Tanner Carroll talks with Congressman Bill Owens and Westport Supervisor Daniel Connell as the federal delegate toured the region to inspect flood damage.
There was a lot that happened in 2011 throughout the region, from flooding and tropical storms to stories of compassion and lending a helping hand.
•Local lawmakers rushed to provide funding May 2 as the list of problems from last week’s flooding continued to grow.
The Essex County Board of Supervisors approved a resolution authorizing the use of up to $2.5 million from the unappropriated fund balance to help pay for repairs to roadways and infrastructure throughout the county during its regular monthly meeting.
“According to the lists that I have received, we are currently looking at about $2.2 million in damages,” County Manager Daniel Palmer said. “We would use the money to fund projects as they came down the road.”
Palmer said that the ideal situation would be that the funds would eventually be replenished through federal relief funding.
•The experience was, “Almost undescribable.”
That is how Kenneth Coonrod of Willsboro described his trip to the World War II Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., last month.
“It was far above what I ever expected it to be,” Coonrod, who served in the Navy from 1944 until 1946, said. “They treated us well the whole time and there were a lot of vets who took the trip.”
The trip to the memorial was made possible through Patriot Flight, a volunteer organization affiliated with the National Honor Flight Network, which gives veterans a chance to fly for free to visit the memorial in Washington, D.C.
•Daffest kicked off a couple weeks later than expected.
The record flooding and high water put a damper on the expected running of the festival, which was scheduled from April 29 through May 1.
However, organizers came back with a similar program for the weekend of May 13 through May 15.
•Former New York Gov. David Paterson was in the Adirondacks over the weekend, where he addressed graduates of Paul Smith’s College on May 15.
Speaking along the shores of Lower St. Regis Lake, Paterson told graduates to take chances and stick to their convictions.
“Throughout the centuries there have been men and women who took first steps down new roads armed with nothing but they’re own vision,” he said. “The great leaders, the thinkers, the artists, the scientists, the inventors — stood alone against the societies of their time. Every new thought was opposed, every new invention was denounced. But these people who had an unbarred vision went ahead – they fought, the suffered, and the paid, but they won.”
•Congressman Bill Owens saw for himself the impact the flooding on Lake Champlain is having on local businesses when he toured the Lake Champlain shoreline in Essex County May 19, stopping at the Westport Marina, among other places.
“It’s a disaster,” Larry Carroll of the Westport Marina said. “The damages are looking at about $250,000 and up.”
“It’s hard to belive the power of nature until you see things like this,” Owens said. “It looks like people built their houses and their businesses right in the middle of the lake. How can you possibly anticipate a 500-year flood? And there is no way that you can afford to.”
•A new museum offers a look into the role that the North Country played in helping slaves escape to freedom.
The North Star Underground Railroad Museum, next to Ausable Chasm, officially opened its doors to the public on May 21, with the public getting a first look at the interactive features and displays.
“This is beyond our expectations,” North Country Underground Railroad Historical Society President Dan Papson said. “This is the biggest, little museum in New York State.”
•There were 82 people that attended a public hearing in the town offices here on May 25, as the Westport Planning Board offered an opportunity for questions and comment on the proposed Rolling Hills development of the former Treadwell estate.
The developer, Dave Mann of Westchester County, was present for the hearing, as were his lead architect, Dave Carr, and his attorney, Timothy R. Smith of Lake Placid. Mann and his team have applied to the planning board for a special permit to cover the project, which they describe as “a farm-related private membership club.” Further meetings of the Planning Board are scheduled for June 15 and 22, during which board Chairman William Johnston said he hopes the board will reach a decision on the special permit.
•Members of Troop B of the New York State Police took time to remember the first Trooper to ever lose their life in the line of duty.
Troop B commander Maj. Rick Smith and Former Troopers Association President Russell Slingerland unveiled a memorial plaque in honor of Lt. James A Skiff during the annual Troop B Memorial Day ceremonies May 25, the 91st anniversary of the day Skiff lost his life.
“He was stationed in Ogdensburg in 1920 and was riding in the sidecar of a division motorcycle when he was killed in an accident,” Maj. Smith said. “We usually have our Memorial Day ceremonies on the Wednesday before Memorial Day, so it just worked out that way that we were able to honor his sacrifice on the 91st anniversary of his death.”
Skiff is listed as the first member of the NYSP to be killed in the line of duty and, until a year ago, was a man without a “Troop.”
•Following the push by lawmakers in the town of Willsboro to have work done on the section of road over Willsboro Mountain, Essex County ways and means committee chairman Roby Politi of North Elba did not mix any words as he talked about road conditions at the May 31 meeting.
“I would like Essex County via resolution to put the State of New York on notice that the road conditions here in this region are so bad, as documented by the State Police and local DOT representatives, that something needs to be done before someone is killed,” Politi said, singling out roads in his jurisdiction.
