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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, August 17, 2006

Workers question highway merger

By Tyler Schuling

BERNE — "We need to set aside our fears, set aside our politics, help our residents, and save our tax dollars," Berne Supervisor Kevin Crosier said at last Wednesday night’s town board meeting.

Crosier has been pushing to consolidate the Berne Highway Department with the Albany County Department of Public Works. Berne residents and highway workers, however, expressed concerns.

"What happens to the people" That’s my main concern," Berne board member Joe Golden said.

"It’s a brand new idea," Crosier said. The town and county consolidation would be the first in the state, according to the Association of Towns.

"In the 21st Century, the world is changing," said Crosier. "We need to look further down the road. We need to look at consolidation very seriously." Crosier later said that the town could be forced into consolidation if it didn’t consolidate now.

A report put together by the town and county outlines over $600,000 in expected savings and service improvements for Berne.

The need to construct a salt storage facility, the need to replace underground fuel storage tanks, along with the desire to save taxpayers’ money led to the plan.

According to the report, Berne has 79.25 road miles, a population of 2,846 in 2000 according to the 2000 census, and the second-highest ratio of road miles per 1,000 people (27.85) in Albany County. The report also says 47 percent of the roads within Berne are county roads.

Ray Storm, Berne’s highway superintendent, recently told The Enterprise he’d rather look into money-saving strategies than ask the board for more money.

"We need to look at ways to keep taxes down," Storm told The Enterprise.

Storm and Albany County’s commissioner of public works, Michael Franchini, cite rising material and fuel costs as reasons to support the proposed consolidation. Albany County, which uses more materials and hires more workers, gets better prices on materials and doesn’t pay as much as Berne for workers’ compensation insurance, they say.

"We provide service 24 hours a day," Franchini said at Wednesday’s meeting in Berne. "We have guys out there while you’re sleeping. For snowplowing, we have enough staff and we rely on our engineering department. We replace culverts on our own. We can provide a better service," he said.

Franchini went on to say that he was proud of Albany County employees. "And most of our guys live in the town of Berne," Franchini said.

Crosier also commended Berne’s highway workers.

"Our highway guys are asked to do a lot," he said. "I think by combining we can provide a better service. Our guys do a great job. Their guys do a great job."

Workers Have Concerns

Berne highway workers raised concerns, including where salt and sand would be stored; differences in snow and ice control methods between Albany County and Berne’s highway department (Albany County uses pure salt, Berne uses a salt and sand mixture); the distance workers would be required to travel from Berne to the county supply building; changed routes; and which roads would be maintained.

"What we’re doing now won’t change," Crosier said.

Crosier, Storm, Franchini, and Albany County Executive Michael Breslin were all in agreement that the proposed consolidation is still in its genesis and therefore not far enough along to answer such operational questions.

Highway workers also expressed concern about Berne losing its identity as a small, rural highway department; losing control as money gets farther from the town; and the serviceability of roads. Workers also voiced concerns about Albany County’s ability to plow private roads or lots, such as for a church.

Townspeople at the meeting wondered if the consolidation would result in Berne residents being last in line for snow removal and road maintenance.

Joe Welsh and his fellow Berne highway workers recently compiled a list of 49 questions about the proposed merger and presented the questions to Crosier.

Welsh received responses to his questions but has concerns about the answers he was given. Welsh doesn’t know who came up with the answers and isn’t satisfied with the answers provided.

"The answers to some of these questions are ridiculous," Welsh told The Enterprise. "They jump around a lot and avoid the questions."

At last Wednesday’s meeting, Breslin said, "If you want to go over them [the questions] one by one, we’ll do it."

The board, Breslin, Franchini, and Welsh, scheduled an open meeting to answer highway department employees’ questions on Aug. 23 at the East Berne firehouse. The meeting, due to scheduling conflicts, has been canceled but will be rescheduled at a later date, Welsh said this week.

