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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, August 9, 2007

Public soon will see hamlet plan

By Tyler Schuling

EAST BERNE — Nan Stolzenberg, the planner hired to help East Berne create a vision for its future, will present her findings to the public this fall.

A handful of residents of the rural hamlet has objected strenuously to changing its character, but Stolzenberg says there has been misinformation in the community about the study.

"We’re still putting final touches on things," said Stolzenberg, of Community Planning and Environmental Associates. Stolzenberg was contracted through the Capital District Transportation Committee to conduct a study on traffic and pedestrian conditions in the hamlet.

Stolzenberg often works with communities in the Capital Region on their comprehensive land-use plans.

The East Berne hamlet, located just less than five miles east of Berne near a small lake, is zoned as mixed-use, with businesses and residential use. Houses, businesses, a church, and a firehouse line its main street.

Stolzenberg hopes to meet in September with Berne’s town and planning boards and to present the results of the study to the public.

At the public meeting, she will explain her team’s recommendations, and a public comment period will follow. She plans to then make copies of the study available to the public at the Berne library and at the town hall.

Last year, two community meetings were conducted that included visioning and identification of issues; both were attended by over 40 residents, she said. "We had two very well-attended meetings."

Funded by the town and the CDTC, the study is part of a linkage program, which aims to help municipalities study and understand the relationship between their roads and pedestrians.

The linkage program is available to small and large communities in the four Capital District counties — Albany, Schenectady, Rensselaer, and Saratoga, according to Jason Purvis with the CDTC. Purvis said the linkage program "helps a community create a vision."

The CDTC is funding half of the $12,000 study. Once the study has been reviewed, it will be posted on the committee’s website on its "Final Reports" page, Purvis said.

The East Berne study is part of the town’s methodical look at its hamlets; it started with a study of the Berne hamlet three years ago, Stolzenberg said.

The Berne hamlet was rezoned in 2005 after a year of planning and heated debate; the town board, in a 3-to-2 vote, rezoned the hamlet from largely residential to traditional neighborhood mixed use.

Supervisor Kevin Crosier likened the East Berne hamlet to "downtown Beirut" during his first campaign for supervisor. Crosier has fond memories of a bustling hamlet, where his mother and father owned a grocery store.

The hamlet study, Stolzenberg said, is not like a comprehensive land-use plan, which has to be approved. She described the study as "a toolbox" and "food for thought." The study could be adopted as a supplement to the town’s comprehensive land-use plan, she said.

"It’s totally up to the town," Stolzenberg said, adding that it is not the intent of the process.

A small group of Main Street residents opposes sidewalks, added signs, a bike trail, and street lights. Roy Lamberton, who lives south of the hamlet, has written letters to the Enterprise editor in opposition to the study. Peggy Warner, who chairs Berne’s Repulican committee, has also scrutinized the East Berne study.

In a letter to Lamberton, Stolzenberg’s attorney, Jonathan E. Cohen of Hudson, cites a November letter to the Enterprise editor written by Lamberton’s group and advises Lamberton "to cease and desist from making any further false and/or defamatory statements."

Stolzenberg’s website — www.planningbetterplaces.com — lists many of her clients’ documents. After a draft has been reviewed and shown to the public, she posts the documents at a municipality’s request.

Stolzenberg said she "would be very glad to answer any questions" and address residents’ concerns and fears.

Helderbergs break ground in community wind project research

By Tyler Schuling

HILLTOWNS — Wind power is moving in the Hilltowns. The Helderbergs are part of groundbreaking research in community wind projects.

The goal of the Helderberg Wind Project, according to Kathleen Moore, has always been to produce a prospectus to determine a community-owned project’s feasibility and to create an ownership model.

The owner and operator of Integrated Environmental Data, Moore is a certified consulting meteorologist, specializing in acoustic sounding, whose job takes her around North America. For the project, she is working with Daniel Capuano of Hudson Valley Community College and Loren Pruskowski of Sustainable Energy Developments.

