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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, December 15, 2005

Board split on permit for Across the Street Pub

By Nicole Fay Barr

GUILDERLAND — After hearing a businessman’s story of struggling against chain restaurants and a neighborhood’s battles with parking and rowdy bar patrons, the town’s seven-member zoning board was split — for the first time in years.

Last Wednesday, to the dismay of a handful of Arcadia Avenue residents, the board made no final decision on whether Michael Arduini could add a deck with 20 seats to the Across the Street Pub.

Since Arduini asked for a parking variance of over 50 percent, Chairman Bryan Clenahan, along with board members James Sumner and Charles Klaer voted to disapprove the proposal. The variance was too substantial and parking is already a big problem at 1238 Western Ave., they said.

Clenahan’s motion, however, was defeated by board members Susan Macri, Sharon Cupoli, Michael Marcantonio, and Patricia Aikens. They seemed swayed by Arduini’s plight as an independent businessman in a growing suburb.

Since the four who defeated the motion didn’t feel comfortable making a new one last Wednesday — usually only Clenahan makes motions — the decision was tabled until the next zoning meeting.

Usually votes by the zoning board are either unanimous or are opposed by one member — Klaer or Sumner. The board members are divided politically; some are Democrats, some are Republicans, and some independent.

Since Clenahan was appointed chairman, in March of 2004, he has made scores of motions. This is the first to be defeated.

The McKownville neighbors who spoke against Arduini’s proposal, at this meeting and at one earlier this fall, were not happy about the motion’s defeat. They argued that four of the board members were voting based on their emotions rather than the zoning law.

What was also unusual about the case was Arduini’s attitude. While many businessowners are pushy and some take offense at the zoning board’s governing their property, Arduini told the board that he understood if his proposal weren’t approved. He knows that parking is a problem, he said.

The proposal

Arduini came to the zoning board last Wednesday with some changes to his proposal. To control noise, the proposed deck would be closed at 10 p.m., he said, and signs would indicate that no food or drink is allowed outside after that time. Smokers, however, could still stand on the deck until the bar closes, he said.

Arduini also decided to erect what he called a wall on the south side of the property, to block the neighbors’ view of the site.

In the spring, he said, the outside of the building will be painted, new windows will be installed, and the appearance of the restaurant will be greatly improved.

"Each neighbor is entitled to his opinion, but I never got a phone call or a letter about complaints," Arduini said.

He handed the board a petition, signed by his customers; 80 percent of them live in Guilderland, he said. This caused groans from the handful of audience members who whispered that those who signed it drank at the bar but didn’t live nearby.

Arduini said he is an independent businessman trying to compete with chain restaurants that have bars. It’s increasingly difficult for him to make a living, he said.

Arduini then addressed the board’s biggest concern — parking. When the restaurant was built in 1973, the town allowed it to have only 24 parking spaces. The facility was a college bar then, he said, and drinks were served until 3 a.m.

In 1999, after Arduini had bought of the pub, he demolished a garage next to it, which he called an "eyesore." It was his choice then, he said, to add 16 parking spaces and landscaping.

Now, he said, although neighbors have complaints, the site looks better and the business is less of a bar and more of a family restaurant.

However, building the deck will take away two parking spaces, giving Arduini fewer than 40 spaces. The current town law, considering the deck and added patrons, requires that he have about 80 parking spaces.

"This is a tough case," Clenahan said. "I agree Across the Street Pub is a good neighbor and I imagine it’s hard to run a business....But, I have a hard time getting around the parking issue."

"We don’t have enough parking; we both know it," Arduini said.

To meet the conditions to grant an area variance, the board has to be convinced that the request is not substantial, Clenahan said.

"The variance is for about 50 percent of the spaces," he said. "That’s a tough one."

One side of Arcadia Avenue allows parking, Arduini said. Customers could park on the street, he said, because it’s public parking.

Some neighbors in the audience became visibly upset at this because, they said, they have no driveways. Later, Alison Nicholas said that customers of the restaurant already fill her street, making some elderly residents park a far distance away, down a hill from their homes.

"Maybe it is public parking, but to say your neighbors come second is wrong," Nicholas said.

"The building should have never been allowed there with 24 spaces in the first place," Arduini said. "But, we have to live with that."

He continued that the lack of complaints about his business to the Guilderland Police Department proves that there isn’t a problem.

Neighbors also took offense to this.

"If someone is urinating outside, by the time police get there, the zipper will be up," said another woman from Arcadia Avenue. "I can’t see wasting police officers’ time like that."

"Maybe we’ll have to call the Guilderland Police," Nicholas said. "We didn’t want to waste their time, but maybe we should to prove to you there’s a problem."

Board member Susan Macri was the first to speak in support of Arduini. She worked at nearby Dunkin’ Donuts in the 1970’s when the business was a rowdy college bar, she said.

"I feel now it’s more of family restaurant than a bar and, truthfully, I haven’t seen a large parking problem," Macri said. "Losing two parking spots to a deck, I don’t think is going to be a huge impact."

Don Reeb, president of the McKownville Improvement Association, said his group is against the proposal because it will add to the parking problem and cause more noise.

Also, he said, "It is and has been less than admirable in its landscaping appearance....It’s terrible looking and there’s no reason in the world the people of Guilderland should have to put up with it."

After the public comments, Arduini said he respects Reeb and what he’s done for McKownville, as well as his other neighbors.

"Nobody is trying to put them second," he said. "No one says a car in front of their houses is from my establishment."

Motion defeated

Arduini wasn’t aggressive about the board’s granting him approval; he seemed to expect that it wouldn’t.

"We know we don’t have enough parking. In the spring, the place is going to look good either way," he said. "Either way, I understand you do what you have to do."

"I don’t know if Mr. Arduini should be blamed for actions of his customers if they’re breaking the law," Clenahan said. But, he said, "I can’t get around the parking issue. It’s hard to come to the conclusion that it’s anything other than a substantial request."

