Annual Report


Forty Sixth Annual BKAA Report, October 20, 2018

by Paula Medley, President

Ever the opportunist, the BKAA utilized myriad opportunities,to promote the wetlands and our organization, which ultimately enhanced networking, outreach, and educational pursuits.

BKAA Board: Bob Muller will join our board pending members’ approval at this year’s Annual Meeting. Membership Chair Marcia Briggs Wallace submitted her letter of resignation, effective October 2019.

Developments in the Basha Kill Watershed:

It was extremely busy this year, with most advocacy occurring between November 2017 and June 2018. Mamakating’s draft Comprehensive Plan, Thompson Education Center, Sugar Gum, Dunntown, and Kuhl’s Solar Farms, Proposed Local Laws relating to large-scale solar farms and extractive industries. Hopper Hill Sand and Gravel Mine, Dragon Springs, and Beautiful Earth generated ongoing BKAA involvement.

Mamakating’s Draft Comprehensive Plan:

February 19, 21, March 13 – The Town Board conducted special workshops on the Plan. Paula Medley attended all sessions.

  • May 8 – The Town Board held a special workshop with the Plan’s steering committee.
  • Present – The Plan is currently being reviewed by the town’s planner and attorney. When they are finished, the Plan will be sent to the Town Board. When the board deems the Plan “complete,” a public hearing will be scheduled. After the hearing, the Plan will receive a final “tune-up” by the town planner before returning to the board for approval, which will likely transpire late December or early January.

Thompson Education Center (TEC) aka China City of America:

  • TEC has not appeared before Thompson’s planning board since September 13, 2017.
  • September 27, 2017, – TEC applied to Fallsburg for a building permit to construct a 9 bedroom, 9,328 sq. ft. two story “residence” off Renner Road on the access road to developers’ 568 acre Thompson parcel.
  • November 28 – Fallsburg’s Deputy Code Enforcement Officer issued a building permit for erection of a supposed “single family residence” on TEC’s 4.93 acre Fallsburg tract.
  • December 22 – BKAA filed an Appeal with Fallsburg’s Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) to overturn the Deputy Code Enforcements Officer’s decision.
  • February 1, 2018 – Fallsburg’s ZBA established the date and time of a public hearing on the BKAA’s Appeal.
  • February 15 – 1st public hearing on BKAA Appeal. Thirty – 35 speakers from the BKAA, Columbia Hill Neighborhood Alliance, Fallsburg’s Future, Rock Hill Neighborhood Coalition, and Yankee Lake Preservation Association testified in favor of BKAA’s Appeal. Written comment period was extended to March 15.
  • March 9 – The BKAA (Paula Medley) was interviewed for an article in The Economist on Chinese Immigration and the EB-5 process.
  • March 15 – 2nd public hearing on BKAA Appeal. Written comment period extended to March 21.
  • April 19 – Fallsburg’s ZBA voted 3-1 to uphold building permit issuance, attaching conditions, like prohibiting more than 10% impervious lot coverage.
  • Present – Foundation work has occurred on TEC CEO Sherry Li’s Fallsburg residence.

Sugar Gum, Dunntown, and Kuhl’s Large Scale Solar Farms:

  • November 28 – Mamakating’s planning board held 2nd public hearings on Sugar Gum and Dunntown site plan approvals. There was a presentation on Kuhl’s Solar.
  • January 9, 2018 – Mamakating’s planning board conducted special workshops on Sugar Gum and Dunntown. Paula attended on behalf of BKAA.
  • January 23 – Mamakating’s planning board voted 4-2 declaring a Positive Declaration of Environmental Significance for Sugar Gum and Dunntown, necessitating full Environmental Impact Statements for both.
  • April 3 – The Town Board adopted a Local Law strengthening regulations on large-scale solar farms, agreeing to vote at a later date on whether to remove Sugar Gum and Dunntown from the new law’s application via “grandfathering.”
  • April 17 – No town board member motioned to “grandfather” or exempt Sugar Gum from the newly passed Local Law, effectively eliminating this project from further consideration. Developers had already withdrawn Dunntown’s application.
  • Present – Kuhl’s solar farm was recently discussed at a planning board workshop and may still be a viable endeavor under the new local law solar guidelines.

Susan Erny read Paula’s testimony on behalf of the BKAA. The Town Board did not vote as more information was needed from developers:

  • February 6, 2018 – Continuation of public hearing; Paula testified for the BKAA.
  • April 3 – Town Board adopted Local Law.

