The good news for Ulster County government is that the current squabble over the location of a fire training facility will probably end happily. A year or two from now, beaming officials and fire chiefs will be cutting a ribbon at a relatively isolated location.
But not, I predict, on Cottekill Road, the county’s first choice, but near the residences of visibly surprised owners.
To date, there are three other choices, with sellers eager to accommodate the county. All the options were available when County Executive Mike Hein first pledged to establish a fire training center at a meeting with volunteer fire leaders midway through his 2015 reelection campaign.
Why even consider Cottekill? Has this administration gone tone-deaf after eight years in office? I suspect Cottekill may have been chosen because the price was right. The county owns most of the 51-acre site adjacent to SUNY Ulster in Stone Ridge. But sometimes, as witnessed by the firestorm the Cottekill site has generated, cheapest isn’t always best.
Understandably, a certain degree of confidentiality is necessary in the process of purchasing land for municipal purposes. Prices tend to rise sharply when word gets out. By the same token, neighbors need to be brought on board as early as possible. Failing to do so was a serious oversight.
The nominees currently being assessed by county consultants are:
Marbletown: Town Supervisor Mike Warren is pitching a 300-acre abandoned farm off Route 209 north of Stone Ridge. Firefighters say they need only about five to ten acres for training purposes. The owner (whom he did not identify) is willing to negotiate, Warren says. The town has already advanced plans to establish a solar farm on the property, which Warren says will provide “community power” at less than current costs.
New Paltz: Town Supervisor Neil Bettez said about 200 acres was available at the (capped) town landfill off Route 32 North. Unlike the rolling pastureland in Marbletown, the New Paltz site has lots of trees. Hugger alert! Bettez, who counts noses, says there are only a few residences in the area. Hence, Cottekill-type uproar is not anticipated. The site has ready access to water and power.
Ulster: Town Supervisor Jim Quigley considers the 17-acre training center site off Ulster Landing Road “a backup” in case the county can’t locate elsewhere. The property includes a burn building, tower and small offices for Ulster firefighters. Ever watchful of the bottom line, Quigley says the town could save about $20,000 a year in operating costs should the county choose to locate there.
Cottekill: Including the 50-acre Cottekill site in the survey strikes many in the Stone Ridge neighborhood as rubbing salt in open wounds.
Nobody takes issue with the necessity of establishing a modern training center for volunteer firefighters. The wonder is it took so long. That it comes with baggage, smoke and traffic, maybe bells and whistles, is an acceptable given. For most rural residents, their volunteer firefighters (and EMTs) are hometown heroes dedicated to preserving life and property. Cops, too. Training is essential to maintaining that force, its safety and its morale.
There is a political component with which the politicians are keenly familiar. Firehouses in many small fire districts are community centers. Active members of volunteer fire company are held in high esteem. Firefighters walk proud.
Not incidentally, they are clannish. Messing with one can incur the wrath of all. Messing with one company can spread to other companies. Politicos need to be wary of the firehouse vote, some 1,400 active volunteers, their families and supporters.
This pitch is all about location. Let’s hope the second pitch does not produce any more swings and misses.
Here and there
It would appear Congressman John Faso has been reading the polls of late. He has been expressing his reservations about a Donald Trump budget that negatively impacts some 24 million Americans. Faso edged even further afield after a Siena College poll showed the president with rock-bottom ratings.
But is too early to abandon ship?
County conventions take place next week, Republicans on Wednesday at George Washington School in Kingston, Democrats the next day at Best Western, also in Kingston, both at 6:30 p.m.
These annual gatherings of the tribes are more social than political. Last year’s enemies become this year’s allies, and vice versa. Old animosities are restored, new friends acquired.
New candidates work the delegations, hoping to connect. Old-timers schmooze. Small circles of whispering connivers go mute when reporters approach.
All nominations are unofficial, so what matters is who serves the best snacks. Score Democrats on that one. It will be slim pickings at George Washington School, with only oratory to feed the masses.
As if the airwaves weren’t inundated with the frick and frack of modern politics, WKNY-1490 AM has launched a political talk show for Sunday afternoon listeners. Co-hosts Don Ryan and Rich Cahill Jr., the latter a former alderman and mayoral candidate, bring years of trench warfare to the call-in format, with guests. Ryan (no relation to Bill O’Reilly) is a retired sheriff’s civil officer. Swinging from right field, the duo hopes to offer some balance in what some view as a decidedly liberal bent at City Hall these days. Shows air at 2 p.m.
In wishing a memorable Memorial Day weekend for all our readers, I conclude on a happy note, for me. I will be on extended vacation beginning June 2, returning about early July, God and editors willing.