October 3, 2008, New York Times: Starting From Scratch

Illustration by The New York Times, Photograph by Doug Mason

A VISION Doug and Heather Mason’s land on Lake James in North Carolina. The home is still a “work in progress.”


October 3, 2008

Starting From Scratch

STEVE AND LISA LEPITO love their vacation property on Prudence Island, R.I., in Narragansett Bay. The beaches, blanketed with pink and yellow shells, are a bike ride away. Creeks rich with shellfish can be explored by kayak. Hiking trails run through protected land. There are no hotels on the island, and no restaurants — perfect for their nature-loving sensibility.

Along dirt roads, hand-painted signs advertise island-grown vegetables; at a stand that sells honey and jam, the buyer can just leave the money in a cigar box.

“It’s awesome here,” said Lisa Lepito. “As soon as I get on the ferry and leave the mainland, I exhale.”

“You can see seals here in the winter,” her husband added. “Even during July Fourth weekend the beaches are empty.”

Their little piece of paradise has everything they wanted in a vacation spot. Someday they may even build a house on it.

The Lepitos are that rare breed of second-home owner: the pioneers who buy virgin land and develop it themselves, in their own way, without major financial resources. The process can take years or even decades, depending on the owners’ resources and the type of house they plan eventually to have.

In the meantime, why wait to enjoy their getaway? While they build the bank account or solve the initial problems of building roads, digging wells, bringing in electric lines and the like, the pioneers can still visit and plan for the piece of land that represents the getaway of their dreams. They can even vacation there — they just have to rough it a little.

The Lepitos, who live in central Connecticut, bought their 75-by-100-foot lot on Prudence Island from a neighboring landowner in 2006, for $97,500. For the time being, the only structure on the land is a shed.

Built by local carpenters, the shed is 10 by 12 feet, with a standard door in front, a sliding barn door at the side (convenient for taking their lawnmower and bicycles in and out), and two windows. Inside, a rope ladder, purchased at Ikea, leads up to a loft. At some point, the shed may be an ancillary structure. But for now, it is their base camp, the place where they store their essentials between visits and where they can take shelter from rain.

Near Morgantown, N.C., another pioneering couple, Doug and Heather Mason, whose main home is in St. Petersburg, Fla., bought an acre and a half of land three years ago on the banks of 6,000-acre Lake James. They don’t stay overnight there yet, but Mr. Mason refers to it as his “dream lot” and admits to thinking about it almost every day. Like a proud parent with a new child, he has shot a video and photos of their acquisition and will show them off readily if asked. “Everyone has to have hopes and dreams,” he explained.

The land is heavily wooded, and the first task will be clearing enough for a makeshift road and a place to set up some kind of shelter. Mr. Mason recently purchased a professional-grade chain saw and has begun taking down trees. “It would be nice to get an area cleared where we could park a camper, get septic installed and put in a well,” he said. After that, he’d like to make a path to the water.

Mr. Mason fixes up homes for a living, and a house on Lake James is definitely in the couple’s plans. “Of course, we looked at things like log cabins,” he said. “But we do not know what kind of home we want to build yet. It will be a work in process.”

For Gregory Schmidt and Janet Zahradnik, doctors who are married and living in the Farmington River Valley in Connecticut, the purchase of raw land next to the Delaware River in Deposit, N.Y., came with some unanticipated considerations involving what was beneath the surface. The deal was $90,000 for a six-acre plot with mineral rights.

Increasing flows of water being released from upstream made this section of the Delaware increasingly conducive to trout, and Dr. Schmidt, an avid fly fisherman who owns a McKenzie-style drift boat, was delighted less with the idea of a future house and more with the thought of newly acquired access to a long stretch of river shore. He realized, he said, that “I could use it now” to fish, without waiting for a home.

But then the purchase hit a snag. The seller signed a lease with a gas company giving it the right to drill on other plots in the area for the next five years. The possibility that a gas well could pop up next door made banks reluctant to provide financing, Dr. Schmidt said. While a local bank examines the gas lease, the deal is on hold, and they were able to get their initial deposit back.

