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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, June 15, 2006


Deputy Gilham leaves a job she loves

By Michelle O’Riley

WESTERLO — A quarter of a century ago, Debra Gilham became a deputy sheriff because she wanted to help people. She weathered some tough times, learned to use brain more than brawn, and, on retiring, is now being honored by some of those she helped.

The town of Westerlo declared June 1 to be Debra Gilham Day.

Gilham, the first woman to retire as a deputy sheriff from the Albany County Sheriff's Department, was the first in her family to get involved in law enforcement. She grew up in a small town where the community looked up to police officers, making law enforcement a viable career choice, she said.

"I wanted to help people and this was one way I could do that," she said

Gilham was a 28-year-old single parent when she decided to take the exam and passed. She began her 25-year career as a deputy sheriff on May 22, 1981.

Although men dominate the law-enforcement field, Gilham did not feel pressured to prove herself. There were already several women in the department when she started who broke ground, she said.

"I did find that sometimes I didn’t have the strength to get physically involved," she said, "so I had to use my brain more."

She also admits that the first couple of years were difficult at times. Gilham wanted to solve every crime but quickly realized that would be impossible.

She remembers being called to the scene of an automobile accident. All she kept thinking of was: If those involved had worn their seatbelts, they would probably have lived. She was miserable after that night and started having trouble sleeping.

With help from her sister, Gilham began learning how to deal with the unfortunate events she often encountered as a deputy sheriff. She started asking herself what lesson she should learn from each situation and tried to keep things in perspective.

"You will get burned out if you don’t; I know some people who have," Gilham said.

Spreading goodwill

Gilham also served the community as a certified emergency medical technician (EMT) and as a certified child passenger safety technician. Residents would stop by the Voorheesville patrol station and she would make sure their car seats and seatbelts met regulations.

An EMT is there to do what is needed for the patient but no one is there for the family, she said. Gilham often tried to do both – care for the patient and console or prepare the family for what was happening.

"Emergency medical services always sends an EMT on every call, she said, "and no situation is good for the most part."

Gilham was also actively involved in the New York State Sheriffs’ Association Summer Camp and Hilltowns Community Resource Center Christmas Toy and Food Drive.

The sheriffs’ summer camp on Keuka Lake gives children a chance to experience the outdoors who may not otherwise have the chance. Deputies from various counties help run activities that build positive relationships between the kids and law-enforcement officers.

"It is important for them to see us in a different light," said Gilham, "because a lot of kids are afraid of the police."

She remembers an incident where a parent warned a child to behave or the cop, who was Gilham, would arrest him. Sometimes parents say things like that and it sends the wrong message to children, she said.

Gilham worked with local organizations and businesses to provide needy children in the Hilltowns a merry Christmas. Every year, toys, food, gift certificates, and other resources are collected from the community then dispersed to local families. While children spend time with Santa Claus, parents pick out toys in the back room of the resource center.

"It was a lot of fun," she said. "The people in the community were really great. I always felt like I was just doing my job and they were giving so much more back to me."

"A tough job"

She remembers pumping gas one day and a woman walked up to her and gave her a hug. The woman wanted to thank Gilham for helping with a previous situation at her home.

"They are usually good people who have just made bad decisions," she said. "I don’t believe in putting them down. I always gave them choices and let them know that where they take it from there is up to them."

As she read aloud a card and proclamation given to her at a recent retirement dinner, she got choked up.

"I’m going to miss a lot of people," she said, "and will be walking away with a lot of good memories of the men and women I worked with."

Law-enforcement officers really get to know their co-workers, she explained; they feel happy when there is a birth and sorrow when there is a death.

After 25 years of service, Gilham handed over her uniform and found her closet absent of civilian clothes, she said jokingly. She laughs at how much money she must have saved.

"All I have are golf shirts from all the different events I participated in over the years," she said.

She would tell anyone who is interested in becoming an officer that they really have to enjoy what they are doing.

