Albion village tells Gaines fire protection contract terminated Aug. 31

File photo by Tom Rivers
Albion firefighters respond to this fire in Gaines on Oct. 25 at a house owned by Watt Farms at 3161 Oak Orchard Rd.


By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 28 April 2016
ALBION – The Village Board has notified Gaines Town Supervisor Carol Culhane that the village will terminate a fire protection contract with Gaines on Aug. 31, at 11:59 p.m.

 

The contract between the town and village expired on Dec. 31, 2015. Village officials have pushed for Gaines to pay $1 per $1,000 of assessed property for fire protection. That is what the Town of Albion pays the village.

 

Gaines pays only 32 cents per $1,000, by far the lowest rate in Orleans County. Village officials said Wednesday that Gaines officials have resisted paying more and haven't responded to village requests for the two municipal boards to meet and discuss the issue.

 

"The Village Board regrets having to terminate a longstanding association with the Town of Gaines regarding fire protection services," according to an April 22 letter from village attorney John Gavenda to Culhane. "Since the Town of Gaines has rejected the proposal made by the Village of Albion for said services, it has no alternative but to sever the association."

 

Gaines officials had suggested the town pay based on percentage of calls in Albion fire protection district, which includes the Town of Albion, village and Gaines. Village officials want it based on assessment with the two towns each paying $1 per $1,000 of assessed property.

 

Village officials are hopeful a deal can be reached with Gaines before the contract expires after Aug. 31. Albion wants to keep Gaines partly because 20 to 25 volunteer firefighters live in that town. If Gaines isn't in Albion's service area, those members should join whatever fire department serves the town. But that would leave the Albion Fire Department with fewer members.

 

Gavenda, in his letter to Gaines on April 22, urged the town to "take all necessary measures to secure fire protection from an alternative source to avoid any lapse of service."

 

The village agreed in 1995 to a 20-year deeply discounted fire protection rate in exchange for Gaines making the sewer plant on Densmore Street tax exempt.

 

Here are the fire protection rates for towns for 2016:

 

Albion, $1.00; Barre, $1.45; Carlton, 75 cents; Clarendon, $1.02; Gaines, 32 cents; Kendall – $1.40 to Kendall and $1.61 to Morton; Murray – $1.58 to Holley and $1.59 to Fancher-Hulberton-Murray; Ridgeway, $1.29; Shelby, $1.74; and Yates, 49 cents to Lyndonville.


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Culvert work in Gaines will close section of Route 98 in May

Press Release, NYS Department of Transportation Posted 27 April 2016
GAINES – The New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) is advising motorists today a portion of Route 98 (Oak Orchard Road) in the town of Gaines, Orleans County, will be closed to traffic for up to two weeks beginning Monday, May 9, while a deteriorated culvert under the highway is replaced.


The culvert is located midway between Route 104 (Ridge Road) and the intersection of Route 279 (Gaines Road) and East/West Bacon roads.


A posted detour will direct traffic to use Route 279 (Gaines Road) and Route 104 (Ridge Road) to bypass the work site.

 

The schedule calls for the road to be re-opened by approximately May 23.


This work is being coordinated with a planned paving project on Route 98 between Route 31A (W. Lee Road) in the town of Barre through the town and village of Albion to Route 104 (Ridge Road) in the town of Gaines this summer. The construction schedule is yet to be finalized.

 

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Watts file notice they may sue Gaines for slander


File photo by Tom Rivers
Chris and Karen Watt had this 154-foot-high wind turbine at Watt Farms on Route 98 erected about four years ago. The construction and location resulted in lawsuits from a neighbor and the Town of Gaines.

 

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 18 April 2016
GAINES – Chris and Karen Watt, owner of a fruit farm and farm market on Route 98, have filed a notice of claim against the Town of Gaines, saying they intend to sue the town and four town officials for “slanderous and libelous” comments in regards to the wind turbine near the farm market.


In an Orleans Hub article in January (click here), Town Supervisor Carol Culhane voiced her disappointment that James Punch, acting Supreme Court justice, allowed the turbine to stay put following an order from the state Department of Agriculture of Markets.


Culhane and three Town Board members – Richard DeCarlo Sr., James Kirby and Susan Smith – on Jan. 5 passed a formal resolution that was critical of Ag and Markets for “immoral conduct” with the turbine issue at Watt Farms. The Town Board asked the Attorney General to conduct an ethics review of Ag and Markets staff with the Watt turbine issue and similar matters.


