Hugh Reynolds: Their day in court

Assemblyman Kevin Cahill and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie at the Hudson River Maritime Museum last week. (Photo: Phyllis McCabe)

Assemblyman Kevin Cahill and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie at the Hudson River Maritime Museum last week. (Photo: Phyllis McCabe)

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.

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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.

There are 15 comments

  1. Dave Channon

    The proposed Belleayre resort makes no sense as a business plan. That is why no hotel corporation has announced any interest in building it. Airbnb now provides thousands of affordable rooms, apartments and luxury homes for rent in the region, so there is no need for a “mega-resort” to provide accommodations. Weekend traffic is double what it was a few years ago. The CHA lawsuit has touched a raw nerve in investors and supporters. They are beginning to realize the Belleayre resort will never be built, and look to blame anyone but the project’s inherent flaws. The CHA isn’t stopping the bulldozers- it is Crossroads refusal to agree to a smaller alternative- that might have stood a chance of approval & success 10 years ago.

  2. George

    Hugh, I think you owe more credit to Terry Bernardo. She attended every church supper, fire department barbecue, or breakfast in the county. She went door to door to meet people, and she wore out several pairs of shoes in order to earn votes by connecting with the electorate. She wanted to hold the position, and deserved it much more than Mike, who we will now be paying a salary to while he runs for congress.

    She was also snubbed by her own party chairman, and several key republicans who are Hein followers.

    I think she did great, and I am very proud of her. Her showing at the polls shows a real vulnerability in his chances for congress. I believe that he could improve his chances greatly if he made peace with the railroad. The rest of the congressional district is too red for him to win otherwise. (Gibson v. Eldridge) Don’t forget that many of the CMRR passengers come from outside Ulster County, but within the region.

    Mike hid in his office while his Washington, DC -based campaign office purchased $1000 billboards and boosted his lame Facebook posts. He needs to do much more. Like talk with real people.
    –The Big Guy

  3. Freddi Dunleavey

    Mr. Reynolds: What does Dr. Nolan’s employment status have to do with the double (as in TWO) resort issue and the legal right CHA has to bring a complaint against the State Agency?

    CHA members come from many towns, not just Shandaken. Many of our members are retired and/or tax-paying homeowners. These members help support our school systems and our town services. Others may visit or rent and spend their dollars in our local establishments, and have done so for decades.

    You write: “As part of the deal, developers had turned over some 1,000 acres to the state as forever wild.” WRONG! The Taxpayers of NYS PAID the developer $5.6 MILLION from taxes in the EPF for the 1200 acres. (Some “turnover”!)
    Source follows:
    http://www.syracuse.com/news/index.ssf/2011/12/new_york_acquires_1200_acres_f.html
    “NY buys 1,200 acres from Catskills resort developer for $5.6 million; protects NYC watershed
    Associated Press
    December 7, 2011 4:00 PM

    ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens says the state is completing a $5.6 million land deal that adds 1,200 acres to the Catskill Forest Preserve while allowing expansion of the Belleayre Mountain Ski Center and construction of an adjacent resort.

    Martens says Wednesday the purchase of the tract known as Big Indian along the scenic Route 28 corridor in the heart of the Catskills protects the New York City watershed and allows economic growth. The $5.6 million comes from the state’s Environmental Protection Fund.

    The purchase is part of a 2007 agreement between the state, New York City, several environmental groups and Crossroads Ventures, which has been planning a resort at Belleayre for more than a decade.

    The resort will have two hotels, a golf course, and numerous townhouses. ”

    Mr. Reynolds: Please go to the CHA website and read what our membership opposes and what it endorses. You will also find our reasoning for such positions stated there. www.catskillheritage.org

  4. Steven L. Fornal

    C’mon, Hugh…even you should be able to get this one right. You wrote, “the county government’s dragging the Catskill Mountain Railroad into court represents for me bullying on a massive basis…”

    You mean to tell me that you don’t know that it was the CMRR that sued the county? Because the county FINALLY demanded compliance with the 24 year old lease obligations, the CMRR brought the county to court. Not the other way around.

    The excuses for this is that the lease agreement was too onerous. Of course, what is always left out of that discussion is the FACT that the CMRR, as a private, for profit company, signed a legally binding contract with the county and then blew off every requirement of the span of two and a half decades.

    Bullying? I’d say the only bullying going on vis-a-vis CMRR is by the railroad hobbyists and their thumbing of their collective nose at the taxpayers of Ulster County by suing rather than comply with the agreement they signed on to.