“I am particularly concerned about the road between Wilmington and Lake Placid, Jay and Lake Placid, and Lake Placid to Saranac Lake,” Politi said. “I don’t know if any of you have had the opportunity to drive on those roads, and I am sure you all have roads in your particular area that are bad, but it is terrible. They know it, they just are not doing anything about it.”
“I think it is very important that we keep putting them on notice,” Jay supervisor and county chairman Randy Douglas said. “They need to pay particular attention because a dangerous situation is going to get worse if they don’t spend some of the funds to repair them.”
•Salim B. “Sandy” Lewis said that he wanted it this way, signing the final pieces of paperwork in a long-running court battle in the Essex County Clerk’s office.
“They wanted me to come down to Albany to do this, but I insisted that this take place where it happened,” Lewis, who finally received settlement in his court victory over the Adirondack Park Agency in 2008.
Lewis said that the settlement in the amount of $71,690.28, represented “closure” to this chapter which started when the APA cited him for houses built on his property for workers on the Lewis Family Farm in 2007.
“Some say that it is not over until the fat lady sings,” Lewis said as he awaited the check from clerk Joseph Provoncha and Assistant Solicitor General Julie M. Sheridan. “In this case, it’s over when you sign the papers.”
Lewis added that he was hopeful that both sides would be able to put this matter in the past.
•One of the staples of the Willsboro Commerce Park since 2002 was forced to close its doors on the last day of May.
In a letter on the front page of the company’s website, Old Adirondack president Stephen Maselli announced that as of May 31, Old Adirondack was no longer in business.
“This means that other than wrapping up a few open orders and other obligations the company has stopped manufacturing and offering products for sale.” Maselli said in the statement. “The decision was voted upon at a shareholder meeting conducted on May 27.”
In the online announcement, Maselli said that the closure had to do with the impact of recent economic downturns.
•A national organization that advocates animal rights is condemning the Saranac Lake Central School District for its decision to euthanize geese.
The district’s board of education decided to move forward with a plan to kill a flock of “nuisance” geese earlier this month, following significant public outcry both in support of the plan and against it.
Supporters of the plan argue that the geese produce a considerable amount of excrement, which has taken over school grounds and resulted in a health risk for students and faculty.
Opponents say the plan is inhumane and sets a poor example for children.
The Humane Society of the United States has chimed in, condemning the board for its decision.
•As they marched from the Adirondack Community Action Programs Head Start to the site of the soon-to-be Adirondack Carousel, Marge Glowa called the group of students “our contractors of the future.”
The class of 3- and 4-year-old children were the official groundbreakers for the Carousel, which also included the unveiling of the new red squirrel and toad wildlife carvings.
“This is a project that is going to be built by community hands,” Glowa said.
Project treasurer Harry Stewart said that the carousel would be something that children today would remember as fondly as he remembered his childhood in Saranac Lake.
“My class is celebrating our 50th anniversary coming up, and we all have our memories of growing up here,” Stewart said. “This will be a memory that these children will have 50 years from now as they remember the rides and fun that they will have here.”
•Students, faculty and staff came together to give “A Sense of Place,” to those entering the doors of Keene Central School.
That is the title of a mural that can now be viewed at the entrance to the school, a project which combined the skills of the “school community,” according to art teacher Cheryl MacFadden.
“This was a project where everyone in the school community - students, teachers, all the staff, administration and board of education - worked to make hundreds of tiles to put into this mural,” MacFadden said. “The sum of the parts is greater than the individual, and that is the way that things are here at Keene Central.”
Community members were able to get a first look at the mural June 23, when the school unveiled it during an evening ceremony on the last day of school for students.
•New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo rolled out his list of prison closures June 30, about a week earlier than expected.
A total of seven correctional facilities will board up the windows in 60 days.
That includes minimum and medium-security prisons in places like Buffalo, the Bronx and Staten Island.
Facilities in Madison, Schoharie, Orange and Oneida counties are also slated for closure.
Prisons in northern New York were noticeably absent from Cuomo’s list, a fact not lost on lawmakers from across the region.
Correctional officers and prison employees from across the North Country have been crossing their fingers for months now, waiting anxiously for Cuomo to announce his list of closures, but that suspense came to an end.
•The sky was filled with all sorts of miniature planes over the past weekend, as the Westport Airfield became home to the “Valley of Giants.”
The Champlain Valley Flyers hosted over 40 pilots and their model airplanes at the RC air show, which was held July 2 and 3 at the field just south of the hamlet.
“Last Labor Day I got it into my head that I wanted to put an event on here and get something like this going again here,” said Clarence Owen on the Flyers. “I met with the airport owner, Harry Cox, and he jumped up and down with joy at the idea.”
