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Hilltown Archives The Altamont Enterprise, October 15, 2009
Dissatisfied with Berne supervisor candidates,
By Zach Simeone
BERNE Colin Abele, a lifelong Berne resident at 26, is dissatisfied with this year’s candidates for town supervisor. So, he will seek the position himself through a write-in campaign.
“This year, neither candidate best represented me or what was absolutely best for the town,” Abele said of Democrat George Gebe and Republican Carl Baranishyn. “I must seek employment in areas where I feel like I’m the most qualified applicant…I feel my age would not be a handicap, but a benefit, since I would have more energy, and fresher ideas,” he told The Enterprise this week.
Abele, an enrolled Democrat, got involved in the election process very late because the caucus period coincided with a low point in his life, he said, as he had just been let go from his job as a paralegal. He did try to get his name into the mix, though.
“One member of the committee said they’d float my name and consider it, but they decided they were going to nominate George Gebe,” said Abele.
While Abele has lived in Berne most of his life, he lived in downtown Schenectady briefly while pursuing his associate’s degree in paralegal study from Schenectady County Community College. He graduated from Berne-Knox-Westerlo High School in 2001.
In his free time, Abele is a musician who primarily plays bass guitar, but plays guitar and piano as well.
“In order to do this campaign, I had to quit a band, but I still enjoy playing music thoroughly in my free time,” Abele said. He has also performed with the Hilltowns Players a number of times, of which his mother, Joyce Abele, has been president.
“The highlight of my acting career was playing Tony in West Side Story my senior year of high school,” Abele said.
He first considered running for supervisor in 2005, he said, when current Supervisor Kevin Crosier was re-elected. Abele got involved in other areas of politics in the following years.
“I started volunteering for political campaigns during Sandy Gordon’s campaign for legislature, when Kevin Crosier went to primary him,” Abele said, referring to the Democratic Albany County legislator. “After that, during 2008, I involved myself in the Democratic primary for Congress. I also spent a lot of time volunteering for Phil Steck in his campaign for Congress and David Weiss in his campaign for State Senate, going door to door and talking to people about my chosen candidates.”
Abele went on to say that he believes the government is the employee of the people.
“We’ve defined this ‘us and them’ that people are separate from the government, but they are truly the same,” he said. “I would like to see an employee-employer relationship return. The people are the boss.”
Abele is also motivated by his experience interning at the New York State Legislature.
“It did familiarize me with the legislative process, when it comes to the actual work that gets done in the legislature, but the main thing I took away from it is that not a lot really gets done,” Abele said.
“They think that the rules don’t apply to them,” he went on. “I won’t mention a name, but I was really taken aback when I was sitting in the Legislative Office Building downtown, I started to smell cigar smoke, and I found that there was an assemblyman in his office in a public building smoking a cigar. I looked up his record, and he had voted in favor of the smoking ban. And I’m sick of these people thinking the rules don’t apply to them.”
Berne candidates with party lines will be interviewed next week on issues facing the town. Abele commented this week on both recently developing problems and subjects that he is passionate about, and that he has researched.
A Berne highway worker told The Enterprise this week that the workers’ union plans to file a grievance with the town over its employment practices, specifically regarding the placement of a non-union worker in a union job. [See related story.]
“It’s something I’d definitely have to look into and work with the highway superintendent on that’s a personnel issue,” Abele said of the situation. “That should absolutely not happen. Part of my experience as a paralegal is, you have to follow procedure exactly. There should be an investigation into that if that conduct is going on right now. That’s something that should be taken seriously, and preferential treatment should never be given,” he said.
At the end of last month, the highway department went three days without water after the new owner of the land encompassing the highway department’s water supply cut off its access. The landowner told The Enterprise that the town did not offer fair market value on the acre on which the well was dug, that he felt “jerked around,” and that he wanted to avoid any liability if a town employee were somehow injured on his property. [See related story.]
“The town has to consider a few things with purchasing property,” Abele said. “If the property owner is unwilling to sell, unfortunately, you have a problem where it is their private property, and they can take drastic measures…One thing that I’m about is reducing the amount of confrontation between government and people. Taking a drastic measure like that isn’t in the best interest of the town,” he said of cutting off the highway department’s water supply, “but the town does have to make a fair offer, and needs to do so expeditiously.”
