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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, September 21, 2006

Chartier hired
Consultant for sewer project

By Tyler Schuling

BERNE — The town board hired a licensed engineer to work as a consultant on its sewer project.

Gerry Chartier, of New Scotland, will primarily coordinate with contractors for easements.

"I’d be more of a facilitator," he said, also stating the position is temporary without any benefits.

Years in the planning stages, the sewer district will serve the hamlet of Berne. The hamlet has many historic homes with inadequate septic systems, which were polluting the Fox Creek.

Although the town board’s vote last Wednesday was unanimous on hiring Chartier, the resolution was scaled back from Supervisor Kevin Crosier’s initial plan.

Crosier supported hiring Chartier as a part-time town employee, citing Chartier’s expertise and experience with the sewer district, the cost for employing him saving the town money, and much higher costs charged by Lamont Engineers.

Lamont, Crosier said, charges $100 per hour for its services, many of which could be performed by Chartier.

Crosier said the board met with Chartier in an effort to reduce costs and keep residents informed.

"We don’t want to run up any more engineering expenses," Crosier said.

"I’m just squirming a little at the $50 an hour," said Councilman James Hamilton, referring to Chartier’s pay.

Members in the audience also were reluctant.

The recommendation was made to create an advisory board to perform some of the tasks outlined in the letter Chartier submitted to the board.

A town resident also made the recommendation that the town advertise for a volunteer, or ask for a person to fill the position at a lower rate than $50 per hour.

Crosier said he didn’t think a volunteer could have the expertise of Chartier, who is a licensed engineer. Crosier also supported Chartier by stating, "He’s familiar with the project."

The cost for sewer district residents, $620 per year, Crosier said, would not go up in cost and the money for Chartier’s services would come out of the sewer district fund.

Other business

In other business, the town board:

— Heard a question from Albany County Legislator Alexander (Sandy) Gordon about the town’s current procedures. Gordon asked if the town had an equipment replacement program.

Crosier replied, "We do for trucks." He added, "We have such an old fleet of trucks, that it’s costing us more to maintain them"We’ve replaced three trucks and a mower in the last three years";

— Heard from Crosier that the Albany County Sheriff’s Department has said the Advanced Life Support program for 2007 will cost Berne $50,521.25, a decrease to the town of about $40.000. The ALS program provides paramedics in a fly car to respond to life-threatening medical emergencies;

— Heard from Crosier that the town did not receive a grant for shared municipal functions with the school. "We did not make the list for the 2.5 million," he said. "So we did not get that grant";

— Heard from Crosier that the town is 13th on a list of 23 for an enhancement project to improve sidewalks and bike routes. Last year, he said, the governor’s office, which gives the award, chose the first four on the list and the 16th;

— Heard from Crosier that he and Albany County Executive Michael Breslin have sent out a letter to residents of Berne, asking for feedback on the proposed merger of the county’s department of public works and the town’s highway department. Crosier said, "Hopefully, we’ll get some feedback";

— Heard from Hamilton about the meeting, which is taking place on Sept. 27 in Voorheesville, about communities saving through inter-municipal agreements. Crosier stated that New York State is 53 percent above the national average in property tax. He said, "I’m committed to reducing taxes";

— Set its budget meeting for Sept. 25 at 6 p.m. at Town Hall;

— Heard from Crosier that he had called Richardson Pump Service to install a pump, which will test the water for the town’s well in Berne’s park. Crosier said he was waiting for a call from Richardson to set a date to install the submersible pump;

— Heard from Crosier that the senior housing project Jeff Thomas is planning will be explained on Oct. 5 at 7 p.m. Michael Vincent, Crosier said, will roll out the proposal and take questions from senior citizens. Councilman Hamilton asked Crosier if Vincent had estimates for the cost of the center. "The key," Crosier said, "is making something affordable and making it nice";

— Heard the commendation of Andrew Cortez, who built the barbecue at the town park for his Eagle Scout project. Councilman Hamilton noted the difficulty of achieving the rank, and said, "A very small percentage make it to Eagle Scout." The board, after Crosier’s motion, decided to send Cortez a certificate of recognition; and

— Heard thanks from Berne Historical Society member, Linda Carman. Carman thanked the board for attending the dedication of the World War II Honor Roll held at town park last month.

Knox to have a site of its own"

By Tyler Schuling

KNOX — The town board is enthusiastic about establishing a website for Knox.

