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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, February 1, 2007

Nearing completion
Plan to protect rural character

By Tyler Schuling

RENSSELAERVILLE — After long hours of work, the land-use committee has nearly completed plans for the town’s future.

"Last night, for the first time in a long time, we shut the meeting down after two hours," said Vernon Husek, who chairs the committee.

At the town board’s January meeting, Ray Welsh, a committee member, estimated the committee had worked between 2,800 and 3,000 man-hours on the plan.

The plan is on the town’s website, said Husek, adding that it was put up for public viewing only days after its first draft was completed. The committee’s public hearing on the comprehensive land-use plan was held Jan. 19, and a small group of people asked questions about the plan.

"There were about 40 people," he said, adding that the majority of the people at the meeting were either committee members or town officials. The committee is made up of 13 individuals with one alternate.

The moratorium on development, enacted so the plan could be formulated, will be lifted April 27, Husek said.

A townwide survey was sent out to residents, which nearly 35 percent returned. In August, visioning workshops were held at the three firehouses, and 104 residents attended.

"The principal theme"is to protect the unique and abundant natural features and resources that make direct and indirect contributions to those aspects of life in Rensselaerville most valued by residents. Our residents and landowners have been consistent in their overwhelming support for a plan to protect these resources," says introduction of the draft plan.

The plan includes strategies to maintain the town’s rural character, opens spaces, enhance agriculture, and protect critical habitats.

The committee, he said, is now doing final editing and will present its second draft to Supervisor Jost Nickelsberg at the town board’s meeting on Feb. 8, said Husek.

Husek hopes the town board will then set its public hearing for the comprehensive plan.

Other business

In other business, at its Jan. 11 town board meeting, the town board:

— Heard from Nickelsberg that the town’s taxes are down 11.4 percent from last year. Nickelsberg suspects this is the largest tax cut in the county, and the town’s history. Nickelsberg added that he believes the town has never had a double-digit tax cut.

The tax rate this year is $8.03 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, down from 9.02 last year.

"We’ve been called an idiot, and all we can say is: 11.4. Thank you very much," said Nickelsberg;

— Heard from Nickelsberg that there will be a presentation on the Hilltown Senior Center in Berne on Feb. 17 at 10:30 a.m. at Rensselaerville Town Hall. Developer Jeff Thomas is planning to build rental units on the west end of the hamlet of Berne for the elderly;

— Heard from Nickelsberg that, in the summer, the youth, which he called "the most important asset of this town," can join Berne-Knox-Westerlo students from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. during the program’s two-week camp. The cost for each child is $100 per week per child, and the program will include historical trips;

— Heard from Nickelsberg that a federally-funded youth program, lasting six weeks, will allow youths to work for town government. "Parks, grounds, town hall — whatever we can to keep them busy," he said.

Nickelsberg told The Enterprise this week that the program will last six weeks, is available to individuals between 15 and 18 years old, and those participating will be paid the minimum wage;

— Heard from Nickelsberg that he, Councilwoman Myra Dorman, Councilwoman Sherri Pine, and planning board members Richard Amedore and Muriel Thrasher will be attending the Association of Towns conference in New York City in February. Nickelsberg appointed Amedore to be the head delegate and Dorman is the second delegate.

Resident George Dempsey asked if the town will get a report from the five members attending the association’s meeting in February. No board member responded;

— Heard from Nickelsberg that the last time the town changed its fees, for things such as marriage and dog licenses, was in 1995. Nickelsberg said the town’s budget in 1995 was around $1 million, and the town’s budget is now $2.3 million.

Cost have gone up, he said, and, "We have to take a hard look at raising those fees." Councilwoman Pine brought in a list of the fees that New Scotland uses;

— Heard from Town Clerk Kathy Hallenbeck that the town issued eight marriage licenses and two death certificates in 2006. There were no births, Hallenbeck said;

— Heard an update of the highway department’s activities during the past month during Highway Superintendent G. Jon Chase’s report. The department, he said, cut brush, repaired equipment, and had been salting and sanding during the past month. Three trucks were broken down, and are now ready for the winter, he said. The town, Chase said, has its own vibrating roller, bought two years ago.

