2014: Preserving history and setting as pressures mount for downstate energy

Enterprise file photo — Michael Koff

Power lines march through the New Scotland corridor and more may join them. Four companies vied for a proposal this year to expand massive above-ground power lines that cut through Guilderland, New Scotland, and Bethlehem to move electricity downstate, raising concerns about aesthetics and health. On Jan. 15, 2015, the companies’ new proposals are due.

Enterprise file photo — Melissa Hale-Spencer

Arrested in September with 45 cats in their camper, Frances Stannard, left, and Shirley Stannard were at a loss as to where to live themselves. In December, their case was adjourned in contemplation of dismissal and they have moved into an apartment they can afford for the low-income elderly.

Enterprise file photo — Lisa Lindsay

Lauren Bachner, at left, helped customers in May at her dog-care facility in Delmar, which she had to close before she finally got approval to open at 425 Unionville-Feura Bush Road in New Scotland. She applied in April after which neighbors complained to the New Scotland Planning Board about noise, odors, and pollutants. In a split vote, the board approved the project in October.

Enterprise file photo — Michael Koff

Susan Kidder, the senior services liaison for New Scotland, helps put donated yarn together with dedicated volunteer knitters and seamstresses to make projects for a wide variety of charitable causes. This past year was no exception.

NEW SCOTLAND — Residents here worked to preserve their history and their natural surroundings this year, while also preparing for future expansion and addressing current needs.

The Clarksville Historical Society purchased the Myron B. Earl store, making it the second building owned by the group. The first, a schoolhouse, was given to the society by New York State during a 2010 roadway project. The Albany County Legislature gave the society a $1,000 grant in September, to be used to fix up the schoolhouse.

The Myron B. Earl store, built in 1901, will need work done before the group can create offices, a local history museum, and storage spaces inside to house all its records — and to be eligible, then, to apply for other grants.

After celebrating its centennial in March, the John Boyd Thacher State Park received a $3.8 million grant in April, the bulk of which will be used to build a visitor center.

“We’re really excited about it,” said Chris Fallon, the park’s manager, in April. “It’s really going to give the park a facelift.”

The Emma Treadwell Thacher Nature Center, located nearby at Thompson’s Lake State Park, which is merged with Thacher Park according to the park’s master plan, will continue to educate visitors about nature in the parks. The focus of the new visitor center at John Boyd Thacher Park will be park geology and history.

An additional $220,000 grant for the visitor center was announced in December. The center may open in late 2015.

Vandals hit Thacher Park in May, climbing onto a rock ledge on the Indian Ladder Trail and spray-painting the words “Randl” and “Camp.” From a distance, State Troopers saw the two 19-year-old men spraying the structure, and arrived at the site as the young men were leaving. They gave no reason for the vandalism, police said.

Thacher Park hosted a hike on National Trails Day in June, with about 20 hikers joining together for a two-hour outing.

“The greater good is to preserve it for all of us,” said Timothy Albright, who led the hike.

The Mohawk Land Conservancy received a $68,500 grant from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation through an Environmental Protection Fund in May. The conservancy’s director, Mark King, said that the money would be used to pay two year’s salary for a new program assistant responsible for social media and event planning.

“We need to be better at communicating,” King said then.

In June, the conservancy hosted its third summer solstice celebration on the Helderberg Hudson Rail Trail, which the conservancy leases for Albany County. This year was the first that the Voorheesville leg of the trail was included.

“What excites me the most,” said Lea Montalto-Rook, the development director at the conservancy, “is being able to have an event that brings together people from the community where we can enjoy our environment.”

Future expansion

The town of New Scotland in 2014 faced the expansion of both underground and towering electrical power lines, and natural gas pipelines to service the northeast, and the investment in solar panels to offset the town’s own electrical costs.

As part of a $2.2 billion project to install buried DC cables from the Canadian border to New York City, the local Vly Swamp area was slated to be included in the power path this year. The full public notice for the Champlain Hudson Power Express project proposal described three parcels in New Scotland totaling 56.22 acres of wetlands that would need to be preserved under the project.