Robert Price, the chairman of the Knox Planning Board, has been pushing for the town to have its own website, and last Tuesday the town board heard his argument.

Price, before introducing Robert Aronson, of Hilltop Computing, updated the board on the status of residents’ access to information about the town via the Internet.

Information about Town Hall and town events, he said, could be found through a website created by Knox resident and zoning board secretary, Robert Simpson. The site (helderweb.com), Price explained, had recently been taken down. While it was up and running, it had a link to the town, but did not stand alone as its own.

"We’ve never had our own website," Price said.

He also stated that the site once used as the town’s information site contained some out-dated information, and didn’t include the names of elected officials, their contact information, or the town’s upcoming events.

"The town officers should be there"because they’re elected," Price told The Enterprise.

Upon being introduced and highly recommended by Price, Aronson presented board members with copies of a written proposal.

Aronson provided detailed information of what would be included on the town’s website, should the board elect to create a site and contract his services.

In the design and implementation of the site, Aronson said, he would include all relevant information pertaining to Town Hall and the elected officials — hours, officials’ names, positions, contact information, and schedules. Also, Aronson said, the minutes from board meetings would be archived and easily accessible to the public.

In August, The Enterprise had editorialized about the need for town records to be organized and accessible, and recommended archiving minutes on a town website.

The site, Aronson said, would also include: a map; listings of planned road work; a page for the historical society; a photo gallery; a link to the homeland security site; government phone numbers; calendars; and a mission statement of the town, should the town choose to have one.

The total cost for design and implementation, Aronson said, would be $1,275. Half would be paid to him upon acceptance, and the other half paid upon completion. He’d charge $50 per month to maintain the site. For major changes, he said, the charge would be $50 per hour.

The site would be completed 30 days from acceptance, and there would be a review before the site goes up.

After hearing Aronson’s proposal, Councilman Nicholas Viscio, proposed the board discuss the matter further before making a decision. The board and Price then discussed the advantage of having a local resident, such as Aronson, perform all maintenance and up-dating of the town website. Board members agreed to discuss the matter further, and decided to secure a domain name (an address for the town of Knox site) before coming to a conclusion.

Councilwoman Patricia Gage said of Aronson, "He’s local. I highly recommend him."

A town website could play a critical role by posting bulletins in cases of emergencies, Price told The Enterprise this week.

He said that five years ago, when the town had heavy snows and very warm temperatures, a town website could have informed residents what was going on in their town.

"There was water everywhere," said Price. "It would have been nice to have seen what was closed up."

The initial cost to the town for hiring Aronson to create the website, Price said, is very reasonable. He compared Aronson’s proposal with the nearby town of Rotterdam, which, he said, spent $5,000 to update its website.

Price said of Aronson, "He knows what he’s doing. He’s honest, he’s fair, and he does what he says he’s going to do."

Other business

In other business, the town board:

— Approved the request of Robert Haas to replace a trailer at Nash Road;

— Approved the appointment of Thomas Wolfe to the planning-board post left vacant by the resignation of Martin Strnad;

— Acknowledged Kevin Sherman, Jason Norray, and Andrew Cortez for achieving the rank of Eagle Scout in Troop 79.

"We’re very pleased to have these people here," Supervisor Michael Hammond said of the Scouts. He added that he would write letters for their achievements for their portfolios;

— Acknowledged Knox resident Megan Mason for becoming Miss Altamont Fair. Hammond said, "It’s a nice honor for a local resident";

— Set the date for budget workshops for the 2007 fiscal year for Sept. 26 and Oct. 3 at 7 p.m. at Town Hall;

— Heard from Hammond that the highway-by-use law pertains to certain roads within the town that had been under question. The roads in question were Helderberg, Malachi, and Whipple roads.

Hammond said he had spoken to the town’s attorney, John Dorfman, who was not present, and said, "We can use the highway-by-use statute because we have been running on those roads." The town has been maintaining the partly-private roads for years and will continue to do so; and

— Appointed Catherine Traina to the position of planning board secretary.

Repairs slated for two ‘horrible’ roads

By Tyler Schuling

RENSSELAERVILLE — Townpeople applauded the town board’s resolution last Thursday to give the highway department the go-ahead to repair two roads residents said are in "horrible shape."

Money from the highway department’s machinery fund, along with the money from the state’s Consolidated Highway Improvement Programs, will be used to repair Niles Road and Arnold Road before they are covered with snow.