The resolution also stated that the Watts “attempted to evade the requirements of the Town Law by obtaining a permit for a wind tower which required site plan approval.”

 

The Gaines resolution, approved by four Town Board members, also stated the Watts received “illegal assistance” from the former Planning Board chairman in obtaining an improperly issued permit so the turbine could be sited “in a location which directly threatened public health and safety.”


Frank Aloi, the attorney for the Watts, said Chris and Karen Watt did nothing wrong with the turbine permitting process. He said they went to great lengths to follow the local and state laws.


The resolution on Jan. 5 from the town clearly infers an “illicit conspiracy” between the Watts and the former Planning Board chairman with the building permit, according to the legal papers filed by the Watts. However, previous litigation showed the Watts and prior town officials did nothing illegal, Aloi said in the notice of intent.


Culhane, the town supervisor, when contacted by Orleans Hub declined to discuss the issue because of the possible litigation.


When she first took office in January 2012, she moved to abolish the Town Planning Board and have those functions handled by the Zonings Board of Appeals. The ZBA then had the Watts reapply for a permit, which had been approved in 2011.


The second time around the town told the Watts the turbine needed to be moved away from the farm market and a U-Pick orchard. The Watts and Ag & Markets said that could cost $20,000 and was unreasonable. The town wanted the turbine 169.4 feet away from areas where people gathered. (That represents 1.1 multiplied by the turbine height.)


Ag and Markets suggested the setback from “human-occupied buildings” be five times the rotor distance or five times 23.6 feet, which would be 118 feet for the Watt turbine. Ag and Markets based that suggestion from the recommendation by New York State Energy Research and Development Authority or NYSERDA.


Ag and Markets also said any U-Pick area within the 118 feet could be off limits to the public.


Judge James Punch, acting Supreme Court justice, made final ruling on the matter in December, saying the turbine should stay put. He based that decision partly on the determination and order from Richard Ball, commissioner of the NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets.

 

Ball on Jan. 14, 2015 said sent official notice to the Town of Gaines, saying it was wrong to insist that the turbine be moved away from a farm market and U-Pick orchard at Watt Farms. Ball sent the letter to town officials, telling them they needed to comply with the Agriculture and Markets Law.


Culhane and the board majority have alleged “immoral conduct” by Ag & Markets and said the state agency has “falsely represented the facts of the case.”


Those comments are noted in the notice of intent from the Watts. Aloi, in the March 4 filing, said the Town Board didn't appeal Punch's decision in December, but instead used a "bully pulpit" at the Town Board meeting and in the local media to "intentionally and maliciously libel" Chris and Karen Watt.

 

Aloi said the potential damages against the Watts from the alleged defamation are unknown right now. The farm market hasn’t opened yet this year to see if the Watts will lose customers from the attacks on their character. The Watts also sell fruit at many farmers’ markets in the region, in addition to selling fruit wholesale to larger customers.


Filing the notice of intent gives the Watts the option to file a lawsuit within a year. Aloi, in the court papers, said the Watts have already spent $35,000 in litigation costs, and most of that could have been avoided if the Town Board hadn't dissolved the Planning Board and launched a "personal vendetta" against the Watt family.


The notice of intent names the four Town Board members who voted in favor of the resolution on Jan. 5. It doesn’t name Mary Neilans, a new Town Board member who was sworn into her position as town councilwoman on Jan. 5. She abstained from the vote on the resolution about the turbine. Neilans lives next to the Watts, and she filed the first lawsuit in the matter after the turbine went up in August 2011.

 

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Watt turbine taken down for repairs


Photos by Tom Rivers Posted 14 April 2016
GAINES – The turbine at Watt Farms was taken down today for repairs. The turbine needs a new alternator and will also get new blades. The replacement parts are on order and an installation hasn't been scheduled.

 

The turbine was the focus of a lawsuit from the Town of Gaines, which claimed the 154-foot-high turbine needed to be moved farther away from a farm market and storage building.

 

Judge James Punch, acting as a State Supreme Court justice, ruled in December the turbine didn't need to be moved. The State Department of Agriculture and Markets also sided with Watt Farms, saying the turbine location met the proper setbacks.

The 10-kilowatt turbine is expected to be repaired and placed back on a tower soon.

A big crane was brought in to bring down the turbine so repairs could be made. The turbine is located behind Watt Farm Country Market on Route 98, next to a fruit orchard.