Other business

In other business, the town board:

— Heard from Youth Director Jane O’Shea that the summer program was a success, seeing a 17 percent increase in enrollment from last year. O’Shea said early advertisement as well as not having the program run over the Fourth of July weekend are reasons for its success. O’Shea informed the board that it would be wise to rethink brochures which were sent out to residents as they were expensive and asked the board to consider increasing the $50 fee for each child next year;

— Rescheduled Berne Heritage Days for Sept. 2. The town-wide celebration of its history was postponed from July 22 because of heavy rain;

— Heard that Jeff Thomas of Knox will donate $850 to the Friends of the Berne Library;

— Approved replacing the transfer-station truck for an amount not to exceed $85,490.05. The board also approved buying the truck’s options for an amount not to exceed $26,294. The transfer-station truck will also need a hoist with an automatic tarping system, which the board will bid on at a later date, Patricia Favreau, Berne’s town clerk, told The Enterprise;

— Agreed to hire Richardson Pump Service to install a well pump at the town park for an amount not to exceed $2,325.65;

— Heard from Crosier that World Changers is looking to help with any town projects. World Changers, a group of Christian volunteers, works with Albany County Rural Alliance and comes to Berne each summer for one week to work on a person’s home; and

— Heard that Jackie Murray, who kept the minutes for the zoning and planning boards, resigned. Andrea Barnwell will now be appointed to the position.

Assessor Pine updates board on Rensselaerville reval

By Tyler Schuling

RENSSELAERVILLE — Town, school, and county tax are all based on assessed property values. Rensselaerville’s rolls had been skewed since town-wide revaluation was last done 15 years ago, so assessors are in the midst of updating now.

The town board heard from Jeff Pine, one of the town’s three assessors, at last Thursday night’s town board meeting about methods the Rensselaerville assessors are using in its revaluation. Pine, who has been a town assessor for eight years, told The Enterprise this week that "the revaluation started last year and should be completed later this year or some time next."

"It’s an ongoing thing," Pine said at the meeting. "First we have to review all residential properties. Then we have to hire an expert to do statistical analysis."

The last town-wide revaluation for the town of Rensselaerville was conducted in 1991. The current revaluation is similar, but there is one difference. "We’re doing more in-house so we can hopefully save the town some money," Pine told The Enterprise.

The revaluation’s first step, a survey sent to property owners, presents them with a checklist of what their parcel contains. If verified, no further investigation of a homeowner’s property is conducted.

If improvements or additions to the home are noted on the survey, an assessor visits and reassesses the property, taking note of improvements and/or expansions.

Once all surveys have been returned, assessors then crunch the numbers from properties, noting the age, size, condition, and number of bedrooms and bathrooms. Once an updated description of the parcel is identified, assessors match these numbers to sample sales within Rensselaerville.

"We’re using statistical analysis. We’re not appraising each home," Pine told The Enterprise.

Pine also told The Enterprise that the same contractors New Scotland hired will be contracted to complete the revaluation for Rensselaerville.

Other business

In other business, the town board:

— Heard that the town has two outstanding bills — one for Chip Decker filling in for Building Inspector Mark Overbaugh during the two-and-a-half weeks Overbaugh was in Alaska and the other for Earl Potter’s mowing services. The board decided to find an acceptable solution once Decker returns to town;

— Heard from George Denson of Preston Hollow that most residents received the town newsletter after events had passed. Denson told the board that five events noted in the newsletter were over by the time he received his in the mail. "Something should be done to correct this," Denson said;

— Heard a letter from Paulette Ryder about potential health hazards to children at the Medusa playground. Ryder, in her letter, stated that pea gravel had not been laid down before wood chips and could therefore cause a bacteria buildup and pose a risk to children;

— Heard a second letter from Paulette Ryder, in which she reported on the town youth program. She was budgeted $8,000 for the program and $2,000 for the playground. One fire officer, her letter said, was upset with the change in funds. Ryder, in her letter, stated she would be willing to give the remaining funds to the fire department if contacted by Aug. 10 but would remit her offer after that date;

— Heard a letter from Walter and Alice Schloen about the intersection of routes 145 and 81, which is not yet done. The road, the letter said, is two miles long, heavily-used, and, if left unfinished over the winter, could leave potholes;

— Heard a letter from Ann O’Donnell, which stated there are no speed signs or signs informing drivers of hearing-impaired residents on her road;

— Heard that the town hall and salt shed need immediate repairs. The board discussed whether to hire a part-time employee or a company. The board, which is awaiting an evaluation from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, heard from Gary Cook, a town resident, who offered his services and will report back to the board with an estimate for work completed and the time frame he needs to complete the restoration. Cook will not get involved in the salt shed;

— Heard that there will be a second questionaire about water going out;

— Heard that there is no report on the waste oil furnace yet;

— Heard from Supervisor Jost Nicklesberg that the board may not read letters of correspondence out loud at town board meetings any longer. Nicklesberg added that the letters may be posted instead of read aloud at town meetings in the future. Joan Johnston, a Rensselaerville resident, stated that the letters were very boring and that people should attend town meetings if they have something to say. "I’ve had to read some letters I find reprehensible," Nicklesberg said at the meeting; and

— Heard from Jack Long, who is temporarily chairing Rensselaerville’s water board, that it would be best for the town to have an emergency permit issued to repair the dam at the water-system intake below Myosotis Lake which, due to severe June storms, had suffered severe damage.

