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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, March 13, 2008

Knox board receptive to cell tower, some object

By Tyler Schuling

KNOX — Despite protest from some residents and a local land conservancy, the Knox Town Board voted unanimously on Tuesday to remove a piece of the town’s property from a land conservation district. 

In recent months, the board has discussed siting a 195-foot cellular tower on the town-owned property along Street Road and using the land to expand the town’s transfer station, which is adjacent to the property.  The board has also considered a site at Town Hall, also owned by the town, for a cellular tower.

On Tuesday, Councilman Dennis Decker said the town changed its zoning in the 1980s to allow the construction of a house. 

“It can be done.  It has been done.  We didn’t set a precedent,” said Decker.

Resident Jeff Cole, who lives across from the Street Road site, asked officials numerous questions, including: “Whose idea was it for the cell tower?”

Supervisor Michael Hammond said it was “need-driven to begin with — that cell coverage has not been ‘stellar’ to use a word.”

The town would benefit by increased cell coverage and, “at the same time,” enjoy a revenue stream “so that all the people in the town could enjoy the benefits of that,” Hammond said.

On Tuesday, Daniel Driscoll recommended the board only rezone about one acre for the expansion of the town’s transfer station. 

“Chances are that’s all we’re going to be using,” said Hammond.  “And it won’t be causing any kind of contamination.”

Driscoll is a long-time member of Knox’s planning board and a founder of the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy, which has a preserve near the site.  Peggy Sherman, the president of MHLC sent a letter to the town board, protesting the zoning change.  Driscoll said on Tuesday he was speaking as the principal editor of the Helderberg Escarpment Planning Guide.

“The transfer station is several hundred feet uphill from a stream — an unnamed stream that goes into the Bozenkill — which then goes to the [Watervliet Reservoir],” said Driscoll.  The Watervliet Reservoir provides drinking water for the town of Guilderland and the city of Watervliet.  “Any work done at the transfer station,” Driscoll said, “you should be very careful that any run-off doesn’t flow into the unnamed stream.”

Before the town board closed the hearing, Driscoll requested that “the record remain open for 24 hours to receive written comments from interested citizens.”

The board did not honor his request. 

Residents on water

At Tuesday’s hearing, residents echoed Driscoll, concerned a cell tower or the expansion of the town’s transfer station would contaminate their water.  Residents who live next to the property had been notified of the hearing through a letter sent by the town, Hammond said.  Some at the hearing said some on Street Road had not been notified.  One resident said a neighbor told him of the hearing.  Hammond said one letter was returned. 

Marilynn West, who lives near the site at 100 Street Road, said, “My main concern is my well.  I don’t see why we need to construct a tower that could contaminate all of our well water.”

Hammond said he had visited Middleburgh and Richmondville, towns that have towers.  He said cell towers have to have a standby generator, and that the town will make an agreement that it can’t be diesel- or gasoline-run and will be contained in a modular building.  Robert Price, the longtime chairman of Knox’s planning board, said that a generator would be run by propane.

“Anything that comes in or out of that can be controlled,” Hammond said, adding “You’re not going to get any kind of groundwater contamination.” 

He said of a tower’s aesthetics, “We all know that a tower is a tower.  And you will see it.  There’s no two ways about it.”

Laurel Tormey Cole, who lives at 99 Street Road, across from the transfer station, cited an analysis by six of the seven members of the planning board.  She said, “A lot of that area isn’t even under soil.  The limestone pavement is right at the surface.  Limestone pavement is known for its dissolution cracks and many of those cracks can go many feet down into the ground.”

Tormey Cole said, “Stripping the vegetation to permit construction on a cell tower, the storage of fuel for back-up generation for the cell tower operation, and servicing of the cell tower have potential to cause significant pollution of the groundwater that would threaten wells along Street Road.  There is an issue about whether the transfer station expansion might pose a similar threat.”

At the hearing, Tormey Cole requested a copy of the town’s cellular tower ordinance.  The ordinance was drafted last year by members of the planning board and regulates the placement of towers.  Tormey Cole said she had visited the town’s website days before the public hearing and could not access cellular tower information.  The town uploaded photographs taken from various locations in the town with computer-generated towers superimposed on the vistas. 

Tormey Cole cited findings by the College of Agriculture and Life Science from Cornell University, and said, “A plume can travel a long way as the groundwater moves to its discharge point.”

Once contaminated, Tormey Cole said, groundwater is very slow to return to its prior uncontaminated condition; preventing contamination is the best protection for groundwater.   

