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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, February 14, 2008

Training camp opens
Cass to be a park police facility

By Tyler Schuling

RENSSELAERVILLE — Camp Cass, until recently, a detention center for juvenile offenders, is slated to become a training academy for recruits in the State Park Police.

The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation announced Monday that plans are underway to convert the state’s Office of Children and Family Services’ training facility at the former Cass Residential Center in Rensselaerville into a new state park police academy in the fall of 2008.

Currently, no state workers are being trained at Cass, and 12 employees are removing OCFS equipment and getting the building ready, Pat Cantiello, a spokeperson for OCFS, said this week.

The center had once housed male youths, remanded to the facility by family courts. Cass riled the community a year ago after a 15-year-old boy escaped and broke into a nearby home, stealing money and a vehicle. Nearly two years before, another inmate raped and abducted a woman who worked at the center.

Last spring, OCFS announced that it would close the Cass Residential Center on May 21 of this year.

The parks office says locating its training academy at the Camp Cass facility is a smart move for financial and practical reasons.

The plan allows the State Park Police to establish a permanent location for its academy, which annually trains about 60 recruits during a 26-week residential session in Utica.

For the past nine years, the parks office has rented space at the State University of New York Institute of Technology in Utica. The agency estimates it will save $382,000 annually by making its home in Rensselaerville, and that the relocation plan, which includes $500,000 in capital improvements, will pay for itself in three years.

A Rensselaerville-based training facility will be beneficial, according to the agency, because it will: be closer to its main office in Albany and to Albany-area water and safety and emergency training operations; provide access to state-of-the-art training facilities; and allow greater efficiencies in staff time, transportation, and planning.

"It just seemed like a natural fit," said Eileen Larrabee, spokeswoman for the Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation.

The Cass Residential Center — known by some locals as "Camp Cass" — had, for decades, served as one of OCFS’s many all-male juvenile detention centers. Last year, in late February, Cass was changed from a youth detention center for males to a training facility for state employees, and the state later announced it would close the facility.

The Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation says it will save annually on lodging and space rental. It plans to have permanent classroom training, lodging, and dining at Cass.

"We had to pay for all of that separately in Utica," said Larrabee.

The parks office administers 178 parks, 35 state historic sites, and 19 heritage areas in the state. Its local parks include John Boyd Thacher State Park, Thompson’s Lake State Park, and Mine Kill State Park. State Park Police help people using the parks, make arrests, conduct criminal and non-criminal investigations, and provide emergency services. Its force consists of about 280 men and women who patrol in marked police cars, on foot, in four-wheel-drive vehicles and all-terrain vehicles, on bicycles, in boats and personal water crafts, and on horseback.

According to the office’s plans, the Rensselaerville site, in addition to serving as a training academy, will be a year-round home for its park police internal affairs unit and will also store records. Cass will also be used for employee meetings and training during the months the academy is not in session.

Jurisdiction and management responsibility will be transferred to the Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation from the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation. After the transfer, the parks office says, a half-million dollars will be spent on improvements in the classrooms, dormitory, and administrative areas.

"I know we’re working closely with [the Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation]," said Cantiello, OCFS spokesperson. "A direct date has not been determined yet for transfer."

Cantiello said OCFS will be out of the building in May.

History and future

Cass is located in the southwestern corner of Albany County, a rural area.

A year ago, nearly 500 residents signed a petition circulated by the rape survivor and her friends calling for Cass to close and be held accountable. The petition was presented to the Rensselaerville Town Board in January of last year.

Cass, which had been classified as a non-secure site, was intended to house non-violent male offenders between the ages of 14 and 18. However, locals speculated about the boys — their prior records and nature — after the kitchen worker was raped and multiple escapes followed. Some residents questioned the center’s programs and said Cass employees and the boys no longer interacted with the community as they had in years past. Some asserted that the boys at Cass had become increasingly violent.

As a new state agency plans to move into Rensselaerville, the town’s supervisor, Jost Nickelsberg, sees an opportunity for a trail system connecting the town’s hamlets and natural attractions. He has encouraged such a system since he first ran for office in 2005.