 

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Gaines officially turns 200 on Feb. 14

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 10 February 2016
GAINES – The Town of Gaines has long marked the year 1809 as the birth of the town. That’s when several pioneer settlers started to arrive, making a new home in what was then a wilderness.


The town marked its centennial in 1909, its 150th anniversary in 1959 and a bicentennial in 2009.


However, Town Historian Al Capurso said the town didn’t officially exist until Feb. 14, 1816. That’s when the State Legislature recognized the Town of Gaines.


The first official Town Board meeting was soon after the state’s move to recognize Gaines. Capurso shared the tidbits with the Town Board on Tuesday. He noted that this Valentine’s Day will mark the town’s 200th official birthday.


Capurso shared other news with the Town Board. He is part of a committee working on the new Orleans County Heritage Festival the second weekend in September. Capurso said the event, which includes assistance from Genesee Community College, will highlight transportation, architecture, historic gems and historic cemeteries in the county.

 

He would like the Gaines Cemetery on Ridge Road, behind the Gaines Congregational Church, to be included on the cemetery tour. Capurso said that is the first cemetery in the county and includes two Revolutionary War soldiers.


At least one new historical marker will go up in Orleans County this year, with the Orleans County Department of History and the Orleans County Historical Association splitting the estimated $1,200 cost, Capurso said. He expects historians will vie for sites for the marker around the county. He would like one on Route 279, just south of Route 104 in honor of James Mather, one of the early Gaines settlers.


Capurso also has been leading the effort to preserve a former cobblestone schoolhouse on Gaines Basin Road, just north of the Erie Canal. Capurso said a variance has been approved to allow the site as a meeting house for the Historical Association. Attorneys are working on getting the title for the property for the Historical Association.


In other action at Tuesday’s Town Board meeting:


• The board discussed options for water accessibility for employees in the building. The Town Hall only has sinks in the two bathrooms. There isn’t a utility sink.
Town Supervisor Carol Culhane said that makes it difficult to fill a coffee pot or wash a dish.


“I think it’s unreasonable that we have something like this,” Culhane said. “We wash a dish in the bathroom sink because there is no sink.”


She thought water from the Culligan company, which would include 5-gallon jugs of water and a water cooler, would solve the problem temporarily. Culligan would charge $6.25 a month for the cooler, plus $7.99 per jug.


Town Councilman Richard DeCarlo wants to explore running a waterline in the building and creating a utility sink.


The board will look at options for either bottled water, Culligan or a waterline.

 

Ultimately the Town Hall needs some renovations for security and handicapped accessibility. Those changes could include a sink for the employees, Culhane said.


“But that’s down the road,” she said.


• The board approved spending $2,709 to Star Electric of Pavilion to add phones and upgrade the phone system for the Town Hall, where the phones haven't been updated in more than a decade.

 

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Gaines works to implement zoning changes, updates to comprehensive plan

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 10 February 2016
GAINES – The Town of Gaines in January approved a comprehensive plan for land use and now the town is pushing to implement some of the changes, including creating a land use map

 

The Town Board on Tuesday voted to spend $11,400 for General Codes to revise the town zoning map to reflect changes from the comprehensive plan. The current map is confusing with contradictions, Town Supervisor Carol Culhane said.


“It would bring us a lot of clarity and confirmation,” she said.

 

Mike Grabowski, the ZBA chairman and town’s representative on the Orleans County Planning Board, also was given permission by the Town Board on Tuesday to work on digitizing the map with James Bensley, the director of the county’s Planning Department.

 

One big change includes an expanded commercial zone on Route 104 from west of Brown Street Road to east of Route 279.

 

The comprehensive plan also encourages the town to create an overlay district to better preserve and promote historic sites in the town, including the Erie Canal and the Cobblestone Historic District.

 

The town also wants to encourage single-family development to preserve the rural character of the community. The town is also open to extending public sewer lines in the future, with the priority given to higher-density areas for residential and business development, and also for residents with pollution problems from their sewage disposal systems.

 

The comprehensive plan also adds multiple definitions of farming including enclosed farm operations (greenhouses), agricultural industrial operations (large-scale cattle, hog, dairy and poultry farms). Traditional Open Land Farming Operations include crop farming (vegetables, fruit, grain) and hay farming.

 

Culhane said now that the comprehensive plan has been adopted, there is more work needed to implement the plan.

 

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Gaines awarded court grant for $16,100

Town Hall will be open on Saturdays beginning in May, closed on Wednesdays except for court

Photo by Tom Rivers

Richard DeCarlo, a former Gaines town supervisor, returned to the Town Board this year after being elected town councilman. He took the oath of office on Tuesday as town councilman.