"I like the proposal and I wish there was another way to get the deck on," said board member Sharon Cupoli. "....But, having lived on a street where a bar was at the end and nobody had a driveway, I have a great deal of sympathy for the neighbors."

Clenahan then made a motion to disapprove Arduini’s request.

Macri was the first to vote against the motion, saying she was for the request.

Several people travel in one vehicle to restaurants, she said. She’s driven past the Across the Street Pub for 30 years and hasn’t seen a parking problem, she said.

Board member Michael Marcantonio agreed with Macri and voted to defeat the motion because, he said, the deck seating is only seasonal.

Next, board member James Sumner voted with Clenahan to disapprove the proposal.

He was followed by Cupoli, who said she changed her mind from her earlier comments. She now agrees with Macri, she said.

Board member Charles Klaer voted with Clenahan and Sumner. If no additional seats were being added to the restaurant, he’d be comfortable with the request, Klaer said, but that’s not the case.

The final vote was by board member Patricia Aikens. She cast the fourth vote to defeat Clenahan’s motion.

"This is a business owner trying his best to overcome difficulties he doesn’t have control over," Aikens said.

Zoning board attorney Peter Barber then explained that, since the motion was defeated, someone needed to make a new motion to approve the proposal. That person, however, has to be sure to include conditions and proper legal language, he said.

Macri, Marcantonio, Cupoli, and Aikens all said they weren’t comfortable doing that now. They agreed to postpone the decision until the next board meeting, so someone could be prepared to make a motion.

The chairman almost always makes motions and, in the past several years, none have been defeated.

The neighbors were angered by the vote and yelled out from the audience a few times; some board members said the public hearing was closed, so they could not talk.

Clenahan, however, then allowed the neighbors to speak.

"I feel the things said here have nothing to do with the issue," Nicholas said. "It was an emotional business decision and not a parking-lot issue."

"Somebody drives by and doesn’t see a problem, but we live there," a woman shouted.

"We’ve been totally discounted," Nicholas said.

"The only thing we can conclude is that this will be approved," Reeb said.

"No," said Barber. No one knows what the new motion will be or how board members will vote, he said.

"The neighbors feel the concern about the business has replaced concerns about the neighborhood," Reeb said. "This is outrageous. The businessman is more important than the residents."

Elderly woman scammed by phony bank representative

By Nicole Fay Barr

GUILDERLAND — An elderly woman was the victim of fraud Friday when she gave $5,200 to a man who claimed he was a representative of her bank.

Guilderland Police are now searching for the man, who identified himself as Mr. Peterson. He is described as having white skin and a thin build, being about 35 to 40 years old, and dressing neatly.

The man called the woman earlier in the week and said he was a representative of her bank, Investigator John Tashjian told The Enterprise.

He told her he suspected that someone from the bank was stealing from customers’ accounts, Tashjian said.

"He asked for her account number and balance and, when she told him, he said there was a discrepancy," the investigator said.

The man then asked the woman to help him with the investigation by withdrawing $5,200 from her account, Tashjian said. The man instructed the woman to take a cab to Crossgates Mall and meet him there with the money, Tashjian said.

He told her that the money would be put back into her account, Tashjian said.

"He told her not to tell anyone," Tashjian said. "He was convincing to her. She was trustworthy."

The man waited for her cab in the mall’s parking lot, Tashjian said. He probably stood back at first, waiting to see if she’d show up or to see if police were involved, Tashjian said.

When the man asked the complainant for her money, she asked him for identification, Tashjian said.

"He said it was confidential, top secret," Tashjian said. "She asked for a receipt and he said it would ruin the investigation."

The man then told her to wait and he would send a cab for her, police said. When the cab didn’t arrive, she realized she was victimized and called the police.

Investigators are looking through the woman’s phone records now, trying to locate the man, Tashjian said. Police have had a few phone calls from other residents who the man may have called, Tashjian said. The woman was the only one to be victimized.

"This is an old ploy these guys use. Sometimes they just use the phone book and start dialing numbers," Tashjian said. "I think that’s what he did."

Asked what residents should do, Tashjian said, "If anyone calls asking about your account or personal information, don’t give it to anybody. If you’re suspicious, call the authorities or get a name and call your bank."

Bank representatives don’t ask for account numbers over the phone, he said.

Residents who think they’ve received a fraudulent call should dial *57 right away, Tashjian said, to trace the call.

Goddess great but flamingoes foul: Renaissance Floral clears clutter, get permit amendment

By Nicole Fay Barr

GUILDERLAND — After several, sometimes heated, meetings, Renaissance Floral and the town’s zoning board have reached a compromise.

The former funeral home at 1561 Western Ave. has had a lawn full of statues — ranging from Greek goddesses to flamingoes. While the zoning board has wrestled with the legalities of the display, the public has debated the aesthetics. Some see it as ugly clutter, others as beautiful decoration.

David Michael Schmidt, who owns the business, has been unanimously granted an amendment to his special-use permit. Schmidt has now agreed to keep most of his outside displays stored behind the building. He is allowed, however, to keep a few statues, birdbaths, and fountains on his lawn.

Schmidt was first granted a special-use permit in 2002 for a flower and decorating business.

Earlier this year, Schmidt was found to be in violation of the conditions of his permit. The permit stated that he was to have no retail items on display outside. However, Schmidt had gathered a large collection of statues and art and had displayed it all in front of and on the side of his building.

Board members before said they thought the property looked cluttered and messy. They worried it was a danger to those traveling on Western Avenue, as drivers might slow down or take their eyes off the road to see the unusual display.

Board members were also upset that some display items blocked Schmidt’s driveway and parking area. They said it was dangerous to customers both outside their cars looking at the items and those driving into the lot.

At each meeting, Schmidt and board members, specifically James Sumner, disagreed on the interpretation of Schmidt’s special-use permit. Schmidt believed it was his right to display some items outside and Sumner said it was not.

