The February 29 overdose death of 20-year-old Phoenicia resident Ryan Molnar has jolted Shandaken into an acute awareness of the drug epidemic lurking in the town. The subject dominated the March 7 town board meeting, which was attended by concerned residents seeking solutions to the drug problem, as well as representatives from the Route 212 Coalition and Earth Guardians NY, two groups that have mobilized in Woodstock for the same purpose.
“I was stunned and shocked,” said Lea Kwiecinski of Chicester, addressing the board. “I didn’t know this was happening in our town until Ryan’s passing. I feel ignorant and out of the loop, even irresponsible. I’m broken-hearted. I’d heard whispers about it from my daughter, about what’s happened to friends and in the community. But now I took it upon myself to start asking questions.”
She has spoken to a number of business owners, parents, and other community members and heard repeatedly rumors that she was unable to confirm: a drug dealer arrested in front of the Phoenicia Pharmacy, dealing going on behind the Pharmacy and near the park on Route 42; the names of reputed dealers, which she did not reveal. “There was a Facebook posting that a hypodermic needle was found on Route 214 in front of the elementary school,” Kwiecinski said. “I am appalled and deeply concerned. If happens to one child in our community, it happens to all of us. People said to me, ‘We’ve spoken to the police, and they say they’re trying to catch the big guys. They’re not concerned about local small-time dealers.’ We need to have these conservations with the local police. What is known? What are we doing and what are we going to do? I want to start a conversation and come together as a community.”
Shandaken police chief Chad Storey had spoken up earlier in the meeting, espousing drug education in the schools and inviting the public to come to him with their concerns. In response to Kwiecinski’s remarks, he said no one had called the police about the hypodermic needle. By the time he heard about it and sent someone to take a look, the needle was nowhere to be found. “Not a lot of people want to rat their neighbor out, but we have to do it,” he said. “If you see cars going in and out, call me. As far as going after the big fish, we’ll have a conversation about it. There’s anonymous tip lines, and we have a great partnership with the Ulster County sheriff’s office. I rely on [the county’s] URGENT task force to do narcotics investigation up here.”
Town clerk Joyce Grant said she had tried to contact the URGENT tip line via the Internet and came up with a “page not found” message. She called the county clerk, Nina Postupack, and the bug was swiftly fixed. The Good Samaritan Law, Storey explained, offers immunity from prosecution from anyone who calls emergency services to report a drug overdose.
Storey said legislative changes would make it easier to meet the requirements necessary for placing an accused drug dealer before a grand jury. He also recommended having a school resource officer (SRO), a local policeman who spends time at the high school, providing security and crime prevention services, as well as mentoring students and making presentations on youth-related issues. Onteora has intermittently had SROs, as the role is controversial. “Everyone thinks of it as a militant atmosphere in the school, but it’s not,” said Storey. “It’s a partnership. There are certain things we have to act on if we find it in the school.”
Shayna Micucci and Kasandra Quednau of the Route 212 Coalition said their focus is on prevention, education, and support, as well as connecting addicts and their families to available services. They offer a “Touched by Addiction” family support group at the Woodstock Library, 6:30 p.m.-8 p.m., on the first and third Wednesday of each month. Although they are striving to bridge services in Woodstock and Saugerties, the two women also want to reach out to smaller, underserved communities in Ulster County. Their next organizational meeting is scheduled to take place in Saugerties, and they were planning to meet in Shandaken in April. “But it seems like we need to do something here sooner,” said Quednau, a former drug addict, now a counselor, who had been friends with Molnar.
They invited community members to join task forces on publicity, events, care packages, educational material, and creating a manual of resources. One of their goals is to remove the stigma associated with addiction, bringing awareness to the community and making it easier to reach out and help addicts. They have made presentations at Woodstock Day School and Onteora High School and plan to go into more schools to educate students about drugs.
Aidan Ferris described the activities of the group she co-founded, Earth Guardians NY, which now has an office in Woodstock, dedicated to helping kids become more active in their community, through civic engagement, political activism — especially against climate change — and creativity. “We want to address why kids are turning to drugs in the first place,” said Ferris. “There’s not enough happening, no avenues to put their energy and feel they’re making a positive influence in the world. Look at what’s happening in the world today. Kids look at their future, and it’s bleak. Earth Guardians offers activities that give them a sense of purpose.”
Helen Morelli of Phoenicia demanded that the town board form a committee to look into the drug problem. “We have to get people involved,” she said. “We have to get police out, walking up and down the street in Phoenicia at night. I went to the funeral, and dealers were there, addicts were there, people were high!”
Adelinda Hyde, also from Phoenicia, called the board’s attention to the town-owned building across from the post office, formerly a family health clinic, currently vacant. She suggested the building be used as a center for counseling and programs to give teens meaningful outlets. “Community members could come in and give of their expertise,” she said. “It could become a community holistic center, so people don’t have to go all the way to Kingston.”
Supervisor Rob Stanley said the town is negotiating with an entity over rental of the space and added, “I was going to ask if there were any services they could provide regarding substance abuse help.” He proposed organizing a town forum on the issue outside the board meeting, since people had to wait for over an hour for the board to complete its scheduled business before speaking about their concerns.
Bad cell service
Stanley said he has written a letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo about the deficiency of cell service on the Route 28 corridor from Olive to Andes. With the state’s Public Service Commission putting aside $500 million to improve cellular, broadband, and cable services in areas where they are lacking, the government needs to hear from residents who are not being served. “Especially in places like Rose Mountain Road, the end of Woodland Valley,” said Stanley, “we’re hoping to get more cable coverage.” The town website suggests calling or emailing Karen A. Geduldig, Director of Office of Telecommunications, NYS Department of Public Service, at 800-335-2120 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Shortly before the end of Monday’s meeting, the town board withdrew to executive session. They returned to report on their decision regarding the $126,200 that the court has required Hanover Farms to pay the town as a result of a long-standing legal battle over the farm stand’s zoning violations. Hanover Farms has filed for an appeal, and the board decided to fight the appeal.
For more information on the Route 212 Coalition, or to volunteer for one of their task forces, visit https://www.facebook.com/rt212coalition. Their next organizational meeting will be March 30th at the Senior Citizens Center, 207 Market Street, Saugerties. Earth Guardians NY can be reached at https://earthguardiansNY.org or email@example.com.