Four companies vied for a proposal this year to expand massive above-ground power lines that cut through Guilderland, New Scotland, and Bethlehem to move electricity downstate.

On Jan. 15, 2015, the companies’ new proposals are due. Three of the four companies – National Grid, NEXTera Energy Transmission, and North America Transmission – previously submitted proposals that would affect the town of New Scotland. A fourth, Boundless Energy, submitted proposals for points south of the town.

The massive power lines that cut through New Scotland could now face upgrades, but not expansion, if proposed downstate energy projects decrease the need for power to travel across the state to the metro New York City area.

Natural gas pipelines that also cross New Scotland and parts of Westerlo were slated for upgrades and expansion this year. In November, the town board passed a resolution calling for Kinder Morgan, and its subsidiary Tennessee Gas Pipeline, to hold public information sessions here to answer residents’ questions. TGP holds easements that cross private town properties where the pipeline currently lies.

In December, the Albany County Legislature also passed a resolution asking Kinder Morgan to respond to local residents. Kinder Morgan said in December that it would be announcing in January its series of information sessions to be held across the Northeast. The company could not say if Albany County would be included in the series.

Over the past year, the town heard from several companies that offered plans to install solar panels on municipal land or buildings, to offset the cost of electricity. Board members expect to make a decision soon about which company to use, and in what format; board member Daniel Mackay said in December that a single grid system on the ground may be more favored now than earlier plans to install panels on several municipal buildings in town.

Town board member Patricia Snyder also noted that the cost to the town requires a 20-year contract, and board members shared her concerns that technology changes faster than that time period.

Town improvements

The town continued ongoing projects and improvements, including:

— A New Salem water district project. The $3 million water project, planned for the last 10 years, was separated into three segments. Casale Construction Services received the bulk of the funds, at $2,277,269 for site plumbing. New Scotland will purchase water from the town of Bethlehem and distribute it in New Salem;

— Requests for improvements on the state-owned Route 32, the site of multiple traffic accidents due to its hills and curves. In July, the town board sent a letter to the state’s Department of Transportation asking the DOT to re-examine plans to straighten the highway; coincidentally, a crash on Route 32 in late July awakened residents’ concerns about dangerous, or blind, intersections on the highway.

“We’ve gotten the supervisor’s letter, and are going to take a hard look at the safety of that intersection,” said Brian Viggiani, a spokesman for the DOT.

This summer, the DOT installed larger stop signs at the intersection of routes 32 and 301. Further improvements, suggested in a 14-year-old study of the intersection, are “not something we’re considering at this time,” Viggiani said;

— Repairs to Krumkill Road, which was damaged by tropical storms Irene and Lee in 2011. In August, the town board approved a $1-million plan for repairs.

“The supporting embankment was washed away in the storm,” said town Supervisor Thomas Dolin. New Scotland was ineligible for Federal Emergency Management Agency funds, but the Federal Highway Administration agreed to pay for the repairs; and

— The creation of a hamlet center in New Scotland. In August, the town received a $70,000 grant — of which $58,000 was federal money and $12,000 was from the town budget — to be administered by the Capital District Transportation Committee. The funds were to be used to hire a consultant to guide the town in codifying its planned residential-commercial district at the intersection of routes 85 and 85A.

About town

Crimes were reported in the town, but new businesses and civic organizations also made headlines in 2014.    

A local man, Kyle Pianowski, was sentenced in June to two to six years in state prison for driving while high on heroin. Another local, Eric Galea, admitted in June to stealing his neighbor’s lawn mower.

A third New Scotland resident, Michele Salerno, made headlines this year, first for shooting a neighbor’s dog, and later, for assaulting one Guilderland Police officer during a traffic stop and another officer when he came to his home to deliver a bench warrant.

Salerno was not charged in the dog shooting, as, according to state Agricultural and Markets law, he was within his rights to shoot a dog found attacking his poultry and livestock on his property.

In June, Salerno was a passenger in a car during a traffic stop, during which he got out of the car. After defying orders to return to the car, Salerno then resisted arrest and bit the officer, police said. Salerno did not show for his court date, and police delivered a bench warrant to his home. Salerno slammed the door on the sergeant’s hand, police said.