    1. FactCheckneeded

      I read that the county started the whole mess outright in breaking the lease when the county executive wanted to Rip up and scrap the tracks to plug a $600,000 hole in his budget? Was that in the lease agreement? That was 3 years ago as I recall and appeared to be the start of the “Bullying” being talked about of the RR. That was in print in the Freeman. So it’s verifiable. And as it turned out, that $600,000 hole in the budget never existed.

        1. Steven L. Fornal

          IRT: According to what competent financial data did the Polar Express carry over 3600 people? And, whatever number actually took the ride, were they paying customers?

          1. ITR

            Look at their web site. All tickets are pre sold by credit card. People who bought tickets just have to show up and pick up their tickets with their name on it at a will call table. That’s sounds pretty easy to justify.

          2. admin

            For what it’s worth, an eyewitness account just heard here in the newsroom described the trains as “packed.” – Dan the editor

          3. Steven L. Fornal

            I’m glad to hear that CMRR is packing the riders in. Great! Anything that brings people out, both from other townships and those from out of county, is a spur to county tourism.

            However, such success also reinforces the stance that the CMRR (or, more likely some other RR concern)can maintain this success into the future with what facilities already exist.

            The clear purpose of CMRR’s recent media-saturating push (heaped with utterly disingenuous posts) for rail from Kingston to Mt.Tremper– which included finger-pointing by CMRR placing the blame squarely on County Executive Michael Hein’s shoulders for holding CMRR accountable to the requirements of the lease agreement it had signed –was to counter the reality of CMRR’s failure to uphold its lease obligations.

            The most obvious breach pertains to the requirement to rehab a mile of track per year up to Class A standard. CMRR has rehabilitated nowhere near that amount of track. The irony being, that would have been the track run of CMRR’s dream: Kingston to Mt. Tremper. But, over the span of 24 years it managed to meet but approximately 20 percent of the agreed upon number of miles of completed track.

            Hein has offered a compromise to CMRR; to continue to operate the two successful runs it now has with the promise of the county promoting the railroad.

            CMRR chose to go to court.

            So, while I’m happy CMRR is doing well, I have to shake my head at the uncompromising arrogance displayed by CMRR during this dispute with the county.

      1. Dave Channon

        Terry Bernardo made the County Executive race into a referendum on the railroad. The voters chose Mike Hein by a wide margin. CMRR would be smart to put their energy into maintaining the sections they are capable of operating on, graciously accept that generous offer, and stop feuding with the voting majority. The rail trail will be a huge asset for county tourism. Rebuilding all the disintegrated tracks is an impossible fantasy. Let’s quit fanning the flames of old feuds and get on with reality.

        1. ITR

          Dave Let’s put things in perspective …the Belleayre resort will be a huge asset for county tourism. The County – DEC and even Shandaken itself signed off on it. Let’s “stop feuding with the voting majority” who wants it And “Let’s quit fanning the flames of old feuds and get on with reality.”

      2. Steven L. Fornal

        Fact Check Needed, indeed. Here’s the only Freeman link I found: http://www.dailyfreeman.com/general-news/20121009/ulster-county-executive-michael-heins-trail-plan-angers-train-enthusiasts

        It says NOTHING about Ulster County breaking the lease.

        Here’s a better account from Watershed Post:

        http://www.watershedpost.com/2013/catskill-mountain-railroad-keep-chugging-judge-rules

        In this article we learn the truth. The county served CMRR with a “demand to cure” notice (http://www.scribd.com/doc/147682946/Ulster-County-to-CMRR-Demand-to-Cure) stating the particulars of CMRR’s non-compliance with lease obligations; outlined in this article (http://www.watershedpost.com/2013/ulster-county-issues-legal-ultimatum-catskill-mountain-railroad). CMRR immediately sued the county.

        A judge ruled ONLY that the CMRR could continue with its operations until final lawsuit outcome which is still pending.

        The FACT of the matter is that CMRR sued the county rather than comply with its obligations.

        So, your assertion that “the county started the whole mess outright” is wrong. Unless, of course, you believe that legal obligations aren’t binding when signing a lease agreement.

        1. FACTCHECKNEEDED

          Again it all started when Hein came out with his budget address. 2012 or 2013? That’s on record. I remember reading it in the Freeman. The budget included ripping up the rails west of Phoenicia to “Plug a $600,000 hole ” in his budget. That action would have broken the lease. I suspect That is when the RR most likely hired lawyers. Before that it seems Hein supported the railroad… https://www.facebook.com/allaboardforashokan/photos/a.351636028276336.1073741829.351628611610411/756714334435168/?type=3&theater

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