Nolan, Friedel duel for legislative seat in District 22

Kathy Nolan and Peter Friedel.

Former Ulster County legislator Kathy Nolan is again making a bid to represent District 22, which includes Shandaken, Olive, Denning, and Hardenburgh. Nolan narrowly beat the incumbent, John Parete, in the 2017 election but lost to him in 2019. With Parete deciding not to run for reelection this year, Nolan, a Democrat, is on the ballot once again, along with Republican challenger and former Olive council member Peter Friedel.

Kathy Nolan, who served as county legislator from 2017 to 2019, is a physician and a researcher with the environmental group Catskill Mountainkeeper. She has worked on environmental research and advocacy over the past few decades, and she served on the Shandaken Zoning Board of Appeals for five years. Other activities include participating in stream management programs in area watersheds and membership in community groups such as the Shandaken Community Garden and the Catskill Heritage Alliance.

“As the most western and rural part of Ulster County, District 22 deserves a lot more attention from the county than we often have,” she said. “We are evolving sustainable ways of making a living in an area that has a large amount of protected, forever wild land. We share the problems of the rest of the county in needing to preserve affordable housing. We have to deal with short-term rentals in a way that allows them to play a role in economic development but prevents short-term occupancy from displacing long-term residence. Yet we need to develop our own particular solutions that will work in rural areas.”

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Nolan sees the Ashokan Rail Trail as an example of a use of the forest preserve and watershed lands that serves residents and also has a positive economic impact by drawing people to area businesses. When the rail trail, a project supported by Nolan, opened in late 2019, “We didn’t anticipate the impact on public health would be as significant as it turned out to be. In 2020, when other recreational activities were closed off to prevent COVID infection, rail trails remained open and became a haven for people to get outside and see other people in a safe way. It bodes well for finding other uses for our protected lands.” 

She hopes to help facilitate connection of the Ashokan Rail Trail into the Kingston trail network and develop other trails at the western end of the Route 28 corridor, including links to the Empire State Trail. “It will draw visitors from outside the area, since we know the attraction increases with the length and quality of a trail system.”

Nolan is pleased with the expansion of film production in Ulster County, which she supported by promoting tax incentives while she was in the legislature. “The film industry uses the creative and artistic pool of talent we have and showcases the scenic beauty of the region. The Phoenicia Diner has been used several times in films. It’s an investment that doesn’t take anything away but brings in dollars and uses local people as extras, in set construction, in music, and in other aspects of production.”

She feels the county has done well in its response to both the COVID pandemic and the opioid epidemic. “But we need to stay vigilant,” she said. “I’m also looking for ways to encourage education and public discussion about how legalizing marijuana may impact our communities.” 

Protection of pollinators is an area Nolan would like to continue to work on, promoting pollinator-friendly gardens and pathways, as well as keeping toxic insecticides out of the environment. “I’m looking for ways to make a rapid and robust transition into a fossil-fuel-free future and finding better ways to handle our energy needs.” While in the legislature, she worked on the solid waste issue in the county and feels it should be a priority going forward. 

From mutual support in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene to the mobilizing of food pantries during the pandemic, Nolan is impressed by how county residents of diverse backgrounds have come together to solve problems. “The pandemic was especially difficult for us because of our remoteness and distance between people, and yet people rallied to take care of each other. It’s something we have to appreciate and cultivate.”

Peter Friedel grew up in Shokan and has lived in Olive ever since, except when he went to college, graduating from SUNY Cortland with a dual degree in managerial science and economics. He has worked in sales since then and is now sales manager for a maintenance supplies company. He served on the Olive town board for 12 years and has been an EMT, a firefighter, and a Boy Scout leader. 

“I am a believer in property rights,” he said, “and in not letting the government tell you what to do. This year, when they wanted to put in a hydroelectric plant in Olive, they were talking about taking property by eminent domain. I was on the Coalition of Watershed Towns [CWT], so I couldn’t work on it, but my wife did.” The hydroelectric proposal was withdrawn due to intense local opposition.

Friedel feels one of the major issues facing the county is the need for increased Internet and cable infrastructure, as well as improved cell service. One solution, he said, might be cable buildouts with repeaters to extend digital services. “Tourism is our biggest thing in Ulster County, and without high tech, we’re sunk. We need to push the state into mandating it. Just like electricity and telephone lines, it’s becoming more essential.”

He suggested an approach to the affordable housing crisis might be to encourage towns with ten-acre zoning to permit building on two- to three-acre parcels. “We need to look at our zoning laws.”

Another concern is how to attract businesses to the county so there will be more jobs available to residents. “The [Ashokan] Rail Trail only brought government jobs and jobs for people building the trail. It’s helped tourism, but the only business I know that sprang up was Overlook Bikes, which put a satellite in Shokan, with two part-time people there. Reducing taxes is not the way to attract development. We need to give other incentives. With people telecommuting, we can get more people here and attract more businesses.” 

Friedel pointed out that most youth leave the area after high school, partly because of the lack of jobs. “The only people coming back are buying second homes or moving here since the pandemic. We need to have hometown rule. If mandates from the state come down, they have to fund it, or we can’t afford to be here. With the environmental controls, they’re making people jump through red tape just because they want to stop us. When I was on the CWT, they wouldn’t allow a bike trail up in Hunter-Tannersville without an impact study. And it was just a stone bike path.”

In terms of the environment, Friedel noted, “New York City’s doing a good job of protecting the watershed, but we have to get away from the stranglehold of city regulations. I’m all for protecting the environment, but my feeling is, New York City doesn’t want us here. They’d prefer moving us out, so they don’t have to build a water filtration system. Businesses are suffering because of that. We are having to build a sewage system in Shokan. We need to say, ‘If you want this piece of property, give us something else.’”

He said he’s running for office again because “I don’t like sitting around letting people tell me what to do. I’d rather be part of the process. I wish people would come and talk with me, and if they think I’m wrong on something, explain to me why. Maybe you will change my mind, or maybe I can change yours.”