 

(CORRECTION: The current hours for the Town Hall are Mondays through Thursdays from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Fridays from 8 a.m. to noon. An earlier version of this story said the current hours were 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. from Monday through Friday. The new hours beginning May 1 will be 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. The building will be closed on Wednesday except for town court, beinning in May. There will also be Saturday hours from 9 a.m. to noon.)

 

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 9 January 2016
GAINES – The Town of Gaines has been approved for a $16,100 state grant for its court system. The funding through the Justice Court Assistance Program will be used for equipment and other resources for the town court, Town Supervisor Carol Culhane said.


The town sought the maximum $30,000 grant, and received more than half that. It didn’t receive funds for security improvements, Culhane said.


The Town Board is taking steps to improve the safety of the building and court employees. The town hired the Wendel firm to prepare cost estimates for renovations to the courtroom and Town Hall.


Court meets on Wednesdays at 3 p.m. and Culhane and board members said court is an “uncomfortable situation” for other town employees in the building.


“The chaos on Wednesday is something to behold,” she said. “We’ve had an outcry from the public.”


Board members debated this week whether the Town Hall should be closed on Wednesdays, except for court. That would ease some of the parking issues for employees and residents using the building for non-court issues.


The town will have town clerk hours on Saturday mornings. Board members wanted to make the change right away this month, but decided to wait until May 1 because tax bills that were just sent listed town clerk hours for the five weekdays.


The board decided to wait until May 1, after tax season, to implement new hours for the town clerk, including 9 a.m. to noon on Saturdays. The town clerk will have hours from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays beginning in May with no hours on Wednesdays.


Culhane said Gaines will join three other towns in the county with Saturday hours: Carlton, Clarendon and Murray.

 

The Town Board made a series of appointments for 2016, including:

 

• Andrew Meier as town attorney to be paid $7,800 for the year;
• Culhane as budget officer for $2,000;
• Lynne Johnson as bookkepper (no salary listed);
• Town Clerk Jean Klatt as official registrar for $932, and water collection clerk for $6,309;
• Highway Superintendent Ron Mannella will also serve as water superintendent for $18,294 for the year;
• Marilynn Miller was appointed to a five-year term to the Zoning Board, where members are paid $25 per meeting;
• Michael Grabowski was appointed to a three-year term as town representative to the Orleans County Planning Board and will receive $25 a meeting;
• First Niagara as official depository;
• The Daily News of Batavia as official newspaper for carrying public notices.

 

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Gaines faults Ag and Markets for ‘immoral conduct’ with turbine issue

Photo by Tom Rivers
Gaines Town Supervisor Carol Culhane said the State Department of Agriculture and Markets needs to accept liability, not the town, if someone is hurt from the wind turbine at Watt Farms on Route 98. The town has pushed to have the turbine moved away from a U-Pick area and farm market.

 

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 6 January 2016
GAINES – The Gaines Town Board says the state Department of Agriculture and Markets ignored public safety in insisting that a 154-foot-high turbine at Watt Farms be allowed to stay near buildings and a U-pick area for the public.


The Town Board on Tuesday approved a formal resolution that was critical of Ag and Markets for “immoral conduct” with the turbine issue at Watt Farms. The Town Board asked the Attorney General to conduct an ethics review of Ag and Markets staff with the Watt turbine issue and similar matters.


The Town Board in its resolution says that Ag and Markets has undermined public safety, and issued letters and a determination “that falsely represented the facts in the case.” The resolution also states town officials sought to meet with Ag and Markets staff several times to discuss the issue and Ag and Markets refused “in order to hide their immoral conduct.”


A State Supreme Court judge ruled last month the turbine doesn’t have to be moved, reversing the judge’s decision from about a year before. Ag and Markets hadn’t issued a final order before Judge James Punch’s first decision in December 2014.

 

Ag and Markets said forcing the Watts to move the turbine, at a cost of $20,000, would unreasonable and unnecessary, according to an order on Jan. 14, 2015 from Richard A. Ball, commissioner of Ag and Markets. He sent the letter to town officials, telling them they needed to comply with the Agriculture and Markets Law.


The issue has been in the courts for more than two years with the first lawsuit filed by Mary Neilans, Watt’s neighbor. She is now on the Gaines Town Board and abstained from the vote on Tuesday.