In recent meetings, as board members seemed to soften on Schmidt, Sumner said he took offense at Schmidt’s ignoring the conditions of his special-use permit for three years. Sumner said the board should not consider amending the permit.

Last Wednesday, Sumner read language from the permit, which said that, if the permit is not exercised within one year, it is declared to be null, void, and revoked in its entirety.

"Why are we seeing this case if it should be revoked"" Sumner asked.

Chairman Bryan Clenahan and board attorney Peter Barber both said that Schmidt has "exercised" the permit because he did put a flower shop there. Permits are revoked when an applicant does nothing with the site for a year, they said.

"I don’t mind dealing with it, but I think we’re going against our own order," Sumner said.

"Done. Done. Done."

Clenahan proceeded to ask Schmidt about the board’s recent requests — that he install signs directing traffic in and out of the site; that he install a sign prohibiting left turns onto Western Avenue; and that he create a more detailed landscaping and outside-display plan.

"Done. Done. Done," Schmidt said.

He also said that, last Tuesday, he secured a large storage area behind the building and, the day of the meeting, had moved almost all of his display items there.

"By Monday, everything will be out of the way," Schmidt said, as he has before. "The cluttering and the stuff is gone and it’s not going to come back. It’s going to be pretty awesome this spring."

He said he agreed that his lawn didn’t look good before and now he’ll only have a birdbath or fountain outside.

Sumner said he drove by earlier that night and 100 items were outside.

By 7 p.m., Schmidt said, the items were moved. "Jim, you’re going to be very happy," he said to Sumner. "I know you have a hard time believing that right now."

Sumner said many items were under a side porch. Schmidt countered that it is his right to display items there.

"No outside display items..." Sumner read from the law.

"There’s no question the previous special-use permit wasn’t followed; that’s why he’s here," Clenahan said. "I’m not sure there should be much of any retail items on the side porch because of the proximity to the driveway."

"I really am trying to do everything you guys are telling me," Schmidt said.

"I’m concerned about seeing an overflow of retail items again," Clenahan said.

Stores at Stuyvesant Plaza have sale items on the sidewalks there, Schmidt said.

Retail items are to be kept in the back of the property or inside the building, Clenahan said.

"Is the Greek Goddess going anywhere"" asked board member Charles Klaer, referring to a large statue in front of the building.

"No, she’s a piece I own. She’s made in 1848 in Paris," Schmidt said.

"Does she need to be on such a large pedestal"" asked Klaer.

"No," Schmidt replied.

Joe Vandeloo, speaking on behalf of John Vandeloo, who owns property next to the site, was the only person to speak against the amendment. He had complained before about the appearance of the property.

"Mr. Sumner’s comments are well taken in terms of the status of this permit," Vandeloo said. The permit should be revoked, he said.

"What is really going to happen to that site"" Vandeloo asked. "It’s probably like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall."

While he isn’t against Schmidt following his original special-use permit, Vandeloo said, he doesn’t think that will happen.

Sumner told Schmidt that he, too, just wants him to follow the law. He doesn’t want to see him go out of business, he said.

"Valid concerns have been raised and I think they’ve all been addressed," Clenahan said. "It still is an immense improvement to the site than what was there before....A lot of us in 2002 thought it was an asset to the town to see this developed and I think that’s still true."

He then made a motion to approve the amendment, with the condition that no retail display items are allowed in the front.

Each board member, including Sumner, agreed.

"I’m voting in the affirmative with a lump in my throat," Sumner said. "...I hope this doesn’t happen again."

Town adopts new contract for paramedics

By Nicole Fay Barr

GUILDERLAND — The town approved a new, three-year contract with its paramedics at last Tuesday’s board meeting. Both sides are happy with the agreement.

Under the new contract, paramedics will get a 4-percent salary increase in 2006 and 3-percent increases in 2007 and 2008.

Next year’s salaries range from $33,800 to $40,000 for 12 full-time paramedics and for nine part-time workers, who will be paid hourly and required to work a minimum of 48 hours a month.

"It’s pretty straightforward," said Supervisor Kenneth Runion. "There were no sticking points."

"It’s a very fair agreement," said Paul Engel, of Teamsters Local 294, the paramedics’ union. He, too, said there were no sticking points, although wages are always a subject of negotiation.

Other changes were of language in the contract, Runion said, "to make it clearer how things are operating now."

"It was basically just a cleanup of some of the language," said Engel.

Other business

In other business, last Tuesday, the town board:

— Authorized a transfer of $150,000 from the town’s water reserve account to its water phase IV account;

— Awarded bids for the sale of surplus items retained by the police department;

— Awarded a bid for a truck jet-mounted sewer cleaner;

— Released funds from an escrow account for the Frenches Mill Estates subdivision; and

— Set a public hearing for March 24, at 7:30 p.m., to discuss the town’s annual Section 8 housing plan, which helps those in households with limited incomes.

Dump in wetlands: DEC hopeful Galesi will clean up

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation is in the process of trying to get the Galesi Group to remove construction and demolition debris from a wetland at the Northeastern Industrial Park, according to DEC spokesman Rick Georgeson.

Dumping in wetlands is illegal.

The problem was noted over six years ago in a letter written by a DEC biologist.

The industrial park wetland, labeled V-19, is of particular concern because it is next to the Black Creek, which feeds into the Watervliet Reservoir, Guilderland’s major source of drinking water.

In the 1940’s, the Army owned the land in Guilderland occupied by the industrial park today. The Army diverted the Black Creek into two halves and sent waste from its depot into the creek or buried it on site.

The Army Corps of Engineers is now charged with mitigating contaminants caused by the Army’s use of the former depot. It has defined nine areas of concern, sites it considers a risk to human health.

The construction and demolition landfill, in a marshy area adjacent to the Black Creek, is labeled Area of Concern 4. But the Army says it did not use this site; it has sprung up since the takeover of the land by the Galesi Group in 1969.

Gregory Goepfert, the project manager for the Army Corps of Engineers, told The Enterprise last week, "That’s not our stuff at AOC 4...In July of this summer, we presented the results of the sampling we took there."