Dr. Schmidt has not soured on the idea of buying raw land. If this transaction doesn’t work out, he’s not against finding another empty plot — especially since the couple’s initial research showed that it would be easy and quick to put a modular home on it. “Modular homes take the pressure off,” he said. “You can save money, avoid dealing with construction workers, and you’re more likely to stay within budget.”

Often, of course, mulling over what to build on a newly acquired plot of vacation land is recreation in itself — even if the process involves downsizing some dreams.

Ten years ago, Dick Schellens, who works for an engineering development firm and lives in New Hampshire, received a plot of undeveloped waterfront land in the coastal town of Port Clyde, Me. — one-third of a parcel that his parents divided in three and gave to him and his two brothers.

The original plan that he and his wife considered was to put a barnlike structure on the land with an apartment space that could be rented. Then Mr. Schellens began to imagine a companion structure, a large summer house similar to the venerable old homes he’d seen in Watch Hill, R.I. “Back then, it seemed like everyone was thinking in grandiose terms,” he said.

A foundation was dug for the barn in 2005. “Then, at some point, we said, ‘The heck with grandiose,’ ” Mr. Schellens said. The barn idea, too, was set aside. The current plan is to build a two-bedroom house with a small carbon footprint, but he feels no urgency to get started.

In the meantime, he may put up a dock and live part-time on a boat while working to get the land ready for a building. Now he visits mostly to cut trees.

A new idea could help with that, and more. Like the pioneers of old who looked at woods and saw log cabins, why not clear woodland and produce building materials in one operation? He and his brothers are talking about bringing in a portable sawmill.

Back on Prudence Island, Steve and Lisa Lepito and their two daughters settled in one weekend this summer for a couple days on their lot. They unloaded a grill from their minivan, erected an umbrella over their outdoor picnic table, and stretched a couple of hammocks into place for handy lounging.

Mr. Lepito fastened a clip to the top of the shed door to hang their new shower — a garden hose with a spray nozzle. City water had just been connected to the house, but they still had no electricity or plumbing. A portable toilet sat in an alcove built onto the outside of the shed. Drinks and food were in a cooler.

The Lepitos have blueprints for a three-bedroom house, but no definite plans for building it.

“In the beginning,” Mr. Lepito said as he and his wife sat at their table in the shade of a tree, “we looked at every potential dwelling we could think of. It was a little obsessive.”

They pondered purchasing a cottage already on the island and moving it, but learned that because of a wetland between Points A and B, it would have to be cut in two to be moved. At one time they entertained the thought of using metal shipping containers to create a house.

“I want a place with high ceilings,” Mrs. Lepito said as she watched a rabbit hop across the grass. “I’d like to be able to see the bay from the window and for the house to have a really open feeling.”

They’re “still pretty open,” Mr. Lepito said, on the question of exactly what they will build. But over the months and years, as they spend time on the land they love, they’re narrowing it down.

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'Esopus Creek Safari' this weekend

link is here:
http://www.dailyfreeman.com/site/news.cfm?newsid=20148667&BRD=1769&PAG=461&dept_id=74958&rfi=6
Irma Sagazie, who’s about to turn 100, still kayaks.
Irma Sagazie, who’s about to turn 100, still kayaks.

SAUGERTIES - Irma Sagazie's annual Esopus Creek Safari will be held Saturday morning.

Sagazie, who is a former Saugerties resident, will attend the race and celebrate her 100 th birthday a few months early.

Preregistration for the kayak and canoe race is $25 and includes entry in the race, a shirt, awards, prizes and birthday cake.

Registration forms can be downloaded at www.atkenco.com or village.saugerties.ny.us (click on "local events").

Registration the day of the race will cost $30 and will be held from 8:30 to 10 a.m. at the Saugerties Village Beach. A mandatory safety meeting will take place at 10 a.m. and the race will begin at 10:30 a.m. Participants can choose from a 4- or 7-mile flatwater course.

Sagazie's birthday party - as well as lunch, awards, prizes and music - will begin at 12:15 p.m. For more information contact Kelly Myers at (845) 247-9664 or send an e-mail to [email protected]

Money raised by the event will benefit outdoor education programs for area children.