Chase submitted his road projects for the year. The department is budgeted $265,000 for road repair in 2007. The list of projects the highway department plans to complete in 2007 totals $260,551.50;

— Appointed Marion Cook as chair of the youth committee. Cook proposed the youth committee take area youths to the Young Men’s Christian Association in Delmar. Children, she said, "complain that they’re bored, and there’s nothing to do around here."

Cook was impressed by the programs offered at the YMCA. Cook also reported that the YMCA is close to the town. "From here, it’s 20 miles," she said. Cook asked for a member of the town board to be on the youth committee. "We really appreciate you stepping up, Marion," said Nickelsberg;

— Welcomed new members and accepted the list of members of the Rensselaerville Fire Company Battalion. The new members of the battalion are: Sarah Benson, Rebecca Cartwright, Charlotte Cooper, Phyllis Fitzgerald, Penny Grimes, Diana Holmer, Donna Kropp, Pat Parker, Cheryl Pierce, Mary Jane Schroeder, Lynn Urrutia, Kathy Wank, and Linda Sue Yelich;

— Heard from Albany County Legislator Alexander (Sandy) Gordon that the town of Knox is reviewing a wind ordinance from the town of Clinton. Gordon recommended all of the Hilltowns consider a wind ordinance with one set of standards;

— Accepted the resignation of planning board member Tim Lippert. Lippert served on the planning board for 11 years, and recently moved to Berne. "You were a wonderful member. Without people like you, this town shuts down," Nickelsberg said;

— Inducted Planning Board chairman Alynn Wright to the Volunteer Hall of Fame. The requirement for induction, Nickelsberg said, is 30 years of service. The first inducted was Barry Cook.

Wright, said Nickelsberg, has worked for the town "in a non-pay way" for 35 years. "I’m stunned," Nickelsberg said. "Thirty-five years is just a very long time," he said. A plaque with both Wright’s and Cook’s names will soon be made for town hall, Nickelsberg said;

— Heard from Rob Koenig that the town needs someone who is asbestos-certified to clean the hall;

— Heard a recommendation from Bob Tomczak. Tomczak said he normally cannot attend town board meetings and that the meeting minutes are not published on the town’s website until two months after meetings are held. Tomczak asked if a draft of the minutes could be put up on the website until they are approved, and then updated on the site.

"I don’t know why we couldn’t," said Councilwoman Dorman. The draft of the minutes, typed by Hallenbeck, are completed 10 to 14 days after the meeting; and

— Welcomed new member, Joseph Grandchamp, to the Medusa Fire Company.

Waste oil furnace approval heats up

By Tyler Schuling

RENSSELAERVILLE — Debate between a politically-divided town board continues over the purchase of a waste-oil furnace. Rather than burning purchased fuel oil, the furnace would run on donated oil, left over from things such as lubricants for car engines.

The town is currently paying $2.79 per gallon for fuel oil, said Town Clerk Kathy Hallenbeck.

The furnace, which would be used to heat the highway garage, has been on the town board’s agenda nearly every month for almost a year. It was approved for purchase at the board’s first meeting this year by Repulicans Jost Nickelsberg, Myra Dorman, and Robert Lansing.

Democratic Councilman Gary Chase was not at the meeting.

"I’m not against this," said Democratic Councilwoman Sherri Pine at January’s meeting. She requested the board delay a vote since Chase, who voiced concerns about hazardous waste at prior meetings, wasn’t present. Pine abstained from voting.

Discussions on a waste-oil furnace began in March of 2006, when the board heard a sales pitch.

In July, Nickelsberg told the board that a furnace that burns waste oil would save the town money.

In October of last year, the board did not accept a bid from Midstate Supply, located in Endicott (Broome County). The board, after hearing from Dennis Jenkinson, did not feel it had enough information, and was not certain of a total price. Nickelsberg, concerned with the coming winter, said, "We’re running out of fall."

The town board, throughout the 11-month period, has not accepted bids and has had to reissue bids.

This week, Nickelsberg and Chase had different information about the waste-oil furnace’s abilities and when it would be used.

Chase told The Enterprise that the furnace would be a supplemental system, or backup, for the highway garage’s existing heating system. The system, he said, consists of four burners, and one needs to be replaced.