The sampling showed the materials were not related to the Department of Defense, he said. "We tested the areas we thought might be. We didn’t get anything hazardous," he said.

Georgeson at the DEC confirmed, "Galesi is responsible for the cleanup; that is correct."

"We’ve been going back and forth with Galesi," Georgeson told The Enterprise on Monday. "They did remove some solid waste from there...plastic debris."

The Enterprise called David Buicko, chief operating officer of the industrial park on Tuesday, to ask what materials had been dumped in the wetlands, when and by whom, and if any of the materials were hazardous wastes; The Enterprise also wanted to know what materials have already been removed and when remaining materials will be removed.

"I’m not the one actively working with the DEC," said Buicko. He declined to put The Enterprise in touch with someone who is.

First, Buicko said the debris was left by the Army. Told that both Goepfert and Georgeson said that was not the case, Buicko said he has been with the Galesi Group since 1982 and the dumping was prior to that "to the best of my knowledge."

Buicko also said, "From our standpoint, we have a great relationship with Region 4 [of the DEC] and we’ll work with them to do what it takes to mitigate...Our side of the story is the same as the DEC’s."

Impact on Black Creek"

The material that remains in the wetland or the 100-foot buffer area, Georgeson said, is "inert C and D material," such as concrete or rebar. The waste is not hazardous, he said, and, were it not dumped in a wetland, it would not be illegal.

"We don’t believe there’s anything toxic or hazardous," he said. "We don’t feel there’s been any impact on the Black Creek."

Members of the Restoration Advisory Board, largely made up of local citizens meant to advise the Army Corps in the depot cleanup, have expressed other sentiments.

Over three years ago, in 2002, board members contended that the industrial park should not be allowed to put construction debris close to the Black Creek and the marshy area that feeds it, especially given the possibility of movement of debris from contaminated areas.

This fall, Thadeus Ausfeld, who co-chairs the board and who also runs Guilderland's water plant, told The Enterprise that he had seen the construction and demolition landfill on an earlier visit to the industrial park but the Restoration Advisory Board has not been allowed to visit recently.

"I would like to show the Restoration Advisory Board the landfill," he said. "They should judge if it’s the Northeastern Industrial Park or the Army," he said of the dumping.

When The Enterprise asked Buicko about the reasons for not allowing the Restoration Advisory Board to visit Area of Concern 4, Buicko declined commenting on the record.

Ausfeld referred to cleanup work that is now underway at another area of concern, on land owned by Joan Burns. (See related story.) Initially, it was believed materials buried by the Army on Burns’s land were not hazardous, but tests proved otherwise, so funding for cleanup was secured from the federal government. The Army has few records of what was dumped where at the depot.

"The Army Corps should dig test pits," said Ausfeld of the wetland dumping site. "That’s what we did on Mrs. Burns’s property. We showed them where to dig. That’s the fair way to do it."

Ausfeld concluded, "I prefer being the one to show the Army Corps. They’re supposed to be giving an honest approach to fixing up the AOC’s. This is one area they’re not doing because they don’t feel its them."

No enforcement yet

The Enterprise began inquiring about the dump site in July, after which the DEC performed an inspection.

The Enterprise submitted a request under the state’s Freedom Of Information Law and obtained a copy of a file titled "Wetland Violations — Albany V-19 Galesi."

The file contains a draft of a 1998 investigation report on wetlands at the Northeastern Industrial Park.

The park currently owns 559 acres of the 650 once occupied by an Army depot, states the report.

It describes a construction and demolition landfill in Area of Concern 4, saying, "The area for the wetland survey included AOC 4, the property immediately surrounding the landfill on all sides, and extending east to the main channel of the Black Creek."

A DEC freshwater wetlands map from 1985 "shows a small portion of the Black Creek wetland system (V-19) intersects the western half of AOC 4W," states the report, referring to the area surveyed for wetlands around AOC 4.

The report defines the wetlands as Class I, indicating they "provide important wetland functions and protection of the wetlands is of concern" due to "significant benefits" that include "flood storage protection, sediment and nutrient retention, and very high habitat value."

The file also contains a June 22, 1999 letter from Karl E. Parker, senior wildlife biologist with the DEC’s Region 4. He writes that, in the course of his field work on state-regulated wetland V-19 he "observed apparent freshwater wetland and solid waste violations at the Northeastern Industrial Park in the site of the area labeled ‘Construction and Demolition Landfill’ on figure 1-2 [see map] of the Investigative Report." Parker goes on, "This Department has notified the landowner of the alleged violation and will be pursuing this matter further."

Parker told The Enterprise that he could not answer questions about his letter or his findings, that all questions must go through Georgeson.

In July, The Enterprise had also asked Heather Bishop about the dumping; Bishop represents the DEC on the Restoration Advisory Board. She, too, referred the matter to Georgeson.

In a series of calls over the last four-and-a-half months, Georgeson said he was attempting to get answers about what had been dumped in the V-19 wetland, what action had been taken for cleanup, and what harm may have been caused.

Asked this week if the DEC had the power to insist on cleanup of the wetlands, Georgeson replied, "Yes, we do...At this point, there’s been no formal enforcement. They’ve been cooperative, so we’ve been holding off."

When The Enterprise pointed out that Parker’s letter about the dumping had been written over six years ago, Georgeson said, "Our inspection this summer found they had removed plastic solid waste left from a client. I believe they were trying to find a use for it...They're working on removing the rest right now; they told us that last week...Our enforcement coordinator has been talking to someone at Galesi...We’ve been waiting for final confirmation that the material has been removed and then we’ll schedule a follow-up inspection."

Toxic Army waste trucked out

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — So far, the Army Corps of Engineers has removed 1,400 cubic yards of soil from Joan Burns’s property on Depot Road. More work is planned for the spring.

"We’re going after the areas where we had anticipated finding material," said Gregory Goepfert, the project manager from the Army Corps.