The race is sponsored by Kenco and attorney William Myers.

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October 7-15 NYSERDA TRAINING, LIBERTY NEW YORK

This is an important opportunity for builders, contractors, and others -- please forward to people in the Sullivan County region who may be interested in applying home energy efficiency principles in their work.

Below is summary information for a training course beginning next week in Liberty NY, focusing on applied building science principles needed to do energy audits and full home performance assessments that address energy efficiency, indoor air quality and related issues.  This training is the first step towards certification by the Building Performance Institute.  Upon completion of the course, you are eligible for 75% reimbursement from NYSERDA of tuition costs.

The full training brochure with registration information is attached to this email, but people receiving this through lists may not get the attachment.  If you need more information call 607-778-5012, or reply to the course instructor, Paul Carroll, who is copied on this email.

Also -- save the date:  Nov. 13th, 2008, 4th annual green buildings and energy efficiency conference in Orange County, this year focusing on energy efficiency in the housing sector.  Contact me if you want the conference flyer, sponsorship or exhibitor info., or other information.

Simon Gruber

 

This 36-hour training runs as follows:

Classroom Sessions:

Tues. Oct 7,

Wed. Oct. 8, Thurs. Oct. 9, & Fri. Oct.

10 (8am–4pm)

Field Sessions:

Tues. Oct. 14 & Wed.

Oct. 15 (8am–4pm)

BPI Written Test (optional: see

registration info):

Thurs. Oct. 16

(8am–10am)

Location

: CACHE, 63 South Main

Street, Liberty, NY 12754

For registration information: 607-778-5012

 

Training Agenda:

•Fundamentals of building science

•Identify and understand building performance

problems including ice dams, mold and mildew,

and indoor air quality issues

•Analyze buildings using “Blower Door”

technology and other diagnostic equipment

•Assess building tightness, mechanical and

distribution systems and combustion safety for a

“whole house” performance-based approach

•Practical application of “blower door,”

combustion safety and other diagnostics for

assessing air leakage and efficiency in buildings

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September 29, 2008: Public Service Commission Schedules Additional NYRI Hearings

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

September 29, 2008

Contact:
Steve Dimeo
Communities Against Regional Interconnect
315-338-0393 [email protected]

Public Service Commission Schedules Additional NYRI Hearings

Communities Against Regional interconnect (CARI), a coalition comprising of
seven counties and five citizens groups opposing the NYRI power line requested
that the New York Public Service Commission hold Public Statement Hearings
in all of the Counties affected by the New York Regional Interconnect (NYRI).
The Public Service Commission granted CARI’s request and scheduled
additional hearings throughout the region.

The New York Public Service Commission will hold public information forums
and public statement hearings concerning a proposal by New York Regional
Interconnect, Inc. to construct a new, high voltage direct current transmission
line between National Grid’s substation in the Town of Marcy and Central
Hudson Gas & Electric Corporation’s substation in the Town of New Windsor.
The proposed line is approximately 190 miles in length.

Public information forums and public statement hearings will be held as follows:

Madison County
Monday, October 20, 2008
Colgate University
13 Oak Drive
J. C. Colgate Hall of Presidents
Hamilton, New York
Information Forums - 1:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.
Public Statement Hearings - 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.

Otsego County
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Foot Hills Performing Arts Center
24 Market Street
Oneonta, New York
Information Forums - 1:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.
Public Statement Hearings - 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.

Oneida County
Utica
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Mohawk Valley Community College
1101 Sherman Drive
MVCC Theater
Utica, NY
Information Forums - 1:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.
Public Statement Hearings - 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.

Orange County
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Kuhl's Highland House
512 Highland Avenue Extension
Middletown, New York
Information Forum - 1:00 p.m.
Public Statement Hearings - 2:00 p.m.

Valley Central School
High School Campus
1175 State Route 17K
Montgomery, New York
Information Forum - 6:00 p.m.
Public Statement Hearings - 7:00 p.m.