“I completely agree with what she said,” said Deborah Liddle, Knox’s court clerk.  Liddle lives on Middle Road, near the Street Road site.  “It took me two years to get good water up there, and I would hate to see anything happen to that at this point,” she said.  “I do agree that we do need cell tower service in the area, but I just don’t think that’s an ideal spot for it.”

Allen Meyers, who lives at 74 Street Road, said his main concern is with seeing a tower.  There are a lot of “ifs, a lot of possibilities,” Meyers said, because of the water and because of what could happen down the road. 

“It’s a pretty risky chance to take on Street Road,” he said,  “And then there’s no turning back.”

A 195-foot tower, he said, “would be part of the landscape for years to come.”

Meyers said of the MHLC’s Hudson and Nancy Winn Preserve, “Never been to the area mentioned, but, living there over the years, a lot of people visit the site.  It must be nice in there, but a cell tower isn’t nice.  Maybe, if it was built by beavers.”

“Being in the business for 36 years, building and concrete construction, I know what you could run into,” Meyers said, adding that there are crevices throughout the site and that a project could result in paint run-off, rust run-off, and concrete eating through steel. 

“They tell us now that phones may not be safe to use,” Meyers said.  “The tower is at the other end of that phone.  I don’t think it’s the plastic they’re talking about.”

Viscio on water

Councilman Nicholas Viscio said, “I am very aware of the way the geology works in this town…We’re really just not looking at the whole picture here and that picture is relative to what we’re considering — the escarpment.” 

“All of the limestone in this town dips or is slanted to the southwest at approximately 20 degrees,” he said.  “Every house in this town has a drilled well of some sort,” Viscio said.  If a spill occurs at the town park, the other proposed site, he said, it’s going to contaminate more houses in the hamlet, which is a far more densely populated area than at Street Road.

“I came to Knox because I was caving…and I appreciate the caves and the natural history of what karst features are.”

“Quite frankly,” Viscio said, “when it comes to karst features in this town and the preservation of our precious water, Albany County Health Department has got to do a lot more than they’re doing right now…because we’re concerned about a tower being placed on solid bedrock here that’s not going to put out a single effluent.”

Board on cell tower

Councilwoman Mary Ellen Nagengast said, “From a safety standpoint, every parent that I’ve talked to is a proponent of a cell tower, just for safety purposes.”

Councilwoman Patricia Gage said she thinks the board needs to look carefully at how a tower is constructed to hurt the least amount of people.  “No matter where it goes, somebody is going to get some effect from it,” said Gage.

“Cell towers are going to happen here,” said Viscio.  He had said earlier that he was, initially, “in total opposition” to a cellular tower being sited on Street Road.  “And this is, likely, not going to be the last cell tower in town,” Viscio said.  “We’re going to have one or two more.”

Viscio said he started hearing from a lot of people in town that they want a tower in town because they want cell coverage.  “There’s a big safety factor here,” Viscio said.  “That’s what I’ve been hearing from most people.”

After the hearing, Hammond said, when the tower is built, the road leading to the MHLC’s preserve will be kept “in the same, original condition.”

“Are you telling us that you’ve made your decision, and that it’s going up on Street Road?” Tormey Cole asked. 

“It sure sounds like it.  You’re convinced,” said Jeff Cole.

“I am,” Hammond said. 

Hammond continued, outlining specifications of a tower, including its color and an 80-foot-by-80-foot fence to be placed around the tower and cedar trees to mask the fence.  

Following the hearing, the town board held its regular meeting.  Near its end, after most residents had filed out of the hall, the Town Board voted unanimously for Hammond to sign an Environmental Assessment Form, issuing a negative declaration.  A negative declaration means there will not be significant environmental impacts.  An EAF is a requirement of the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation for proposals. 

Acting on the advice of John Dorfman, the town’s attorney, the board voted a second time on the resolution to remove the town’s property from the conservation district. 

In other business, the town board:

— Awarded a bid to Robert S. Green Chevrolet Oldsmobile Inc. in Rock Hill (Sullivan County) for a new highway truck.  The truck will cost Knox $27,229 after it trades in a Ford pickup.  Gary Salisbury, Knox’s highway superintendent was unsure whether the truck would arrive within a month. 

The board voted unanimously to authorize Hammond to pay for the truck out of the town’s highway fund once it is delivered and voted unanimously to authorize Salisbury to buy a plow for the truck at a cost not to exceed $5,000. 

Salisbury and the board have also discussed equipping the truck with a sander.  Salisbury said a sander is not available at state contract prices;

— Heard from Hammond that he met with the state’s Department of Transportation in Schenectady on Feb. 28.  This summer, the DOT, Hammond said, will rip up three inches of Route 156 and lay five-and-a-half to six inches of new blacktop between the village of Altamont and the Knox hamlet. 

