolution last week calling for a four year delay in the implementation of the highest premium hikes. 
But Sluiter says the October 1 increases are here now. He says flood insurance is affordable if you live in a preferred risk area [where] flooding is unlikely. Policies for those property owners can be “a couple of hundred dollars.” But coverage for property owners who live in a high-risk area can be very costly. A new business owner would have to pay annual increases of 25 percent until thy reach the “full risk rate,” and no one has determined what that rate will be.

Shokan auction house up in flames
A strong fire erupted in an auction warehouse in Shokan Monday morning, claiming both the building and its contents.
Fire fighters responded to the call at about 8:40 a.m. and wrestled the blaze down in about an hour. But then, the building’s owner, Russell Oakes, called the fire company back around 2 p.m. because flames began kicking up again.
The fire, which is believed to have been the result of an electrical problem, claimed the building, formally known as Petfare, on the corner of Route 28 and Ridge Road. Oakes said, “It was all finished off inside. Now its shot.”
Eric Borjeson of West Shokan has been holding monthly auctions in the building for several years. Borjeson, who was uninsured according to Oakes, is said to have lost about $10,000 worth of inventory. This month’s inventory included the contents of an old Odd Fellows Hall.
Also destroyed in the fire were Borjeson’s box truck and van.
By the late afternoon Oakes, along with his brother/partner Robert, were already beginning to clean up with the help of several friends. Oakes said that he has not made any decisions about how to proceed beyond that.

November 13, 2013

Miller storms back to win election on absentee ballots
In a race so close that it took an extra week to determine the winner, incumbent Marjorie Miller has been re-elected to serve a second two-year term as Supervisor of the Town of Middletown.
Miller, a Democrat, trailed Republican challenger Nelson Delameter by 22 votes after last Tuesday’s election, but when 82 absentee ballots were tallied at the Board of Elections in Delhi yesterday, Miller had made up the deficit and more, winning by an unofficial count of 523-513.
Delaware County Democratic Committee Chairman Tom Schimmerling said that statistically, under normal circumstances, “It would be virtually impossible for her to have won.” But he said he knew that she worked hard during the campaign on absentee voters. Miller claimed 56 absentee votes out of the 82 cast with 23 absentee votes going to Delameter, who also won one affidavit vote. One ballot was invalidated, and two voters chose not to vote on the supervisor’s line.
The results are not official, and even though the race was very close, there won’t be a recount because with the new electronic voting machines, the chances of an error are virtually non-existent.  

Judge blocks county's attempt to evict CMRR from the rails
State Supreme Court Justice Richard Mott has issued an injunction against an attempt by Ulster County Government to evict the Catskill Mountain Railroad (CMRR) from the tracks of the Ulster/Delaware railway between Kingston and Highmount.
CMRR spokesman Harry Jameson on Monday, “We look forward to moving from the courtroom back to the meeting room, sitting down with the county executive and working out a long-term plan for rail-with-trail for the entire Ulster and Delaware Railroad Corridor.”
In the notice to cure, Hein said the railroad failed to rehabilitate a minimum of one mile of track per lease year; perform all necessary maintenance to the tracks and rights-of-way; keep full, proper records and allow the county to review those books and maintain proper insurance. CMRR disagreed.
In his decision, Judge Mott wrote that the CMRR “has sufficiently demonstrated its willingness and ability to cure any defaults by asserting that it has access to a vast amount of skilled labor which will allow it to correct any defaults with grant money and FEMA funds.”
Mott also required CMRR to post a $75,000 surety bond to guarantee that it will meet track- repair obligations.

November 21, 2013

Shandaken supervisor gets smaller-than-proposed raise; budget approved with minimal hike

Even though Shandaken Supervisor Rob Stanley] lowered a raise [for himself] from the previous $5,000 to a $3,000 bump, some at the public hearing on the budget still called for more of a drop.
Barbara Lambacca, a Phoenicia resident, asked that the town board consider that, in addition to his current $30,000 salary, Stanley also has use of a town vehicle not only for town business but for personal use. 
But Big Indian resident Gary Gailes spoke in support of the raise, warning that “you get what you pay for.”
Gailes noted that a few years back, there was a town board decision to actually lower the supervisor’s salary. 
Councilman Vince Bernstein said it was not fair to give a 10 percent increase to the supervisor when it is common for town employees like the police and the highway workers to get only one, two or three percent raises. 
Stanley explained the budget in broad strokes. “Overall, we have a budget that shows a spending plan increase of only 0.06 percent or $1,465 over last year,” he said. “That relates to a tax increase of 0.23 percent or $3,945 over last year’s total general taxes of $1,686,832. On the highway we have an increase of 2.06 percent or $42,344 over last year’s figure of $2,056,597. Adding in all of the fire, water and lighting districts, the overall tax increase is due to be roughly 0.60 percent. So, as an example: a homeowner who paid $1,000 in town taxes last year, would pay $1,006 this coming year.”
The budget, with a $3,000 raise for Stanley, barely passed with Stanley and board members Jack Jordan and Doris Bartlett voting in favor. Bernstein voted against. He was joined by councilman Alfie Higley.