Town officials have insisted the proper procedures for issuing a permit for the turbine were not followed and a proper setback distance away from public areas were not established by the former Planning Board. The Town Board dissolved the Planning Board about two years ago and shifted those responsibilities to the Zoning Board of Appeals.


Ag and Markets in its order last January said the town didn’t use the proper setback distance. Gaines determined the setback distance by multiplying the 154-foot turbine by 1.1 for a 169.4-foot setback minimum. Gaines officials said the turbine needed to be moved at least 169.4 feet away from the farm market, train ride course and designated U-pick areas.


Ag and Markets suggested the setback from “human-occupied buildings” be five times the rotor distance or five times 23.6 feet, which would be 118 feet for the Watt turbine. Ag and Markets based that suggestion from the recommendation by New York State Energy Research and Development Authority or NYSERDA.


Town Supervisor Carol Culhane said the board adopted the resolution on Tuesday to shift liability from the town to the state in case anyone is ever hurt by the turbine.


“Ag and Markets created the liability,” Culhane said. “That’s the purpose (with this resolution) putting it on them, not on us.”


The resolution from Gaines also calls on the State Legislature to require Ag and Markets to comply with the State Administrative Procedure Act in issuing determinations regarding the validity of local zoning laws, and calls on the State Legislature to make amendments to Ag & Markets preventing the department “from ignoring public health and safety.”

 

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Gaines may have first elected municipal board ever in Orleans County with women in majority

Photos by Tom Rivers

Mary Neilans takes the oath of office from Town Justice Bruce Schmidt on Tuesday at Gaines Town Hall. Town Supervisor Carol Culhane, back left, and Town Councilwoman Sue Smith watch the proceedings.

 

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 5 January 2016
GAINES – The Gaines Town Board may have made history this evening. The board held its first meeting of the year and newly elected members from the November election were sworn in.


Mary Neilans and Richard DeCarlo are new members of the board, joining incumbents Carol Culhane as town supervisor and board members Sue Smith and Jim Kirby.


Neilans and DeCarlo replace Doug Syck and Dave Kast, who didn’t seek re-election.
The addition of Neilans gives the Gaines Town Board three women on a five-member board. I think this is the first time in Orleans County history that a town, village or county elected board has had a women-majority.


It didn’t occur to me until soon before the meeting at 6:45 p.m. that Gaines might be making history today. I shared my hunch with Culhane.


“Interesting,” she said.

 

I can't say for certain if history was made. I'm not sure anyone has been keeping track or given it much thought.

Carol Culhane is sworn in as town supervisor by Town Justice Bruce Schmidt.

 

Culhane is starting her third two-year term as town supervisor. She just completed four years as leader of the town government. She is the first woman to serve in the role for Gaines. Sue Smith is starting her seventh year as a Town Board member.

 

Most of the local town, village and county boards are dominated by men. The seven-member County Legislature only has had two women ever elected to that board: the late Marcia Tuohey and Lynne Johnson, who is a current legislator.

 

Culhane, a professional artist, said she hasn’t necessarily been pushing for more women on the board. She said she has sought diversity of backgrounds and expertise. Neilans is a veterinarian and small business owner who lives in a house on the National Register of Historic Places. DeCarlo is a retired teacher, a former town supervisor and owner of Heritage Estates.

 

Kirby is a farmer and Smith has worked in education. Her husband Guy also is an onion grower.

 

Culhane appointed Smith as deputy supervisor during Tuesday's meeting and that too may have been historic in Orleans County. It may perhaps be the first ever a municipality had two women at the top of a local board.

Gaines Town Board members include, from left: Jim Kirby, Mary Neilans, Carol Culhane, Sue Smith and Richard DeCarlo.

 

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Planners approve old cobblestone school as meeting house

Photo by Tom Rivers
Volunteers have worked to save a former Cobblestone Schoolhouse on Gaines Basin Road in Albion. The school was built in 1832, and may be the oldest cobblestone building in the county.


By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 18 December 2015

ALBION – A cobblestone building from 1832 that was used as a schoolhouse until 1944 will find new use as meeting place for the Orleans County Historical Association.


The group has worked the past year to put on a new roof and stabilize the building at 3302 Gaines Basin Rd., just north of the Erie Canal.


The 913-square-foot building hasn’t been used much since it was closed as a school in 1944. Nor had there been much upkeep of the building until this year.


Al Capurso, the Gaines town historian, pushed to save the building from collapse. The site received a new historical marker in October, and the Historical Association is trying to get it listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


On Thursday, the Orleans County Planning Board approved the site plan and recommended the Town of Gaines approve variances and give a permit for the Historical Association to use the building for a public/semi-public community facility.