“There is no date on that, but it is going to definitely be happening,” he said.  “The road is in such a deplorable condition that something needs to be done now”;

— Heard from Hammond that he had spoken with Louis Saddlemire, the town’s parks superintendent, about road work that needs to be done in the Knox Cemetery.  Hammond said the center hump of the road needs to be flattened and, possibly, some shale needs to be laid down.  “Nothing expensive at all,” Hammond said;

— Appointed Joycelyn Farrar to the board of assessment review to fill the unexpired portion of Robert Whipple’s term.  Farrar served on the board in the 1980s.  Whipple died last year; and

— Authorized Hammond to transfer $70,000 from the town’s general fund to its building capital reserve fund. 

Horse lovers of Shadowbrook Farms teach trust, respect, overcoming fear

 By Tyler Schuling

BERNE — The owners of Shadowbrook Farms Equine Facility are trying to get horses and people to think. 

They have developed a three-part program to create a mutual trusting relationship between horses and their owners by establishing leadership, building communication, and desensitizing horses to frightening obstacles. 

“What kicked it off was a need — too many people getting hurt, too many good horses being sold for no good reason other than people just didn’t understand what they needed,” said Cherie Pettit, who, with her husband, owns Shadowbrook Farms. 

“Horses are individuals.  Every single one has a different need.  You just need to figure out what that need is,” she said. 

The Pettits’ farm on Canaday Hill Road in Berne is now in its seventh year.  Cherie Pettit has been “living and breathing” horses for as long as she can remember.  Her team of instructors in the Think Your Ride series are Chris Paradiso, Debbie Munn, Elaine Bouvier, and her husband, Brian Pettit. 

This week, the Pettits and their instructors will meet with 4-H’s board of directors.

“We’ve talked to people at 4-H extensively because they do a lot of horse shows,” Brian Pettit said.  4-H, he said, wants to put its efforts toward safety and control.

“They’re looking at working with us…to have the hundreds of their students that take care of horses and come to the horse shows to come through this program first before they can go to a horse show,” Brian Pettit said.

“From the industry as a whole,” he said, “you’re going to see more and more of this becoming part of the training programs.  Not because of us but because the mentality is going toward safety.”

Everyone has a gimmick to mount a horse, he said.  “Well, just getting in a saddle isn’t always the ultimate goal ’cause once you’re on there, you want to make sure you stay there,” Pettit said. 

In the first program — round-penning — instructors work with horse-owners and horses to establish leadership and respect in a 50-foot round pen.

“Because horses are either looking for a leader or they’re going to be the leader,” said Cherie Pettit.

In the second program, riders lead their horses near, through, around, and over scary obstacles in the Pettits’ 60-by-180-foot barn.   Horses are led through a large sand-box filled with balloons and through a small room made of tarps, which is filled with flashing lights and streaming, loud strips of paper.  They walk over tarps and between fans that blow air on their legs. 

As instructors rode their horses in the barn on Monday, Cherie Pettit walked in front of them, dragging aluminum cans behind her.  Because horses’ ears are seven times more sensitive than people’s, and horses are most finicky about their legs, the sounds and feelings are, at first, frightening. 

The goal of the second program is to desensitize them. 

“Because, if you take a horse to a trail or a show ring, especially a show ring, if this flag flaps or this door slams or an awning goes like this, the horse goes this way and a 7-year-old kid goes that way,” said Cherie Pettit.  “If I can prevent that from happening, I’m going to.”

“We want them to be curious and not fearful,” she said.  “If you can teach a horse to be curious, if you can replace fear with curiosity, you’ve won.  You’ve already won.”

In the third program, conducted “under saddle,” the instructors work to build communication.

“More people learn to communicate with their horse in their seat, using silent aids, whispering to their horses,” said Pettit.  “No shouting.  By shouting, I mean kicking them and pulling back on them.  It’s not necessary.  Horses are seven times more sensitive than we are.”

“There are horses here that are good enough that, if you turn your head, the horse will turn that way,” she said. 

“When was the last time you gave somebody a piggy-back ride?” Pettit asked.  “Remember?”

When giving someone a piggy-back ride, you feel everything that they do — every breath they take and every movement they make, she said.  Except, Pettit said, horses are seven times more sensitive. 

“It’s magnified seven times,” she said.


“Chris and I came here together…and we both have a love of the Thoroughbred, and we want to prove that there is life after the track,” said Munn.