Fairbairn wins back his former supervisor post in Hardenburgh
Former Hardenburgh Supervisor Jerry Fairbairn won his job back on the strength of a big push from absentee voters whose ballots were counted on Tuesday.
Mr. Fairbairn trailed 49-31 following the Election Day tally, but rebounded to win the supervisor’s post when he received 37 absentee ballots in his favor. The final vote count was 68-61.
Paul Ohsberg has served the past two years as supervisor after Mr. Fairbairn chose not to seek re-election in 2011.
Mr. Fairbairn previously spent 14 years as Hardenburgh’s supervisor.
This week’s absentee ballots also vaulted a pair of challengers — William Schluter and John Sackel — into two town board seats. Mr. Schluter finished with 76 when the absentees were totaled and Mr. Sackel was next with 65 votes, ousting Republican incumbents Sherry Bellows and Douglas O’Dell.
Incumbent Superintendent of Highways Charles Storms, running on the Democratic and Taxpayer Party lines, won re-election over Republican challenger Carliton Finch.

Middletown board approves 2014 spending plan
Town of Middletown Democratic Supervisor Marjorie Miller and the rest of the town board met to approve the 2014 fiscal year spending plan the supervisor had prepared.
The board, with Republican Jake Rosa casting the lone dissenting vote, approved the $3,800,000 budget. 
Nearly $632,000 in estimated revenue will come from fees such as building permits. One hundred ninety eight thousand dollars will come from the unexpended balance. And $2,982,000 will come from taxes. That represents an increase of nearly $37,000 over 2013, a one and-one-half percent increase over last year.
There are a few increases in spending. Employee benefits, a mandated item, will increase by about $39,000. And the cost of taking care of the roads outside the villages is going up by about $65,000.
Five thousand dollars will be set aside for the food assistance program and another $5,000 has been earmarked to provide tax relief for senior citizens.
Arkville Water Commissioner Terry Johnson will see his pay more than double, from just over $7,000 to $16,100 dollars a year. That money will come from Arkville Water District customers.
Middletown taxpayers will foot the bill for pay hikes of several other town employees, including Supervisor Miller. The supervisor’s job is considered part-time and there had not been a significant increase in the supervisor’s salary in decades. Miller’s pay from the town will go from $10,163 to $12,500.

November 27, 2013

MCS and RCS see student populations drop this year
Roxbury Central School Superintendent Thomas O’Brien said he was surprised when he took a look at his school’s latest enrollment figures. There are about 30 fewer kids attending classes at RCS than there were last year. Roxbury’s enrollment had managed to remain fairly stable in the 365 or so range. In a school of this size, that was a huge decline.
At Margaretville, Superintendent Tony Albanese said MCS enrollment fell below 400.
Both men place much of the blame on the economy and call it a case of high rents and low pay.
O’Brien said he hopes that with the exorbitant cost of living in New York City, and off-mountain development as a result of the proposed Belleayre Resort, more people will move into the area. 
Even if the enrollments continue to decline, Albanese and O’Brien said their schools will continue to provide quality educations. Last year, both schools received “Bronze Stars” from U.S. News and World Report magazine.

December 4, 2013

Shandaken Code Officer not guilty in forcible touching case; hopes to be reinstated
Saugerties Town Justice Samuel Lamp has determined that former Shandaken Code Officer Richard Stokes was not guilty of forcible touching following allegations made last fall by employees at a local restaurant.
Now that he has been cleared of those charges, Stokes expects to be reinstated as Code Officer, a position he voluntarily took an unpaid leave of absence from last fall.
“I’m glad the truth came out and my name is in the clear,” Stokes said Monday. “Now I wish I could get my job back.”
The town hired another former Code Officer, Art Christie, as an interim officer the same day that Stokes took leave and then hired former town board member Al Frisenda about two months later to take on the position.
There was no discussion about rehiring of Stokes at the December town board meeting.
The charges against Stokes stemmed from an alleged incident that occurred in April 2012 at the opening night party for J Rocco’s, a new steakhouse in town, and coincided with Rocco’s owner Eric Risher making a public complaint against Stokes, claiming Stokes had been using the power of his position to harass Risher ever since the grand opening.