"It is a tough job and you are going to see a lot of things that you don’t want to see," she said, "but you can’t let it get you down."

Officers often deal with people who are not having the best day, Gilham said. It is also important to keep your integrity; if you say something, people will hold you to it, Gilham said.

When asked if she would do it all again, Gilham let out a hearty laugh and said, "Yeah." She then recited a quote she once read on a cemetery stone that sums it up for her:

"Where you are now, I once was, and where I am now you soon will be."

For now, Gilham will be living a simpler life spending her retirement with family and working on getting her flower garden back in shape.


Zoning for windmills proposed

By Saranac Hale Spencer

KNOX— Knox is one step closer to realizing wind-power for the Hilltowns.

The town board looked at changes to its zoning ordinance, which will allow for windmills and meteorological towers, last Tuesday. A public hearing regarding the changes will be held on July 11, at 7:30 p.m. at the town hall.

The board also accepted a year’s moratorium on some types of towers to allow the planning board to recommend changes on the zoning law.

Over the past year, public meetings have been held in the Hilltowns and a grant from the New York State Energy and Research Development Authority was awarded to build a tower that would collect wind data for 12 to 18 months with the goal of developing a model for a community-owned wind farm in the Helderbergs. The Pokornys on Middle Road in Knox were asked to host the temporary tower.

The proposed zoning amendments appear to accommodate that project.

Several definitions are included in the amendments, including:

Commercial meteorological towers, which are temporary structures that cannot exceed 180 feet and "must be removed within 18 months of the issuance of a building permit," according to the draft of the law;

Wind Energy Conversion Systems (WECS) are any apparatus that is meant to convert wind’s kinetic energy into electrical or mechanical energy;

Wind turbine farms are a collection of more than three commercial scale WECS that are "used to generate utility scale electrical energy to be supplied to the local utility electrical grid."

Each request that requires site plan approval will be reviewed by the town’s planning board. Before making the formal submission of a plan, the applicant can have a "sketch plan conference" with the planning board, according to the draft. A conference allows the board to advise an applicant about possible problems and make suggestions before the formal plan is submitted.

Requirements for the formal request include identifying adjacent landowners, details of parking areas, method of sewage disposal, type of outdoor lighting, proposed building for commercial activity, and construction schedule among other things.

The planning board will review the application and hold a public hearing within 62 days from the date the proposal was received.

After reviewing these amendments and setting a date for the public hearing, the board voted unanimously in favor of a moratorium on wind energy deriving towers, meteorological towers, wireless telecommunications facilities and transmission facilities law.

The one-year moratorium can be extended for an additional six months, but Supervisor Michael Hammond told The Enterprise this week that he doesn’t expect the extension will be necessary.

Hammond said at the meeting on Tuesday that the moratorium would last for "a reasonable amount of time," allowing the planning board to amend the town’s zoning ordinance.

Other business

In other business, the town board:

— Awarded the annual bid for petroleum products to Mountain View Oil of Voorheesville. Steve Tracey was at the meeting to represent the company, which was cheaper by one cent per gallon than the only other bidder, Long Oil Heat Inc.

"We had a very good year with you last year," said Hammond. "We were very pleased";

— Heard a report from the town’s attorney, John Dorfman, on credit use at the town hall, which won’t happen. "The comptroller’s office says no, no, no," Dorfman said;

— Heard a proposal from the Helderberg Ambulance squad for a satellite building behind the town hall in Knox. Alan Zuk and Jerry Cross, both members of the squad, were at the meeting to discuss plans for the building.

"We’re looking for a blessing to move forward," said Zuk. The plan is for a 20- by 40-foot peaked-roof building that Zuk hopes will improve response time in both Knox and Berne and help attract new members to the all-volunteer squad.

Knox paid $48,637 combined to Altamont and Helderberg for ambulance services. The town also has an Advanced Life Support (ALS) system provided by Guilderland, which it paid $37,380 for last year.