The association needs 200 feet of frontage but the property only has 125 feet. It also needs a minimum lot size of 40,000 square feet, but only has 22,500. Planners backed the frontage variance of 75 feet, and a 17,500 square foot variance for minimum lot size.


The Historical Association didn’t create the hardships for the variances, planners said. The group should be commended “for restoring a vital piece of Orleans County history back to an active use.”


The site shouldn’t draw too much traffic. There is parking available in the back on a hard-pack surface for about 20 vehicles.


Capurso told planners on Thursday the site will be used for meetings and could be home to donated artifacts.


The Historical Association in 2016 plans to repair the floor, have the building rewired and ceiling and walls plastered. Some missing sections of cobblestones will be replaced with appropriate soft lime mortar.


In 2017, Capurso said he expects the site will receive donations for a piano, school desks, teachers desk, wood stove, tables, chairs and wall hangings.

 

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Gaines town supervisor disappointed with decision about Watt’s turbine

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 15 December 2015

GAINES – Town Supervisor Carol Culhane said the town’s focus for pushing to have a 154-foot-high turbine moved at Watt Farms has been to protect the public.

 

The Gaines Zoning Board of Appeals voted on Dec. 4, 2013 that the turbine should be relocated farther away from a farm market, storage building and U-pick area of the farm on Route 98.

 

“The Zoning Board of Appeals exercised good judgment abiding by our zoning laws/ordinances for public safety,” Culhane said this afternoon. “No one said Chris Watt couldn’t have a turbine but we said he could not have it where it could fall on people.”

 

The issue was fought in court and on Friday a State Supreme Court judge ruled in favor of Chris and Karen Watt, saying the turbine can stay put.


Judge James Punch has previously sided with the town, but he said in his decision on Friday that a “Determination and Order” from the State Department of Agriculture and Markets prompted him to reopen the matter. When he decided in favor of the Gaines ZBA in December 2014, Punch said Ag and Markets hadn’t yet issued its determination and order.


That agency, led by Commissioner Richard Ball, said forcing the Watts to relocate the turbine was unduly burdensome and would cost the farm $20,000.


Ag and Markets in that order said the town didn’t use the proper setback distance.

 

Gaines determined the setback distance by multiplying the 154-foot turbine by 1.1 for a 169.4-foot setback minimum. Gaines officials said the turbine needed to be moved at least 169.4 feet away from the farm market, train ride course and designated U-pick areas.


Ag and Markets suggested the setback from “human-occupied buildings” be five times the rotor distance or five times 23.6 feet, which would be 118 feet for the Watt turbine. Ag and Markets based that suggestion from the recommendation by New York State Energy Research and Development Authority or NYSERDA.


NYSERDA uses that setback for buildings that are occupied a majority of the time and not occasionally, such as in Watt’s situation. The train route at Watt’s and the U-pick area are temporarily visited by the public and insisting on a setback there “unreasonably restricts the farm operation,” Ball said in his letter last January.


Culhane isn’t sure if this is the last action in the case, if the town has another option in challenging the ruling from Judge Punch.

 

“I am disappointed that Judge Punch reversed himself and agreed with Ag and Markets that public safety is not important in consideration of land use and applying our zoning ordinances,” Culhane said. “Judge Punch got it right twice before he got it wrong.”

 

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Judge rules Watt turbine can stay

File photo by Tom Rivers
An acting Supreme Court justice has issued a ruling that the 154-foot-high wind turbine at Watt Farms on Route 98 doesn’t have to be moved from a farm market and storage building. The issue has been in litigation with Gaines town officials demanding the turbine be relocated.


By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 15 December 2015
GAINES – A 154-foot-high wind turbine that has been the focus of lawsuits doesn’t have to be relocated, a State Supreme Court judge ruled on Friday.


The Town of Gaines Zoning Board of Appeals on Dec. 4, 2013, said the turbine would have to be moved away from a farm market and U-pick orchard at Watt Farms.


James Punch, acting Supreme Court justice in Orleans County, upheld the Gaines ZBA last December. However, the decision and the Gaines position was challenged by the state Department of Agriculture and Markets.


Ag and Markets said forcing the Watts to move the turbine, at a cost of $20,000, would unreasonable and unnecessary, according to a letter on Jan. 14, 2015 from Richard A. Ball, commissioner of Ag and Markets.