December 11, 2013

Code Officer Stokes will not be reinstated
The former code enforcement officer for Shandaken, recently cleared of charges that he forcibly touched a waitress in a local eatery last year, will not be getting his old job back.
Town Supervisor Rob Stanley said, “At this time we have no plans to change anything. We will not be rehiring Mr. Stokes.”
Stokes was hired as Code Officer immediately following Hurricane Irene and is credited with doing a good job of evaluating structures damaged by the storm. He is also credited with forcing the removal of several long dilapidated properties.
According to Stanley, the town is not under any obligation to reinstate Stokes because, like all town appointments, the job was for one year only.
The town hired another former code officer, Art Christie, as an interim officer the same day that Stokes took leave and then hired former town board member Al Frisenda about two months later to take on the position.
Next month when the town board holds its reorganizational meeting, Stanley anticipates reappointing Frisenda for 2014.

Judge orders Hanover Farms to shut down and be dismantled
After being granted approval to build a 100-square-foot-farm stand, Al Higley gradually expanded the business to over 2,000 square feet despite receiving stop-work orders from Shandaken’s former code officer, Richard Stokes.
Higley filed a lawsuit against the town and Stokes in 2012.
In response to Higley’s lawsuit, the town claimed that Hanover Farms had ignored more than one stop-work order and undertook a vast expansion without building permits or site-plan approval -- all too close to Route 28.
According to the town, Hanover Farms created a retail space 26 times larger than the area authorized in the permit issued in 2004.
The town asked the court to order the removal of a 2,184-square-foot concrete slab plus the new roof, wiring and all other improvements, and Supreme Court Justice Work agreed.
“None of the construction was subject to inspection to ensure that this building complies with the relevant New York State and town building codes, which are in place to ensure the integrity and safety of the structure,” Work wrote in her decision. “Alfred Higley and Hanover are permanently enjoined from conducting the business of the farm stand at said premises until such time as a special permit is approved and issued by the Town of Shandaken."
On Friday, Town Supervisor Rob Stanley said it cost almost $50,000 in legal fees along the way.
Also, Justice Work has ordered a February 28 hearing to determine if Hanover Farms will pay those costs plus fines of up to $200 per day for every day since March 18, 2012 that the structure remained.

December 18, 2013

Removal of Judge George upheld by Court of Appeals
Former Town of Middletown Justice Glen George never planned to return to the bench after his term of office ends on December 31, and now he has no choice. The New York State Court of Appeals has ruled that the State Commission on Judicial Conduct was correct when it ordered George removed from office.
On May 1, the commission ruled that he was unfit to serve on the bench and ordered him removed.
George challenged the decision and on November 14 presented his case to the Court of Appeals, but on December 10, the Court decided that George’s days as a judge were over.
George did not seek re-election and would have been replaced at the start of the new year by Middletown Attorney John Fairbairn, who was elected to the bench in November.

$1.3 million grant awarded for Margaretville Best Western
A nine-year-old dormant plan to bring additional lodging units to the Margaretville area is very much alive again thanks to a whopping $1.3 million grant from the New York State Southern Tier Economic Development Council.
Margaretville Lodging LLC, the company that owns the Margaretville Motel, will now attempt to restart construction of a 62-unit motel on the Route 28.
Margaretville Lodging CEO Carol Molnar, and her husband Peter, of Margaretville have been working on plans to construct the motel since 2005.
When the global economic crisis hit in 2008, the already difficult task of lining up the money became impossible. Peter Molnar told the News Monday that the state’s confidence in the project should make it easier to obtain financing. Molnar said that the motel is now projected to cost about $6.8 million.
The construction should take about a year and he is hoping to be in business sometime in 2015.
The plan calls for the current Margaretville Motel on Route 28 to be torn down and replaced with a 62-room limited Best Western Motel. The term “limited” is used because the motel would not have a restaurant, but it would include all the other amenities one might expect, including meeting rooms, a fitness room, and an indoor swimming pool.

December 24, 2013

Denning man gets 25-year sentence for killing his girlfriend
On March 6 of this year, emergency service personnel responded to a call on Woodfield Road in a secluded portion of the already secluded Town of Denning.
Upon arrival they found 37-year-old Jamielynn Bleakley, a woman who in the past had reported domestic violence in her home. She was face down in the snow at the bottom of a small set of steps. Bleakley was taken to Catskill Regional Medical Center in Harris and then was transferred to Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla where she died a day later.
Her boyfriend, Gerald Babcock, 40, was the one that had made the call for help. He was arrested five days later in Liberty and subsequently was charged with manslaughter. He was sent to the Ulster County Jail without bail.
On Friday, Babcock was sentenced to 25 years in state prison for the beating and strangulation death of Bleakley.
Babcock, whose criminal history includes felony convictions for assaulting a pregnant girlfriend with a baseball bat, was found guilty of manslaughter by an Ulster County Court Jury on November 25. He was sentenced on Friday by Ulster County Judge Donald A. Williams. The judge also ordered five years of post-release supervision.