The building will be paid for by the Helderberg Squad, a not-for-profit organization, and it would house "a brand new ambulance," said Cross. "The newest one we’ve got would be on this site";

— Voted unanimously to participate in Cindy Mosbey’s summer swim program. The classes are usually held at the Thacher Park pool, which is closed this year due to major renovations. Mosbey will teach the classes at the Camp Pinnacle pool, where she will have two certified lifeguards.

Mosbey will only be able to offer instruction in Red Cross levels one through four; levels five and six won’t be available because the pool isn’t big enough to accommodate diving or long-distance swimming.

The cost of the program will be the same as last year, $167 per town plus $35 per level offered, with an additional fee of $300 (or $100 per town) requested by Camp Pinnacle for use of the pool;

— Voted unanimously to have Pat Hannan repair the town’s tennis court at a cost of $1,800.50. The cost includes cleaning the court, filling the cracks with tar and color coating the new tar. To repair the court and do a full paint job on it would have cost $7,500.

Hammond recalled putting in the tennis court in 1977 for $36,000. He said that there is now a problem with the fill moving under one section, shifting the court. This is a problem the board said could be dealt with later.

"For $1,800," said Hammond, "I think we can get full use of that facility";

— Heard a request from Pam Hart who wants access to the town’s baseball field on Wednesday evenings in July and August "for a group of developmentally disabled adults who want to play softball," she said.

Hart asked for the field from 3:30 to 5 p.m. and for use of a pavilion from 5 to 6 p.m. The board saw no problem with the request but said that scheduling can get tight in the summer; and

— Heard from Carol King who read a poem she wrote asking the board about funding for a library. Hammond said that at a recent meeting there had been enthusiasm over a new library and said that Knox, which has no library of its own, contributes to both the Altamont library and the Berne library.

Knox pays $4,500 to Altamont and $500 to Berne. Hammond said that Altamont regularly sends proposals asking for contributions while Berne does not. He said that the board would be willing to look at proposals from Berne.


Committee works on land-use plan

By Saranac Hale Spencer

RENSSELAERVILLE — Barns in disrepair and development halted — buildings were the center of discussion at last Thursday’s town board meeting.

The town has recently adopted a one-year moratorium on subdivisions of over three lots so it can work on a comprehensive land-use plan. With the departure of Pat Parker from the Land Use Review Committee, due to health reasons, the committee proposed adding two new members to replace him.

"This is the most important committee we have in town," Supervisor Jost Nickelsberg told the board. "It will influence our grandchildren."

Citing the heavy load of information that members are responsible for, the committee proposed replacing Parker’s post with two members so that if another member dropped out there would be somebody already up to speed on the work.

This caused some concern on the board. "We’re not going to keep adding people every month," said Councilman Gary Chase. "Pretty soon, we’re going to end up with 50 people."

Nickelsberg proposed moving Susan Lewis from her position as an alternate to a full committee member and adding Margaret Saddlemire and John Dolce as alternates. Lewis was an alternate for her sister, Becky Lewis, who is still on the committee. She had been attending all the meetings so far, including the agricultural sub-committee, according to Vernon Husek, who chairs the committee.

The number of people on the committee is still 13 and there are now two more alternates in case one of the members should leave. The board voted unanimously in favor of this resolution.

Husek told The Enterprise this week that the committee intends to have the town-wide land-use plan ready for review by the planning board nine months from the day the moratorium was enacted, which was April 27.

The committee is currently reviewing plans from other towns. Rensselaerville will hire a professional land-use consultant to help develop the comprehensive plan.

"The consultant will be useful in advising us in anything we might be overlooking," said Husek. "None of us are professional planners." Also, extra work that the committee can’t get done will fall on the consultant, said Husek.

"We’re about ready to start interviewing," Nickelsberg told The Enterprise this week. He expects to have the plan put into effect as law within the 12-month moratorium period.

Nickelsberg said that the public has been welcome at all of the meetings of the land-use committee so far, and input from the community is welcome.