Proposed Local Law Prohibiting New Extractive Operations in the Light Industry Office (LIO) Zoning District:

April 27 – Mamakating’s Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) conducted a public hearing on Paradise ll.

  • December 21 – Paula attended a special planning board workshop on the local law.
  • January 2 – Town Board conducted a public hearing on the local law.
  • February 6 – 2nd public hearing. Paula spoke on the BKAA’s behalf, endorsing this local law’s passage.
  • April 3 – Town Board adopted local law.

Hopper Hill (HH) Sand and Gravel Mine:

  • December 28 – DEC sent HH’s 3rd Notice of Incomplete Application for a Mined Land Reclamation Permit.
  • Present – Due to the aforementioned local law’s passage, HH’s proposal is prohibited in Mamakating. Nevertheless, HH continues its environmental review with DEC and is apparently working on a Draft Environmental Impact Statement.

Dragon Springs (DS):

  • January 12, February 12 – Discolored water was observed flowing into an unnamed Basher Kill tributary from improper construction processes occurring on DS property. Via engineer Andy Willingham, The BKAA contacted DEC with its concerns. Subsequently, DEC conducted three inspections and mandated DS to remediate violations by February 28. We are uncertain whether DS complied.
  • May 9 – Deerpark planning board’s public hearing on draft Scope of a cumulative environmental review on DS on site activity since the year 2000. The BKAA provided written testimony from consulting engineer Willingham.
  • June – More DS spillage into Basher Kill tributary. DEC required a flow meter installed to accurately measure wastewater flow. No fines were initiated.

Beautiful Earth (BE):

  • September 25, 2018 – Developer Heslin requested from Mamakating’s planning board an 18 month extension of his project’s site plan approval, first granted with conditions on March 28, 2017. The planning board approved Heslin’s plea but indicated all outstanding fees must be paid by January 8, 2019.

Networking

The BKAA carefully nurtured new contacts and constantly revitalized connections with long-standing friends and supporters. These priceless collaborations, with their myriad resources, positively influenced BKAA accomplishments.

  • The BKAA retained its affiliation with Sullivan County Visitors Association (SCVA), whose website and publications highlight our programs and wetland ecosystem. On December 7, Mike and Paula Medley attended SCVA’s Annual Meeting /Holiday Party and participated in its Annual Literature Exchange in Hurleyville on May 10.
  • BKAA partnered with Trailkeeper, a coalition of Sullivan County organizations who promote their events on a collaborative website, and Paula attended Trail Committee meetings on 2/3, 4/10, 5/8 and in August.
  • BKAA maintained membership in the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed.
  • BKAA minimally networked with local politicians.
  • BKAA enjoyed consistent backing from loyal supporters: Concerned Residents of Winterton, Deerpark Rural Alliance, Friends of the Shawangunks, and Sullivan County Audubon Society.
  • Due to TEC’s threats, we received invaluable assistance from Columbia Hill Neighborhood Alliance, Fallsburg’s Future, Masten Lake’s Mamakating Property Owner’s Civic Association, Rock Hill Neighborhood Coalition, Wanaksink Lake Club, and Yankee Lake Preservation Association.
  • For the BKAA, Paula mentored Concerned Residents of Winterton, Deerpark Rural Alliance, and Fallsburg’s Future.
  • Regular communication occurred with DEC Bashakill Manager, Nate Ermer, who constantly updated DEC activity at the Wildlife Management Area in our Guardian.
  • BKAA input to DEC and a local scout troop facilitated successful Eagle Scout bench/kiosk construction projects at the Basha Kill and culminated in Amos Decker’s induction as an Eagle Scout.
  • December 4 – Linda Lou Bartle attended the Delaware River Forum, sponsored by the William Penn Foundation, in Port Jervis.
  • January 29 – Paula met with three Fallsburg’s Future leaders to discuss local advocacy.
  • April 27 – Susan Erny and Paula attended Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s program at Bethel Woods.
  • April 28 – Mike and Paula networked at Sullivan Renaissance’s Spring Market and Annual Conference.
  • September 23 – Linda Lou and Paula managed the BKAA’s educational table at Sullivan 180’s Expo at SUNY Sullivan.
  • October 12, 2018 Mike and Paula attended Sullivan County Audubon Society’s Annual Meeting.
  • October 14 – BKAA reps networked at Friends of the Shawangunks’ Annual Meeting.