The $650,000 cleanup of hazardous Army waste began in September after decades of worry for Burns.

"I’m very optimistic," she told The Enterprise on Tuesday. She added, "I’m anxious to see what more they’ve found. I’ve been promised a complete report."

One container discovered in the cleanup tested high for mercury, said Goepfert.

Burns said she’s someone who loves the country, but, once she learned there were hazardous wastes buried on her land, "It was always on my mind," she said. "There’s a certain amount of apprehension."

When she sees the trucks roll out with soils, she said, "It’s a positive thing...It gives you a feeling of security to know something is being done."

The property was once part of the Army depot that was built in Guilderland and New Scotland in the 1940’s. Burns and her late husband, Milton, bought their house with 40 acres in 1963 from the General Services Administration when the depot was being phased out; they were not told about the waste buried there, Burns said.

News of the Love Canal broke in 1979; Hooker Chemical had buried toxic waste in western New York where houses were later built and residents then suffered health problems.

Burns heard about the Love Canal and she and her husband noted areas where nothing grew on their land and the soil appeared to have an oily substance on the surface.

"I became suspicious," Burns told The Enterprise earlier. Ever since, she had been in contact with a variety of agencies — county, state, and federal — trying to get answers.

Burns, a nurse, said her family has suffered "a lot of health problems" that she believes are associated with the buried waste.

"My husband died of colon cancer in 1995," she said. "He was the one out on the land."

Her two horses, who weren’t genetically related, also died of cancer, Burns said. She had autopsies done at Cornell, she said, and found that both had died of lymphoma.

She has also had cats that "mysteriously died," she said, after they had "gotten out by mistake."

Burns told The Enterprise last year that she couldn’t sell the land or use it in its current state.

"I don’t like walking on it," she said. "I don’t use it. It’s wasted land," she said as she pushed for cleanup.

"I requested it over and over again," Burns told The Enterprise in the summer of 2004 before samples were taken from her property. "I hope something is about to happen."


The Restoration Advisory Board, which advises the Army Corps of Engineers on the cleanup of the old Army depot, had pushed for testing that would show if the materials buried in Burns’s 40 acres were hazardous.

The tests showed that much of the buried waste was toxic and dangerous. "The results of the samples showed that the materials had hazardous components to them," Goepfert told The Enterprise this summer. "I was able to justify the removal based on the results."

Goepfert secured $650,000 for the project from the Defense Environmental Restoration Program for Formerly Used Defense Sites, known as FUDS, which is greatly underfunded.

The New York District, covering New York and New Jersey, has an estimated $500 million in cleanup costs and an annual budget of $3 million to $5 million, Goepfert said this summer.

With hurricane disasters since then, federal funds are even harder to come by now.

Asked if the work on Burns’s property is staying within the $650,000 procured, Goepfert said last week, "I don’t know that just yet."

Three years ago, Goepfert secured FUDS funding, originally intended to clean up a former burn pit from which a toxic plume is emanating. The money was used instead to clean up a site by Guilderland High School where the district was building a new bus facility, after buried Army debris was discovered there. That cleanup cost about half-a-million dollars.

More work

The initial plan for Burns’s property was to remove materials from two areas in a period of 60 to 90 days.

Drums filled with a tar substance and bottles with paint residue and ink were to be dug out of the ground and taken away. At the back of Burns’s property, bottles and vials with an orange liquid were to be removed.

Goepfert said last week that, of the 1,400 cubic yards of soil that have been removed, 1,100 have already been trucked away and the remaining 300 cubic yards were slated to be removed this week.

All of the soils that tested as non-hazardous are being taken to Albany County’s landfill, he said, to be used as "cover material."

A total of 61 drums have been removed, all of which are flammable, he said. They contain a fuel-based cleaning solvent along with sludge and they will be sent to a licensed disposal facility this week, Goepfert said.

Also, he said, three roll-off containers, similar to Dumpsters, were found. After testing, one was found to be non-hazardous and the other two were flammable; one of the flammable containers also tested high for mercury.

Additional work remains to be done, said Goepfert.

An area near the Black Creek bed was probed and "sub-surface metal disturbances" were found, he said. Test pits were dug, which revealed gallon cans of cranberry juice or sauce, which are not hazardous.

Burns’s land is located on Route 201, within the Black Creek drainage area. The Black Creek feeds into the Watervliet Reservoir, Guilderland’s major source of drinking water. (See related story.)

Thadeus Ausfeld has been concerned that the waste buried on Burns’s property will affect the town’s water supply and the groundwater. Ausfeld operates the town’s water plant and, with Charles Rielly, co-chairs the Restoration Advisory Board, largely made up of local citizens. Burns also serves on the board.

"The people who live along [Route] 201 here should be concerned and get involved," Ausfeld told The Enterprise last year. "The public has to wake up."

"We’ll look in that area in the spring to see if we missed any drums," said Goepfert. "We only found one or two in that area."

The reason for the wait is for more favorable weather conditions, he said.

Several areas were tested with an electromagnetic detector. "We found some indication we might have something," said Goepfert.

Buried metal fence posts were discovered as were metal pipes and pill bottles, similar to those found elsewhere on Burns’s property. Although the contents of the pill bottles have not yet been analyzed, said Goepfert, it appears to be salt as in the bottles that have been tested already.

Asked who would be responsible for cleanup if hazardous wastes were found on Burns’s property after the current project is complete, Goepfert said, "The Army Corps takes responsibility for the site even after we’re done, as long as the materials are connected with former defense use."

Burns told The Enterprise this week that she is looking forward to the finishing work that will be done in the spring.

"Because of the weather, they plan to wrap it up temporarily this Friday," she said. "They’re taking out their equipment. They’ll be back in the spring to finish up and do the cosmetic part."

A large hill that Burns and her late husband, when they first bought the property, envisioned their children sledding on will be removed, she said.

"It’s not part of the natural topography," she said. "When we found oil slicks there, we never let the kids use it, and now they’re grown up."