He said this week, "It’s obviously quite an area and they’ve got a full gym there and lots of facilities in addition to, obviously, being able to take care of the Park Police."

Nickelsberg said that, about a year ago, the Rensselaerville Trails Association started looking into building parallel trails, one for bicycles and another for horses, to connect the Huyck nature preserve, the Rensselaerville Institute, the Partridge Run State Wildlife Management Area in Berne, and the state lands where Cass is located. On most nights, the Rensselaerville Institute’s beds are empty, he said.

"We’re starting to do more at the institute — concert-wise, and party-wise, and with the restaurant. And this would be an extension of that. It’s a very logical one because we don’t have industry"so one of the soft ways we have of creating jobs and helping the local economy would be to make something, and leverage what we already have in place, which is natural beauty and open space.

"What we would love to do is to try and get interest in our beauty — try to have people come for the weekends and be able to walk and ride on the weekend, and then, after three days, go back to their homes," Nickelsberg said.

In March of last year, many residents grew increasingly adamant about closing Cass. The state agency that ran Cass had announced it would use the site to train state employees, but, within weeks, the state, with a new governor, was unclear about its short-term and long-term intentions for the facility.

Alexander "Sandy" Gordon, who has represented Rensselaerville and the surrounding Hilltowns in the Albany County Legislature since 1996, took an unpopular stance in March when he was in favor of inmates being placed at Cass "in some form."

He said this week, "Hopefully, there isn’t going to be an untreated population out there that’s just going to become more problematic as they age."

In April, some of Cass’s 32 workers presented a petition to the Rensselaerville Town Board saying, "We want to keep our jobs working with kids, but not at the expense of our own safety or yours."

The following month, OCFS announced it would close Cass and "begin discussions with employees regarding options for the continuation for their employment at other OCFS sites," said a May 21 letter from OCFS to Kenneth Brynien, president of the Public Employees Federation, a union which staffed Cass.

"Our intention is to find a place for all of them," Pat Cantiello, OCFS spokesperson, said this week.

Asked if he knows about Cass workers being placed elsewhere, Gordon said, "Not specifics. I do know that people were offered the opportunity to work at the Tryon site, I believe, as of last year. But, now, I don’t know what this is going to translate into for potential employment offerings for those dislocated employees."

Two Cass employees have retired, Cantiello said.

"I think we’re very fortunate that the commissioner of Parks and Recreation is a person who has a concern for the Rensselaerville community," Gordon said, "and helped make use of this important asset."

Nickelsberg said, "This is a real plus and a real departure from what it was and everything I’ve heard from everybody I’ve talked to — people are happy that this kind of use is being contemplated. And I think that they have a lot of respect the state government has given us the opportunity to do this."

Berne man guilty of assaulting daughter

ALBANY COUNTY — A young man from Berne was found guilty last week of assaulting his 3-year-old daughter and now faces up to seven years in prison. Judge Stephen W. Harrick presided over the jury trial.

Adam J. Wright, 22, of 1638 Helderberg Trail, was found guilty by a jury of two felonies — second-degree assault and aggravated assault of a person less than 11 years old. Wright was also found guilty of two counts of endangering the welfare of a child, a misdemeanor, according to the Albany County District Attorney’s Office.

He will be sentenced on March 27.

On June 29 of last year, Wright was arrested by the Albany County Sheriff’s Department. Police said in June that he had been assaulting his daughter over the past few months. The sheriff’s department had received a call on May 7 from Albany County Child Protective Services, which had been contacted by Albany Medical Center Hospital. Doctors at the hospital thought the girl’s injuries were inconsistent with Wright’s account, the sheriff’s department said in June.

His daughter’s orbital socket was fractured and her body was covered with numerous bruises, which were in various degrees of healing, according to the sheriff’s department.

Following Wright’s June arrest, his daughter was in foster care, supervised by child protective services.

About one year earlier, in July of 2006, Wright was convicted of third-degree assault, police said, for assaulting his daughter.