"It would only kick on when the doors are open," Chase said of a waste-oil furnace. Chase also said he was skeptical of the cost savings to the town, adding that his main concerns are for safety. He also pointed to the benefits of a waste-oil furnace.

"A good key point is that waste-oil burns hotter," said Chase. "It heats up quicker and shuts off quicker."

Nickelsberg said the waste-oil furnace would be the garage’s main heating supply and would "be used at all times" to maintain a 55-degree temperature. The garage’s existing three furnaces, he said, would be supplemental.

Chase told The Enterprise he was concerned about the number of people who would provide for the furnace’s supply and was uncertain about the chemical contents of oil to be donated by residents.

"We’d have about 2,000 people dumping into it, and we don’t know where it’s coming from or what’s in it," he said.

Chase also speculated it would be hazardous to combine the oil, anti-freeze, and gas.

He said he asked questions about hazardous materials, "And I haven’t seen any answers."

Chase said of the furnace this week, "The thing was never investigated right."

On Jan. 11, Nickelsberg opened a bid from Mike Dzuba of Midstate Supply, Inc. After Pine asked that the board delay the vote on the $10,494 system until its February meeting, because Chase was absent, Nickelsberg went ahead with a vote, stating, "We’re already in the winter."

"We’ve lucked out so far," Pine retorted, because the weather, until then, had been unseasonably warm.

The board, at the behest of Nickelsberg, voted on the purchase of the bid, dated Jan. 4, 2007, and approved the quote, which is valid for 30 days.

After the meeting, Chase asked William Ryan, the attorney for the town, to look into the bid.

The initial request for the bid was put out by order of the supervisor, not by the town board, Ryan told The Enterprise this week, adding that there’s no case law or statute that prohibits a town’s supervisor from requesting bids.

Ryan said the bid did not say "by order of the town board" and when the town reissues the bid, it will be reworded as such.

"I thought it would be more prudent to have the town board do it," he said. "It’s form over content," said Ryan.

"We’re putting another bid in," Nickelsberg confirmed this week. "He’s continually trying to stop this effort to save money," he said of Chase. He added that town residents have already done "major" research on the furnace. Nickelsberg also said David Lewis, a town resident, uses a waste-oil furnace at his farm.

Chase, the son of the highway superintendent, said he hasn’t received answers to his questions about the furnace. He told The Enterprise this week that he was compiling a list of questions for the board’s February meeting.

Midstate’s view

Midstate owner Mike Dzuba told The Enterprise this week that his company has sold approximately 70 waste-oil furnaces to municipalities in the state, minus Long Island. Dzuba recommended a waste-oil furnace to be used as a garage’s primary heating source, with a garage’s existing heating system used as its supplementary source. Dzuba added that waste-oil furnaces have shut-offs if water is in the oil, and for high temperatures. "If there’s any down time, it’s important to have keep the existing (heating) system in place," he said.

"There’s always a small amount of gas in crankcases," he said, adding that there are usually only small amounts. The fluids to stay away from, he said, are cleaning solvents, paint thinners, and mineral spirits, all of which burn but will deteriorate and rust a waste-oil furnace.

"A lot of municipalities keep that in a separate tank," he said.

To determine whether there are deteriorating fluids in waste oil, Dzuba recommended using chlorinated test kits. "You can’t always tell by looks," he said.

Water and antifreeze, which are heavier than oil, he said, will settle to the bottom of the tank.

Waste-oil furnaces, he said, were specifically engineered to burn waste oils. The furnaces his company sells are from Clean Burn, a company based in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

"Clean Burn is a strong advocate of environmental protection and energy conservation," according to its website. "Our multi-oil heating systems, storage tanks and recycling centers — which meet all EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) requirements for used-oil recycling — eliminate extra handling and transportation of used oils and, consequently, help avoid the possibility of used oils entering our water supplies."

The furnaces were engineered to burn hydraulic, transmission, crankcase, and numbers two, four, and five oils, said Dzuba.

"We have service people on the road," said Dzuba, adding that some owners of waste-oil furnaces do their own maintenance.

The burner on the furnace has an hour meter. Maintenance should be performed every year or every 900 hours. As ash builds within the furnace, it becomes less efficient, he said.

