Some predicted the 17-year running battle between developers of the Resort at Belleayre in Shandaken and regionally-based environmentalists might wind up in court. And now it’s headed there.
In one of his last acts before leaving office, former DEC commissioner Joe Martens signed off on what had long been pilloried by critics as a “mega-resort,” with two 18-hole golf courses, hundreds of hotel rooms and condos scattered over 1,700 acres of pristine mountaintop landscape. Downsized by about half, the $335 million project had, in the judgment of DEC, one of the nation’s leading environmental protection agencies, met every disputable standard. As part of the deal, developers had turned over some 1,000 acres to the state as forever wild.
Understandably, the developers didn’t immediately jump on their bulldozers. Last week the Catskill Heritage Alliance (CHA) announced it was suing DEC for alleged failure to consider all the environmental-impact issues it had raised during the most recent reviews. The petitioners are seeking a further reduction in the size of the resort, something developers and the DEC agreed would make it economically infeasible.
Let’s cut to the chase. These folks, deny it as they may, don’t want anything built on that mountain.
Pediatrician Dr. Kathy Nolan, a CHA director and frequent spokesperson, is on the lawsuit, along with a number of people named Gould. Yes, that Gould. Robber baron and financier Jay Gould (1836-1892), born and bred in Roxbury, invested some of his millions in the surrounding area. The Gould Baptist Church, rebuilt in Roxbury the year after he died, is one prominent monument to his memory. Though I’ve never worshipped at Gould’s church, I’ve often appealed to God at Gould’s golf course just up the hill: $20 for 18 holes with a cart. His descendants are sprinkled around the western Catskills.
Dr. Nolan, who doesn’t actively practice pediatrics, addressed last week’s regular meeting of the Ulster County legislature after Chairman John Parete of Olive and his deputy, Dave Donaldson of Kingston, greeted the announcement of the lawsuit with charges of “bullying.”
They suspect Nolan of being County Executive Mike Hein’s agent. On that, the dynamic duo have their signals crossed. Though the county government’s dragging the Catskill Mountain Railroad into court represents for me bullying on a massive basis, there is no indication the county had anything to do with the Belleayre lawsuit.
Nolan felt compelled to defend her organization. One of the cannier people in the Catskills, she pronounced herself “very puzzled” that some legislators were taking issue with a lawsuit she said “poses no issues with Ulster County.” By that she obviously meant county government. The county legislature is long on record as supporting the Belleayre project.
As if to demonstrate widespread support for her position, Nolan spoke to the “more than 600 members” of the CHA. That’s quite a boast, considering the population of Shandaken is just over 3,000.
“We are not well-endowed,” she said, perhaps an indirect reference to those Goulds on the legal papers and to the wealthy weekenders who, after finding their cabins in the woods, don’t want new neighbors.
Time, the Catskill Heritage Alliance believes, is on its side. This project, however, has hung tough through terrorist attacks, economic stagnation and regional deflation. It is unlikely to fold now. For the developers and many businesses in the Shandaken-Olive area counting on this resort, the courts are their best hope. But courts move glacially, as witnessed by the county’s two-year battle with the railroad, and time is on the litigants’ side.
Ships in the night
But for the vagaries of ugly politics — is there any other kind? — the paths of two big-name office holders might have crossed in Kingston’s Rondout Friday around noon.
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, accompanied by a gaggle of impatient staff and local guide Kevin Cahill, wrapped up his “upstate tour” with a brief visit to the Hudson River Maritime Museum. A few miles away on the sixth floor of the county office building, the man-who-would-be-congressman, Mike Hein, worked on his latest version of “I’m flattered, but I don’t make predictions.”
The reason the county’s highest official wasn’t invited to greet one of the state’s highest may be that Cahill and Hein hate each other and never attend each other’s events. Hein even blew off the Cahill-sponsored dedication of the Sojourner Truth statue in Port Ewen a few years ago. As the record has repeatedly shown, the feuding duo act in similar manners on many issues of public concerns
As pols on the hustle, Hein and Heastie at least have something in common. Heastie’s upstate road show was clearly designed to solidify his position as speaker when he seeks re-election from fellow Democrats next month. Hein, if he takes the plunge for Congress, could have learned much from the speaker about whistle stops in strange-sounding places far from one’s comfort zone. What the hell is a Ponckhockie, Heastie might have asked during his stop in Kingston.
Heastie, who assumed his office after the ouster of speaker Sheldon Silver last January, must be one of the nicest guys in the state legislature’s lower house. Soft-spoken, of medium height and something of a mumbler, he seemed to have no idea where he was during his 20-minute press conference at the Maritime Museum. The tour, he said, was about getting to know (Democratic) Assembly members in their home areas, connecting with the issues that concerned them most.
Not a bad plan, but something else as it plays out on the ground. Asked where he stood on the HealthAlliance’s request for $88 million in state aid to complete its Kingston hospital consolidation, Heastie turned blank-faced to Cahill, who danced around the subject. Cahill seemed less than enthusiastic about the state writing a check for almost $90 million after HealthAlliance, under different leadership, blew through the $47 million he secured in state money (granted by the feds) during the first round.
The two did rather enthusiastically agree that they themselves deserved a raise, but didn’t go into details. If they’re going to do it, and it smells like they’re trying, the working figure for the members seems to be $98,000 annually (up from $79,500) with perhaps a few annoying ethics rules to brag about next election.
What with both Assembly and state Senate leaders currently in the federal dock on corruption charges, the media, naturally, had to ask about corruption in Albany. If anybody was expecting anything approaching righteous indignation from these men of the house, they weren’t getting it that day in Kingston. To glazed eyes, Heastie trotted out the same old yada-yada: Can’t legislate morality, can’t judge the barrel by a few bad apples (quite a few now), can blame negative media, etc. Obviously, this guy was running for re-election.
With that, it was but a short walk to the trendy Ole Savannah restaurant for lunch, where Cahill, apparently on his dime, had invited a small group of leaders, clergy and other shakers and movers, but not media. And definitely not Hein.
They like Mike
Channeling Will Rogers (“I’m not a member of any organized political party. I’m a Democrat”), it’s hard to imagine that 11 — count ’em — Democratic county committee chairs spontaneously and all of a sudden endorsed Hein for Congress in the 19th congressional district.