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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, December 31, 2009

2009 in review: Westerlo
Dems maintain control despite GOP challenge,
motocross divides town, manure affects water, seniors ride bus

By Zach Simeone

WESTERLO — The Democratic Party will maintain its hold on town government in the coming year. Two neighbor disputes with larger pull came up at town board meetings: Motocross became an election issue, while a farmer’s drainage problem was repeatedly deferred to the county because of the farm’s location.

On the brighter side, the town now offers transportation for elderly residents.

The Democrats were challenged by the GOP for a number of seats for the first time in decades, and held their ground on Nov. 3 as Democratic councilmen R. Gregory Zeh and Edward Rash were re-elected, and Judge Andrew Brick kept his appointed post. In his third attempt at winning a seat on the bench, Kenneth Mackey, a long-time firefighter and rescue-squad member, won on the Republican line.

This was the second year in a row that the rejuvenated Republican Party backed a successful campaign in this rural Helderberg Hilltown, though Mackey is enrolled as a Democrat, and Democrats outnumber Republicans by nearly 3 to 1 in Westerlo.

After years of dormancy, the GOP gained standing in town last year when it backed Jack Milner’s successful campaign for town board. Milner was also enrolled as a Democrat at the time. Councilman Clifton Richardson, who died in office four years ago, was the town’s first Republican board member in 70 years, and its last before Milner changed his enrollment.

But the GOP’s attempt to expand its influence was less successful this year. Still, Republican Chairman Bonnie Kohl-Laub said after elections that morale in the party remains high.

“We of the GOP are thrilled that, for the second year in a row, a non-establishment candidate has won over strong opposition from the establishment,” Kohl-Laub said then, referring to Mackey’s victory.

On Election Day, Zeh and Rash defeated Republicans John “Rick” Bylsma and Anderson Smith by a landslide.

Zeh received 634 votes, or 32 percent, and Rash, his running mate, got 615 votes, or 31 percent. Bylsma collected 385 votes, or 19 percent, and Smith garnered 362, or 18 percent.

“It feels great,” Zeh said the day after elections. “I think I heard the voice of the people last night loud and clear, and, in these uncertain times, they’re looking for experience and leadership.”

Zeh, who got the most votes, sees his victory as evidence that the people in town like things the way they are. Rash agreed.

“I think they want to make sure that, when change comes, which is inevitable, that it won’t be drastic, or take away from the lifestyle they’ve enjoyed,” Rash said of Westerlo residents.

In a three-way race for two seats on the bench,, Mackey got 522 votes, close to 27 percent, while incumbent Judge Andrew Brick, a Democrat, got 533, also roughly 27 percent. Heidi Stroh, a general-practice attorney who moved to Westerlo in 2003, got 480 votes, or 24 percent.

Laura Palmer, who had planned to run for town justice on the Republican line but dropped out too late to be removed from the ballot, got 338 votes, or 17 percent, and Judge Alan Bauder, now retired, ended up on the ballot as well, and got 93 votes, or 5 percent.

Motocross divides town

Brothers Doyle and Trent Shaver had hopes of building a motocross track on their rural Route 85 property. In September, the revelation of this venture caused widespread reaction in town, both for and against the project, although no plan was formally submitted to the town, and the Shavers told The Enterprise last month that they may back off their plan. Some neighbors don’t want the noise or dirt. Others think that such a project would provide a safe space for having fun and keeping kids off the streets.

The town does not currently regulate motocross. Planning Board Chairman Tony Sherman said early on that, while he is not for or against motocross, it could generate revenue for the town.

The brothers decided to build the track because they have always been into outdoor activities, “whether it’s hunting, snowmobiling, four-wheeling, or dirt bikes,” Doyle Shaver said in September. “But we never really had the room to have a project like this. So, when we purchased this house earlier this year, we talked about it and thought about it a lot and said, ‘Let’s look into making this happen.’”

When the town became aware of earth-moving equipment on the Shavers’ property, the family was issued a cease and desist order, but the heavy machinery kept on. Ed Lawson, the town’s building inspector and code enforcement officer, found out later that the brothers were removing a hill because of an ineffective culvert, which has caused drainage problems since before the Shavers lived there, and that the ongoing work was not related to motocross.

