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Hilltowns Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, August 11, 2005

Town declares war on plant

By Matt Cook

KNOX—Every year, Robert Price warns the Knox Town Board of the same thing and every year his warning is politely noted. This year, however, the board took action.

At its meeting Tuesday night, the Knox board passed a resolution against the invasion of the weed purple loosestrife into the town. The resolution commits the town highway department to removing the plant from along town roads, and encourages residents to do the same on their private property.

"If it gets in our wetland, we’re not going to get it out," Price told the board as he asked it to "declare war" on the plant.

The invasive plant has overrun Guilderland, he said, creating "vast purple fields of purple loosestrife."

Now, he said, the creeping terror is approaching the Knox town line along the Bozenkill Creek.

"It’s marching up this way," Price said.

It already appears in patches along town roads.

Decreasing biodiversity

Purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) is a tall erect perennial. Its leaves have smooth edges and vary in length from three to 10 centimeters. The plants have long spikes of densely-clustered pink to purple flowers, in bloom from late June to early September. Large plants have a bushy appearance.

According to Hillary Oles, coordinator of the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program, purple loosestrife came to America from Europe in the 1800’s. Because of its attractive looks, it was primarily spread deliberately, to be used in gardens and landscaping.

"We see a lot of these horticultural plants escaping the garden and we don’t know that they are going to be so invasive," Oles said.

Spreading quickly is purple loosestrife’s forte. According to the Invasive Plan Council of New York State, a single stalk may produce as many as 300,000 seeds, each of which can survive for several years in the soil, and up to 20 months submerged in water. Plants can also reproduce vegetatively from stem or root segments. Densities of up to 80,000 stalks per acre have been reported.

Purple loosestrife has become the most well-known and visible invasive plant in the county, Oles said. It is the biggest problem in wetlands, where the hardy plant chokes out more fragile competitors.

"It reproduces rapidly and aggressively, pushing out native plants and animals," Oles said. "It decreases biodiversity."

Loosestrife’s growth cycle also gives it an edge.

"If plants grow early in a season, it utilizes resources and pushes out native plants," Oles said.

Out-of-control loosestrife growth in a wetland creates a monoculture, Oles said, an area where one species dominates the ecosystem.

Holding the line

On Wednesday, along the side of a road in Knox, Price pointed to a cluster of native cattails. In a few years, he told The Enterprise, it will all be purple loosestrife.

With rampant growth, particularly in central New York, the question becomes how to control purple loosestrife. It has spread so much, Oles said, "The best we can do is localized management."

While Price is trying to stop the plant in the Hilltowns, Oles is doing the same in the Adirondacks, where, she said, the purple loosestrife has yet to do major damage.

"We’re trying to hold the line up here," she said. "We’ve got to get the word out."

There are several ways to get rid of loosestrife. It depends on the situation, Oles said. The Invasive Plant Council recommends hand pulling in mid-summer, before the plants flower. The entire plant, including the roots, should be removed to minimize re-growth. It should also be handled properly to stop the spread of seeds.

"Disposal is very important to take into consideration," Oles said. "Part of the challenge is you really can’t compost it."

Oles said her group bags the plant, lets it bake in the sun, and then takes the dried plants to a dump or transfer station. The Invasive Plant Council says burning uprooted plants is also an option.

Price told the Knox Town Board he has found that, when uprooting is too difficult, cutting the plant and putting a drop of weed killer, like Rodeo, on the stem, also does the trick.

Whatever method is used, Price said, it has to be done soon.

"The time to get it is when there’s four or five plants on the road in front of your house," he said. If the plants are allowed to spread, he said, "You’ll have to get nine million people pulling up to 10 plants each to kill it."

Meanwhile, the best defense is knowledge. Purple loosestrife is still being sold to gardeners. The Cornell Cooperative Extension in Voorheesville gets a lot of calls about that.

"Usually, the question is, if they see it in a nursery as a perennial: ‘Should I be buying it" Should they be selling it"’" said Sue Pezolla, of the cooperative extension.