Come Clean: Basha Kill Garden Update

by Cathy Dawkins and Patricia Diness

As has become the norm, the Come Clean Team conducted an early summer clean-up and maintenance of our two gardens – one in front of the laundromat in Wurtsboro and one at the corner of Haven Road and Route 209 near Westbrookville. Our efforts included weeding, trimming, raking and pruning. All prior plantings are healthy and happy – some excessively so!
Same as last year, some serious pruning of the laundromat’s white rosebush and the prolific Russian Sages at Haven Road was absolutely essential. They continually threaten to overgrow their space, with the Russian Sages self-seeding each season. This “problem” is much better than the alternative! For annuals, we planned to use our usual – red Dragon Wing Begonias – but they weren’t available this past spring. So we chose some lighter red “Angel Wing Begonias” which served the purpose just fine. Like last year, no annuals were added to the Haven Road garden as perennials have filled the garden with green, yellow and white in the spring and a beautiful pink, white and lavender in later summer. There is simply no need for annuals, which only attract woodchucks.
Gary Dodd continues to manage the laundry garden, adding touches of whimsy while ensuring that each plant is lovingly tended. We only do a minor sprucing up in the spring. If you see him about, please thank him!
The Haven Road garden had a lush year with all of the summer rains. Keeping the fast-growing weeds and the fast-growing plantings under control was a challenge, but, by early August, we had succeeded and the garden has been simply SPECTACULAR. The Rose-of-Sharon and hydrangea really came into their own this year. While the deer nibbled around the outside, the garden is so full and surrounded with textures and smells that deer dislike, that they didn’t venture into the center.
All of the birdhouses need replacing, which we will do in the spring. Time, rain, snow, and sun have worn them down, so we’ll get new ones then.

Local Environmental Activities:

  • March 17 – BKAA co-sponsored Maya Van Rossum’s book signing and program on the Green Amendment, at the Mamakating Library.
  • April 7 – Nature Watch orientation at Wurtsboro Community Church’s Friendship Hall.
  • April 28 – BKAA sponsored Ravensbeard’s “Live Bird Show” at Wurtsboro’s Spring Festival.
  • May 12 – BKAA co-sponsored a Mamakating Library presentation entitled: “Exploring the Shawangunks – A Visual Odyssey.”
  • June 9 – Opening Reception of Wurtsboro Art Alliance’s Basha Kill Show. Anita Altman, Bill Lucas, and Paula attended.
  • June 25 – Amos Decker Eagle Scout Induction at Wurtsboro’s American Legion Hall. Mike and Paula represented the BKAA.
  • July 12 – BKAA co-sponsored Kerron Barnes’ talk on Mamakating trails at the Mamakating Library.
  • July 14 – Wurtsboro Founder’s Day. The BKAA had an information booth “manned” by Linda Lou, Lilith Jones, Chris Leser, Bill Lucas, Christine Saward, Mike and Paula.
  • September 29 – BKAA co-sponsored Elly Knieriemen’s presentation on “Biodiversity of the Basha Kill and Shawangunk Ridge.” Paula spoke briefly about the BKAA.

Campers:

In 2018, Liam Burns, Mary Clark, Marissa Crosby, Adam Furman, Chris McFarlane, Aaron Minton, and Jackson Mitchell attended Camp DeBruce in the Catskills. Dylan McIntyre and Lukas Redzimski went to Pack Forest in the southern Adirondacks, while Tommy Garcia attended Camp Colby at Saranac Lake in the northern Adirondacks.

Jack Orth Memorial Scholarship:

Amanda Werkmeister from Napanoch was this year’s winner.

Catherine Abate Memorial Scholarship:

The following graduating high school seniors received the 2nd Annual Catherine Abate Memorial BKAA Scholarship, funded by Michael Abate to honor his late wife, Catherine, a passionate environmental activist. Their winning essays focused on local environmental problems and ways to mitigate them.

Congratulations to:

Colleen Baer – Pine Bush Central School District

Dylan Broder – Monticello Central School District

Autumn Herald – Monticello Central School District

Basha Kill Walks and Educational Calendar:

These activities are crucial to the BKAA’s core mission, which teaches the value of wetlands, the Shawangunk Ridge, and entire Basha Kill Watershed, along with ways to safeguard them.

Paula established the BKAA’s educational itinerary and assembled the experts who implemented it.