— Tyler Schuling

New regs on recycling refuse

By Tyler Schuling

KNOX — As the town board considers siting a cellular tower, the highway superintendent is concerned about new laws on burning and recycling and their effects on the department.

In recent months, the town board has discussed siting a tower on properties owned by the town. One 5.4-acre plot under consideration is adjacent to the town’s transfer station along Street Road in a land conservation district. The board will hold a public hearing on removing the parcel from a conservation district on March 11 at 7:30 at Town Hall.

At Tuesday’s town board meeting, Gary Salisbury, Knox’s superintendent of highways, was uncertain when regulations on recycling electronics, florescent bulbs, and batteries will take effect. He had been contacted by eLot, a company based in Troy that recycles and refurbishes computers and electronics. Pete Pindelglass, sales manager of eLot, said businesses throughout the state with 100 or more employees are required to recycle their lightbulbs.

"We’ve got to do something. We don’t have a choice," Salisbury said.

"A lot of people are going to be getting rid of their analog TVs," said Robert Price, the chairman of the town’s planning board, referring to a federal mandate that will shut down analog transmission in February of next year.

Salisbury also cited regulations on open burning under consideration by the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation.

"Within the next couple of months, there’s no more burning," Salisbury said. "Period."

New regulations could result in more of a load at the transfer station.

Salisbury told The Enterprise yesterday he had received a call from Albany County’s health department and was told that the county was issuing burning permits through February but could possibly discontinue issuing them in the next couple of months.

The county follows DEC regulations, said Maureen Murphy, spokesperson for Albany County.

The DEC is considering a statewide law that would outlaw burn barrels, said Rick Georgeson, a spokesman for the department. Burn barrels smolder and release dioxins into the air that settle on grass, Georgeson said, and are then eaten by cows, contaminating their milk.

As burning laws now stand, open burning is not allowed in an incorporated city or village, he said. A statewide law, Georgeson said, "makes it less confusing and easier to enforce." Georgeson said, before adopting the law, a public hearing will be held.

"It’s going to happen," Salisbury said Tuesday. "They just don’t know if it’s going to be one month from now or two months from now."

Throughout discussion on recycling batteries, bulbs, and electronics, Knox Town Board members speculated about enforcement as well as how laws could affect the transfer station and its workers — who would be in charge of monitoring the materials, who would know which materials fall under the regulations, and how items would be separated.

The board will discuss the issue further at its meeting next month.

Transition to tower

As the town board considers removing property from the land conservation district, six members of the town’s seven-member planning board have raised concerns about siting a tower at the Street Road property. They have raised concerns about the site’s proximity to a nature preserve and say a tower at the property would mar the view. After analyzing the property, the majority of the planning board say the bedrock, which is made mostly of limestone, has many crevices and may be unstable, posing a challenge when constructing a 195-foot tower.

Knox currently has no cellular towers, and cell phone reception is spotty or non-existent.

The town is considering two sites — on Street Road and at the town park off Route 156. Six of the planning board members have said in an analysis that the town park site "would be less striking since the tower would be surrounded by various other man-made structures and visitors would likely be focused on a variety of other activities."

In one week, on Feb. 21, Verizon will be coming to the Street Road property with a crane and will take electronic readings, Price said Tuesday.

Councilwoman Patricia Gage said earlier she was concerned about going against the planning board members’ recommendation and setting a precedent by changing the town’s zoning ordinance to allow a tower.

She said Tuesday, "I was opposed"but I’m seeing now that the transfer station’s going to grow whether we want it to or not so I’ll retract my previous thoughts."

Councilman Nicholas Viscio said, "We’re between a rock and a hard place"I still think the town needs to be sensitive to its proximity to the adjacent land conservancy area and proximity to the Winn Preserve and that the town needs to be sensitive to not causing any more disruption than necessary to the adjacent lands."

The town board raised questions about ownership of a tower — whether the town would own the tower or lease the land to a company that would own it. Supervisor Michael Hammond said he would like to see the town own the tower.

The town board unanimously passed a resolution authorizing Hammond; the town’s attorney, John Dorfman; and Price to enter into discussions with prospective cellular tower and cellular service providers.