Asked if she felt confident all of the hazardous materials will be removed, Burns said, "When they found the additional drums...I was surprised...You never know with 40 acres. You never really have 100-percent security everything is out. They’ve been doing a thorough job, though, and I feel it’s in good hands."

She praised The Enterprise for its coverage of the problem, which has spanned more than a decade.

Other Areas of Concern

Including the Burns property, the Army Corps of Engineers has classified nine Areas of Concern, called AOC’s, sites that were determined to be a risk to human health.

Looking ahead to future projects, Goepfert said, "We look forward to completing feasibility studies on AOC 1 and AOC 7."

Area of Concern 1 is an Army landfill in the southern part of the old depot, next to the railroad tracks and bounded by Route 201 near where it meets Stone Road. A pond on the site is about 1,500 feet from the main channel of the Black Creek.

Area of Concern 7, a triangular disposal area, is in the southeast end and contains buried debris such as glass bottles and railroad ties.

Both of these areas are located on property now owned by the Northeastern Industrial Park, which occupies most of the former depot site.

Goepfert anticipates studies on areas of concern 1 and 7 will be complete by the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30, 2006.

Those studies have not yet been started.

"We would like to get those underway," said Goepfert. "They take several months to complete."

He also said he has been "very, very encouraged by the level of cooperation" from two state agencies — the departments of health and of environmental conservation — and from Albany County’s health department. He praised Heather Bishop from the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation, Charlotte Bethoney from the state’s Department of Health, and Ron Groves from the county’s health department.

Goepfert concluded, "I think we’ve accomplished something the community and Mrs. Burns have pressed for...I feel personally satisfied."

Super calls for less testing

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — The superintendent here strongly criticized new testing requirements in his annual State of the District Address, delivered to the school board Tuesday night.

"Tests are basic but limited," said Superintendent Gregory Aidala. "A test cannot measure a child’s confidence, creativity, or common sense."

New York State formerly required fourth- and eighth-graders to be tested in English and math. Starting this school year, all students in third through eighth grade will be tested.

"I wish that education reform could be accomplished in the easy, simplistic way that legislators presume: We teach; students learn; we test; we declare success," said Aidala. "The problem is that such a mindset ignores the complexities involved in teaching and learning as well as children's developmental needs."

Aidala said that the new testing regimen fueled by the federal No Child Left Behind legislation means students will loose valuable instructional time and teachers, grading exams, will lose classroom time.

Aidala referred to the "redundancy of testing," and said that, without the additional tests, teachers already know how well their students are doing and which students need more help.

The testing will cost Guilderland an estimated $100,000 a year for at least the next two years, said Aidala. The 12 tests will take 28 sessions to administer, he said, and will cause stress for students and teachers.

Aidala said his criticism was not because of an anti-testing philosophy but because of the time lost from teacher-student interaction and because of the large expense not offset with added funding.

"As a superintendent, I’m confident our students will do well...I continue to ask myself, ‘How much is enough"’" said Aidala.

In last year’s address, Aidala had sounded a similar warning on the dangers of high-stakes testing. Although it may satisfy the "political agenda in our country," he said then, the obvious trap is teachers will match their teaching more and more to the test. Other skills, not measurable in tests, such as problem-solving, creative thinking, and collaborative work, are also important, he said.

Staying the course

Aidala structured his speech this year along the lines of Charles Dickens’s Victorian classic, A Christmas Carol, where a miserly Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by the ghosts of Christmases past, present, and future, which open his mind and heart, changing him into a generous person.

While Aidala reviewed a "record of strengths and successes" over the past year, present issues, and future challenges, his message was one of staying the course and building on past practices, rather than a Scrooge-like shift of philosophy.

One new initiative mentioned by Aidala was the announcement that Kermit Hall, the president of the University at Albany, will visit Guilderland on Jan. 18 to explore a school-university partnership.

Another looming matter of interest is the possibility of mandatory full-day kindergarten throughout the state, said Aidala. Guilderland currently offers a half-day kindergarten program.


Reviewing the past 12 months, Aidala highlighted:

— The settlement with Crossgates Mall, ending a dozen years of litigation and resulting in no payment of back taxes;

—The $20 million renovation and expansion of the middle school;

— New administrators, including new principals for Altamont Elementary School, the middle school, and the high school as well as a new administrator for human resources;

— Program highlights including maintaining "favorable class size" at the elementary schools, curriculum mapping at the middle school, and offering a wide variety of courses and co-curricular activities at the high school;

— Town-wide property revaluation which inspired questions, confusion, and concerns; and

— Communication with the district’s constituents through e-mails from the superintendent, notes and calls to parents, a district newsletter, a cable network, local newspapers, and the district’s website.

Aidala quoted from Jim Collins: "Leadership at any level is about vision. Leadership is also about creating a climate where the truth is heard and the facts are confronted."

Aidala said, "Sometimes the news hasn’t always been good but we have never shied away from providing information to our community."


In summarizing current issues, Aidala went over:

— The slight decline in enrollment — down 1.7 percent to 5,551 students — expected to continue over the next five years;

— The changing staff among the district’s 1,100 employees, including 31 new teachers this fall;

— The second year of a new teacher-evaluation model; a parallel revision for evaluating supervisors and administrators is expected to be completed this year;

— Education beyond the classroom, including activities in art, music, the theater, and athletics;

— An energy-management program designed to save money by changing habits;

— Improvements in school security; and

— New testing requirements.


Looking to the future, Aidala discussed:

— Instructional priorities, including focusing on students to ensure their success, developing a wellness policy, continuing to work on bullying prevention, and examining the teaching of foreign language at the elementary schools;

— Dealing with government mandates; and

— Budget issues, including rising costs for health insurance and pension; increasing fuel and utility costs; and the need to identify areas of change to save money as with energy management or transportation efficiency.

