A $100K Clean Energy grant could be in Knox's future

The Enterprise — Tim Tulloch

The Knox Town Park will undergo some major improvements if the ambitious plans now afoot receive public support and grant-financing. Preliminary plans include  upgraded facilities, playground equipment for disabled children, and new playing fields.

KNOX —  The prospect of a $100,000 grant sparked a lot of interest among Knox town board members Tuesday.

The tempting offer was presented to the board by Robyn Reynolds, senior planner at the Capital District Regional Planning Commission. She said Knox could be the first Hilltown — and among the first communities in the Capital District —to benefit from a new program called Clean Energy Communities that the state announced Aug. 3.

Reynolds worked with the town last year to enroll it in New York State’s Climate Smart Communities initiative.

Reynolds said Knox is the first Capital District community to get a presentation of the new Clean Energy Communities program and to be invited to participate in it.

To be in the running for the grant,  she said,  Knox would first have to complete four “high-impact” actions, chosen by the town from the  Clean Energy list of 10 measures designed to promote renewable energy and energy efficiency.

She said, “They are all low-cost actions and can actually  get the community other small grants along the way.”

Completing and documenting four such  actions would make Knox a Clean Energy Community.

The next step would  be going for the big grant. Qualifying smaller communities like Knox “will have access to up to $100,000 in funding at no cost-share to the community,” Reynolds said.

The grants will be awarded by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, which is the agency behind the statewide program. The aim, says  the NYSERDA website, is to “drive energy efficiency and deployment of clean energy in local government.”

She said the Capital District Regional Planning Commission would offer technical  assistance to help  Knox implement the four qualifying actions the town chooses.

Once those are completed, Knox would move on to develop a proposal for a clean energy project  aimed at winning a $100,000 grant.

“We will help you,” Reynolds said, “to come up with a project proposal that  is good for the town and make sure it suits your needs.”

Reynolds said multiple grants will be awarded, but  communities that act fast will have the best chance of winning the full $100,000 award rather than a lesser amount.

She said “Knox is well poised to be the first community in our area to be a Clean Energy Community.”

Amy Pokorny, Knox deputy supervisor, agreed. She spoke of things the town has “already made progress on” that match items on the list.

One of them, she said,  is the town’s support for the Solarize Albany program.  She said a representative from Solarize will be in Knox 6 to 8 p.m. on Aug. 30, at the town hall,  to inform homeowners about installing solar panels  or participating in a shared solar project. That checks off one qualifying action.

Asked if  the planned conversion to LED (light-emitting diode) street  lighting in the hamlet would also qualify, Reynolds said she believed it would.

Pokorny said “energy code enforcement training” could also be easily checked off, with the commission’s help. “We could invite [code enforcement] people from Berne and surrounding communities to take part,” she said.

Another easy  step, she said, would be benchmarking: reporting energy use of municipal buildings on an annual basis.

“You mean all we would have to do is send in our National Grid bills?,” asked town Supervisor Vasilios Lefkaditis.

Pokorny said the town might also consider adopting the Unified Solar Permit developed by NY-Sun to facilitate home-solar permitting by towns and municipalities, especially if the language could  be adapted for Knox.

Another action could be  “supporting electric vehicle infrastructure,” said Pokorny, “concentrating on residential for now.”

Overall, said Pokorny, “We have already covered a lot of the low-hanging fruit….We are pretty far along with this.”

Pokorny and her husband, town assessor Russell Pokorny, have been working since 2008 to promote renewable energy in Knox through their volunteer organization, Helderberg Community Energy.

Stolen equipment

The board also heard about a problem with theft, at both its own Highway Department and at the town of Berne’s.

Knox Highway Superintendent Gary Salisbury in his report to the board mentioned a recurrent problem with theft of stone from the department’s supply, which is outdoors and unsecured.

Leftkaditis said he and a resident once recorded a video of someone shoveling stone into a pickup truck, but they were too far away to get a license number.

Asked to estimate the cost to the town of such petty theft, Salisbury said, “about $1,000” annually.

