2014: Highway post contested, hilltop land purchased for town

Enterprise file photo — Marcello Iaia

A fresh grin: Republican Randy Bashwinger held the results from the third and final voting district in Berne, where he was narrowly elected the town’s next highway superintendent in a Democrat-dominated town. The previous election’s victor and Republican candidate, Kenneth Weaver, right, congratulated and advised him as they stood in the Republican chairwoman’s kitchen on Election Night. 

Enterprise file photo — Marcello Iaia

Treating the trout, the filtration system that cleans wastewater in the Berne hamlet’s new sewer began taking water, ultimately destined for the Fox Creek, in August. Project engineer Jason Preisner, at center, takes interested residents on a tour, starting near the settling tanks at the treatment plant. Nearly 90 homes are served by the hamlet’s new system, which, after decades of work, went through its final steps of construction and began operation this year.

BERNE — In 2014, the town was shaped in several ways by the hand of government, which was itself shaped in a close election for highway superintendent.

Fresh faces were brought to both the town hall, with a renovation of its interior, and local businesses, which sustained the lives of two food establishments that have been staples of the area. A large long-retired boarding house still stands, however, as the town said the owner of the property on Route 443 did not meet insurance requirements for demolition this summer.

From Buddhists to Berne

In September, the town board voted unanimously to authorize spending more than $100,000 for a large piece of land that overlooks much of the Hilltowns.

It would be a place of employment and recreation for Berne residents, Supervisor Kevin Crosier said, announcing the deal for the first time at the September meeting, and it could attract people from below the escarpment for conferences, weddings, and retreats.

The purchase — totaling $475,000 borne by the Open Space Institute, the Albany County Industrial Development Authority, and the town — included conservation easements on most of the 358 acres, preventing future development of the land. The town’s total cost was estimated at $140,000.

The public reception was mixed, with a petition to hold a referendum on future large purchases submitted at the following board meeting.

Until then, it had been the home of the not-for-profit Tenzin Gyatso Institute, which hoped to build a large temple there and become a center for Buddhists in the region, inspired by Tibentan Buddhist teacher Sogyal Rinpoche.

Election 2014

The Democratic candidate to lead the highway department was shut out for the second year in a row on Election Day.

While the Democratic incumbent on the all-Democrat town board kept her seat, newcomer Randy Bashwinger narrowly beat Democrat Ed Hampton, a 10-year employee of the town’s highway department.

Out of 1,924 registered voters in Berne, 46 percent are enrolled as Democrats and 16 percent as Republicans. Twenty-five percent are not affiliated with a political party, 6 percent are Independence Party members, and 3 percent are Conservatives.

Kenneth Weaver, who switched his party endorsement from Democratic to Republican amid tensions with Democrats ahead of the 2013 election, was highway superintendent for less than a year before he resigned in September. He said he felt he couldn’t do his job without support from the town board.

The month before, the board authorized Crosier to seek bids for paving projects late in the season.

“I’m an elected official,” Weaver said in August, having learned about the vote as he was questioned by The Enterprise. “I don’t see how the town board can vote for the supervisor to do my job.”

Describing Weaver’s late list of road projects over budget, Crosier said the board’s move was about getting the work done and spending public money wisely.

Weaver and Crosier spoke at cross purposes leading up to the 2013 election when Weaver accused Democrats of breaking a promise to sustain his benefits in retirement, while Crosier claimed it could only be verbal, since incumbents wouldn’t be in office and able to vote indefinitely. The issue arose just before the 2014 election when Weaver’s health insurance was canceled after he resigned.

Rural Internet

The town board voted in September to match the money of residents who wanted to get cable stretched along their road and get the coveted high-speed Internet access that some rural parts of the state go without.

The method, known as “design build,” involves residents organizing to petition a cable company, like Time Warner, to design a project that is affordable.

The town stepped in, Crosier said, as the supervisor had been discussing the issue with a persistent resident, Kim Young, who was researching the matter for years. With a franchise fee coming into the town’s coffers from Time Warner every year, based on usage in the town, those matching funds could continue to be used, Crosier explained, since more money would come as more users are connected to cable.

Doors close, then open

Closed in March, the Fox Creek Market left a void in the Berne hamlet, where its pizzas, dinner specials, beer selection, and coffee were a magnet for residents who talked weekly, if not daily.

A few months later, in June, a larger restaurant on Warners Lake, known as The Hofbrau, was closed by its most recent occupant, Kevin Demarest. He also worked full-time as a communications supervisor at the Albany County Sheriff’s Office and said he had to choose between his two jobs.

“It was a good experience,” Demarest told The Enterpise. “I met a lot of nice people and it was very rewarding, it just got to the point where it got real busy.”

Demarest announced his decision on Facebook on June 3, thanking his staff and telling readers, “Thank you again so very much and I hope to have a drink with you on the other side of the bar someday (you can find me at the Maple Inn).”

Warners Lake, once a summer mecca now lined with year-round homes, kept its main business, a restaurant in a large building long known as The Hofbrau when a young couple moved their operation, known as the Maple Inn in East Berne, to the lakeside location in the fall. Enterprise file photo — Marcello Iaia


In the fall, the Maple Inn, a longtime restaurant on Main Street in East Berne, moved into Demarest’s spot, reopening on the lake with its same menu and planning for some German specialties.

Its name was changed from the German heritage that it held for decades, though it hadn’t served German food in recent years; it is now called The Maple Inn.

With new occupants just a few months after it closed, the Fox Creek Market kept its name. Ray and Tammy Weiler run the store now, with help from their four children. Ray Weiler, a contractor, said he wanted to go into the food business with his family to give his children skills and a business to fall back on. He said he also wanted it kept open for the community.

“There’s times when we’ve had winter snowstorms where we couldn’t get down to Altamont and we would come here for a loaf of bread and a gallon of milk, because we could,” Weiler said of the store.

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