Supervisor Jost Nickelsberg, a Republican, and Highway Superintendent G. Jon Chase, a Democrat, have been at odds since Nickelsberg took office in January. Nickelsberg has asserted that road repairs, which are costly, should last longer than they do, and he has said Rensselaerville roads compare poorly with those in the other Hilltowns.

The resolution to repair the roads came after the board heard Chase recommend that the monies from the highway department’s machinery fund and the CHIPs money be used for the repairs.

After the board discussed the cost of repairing the roads, and considered holding a meeting later after doing a cost-benefit analysis, Nickelsberg asked Chase, "So if we spend $137,000, we’ll have a 10-year-road on Niles, and you’ll complete Arnold" And that will also be a 10-year-road""

"Yes," Chase replied.

Nickelsberg then said, "I applaud you," and made a motion to approve the resolution.

CHIPs funding, Chase told The Enterprise, is money used for extra road work, which can only be used for roads or equipment and is only granted upon the completion of a project.

In 2005, Chase said, the town’s highway department received $98,150 from CHIPs, and, in 2006, it will receive $112,321.

Thursday night, Chase informed the board that the check from CHIPs is expected around Sept. 20.

"That money, I want back into the highway," Chase told the board. He added, "Each year, I have a machinery fund. This year it was $100,000." Chase then stated that the highway department needs two trucks, to be bought with the machinery-fund money.

"If we’re not going to buy the trucks, I want to put that money into roads," he said.

The combination of the CHIPs money and the machinery fund, Chase said, "would do Arnold and Niles roads""

Nickelsberg told The Enterprise this week that the total cost for completing both roads will be around $90,000.

Chase told the board that he needed to complete the roads within the next two to three weeks, or they wouldn’t be finished before the bad weather.

"I don’t like putting blacktop down in the cold," he said.

The board deliberated for some time, and asked Chase if he needed the entire $137,000 to complete Niles and Arnold roads. He said that he probably wouldn’t need all the money.

The report

Chase, reading from his notes, began his report by giving his analysis of the roads he submitted to the board for repair last fall.

While reporting on the condition of town roads — Niles Road, Cheese Hill Road, and Arnold Road — Chase was repeatedly questioned and scrutinized by Nickelsberg.

Nickelsberg referred to multiple letters from town residents, and stated they’d made complaints about road repairs that had been started but abandoned before completion. The roads, he said, had resulted in abnormal wear of tires and damage to vehicles.

Nickelsberg said of certain roads within the town — Pond Hill, Tanglewood, and Kenyon roads — "They’re in horrendous shape."

Chase cited multiple reasons why town roads were in poor condition and why the highway department hadn’t completed maintenance of certain roads.

The reasons he cited were: many miles of town roads (83.2); lack of funding; outdated, improper material used for the original construction of town roads; rising prices for oil and materials; and the unforeseen expense of flooding this summer, which depleted a large portion of the allotted funds for highway department.

"It cost $60,000 to $80,000 to repair roads which had been washed out," Chase said, adding that he had asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency for funding.

Chase told The Enterprise that he did not receive any money from FEMA.

Golf Road, he told the board, was damaged from flooding and took four to five days to repair.

Chase said of the expenses for paving a road, "It costs $92,000 per mile to prep a road."

"Give me more money," Chase told the board, "and we’ll do more work."

Nickelsberg stated, "I, as a taxpayer, am wanting more out of those dollars."

"How is your road"" Chase asked Nickelsberg, who lives on Chase Lane.

"Potholes," he responded.

Chase replied, "I’m doing the best I can."

The Rensselaerville Highway Department, Chase told The Enterprise, is allocated approximately $255,000 per year for road repair. "Our total budget," he added, "is approximately $1.2 million, but you’ve got to figure all the workers’ expenses in with that."

At the start of Thursday’s meeting, Paul Malloy, who lives on Arnold Road, read a letter signed by residents who live on Arnold Road.

The road, the letter said, is in "horrible shape," is not finished, is not wide enough, and is soon to be snow-covered.

"Once we allocate," Nickelsberg said to Malloy, "we’re going to have a rigorous conversation. We’ve not had one conversation"You need to get together with Highway Super Chase." He added, "Sixty percent of your taxes are for roads."

Other business

In other business, the town board:

— Heard from Sal Santo, a land surveyor, that a report from Lamont Engineers was flawed. In its analysis of two town dams, Santo said, engineers from Lamont recommended structural changes but hadn’t recommended the town set up a monitoring network to observe the sites, and that the situation would be life-threatening.

