Squad switches leaders and directions

Enterprise file photo — Michael Koff

Ready to roll: An ambulance is parked outside of its home garage in Voorheesville. The Voorheesville Area Ambulance Service  has new co-captains and has stopped working with E5 Support Services.

VOORHEESVILLE — The Voorheesville Area Ambulance Service, which has had a tense relationship with the village board for years, has had a changeover of its top leadership, for the second time in 2015.

The new co-captains, as of mid-December, are Kate Odell, who was formerly the first lieutenant, and David Freckleton, who was the second lieutenant.

Odell has been with the VAAS for 31 years; Freckleton, for one. Freckleton also serves as a volunteer firefighter in Altamont. He lives on Township Road in Knox with his wife, Kristen Reynders, who owns Hitmans Towing. Odell is a retired elementary schoolteacher who lives in Voorheesville.  

Mitchell Donovan, who had become captain in April, is now out. Donovan had been widely praised for trying to break up the logjam that had left the ambulance service without a contract and with dwindling numbers of volunteers for some time.

Donovan had hired an outside service, E5 Support Services in Queensbury, to hire and provide paid workers as necessary to supplement the work of the VAAS. Reached by phone, Donovan said that he had no comment.

“Donovan did a great job in the six months he was there,” said village Trustee Jack Stevens; the village and the town of New Scotland split the cost of the ambulance service not paid for by patients’ insurance. “He really saved it and pulled it all together.”

E5 worked with the VAAS for six months in 2015, and according to the company’s Chief Executive Officer Doug Wildermuth, when the six-month contract was up, he offered to continue the arrangement for another month, but was eventually told that E5 was no longer needed. He said, “As unsteady as things were over there, I was kind of unhappy we weren’t continuing, although I would have continued if they had wanted to. They didn’t seem to know where they were going.”


Change in leadership: When this picture was taken in July, Mitchell Donovan, center, was the new captain. He's out now and, as of December, there are two new co-captains: Kate Odell, to the left of Mitchell, and David Freckleton, not pictured.


New Co-captain Freckleton said that he expects that the VAAS will be working more closely in 2016 with the Albany County Sheriff’s Office. He said, “I think that’s what the town wanted all along. It’s more about what the community needs us to do.”

Freckleton said that there has been and will be no interruption in service. “It will work just like it did before E5. We’ll still be responding; we’re just going to be working hand-in-hand with the county. So the residents won’t be without, at all.”

According to Freckleton, the VAAS will still maintain a schedule. “It’s just going to be a shared schedule. Where we need help, it will be out in the open, the days that we have shift openings. And I believe that’s where the sheriff’s department will come in and be able to provide EMTs or have their rig available,” he said, referring to emergency medical technicians.

There have been “no hiccups so far,” he said, even “unofficially, without any agreements right now.”      

The town and the village did manage to get a contract signed for 2015, in December. Doug LaGrange, who will become supervisor of New Scotland on Jan. 1, said that the town had signed a contract and cut a check to the ambulance service.

Trustee Stevens, who recently served for several years on the VAAS while also serving on the village board — said that the village had received on Dec. 29 a copy of the 2015 contract signed by all the parties, and would be sending the VAAS a check for the half the amount due in 2015; the other half would be payable when the village receives other, related paperwork, after the first of the year.

Stevens said that he met with the leadership of the VAAS including Donovan, and with officials from the town of New Scotland including LaGrange earlier in December, and that he went to see Donovan the next day and handed him the signed contract. That was when, he said, Donovan told him, “I’m not the captain any more.”

So Stevens met the following day with Freckleton, and gave him the signed contract.

It wasn’t the revised contract that the village had expected to receive; it was identical in content to the 2014 contract, Stevens said. Over the course of 2015, the village’s attorney had met with the VAAS’s attorney and made some small changes to the contract to add language about E5. None of those changes were reflected in the signed contract the village received, Stevens said. But wanting to keep moving forward, the village signed anyway.

The Enterprise asked LaGrange if what Freckleton said was true, that the town preferred not to work with E5 and paid workers. LaGrange responded that the town government simply wants to provide the best services possible to residents and, of course, do it in the most cost-effective way possible. So, in that sense, “we prefer volunteer,” he said. “But we didn’t have a problem with the partial paid EMT program, because it extended the opportunities for Voorheesville Ambulance to stay viable. We just would like to see whatever will keep them viable.”

LaGrange confirmed that a contract for 2015 was signed in December, and said, “I certainly anticipate a contract [for 2016] within a month or so.”

He added that the town wants to explore the possibility of a town-wide system, in which New Scotland, Voorheesville, and Onesquethaw would all work together.

“I respect the autonomy of both Onesquethaw and Voorheesville, and the fact that these folks are able to care for their neighbors, primarily. But it doesn’t hurt to take a peek and see if there’s any opportunities where they could share services and come up with something that’s more efficient fiscally,” LaGrange said. “But all three would have to be comfortable, or we’ll just continue the way we are.”

Voorheesville’s mayor, Robert Conway, said, “I think 2016 is going to the year we wrap our hands around this issue and create a town-wide service that uses the strengths of both the sheriff’s department and also the VAAS.”


Enterprise file photo — Michael Koff
Main Street: Voorheesville officials are trying to win grant monies to establish a fund that would allow local residents and businesses to make outdoor aesthetic improvements in the village.


