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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, August 25, 2005

Eminent domain

By Holly Grosch

NEW SCOTLAND — New Scotland residents who will have a Bethlehem water line run through their front yards, left a recent public hearing wondering what rights they have as landowners.

Christ Gaetanos, a commercial real estate lawyer and professor at the State University of New York College at Fredonia said that eminent domain as an issue, is a controversial one.

Rulings across the state and nation go both ways, he said. "Cases seem to go all over the place," but the government is given enormous leeway.

Eminent domain has been around for hundreds of years, and governments can take land from private owners as long as the owner is justly compensated, Gaetanos said.

A United States Supreme Court decision handed down on June 23, Kelo v. New London, Conn., comments on the tenant that a municipality cannot take property to directly benefit a private entity.

In this Connecticut case, Pfizer was building a new drug plant, and the town of New London wanted to rehabilitate the city, and put in a high-rent district, and enhance the area around Pfizer’s plant, Gaetanos said.

The high court ruled, 5-4, that this is legal, he said.

The court’s position has been that in order for a government to take land, it has to be for the overall public good, or public use, Gaetanos said.

He agreed with the position held by Bethlehem’s town supervisor, Theresa Egan that generally water lines are considered to be for the general public purpose. But, he said, this situation between the town of Bethlehem and New Scotland residents is an unusual one.

"It is certainly a twist that the land is outside of Bethlehem’s usual jurisdiction," Gaetanos said. Alaska, for example, cannot take New York State property, Gaetanos, said.

In this case, where the towns are neighboring, he said, the county court’s position on the matter would also be affected based on whether or not Albany County takes a regional approach to planning.

If New Scotland residents want to challenge Bethlehem, Gaetanos said, "I think the challenger will have the uphill climb."

If New Scotland residents rally and complain to their own government, and the town of New Scotland as a governing body makes an official complaint, it would make the complaint more valid and a much bigger deal, Gaetanos said. This would increase the residents’ chances of winning in court, he said.

This month, the New Scotland Town Board unanimously voted in favor of signing over the easements of town-owned property along Route 85 to the town of Bethlehem.

Councilman Scott Houghtaling said that he had no problem allowing Bethlehem to use the land for construction. He said he considered New Scotland’s granting the easement the neighborly thing to do.

Most of the battles fought in courts on this matter are over money and compensation, Gaetanos said. "Let’s face it, everything is for sale," he said.

He gave the example of when the city of Buffalo bought land around Roswell Park in order to expand the medical facility.

A number of nearby residents refused to sell their homes and, while they lost in court and were forced to sell, most ended up receiving more money for their property, Gaetanos said.

He remembers one particular elderly couple who had lived in the neighborhood their entire lives, fixing up and building the place — they wanted to die there. The court’s position was still "tough," Gaetanos said.

The fact that Bethlehem isn’t purchasing the land but just asking for easements makes it an even harder case for new Scotland residents to contest.

Sentimental things like historic family barns or a favorite maple tree, "That kind of argument isn’t going to go very far" in the courts, Gaetanos said.

Political pressure may have a greater impact, he said. In this case, a New Scotland resident pressuring town officials to lobby Bethlehem officials to consider a special circumstance may be more effective, he said.

He thinks Bethlehem has a better case, in court, since the project is for the overall good of society.

But, the greatest ground for a challenge is the one of jurisdiction, Gaetanos said. If someone wants to spend the time and money to pursue a case, it would be "ground breaking law," Gaetanos said. It would be the basis for other cases like it in future, he said.

Bethlehem seeks easements from 70 New Scotland residents

By Holly Grosch

NEW SCOTLAND — The town of Bethlehem, to improve its water system, is working on obtaining 70 easements from New Scotland residents.

Bethlehem is putting in a new 24-inch water main along Route 85 to transmit water from its Vly Creek Reservoir through New Scotland and into the town of Bethlehem.

This new water main is going to run through the front yards of New Scotland residents.

Bethlehem town officials held a public information meeting earlier this month in New Scotland Town Hall to address the town’s residents.

Theresa Egan, Bethlehem’s supervisor, expressed a willingness to work with each resident, but at the same time made it perfectly clear that she is ready and willing to take people to court.

"We are prepared to move forward," she said. "Bethlehem needs to do this project."