Husek told The Enterprise that the committee is currently drafting a survey that will be sent out to residents of Rensselaerville in the next few weeks.

"They are absolutely critical," he said of the public. "It is their comments that we’re listening to."

Buildings in disrepair

The town’s attorney, William Ryan, reported to the board last Thursday that Mark Overbaugh, building inspector for Rensselaerville, and G. Jon Chase, the town’s highway superintendent, gave testimony at a May 17 public hearing on the state of Naomi Weiner’s property on Bates Lane, which has a barn and carriage house on it that were found by the board to be in a state of disrepair.

"The barn is unsafe because the walls are leaning, the doorways large and small are just open, it could sometime fall down especially because there is more water damage underneath it, where there aren’t any sills," said Overbaugh, according to minutes taken at the hearing. "Of course, we can have vagrants and kids, what have you enter the barn anytime."

The barn was described as "deteriorating" and the carriage house as a "heap," by Overbaugh.

Weiner brought a lawsuit against the town about a year ago, Ryan told The Enterprise on Tuesday; she alleged that the town was negligent in constructing a culvert near her property. Ryan said that the town’s insurance company is handling the claim; he did not know what stage it was in.

"The barn, house and property sat there [and] were dry until the town started to work on the drainage and then the flooding began and was consistently getting worse," said Eric, who is married to Naomi Weiner, according to the minutes of the hearing.

The Weiners could not be reached for comment this week.

"Someone had poured concrete on the end of the culvert," said Highway Superintendent Chase. "When you have a blockage like that, you are talking about the culvert getting backed up, you get people that are upstream, the water keeps backing up and it starts flooding their houses."

Weiner’s husband said that, about two years ago, flooding made it impossible to live at the property on Bates Lane. He also said, "Other than the debris that has washed in from the floods there is no poured concrete in or next to the culvert at all."

Ryan said that the costs of getting rid of the carriage house and barn can be charged to the owner of the property; the cost of fixing the culvert cannot.

Other business

In other business, the town board:

— Heard a letter from Richard and Nadia Creamer, who are concerned about a Westerlo snowmobile club being able to use Rensselaerville roads as snowmobile trails. They said that Councilwoman Myra Dorman is planning to propose legislation against using town roads as snowmobile trails;

— Heard a letter from Georgette Keonig who is concerned about the town newsletter. Keonig said that the newsletter is infused with Nickelsberg’s opinions.

Nickelsberg responded that the newsletter-writers are dedicated to fairness. "If anyone feels there are false facts in the newsletter," he said, "they are welcome to come in and get the tape of the meeting";

— Heard a report from Nickelsberg that the town’s account balance was $1.9 million, which is in certificates of deposit and bank accounts;

— Heard from highway superintendent Chase that his department is working on Niles Road and Cheese Hill Road, which will be closed on June 12 and 13;

— Voted unanimously to keep Icon as its copier company;

— Voted unanimously to choose AirNet, the only bidder, to do its computer networking for $13,000;

— Voted unanimously to accept a bid of $375 for the town’s old mower and a bid of $560 for the town’s 1990 GMC truck;

— Voted unanimously to appoint Garret Platel to assist the water treatment officer;

— Voted unanimously to appoint Nancy Class as the supervisor’s clerk;

— Heard from Nickelsberg that there is a facility on Route 85 with "some significant land." The board is looking into forming a group from the four Hilltowns to get a grant that will build a community center there, which, Nickelsberg said, is "exactly in the center of the four Hilltowns";

— Heard from Tom Kropp, who suggested that the town start charging people for false fire alarms after the first offense. He said that surrounding towns have adopted similar policies; and

— Heard from Ken Cooke that the baseball field is 90 percent done. There is new dirt, backstops, bleachers, and a sound system – all paid for with private funds. "From Little League to Babe Ruth takes a regulation field," said Cooke, regarding the idea of building a bigger ball field.

"On the newsletter," added Cooke, "good job. But it’s good that people criticize it – that’s what the good old USA is about: freedom of speech."


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