The group started the Helderberg Wind Project several years ago by holding informational sessions in the Hilltowns after learning of funding opportunities offered by the New York State Energy and Research Development Authority.

The project is being funded $119,860 by NYSERDA, according to Ray Hull, a spokesman for the authority.

Moore hopes the Helderberg Wind Project will serve as a model to other communities throughout New York State. There is no model for a community wind project in New York, she said, adding that there are models in the Midwest — in Iowa and Minnesota. Moore called the research project "groundbreaking."

To aid in the project, a meteorological tower was erected in Knox along Middle Road in October to collect data for 18 months.

The land on which the meteorological tower stands belongs to Russell and Amy Pokorny, who hold monthly informational meetings about wind energy at their octagonal barn, also located on the property. The Pokornys have a personal windmill for their Beebe Road home in Knox. (See related story.)

The Middle Road tower is currently recording wind speed, wind direction, and temperature measurements. In May — migration season — radar was used to monitor, count, and locate birds at the site, Moore said, adding that a bat study will also be conducted. There has been "heavy community involvement," Moore said. For the bird study, 16 members of the community were trained, she said.

Data gathered from the tower and SODAR (SOnic Detection And Ranging) will be used to write an energy production report, which will be included in the prospectus, she said.

After looking at eight or nine places in Berne, Knox, and Rensselaerville, the consensus at initial informational public meetings was to use the Middle Road property as a research site, Moore said.

There’s a lot of interest in local ownership, Moore said, and NYSERDA is getting a lot of calls. A conference she attended in 2001 drew a crowd of 1,000 to 1,500 people; this year, at a conference in Los Angeles, nearly 7,000 attended.

"The industry has just taken off since 2000," Moore said.

Getting away from fossil fuels, a heightened public awareness of global warming, and the declining cost of wind energy per kilowatt are contributing to wind power’s attractiveness, Moore said. Wind energy is "so dynamic" and "constantly changing," she said. Moore cited General Electric’s purchases of other companies creating momentum, and bigger players giving the industry credibility.

Wind power is competing with other energy resources, Moore said, adding that the cost of wind never goes up.

By 2013, 25-percent of electricity sold in New York State must come from renewable sources via the Renewable Portfolio Standard.

Though Moore doesn’t often get involved in personal windmills, her partner, Loren Pruskowski, does, she said. Recently, Pruskowski was the lead contractor of a larger wind turbine project at the Jiminy Peak ski resort in Hancock, Mass.

Albany County Legislator Alexander "Sandy" Gordon, who represents three of the Hilltowns — Berne, Knox, and Rensselaerville — has been a proponent of wind energy and a partner in the Hilltown project. Gordon has been very helpful, "knows everybody," and provided her with an understanding of the political landscape, she said.

"He’s a big supporter of wind energy," Moore said.

If adopted by the town, Knox would have to go through the SEQRA (State Environmental Quality Review Act) process to obtain a permit, she said.

The meteorological tower has been taking measurements at the Middle Road site for nearly a year. Moore said it is too early to go over the data, and added, "I’m not discouraged by anything."

Griessler reaches century mark

By Tyler Schuling

EAST BERNE — August 14 marks a century for Elizabeth Griessler.

The second oldest in a family of nine brothers and sisters, she is the only living sibling.

To celebrate, Mrs. Griessler’s family and a few close friends will be throwing a party at the Chariot Restaurant in Guilderland, where she will meet her great-great-grandchild for the first time.

Born in the United States to a Hungarian family, Mrs. Griessler moved to Hungary with her sister and mother when she was just a year old. She remained there until she was 16. Then she moved back to the States, to New York City, with her sister, Mary. While living in New York City, Mrs. Griessler and her sister worked for a wealthy family on Park Avenue. Mary worked as a cook, and Mrs. Griessler worked as a chambermaid.

The two spoke only Hungarian, and they attended night school to learn English. Mrs. Griessler visited her mother in Hungary once after moving to the United States — in 1965 with her husband, daughter, and son-in-law. Her mother died one year later.

"It was good we’d all gone," said Mrs. Griessler’s daughter, Eleanor Giebitz.