"You absolutely have the right to say no," said Egan, an attorney. But, she went on, the courts most likely will rule in Bethlehem’s favor because improving the public water supply, and putting in water lines, is generally viewed by the courts as a project for the public good.

Bethlehem’s town attorney, Jim Potter, explained that a municipality by law can condemn private property as long as the town is taking that land for the public good.

In this case, Egan said, New Scotland residents will continue to own their land, but will grant Bethlehem a restricted easement, giving Bethlehem the right to come onto the private property and install the water main.

"We cannot go anywhere else on your property," she said, and the easement language is detailed just for the water purpose. Also, the easement is specific to Bethlehem, so the town of New Scotland can’t use it either, she said.

These easements along Route 85 are new to New Scotland residents because the old pipes, including the largest 16-inch line, are located within the current highway right-of-way. In most instances, the pipe is located in the ditch line.

Egan said that the easement area is not just for the actual pipe but gives the construction workers enough space to work within, so they are not trespassing.

"We know there’s a value to do that," Egan said, and, based on the formula that both the county and state use, Bethlehem will be giving New Scotland residents nine cents per square foot.

Residents grumbled when they heard just nine cents.

Other compensation besides the nine cents includes returning the property back to the way it looked before the land was dug up. Bethlehem will be taking "pre-construction photos" of the land and restore the property to the way it was, officials say. Lawn will be restored, driveways put back, and new trees planted.

New Scotland residents asked about trees of sentimental value. Others asked about stone walls with easement lines running right through them. Another resident said he is concerned because the easement line includes an historic barn on his property.

If a family has a 100-year-old oak tree that is in the easement that will have to be cut down, Egan said, "We obviously can’t replace that tree or bring it back," Egan said. But, Bethlehem will discuss with the landowner what he or she would like instead, what kind of shrubs or bushes or cedar trees would be planted elsewhere in the property to try to compensate.

If a landowner wanted to replant a tree in the same location, Egan said, "That would be at your own risk," because if Bethlehem ever had to dig up the line, it would have to take down that tree again.

Egan told The Enterprise this Wednesday that there wouldn’t be an adjustment to the base price of nine cents, but, based on individual cases and negotiations, there could be some adjustments to the price in the form of a stipend, for things of value lost due to construction.

"There tends to be a mistrust of municipalities," Egan said at the public meeting, so, if anyone has any questions or rumors are circulating, she encouraged people to call her to discuss the project.

"We certainly believe in public outreach," she told The Enterprise this Wednesday.

Al Sorrentino has been hired by Bethlehem as a subcontractor to get the easements. He has been knocking on residents’ doors and making phone calls, Egan said. Egan doesn’t know how many of the 70 contracts have been received yet, but, after the public meeting was held, Sorrentino has been more successful, Egan said.

One question that Egan has been hearing from New Scotland residents is that they would like to know the schedule, but, without the easements in hand the schedule can’t be specific, she said.

Egan wants to bid out the construction contract this fall.

Bethlehem would like the easement contracts back, Egan said, "The sooner the better."

"We would much rather have a consensus," Egan said. But, depending on the progress Sorrentino makes over the next couple of weeks, Bethlehem’s town board will begin discussing with one of the attorneys proceeding with an eminent domain proceeding.

Wiggle room"

"We don’t like to cut down trees that aren’t necessary," said Mike Kolceski, a consulting engineer for Bethlehem. "The less we destroy, the better."

"We have a couple feet of leeway — to move a couple of feet away from a tree," Kolceski said. Because the line has a 24-inch diameter, moving a foot or so may not make a difference for the fate of a giant tree anyway.

"I’m disappointed that there is no more wiggle room," New Scotland council member, Andrea Gleason, said. She was disappointed that Bethlehem waited so long before addressing New Scotland, "coming to us now after things are already set," she said.

Egan said that a lot of field work was done to determine where to place the line, what side of the road, and where utilities are.

A map of the pipe placement shows the water main will be crossing over Route 85 three times in New Scotland.

There are no instances where a building has to be moved, Egan told The Enterprise this Wednesday; engineers avoided all the big-ticket items, she said.

Construction is planned for next spring, starting in April and ending by November, said Kolceski.

The contractors will only have to be on each New Scotland property for one or two days, to put in the six-foot-deep line, Bethlehem officials said.

