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Hilltowns Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, July 14, 2005

Price urges notification

By Matt Cook

KNOX — The town may change the process for getting a variance from the zoning board of appeals.

At a town board meeting Tuesday, Robert Price, chair of the planning board, asked the town board to consider a change to the zoning ordinance that would require those applying for a variance to inform their direct neighbors.

Currently, Price said, that is only required for an applicant to subdivide.

"It’s a serious omission from the ordinance and it ought to be fixed," Price said. "It should be part of the process of getting a variance from the zoning board. I think it’s serious enough that it should be acted on promptly."

Town attorney John Dorfman said that he has talked to other towns and found most have the requirement.

"It should be there," Dorfman said.

Such a requirement would only apply to properties that are direct neighbors.

The town board members agreed that just advertising a public hearing in the town’s official newspaper, The Enterprise, is not enough.

"Who reads that stuff anyway," Councilman Joseph Best said of legal advertising.

Dorfman said he would prepare the change to the ordinance and make copies for the town board members. It will have to go through the public hearing process, he said.

"It’s going to have to be the whole unfortunate rigamarole," Price said.

Conklin Field

The Knox Town Board voted unanimously to dedicate the new soccer field at the town park to Councilman Charles Conklin.

The last step, seeding, was just completed on the soccer field. Councilman Nicholas Viscio said Conklin was the driving force behind organizing volunteers to fund and construct the field for the children of the town.

"It’s really Chuck’s 10-year project on this board," Viscio said.

Conklin has been absent from the past few board meetings as he receives treatment for cancer.

The board charged the Knox Youth Council with holding a dedication ceremony in the next month or two to be attended by the town board members. According to Viscio’s motion, the field will be named the Chuck Conklin Youth Soccer Field.

Berne Heritage Days: Commemorating World War II, and celebrating Dutch barns

By Matt Cook

BERNE—Sixty years after the end of World War II, the era will be recreated and commemorated at Berne Heritage Days this weekend. lt will be the first time the annual event will have a theme.

Meanwhile, members of the ongoing Berne Historical Project will be showing off some of the town’s historic barns.

"I’ve been told that this year’s [Berne Heritage Days] is bigger than it has been in the past," said Erin Willsey, who is coordinating the event for the first time.

Many residents of Berne and the Hilltowns are World War II veterans, Willsey said, but the number is getting smaller as the years go on.

"About three quarters of them are deceased," Willsey said.

To recognize these men in their lifetimes, Willsey and the other organizers decided to structure Berne Heritage Days around them.

Since there is no list of Hilltowners who enlisted or were drafted into the war, Willsey relied on the memories of veterans. She asked the ones she did know to make lists of any Hilltown veterans they could remember.

"The oldest one is 92," Willsey said.

About 17 veterans have registered for the event. A half-dozen of them have agreed to participate in a veterans’ round table on Saturday. Willsey expects more will jump in to tell about their experiences.

"It’s one of those things where, at first, they say no, but, as they hear other people, they’ll want to talk," Willsey said.

Following the veterans’ round table, Willsey plans on a similar discussion with residents who lived through the war in America, including those who kept watch on the skies for invading airplanes. These people will talk about what the homefront was like, as the whole country rationed food and supplies to support the war effort.

"It was a very different war than the one we are in now," Willsey said.

At a ceremony Saturday afternoon, registered World War II veterans will receive certificates from the town. Veterans of any war will also be asked to stand and be recognized.

"We’ve got people who have come back from Iraq now," Willsey said.

In addition to the actual veterans, a group of people will be recreating a World War II encampment. Through contacts at the Home Front Café in Altamont, Willsey found a group of people interested in "living history." They wear World War II uniforms and use equipment from the era in their reenactment.

Some of the living history enthusiasts bring their families, and they all dress up in the fashion of the time, Willsey said.

Vehicles from World War II will also be on display, including a jeep, a tank, and a weasel.

"I’m really interested to see what it looks like," Willsey said of the weasel.

Staples in Colonie will provide digital cameras and printers for people who want pictures of themselves with the vehicles.

Saturday night, there will be a swing dance featuring live music from the forties. The living-history people will be participating in that along with anyone else who wants to dance.

"I’m really hoping people will show up for that," Willsey said. "It will be like literally stepping back in time."

