Town of Ulster firefighters are expressing concern about access and scheduling, but they support the county plan to locate a town-operated northern Ulster fire-training facility off Ulster Landing Road.
There have been ongoing negotiations between town and county officials regarding title to the 50-acre parcel, Town Supervisor Jim Quigley said, “Nobody is going to be thrown out on their ass,” said Quigley. “The town will require guaranteed preferential access for our departments.”
No vote was taken among the 50 volunteers at the Russell Brott Senior Center, but the consensus followed a two-hour informational meeting hosted by the town board on Nov. 15. The firefighters decided such a facility would be an asset to the town. Some of the 50 volunteer fire companies in Ulster County send their members to nearby counties for training. Ulster has had its own training facility for more than 20 years.
Regular training is vital for force efficiency and safety of firefighters and residents, the firefighters believe. A countywide fire training center has been under discussion for more than 30 years.
County Planning Director Dennis Doyle walked the group through the history of a county fire training center, with slides, photographs and schematics of the proposed site. Doyle also spoke briefly about the second county-designated training site in Walker Valley. Sites in New Paltz and Marbletown were also considered.
In April, County Executive Mike Hein announced the county would build a fire training center on county-owned property near the community college in Stone Ridge. Doyle said that site was selected because of central location and proximity to the college, where fire training classes would be established. Facing stiff opposition from the Cottekill community — a petition opposing the site collected more than 1,200 signatures — Hein switched to the current two-site proposal earlier this month.
The county estimates construction costs at $4.5 million, with $2,275,000 anticipated from state grants administered by SUNY Ulster. The county is designating the fire center as a “training facility,” with classroom sessions to be held at SUNY Ulster. Renovation of several classrooms at the Stone Ridge campus is part of the plan.
County planners and consultants believe environmental issues, road access and neighborhood concerns about traffic issues could be addressed at the Ulster site. “Most of the area we plan to use is already disturbed,” Doyle said. The property contains a burn tower, administrative offices, parking and underground utility lines. The county is seeking lead agency status for the environmental review process.
Town Councilman Rocco Secreto lives near the site. Re-elected this month as the lone Democrat on the town board without opposition, he asked that his six neighbors on sparsely populated Ulster Landing Road be kept apprised of progress.
The property firing range used by town police will be retained. Had town Police Chief Kyle Berardi anything to add? “Considering I’m in a room full of firemen …,” he began. After the laughter died down, Berardi spoke to the close cooperation between town volunteer and police agencies and the opportunities the county facility could provide for mutual training.
Hein had initially placed the cost of construction of one site at $2 million. Doyle said the county did not yet have exact figures on the present proposal, not yet in its design stage. Hein has recommended a total of $4,551,000 in the county’s five-year capital plan for fire training facilities, with $3,094,683 designated for 2018. The legislature is expected to approve the capital plan at its Dec. 6 special meeting.
Doyle said he hoped the county could start construction at the two sites by March.