Residents will be notified a week to 30 days in advance when the contractors will be coming onto their property.

After the pipe is in, and the land restored, Egan said, "Hopefully, you’ll never need to talk to us again." But, if there is ever a problem, anytime, New Scotland residents should call Bethlehem; then the town engineers or the contractor will come out to fix the problem, such as if the pipe were leaking.

The easement agreement includes Bethlehem’s responsibility to maintain the pipeline, Egan said. Because of this, though, after Bethlehem workers leave the property, residents are not allowed to build any structures within the area of the easement.


New Scotland residents wanted to know, how the town of Bethlehem had the right to take easements from a neighboring town. They asked what jurisdiction Bethlehem has over New Scotland.

Potter referred to New York State’s Town Law, which says eminent domain procedure may be used "either within or outside the town boundaries, required for any public purpose..."

"We can condemn town of New Scotland property," Potter said, as long as it is for the public good.

"But for whose public good"" came a question from the gallery.

"For the town taking the right-of-way," Potter responded.

"What’s the benefit to the town of new Scotland"" someone else asked.

"Bethlehem is one of the top taxpayers in New Scotland," Egan said.

Bethlehem owns the Vly Creek Reservoir, which is within the town of New Scotland’s borders.

According to papers from the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation, Bethlehem acquired the privately-owned water plant in 1927. But, at that time, Bethlehem was required by the state water commission to continue to supply water in New Scotland "to persons resident in the town of New Scotland and Bethlehem along the supply line."

In 1958, Bethlehem requested the commission clarify whether the word "continue" meant only people already receiving water or all future customers. The Board of Water Commissioners ruled that both present and future customers in that area were to be served but limited the scope to water-takers located 150 feet from the supply line, on property that abuts the public highway.

"What’s in it for us""

New Scotland resident Karen Moreau, who owns the farm stand Our Family Harvest on Route 85, said that she knows Bethlehem acquired the Vly Creek Reservoir many years ago, but she is looking toward the future. From one administration to the next, she said at the public hearing, the water situation for New Scotland isn’t improving. Now, with Bethlehem working on a project to improve its water system, when will New Scotland benefit, she asked.

Egan said that she and New Scotland Supervisor Ed Clark "Have these water discussions regularly." She went on, "Bethlehem continues to be more than happy to come to the table to discuss this."

But, the pipeline project will not be giving more water to New Scotland. The 24-inch main is designed as a transmission line; there will be no water taps into the current 22-inch pipe, said Chuck Wickham, Bethlehem’s director of Field Operations.

Currently, there are three Bethlehem water lines running along Route 85 in New Scotland—a 6-inch line, a 10-inch line, and a 16-inch line.

With this 2006 upgrade project, Bethlehem will completely phase out and abandon the oldest six-inch line, Wickham said. But, maybe in the future, more New Scotland residents will be able to tap into the remaining 10- or 16-inch lines.

A New Scotland resident who lives on Bullock Road asked about putting in some fire hydrants.

He said of Bethlehem officials, "They are taking our property for the public good; okay, then put in a couple fire hydrants for public good — for public safety."

"This particular project has to do with getting from point A to point B," Egan said, and it’s up to New Scotland officials to decide how they are going to get more water.

New Scotland’s town engineer, R. Mark Dempf, laid out the situation more bluntly and clearly to the residents: "Bethlehem at this time...has no water to sell to New Scotland," he said and probably won’t in the future.

"What’s in it for us" The bottom line is, nothing," Dempf said.

This project, means "nothing new for New Scotland," Dempf said. "Our future is dependent on Albany."

Dempf said that Bethlehem is having a hard enough time supplying water to its own residents.

"There is now a sense of regionalizing water," Egan said; everyone is looking toward the city of Albany.

New Scotland, for an number of years, has had the hope of purchasing water from the city of Albany and then working out an agreement with Bethlehem to transmit the water.

Booth brings Broadway to Voorheesville teachers

By Holly Grosch

VOORHEESVILLE — Elementary school Principal Kenneth Lein says he is a firm believer that the arts support academic learning.

"Since schools keep cutting art programs, teachers and administrator have to find other ways to incorporate the arts into learning," Lein said.

He has applied and received, through the Empire State Partnerships in conjunction with the New York State Council of the Arts, a matching $10,000 grant to train elementary teachers with an artist in residence.