"Our constituents recognize the importance of access to quality education services for our children," said Aidala, "but, at the same time, we are all dealing with higher fuel costs...government expense for Hurricane Katrina and to support the war in Iraq which are beginning to drain our economy and add to our national debt, and rising property taxes as built-in costs continue to escalate beyond the rate of inflation."

He went on, "With declining resources, it is imperative that we maintain the public's trust and confidence that we are doing the best we can to balance program needs and examine difficult issues by challenging accepted norms and the bottom-line costs which are needed to support our schools financially."

Aidala said he remains optimistic. "We know education is at the heart of the American dream," he said, echoing a comment he made in last year’s address. He also listed goals similar to those outlined last year.

Aidala concluded with a quotation from Lyndon Baines Johnson, president in the 1960’s: "At the desk where I sit, I have learned one great truth. The answer for all our national problems — the answer for all the problems of the world — comes to a single word. That word is education."

The school board applauded Aidala at the close of his speech and its president, Gene Danese, thanked him for the "positive report on the state of the district."

Water endangered" Pair press concerns on reservoir expansion

By Matt Cook

GUILDERLAND — Two environmental leaders in Guilderland are frustrated their concerns about a project to expand the Watervliet Reservoir are being, they say, ignored.

"It’s got to be a crisis situation before people get upset," said Charles Rielly. Rielly co-chairs, with Thadeus Ausfeld, the Restoration Advisory Board, which advises the Army Corps of Engineers on the cleanup of the old Army depot in Guilderland Center. Ausfeld runs the Guilderland water-treatment plant for the town.

Both have opposed the reservoir expansion since the plan was made public this spring.

"I just think they need to look at it more in depth," Ausfeld said. "You need to look at this for 200 years from now."

Meanwhile, Jim Besha, president of Albany Engineering, the firm in charge of the project, said that any problems with the reservoir will be addressed in the lengthy review process.

"This is moving forward in a comprehensive fashion," Besha said, "so any question should be answered."

Besha said the project’s planners can only work with data, not speculation or theories.

"If someone’s got real data, I’d like to see it," Besha said.

Rielly states in a letter to the Enterprise editor that he has repeatedly asked Watervliet for data on sedimentation, for example, which he believes is filling in the reservoir, and his requests have been ignored.

Though located on the Normanskill in Guilderland, the Watervliet Reservoir is owned by the city of Watervliet. It provides drinking water to all of Watervliet and those in Guilderland with public water.

Watervliet’s plan is to modify the dam on the Normanskill with a computerized system that will stabilize the surface of the reservoir at 267 feet above sea level. Currently, the reservoir fluctuates with the season, reaching 267 feet only in the spring. The higher dam would increase the reservoir’s capacity by half, flooding 50 acres in a thin strip along the reservoir’s edge to bring the surface area to about 980 acres. Watervliet hopes to sell some of the extra water to other municipalities.

Watervliet is currently in the midst of preparing its application for approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Besha said, which is required because the reservoir generates a small amount of hydro-power. The commission requires a number of studies to be done, including ones on water quality and sedimentation, and slope stability.

Also, Watervliet will soon lead a full environmental impact assessment under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA).

"Swamp water"

Rielly and Ausfeld’s main concern is that the reservoir is already in bad condition and expansion will only take a smaller problem and make it bigger, they said.

"The water quality is very unstable. It’s just not a very good water supply," Ausfeld said.

Even with Guilderland’s top-of-the-line equipment, water system operators have a difficult time making the water drawn out of the reservoir drinkable, Ausfeld said. The process is much more difficult than in other towns where he’s talked to water managers.

One of the main problems is siltation, Rielly and Ausfeld said. Mud from the large watershed is making its way into the reservoir, coating the bottom with a thick layer of muck, they said.

As a boy, Rielly said, he was able to fish at the north end of the reservoir. Not so anymore; huge mud flats prevent it, Rielly said.

The bottom of the reservoir is "like quicksand," Ausfeld said. One of the town’s intake pipes is completely clogged up, and the others are on their way, he said.

"Swamp water doesn’t make very drinkable water," he said.

Ausfeld cited a 1978 Watervliet study done by Besha. In it, Besha writes that increased growth in the watershed will cause increased run-off and, therefore, more siltation.

"Sedimentation...as a by-product of the increased runoff rates will be noticeable due to the generally silty nature of the soils and unstable bank condition of the major streams," Besha writes in the quarter-century-old report.

This week, Besha said there has been an increased amount of sediment in the reservoir over the years, but that is to be expected and part of the natural life of any watershed.

Later in the report, Besha writes about eutrophication, vegetative growth, in the reservoir. In addition to decreasing the water’s oxygen content, vegetation traps more silt, Besha writes.

"Increased vegetation in the upper reaches of the reservoir...will substantially reduce the velocity in that region and increase the trap efficiency throughout the year, increasing sedimentation," the report says.

On a press tour of the reservoir in the spring, Besha led reporters on a boat across a wide floating field of European chestnuts. Though too much chestnut growth is bad for the water quality, Besha said at the time, the plants suck up a lot of the nutrients, keeping worse invaders, like millfoil, out. So, he said, Watervliet controls, but doesn’t eliminate, the chestnuts.

Although they admit Watervliet is trying to control the chestnuts, the city’s not doing enough, Ausfeld and Rielly said.

"We’ve had problems with organic overloads," Ausfeld said. "That doesn’t make good drinking."

Also in the 1978 report, Besha writes, "Wide fluctuations in the reservoir surface elevation will affect both the amount of sediment in the reservoir and the distribution of the sedimentation in the reservoir."

Rielly and Ausfeld don’t believe the proposed computerized system really will hold the depth stable, and a larger reservoir just means more sedimentation and bank erosion. At an informational meeting this spring, a few local landowners complained about erosion.

"If they start selling water during the dry spell, the reservoir’s going to go down," Rielly said.

Besides, Rielly and Ausfeld said, the dam can’t always be operating properly.

"I don’t understand what’s going to keep that thing from getting jammed up," Ausfeld said. It’s not uncommon for logs and other large objects to come floating down the creek, he said.

