Two major initiatives on which Town of Gardiner officials were preparing to take action have been sent back to the drawing board, in response to concerns raised at the June 8 Town Board meeting. They will seek to extend Gardiner’s moratorium on accepting applications for dog kennels, set to expire in August, for another six months while they strengthen the language in the proposed Kennel Law. And they will wait for the City of Kingston to get on the Community Choice Aggregation bandwagon before committing Gardiner residents to a three-year Electricity Supply Agreement locking in a higher rate for 100 percent renewable power than was originally quoted by the supplier, Joule Associates.
A public hearing on the new Kennel Law, intended to replace sections of the town’s zoning code that are perceived as having no teeth when it comes to regulating dog-breeding businesses, brought out a number of residents who characterized the new language as still not being strong enough. One Gardinerite said point-blank, “I think this law opens up opportunities for puppy mills.” While the wording of the law cites the prohibition against such facilities in the federal Puppy Protection Act of 2001, it does not explicitly outlaw them in Gardiner, and many such operations operate on a clandestine basis across the US.
Other weaknesses pointed out by meeting attendees include the fact that the town’s animal control officer is authorized to inspect dog kennels as needed, but the law does not specify a schedule for regular inspections. Janet Kern termed the three-by-four-foot minimum size for a dog pen “inadequate,” while Carol Richman called attention to the fact that outdoor runs are similarly small, and that no space for dogs to socialize is required. “There are so many unintended consequences in this law that you actually have to picture yourself as a dog in these circumstances,” Richman said.
Town Board members struggled with the question of whether or not to ban commercial dog-breeding facilities altogether. Several expressed support for the idea, but councilman David Dukler, point person for drafting the new law, warned of potential legal liabilities incurred by “banning certain businesses and not others.” The American Kennel Club has been known to go after municipalities that enact such a ban, according to Planning Board member Josh Verleun.
It was Verleun who first raised the alarm on this issue last year when a breeding facility proposal by Springtown Farmland, LLC, came before the Planning Board. He said that, had the kennel planned for a former farm on Denniston Road been built, “We could’ve had 30 150-pound very aggressive dogs” in that neighborhood. The proposal was subsequently withdrawn, but Verleun noted, “They still own property and could come back. We dodged a bullet. We should have something on the books.” An outright ban would be “a bad idea,” however, he said, which would “just push [puppy mills] underground.”
Several Town Board members urged that town attorneys be asked to help craft clearer definitions distinguishing between commercial dog-breeding and boarding businesses, and Richman suggested that a referendum on a ban be placed on the ballot in November. “I like the idea of a referendum,” responded councilman Franco Carucci, adding, “There are no such thing as a large-scale commercial breeding facilities that are humane.” Other participants suggested controlling underground breeding operations by placing a limit on the number of dogs that can be owned in one household without neutering them.
Ultimately, Town Board members agreed that there wasn’t enough time left to resolve the new law’s shortcomings before the current moratorium expires. They directed town attorney Dave Brennan to draft a new local law to extend the moratorium by another six months while they continue to tweak the kennel regulations, possibly with the help of a “study group” of community volunteers.
Community Choice Aggregation
As a participant in the Climate Smart Communities program, Gardiner has been making steady progress over the past couple of years toward implementation of a Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) program, to be administered by Katonah-based Joule Community Power. The pet project of councilman Franco Carucci, this arrangement would sign up all Gardiner residents (unless they opt out) into a buying cooperative for 100-percent-sustainable electric power, sourced entirely within New York State. The collective financial muscle of several municipalities was supposed to secure a favorable rate per kilowatt-hour (KWH), compared to what Central Hudson normally offers.
Until it didn’t. At the June 8 Town Board meeting, Carucci brought the sobering news that Joule could not offer Gardiner the same rates previously cited for a consortium of nine towns that are already signed up and ready to renew existing contracts that expire this summer. “Our timeline would be one to two months later,” Carucci explained. “Unfortunately, there is very high demand right now for renewable energy within New York State. Joule is no longer able to hold places for new towns.” The new rate being offered, .07289 per KWH (as opposed to .06573/KWH in the prospectus), is “not terrible, but going in the wrong direction,” he said, noting that the rates may have been artificially depressed at the outset of the pandemic, when demand for power was lower.
A number of market forces are now driving up rates for locally sourced renewables while driving down prices for electricity generated by fossil fuels that can be imported, according to Carucci. Thus, Central Hudson is currently able to offer a slightly lower rate for its “browned-down” mix. Individual CCA members would still have the option of choosing the less green, more economical pricing, he noted, if cost is more of a concern for the consumer than reducing one’s carbon footprint. He also reminded the board that adopting a CCA would bump Gardiner into the Bronze Certified category for the Climate Smart Communities program, making the town “eligible for many more grants.”
Gardiner residents would lock into the .07289/KWH rate for three years, if the town signed an Electricity Supply Agreement (ESA) with Joule right now, and there’s no reliable way to predict whether that will shield them from increases in electricity rates or remain unfavorable over such a timeline. “We don’t have a crystal ball,” said councilman David Dukler. “Whatever we do, someone’s not going to be happy… As a member of the board, I have to be risk-averse. I’d like to be proved wrong.”
“When we pitched it to the community, it was going to be a savings,” said town supervisor Marybeth Majestic. “This is a harder pill to swallow. People are still struggling.”
“I think we should pause. We indicated that this was going to be less expensive than Central Hudson,” councilman Warren Wiegand agreed. “I don’t think the Town Board should be in the business of speculation for 5,500 people.”
Rather than toss all their work on this project out the window, Carucci suggested that Gardiner wait until the next sizable group of municipalities is poised to sign onto a CCA and then ask for a revised estimate. “Kingston is already getting ready to join,” he noted. “They’re a few months behind us.”
“Kingston’s buying power would be a big factor,” said Majestic.
Ultimately, the Town Board decided to postpone signing the ESA for the present, until it becomes clearer that the three-year commitment will prove advantageous to Gardinerites financially as well as environmentally.