Information — including computer-generated images of cellular towers at both the Street Road and town park sites as they would be seen from various locations in the town — can be found at the town’s website: www.knoxny.org.

Other business

In other business, the town board:

— Voted unanimously to recognize the 60th anniversary of the Knox Volunteer Fire Company;

— Authorized Hammond to renew contracts with various municipalities and organizations for services as allocated in the town’s budget. The board authorized Hammond to pay $24,814 to the Altamont Rescue Squad, $22,000 to the Helderberg Rescue Squad, $41,250 to the Town of Guilderland Advance Life Support, $5,500 to the Altamont Library, $1,300 to the Berne Library, and $5,520.10 to Albany County for elections. Knox has no rescue squad or library of its own; and

— Heard from Hammond that the Cornell Cooperative Extension in Voorheesville will weatherize private homes.

"Super, super program," said NancyQuay Milner, the assistant director of weatherization.

"The biggest thing we do is attic and sidewall installation," said Milner.

The program has been underway for many, many years, Milner said, and is funded through the federal departments of Energy and Health and Human Services. It is available to low-income, elderly, and disabled residents, Milner said, who receive food stamps or get benefits from the Home Energy Assistance Program and Supplimental Security Income.

The weatherization projects, Milner said, are to prevent cold air from entering a home and warm air from leaving.

"I hope we get a lot of calls," Milner said.

To request an application or for more information, call 765-3539.

Slaver steps down
Westerlo needs new board member

By Tyler Schuling

WESTERLO — After winning a seat on the town board last fall, Democratic newcomer Kristen Slaver is stepping down.

"I have resigned from the town board," said Slaver this week. "I have personal reasons for it."

Slaver will continue to serve as a member of the town’s planning board, a post she was appointed to last spring.

Westerlo Supervisor Richard Rapp, who also chairs the town’s Democratic Party, said the town board will soon appoint someone to serve until this fall, when an election will be held.

Slaver was not sworn into office when the town board held its re-organizational meeting, Rapp said.

"The job she does — there’s something with the Hatch Act," Rapp said.

The Hatch Act restricts the political activity of executive branch employees of the federal government, and some state and local employees who work in connection with federally-funded programs.

"I know a lot of people have had to step down because of the Hatch Act," said Rapp.

Earlier last year, Slaver was appointed to the town’s newly-formed planning board and, in the fall, made her first run for a seat on the town board. In her uncontested bid, Slaver received 437 votes. All Democratic candidates ran unopposed in Westerlo, a traditionally Democratic town that has seen just one Republican on its town board in decades.

This year, town board members will earn $7,250, and members of the planning board will earn $2,500.

Rapp said the town board would like to have a town board member appointed "as soon as we can."

"I would hope, at least, by the April meeting," he said.

To appoint a town board member, Rapp said, the town will advertise and interview candidates. Asked if the all-Democratic board would consider a candidate from another political party, Rapp said, "I’m sure that we would talk to anybody"Most people wouldn’t even talk. They’d just do it."

Cautious optimism about a new doctor in Westerlo

By Tyler Schuling

WESTERLO — As St. Peter’s Hospital is slated to close its Hilltown charity clinic tomorrow, a citizens’ group is cautiously optimistic about acquiring a new doctor.

"We don’t want to promise something to the people if it doesn’t work out," said Debbie Theiss-Mackey, a spokesperson for the Friends of the Perkins Clinic. "But we do have a definite, prospective person at this point, and I think the people will like her."

Mackey would not disclose the doctor’s name. Members of the Friends group met with her on Sunday and worked with her on a business plan, Theiss-Mackey said.

The Perkins Center, named after a revered rural physician, had been run by St. Peter’s Hospital since shortly after Dr. Anna Perkins died in 1993. The building is owned by the Helderberg Medical Building Association, Inc., a not-for-profit corporation that Perkins signed her clinic over to in 1986. Dr. Edwin Windle has worked at the clinic since 1996, during which time it was run by St. Peter’s Hospital as one of its three charity clinics. It was the only doctor’s office in Westerlo or in the nearby towns of Knox and Rensselaerville.