Dzuba said that it’s a good practice for a town to have its residents bring their waste oil to the town, and added that bringing oil to a municipality’s garage gives individuals the opportunity to dispose of their waste oil in a friendly manner, as opposed to taking it to a place they aren’t as familiar with.

Long-time waste-oil users

The Greene County Highway Department, which owns the same model waste-oil furnace as the one Rensselaerville recently bid for, has long used a waste-oil-burning furnace, and just recently replaced the one it had used for many years. In years past, the county department used oil from garages, but did not accept oils from residents.

"You really have to know the source," Superintendent Gary R. Harvey told The Enterprise this week.

Now, the department uses only county waste oil to fuel its furnace, he said; the furnace is used in conjunction with the county’s boiler.

Harvey said he thinks the waste-oil furnace has saved the department money, and added, "I don’t have any numbers."

John Foley is sure he has saved money — "serious money." Foley owns a garage in Guilderland and has used a waste-oil furnace for 15 years.

"It works well. Absolutely no problems. You just have to maintain it like anything else," said Foley.

"It’s a state law now, that, if anyone brings [waste oil] in, you have to take it," he said. "Some of it’s good, and some of it’s bad." Though some of the waste oil has been questionable, Foley said that he hasn’t had problems with the furnaces he has owned shutting down or malfunctioning.

Foley recently purchased a new Clean Burn furnace. Yearly maintenance, he said, is performed by service teams at Midstate.

Foley said that he uses the furnace as his primary heating source, with two burners as backups, to heat his 40-by-132-foot garage.

He estimated he burns 3,200 gallons of waste oil each year, and, though the furnace is also capable of burning new fuel oil, Foley said he is never in short supply of waste oil.

Tibetan Buddhists coming to Berne

By Tyler Schuling

BERNE — Students of Tibetan Buddhism from throughout North America will soon enjoy the beautiful scenery of the Hilltowns. The Tibetan word for retreat, "tsam," means "to make a cut." Cut off from the busyness of everyday life, Buddhist students on retreat will meditate, pray, read, contemplate Buddhist teachings, and exercise on the heavily-forested 350-acre Berne campus.

On Sunday afternoon, as snow fell, brave souls defied the slippery slopes of Game Farm Road to attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Retreat House at the Tenzin Gyatso Institute for Wisdom and Compassion. The Retreat House, renovated from a residence, is the first building completed in the center’s much larger project.

The one-story shingled house holds seven bedrooms, two-and-a-half bathrooms, a living room, a meditation room with a skylight, a basement, and a kitchen.

Students will spend "anywhere from a weekend to a month to three months" at the Retreat House, said Judith Brown, the executive director of the center.

Joanna Bull, who, after looking at properties in New England, discovered the Berne land, cut the ribbon. Spirits were high as smiling guests removed their shoes at the door so as not to track snow onto the new carpet and floors. They wandered throughout the house, admiring the brand-new accessories in its freshly-painted rooms.

Brown presented a check for $2,500 to Helen Lounsbury, library trustee and Vice President of the Friends of the Berne Library. Brown called the gift "a token to the community."

"We want to be a part of this," said Brown of the Hilltown community.

Brown called the library — which is planning to move to the west end of the Berne hamlet at Berne Town Park — "a wonderful resource" that "deserves to be supported."

Brown also acknowledged the team at the Tenzin Gyatso Institute, including its retreat advisor and its manager, its cook and the man who plows the fields.

"We love the town," Brown said, and lauded Berne’s beauty — its views of the Catskill mountains, its woods and pastures. Students on retreat make their own schedule, Brown said. "We will encourage them to walk around and exercise."

Purchased by Rigpa, an international Tibetan Buddhist organization, the institute is home to a sangha of about 30 people; sangha is a sanscrit word meaning "community of people," said Jonathan Pollei, the center’s manager.

"The whole point of retreat according to Buddhist teachers is, as far as possible, to leave behind our ordinary responsibilities and distractions, so as to be able to focus on meditative practice," says institute literature.

Each of the seven newly-painted rooms in the Retreat House has a small personal shrine, where sangha members will meditate, pray, and give symbolic offerings while looking at an image of the Buddha. Members will also have video streaming and internet access.