Abele has spoken out in the past against the town’s sewer project, originally mandated by the state because sewage from private septic systems was seeping into the Foxenkill. The cost of the project was recently increased to $3.6 million dollars, though nearly half of the cost is covered by state and federal grant money.
“My beef isn’t that we don’t need a sewer; it’s the particular system we chose to build,” Abele said. “The way the town of Berne looked at it is, ‘OK, we need a sewer, so we need a conventional sewer.’ I want to go out and do this research on a much larger scale and see what other technologies are being developed…Anybody in town can do a simple Google search about sanitation systems or alternatives to this and they will find recent reports about what’s going on in other countries. My big problem is that it’s this big state mandate, and the state all too often says, ‘We looked at this, and here’s the solution now it’s your problem.’”
One possible alternative that should be looked into, Abele said, is simplified sewerage, a system that lays small-diameter pipes in front yards, under sidewalks, or in backyards, rather than in the center of a road as with conventional systems. Instances of simplified sewerage systems have been reported in Brazil, Bolivia, Honduras, Peru, South Africa, and Sri Lanka, and date back to the 1980s.
“These programs are going on in Latin America, Southeast Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa,“ Abele said, referring to personal research. “They have been most successful in rural areas with difficult terrain, with the same problem and situation that we’ve got in Berne, with its hills and rough topography. It’s not a wacky proposal; it’s something that’s very successful in other parts of the world.”
Also, as the original resolution that permitted the sewer project says that an advisory committee may be created, Abele said this committee should be formed and given the responsibility of operation and maintenance of the sewer district.
“They still haven’t changed that ‘may’ to ‘shall’ in the law, and I think that would give people a lot of assurance,” Abele said.
Other residents have spoken out against the project, both at meetings and to the press, some of whom Abele has spoken with, he said.
“Just in speaking with town residents, many of them believe, because of the state of disrepair of the septic systems due to the age of the town, one solution would be for the town to invest in making sure the septic systems are not leaking in,” Abele suggested. “I doubt it would cost as much as ripping up the roads, and building a wastewater treatment plant, and having to declare a state of emergency when something goes wrong. Maybe, instead of using this grant money to build this huge thing, this could be an opportunity for local businesses to help fix the problem. I’ll admit, I don’t think any candidate has any of the information right now, just because of the way Crosier is pushing this thing, but I think other options should be explored. I’ve heard of septic systems that can recycle the waste, which can then be used as fertilizer.”
While Abele supports the town’s looking into different forms of renewable energy options, like wind, solar, and geothermal power, he does not favor bringing a commercial wind farm to Berne.
“I’m not about having a large corporation come in and offer people money like Shell did,” Abele said. “I’m advocating more of a community-based situation. Some smaller ones are going up in town right now. It always seems like there’s going to be these huge big white things now; that may be inappropriate, but it depends on whether or not the town would agree. I’m not a scientist; there would have to be studies and this would have to be looked at as a project.”
Abele noted the Knox-based Helderberg Community Energy, which has spent the past few years planning its Helderberg Wind Project. The group meets periodically at the Octagon Barn, home of Knox Assessor Russell Pokorny and Amy Pokorny.
The original plans for the Helderberg Wind Project would place three 1.5-megawatt wind turbines along Middle Road, back from roads and away from houses. Knox’s zoning ordinance currently prohibits the building of any structure higher than 45 feet without a special-use permit.
“That’s really what I’m looking at,” Abele said. “A lot of people who oppose wind are using data that is outdated, and see the success of wind power as a victory to who they believe to be tree huggers and environmentalists.”
Abele also thinks that harnessing wind, solar, and geothermal energy should be addressed in the ongoing review of the town’s comprehensive plan.
Whether Abele is elected or not, he hopes that his running for office will inspire other young people to become involved in town politics.
“My friends my age, when they find out I’m doing this, they become very excited,” Abele said. “They support me, and I have to turn that into actual votes, of course. But I see something in their eyes, something that is unspoken, something saying that, ‘Wow, this guy is like me and he’s actually doing something that could lead to the change I want to see.’”