As her mother’s birthday approaches, she has been busy compiling pictures for a collage. When the family gets together, Mrs. Giebitz said, she hopes to take pictures of all the family’s generations.

Mrs. Griessler met her husband, Frank, in New York City at a dance. After dating for nearly two years, they were married in 1929. Mrs. Griessler gave birth to her son, Paul, in 1930, and, in 1931, the small family moved upstate, where they owned a dairy farm in Duanesburg for many years. Their milk was sold to the Pine Grove in Duanesburg.

"I like the country better," Mrs. Griessler said.

Her husband, Frank Griessler, who was five years older, died in the 1970s.

Mrs. Griessler still lives in her East Berne home. Because she no longer drives or cooks, Mrs. Giebitz often acts as her "chauffeur," she said, and cooks her mother’s meals.

Mrs. Giebitz and her husband live just a few doors down, and Mrs. Giebitz works nearby at Helderberg Bluestone and Marble.

Mrs. Griessler’s home on the Helderberg Trail in East Berne is filled with many mementos. In her living room, photographs of grandchildren rest on her TV stand, a large picture of her wedding day hangs on a wall, and many vases sit on a shelf in her bay window.

Though she no longer cooks or drives a car, Mrs. Griessler continues to stay active in a variety of ways.

She meets with senior citizens once a month and attends church at Saint Bernadette Church in Berne every Sunday.

She also watches TV, reads the newspaper, and plays pinochle once a week.

"Not for money," Mrs. Griessler said.

Windmills in the Hills
Staying rural: Dream the possible dream

By Tyler Schuling

HILLTOWNS — John Urrutia used to regularly climb the 100-foot tower of his home’s windmill to service the turbine on top.

His windmill paid for itself in four or five years, and the electricity bills for his Crystal Lake home in Rensselaerville were sometimes eliminated.

"Clearly it’s a smart thing to do," said his son, Frederick Urrutia, who now lives at the home with his wife.

At age 77, John Urrutia no longer climbs the tower. The windmill has stopped turning, but younger Hilltowners have taken up the cause as Helderberg towns draft laws to keep the rural landscapes safe.

The Helderberg contingent is part of a nationwide trend.

In 2006, electricity created by wind energy amounted to 11,603 megawatts in the United States, and the industry has grown an average of 22 percent over the last five years, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

John Pratt, of Berne, recently built a 120-foot tall wind turbine at his Woodstock Road property. With 12-and-a-half-foot blades, the windmill provides electricity for his home. As Pratt prepared to erect his tower, the town of Berne did not yet have a local law on wind turbines. He worked with the town’s planning board, and got his neighbors’ approval.

Pratt currently works for BBL Construction Services in Albany, and was once an engineer for U.S. Power, which operated a commercial wind farm in Altamont Pass, Calif.

Pratt’s self-supporting lattice tower is standing at an elevation of 1,700 feet above sea level. Located atop a hill, the windmill, which is the first in Berne, has been an attraction for the community.

"There’s been a lot of people stopping by," Pratt said. "They listen. They look"Somebody’s got to break the ice," he said.

Costing just under $55,000, the 10-kilowatt windmill is manufactured by Bergey, an Oklahoma-based company. Pratt is also a dealer for Bergey, and sells the windmills at RJP in Niskayuna (Schenectady County). He received $27,000 in grant money from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. The site of the windmill gets Class 3 winds, which are sufficient for producing energy.

NYSERDA, he said, will not fund a windmill unless wind speeds average 10 to 12 miles per hour or more.

Pratt said wind turbines are good for the environment and a household’s economy, and they help relieve a dependency on foreign oil.

His took two days to install — one day to pour concrete and another to construct and raise the tower. Once it was put together, an Altamont crane company lifted the tower into place. Pratt dug a three-foot trench from the base of the windmill to his home’s basement for a two-inch conduit, which contains electrical wires.

The turbine began operating at 9 a.m. on June 20. As of about 3 p.m. on July 9, it had created 375 kilowatts. With only three moving parts, Pratt said, the windmill doesn’t require much maintenance.