The house, accessible to those with handicaps, contains new flooring, carpet, cedar shake siding, fixtures, and appliances. Remodeling was completed by Buhl Construction.

The center

Tenzin Gyatso is the birth name of the current Dalai Lama, the traditional government leader and highest priest of dominant sect of Buddhism in Tibet, who was displaced when the Chinese took over. Tibetans believe he is the living incarnation of the Buddhisattva of Compassion.

The Tenzin Gyatso Institute was formerly called the Rigpa Center for Wisdom and Compassion. Rigpa closed on the purchase of the 350-acre parcel in July of 2004, buying it from the New School University, of New York City. The center had been under contract to buy the land for two-and-a-half years while it developed a potable water supply, designed a wastewater treatment system, and obtained appropriate approvals and permits.

Rigpa, which means "the innermost nature of the mind," is an international organization founded in 1975 by Sogyal Rinpoche, author of The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.

Rigpa also has centers in Ireland and France. The Tenzin Gyatso Institute in Berne is the first of its kind in North America.

The property already had a lodge, where the sangha meets on Saturdays. The lodge was built in the 1960’s by Frank Miller.

The land had been used to hunt pheasants, and was sold to Sanford Logging Company, said Tommy O’Malley, whose property neighbors the institute.

The center has raised money and grown, and, if all goes according to plan, will blossom into a compound with several buildings to support crowds of hundreds learning from Rigpa’s spiritual leader, Sogyal Rinpoche.

One of the main purposes for the center in Berne will be to provide education to those treating people near the end of their lives.

Additional buildings — retreat houses and a children’s center among them — are planned for the center’s project, slated for completion in 2020. Hospice care will be provided in conjunction with one of the local hospitals, said Pollei.

What is Buddhism"

Peg Tyndell, a long-time Hilltown resident, was directed to the Tenzin Gyatso Institute by Berne Supervisor Kevin Crosier. Tyndell said she’d been praying for "something to come in" to the Hilltowns and "provide a boost." When Crosier showed her the plans for the institute, which includes multiple buildings, a water supply, a water treatment plant, and water storage tank, Tyndell was amazed.

The institute helped Tyndell following the death last year of her husband; she took a course at the center on loving-kindness.

"It was a crucial thing in my life at that time," Tyndell said.

Tyndell, who said she was just starting in her Buddhist teachings, conceded she was "not very versed." Tyndell, raised as a Roman Catholic, said of Buddhism, "I thought it was a religion, but it’s not a religion."

The institute’s objective, said Center Manager Jonathan Pollei, is to enact the Dalai Lama’s vision of wisdom and compassion, and to make a 2,500-year-old tradition accessible to those of any faith, while at the same time being a home to Sogyal Rinpoche’s students.

"My religion is simple. My religion is kindness, as the Dalai Lama says," Pollei said.

Pollei cited Ethics For the New Millennium, a book in which the Dalai Lama calls for greater responsibility and compassionate action.

"The essence of the Buddhist path is a deep and transforming compassion towards all living things, coupled with wisdom — the penetrating insight into ‘shunyata,’ the nature of reality itself," says the Dalai Lama.

"Interdependence cuts through all flavors of Buddhism"There’s a lot derived out of that one point of view," said Ann Hart, the center’s retreat advisor. Hart provides guidance and support for individuals and groups during retreats. She described interdependency as the cause and effect inherent in all human actions, and the importance of cooperation between groups with different goals. Hart has attended long-term and solitary retreats in Dzogchen Beara in Ireland and Lerab Ling in southern France.

Compassion and action, Brown said, is not just a Buddhist principle. In Sogyal Rinpoche’s book, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, Rinpoche emphasizes dealing with those who have life-threatening illnesses, as well as the family members of those who are dying, said Brown.

But learning to die well, she said, is just one aspect of Buddhism. Buddhism, Brown said, "is regarded as one of the world’s greatest religions." She added that Buddhism is highly spiritual, and more philosophical than theological. Its purpose, she said, "is to get others to understand their own true nature," and its emphasis "is to encourage people to grow and practice loving-kindness toward others and oneself."

Brown applauded Christianity’s ability to practice loving-kindness, saying she thinks Christianity "does it genuinely."

"We all espouse to it, but do we do it"" she asked.

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