You’ve seen the mural if you’ve been to the village: An aerial view of a shoe-sized Saugerties Lighthouse from a vantage point on the river, the Esopus delta to its left and backed by the Catskills. Under the vista, a banner painted onto the side of the brick wall reads, “Let Saugerties Grow Gracefully … it’s up to you and me!” Above, another ribbon tells us to “Dump Here Never!” Under that, in a tight white font, are the words “Winston Farm Alliance.” Earth-toned figures of presumably happy villagers resemble a wood-relief frame. There are some flowers in there, a deer, a dude recycling.
Taken together, these elements make perfect sense to anyone who lived through Woodstock ‘94 and the Alliance’s lively derailing of a proposed garbage incineration plant/landfill plan more than a quarter-century ago. But for younger people, not to mention generations yet unborn, explanation is needed. So on August 15, the Saugerties Town Board approved a narrative that will be embossed on a plaque, at the price of $1,195.
The mural has been in the town since the early ‘90s — we’re talking over 25 years,” said Lanny Walter, the then-chairman of the alliance and current chair of the town’s Democratic Committee. “When the county proposed an incinerator and landfill on the Winston Farm, many, many people in this community thought that was a bad idea. … There was a complete coming together of the community to say no.”
The Ulster County Resource Recovery Agency first proposed the widely abhorred waste disposal concept for the parcel off Route 32 in 1987. Established by the county legislature, the group was tasked with managing the county’s perennial solid waste problems. When Winston Farm was chosen by the group as a possible site for either an incinerator or a landfill, depending, the Saugerties community reacted very strongly. Letters to editors flew; funds were raised; an alliance was formed. Along with kingpins Lanny Walter, Gary Bischoff, Patti Kelly and John Hall, prominent local entities like the school board, the town board, the town’s gardening club and the Highwood’s Sportsman’s club joined in the wave of opposition. The alliance was organized into subgroups of volunteers: some on a legal team, others on an archaeological one, others for lobbying and fundraising. According Bischoff, the community refused a proposed offer of a million dollars to let the plan go forward.
“All of a sudden [it’s] a million dollars, we won’t have to pay taxes, it’s going to put a lot of quality into the schools, we’ll have recreation, etc., etc.,” he said at an April educational session on the alliance, another effort to apprise local youth of past activism. “We did eventually convince people it was an indecent proposal.”
A key player in the story was the Alliance’s lawyer, Michael Gerard. He represented the people affected by the infamous Love Canal toxic waste site, and presented evidence that accumulated waste from a landfill at Winston Farm could, over 20 years, with heavy vehicles passing over it, crack the lining and allow toxins to spill, possibly affecting the watershed. Eventually, after a 1994 court ruling against them, the RRA scrapped its plan. Saugerties had saved its most famous farm.
The narrative on the plaque won’t have any names of specific alliance members. It will just be a retelling of the events and credit to mural artists Tor Gedmunsen, Kate Boyer and Kurt Boyer. Also credited will be Kelli Bickman, who touched up the work in 2016 after 20 years of deterioration.
“We can prevent this part of local history from falling into oblivion, said Arzi McKeown, moderator at the April library history session. “we can celebrate the accomplishments of all of those who changed the history of Saugerties as a way to empower future activists.”