Since erecting the tower, Pratt said, at least one neighbor has complained at length about his windmill. Another drawback is the uncertainty of weather.

"Wind is extremely unpredictable. [My wind turbine] hasn’t been spinning for two days," he said this week.

At 47, Pratt expects that when he is 60 he won’t have a utility bill, and he estimates a five- to seven-year payback. Depending on the town, it takes one to one-and-a-half years from conception to execution of a personal windmill, he said.

AWS True Wind in Albany, Pratt said, which performs mapping studies around the world, had previously taken measurements in his area, which helped him determine wind speed.

Pratt pointed to wind power conditions in other parts of the world, and said the towers in Europe "are everywhere, and they’ve been there for years."

Supportive super, wary neighbor

Pratt applauded Berne Supervisor Kevin Crosier and the Berne Planning Board for their support and efforts throughout the project.

Using as a template a law from the town of Clinton, which applies to both personal and utility-scale windmills and distinguishes between the two, Berne’s conservation board is currently working to complete wind-energy regulations for the town.

Crosier has supported Pratt’s windmill from the beginning. He speculates that windmills won’t catch on until they become more affordable, and people no longer have to seek grant money. Crosier said he lives about four or five miles from Andy Freihofer’s wind tower. Freihofer erected his windmill near the Knox-Berne border half a dozen years ago after Crosier built his home. Freihofer’s windmill was approved by Knox’s zoning board of appeals.

"I can barely see it," Crosier said, adding that Hilltown residents value their views of mountains and the rural landscape.

"That’s what they cherish," he said.

Crosier compared personal windmills to larger utility-scale commercial windmills. When you look at the two, the one with the least impact is a personal windmill, he said.

When designing a waste-water treatment plant for the town’s sewer project, Berne considered another renewable energy source — the sun. But the town abandoned the idea for photovoltaic panels because it was "a little cost-prohibitive," Crosier said.

Dan Burns, a former Berne Planning Board member who lives near Freihofer, has mixed feelings about wind power.

Burns’s home is located less than a mile from Freihofer’s windmill; Burns said he can hear the windmill and it can be seen from the road.

"It is very loud," Burns said. He compared the noise from the windmill to "bulldozers running constantly."

There have not been any disputes between Burns and Freihofer, and, Burns said, he knows of no disputes between Freihofer and others.

"It’s there, and there’s not much one can do about it," he said of the windmill.

While Burns called the windmill "a pollution," he said he hopes the windmill benefits Freihofer and provides him with good energy production.

"If it does, I suppose it’s worthwhile," Burns said. He called windmills "a big question."

They would help with "our need to go green," he said, but they also have detractions — visually and with noise.

No tests needed

Russell and Amy Pokorny installed a 1-kilowatt Bergey windmill at their Beebe Road home in Knox last fall. The Pokornys also erected ground-mounted solar panels that track the sun across the sky.

Russell Pokorny, Knox’s assessor, works from home for a small software company. Amy Pokorny is a member of Knox’s zoning board of appeals.

The Pokornys’ windmill sends power to 12 batteries in their basement, which store and power their home. Controls in their kitchen allow them to monitor their power.

The Pokornys are off the grid but can connect by flipping a switch if their power goes too low. They do not sell their surplus energy to the electric company as Pratt does; once their batteries are fully charged, excess energy is used to heat water.

In addition to erecting a windmill, the Pokornys bought a refrigerator, a hot-water heater, and a well pump. Altogether, they spent about $35,000.

Having lived at their Knox home for over 15 years, the Pokornys did not perform or consult wind tests before going ahead with the project. Russell Pokorny said they knew how hard the wind blew at their home. The trees surrounding their home lean to the east, due to predominant west and northwest winds. The Pokornys did not seek funds from NYSERDA.

Manufactured by the same company as Pratt’s windmill — Bergey — the Pokorny’s 100-foot-tall tower is different from Pratt’s self-supporting lattice tower. Their tower — a tall, round metal pole — is anchored to four concrete slabs in the ground by guy wires placed at 20-foot intervals.