On the opening day of school, Sept. 1, when teachers arrive before students, they will be greeted by Eric Booth, who has acted both on and off Broadway, taught at Juliard, and has published in teaching magazines, Lein said.

The plan is for elementary-school teachers to incorporate the dramatic arts into the writing curriculum.

"A big part of this is teacher-driven," Lein said.

All the educators in the building — teachers, teaching assistance, and special-area teachers — will attend the professional development sessions, Lein said, so that the arts-in-education program can be incorporated throughout the school.

This is considered a planning year, and, he said, a lot of the grant money will go towards paying substitute teachers so that Voorheesville’s teachers have more planning time.

On the first day, Booth will lead the staff through "examining our own core beliefs about the importance of art," Lien said, and discussing individual beliefs about the place of arts within education.

Then, later in the day, the teachers will break into grade levels and plan how they can embody that, he said.

In the first year, Voorheesville Elementary School will focus on writing, Lein said. He said he thinks this is one of the easier connections to make — incorporating the dramatic arts into writing.

The plan is for each individual teacher, through her own style, to figure out and plan how the arts, in particular this year, dramatic arts, can work within the program they already deliver, Lein said.

When teachers are allowed to come up with their own lesson plans rather than imposing a lock-step way on each classroom, it works out better and the programs longevity, he said

"The beauty of teaching is your style that you have," Lein said. What is great about a teaching career is the freedom each educator has in the way he or she approaches learning and reaching children. Certain topics are mandated, and state tests have to be taken, but, Lein said, "Getting there is the beauty."

"This is just another way to incorporate another strategy," he said. "It’s about exciting kids about learning."

The arts is another way to reach another group of kids who may not have been intrigued about writing before, he said.

Arts at the center

Voorheesville’s local partner in this venture, which will supply the teaching artist, is the Capital Region Center for the Arts in Education, a not-for-profit cultural organization.

Elisa Cotroneo has been the center’s executive director for a year and a teaching artist for 30 years.

The center has been bringing programs to Capital Region schools for 22 years, she said. Before the terrorist attacks in 2001, the center used to be funded through the New York State budget, but it now relies solely on community support, Cotroneo said.

Near to Voorheesville, the center has already worked with Clarksville Elementary School in the Bethlehem district and with Berne-Knox-Westerlo, Cotroneo said.

When asked what impact she has seen this professional development program have on students, Cotroneo responded, "Many students wouldn’t have experience with the arts at all without it."

"The arts are an important aspect of the total educational experience," she said.

Cotroneo said she has seen how highly motivated students become once the arts are woven into the core content of the curriculum — such as when students do a written response to a performance. It engaged the kids, she said.

Cotroneo said that the Capital Region Center for Arts in Education program uses the Lincoln Center model, where the work of art is at the center.

A teacher starts by looking at a piece of art, such as a painting, and then thinking "what would I not want my students to miss," Cotroneo said. Then, from knowing that, the teacher builds the activities outward from that piece.

The teaching-artists that the center brings into local schools receive extensive training, Cotroneo said. The center looks for professional artists who are interested in working in schools and then they train them in teaching, for example, the artist attend workshops on classroom management, she said.


Together as a team, the artist and the district teachers create lesson plans; the artist uses his expertise and the school’s teachers use theirs, Cotroneo said.

One artist will give 10 to 12 sessions with Voorheesville teachers throughout the year, Lien said.

To highlight how the program has worked for other schools, Cotroneo gave the example of a school which used a cappella singing as the art.

The students looked at literary devices, to see how they were similar to musical rhythms.

The students then studied the lyrical rhythms and worked in small groups to create their own verses.

The children ultimately end up writing songs about the academic units they were studying such as the Revolutionary War, Cotroneo said, using the rhythm patterns they had learned.

Usually the students look at or listen to a professional performance in their field of study half-way through the semester, she said.

"What is exciting about this is the potential for long-term funding," Cotroneo said; Voorheesville will have the opportunity to receive more grants over the next 10 years.

Lien said that he hopes to continue to get funding and have a partnership with the Capital Region Center for the Art for quite a few years, focusing on different aspects of art over time. The elementary school will have a steering and planning committee to determine how to go beyond the dramatic arts.

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