Sullivan County
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Delaware Community Center, aka
Callicoon Youth Center, Inc.
8 Creamery Road
Callicoon, New York
Information Forum - 1:00 p.m.
Public Statement Hearings - 2:00 p.m.

Sullivan West Central High School
6604 State Route 52
Lake Huntington, New York
Information Forum - 6:00 p.m.
Public Statement Hearings - 7:00 p.m.

Delaware County
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
Hancock Central School
High School Campus
67 Education Lane
Hancock, New York
Information Forum - 6:00 p.m.
Public Statement Hearings - 7:00 p.m.

Chenango County
Thursday, November 6, 2008
Chenango County Council
for the Arts
27 West Main Street
Norwich, New York
Information Forums - 1:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.
Public Statement Hearings - 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.

The information forums will be presented by the Staff of the Department of
Public Service and will address the details of the administration of the
proceeding under the Department’s rules and modes of operation.

Following the information forums, the public will have an opportunity to present
their comments at the hearing before the Administrative Law Judges assigned
by the Commission to this case. A verbatim transcript of the hearing will be
made for inclusion in the record of this proceeding. All statements and
comments received by the Administrative Law Judges and the Commission will
be placed in the public case file and are available for public inspection in the
Commission's file room in its Albany offices, Central Files, 14th Floor, Three
Empire State Plaza.

It is not necessary to make an appointment in advance or to present written
material in order to speak at the public statement hearing. Speakers will be
called after completing a card requesting time to speak. The hearing will remain
open and will continue until everyone wishing to speak has been heard or
other reasonable arrangements are made. Disabled persons requiring special
accommodations may place a collect call to the Department of Public Service's
Human Resource Management Office at (518) 474-2520 as soon as
possible.

In addition to the formal hearing, comments may be mailed to Jaclyn A. Brilling,
Secretary, Public Service Commission, Three Empire State Plaza, Albany, New
York 12223-1350. Your comments should refer to "Case 06-T-0650 – NYRI
Transmission Line Proceeding.” Toll-free Opinion Line: Comments may also be
submitted through the Commission's Opinion Line at 1-800-335-2120. This
number is designed to take comments about pending cases from instate callers,
24 hours a day. Callers should select English or Spanish and press "1" to leave
comments about the electric facility proposal.

The Internet: Comments may also be submitted via the "PSC Comment Form" in
the "Consumer Assistance" file accessed through the Commission's Web site at
www.dps.state.ny.us or via the "Contact Us" link at http://www.AskPSC.com.
Many libraries offer free Internet access.

The hearings will be broadcast on the internet. The broadcast can be viewed by
accessing http://www.NewYorkAdmin.com and clicking on New York State
Public Service Commission (RealPlayer software is required and may be
downloaded from the web site). The Commission has no financial interest in the
web site, its management, maintenance or administration.

For more information on CARI please visit www.caricoalition.org.

XXX

For more information about -
The Counties of Broome, Chenango, Delaware, Madison, Oneida, Orange and Sullivan
Counties are members of CARI. The citizen’s group members of CARI are the Upper
Delaware Council; the Upstate New York Citizens Alliance; the Upper Delaware
Preservation Coalition; STOP NYRI, Inc. and SayNo2NYRI, Inc. To learn more about the
work of this coalition of county governments and grass roots citizen groups, visit
www.caricoaltion.org, or contact one of the group’s representatives listed below:

Broome County Peter DeWind (607) 778-2109
Chenango County Donna Jones (607) 337-1640
Delaware County Sam Rowe (607) 637-3651
Madison County Rocco DiVeronica (315) 366-2201
Oneida County Steve DiMeo (315) 338-0393
Orange County David Darwin (845) 291-3150
Sullivan County Ethan Cohen (845) 794-3000
Upstate New York Citizens Alliance Michael Steiger (315) 725-6499
STOP NYRI, Inc. Eve Ann Shwartz (315) 691-2917
Upper Delaware Preservation
Coalition
Troy Bystrom (646) 205-2723
Upper Delaware Council William Douglass (845)-252-3022
SayNo2NYRI, Inc. Gail Heatherly (845) 386-2872
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September 23, 2008, NYLCV Ecopolitics Report: State Must Conserve Water

A report issued Monday by a fisheries conservation group says New York lags Northeastern states in protecting its water resources.