 

He sent the letter to town officials, telling them they needed to comply with the Agriculture and Markets Law.


Punch, in a decision on Friday, said his decision a year ago was made without the Determination and Order from Ag and Markets. The state agency had sent advisory letters on the issue before Punch’s decision in December 2014, but the Determination and Order followed.


Ag and Markets said Gaines, with its insistence the turbine be moved, “unreasonably restricts the farm operation.” Punch sides with Watts in his latest decision and tells Gaines it must comply with the order from Ag and Markets, dated Jan. 13, 2015.

 

Ag and Markets in that order said the town didn’t use the proper setback distance. Gaines determined the setback distance by multiplying the 154-foot turbine by 1.1 for a 169.4-foot setback minimum.

 

Gaines officials said the turbine needed to be moved at least 169.4 feet away from the farm market, train ride course and designated U-pick areas.

 

Ag and Markets suggested the setback from “human-occupied buildings” be five times the rotor distance or five times 23.6 feet, which would be 118 feet for the Watt turbine. Ag and Markets based that suggestion from the recommendation by New York State Energy Research and Development Authority or NYSERDA.

 

NYSERDA uses that setback for buildings that are occupied a majority of the time and not occasionally, such as in Watt’s situation. The train route at Watt’s and the U-pick area are temporarily visited by the public and insisting on a setback there “unreasonably restricts the farm operation,” Ball said in his letter.

 

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In Gaines, slate of Democrats and Republicans vie for Town Board

The Republican Party candidates include, from left: Mary Neilans for town councilman, Carol Culhane for town supervisor, and Richard DeCarlo for town councilman.

 

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 2 November 2015
GAINES – Gaines residents will go to the polls on Tuesday (Nov. 3) and will have choices for the Town Board, with a slate of Democrats squaring off against three Republicans.


That doesn’t happen too often in Orleans County in recent years, where in many towns the Republican candidates run unopposed.


Carol Culhane leads the Republican ticket. She is seeking a third two-year term as town supervisor. Culhane said she has worked to sort out town finances, including correcting some overcharging with water districts and reducing unbilled water by improving the town’s water meters.


She has worked to promote the Ridge Road corridor by pushing for new town signs and working on the project to open Fair Haven Treasures. She manages that site for owners Ray and Linda Burke. It has several artisan vendors.


Culhane has worked as a professional artist the past 26 years. She created the artwork for the new town signs, which include a cobblestone and patriotic theme. Culhane notes Gaines had a role in the War of 1812.


“We wanted to show the history and patriotism of the area,” she said.


Culhane owns Oak Orchard Galleries. She also works on several community projects, and was a liaison to the Santa Claus community when about 250 Santas came to Albion and Gaines for a Santa Claus Convention in April. The Santas helped dedicate an International Peace Garden at Fair Haven.


Culhane and the Town Board last month presented a budget for 2016 that would reduce the town tax rate by 30 cents per $1,000 of assessed property.


“The costs are down through conservation, oversight and management,” she said. “We tightened our belt.”


The town also benefitted from a boost in its tax base by $851,000 with most of that credited to the growth at Intergrow Greenhouses.

Photos by Tom Rivers
The Democratic Party in Gaines endorsed three candidates for Town Board, including, from left: Bill Lattin for councilman, Patrick Swiercznski for town supervisor, and Pete Toenniessen for town councilman.


Swiercznski is a familiar name in Gaines. Patrick is following his father Ted Swiercznski in pursuing local politics. Ted Swiercznski was a Gaines and county official, and remains active in the local Democratic Party.


Patrick Swiercznski has worked the past 25 years in local construction with Keeler Construction, the Pike Company, and then with Keeler again since 2004. Swiercznski primarily works as a surveyor for Keeler.


“I work with state, town and county governments on the various public works projects, working to keep them within budgets,” he said.


Keeler and governments often work on tight time constraints to get big projects done by deadline, Swiercznski said.


He would like to see the town be more active in addressing so-called “zombie” houses, which are properties in the midst of an unfinished foreclosure. Often a bank-owned house will be left vacant for years. It’s become an issue locally, state-wide and beyond.


“The ghost properties are abandoned and need to be cleaned up,” Swiercznski said.

 

He was nominated to run for town supervisor during the Democratic Party caucus.


“People thought enough to nominate me, and I don’t want to let them down,” he said.

 

The Town Board will have at least two new members in 2016 because incumbents David Kast and Doug Syck aren’t seeking re-election.