No deed yet
Flea market granted permit

By Jarrett Carroll

KNOX — The new owners of the Fox Creek Flea Market got approval for a permit to legally open on the stipulation of a deed transfer, but the market’s former owner claims he hasn’t been paid — and he’s not handing over the deed until he does.

The Knox Zoning Board approved a special-use for Edward and Martha Allen to run the auction facility on 2305 Helderberg Trail in Knox.

Knox Zoning Board Chairman Earl Barcomb told The Enterprise yesterday that the Allens are in good legal standing with the town pending a deed transfer and proof of insurance.

However, the Allens do not have the deed, according to former owner Emory Henness.

The Allens could not be reached for comment.

"It kind of fell to the wayside because they didn’t furnish the right information," Barcomb said about the Allen’s original permit application. "The effective date of the permit is the effective date the deed is transferred to the Allens."

Henness says that won’t happen until he is paid.

"I’ve got a contract with them, that’s it," said Henness. "They don’t get a deed until its paid for."

As far as he knew, Barcomb said, the deed was on its way.

The flea market, in the southwest corner of Knox, just north of the hamlet of West Berne, had been run years ago by Douglas Cater, bringing hundreds of people into the hamlet every weekend. Cater, in the early 1990’s, was taken to court for illegal auction practices and was forced to shut down.

Since then, the stream of visitors slowed to a trickle. Edward Allen re-opened the flea market last year.

He was ticketed in 2005 for operating the flea market without a special-use permit; he filed for personal bankruptcy under Chapter 13 of the United States Bankruptcy Code the same year.

Mr. Allen said last year that his bankruptcy had to do with his house payments, and were no way connected to the flea market or his other businesses — the Altamont Garage and a motorcycle shop.

"I was done in 15 minutes," Mr. Allen told The Enterprise last year about his experience of getting permits for his other businesses compared to the process in Knox.

Barcomb said the reason the special-use permit was approved this year was because the Allens had a representative, Tim Fitzpatrick, of Delmar, work with the town during the permit process.

The board approved the permit by a vote of 6-0, with member Robert Simpson absent.

"They had a broker"This fellow seem to follow through and knew what was needed," said Barcomb, who added that Fitzpatrick put together all of the necessary information to grant the special-use permit.

The board had asked the Allens last year for a plot plan outlining how the site will be used including details like hours of operation and where cars would park.

The state building code requires that the flea market provide parking for 600 vehicles and seven portable toilets to meet the standard requirements.

Currently there is a contract of sale between the Allens and Henness. Barcomb told The Enterprise the board is waiting on the deed transfer, but Henness said Fitzpatrick told him the zoning board was holding up the transfer.

"I talked to [Fitzpatrick] and he said Knox was holding up the deal," said Henness. "I just figured it was not going to go through."

Henness said, in the meantime, he has had to maintain the property and is waiting to hear from the Allens.

"I got a farmer to cut down the hay to clean up the property. I’m also going to clean out the buildings," Henness said. "I’ve talked to my attorney and he said I’ve got the deed and can drop the contract at anytime"I’m going to sell it. I’ve got two reliable offers, one right in the village of Altamont."

Henness said he has not been contacted by either Knox officials or the Allens in "a long time."

Fitzpatrick did not return a call to The Enterprise before publication.

"We spelled out some requirements, and they agreed to them, and I think everything should be fine," said Knox board member, Amy Pokorny, about the Allens’ permit application.

Pokorny said she did not know of any problems with the deed transfer.

"The deed’s here. I’m waiting for the cash," said Henness. "Time is running out."

Hilltowns ponder energy
The answer is blowin’ in the wind

By Saranac Hale Spencer

HILLTOWNS — In the last month two halls have filled with people curious about wind.

A crowd sat in thick dank summer heat in Rensselaerville’s Conkling Hall to hear about farmer-owned wind projects; a smaller group came to the last Knox Town Board meeting to hear about a community-owned wind project.

Like residents in the Hilltowns, most town governments are cautiously interested in the idea of generating their own electricity.

"I like the idea of wind power; we definitely have wind," Berne Supervisor Kevin Crosier told The Enterprise. When planning for large wind farms, Crosier said, "The devil is in the details with that stuff."

New York Farmer’s Wind Power

Standing at the front of Conkling Hall, Harvey Wasserman presented his company’s take on the corporatization of the wind industry and its plan for farmer-owned wind farms.