John Haas took 22 birders on his “Early Spring Waterfowl Walk” and another 22 on his “Spring Bird Migration venture.” Mike shepherded 3 hikers up Gobbler’s Knob and others on his Huckleberry Ridge foray.  Scott Graber introduced 12 neophytes to “Birding for Beginners,” Bill Cutler captivated 15 visitors, including several children, with his “Happy for Herps” outing. SUNY Orange Professor Emeritus Marty Borko educated 7 attendees about wetland plant life. Gary Keeton escorted 6 on the D&H Canal/O & W trail loop, 12 on his “Moonlight Ramble,” and many on his two excursions highlighting D&H Canal history. Jack Austin led 11 aficionados on his “Natural History” trip. Scott and Mike guided 11 vessels during their September paddle. John Kocijanski, of Catskills Astronomy Club, offered a free public star watch for 30 star gazers, while NY-NJ Trail Conference representatives took participants on a Shawangunk Ridge hike.

  • April 14 – Initial effort to eradicate Japanese Barberry from a Basha Kill plot. Kim Ashley, Dave Colavito, Don Kenny, and Diane Wanser labored on this.
  • April 21 – 37th Annual BKAA Cleanup & Opening Day of Nature Watch
  • May 15 – Mike and Paula facilitated Leadership Sullivan’s Class of 2018 “Basha Kill Day” with presentations at the duck blind, Haven Road, and Mamakating Environmental Education Center.
  • June 22 – BKAA hosted 35 Robert J. Kaiser 6th graders at the Basha Kill. Gary Keeton, Kevin Keller, Mike and Paula participated.
  • August 1 – Mike presented on the Basha Kill and led an on-site tour for children enrolled in the Basha Kill Kids’ Club.
  • August 21 – Mike guided 20 vessels with visiting outdoor educators on a Basha Kill “paddle.”
  • August 22 – Scott Graber accompanied another flotilla of 20 kayaks/canoes with outdoor educators.

Nature Watch:

Maryallison Farley

In its 16th year of operation, a dedicated cadre (41 people) of BKAA Nature Watch (NW) volunteers worked as educational ambassadors for the Basha Kill.  They recorded observations about the behavior of the nesting bald eagle pair at the southern end of the Basha Kill (Nesting Territory # 35 of NYS DEC Region 3), even though the young (we don’t know how many) did not survive for some reason after the hatch in early April. Fortunately, even without young to raise, the bald eagle pair remained in their territory and were often seen with each other throughout the NW season. Volunteers and visitors had many opportunities to watch them, along with other adult and immature bald eagles. Ospreys did not build a nest across the Kill from the boat launch this year as they usually do so that, too, was another challenge for our program.  We occasionally saw individual ospreys in the area throughout the season.

Overall, these events meant that NW volunteers had to be more resourceful than usual when they interacted with visitors, like emphasizing the great biodiversity of this wetland. Volunteer Lisa Soderblom gets the prize for the most unusual sighting and photograph taken by NW in 2018 as she and volunteers Maureen and Willie Bowers on the June 9th AM shift spotted a young black bear sitting on vegetation in the water not far from the boat launch!  The bear was later seen on the trail leading north from the boat launch.

Because of NW’s emphasis on bald eagles, we’re happy to report that this year, the newer pair at the northern end of the Basha Kill, successfully built a nest and from it, raised and fledged two young eagles.

As it does each year, NW began the 2018 season with annual Volunteer Training.  Scott Rando, local nature photographer and writer, gave an excellent, centerpiece presentation for the Training. He focused on the natural history of bald eagles, using his own outstanding photos from the Delaware River region.  He also included an update on the status of eagles in this area.   We especially appreciate that Scott returned to share valuable information at our Training for a second time. Special thanks also go to Nathan “Nate” Ermer, NYSDEC Wildlife Biologist who manages the Bashakill Wildlife Management Area, and who attended our Training as a resource person.

With training under their belts, the NW Team then covered week-end shifts at the boat launch from April 21st to June 24th (ten weeks) and logged in approximately 1,288 visitors (down from a total of 1,522 visitors from last year) and 319 boats (down from 425 boats last year). These lower numbers probably reflect having excessive rainy weather this season which really gave us a run for our money. We had to cancel seven of our three hour shifts because of rain.  That means we lost 21 hours of coverage. Five additional shifts were shortened due to weather. In one other case, a car alarm going off endlessly in the boat launch parking lot with no relief in sight drove our volunteers to pack up for the day! We have an amazingly dedicated group who stuck with the program in spite of various difficulties they faced this year.  Finally, at the end of the season, we send the summary of our data and weekly observations to the DEC for their use.