The Democrats have backed Bill Lattin and Pete Toenniessen. Lattin served on the board for 30 years from 1979 to 2009, before a two-year term as town supervisor. He retired as county historian last Dec. 31 after 35 years in position. A former school teacher, he also was director of the Cobblestone Museum for 40 years.


“Certainly I have a long-time interest in the Town of Gaines,” Lattin said. “I feel there are some things that need to be addressed.”


Lattin would like to see more attention given to the “zombie homes.” He also wonders if it is prudent for the town to reduce the tax rate by 30 cents.


“I question what the town is scrimping on that a future administration will have to make up for,” he said.


Lattin would also like to continue support for growing the community’s agriculture businesses. He said he is pleased to see the expansions at Intergrow and Lake Ontario Fruit, which runs a packing and distribution site on Route 104.


Pete Toenniessen worked 30 years at Kodak. He has been a school bus driver the past 18 years and has been an active adult volunteer with Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, 4-H and the Fair Board.


“A lot of the areas need to be cleaned up in the town,” Toenniessen said.


He said he backs Right-To-Farm laws and wants to see Gaines welcome farming.


“The farmers are our lifeblood,” he said.


The Republican candidates for Town Board include former Town Supervisor Richard DeCarlo and Mary Neilans, a local veterinarian.


DeCarlo was on the Town Board during recent water district expansions. A retired industrial arts teacher from Churchville-Chili, DeCarlo also started and developed Heritage Estates, which has 163 units off Brown Road in the Village of Albion.


DeCarlo said he will be an advocate for taxpayers, particularly with the fire contract with the Village of Albion. The town has budgeted for a 5 percent increase in the contract for 2016.


Neilans lives in a historic cobblestone house on Route 98 that was recently added to the National Register of Historic Places. She has been a regular attendee at Town Board meetings the past four years.


“I’m knowledgeable on the issues, and I’m willing to put in the time and effort,” she said.


Neilans and Culhane are both also endorsed by the Conservative Party. Neilans also was a trustee for nine years on Niagara County Community College, dealing with a budget and employees much larger than in Gaines.


Voting will be from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Tuesday at the Town Hall. Ron Mannella is also on the ballot for highway superintendent. He is unopposed and is running under five party lines: Republican, Democratic, Conservative, Independence and Reform.

 

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Farmhouse damaged in fire will be razed

Grand structure was year-round residence for 6 farmworkers


By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 26 October 2015
ALBION – The fire that badly damaged a grand old house on Route 98 has displaced six year-round farmworkers for Watt Farms and will also result in the building being razed, said Karen Watt, co-owner of the Watt Farms with her husband Chris.

 

The fire broke out at about 2 p.m. on Sunday in a house owned by Watt Farms at 3161 Oak Orchard Rd. The house is the year-round residence for six workers. Some of the workers lost their possessions during the fire, Watt said.

 

The Red Cross paid for them to stay at Dollinger's Motel last night. Watt Farms will move them to a seasonal housing for the short-term. Watt said she is working on housing for the winter, as well as clothing and other supplies for the workers.

 

They are the core members of the farm's work crew, with some of them working for Watt for 20 years.

 

"We're trying to figure out what to do," she said. "That was their home, but it would be cost prohibitive to fix it."

Here is house the house looks this afternoon, a day after the fire. A new metal roof had recently been put on the house.

 

The red brick house was built about 150 years ago with additions to follow. It had "a beautiful staircase and woodwork," Watt said.

 

Fire investigators told her it looks like an electrical fire triggered the blaze.

 

The building will be knocked down. It was part of the former Harding farm.

 

"It's really too bad," Watt said.

Albion firefighter James Fisher was one of the first on the scene. He sprays water on the fire yesterday afternoon. Watt said the fire destroyed the framework for the brick house.

 

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Fire heavily damages house for farmworkers owned by Watt Farms

Photos by Tom Rivers Posted 25 October 2015 3:22 p.m.
GAINES – A fire broke out at about 2 p.m. today in a house owned by Watt Farms at 3161 Oak Orchard Rd. The house is the year-round home for six farmworkers.

The house is at the northeast intersection of the Five Corners where Route 98, Bacon Road and Route 279 all intersect.

Albion firefighters hurry to attach a hose to a hydrant.

Flames were feasting on the house, a big residence.

Darryl Szklany of Albion surveys the scene. Several other fire departments sent crews to help contain and put out the fire.

Firefighters spray water on the fire.

The fire gave off big clouds of smoke after water was directed on the house.

 

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