•The roar of hoofs can again be heard on the back roads of Westport.
The Adirondack Polo Club on Stevenson Road in Westport opened the 2011 season with a charity match against the Sugarbush team from Vermont to Benefit the Ronald McDonald House in Burlington.
“This is our third year of play,” Lonnie Cross of the Adirondack Club said. “We all have a passion for the sport of polo and there is a great camaraderie of players both on and off the field.”
Joining the club for the 2011 season is Matthew Fonseca, a professional from Windsor, England.
“This is a great location and Lonnie has done an excellent job,” Fonseca said. “This is a program in its infancy, but the infrastructure and the course are very good for being so new.”
•When Gov. Andrew Cuomo came to Lake Placid in May, he didn’t have people lining up from the Conference Center to the Olympic Center box office.
It took Lord Stanley to do that.
Stanley’s gift to the National Hockey League — the celebrated Stanley Cup, given to the team that wins the annual NHL playoff tournament — made a stop in Lake Placid July 12, thanks to Boston Bruins athletic trainer Don DelNegro.
“The history of the Stanley Cup is what it is,” DelNegro said. “The trophy alone says everything that needs to be said about it. I wanted to give people here the opportunity to see it.”
•The family of Owen Conlon recently received symbols of his accomplishments while fighting as a member of the U.S. Armed Forces.
Conlon was the foster son of C. LeRoy and Mabel Sayre of Wadhams, who came to live with the family when he was 8 years old.
Conlon enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1949, and later served in the reserves, where he was called back into service during the Korean War, serving with the 9th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division, achieving the rank of corporal.
On Feb. 12, 1951, Conlon was taken captive while fighting against the enemy in South Korea. His death, while a prisoner of war, was reported on June 3, 1951.
For his service, Conlon was awarded the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, the Prisoner of War Medal, Korean Service Medal, United Nations Service Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Korean Presidential Unit Citation and Republic of Korea War Service Medal.
Through the efforts of Sue (Sayre) Lacy and the help of Tim Pierce from the New York State Department of Veterans’ Affairs, the family recently was given the medals, which were picked up in Elizabethtown by foster sister Lillian (Sayre) Lobdell, who was going to send them to her sister, Roberta (Sayre) Johnston in the Kansas City, Mo.
•Salim “Sandy” Lewis opened his remarks before the APA Board of Commissioners this morning by saying he was asked to come before the group as “a peacemaker,” by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
But that is where the peacemaking ended.
During the public comment period before the APA board July 14, Lewis did not mix any words.
“It’s my fervent wish that this agency succeed,” Lewis said, but later adding, “you are hated by a significant portion of this community.”
Lewis directed several comments at board chairman Curt Stiles, stating that the governor would be asking for his resignation.
Lewis also talked about what he perceived as a “lack of transparency,” by the APA and organizations like the Adirondack Council about the recent case involving Lewis and the APA over the right to build farmer housing on his property in Essex.
Lewis latter said again that he was not against the APA, but felt change was needed.
•A group of town, fire and school officials waited with baited breath as Westport Town Clerk Sheila Borden started to read off the numbers July 19.
However, the crowd of mostly pro-municipal building interests were quickly left to wonder what was next, as the vote on the proposed $7 million bond for the facility was defeated by a vote of 258-181.
“I'm honestly heartbroken,” Westport Central School Board President Alice LaRock said. “I thought that this would be a project that would be inviting to all of our community members. I think the three entities needed a shared facility in a small community.”
•Catherine Sweatt was 8 years old when the family piled into the car in 1929 to head from Westport to Crown Point.
“I’ve tried to think about that day, but I don’t remember much of it,” Sweatt said about the day that transportation between the states of New York and Vermont changed with the dedication of the Lake Champlain Bridge.
“I know that the family thought that it was a big deal,” Sweatt said. “We all piled into our car, which was either a 1929 Dodge or a Model T, and took off for the opening. We were changing in the area.”
Sweatt’s family at the time consisted of her mother, Edith, who was a school teacher in Westport, and an aunt, Doris Begor, who was a historian later in her life.
“Everyone else that we knew was going, too,” Sweatt said. “In a couple of the pictures that I have, you can see our neighbor standing by us or next to us, so either he came down with us or we went down with him.”
Now, 82 years later, Sweatt is preparing to take that drive again, this time from Lewis to Crown Point, to see the dedication of a new bridge spanning the two states.
“I miss the old bridge, but it was unsafe,” Sweatt said. “I am anxious to see the outline of the new bridge.”
•With a pair of votes, the Westport Town Planning Board paved the way for work to begin on Rolling Hills Farm.
The board voted unanimously to approve the state environmental study and the special permit for the project, which will be contained on part of the property currently owned by Alexander “Sandy” Treadwell.