Click above to read Trout Unlimited's report.New York uses more water per household than any other state except California and Texas, according to "Tapped Out: New York's Water Woes," by Trout Unlimited. The report calls for New York to adopt water conservation laws, which could include new limits on residential water use, and higher prices for heavier users.

"The need to address [New York's water issues] is acute," Assemblyman Robert Sweeney of Long Island told the Times Union for its story on the new report. Sweeney is head of the Assembly's Environmental Conservation Committee

Water has become a topic of increased focus in New York. Recently, for example, the New York City Council has been inquiring into risks that new gas drilling could create for the city's water supply. 

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September 20, 2008. Albany Times Union: Village holds tale of faded glory

Village holds tale of faded glory
Fleischmanns one of many forgotten spots in Catskills, Adirondacks in need of redevelopment
 
By BRIAN NEARING, Staff writer
Click byline for more stories by writer.
First published: Saturday, September 20, 2008

link to article is here

FLEISCHMANNS -- This little Catskill village, once a retreat for the wealthy, is a ghost of its former self.

"We've got a used car lot, a couple of B&Bs, a couple of restaurants, and that's about it," said Malcolm Becker, deputy mayor of the village and its 328 residents along Route 28 in rural Delaware County.

"We used to be a lush recreational area, but to see it now, we are washed down,' said Becker.

A long time ago, the village, named for the wealthy family that made its fortune in prepackaged baking yeast and bottled gin, counted the famous Bloomingdale department store family among its residents.

In those days, the Ulster & Delaware Railroad fed the tourist trade, thrilling passengers with the climb up Pine Hill and around Horseshoe Curve near Highmount, home of the long-gone Grand Hotel. Trains continued to Arkville, an important rail hub where travelers could switch to the Delaware & Northern headed to Andes, or continue on the U&D, to lovely Halcottsville on Wawaka Lake, and to genteel Roxbury.

Now good jobs are hard to come by in Fleischmanns. Nearly one family in five is below the federal poverty level; that is double the national average.

The village is in the shadow of the 58-year-old state-owned Belleayre Mountain Ski Center, and Becker pins his hopes on a project to renovate the ski center and build a sprawling private resort nearby.

Becker's refrain is common among local officials from the Catskills and Adirondacks. As the state adds more land to the "forever wild" forest preserve, less is available for small towns to grow and attract new businesses to replace economic engines long dead, from Gilded Age tourism to logging.

Meanwhile, residents face a double whammy -- a dearth of jobs and rapidly rising real estate prices as second-home buyers move in.

New ideas cost money, and the state has put up $1.5 million for officials in the two mountain regions to imagine a new future.

In March, the state gave $1 million for 18 "smart growth" planning projects in the Adirondacks, after getting 51 requests for projects totaling $3 million.

Fleischmanns, along with five other Catskill communities, will share a half-million dollars from the state later this year.

Becker said he welcomed assistance, but hoped more state aid will be ready to help breathe life into any plan. "It is not very much money to start," he said.

Other Catskill towns that will get state planning aid include Andes, Middletown, Olive, Shandaken and Margaretville. Each locality will get at least $40,000 and will have to compete among themselves for the rest.

In the Adirondacks, the state is paying to study ways to bring new vitality to the 6 million-acre park, half of which is privately owned. Projects range from the opening of a theater in Indian Lake ($42,600) to designing a better wireless and cellphone communication network throughout the park ($106,971).

Essex County, home to Mount Marcy and the High Peaks region, got $100,000 to study how to make tourism into a "sustainable, year-round economy," and another $120,000 to look at ways to expand existing hamlets, which are less stringently regulated by the state Adirondack Park Agency.

Other projects are more local, including redevelopment, housing or sustainability plans for numerous towns, including Bolton ($50,000), one of the fastest-growing towns on the western shore of Lake George; Horicon, ($23,585); Arietta ($50,000), Chester ($35,000), Brighton ($46,400), AuSable ($26,000), Stony Creek ($25,000) and Wilmington ($50,000).