Friends form

The Friends of the Perkins Clinic, a small group of citizens, formed in November after St. Peter’s sent a questionnaire to area residents to gauge the community’s use of the facility.

In late November, St. Peter’s announced it would close the clinic, which specializes in pediatrics and internal medicine.

Six percent of those who responded to a questionnaire said they use the facility, and 80 percent of those surveyed in Berne, East Berne, and Westerlo did not feel the clinic was necessary, according to St. Peter’s. Patient visits had decreased in recent years and the center was losing money, Elmer Streeter, spokesman for the hospital, said earlier. The clinic had been losing $160,000 annually, according to St. Peter’s.

Since St. Peter’s announced it would close the clinic, the citizens’ group has sought a new physician, met with St. Peter’s representatives, and investigated grants and alternate locations, such as a building on Route 408, where Dr. Karle practiced medicine.

On Tuesday, the group held a small meet-and-greet at the town’s Emergency Medical Service building for the doctor to meet residents, patients, and members of the town board and the building association.

"I was around with Dr. Perkins so she reminds me of the same philosophies that the doctor had," Theiss-Mackey said, "and I think that she would be good for our town if we can work it all out."

"She’s a 50-year-old single mom, and, like I say, she’s got the spunk and determination that Dr. Perkins had," Theiss-Mackey said. "We’re excited about it — but cautiously."

Theiss-Mackey is a registered nurse who works with the town’s emergency medical services. She and Gaye McCafferty, a nurse practitioner, have led the Friends group since December.

"The way we got the job is: [People said], ‘You know more about what you’re talking about, about what needs would be medically,’" Theiss-Mackey said. "So, that’s kind of how we got it, and we certainly don’t mind doing it," she said. "Neither one of us even go to Dr. Ed[win Windle] because I had already found a physician before he came. And the same for her. We’re doing this for our town."

The Friends group hopes to have a physician in place by the end of March, Theiss-Mackey said.

"There’s some paperwork that needs to be done in order for the doctor to even bill (patients) and even be able to practice, so that’s what we’re working on now," she said.

"We really have to point out to people that this is not a definite thing. She doesn’t want to make the people feel bad if she can’t come, and, so, that’s really where we’re at, at this point," she said. "It looks promising, but we really don’t know until we get all the nuts and bolts in place if it’s going to fit.

"Anybody who meets her, we’re hoping that they like her," Theiss-Mackey said. "But we’re hoping that everybody’s not devastated if she says, ‘No, financially, I can’t do this.’"

Asked which building — the Perkins Center building or the building on Route 408 the group has researched — is preferred, Theiss-Mackey said, "She likes the Dr. Perkins building. And, the fact that it’s been up and running right up until now, we feel that it’s better suited at the moment."

The Friends group is working diligently, Theiss-Mackey said, adding that, even if a doctor were to start the day St. Peter’s leaves, patients would have to sign their charts out from St. Peter’s Hospital and bring them back to the new doctor.

"So a lot of this is stuff that the lay person doesn’t understand — the political route of how everything has to go," Theiss-Mackey said. "Everybody’s more than welcome to contact any of us for when the meeting dates are.

"It’s whether or not, again," she said, "all the politics can be worked out."


"The number of patients had been dwindling" since the closure announcement, said Elmer Streeter, a spokesman for St. Peter’s Hospital, yesterday. "We saw four patients yesterday."

St. Peter’s plans to be out of the building by mid-March and will be leaving complete equipment for two exam rooms, tables, and other medical equipment at the clinic, Streeter said. St. Peter’s will paint and clean the building, he said, before handing the keys over to the Helderberg Medical Building Association, Inc., which owns the building.

St. Peter’s has sent letters to patients, informing them about other doctors who are accepting patients as well as instructions about how to have their medical records transferred, Streeter said, and all pediatric patients were referred to St. Peter’s pediatric center in Slingerlands.

Streeter said, in the next few weeks, St. Peter’s will run ads in The Altamont Enterprise and probably The Spotlight newspapers to inform patients who haven’t been to the clinic in the last two years of how they can have their medical records transferred.

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