Besides all the World War II commemorations, Heritage Days will have the usual games, marketplace, live music, food, and opportunities for genealogical research.

Barn tours

On Saturday, from 9 a.m. until noon, the Berne Historical Project will host a drive-it-yourself tour of three Dutch-style barns in Berne and Knox. It’s part of a focus on barns that the historical project has had for the past year.

Harold Miller, who heads up the project, said his interest in Dutch barns began with an Enterprise article last year about an historic barn on Rock Road in Knox, one of the three on the tour.

"I realized it was built by a many-great granduncle who was a Palantine German, not a Dutchman," Miller said. "Then, I found that most early so-called Dutch barns in Berne, Knox, and Schoharie were built for, if not by, German settlers, not Dutch."

The barns on the tour, on Rock Road, Bradt Hollow Road, and Helderberg Trail, are close to each other and may have been built by the same master carpenter, Miller said.

There are about 10 to 15 Dutch-style barns in Berne, Miller said. The historical project just completed a preliminary survey of barns in the town and the Dutch Barn Preservation Society will conduct a more thorough survey this fall.

Dutch-style barns are built with wooden pegs and huge beams.

"It makes one marvel that these were built by our ancestors over two centuries ago and many are still incredibly solid," Miller said.

At 11 a.m. Saturday, a New York State Historical Marker will be dedicated at the Jacob Sholtes Barn on Rock Road. Though the barn is now owned by John Moritz, of the Hearts of Our Father ministry, Terell Shoultes, of Florida, an ancestor of Jacob Sholtes, will be there.

At the end of the weekend, on Sunday, the Berne Historical Project will lead a cemetery restoration project at the Wright Family Burying Ground on Willsey Road.

"It is typical of the 50 or so small family burying grounds in Berne," Miller said.

Berne Heritage Days is free except for the food. A full schedule is available at www.berneny.org. Information and maps for the barn tour will be available at the Berne Town Hall Saturday morning.

Fox Creek flea mrket opens

By Matt Cook

KNOX—After several years of little or no business, a new owner has re-opened the Fox Creek Flea Market. The flea market in the southwest corner of Knox, just north of the hamlet of West Berne, has been open since Memorial Day.

The owner, Edward Allen, of Berne, says he is continuing to keep the business open even though his application for a special-use permit from the Knox Zoning Board of Appeals has yet to be approved.

Allen said business has been good. Currently, the flea market, which is open on Sundays and holiday weekends, has about 20 vendors, selling everything from antiques to metal detectors.

"Every week, we pick up new vendors," he said.

The site has room for 270 vendors, Allen said.

"I knew the first year was going to be tough," he said.

Allen said he is happy with the amount of customers the flea market draws, especially on opening day, Memorial Day weekend. He suspects extreme heat has kept some away.

"With the heat and humidity, sometimes even I don’t want to go out there," Allen said.

Years ago, the Fox Creek Auction Arena held auctions and functioned as a flea market for vendors from all over the area, bringing hundreds of people into the hamlet every weekend. However, in the early nineties, Douglas Cater, who owned and operated the arena, was taken to court for illegal auction practices and was forced to shut down.

Since then, the stream of out-of-town visitors to West Berne has slowed to a trickle.

Allen hopes to change that. He is working on finding an auctioneer, he said, so he can re-open the weekly auctions.

Allen owns and runs a garage in Altamont. The flea market is a family operation, he said, because his wife, son, and daughter all contribute.

Earl Barcomb, chair of the Knox Zoning Board of Appeals, told The Enterprise that Allen appeared before the board at its June meeting to ask for the required special-use permit, but was not granted one because he needs to submit further information, including a plat plan outlining how the site will be used.

This would include things like hours of operation and where cars can park.

Barcomb said that Allen can’t just say he’s going to run a flea market without explaining what a flea market is. That gives neighbors the opportunity to comment at a public hearing, Barcomb said.

"It makes sense when you think about it," Barcomb said. "This way, folks can come in and see what is proposed. It’s just common sense."

Allen said he plans on submitting the required information and going through the public-hearing process, but will keep the flea market running every Sunday in the meantime.

Barcomb said he had not known the flea market was already open.

Hilltowns to harness wind’s energy

By Matt Cook

Windmills may never crop up in the Hilltowns, but a group of residents is preparing for the possibility anyway.