Brian Nearing can be reached at 454-5094 or by e-mail at [email protected]

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September 18, 2008, Newday: Boundaries expanded for NY bear hunting

Boundaries expanded for NY bear hunting

ALBANY, N.Y. - In response to a growing population of bears, the state Department of Environmental Conservation has expanded hunting zones to include 13 new areas in central and western New York this fall.

State DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis says the hunting boundaries were expanded because the black bear population has grown in number and range in recent years, and hunting is an important tool in managing bear population growth.

The current bear population in New York state is estimated at around 7,000, with about 2,000 of those in the southern half of the state and the rest in the Adirondacks, said Gordon Batcheller, a DEC wildlife biologist.

"When I started my career in western New York in 1981, black bears weren't a significant presence," Batcheller said. "Now my colleagues in that area say dealing with black bears is a regular occurrence."

The DEC region that includes the six westernmost counties of the state reported 161 bear complaints last year, Batcheller said. Most involved bears raiding birdfeeders or garbage cans around homes, or cornfields or beehives on farms, he said.

Reports of bear problems in the state are down now, Batcheller said, because this summer's weather has produced a bumper crop of nuts and berries and bears are less inclined to seek food in residential areas.

Attacks on humans by bears are almost unheard-of in New York state, Batcheller said, although there have been a number of them documented in other parts of the country. Most complaints involve bears looking for food.

"As we trace problems between people and bears, it invariably leads back to bears getting into food," Batcheller said. "If they find food, they'll keep coming back until it's gone. Then they learn that food is associated with human habitation, and they get into the habit of looking for it there."

In May, a 6-foot black bear that was roaming around the Syracuse suburb of Geddes was euthanized because it developed a habit of hanging around residential areas. In 2007, it had been captured and relocated after causing damage in the Seneca County village of Waterloo.

In August 2006, officers from the DEC shot and killed a 350-pound male black bear that had become aggressive toward campers in the High Peaks region of the Adirondacks. The bear was accustomed to raiding the food supplies of backpackers in the heavily used Flowed Lands camping area.

In response to problems with bears habitually stealing hikers' food, the DEC has since made it mandatory for High Peaks campers to carry food and garbage in bear-proof canisters or face fines.

To educate people about preventing bear problems, the DEC recently produced a DVD that has been distributed to libraries and schools throughout the state, Batcheller said.

"Our concern is really trying to emphasize that in black bear range, which is expanding to include more and more of New York state, food attracts bears," Batcheller said. "In some cases, people may be feeding bears and not even realize it, if they have birdfeeders or poorly kept compost bins."

Bowhunting season for bears in the Southern Zone of New York begins on Oct. 18 and regular bear season begins Nov. 22. In the Catskills, regular bear season starts Nov. 15.

In 2007, hunters killed 1,117 bears in New York, up from 796 in 2006.
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September 18, 2008, WAMC New Leader for Catskill Center by Susan Barnett


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Meet The Man Behind the Belleayre Resort

New Leader for Catskill Center


ARKVILLE, NY (2008-09-18) The Catskill Center for Conservation and Development was central to the negotiations on the proposed Belleayre Ski Resort and lost its former director to the state department of parks, recreation and historic preservation a few months ago. Lisa Rainwater, who has spent the past few years working with Riverkeeper and other groups opposed to the Indian Point Nuclear Plant, recently moved into the corner office in rural Arkville. Hudson Valley bureau chief Susan Barnett spoke with her about her vision for the Catskills
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Environmental Groups Seek Gas-Drilling Moratorium

Environmental Groups Seek Gas-Drilling Moratorium

 

Seven environmental organizations have sent a letter to Governor Paterson asking for a moratorium on gas drilling until an environmental review has been completed.
The Governor's Office said the state is pursuing a new Generic Environmental Impact Statement on gas drilling. However, permits may still be approved before the process is complete.
The letter was signed by Catskill Mountainkeeper, Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter, Riverkeeper Inc., DelawareRiverkeeper Network, Natural Resources Defense Council, Catskill Center for Conservation & Development, the Wilderness Society and Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy.
"There is an opportunity for New York to be the first state to deal with this type of development in a safe and comprehensive way," said Catskill Mountainkeeper's Wes Gillingham. "To do that we need a moratorium on new drilling permits giving ... time to research the cumulative impacts of drilling." 
CAPTION:
 Catskill Mountainkeeper's Wes Gillingham
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September 14, 2008, Daily Freeman: Belleayre ski center backers rally against cuts