Besha said the reservoir may indeed go down a bit when the weather is dry and there’s more demand for water, but, again, that’s natural for any reservoir. However, Besha said, the computerized system will keep the annual variation in water level much smaller than it is now.

As for the dam malfunctioning, Besha said, it’s up to all current standards and subject to regular inspection.

Watershed planning

Rielly and Ausfeld support a comprehensive look at the whole watershed.

"They should be talking with Duanseburg, Princetown, Rotterdam, and holding regular meetings," Rielly said.

The Watervliet watershed is huge compared to the size of the reservoir. It covers nine towns, three counties, and 120 square miles. Besha has attributed the reservoir’s relative stability to the large watershed, but Rielly and Ausfeld say it causes problems as well, especially with increased development in recent years.

"They say it’s the size of the watershed, but it’s what’s going on in the watershed that matters," Ausfeld said.

The current set of watershed rules and regulations was written in a different era, the duo pointed out. It has outdated regulations dealing with things like labor camps and outhouses too close a stream or the reservoir.

A new set of regulations was drafted a few years ago, with input from the affected towns, but no town or governmental agency has approved it, and discussion of it has ceased, Rielly and Ausfeld said.

Rielly and Ausfeld said they haven’t gotten much response to their complaints, including from elected officials in Guilderland. But if nothing is done, they said, the reservoir will soon be in dire straits.

"The cost of purifying that water is going to get so expensive, it’ll be ridiculous," Ausfeld said. "One-hundred years from now, no one will use it for drinking water."

Firefighter breaks leg

By Nicole Fay Barr

ALTAMONT — Although his bones are broken and his muscles are torn, Timothy McIntyre doesn’t pity himself, but rather has sympathy for the woman who caused his accident.

"It was a fluke accident and I feel sorry for her," he told The Enterprise. "I’m sorry she had to be a part of it."

The woman was driving a tractor trailer at the Northeastern Industrial Park last Thursday as McIntyre, an East Berne fireman who volunteers days for the Altamont Fire Department, was getting ready to battle a blaze at a grain mill.

McIntyre was hooking a hose to a hydrant when the woman drove over the hose. McIntyre didn’t see any of this, he said; he only felt what happened next.

The hose wrapped around the wheel of the truck and around McIntyre’s leg, he said. It flipped him upside down and slammed him into the truck, pinning him there.

"The pain was instantaneous," he said. "I didn’t even know what happened. All I remember is flying around and hanging upside down."

Witnesses described his grisly screams and word about the accident ripped through the village. McIntyre is also Altamont’s superintendent of public works and was honored this summer as a citizen of the year.

"He goes above and beyond what he needs to do as head of public works," said Beth Shaw, president of Altamont Community Tradition, at the time the honor was bestowed.

Just last week, The Enterprise published a letter from a grateful Altamont family who said McIntyre saved their Thanksgiving by working on the holiday to fix a broken water main.

McIntyre was taken to Albany Medical Center last Thursday and treated for several breaks in his leg and torn muscles, he said. By dinnertime, he was home.

MyIntyre is still in much pain, he told The Enterprise this week. He must keep his leg elevated so it doesn’t swell. He will wear a cast for six weeks, he said.

It’s unusual for an Altamont firefighter to get hurt, said Chief Daniel Madison.

"This is the first person in years to be taken to the hospital for a serious injury. Even though we’re volunteers, it is still possible to get hurt," he said. "I don’t consider it a successful call if people are hurt."

But, Madison added, McIntyre’s accident was out of his control. "He did nothing wrong," Madison said.

Although it’s the first time McIntyre’s been hurt on the job, that won’t deter him from going back, he said.

When asked if he’s considered a lawsuit, McIntyre spoke instead of how awful he feels for the woman driving the tractor trailer.

McIntyre began volunteering for the fire department 10 years ago. Asked why he joined, he said, "For the sense of community and to give a little back. If my house was on fire, I’d want somebody to come."

He will return to his job with the village’s public works department soon, he said. He will do paperwork and other tasks until he’s on his feet.

McIntyre said he’s received amazing support from the village and its residents, and from other firefighters.

"It was just an unfortunate accident," he said. "I hope it doesn’t happen to anybody else."

Tough week

The fire in Guilderland Center last Thursday was one of two that Altamont firefighters helped put out in the past week. On Sunday, a house caught fire on Park Street.

Besides McIntyre, there were no other injuries and both fires were controlled quickly.

Although last Thursday’s fire was within the boundaries of the Northeastern Industrial Park, the building that caught on fire is privately owned. It is the United Cooperative Farmers, a livestock feed mill.

A machine caught fire there on the third story of the building, McIntyre said.

Guilderland Center was the main fire department at the scene, he said, but, in addition to Altamont, members of the Guilderland, Fort Hunter, and Westmere departments responded.

Rescue squad workers were nearby, which came in handy as they witnessed McIntyre’s accident, he said.

Chief Madison told The Enterprise about the fire on Park Street. It didn’t take long to control, he said, and no one was hurt.

Sunday at 10:45 p.m., Altamont firefighters received a call that a house at 111 Park Street, across from the post office, was burning. Witnesses reported seeing flames shoot 30 feet into the air.

The fire was in two bedrooms on the second floor of the home, Madison said. The two adults who lived there, an elderly woman and her son, were awakened by smoke detectors, he said. When the fire department arrived, they were both out of the house and safe, he said.

It didn’t take long to contain the fire, Madison said. The cause is unknown and is being investigated by Guilderland fire inspectors, he said.

The second floor of the house needs "heavy-duty repair work," Madison said, as it has heat and water damage.

The two residents are staying with family, he said.

Members of the Guilderland Center and Guilderland fire departments helped put out the fire, Madison said. Members of Guilderland’s Emergency Medical Services and the Altamont Rescue Squad were also on the scene, checking the firefighters’ blood pressures and standing by to provide any necessary medical assistance.

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