Paradiso boards her off-the-track Thoroughbreds, Teddy — a 6-year-old gelding — and Taco — an 11-year-old gelding — at Shadowbrook.

When she first got Teddy, he was a very angry horse, Paradiso said.  Teddy had been trained to race, and that was all he knew, and that’s what made him very angry, so she had to untrain him to retrain him, Paradiso said.  The seminar and Cherie Pettit’s help has turned him around to use the thinking side of his brain instead of the reactive side of the brain, she said.  

“He respects me as the herd leader.  You try to convey to them that you’re part of the herd even though we’re human,” said Paradiso.  “They go through a pecking order.  The pecking order is to figure out who is dominant, who’s going to be the top herd leader, and then it breaks it down to the peon, who has no say whatsoever in a herd.”

Paradiso led Teddy into a pen within the barn, where, using body language, she guided his movements and speed.  She led him to the center of the ring by leaning back and then forward.  At times, he licked his lips, a sign the instructors found promising and what they call “licking his brain.” 

Paradiso rubbed Teddy all over his body with a whip, a training aid the Pettit’s call “a happy stick,” focusing on his legs, which, the instructors said, are where horses are most sensitive. 

“We’re initiating the learning process,” said Cherie Pettit.  “Every horse knows how to walk and trot and turn, but not every horse knows how to do it on command.”

Horses, Pettit said, are right- and left-brained.  One side is the reactive side, she said, and the other is the thinking side.  Every horse, she said, is born with both. 

“Because they are a prey animal,” she said, “the first side they use is always the reactive side…because they don’t want to get eaten.”

“That’s instinct.  Its real tough to overcome that, but what we’re trying to do is get them to use the thinking side of their brain more so that’s the first side of the brain they go to when they’re upset or excited or confused,” Pettit said. 

Looking into the pen, she said, “If he does what she asks him to do, she won’t make his feet move anymore.  You have to understand herd dynamics.  [Paradiso] has taken the place of the lead mare…and what the lead mare does to move horses around is that she moves her feet; whoever moves their feet first loses.  Whoever moves their feet last is the leader.  So she’s trying to make him move his feet so his reward is that he’s done what she’s asked.  He gets to stop moving his feet.  He gets to come into the center and rest.  That’s his reward — the lead mare leaves him alone.”

Pettit said horses like to eat, play, and rest, and are very lazy.

After learning a new lesson, the instructors do not reward horses with food.  The most they get, Munn said, is a pat, or a “What a good boy.”

For each new lesson, a horse needs to be trained four times for one side of its brain and four times for the other side, Cherie Pettit said.

“Remember, its like two separate brains,” she said.  “If I do something with this horse four times — brand new, he’s never done it before — and I don’t do it again for six months, he’ll do it,” she said.  “He’ll remember it, but I have to do it exactly the same way four days in a row.  And I’ll bet the farm on it.”


Shortly after Munn had boarded her horse Emmett at Shadowbrook, she went to pick up an off-the-track horse.

“The horse was being stubborn, so, I said, ‘Well, I’ll jump on him and get him to take a step forward and then he can be done,’” Munn said. 

After she got on the horse, it reared over and landed on her, fracturing her spine in 10 places, she said.

“Coming back from that injury, I acquired a hesitancy, a real fear of a horse raising his head,” Munn said.  She then had to wear a brace.  

“I still had the brace on when [Cherie Pettit] said, ‘Come on.  This has been traumatic for your horse, too, because he’s gone from being ridden five times a week to doing nothing.  Get his mind thinking and put him in the round pen.’” 

“That was my introduction to the round pen and Cherie’s training,” Munn said. 

“And it was amazing,” said Munn.  “It was an amazing transformation.” 

She described Emmett as “very emotional” and said that, at the time, he was “still very green.”  Through round-penning, they learned to understand each other a lot more.

Elaine Bouvier said, “Coming through this program, we’re not just training the horses.  [Cherie Pettit is] training us to train the horses.  So we work together as partners.”

Bouvier’s Thoroughbred, Jen, was initially given to her daughter. 

Jen was a racehorse and was taken off the track because she was fast, and someone wanted to breed her.  Her grandfather, Northern Dancer, won the Kentucky Derby at age 3. 

Jen was sent to a breeding farm, but had problems reproducing.  When she was 13, the trainer gave her to Bouvier’s daughter.

“And my daughter and her did very well together in the beginning and then my daughter found boys and cars and work and school and said, ‘Here you go, Mom,’” Bouvier said. 

Her daughter and Jen had had a bad accident.