“People do whatever they think they have to do,” said Guilderland Police Captain Curtis Cox. “There have been biting incidents before.”

Two young vandals, Matthew L. Carey-Moorly and Manny A. Wiest, were arrested in January, after spray-painting the word “Jews” with a heart, depictions of cats and vulgarities, and swastikas at the public library, at the high school, and at a school employee’s home.

“I was heartbroken, to be honest,” said Voorheesville Superintendent Dr. Teresa Thayer Snyder about the vandalism. “It’s an insult to the entire community.” The vandalism was classified as felonious because of the property value of what was damaged; police estimated the damage at over $8,000.

In September, Shirley Stannard, 65, and her sister, Frances Stannard, 73, were arrested on one count each of failure to provide sustenance to animals, a misdemeanor. After being forced out of their trailer-park home, they were living in a small camper with 45 cats, which were taken to the Mohawk Hudson Humane Society. Thirty of the cats were deemed “past saving,” the director of the humane society said, and were euthanized.

Shirley Stannard’s original plan had been to drive south with her sister, where she imagined the cats living happily with them on a small plot of land. As the Stannards waited for court dates in October and November, the weather turned cold and they left their camper to sleep in a women’s shelter called Mercy House, run by Catholic Charities. In December, New Scotland Town Justice Margaret Adkins adjourned their case in contemplation of dismissal; if the Stannards are not arrested in the next year, their charges will be dropped. They cannot have any pets during that time.

“She doesn’t make you feel like you’re a bad person,” said Shirley Stannard of the judge. “She treats you like a human being.”

After the December court decision, the Stannards spoke of a newfound sense of freedom and worth. They have moved into an apartment they can afford for the low-income elderly.

Local community builder Janna Shillinglaw considered shutting down her website, NewScotlandNeighbors.com, in January because of the cost of running it. Costs were $65 per month, but she negotiated a half-price rate, she said.

“I never felt like charging anybody for the site,” she said previously. “But that may be what I have to do.” In December, the site was still up and running.

Shillinglaw is also active in the Kiwanis Club of New Scotland, which looked for new members this year after 64 years in the community. The club sponsors a popular youth soccer program and runs several fundraisers each year.

“We don’t want to threaten that the sports programs go away, but the obvious one is soccer,” said immediate past president Dick Ramsey in January. Ramsey and Shillinglaw spoke with The Enterprise about declining membership numbers. The Kiwanis also runs a food pantry, and raises money for the Children’s Hospital at Albany Medical Center.

Business owner Katie Kind opened her dance studio, Kind Performing Arts, a few doors from where she began a year ago, in a larger space in Stonewall Plaza in the New Scotland hamlet. She offers dance for youngsters and adults, and space for birthday parties, too.

“I’ve danced my whole life,” she said. “I always knew I wanted to do this. It’s kind of like a dream, actually.”

Other new businesses had rockier starts, like the kennel proposed by Lauren Bachner for 425 Unionville-Feura Bush Road. Bachner’s kennel application was submitted in April, and the New Scotland Planning Board held several public comment periods, where neighbors launched complaints and fears about odors, pollutants, and noise from a kennel in their neighborhood that is zoned for both residential and agricultural uses.

The public hearing for the kennel was closed in August, but a lack of a quorum at September’s planning board meeting delayed a decision further. The kennel was approved with a vote of 3 to 2, in October.

Town business

New Scotland increased the hours it pays its relatively new director of public works, Wayne LaChappelle, from 20 to 25.

Deputy town clerk Carol Cootware retired after 21 years with the town.

“I really enjoyed working here,” she said in June. “Maybe there will be something here part-time.”

Town Clerk Diane R. Deschenes renewed her status as a registered municipal clerk in May. She has served as town clerk since 2000.

The town set its 2015 budget at $7.2 million, staying under the state-set tax-levy cap of 1.94 percent. Taxes should increase by just under $10 for homes valued at $250,000.

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