The Republican town board candidates received some negative attention in the weeks leading up to elections in response to their comments on motocross. While Rash and Zeh took a neutral stance, declining to comment either way on whether or not a commercial motocross track may or may not be appropriate for Westerlo, Bylsma made reference to the disturbance created by a drag strip in New Hampshire, by which he and his friends observed the windows rattling from five miles away. Smith then said outright that Westerlo is the wrong place for commercial motocross.

The week before elections, a sign was posted on the Shavers’ Route 85 property that announced their support of incumbent Democratic councilmen Zeh and Rash in their campaign for town board. The Shavers took the sign down soon after it was put up because they were advised to do so, Doyle Shaver said. He would not, however, reveal who made the recommendation.

Manure affects water

Every spring, the Alcove Reservoir, a source of water for the city of Albany, is at risk of being contaminated by manure, carried by snowmelt and stormwater that originates on Hilltown farms.

Vito Abate, 76, owns one of those farms, on Route 411 in Westerlo.

During the spring thaw, the melted snow on Abate’s property floods into his barn, where cow manure has frozen and accumulated during the chill that has just ended. That contaminated water eventually flows behind his property, where it mixes with the Silver Creek, a tributary to the Alcove Reservoir.

This problem was aggravated, Abate said, when two of his neighbors, whose properties are uphill from his, built paved driveways, which caused the snowmelt from their land to flow downhill, and onto Abate’s property, both through the culvert pipe under the road and down his driveway, he said.

Abate took the issue to the town board earlier this year, but, since the problem exists on a county road, the board was unable to act.

The Albany County Department of Public Works considered diverting the water flow by constructing paths on either side of the road that would lead the water away from the path to his barn, but Commissioner Michael Franchini said that the money for the project isn’t there.

The piece of State Health Department law that protects the water supply from contaminants was enacted in 1929, said Joe Arabski, who manages the Alcove and Basic reservoirs for the City of Albany Department of Water. Arabski is a Westerlo resident himself.

“The violation that [Abate] has with the city of Albany and his manure storage only happens in the spring,” Arabski told The Enterprise in February. In the springtime, manure contaminating the reservoir is an issue, Arabski said, “but, after the spring, there’s no problem there.”

Arabski went on to say that the trace amounts of cow manure flowing into the reservoir are “a concern, and it needs to be addressed. But, on a scale of one to 10, this is a nagging two or three that’s always there in the spring.”

A farm management plan was developed for Abate by the Soil and Water Conservation District and the Natural Resources Conservation Service in the late 1980s, according to Field Manager Joseph Slezak of the Conservation District.

“One of [the implemented practices] was to take the water from the culvert and put it through a grass waterway, or a ditch, which would take the water through his farmstead in a confined manner, but he was supposed to maintain it, because, obviously, things deteriorate,” Slezak said in February. “But, he should have put up a fence to keep the cattle out of the waterway, and he should not have driven through it with his tractor, which both deteriorated the waterway.”

The problem remains unsolved.

Bus for seniors

With help from the neighboring town of Rensselaerville, Westerlo now has a transportation system in place for its elderly and disabled residents.

At its June meeting, the Rensselaerville Town Board accepted terms for a shared-service agreement, drawn up by Attorney Joseph Catalano, to share the town’s senior bus with Westerlo.

Bus services for Westerlo are limited to seniors and disabled persons, as they are defined in the Social Services Law, and their aides. The law makes reference to the elderly as being 65 or older.

Westerlo will reimburse Rensselaerville for 53 cents per mile for Rensselaerville’s regularly scheduled shopping trips on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and for any other joint uses. For trips involving only Westerlo residents, Westerlo will reimburse Rensselaerville $1.06 per mile. These figures are subject to change in January of 2010.

Finally, the town of Westerlo will limit bus use to $5,000 in reimbursements — about 4,717 miles — for the fiscal year, and will be billed on a monthly basis.

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