Main Street master plan

The Voorheesville firehouse was packed on March 31 as village officials and Barton & Loguidice, an engineering firm that does planning and landscape architecture, shared their proposals for revitalization of the downtown Voorheesville “triangle” that runs along Grove Street to Main Street and Voorheesville Avenue.

The village of about 2,800 residents covers 2.1 square miles and, while modern, suburban housing has grown up near the “triangle,” most of the buildings along Main Street, both business and homes, are over a century old. The plan calls for beautification and updating of facades of business and residences around the downtown business triangle.

The Victorian village, which was largely built when the trains came to town, now is staking much of its hopes for the future on a newly opened rail trail, for hikers and bikers, that leads to South Pearl Street in Albany and is expected to be largely paved by fall of 2016.

The village received a grant of $7,500 in October from the Hudson River Greenway for new signs that direct people toward the downtown area and that will, according to Mayor Conway, “capitalize on the Rail Trail by directing people from the Rail Trail to downtown.”

The village is still seeking other grant monies that will allow it to establish a fund to help businesses and individuals in the area to make aesthetic changes, Conway said.


Enterprise file photo — Michael Koff
In the inaugural Voorheesville Green Clean event, village residents came out in April to clean up parks and roadsides throughout the village.


Village rallies to beautify

Voorheesville Green Clean, billed as the “first annual,” was a great success, according to Deputy Clerk Treasurer Karen Finnessey, who was one of the organizers. The village has already set the date for the 2016 event, Finnessey said, for April 16.

The turnout to the 2015 event, she said at the time, was about 110.

She told The Enterprise recently that organizers managed to get teams of cleaners, most of them from local businesses, out onto “most of the streets” in the village to pick up trash. Those collection efforts netted a full truckload, she said, of garbage.

They also had volunteers collecting mountains of recyclable goods that were donated at the firehouse. These included, each in separate areas, books, clothing, and plastic bags.

Finnessey noted that among the volunteers had been many firefighters, garden club members, crews from the two local Adopt-A-Highway groups, and lots of Brownies and Girl Scouts.

All of the proceeds went to the Helderview Garden Club, to help in its work of planting and maintaining the gardens at Hotaling Park.

The event was intended, said organizer Amanda Scalzo of Purity Hair Design at the time, not only to beautify the village but to bring the whole community together while throwing a spotlight on local businesses.


Enterprise file photo — Michael Koff
Railroad crossing: Steven Schreiber of Voorheesville, who is advocating for a Quiet Zone, says that as many as 76 trains pass through the village each day, and that each of them lets out a horn blast of about 110 decibels. For comparison’s sake, a chainsaw is 120 decibels, and a jet engine at takeoff is 150.


Quiet Zone

Efforts, ongoing since 2013, to create a “quiet zone” in Voorheesville — in which trains are not obligated to sound their horns as they pass through gates in the village — continue, slowly.

A “quiet zone” is a crossing outfitted with extra gates (quadruple rather than double) that make it impossible for cars to cross over the tracks once a train is within range. Because of these added safety features, trains are not required to blow their horns as they pass over the crossings deemed as quiet zones, although they are still free to sound the horn whenever and wherever drivers deem it necessary.

According to Steven Schreiber, data from the Federal Railroad Association shows that there are up 76 trains that pass through the village each day.

Plans to explore the idea of creating a quiet zone in the village were stalled, says Schreiber, by long delays by railroad company CSX in responding to village questions and requests.

In April this year the village received a new estimate for the task of producing an engineering design for the quiet zone gates. The architectural firm Bergmann Associates, which is the one that CSX uses, estimated that it would cost $87,000 to produce the design, which is three times the amount ($26,818) it had cited as an estimate for the same job in 2013. At that time, CSX also gave a preliminary estimate of $200,000 for the entire job of actually creating the quiet zone.

Asked why he thought that CSX had tripled the amount of the estimate for the engineering design in just two years, Mayor Conway said that CSX officials had told him that the person who did the 2013 estimate had based it “on incomplete information.”

According to Schreiber, the person who did the 2013 estimate was the “director of public projects for the northeastern United States ... This was not a summer intern.” He said he finds it hard to accept that such a high official’s estimates could have been three times too low.

A December meeting about the Voorheesville Quiet Zone was held at the New York State Department of Transportation and attended by Conway, village engineer Rich Straut, Darrel Duncan and Bill Anslow of the Albany County Department of Public Works, Robert Rohauer of CSX, Lou Reh of the DOT, Lou Frangella of the Federal Railroad Administration, and Schreiber. Rohauer agreed to go back to CSX/Bergmann to see if it would do a less expensive preliminary engineering design that would also provide some total cost estimates for the whole project.

Conway said that CSX has been frank from the beginning about the fact that “they’re not a big proponent of Quiet Zones in general. Left to their own choice, they prefer not to do them.” But, he added, CSX obviously knows the law and knows that “they’re required to follow through on the process.”

Schreiber said that it’s worth noting that Congress enacted a Quiet Zone law in 2005 that recognized the benefits of the zones, including enhanced quality of life, improved property values, and increased safety. He added that, if procedures are followed correctly, the railroads cannot veto Quiet Zones. If they obstruct the development of Quiet Zones, he said, “They are thwarting the will of Congress.”

“The first and perhaps only goal at this point,” Schreiber said, “is to get some kind of informed estimates about cost. If they’re really out of line, there’s not much you can do.” But, he went on, it they are near the original $26,818 estimate, “then we can see about going ahead.”

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