Orange County’s 2015 News Year in Review
Kiryas Joel Annexation
The village of Kiryas Joel’s planned annexation of part of Monroe has thrown the town into turmoil. An environmental impact statement required for the annexation has been sharply criticized. The Monroe Town Board, led by Supervisor Harley Doles, was accused of ignoring the larger community to serve the interests of the Satmars—a sect of Hasidic Jews—in KJ. A splinter group in KJ— The Committee for Peace and Harmony—began to work with United Monroe, which opposes annexation, and speak out against a KJ leadership that did not seem to listen to its constituents in the village. The Town Board, which voted to allow KJ to annex 164 acres, will now consider zoning changes strongly criticized by the county. Two new board members supported by United Monroe will take office on Jan. 1 and change the political landscape of the town.
A burr under the county’s skin has been the 10-year wrangling over what to do with the 350-bed Valley View nursing facility. The county-owned facility was slated for closure in 2012. Valley View employees, residents and supporters delivered emotional pleas to keep the home in public hands. County Executive Steve Neuhaus offered a plan to take Valley View “off the table” to calm employees and relatives of patients. He proposed to make the adjoining 62 acres a community campus of healthcare for a possible cardiac care facility and independent/assisted living apartments. The proposed campus is projected to bring millions in revenue to the county. Valley View residents would have immediate access to cardiac care and would draw people from the community. The apartments would allow a spouse close contact with a love one who needed to be at Valley View.
Stewart International Airport had high flyers this year. The New York Airshow attracted large crowds at Stewart on Aug. 29 and 30 in the wake of a tragic plane crash that killed an acrobatic pilot the day before. The airport hosted Lt. Gov. Hochul and the state’s Strategic Implementation Assessment Team in August to highlight economic development. The airport received a $1 million grant for runway and other infrastructure updates. A cargo airline—Caribbean Airlines—now lands regularly to deliver foods from the Dominican Republic to food outlets in the region. The USDA inspection facility will be upgraded to a state of the art site for animals coming to the United States. The airport has officially joined JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark as a New York metropolitan airport, a designation that is expected to help draw more passengers. The Air National Guard’s 105th Airlift Wing at Stewart recently mourned two national guardsmen who died in the line of duty in Afghanistan.
Revolutionary Sport Safety Device
America’s most popular sport has taken a step toward becoming safer. Middletown High School football players tested a beta version of a revolutionary mouthpiece—the Vector mouthguard—that allows the coach to monitor players for head trauma, one of the most common injuries in contact sports. The school was the only one in the state to use it, and one of the first in the country. Il Biometrics custom fit the devices on each player at the beginning of the season. The mouthguard “senses a lot of things others can’t see.” The software called an Impact Intelligence System gathers and disseminates highly accurate intracranial impact data, providing objective information in real time. The mouthguard flags hits or jarring movement. Coaches use the data as “coachable moments” to show a player better techniques and how to change behavior on the field.
Teacher of the Year
Newburgh’s Dana McDonough’s 22-year elementary school career culminated with her being honored as the New York State 2016 Teacher of the Year. McDonough now teaches second grade at Fostertown ETC Magnet School. The school’s Principal Maritza Ramos said, “Dana McDonough is the epitome of what a teacher should be. She is dedicated, loving, conscientious, and diligent. It’s all about the students.” McDonough wants the classroom to be a safe place to learn, a place of acceptance and for children to feel that what they say is important. ”I just cannot tell you how this feels to me when a child leaves to know that they feel successful.” She will represent the excellence and passion of 220,000 New York State teachers by engaging in presentations, attending meetings, and participating in professional development at state and national levels.
Competitive Power Ventures showed Orange County the money—almost a billion dollars to build and operate an energy center in the Town of Wawayanda. Local opposition has been a constant headache for the proposed CPV Valley Energy Center, planned to be a $900 million, 650 megawatt (MW) natural gas-powered combined-cycle electric generating facility. Construction is already underway. Possible use of fracked natural gas and a disputed SEQRA report has drawn a legal challenge by local residents’ attorney Michael Sussman. The initial legal challenge was filed last May, and the court sided with the town and CPV. Local residents have filed an appeal with the state’s appellate court and staged protests that have received wide publicity. Actor James Cromwell was arrested at a recent protest.
For people who have been watching the progress of the Heritage Trail over the last almost two decades, 2015 was an “at last” year. The project will extend the trail that currently goes from Monroe to Goshen on the old Erie Railroad track another 10 miles from Goshen through Middletown and into Wallkill. New funding sources and determined action by several government units suggest a breakthrough will be achieved in the stalled project, with County Executive Neuhaus speaking hopefully of construction beginning in 2016.
Orange County Government Center
After legal battles and protests by fans of Paul Rudolph, construction began on the Orange County Government Center in Goshen in July. The 45-year-old building is having one of its divisions torn down and rebuilt, and the other two stripped down to their concrete foundations and redone. As of Dec. 22, the demolition phase of the project was almost done and the lowest bids for the construction phase came in more than $5 million below what the county budgeted for. So far the project is “pretty much on schedule,” said County Executive, Steven Neuhaus during a media tour of the building on Dec. 22. A week before that, a judge dismissed the last case challenging the second environmental review the county did. The plaintiff’s attorney, Michael Sussman disagreed with the judge’s decision but pointed out that by the time the decision was made, the damage to the complex was already done by the ongoing renovations.
Cornell Cooperative Extension’s 4-H Park
This was a big year for the Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) as it celebrated its 100-year anniversary and the opening of its new Education Center and 4-H Park in Mount Hope within a few days of each other this July. The $7.5 million project broke ground in October of 2013 and will be done in three phases over seven years. The park grew out of a need to expand as the Extension found itself renting space time and again to meet demand for its programs. The Center’s Executive Director, Lucy Joyce said the original idea was for it to be a venue for 4-H activities, but “it grew into a fully-grown community development project—there will be much more than 4-H here.”
The 4-H organization is sponsored by university extensions around the United States and aims to develop character and independence through hands-on projects, such as animal husbandry, crafts, and cooking. In addition, the extension offers programs in family relations, the environment, agriculture, money management, food, and gardening.
Developments in Middletown
With the Heritage Trail construction on the horizon, Middletown has plans to capitalize on the extra foot traffic by expanding, renovating, and improving the buildings along the trail, as well as tangential trails that will connect it to different parts of the city. The King Street project will renovate the sparsely-used street into a pedestrian walkway that will be on one of those spurs, according to the city’s plan. The project got approval from the city in June and a contractor was approved in November. Clemson Bros. Brewery, which is located next to the Heritage Trail on Cottage Street, opened in October and received $215,000 through the Empire State’s Excelsior Jobs program in December. Also awarded a state grant was the Middletown community campus project at the old state psychiatric center, which got $500,000 for infrastructure improvements and planning. The plan is to connect that campus, as well as Tauro College and SUNY Orange to the Heritage Trail. Equilibrium Brewery, another downtown business, closed on the 22-28 Henry Street building in November and has started renovations. The former O&R Railway station at 17-39 Midland Avenue Extension has been transformed into one of New York’s largest sound stages called Michelson Studio II. The 60,000 square foot building had its formal opening in November and is now accepting clients.