“So I inherited her horse…And I was afraid to ride her.  So I found Cherie, luckily, and we came here, and I told Cherie, ‘Either I have to ride her or I have to sell her because I can’t afford two horses,’” said Bouvier.  “And we went from the ground up with Jen.”

“Crash-test dummy”

“This is a prime example of a horse that you don’t want to disrespect your space,” said Brian Pettit, as he held the reins on Jimbo, a stocky 5-year-old Percheron. 

“They’ll hurt you even if they don’t mean to,” he said.  “They have to understand that you have your space and they don’t need to invade it,” Brian Pettit said, “and, if they do get scared, you don’t want their reaction to be to run over you.”

Pettit guided Jimbo to the top of a small staircase made from wood, resembling a winner’s platform, which is one of the many obstacles horses are led through.  Brian Pettit called the Percheron, which he estimated weighs about 2,000 pounds, the Pettits’ “crash-test dummy.” 

“I’ve driven cars that weigh less than he does,” Cherie Pettit said.

Brian Pettit said that, shortly after his wife began working with him and the horse, he slipped on ice and landed between Jimbo’s front and rear feet.

“And I was laying down flat on my back, and all I yelled was ‘Ho,’ and he stopped mid-step and allowed me to get my feet back up,” Brian Pettit said. 

“We train them according to their nature,” said Cherie Pettit. 

Not understanding horses and not knowing how their minds work, she said, is the biggest problem in today’s horse society.

“They need to understand that,” Cherie Pettit said, “because these beautiful horses go to the slaughter and people get hurt.”

Upcoming car show may become an annual event

By Zach Simeone

ALTAMONT — Car enthusiasts in the village are aiming to start a new tradition. This spring, the Altamont fairgrounds will host the first-ever Helderberg Mountain Nationals Car Show and Swap Meet. Its organizers hope that it will become an annual event.

“We just love cars,” said Richie Sanderson, a chief organizer of this event and a member of the Altamont Fair’s board of directors. “We’re hoping to bring people in from all over the country. The Rhinebeck show is a week earlier, and that’s one of the biggest car shows there is. We’re hoping that, after all those people leave Rhinebeck, we can make Altamont their next stop,” he said.

The car show itself will take place on Sunday, May 11, but the weekend kicks off with a series of free activities on Saturday. Vendors will occupy the fairgrounds all day, and a block party will drive the evening to its conclusion.

Beginning at noon on Saturday is the poker run. Participants will drive a 69-mile stretch through the Helderbergs, stopping to acquire a playing card at each of five locations along the way. Whoever has the best hand upon returning to the fairgrounds wins a prize.

As the moon rises, The Belairs will lay down the soundtrack for Saturday evening’s block party with classic tunes from the fifties and sixties.

At Saturday and Sunday’s swap meets, people will buy and sell spare car parts. Automobile aficionados will have a chance to find that final piece to the hotrod they’ve been building in their garage.

In the spirit of Mother’s Day weekend, there will also be craft fairs on both days, said Bob Messercola, a local car lover who is helping to organize the weekend’s happenings. He was instrumental in bringing together the Helderberg Mountain Nationals Pro-Staff, the group that planned the event.

“I don’t think Altamont knows how big this can be.” Messercola said. “We’re expecting people from all over the country.”

Also on the Pro-Staff is Bob Santorelli, former president and current vice president of the Altamont Fair. He came up with the idea of a car show in the village.

“I was up in Lake George when they had their car show in September and thought it would be great for the village,” Santorelli said. At Santorelli’s request, Sanderson got in touch with Messercola and began rounding up the Pro-Staff.

Sunday’s car show is open to muscle cars, classics, trucks, antiques, hotrods, and custom cars. Those who wish to submit their cars for judging must register their car between 9 a.m. and noon on Sunday. The first 200 cars registered will be granted a special plaque.

Car show attendees who seek nearby lodging will receive discounts at the Holiday Inn, Best Western, and Days Inn, all on Western Avenue. Limousine transportation will be available from the show to the nearby lodging, in case people want to leave their vehicles at the fair, Messercola said.

An anonymous panel of judges will select the “Favorite 50” cars; the owners of the winning cars will each receive a plaque designed specifically for the car show. “The awards for the ‘Favorite 50’ are beautiful, with a picture of the Helderberg Mountains and two cars on them,” said Messercola. An additional nine awards will be doled out, including the “Mayor’s Award,” “Commissioner’s Pick,” and “Best Paint.”

The real goal here, Sanderson said, is to provide an enjoyable, community experience that will leave residents wanting more next year. “We want the whole village to enjoy this weekend,” he said, “whether you love cars or not.”

For more information go to www.helderbergmountainnationals.com.

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