December 26, 2012 —
NEW YORK STATE — In Sullivan County, 2012 started out with six newly elected legislators out of a total of nine. The newcomers came in looking to make changes, and one of the first shake-ups was they wanted to put the tourism contract out to bid, after the contract had been awarded to the Sullivan County Visitors Association (SCVA) every year for a decade.
Some of the 300 members of SCVA raised howls of protest, and SCVA was awarded the contract for 2012, but they would have to compete for the bid for the next year. SCVA competed against a new organization called Sullivan County Tourism and Promotion, but ultimately a majority of the legislature voted for SCVA to retain the contract.
Another big development was that the legislature voted to override the Albany-imposed 2% property tax increase. With the county facing a deficit that ranged into the millions and with costs, such as Medicaid, healthcare and pensions continuing an upward spiral, lawmakers saw no alternative but to move toward a double-digit tax increase--an outcome they avoided by a hair (see article at left).
In response to continuing spending increases dictated by Albany, several lawmakers, with Cindy Gieger leading the way, held a campaign to educate the public about “unfunded mandates.”
Also in 2012, the deal to try to lure a big box store to the former Apollo Plaza site fell through. Executives at a company called Chancellor Livingston had pleaded with the new lawmakers to move forward with the project. However once they finally voted to do so, Chancellor Livingston backed out of the deal, reportedly because a suitable retail tenant could not be found to inhabit the new mall once it was built.
Lawmakers then changed course and struck a deal with developer Butch Resnick, who planned to install a grocery store in part of the existing mall.
As in the previous four years, gas drilling was a major story in 2012, with numerous towns in the state adopting zoning regulations that effectively ban gas drilling and other forms of “high-impact industrial activities,” and other towns adopting resolutions that invite drilling.
In Sullivan County, those who banned drilling were the towns of Tusten, Lumberland, Bethel and Highland. Those who invited it were Delaware and Fremont.
The question of whether the drilling bans are legal is still working its way through the courts.
2012 was the year of the compressor station in two towns outside of Sullivan County. In the Town of Minisink in Orange County, the Millennium Pipeline Company started construction on a compressor station against the wishes of 200 families in the town, and also against the votes of two of the five members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
Critics say the pipeline is dangerous because a section of the line, known as the Neversink Segment, is 24 inches wide while the remainder of the line is 30 inches. Also, they say another location, known as the Wagoner Alternative, would have much less impact on the environment and residences. Residents have taken the matter to federal court.
About 65 miles north of that location, the pipeline runs across Hungry Hill Road in the Town of Hancock in Delaware County. Residents there have begun to organize against the project, and most recently some residents objected to the fact that the Delaware County Industrial Development Agency is considering granting tax breaks to Millennium for the compressor station.
Supporters say the station will insure that the Village of Hancock has a reliable supply of cheap gas, which will help attract new business.
Opponents say compressor stations pose a health hazard to residents who live nearby, and that Millennium is a wealthy company that does not need a tax break, and might not choose another location even if the tax breaks were denied.
Another project that rankled some members of the community and brought them to the streets was the proposed replacement of the Pond Eddy Bridge. Traffic officials in Pennsylvania and New York as well as federal officials wanted to replace the historic 1904 span, which serves 12 full-time families in a community on the Pennsylvania side of the bridge, with a $12 million bridge with a modern design.
The protest movement grew to the point where officials in Albany and Washington were weighing in, and forward momentum was halted as the administration of Governor Andrew Cuomo reconsidered the matter. Local officials in Pennsylvania want the project to go forward.
In the Town of Bethel in 2012, a legal battle over the Toronto Reservoir that had raged for years was finally settled. In March, backhoes took down a rock wall that had been created by developer Steve Dubrovsky and blocked the road to a public access on the reservoir.
Dubrovsky claimed the public did not have the right to cross The Chapin Estate development to get to the access, but Alliance Energy, the company that owned the reservoir, and a federal judge said they did. The judge granted Alliance “a non-exclusive perpetual easement and right of way” to allow the public to get to the reservoir.
Among climate and weather-related stories, Hurricane Sandy was the most unforgettable, plunging many residents and businesses in the area into darkness for five days or more. It caused such severe damage that the people in New York City and New Jersey are still recovering. Because there was so much debris in New York Harbor, boats that transport gasoline were grounded for a time, and gas stations ran dry. It caused a gas panic that reached up into Sullivan County, where county manager David Fanslau briefly banned the filling of tanks larger than five gallons because profiteers were filling huge tanks with gas for resale in the city.