Thanks to a grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, four Hilltowners are spearheading an effort to develop a model for putting wind energy turbines in the Helderbergs. The remarkable thing about the effort, the four say, is that it’s driven by a community, not a corporation.

"The idea is, if a project comes out of this, it will be a community wind project," said Daniel Capuano, a Hudson Valley Community College professor and former Knox resident.

"This is a new model for New York," said Kathleen Moore, of Berne, a wind-energy consultant.

Two years ago, Capuano; Moore; Knox county legislator Alexander "Sandy" Gordon; and another wind-energy consultant, Loren Pruskowski, of Delanson, started talking about wind energy in the Hilltowns.

Because of their elevation, the Hilltowns are the prime spot in the Capital Region for generating wind energy. As altitude increases, so does wind speed, and amount of energy generated increases exponentially with wind speed.

In February of 2004, the foursome held the first Hilltowns Community Wind Forum at the Knox Reformed Church. Pruskowski and Moore taught a room full of Hilltown residents "Wind Energy 101," Capuano said.

"What we found was there was a real interest. The key word here is community," Capuano said. "After that, people said, let’s do more of this."

Later that year, in November, a second forum was held. The concepts of wind energy were spread to a new group of Hilltowners.

"Roughly, there was the same number of people as the first one, but different people," Capuano said.

The most recent forum, this June, drew about 30 people.

"Only three of them had been to the previous ones," Capuano said. "So the circle is expanding."

Input needed

Recently, though, the focus of the project has shifted because of the NYSERDA grant. The authority has agreed to fund the group’s proposal to explore the possibility of wind energy in the Hilltowns.

Though it is only in its beginning stages, the group says, the project is not to create a plan, but to create an example.

It will identify sites in the Hilltowns that are good for turbines, pick the best one, and do an environmental assessment, creating an outline of the impact a wind farm would have on the area. The final product will be a business prospectus that would be available for use by a local organization, like a town government or community Limited Liability Company.

As an offshoot of the forums, the group of four hopes to get other Hilltown residents involved.

"We’re going to need a lot of input from the community on this," Pruskowski said.

So, the very next step the group will take is to form a formal focus group, "so it’s not just the four of us," Capuano said.

Although in 2004 Gordon talked about the possibility of powering the hamlets of Berne or Rensselaerville entirely through wind energy, the model the project members will develop will probably not involve something like that. Generating energy for a specific place alone would be much more costly, and involve buying the transmission lines.

"We’d need a lot of support for that one," Pruskowski said.

However, wind turbines in the Hilltowns could give residents a better sense of where their energy comes from.

"If you have wind turbines in you daily life, you can see them and say ‘Here’s electricity right in my backyard,’" Capuano said.

Although nothing is for sure, the group predicts its model will generate about 10 megawatts of electricity, about a quarter the amount of a typical commercial project. That would mean between five and eight turbines, they say.

Dollars and sense

Initial costs for wind turbines, Pruskowski said, is usually about a dollar per watt, or $1 million per megawatt. But, the group thinks the benefits of wind energy far outweigh the steep price.

Most importantly, the group says, wind energy is renewable. Caused by the heating and cooling of the atmosphere by the sun, wind will be around as long as the planet. Thus, as the cost of traditional finite fuel continues to increase, the cost of wind is stable.

"That is one of the stronger arguments," Moore said. "The cost of wind never goes up."

Also, the group says, wind energy could be good for the local economy. In addition to the revenue generated by the turbines, landowners could rent out space for them and continue to farm around the base.

There are, of course, drawbacks. For example, the visual impact of turbines and the danger they may pose to birds and bats.

Turbine technology is continually improving, and becoming safer and safer for wildlife, the group says.

The group is seeking community input on the visual impact.

"There is a visual component that comes up in these things," Capuano said.

Under the NYSERDA grant, the project will take three years.

The group sees its work as part of a larger movement in New York towards renewable energy. The state government has ruled that a quarter of the electricity sold in the state must come from renewable sources by 2013.

"That’s a very aggressive goal," Pruskowski said. To do that, he said, the state is "incentivizing" the value of renewable energy, drawing major corporations into the industry.

"That’s what allows this project to work," Pruskowski said. "That’s why we’re confident. There’s enough money to be made to make people interested."

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