Our volunteers are at the core of this program, including Co-Leaders Maryallison Farley, Cathy Liljequist and Kevin Keller.  Cath is our admin. expert, handling the data input and summary.  Thanks especially to Cath for taking on this job which requires great attention to detail and computer skills!  Kevin works hands-on with our volunteers, spending most of his time with them at the boat launch.  He is great at helping them communicate with visitors, letting them know what a special resource we have here and the role that the BKAA plays in protecting and advocating for it. Basha Kill birder extraordinaire, John Haas, our key birding resource person, Gary Keeton, long-time Basha Kill naturalist and Cathy Dawkins, creator of our beautiful NW graphs, complete the 2018 Nature Watch Team.  Ours is truly a collaborative effort!

At the end of the summer, we were saddened to hear about the passing of former Nature Watch volunteer, Ira Finkelstein. Ira exemplified the best qualities of our Nature Watch volunteers in his enthusiasm, dedication, passion for the Basha Kill and interest in talking with other people about the wetland. He traveled from Long Island to Wurtsboro for six years (from 2011 through 2016) to cover his shifts for Nature Watch. We send our condolences to his wife Sherry Finkelstein and family.

Other Outreach Events

  • April 19 – Christine Saward oversaw a BKAA informational display at Earth Day festivities at SUNY Orange. Paula did the same at SUNY Sullivan.

Workshops:

  • April 20 – Kim Ashley attended an invasive species conference at Sullivan County Cornell Cooperative Extension in Ferndale.

Grants:

Thanks to a matching grant from the Environmental Protection Fund’s Parks and Trails Partnership Program, the 3rd Edition of John Haas’s A Birding Guide to Sullivan County, New York Including the Bashakill Wildlife Management Area (WMA), 250 Field Checklists of Birds of the WMA, and 500 New Field ID Cards for Marsh Birds of the Basha Kill will be available.  Kudos to grant writer extraordinaire Maryallison Farley, with input from John Haas, for submitting this successful grant, which will enable further education about the wetlands habitat.

John Haas’ book, which continues to educate and pique interest, is available at Mamakating’s Environmental Education Center (MEEC), Canal Towne Emporium, and Bashakill Vineyards in Wurtsboro, Morgan Outdoors in Livingston Manor, and online.

Field Guide to the Basha Kill: The Basha Kill Wetlands: A Field Guide is a pivotal publication educating readers about the wetlands and generating excitement about this unique ecosystem. Guides may be purchased at MEEC, Bashakill Vineyards, Canal Towne Emporium, Morgan Outdoors, and online.

BKAA Brochures:

The BKAA’s visually appealing brochure continues to be a vital public outreach tool.

Membership Chair/Corresponding Secretary, Recording Secretary, and Treasurer:

These key board functions were competently executed by Marcia Briggs Wallace, Christine Saward, and Monique Lipton. Thanks for an amazing commitment of time and energy.

Publicity/Emails/thebashakill.org/Alerts/Facebook/Guardian:

The Bashakill gratefully recognizes Susan O’Neill’s ongoing dedication as our public relations guru, writing and distributing all press releases.  Special thanks to Bill Lucas for continuing as the BKAA’s critical email coordinator this past year and to Justina Burton for her invaluable work in facilitating the email process.

  • Our website, www.thebashakill.org, and BKAA Alerts update BKAA programs, supply general news, and rapidly galvanize members for advocacy. Props to Maryallison Farley for being the BKAA’s contact with our webmaster. Thanks also to Jon Heaphy of Liberty Press for excellently functioning as Alerts Coordinator!
  • The BKAA is part of Social Media, having a Facebook page competently administered by Linda Lou Bartle.

Thank you to Liberty Press and Jon Heaphy for orchestrating the Guardian’s online operation and for patiently managing Paula’s Type A personality, as do so many others. Also, kudos to Jon for designing and organizing the Guardian’s layout.

BKAA Consultants:

Consulting Engineer Andy Willingham routinely FOILed DEC for updated data on pertinent advocacy issues. He also addressed Thompson Education Center (TEC), Dragon Springs (DS), and Hopper Hill (HH).  Consulting attorney John Lyons dealt with TEC, while consulting ecologist Erik Kiviat assessed HH’s draft Scope. The BKAA is extremely fortunate to collaborate with such a talented, dedicated team. Thank you everyone!

Respectfully Submitted,

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President