The Highway Superintendent for the town of Berne, Gary Bashwinger, joined the discussion and said his facility had experienced a rash of losses by theft, from the highway garage itself, from an adjacent pole barn and from a work site. The value of the stolen property— including paslode nailers belonging to him — amounted to about $3,300. He told The Enterprise the losses have been reported to the Sheriff’s Department, which is investigating.

The board discussed the possibility of installing surveillance cameras at the highway department.

Some anger at Aug. 3 meeting

Tuesday’s meeting  was preceded by a “special board meeting”  onAug. 3.

That meeting began well, with a detailed progress  and next-steps report from Maryellen Gillis who is spearheading ambitious plans to make major improvements to the town park. But the balance of the meeting saw sparks fly as the supervisor and the board butted heads on other, less consequential, matters.

Gillis and her town park committee are moving from the pre-planning stage to formulating firmed-up plans for a  four-phase project to be underwritten by grants.  Grant-givers usually require specific plans, proofs-of-need, and evidence of public support.

Improvements to the playground area — including the addition of special equipment for disabled children —  as well as improvements to the pavilion, concession stand, parking, and playing fields are some of the upgrades envisioned.

Gillis identified possible funding sources and criteria that would have to be met.

The board thanked Gillis for her hard work and detailed planning, and had a few suggestions as well: priority for  soccer fields, given the sport’s popularity; a kickboard/handball court, and a dual purpose skating rink.

“We will know better in January what the total cost may be,” said Gillis.

Lefkaditis suggested that the board wait until September to “give conceptual approval to the plan.” He also urged Gillis to promote community involvement,  which he said is important to grant-givers.

The positive atmosphere evaporated when the issue of who should sign a letter came up. The letter in question is a letter to Knox residents to be contained in a monthly newsletter soon to be published by town government.

Lefkaditis said he should sign it. The board — angrily on the part of some— demurred and said it should come from the board.

“It should come from the top,” Lefkaditis said. “And should not be political.”

Board resistance led Lefkaditis to decry “this bullshit about unity” between supervisor and board. “There is no unity,” he declared.

Board member Dennis Barber asked if unity “means we should agree with everything you [Lefkaditis] say.”

Member Eric Kuck pointed out, “We’ve also had unanimous votes in recent meetings.”

In the end, the board overruled the supervisor and voted, 4-to-1, that the letter should be signed by the board.

Other business

In other business at its Aug. 9 meeting, the board:

— Discussed ways to honor Daniel Driscoll, the long-time planning board member who died recently. Lefkaditis said of him, “Regardless of your opinion or politics, the man was absolutely  committed to the town of Knox.” Earl Barcomb will present a proclamation honoring Driscoll at the next meeting. Others ways to honor him will also be considered;

—  Discussed resident Eric Chamberlain’s complaint of repeated flooding, four or five times a year, of his property near the intersection of Street Road, Middle Road, and Route 146. He has been complaining of flooding for 21 years, the supervisor said. The grounds of the highway department nearby flood and the water overflows to this property. Photos of the flooding were projected. The board authorized the town attorney to communicate with the state and county requesting them to address the problem of flooding at this location.

—  Discussed the town’s current property insurance coverage and ways in which its cost might be reduced;

—   Tabled discussion of a tax abatement for commercial solar arrays until a future meeting; and

—  Learned the town Planning Board will meet tonight, Aug. 11, at the town hall to review the site plan for the town’s first commercial solar array. It would be built on a site near the intersection of Old Stage Road and Route 156.

More Hilltowns News

  • Anthony Esposito, who lost his house along State Route 145 in Rensselaerville when an SUV crashed into it, setting it on fire, said he had made several requests for guide rails because he had long been concerned about cars coming off the road. The New York State Department of Transportation said that it has no record of any requests.

  • A Spectrum employee was killed in Berne in what the company’s regional vice president of communications called a “tragic accident” while the employee was working on a line early in the morning. 

  • Determining the median income of the Rensselaerville water district will potentially make the district eligible for more funding for district improvement projects, since it’s believed that the water district may have a lower median income than the town overall.

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