On July 14, two engineers inspected the impoundment structure below Myosotis Lake, which supplies the hamlet of Rensselaerville with water, and also looked at the store dam located at Lincoln Pond, a contributing water body upstream of Myosotis Lake. The engineers outlined short-term repairs and recommended a long-term plan be developed by the town and Lamont Engineers.

Santo also said that the report had not been signed by a licensed engineer.

"It’s not a life-threatening situation," Nickelsberg responded. He added, "Until we get a specialist, "we don’t know if we have a problem."

Nickelsberg added that engineers for the Hyuck Preserve looked at the situation and didn’t find any problems;

— Heard a letter from Crystal Lake resident, Roger Zimmerman, describing Crystal Lake, a small residential community in northwestern Rensselaerville. Its population has changed little, most of the residents are third- or fourth-generation owners, Zimmerman said. Since it has a history of residential stability and has limited use, the lake maintains its quality. It is a small lake, the letter said, and it is not sufficient for public ventures; residents of Crystal Lake wish to maintain their community’s rural character;

— Heard from Nickelsberg that Lisa Kelly has volunteered for Welcome Wagon, which welcomes new residents to the town, and introduces them to local civic institutions and business with small gifts and coupons.

"She’s a great person to do this," Nickelsberg said;

— Set its bidding date for a used-oil furnace for Oct. 5 at 7 p.m. at Town Hall;

— Set its budget meeting for Oct. 5 at 7:10 p.m. at Town Hall;

— Appointed new members Ted and Pat Rice to the Medusa Fire Company;

— Heard from Chase that he has been elected president of the Albany County Town Highway Superintendents Association;

— Heard a question from Sheila Whiteford, a resident whose home has been flooded four times. Whiteford asked why, since her home was flooded this summer, her taxes have gone up. The town’s attorney, William Ryan, said, "I can’t answer that. I don’t know why."

Ryan then speculated, and said that the assessment of her home was probably still the same but that the assessment rate may have risen. "I’d have to guess, but the school’s taxes may have gone up," he said.

Town Assessor Jeff Pine, said the date for the next review of residential properties is March 1. He later said to Whiteford, "We have to stick to a calendar. We have to set a date and time.

"You’re going to be the first person I talk to," Pine said to Whiteford; and

— Heard Whiteford commend residents Robert Bolte and Steven Wood, volunteers who excavated the property near Whiteford’s house last month to put the stream, which had flooded her property and done considerable damage, back in its original path. The men, following the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation’s guidelines, spent about a day-and-a-half to complete the work.

Whiteford, in an act of appreciation, presented Bolte and Wood with plaques for their efforts.

"I don’t have the words to describe how I feel about you guys"You’re the best," Whiteford said. "I salute you."

More help needed
Williman devoted to harvesting for the hungry

By Tyler Schuling

KNOX — Pauline Williman surveys her field, kneels to the ground, and examines the condition of her beets. She says they are coming along well. Williman walks on to the next row and looks at each plant carefully; she takes her time, inspects each plant scrupulously, and makes mental notes of the various plants.

The field, which holds a large variety of produce, will be used for one purpose — to feed the hungry.

"No one ever left my parents’ home hungry," she says.

Williman was born on her family’s Ketchum Road farm 80 years ago, and has worked and maintained the farmland for the past 65 years. In 1997, she put the land into a trust and named it the Patroon Land Foundation (The farmland was once part of the original Van Rensselaer patroonship under Dutch Colonial rule).

In 1988, Williman’s mother died, and the estate was settled in 1991. Following her mother’s death, Williman, through observing what others had done to protect their land and use their resources, discovered what she wanted to do.

"I went to Ireland, and was there 10 days," she said. "In the paper, the Irish Times, there was a job description of an educational farm trust"A short time after that, I cut clippings from the paper, sent them to my attorney, and said, ‘Go to work.’"

In the mid-1990’s, Williman, while perusing through her church’s bulletin, also discovered that a church in Michigan leased its land and raised $10,000 each year for its congregation.

It took 13 years of procedures to form her not-for-profit organization, but Williman prevailed.

When she approached the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York with the idea of using her farmland as a source for their mission, Executive Director, Mark Quandt, was responsive.

"What do you do when someone who’s brash enough walks into the food bank, and says, ‘I want to grow corn and squash for you"’" Williman said. "Most people would have thrown me out on my ear, but Mark didn’t, and it’s a good thing."