Russell Pokorny created a link ("Home Power") at The Traditional Strings website — www.tradstrings.com — detailing the project.

Out of the gate

Also in Knox, James Devine will soon be installing a 70-foot tall Skystream residential 1.8 kilowatt wind turbine at his home at Helderberg Estates. The Skystream, manufactured by Southwest Wind Power, will be connected to the grid and provide the electric company with the windmill’s surplus.

On July 20, Devine estimated the wind turbine would arrive in the next four or five weeks. Like the Pokorny’s windmill, Devine’s tower will be a guyed pole, and the turbine will have white blades.

At a public hearing last month, the windmill was approved by the Knox Planning Board, and no residents opposed it, said Daniel Driscoll, a long-time planning-board member and retired engineer.

Before approving the windmill, Driscoll, concerned the windmill would be seen from state land, walked trails in John Boyd Thacher State Park.

Based on manufacturer’s data, Driscoll calculated the sound level will not exceed 35 decibels at the nearest residence, which is the home of Rick Georgeson, a spokesman for the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation.

Driscoll, who worked for the DEC and the state’s Public Service Commission as a noise-control engineer before retiring, said he was surprised because he considers 35 decibels a normal, appropriate sound level limit in a quiet, rural community, which shouldn’t cause annoyance or complaints.

While background noise in rural areas frequently drops into the low 20s, even 35 decibels can be noticeable if the ambient noise drops low enough, Driscoll said.

Both Devine and Pokorny were required to follow a stipulation in Knox’s cellular tower ordinance — to place their towers at least 1.5 times the height of the tower from the nearest property boundary, so that, should their towers fall, they would not fall on a neighbor’s property. Devine’s tower, at 70 feet tall, will be erected at least 105 feet from his neighbors’ yards.

Long-time owner

In 1985, John Urrutia erected a personal windmill on his property near Crystal Lake, where his son, Frederick Urrutia, now lives.

The windmill provided power for the log cabin home for nearly 15 years.

It is no longer operational, and Whirlwind, the Minnesota-based company from which the elder Urrutia purchased the tower, is no longer in business. It is difficult to locate parts, and a few spare parts for the windmill are stored in a shed on the property.

For the first seven years that the windmill was operating, the house was used as a vacation and weekend home, and the turbine sent power to the grid five out of seven days with the home drawing little power. John Urrutia then retired in 1992 and lived at the home permanently.

The electric company bought the surplus at a lower rate, the Urrutias said, estimating it at half its retail price. The electric company sent Urrutia checks for the power he sent to the grid, thereby eliminating some of his monthly electric bills.

"For me, it was a matter of keeping my electric bill down, which it did for many years," said John Urrutia.

When planning for the windmill over two decades ago, John Urrutia didn’t have as many neighbors as now, and he was not required to go door-to-door to get his neighbors’ approval for the project.

With more neighbors and new regulations, Frederick Urrutia expects that, should he go ahead with another windmill, he would first need to get the nod from his neighbors.

Also, if he were to begin anew, he said, he would make the tower a guyed tower, which could easily be lowered to the ground.

Because the current tower is a fixed guyed tower bolted to a concrete slab, John Urrutia and an expert from the manufacturer who annually performed maintenance had to climb the tower to do so.

Though the tower was hit by lightning, the windmill was not affected.

Frederick Urrutia, who now lives in Rensselaerville permanently, operates his communications business, Broadband Technologies, out of his home. He is currently working on Rensselaerville’s telecommunications committee to bring better Internet, cell phone, and emergency services communication to the Hilltowns and has suggested using the defunct tower on his property as a site for cell phone antennas.

On a warm, sunny Saturday last week, the Urrutias looked upward at the dormant turbine in the sky. They remembered the windmill’s advantages and considered steps they needed to take to get its blades spinning again.

"It was pretty nice because it was usually spinning. It was usually producing something. It would be very rare where it wasn’t turning," John Urrutia said.

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