"There will be large-scale utility wind power in this area in the next 10 years," he declared, going on to say that the question is: Who will own them"

New York Farmer’s Wind Power, LLC was founded by Wasserman; Davis Weiss, who lives in Rensselaerville; and Daniel Juhl, who owns a wind farm in Woodstock, Minn.

There are eight major wind developers in the United States, Weiss told The Enterprise, among them are General Electric and Goldman Sachs. These companies will pay farmers $3,000 to $7,000 per turbine per year to house their windmills, Wasserman said. Weiss estimated that, if the turbines were locally owned, they could bring in a million dollars for the town each year.

The business model that they suggest is similar to what Juhl did to finance his wind farm, which is called a flip arrangement. A farmer would find a financier, who would buy the windmills and own 99 percent of them for the first 10 years. After 10 years, the farmer would own 99 percent of them and the financier only one percent.

In Juhl’s case, his backers owned 90 percent of the wind farm for 10 years, said Wasserman, so Juhl was making $10,000 to $20,000 per machine per year. When the ownership flips, he’ll be making $100,000 per machine per year, said Wasserman. Comparable amounts are possible here, he said.

"The landowner doesn’t put up anything," said Weiss. "He’s making a fortune for the first 10 years, then he owns it."

Companies are interested in financing projects like this because they can use the Production Tax Credits that come with the project. PTCs are a federal incentive for corporations that build green power facilities, like wind farms. Weiss said that companies are lining up to invest. They want the tax credits, and businesses like John Deere benefit twofold. "It’s a win-win for them if they can keep farmers in business," said Weiss.

Maintaining the rural landscape is one of the benefits of wind farms in the Hilltowns, said Weiss. "Farming is no longer profitable," he said. "All these farms will be subdivided."

If a farmer can make money on the windmills, then the land can remain agricultural instead of being sold off into residential parcels, said Weiss. Windmills have a very small footprint; a farmer can plant right up to the base of the tower.

When talking about farmers who have windmills on their property, Wasserman said, "These guys in the Midwest are making more money on the wind than on corn and soybeans."

In the Northeast, it would be a little different because the size of farms is much smaller. On average, each turbine needs 15 acres, said Weiss. Farmers would likely need to form a collective before making plans for the wind farm.

Citing the Tech Valley initiative, Weiss said that wind farms would help relieve some of the development pressure on the Hilltowns, preserving farmland and open spaces. He said, "The number-one thing has to be conservation."

Detractors, though, say that windmills clutter the landscape. This is one of the main concerns being discussed by towns that are coming up with regulations for windmills, like Rensselaerville and Knox. Rensselaerville’s supervisor, Jost Nicholsberg, who is strongly opposed to windmills, suggested that people look into other forms of alternative energy, like fuel cells. He told The Enterprise, "Windmills are as toxic to the spirit and the soul as spent nuclear fuel rods."

"I consider them sort of Danish modern sculpture," said Wasserman, representing the other side of the debate.

Helderberg Wind Forum

The Knox Town Board last week heard a presentation on a research project for a community-owned wind farm in the Hilltowns.

The project, funded largely by a grant from the New York State Energy and Research Development Authority, will ultimately produce a business plan for a community-owned wind farm and accurate wind data for the area.

Although Knox recently enacted a moratorium on windmills and meteorological towers, Sustainable Energy Developments (SED) was granted a variance last night to put up the tower at 588 Middle Road in Knox. The tower will collect data for a year. Project manager Loren Pruskowski, of SED, hopes to get the tower up by September so that it will be able to collect information during the windy season, which starts in the fall.

The tower will collect information on wind turbulance, speed, and temperature at different heights. The environmental assessment will include information on noise, visual impact, and effects on bird and bat populations.

Of the eight species of bats that live in the area, two are protected. The Indiana bat is an endangered species and the small-footed bat is a species of special concern in New York, according to the Helderberg Escarpment Planning Guide. Daniel Driscoll, who is concerned about the bat population, said that proper placement of windmills would most likely avoid harming bats. Driscoll is a long-time member of the Knox Planning Board and a co-editor of the guide.

Wasserman addressed the bird and bat issue in his lecture, saying that the problem with birds was a peculiar circumstance in Altamont Pass, Calif., which has a large wind farm. There is a large raptor population in that area, he said, and wind turbines were put on lattice work towers, which give the birds a place to perch; tubular towers are used now.

"You won’t have nearly as many kills as the cats in the community," Wasserman said.

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