After the Patroon Land Foundation was formed in 2001, Williman, with the help of volunteers — students, at-risk groups, parents, and residents of the surrounding area — planted and harvested the field to supply the regional food bank.

The bank, which serves over 1,000 charitable agencies in 23 counties, distributed over 19.2 million pounds of food in 2005.

This spring, Williman and the food bank re-evaluated its commitment to the project and made some changes in order to carry out their mission.

Revisions to a commitment

"This is the first year we concentrated on having a larger variety," Quandt said of the produce. "We wanted it managed so that [the foundation] will have a future and will continue to be a growing source for the people we serve." He added, "We could have continued as we were, but we had to look at what we really wanted to accomplish."

In 2005, Williman’s efforts yielded 10,000 pounds of produce; corn, squash, and pumpkins were the main crops.

This spring, Williman, who had provided the funding for the plants in past years, was provided with 5,000 plants from the food bank.

"We planted broccoli, peppers, cabbage, tomatoes, eggplant, melons, beans, carrots, and beets," Williman said. She added, "Everything was planted at different times"There is a steady harvest to be picked up three times a week."

"When we started out, we only did corn and squash," Williman said.

In addition to planting additional crops, an expert was hired by the food bank to oversee the harvesting, packing, and loading of crops, and for general upkeep of the farmland.

"What we wanted to do, was hire a farmer to oversee the project on a daily basis," Tracey Martin, associate director of the food bank, said.

In May, the food bank hired Mark Weinheimer to oversee the project.

Weinheimer, who began farming as a young man, has farmed throughout his life. He lives in Brahmans Corners (Schenectady County), spends a considerable amount of time in the field, 50 to 55 hours each week, and makes the commute nearly every day.

"He took the weekend off," Williman said. "That shocked me."

As well as providing the project with a large assortment of crops and the services of a professional to oversee the farmland, the Regional Food Bank also purchased an electric car to transport harvested crops from the field to the food bank’s vans, which carry the produce to its headquarters in Latham.

"It’s been a great help," Williman said of the electric car.

Martin and Quandt both see the Patroon Land Foundation as an outstanding source of food for the agencies they supply. The quality of the crops harvested from Williman’s farm, they said, is superior to many other contributions they receive.

"A lot of other farms donate what they deem not acceptable," Martin said. She added, "A lot of the produce we get is flawed in some way. It’s not inedible. It’s perfectly good. It just doesn’t look beautiful on the shelf in a store. Some might have been damaged by hail or have a blemish or two, but it’s perfectly good for eating."

Quandt said of the Patroon Land Foundation, "The beauty of it is that within a day it’s gone," and sent to the many agencies it provides food for. Quandt also stated, "It’s nutritious, very high-quality, and there’s a good variety of it. We don’t often get a good variety."

The crops which were planted this spring, Martin said, will provide the food bank with a continuous flow of food.

"Corn has a short life," Martin said. "It must be eaten about two to three days after it’s picked."

Volunteers, funding needed

Though many have volunteered to help with the harvesting, planting, and general upkeep of the farmland, Mark Quandt said more are needed.

"We need people to help with the general upkeep of the farm," Quandt said. He added, "We need to keep the farm in the condition it needs to be in. There are many jobs."

On June 6, National Hunger Awareness Day, students from Berne-Knox-Westerlo came to the farm, and, Williman said, did an exemplary job.

"They knew what they were doing," she said. "They did a good job."

The students, Williman said, were from the country and had farming experience.

Martin said anyone is welcome to volunteer. Crews from The Albany Youth Build, a community development program, and the Department of Correctional Services, she said, have volunteered their services.

Volunteers work for many reasons, she said. "We had one woman who came to the farm with her kids," said Martin, "because she wanted to show them where food came from."

This past summer, Williman said, presented many challenges. Once early rains subsided, Williman had to replant the nine-acre field, three times.

"Two-thirds of early planting was washed out," she said.

"The rain made it tough," Quandt agreed.

"I applied for two grants," Williman said. "Both were turned down." She added, "Usually to get a grant, you have to be doing something new, something experimental"I want to get in with the Gates Foundation."

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is an organization that "favors preventative approaches and collaborative endeavors with government, philanthropic, private sector, and not-for-profit partners."

Williman also said she has done quite a bit of research on the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Its mission is "to help people help themselves through the practical application of knowledge and resources to improve their quality of life and that of future generations"; it ranks among the world’s largest private foundations.

"Any help we could get would be greatly appreciated," Quandt said.

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