Developer Dave Mann and his team attended the meeting, which included Mann’s lawyer Timothy Smith and LandVest Real Estate Agent Vincent “Vinny” McClelland.
After the votes, Mann thanked the planning board for its work on the project, and then addressed the rumors that the potential land deal was off.
“Nothing is 100-percent, but I am very hopeful,” Mann said after the meeting. “There’s things that have to be resolved and I’d bet - in fact I am betting - that we will work out what needs to be worked out.”
Mann said he believes that both he and Treadwell want to do what is best for the town of Westport with the property.
•Former Elizabethtown Highway Superintendent Dennis Aubin was remembered as a dedicated town servant and friend after his passing last week.
Aubin, 48, died on Sunday, July 31, and was remembered by those who knew him, including Elizabethtown Supervisor Noel Merrihew III.
“He gave years of dedicated service to Elizabethtown,” Merrihew said. “He was here throughout the time I have been supervisor, and he was elected to the position back when I was an assessor. It is a great loss to the community.”
•After he was honored, Ernie LaPine quickly got back to being the voice of the Essex County Fair.
Calling out for fairgoers to make their way to the Haulin’ Junk Rollover Contest with his familiar inflections and tone, LaPine quickly continued working for the annual event that he said was part of his life.
“It’s my life, it’s in my blood,” an emotional LaPine said as he was honored as the person to whom the 2011 Essex County Fair was dedicated to. “It has been a fun part of my life for 40 years, and I thank the board for this honor.”
LaPine was the fair manager for 20 years, and has worked with the fair since, starting out as a ticket taker at the front gate in 1971.
•When he was a camper at Camp Dudley, Ted Zoli said that he never got to be a part of the, “big show,” in the Witherbee Auditorium at the end of each year.
On Sunday, Aug. 21, his time came, as the designer of the new Champlain Bridge was the center of attention in that theatre as part of the Literacy Volunteers author discussion fundraiser.
“I finally made it in here,” he joked to the assembled audience in the auditorium as he began his remarks. “It’s a great honor to be allowed to design such a bridge here in the Adirondacks.”
Zoli said that he felt that the original Champlain Bridge, designed by Charles M. Spofford, was one of the two dozen most important bridges in the nation.
“This is one of them,” Zoli said, adding that he was hopeful when he was brought on during the decision phase of what to do with the original bridge that they could save it.
•Frank Conlon enjoys sitting along the midway at the Essex County Fair, talking to fairgoers and watching the fair day after day.
It’s a tradition that dates back to 1928, when Conlon, 90, and living in Ticonderoga, was only 7 years old.
“Everything back then was for 10 cents,” Conlon said.
Conlon went to every day of the fair back in 1928, then did the same the next year.
And the next.
And the next, all the way up to the 163rd annual edition of the fair, held last week, Aug. 10-14.
•Neither New York State Sen. Elizabeth “Betty” Little or U.S. Rep. Bill Owens could believe what they saw as they toured the town of Jay with supervisor and Essex County Board chairman Randall “Randy” Douglas.
“Bridges are ruined, roads have lost the shoulders where the ground has just dropped out,” Little said. “The Wells Library is filled with water. The back of the Upper Jay Fire Department is ripped off.”
Little said she was amazed at the destruction that had taken place since Tropical Storm Irene went through the North Country on Aug. 28, along with the following river and brook flooding that led to massive damage throughout the region, including the hamlets of Au Sable Forks, Jay and Upper Jay.
“I continue to be amazed at the power of water,” Little said.
Essex County Emergency Services Director Donald Jaquish said the level to which waterways rose during the storm was what surprised him.
“I’ve never seen it this bad,” Jaquish said. “It is so widespread in Au Sable Forks, Jay and Upper Jay. “The water flooded out buildings that you would have never thought would have been flooded out.”
Douglas said the first concern for the town was to make sure that everyone was safe.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo came to the North Country to survey damage in Jay and Upper Jay via helicopter and with a walking tour in Keene.
“I am declaring Essex and Clinton Counties as disaster areas,” Cuomo told those assembled near the destroyed Keene Volunteer Fire Department building Aug. 30. “It is really devastating up here. There is destruction everywhere.”
Cuomo said he is creating a task force that will directly deal with the problems caused by the tropical storm and its aftermath, as well as suspend any permitting process dealing with construction to recover from the event.
“I understand the need for a permitting process,” Cuomo said. “But I also understand the need for communities and businesses to be able to get up and running again.”
More than 80 roads were closed to public traffic a day after Tropical Storm Irene pounded the North Country with high winds and driving rains.
Flash flooding was a major issue throughout Essex County, which had prepared for an emergency declaration on Friday, Aug. 26 and then placed it into effect on Sunday, Aug. 28.
The towns of Jay, Keene and Westport also declared states of emergency, where several brooks and rivers jumped their banks and caused severe flooding issues.