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Belleayre ski center backers rally against cuts
Joe Kelly, chairman of the Coalition to Save Belleayre, speaks during Saturday's meeting at the ski center in Highmount.
Joe Kelly, chairman of the Coalition to Save Belleayre, speaks during Saturday's meeting at the ski center in Highmount.

HIGHMOUNT - Local residents, business owners and employees of the Belleayre Mountain Ski Center turned out in droves at the state-owned facility Saturday morning to rally against Belleayre budget cuts that many say would threaten their livelihood.

The event, organized by the Coalition to Save Belleayre, attracted more than 200 people who were drawn to the mountain by a word-of-mouth message that the coalition, which was to meet that morning, decided just days ago to open the session to the public.  The matter at hand for all involved was the recent announcement that Belleayre faces severe budget cuts, putting as many as 300 jobs in jeopardy and reducing ski operations for the coming winter season.

One by one, speakers took turns explaining how the cutbacks would do harm to them personally and hurt the region surrounding Belleayre, which is in the Shandaken hamlet of Highmount, near the border of Ulster and Delaware counties.

The governments of the three towns likely to be most affected - Shandaken and Hardenburgh in Ulster County, and Middletown in Delaware County - had representatives on hand Saturday to say their respective municipalities already has taken official stances opposing the cuts planned by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which operates the ski center.

U.S. Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-Hurley, sent word that he would reach out to Gov. David Paterson and work to halt any cutbacks. State Sen. John Bonacic's chief of staff, Langdon Chapman, pledged the Mount Hope Republican senator's support to the cause, saying Albany needs to be aware of Belleayre's importance to the local economy.

"People get their lives changed every day because Belleayre exists," Chapman said, adding that he feels a bit like the main character in Charles Dickens' "Oliver Twist."

"Please sir, can we have an economy, too?" he said, to applause from the crowd.

Len Bernardo, a candidate for Ulster County executive, suggested a new name for DEC.

"It should be renamed the Department of Economic Cuts," said Bernardo, an enrolled Conservative from Accord who is running on the Republican and Conservative lines.

Robert Shapiro, a Fleischmanns resident, said everyone knows the state needs to make budget cuts, but he questioned the fairness of plans to cut as deep into Belleayre as is being discussed. He wondered if other state-run recreation facilities face the same fate.

"Are the people at Bethpage Golf Course wondering if they will have the grass cut there? Are the folks at Jones Beach wondering if the number of lifeguards will be reduced?" he asked.

When operating fully, Belleayre, off state Route 28, boasts the Catskills' only Cat-access skiing and a widened and improved halfpipe and Area 51 Terrain Park. With 47 trails, parks and glades and eight lifts, including a new high-speed quad, Belleayre has evolved over the years, especially since the 1980s, when it faced closure. Skier visits have grown from 70,000 in 1995 to more than 175,000.

It was noted at the meeting on Saturday that, at present, no one really knows the extent of the proposed cuts, but speculation among those concerned puts them anywhere between a closing of the facility to a bare-bones operation that would use only a couple of lifts and a handful of trails.

The Department of Environmental Conservation said on Friday that Belleayre will be open seven days a week this season, but officials would not discuss the details of any possible cuts, saying only that nothing has been decided.

Representatives of the Coalition to Save Belleayre handed out contact sheets to those who attended Saturday's rally and urged them to make use of them. The names on the sheets includes state Environmental Commissioner Alexander "Pete" Grannis; Paterson; state Assemblymen Kevin Cahill, D-Kingston, and Clifford Crouch, R-Guilford; Hinchey and U.S. Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-Greenport; Bonacic; and county officials in Ulster and Delaware counties.

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