"Until Bob started talking about it, I thought it was a very pretty flower and I wanted it in my yard," Councilwoman Patricia Gage told the town board.

Other business

In other business at its Aug. 9 meeting, the Knox Town Board:

—Voted to pay expenses to send the town’s bookkeeper to training in Westchester or Buffalo;

—Authorized highway Superintendent Gary Salisbury to purchase a new garbage box for the town for $7,100. The new box will be of an octagonal shape without ribs, Salisbury said, which means it will last longer;

—Listened to a brief presentation from Loren Pruskowski. Pruskowski is an energy consultant who is helping prepare a feasibility study for a community wind farm in the Hilltowns, as described in the July 14 Enterprise.

Pruskowski said there will be an informational meeting on the project on Sunday, Sept. 11, at 7 p.m., at Conkling Hall in Rensselaerville. Town Supervisor Michael Hammond said he would try to attend;

—Recognized the town highway department for work done on the town’s new soccer field. Last month, the town discussed the contribution of Councilman Charles Conklin, after whom the field will be named. Gage said she felt the work of the highway department also needed to be acknowledged; and

—Met in executive session to discuss pending litigation and, in an unrelated matter, a town employee.

Family awarded $2.5M after fatal bike crash

By Matt Cook

KNOX—An Albany County family has been awarded nearly $2.5 million in a wrongful death suit filed against the state after a bicycle accident at Thompson’s Lake Campground.

The family’s lawyer, Christine M. Galvin, of the Gordon, Siegel Law Firm in Latham, said the family told her not to reveal their names, but, according to court documents, the claimants are Kevin J. Phelan and his children. The Phelans did not want to comment, Galvin said.

Court documents describe events this way: in August of 2001, the Phelans were camping at Thomspon’s Lake State Campground in Knox. Mr. Phelan’s wife, Nancy, 46, was riding bikes with her 11-year-old son on a camp road near the beach when she lost control, going down a hill, and fell off, fatally hitting her head on the pavement. Her son witnessed the accident.

Mr. Phelan sued the state for negligence on behalf of himself and his two children. In addition to the older son, the Phelans have a daughter who was nine at the time of the accident.

Galvin argued that the accident was due to a two-foot sinkhole in the road caused by an improperly installed culvert. The park staff knew about the sinkhole, Galvin said, but made no effort to repair it.

"The thing that was so tragic here is that the park manager testified that he was well aware of the hole," Galvin told The Enterprise. Park manager Christopher Fallon told the court he had seen the hole for at least two years, Galvin said. "There was no proof of any plans to repair it," she said.

In her decision for the New York State Court of Claims, Judge Judith A. Hard agreed with Galvin.

"[The state] had knowledge of the depression...since defendant created it (during a previous repair) and yet failed to remedy it," Hard wrote. "The Court determines that the depression was not open and obvious and claimant...did not assume the risk of encountering this type of unwarned hazard."

Mrs. Phelan’s speed was not excessive, Galvin said.

"Speed was not a factor," she said.

Mrs. Phelan was not wearing a helmet, Galvin said. New York law does not require people over 14 to wear helmets when bicycling.

The court awarded the Phelans $2,437,122.

"We feel that justice has been done with that amount," Galvin said.

All of the money is for the children’s loss. Since Mrs. Phelan’s death was instantaneous, the family was given nothing for her suffering.

The money does include funds for loss of parental nurturing, lost financial support, and loss of household services. In addition, Hard awarded the son who witnessed the accident $25,000 for emotional distress.

The Phelans were also awarded $7,122.17 for medical and funeral costs.

At the time of her death, Galvin said, Mrs. Phelan was studying restaurant and hotel management and planned to open a bakery.

Fallon, the park manager, declined comment. The New York State Attorney General’s Office, which defended the state in the case, also declined comment, as did a spokesperson for the New York State Department of Parks and Recreation.

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