April 16, 2007

Powerful nor’easter dumps on N.Y.

Area schools, highway crews thrown off by spring storm

Spring storm

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Mel Duvall, of Willet, laments over the snowy April weather this morning while plowing the sidewalk in front of Cortland Rural Cemetery on Tompkins Street.

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — If James Postma had known a major storm was going to take place, maybe his wife wouldn’t have gone to work in Syracuse on Sunday.
She had driven up with the couple’s one car and got snowed in, forcing the couple to get a babysitter for their child and him to walk 20 minutes from his home on Homer Avenue in Cortland to his job at Hairy Tony’s on Main Street.
“I had no idea it was going to be this way,” Postma said, trudging through mounds of snow on the sidewalk in front of the post office.
Snowstorms are not unheard of in April in Central New York, but Postma was among a number of people, highway departments and schools that were thrown off or even surprised by the snowfall at this time of year.
Bob Hudgins, hydrometeorological technician for the National Weather Service in Binghamton, said this type of snowstorm doesn’t happen every year, but it’s not that unusual.
“We don’t get them every year but it’s not like it’s an unheard of event,” he said. “They do happen.”
Hudgins said it started raining Sunday, with the rain turning into snow around 10 p.m. The Cortland area had almost 9 inches of snow as of about 7 a.m., he said.
Cortland will get another 2 to 4 inches of snow today, he said. The snow will continue overnight and drop less than an inch Tuesday before it moves out, he said.
Flooding was not expected to be a problem, Hudgins said.
Carl Bush, superintendent of the Cortlandville Highway Department, said the late storm was a little troublesome for the department, as it stopped night shifts on April 1.
Normally, night-shift crewmen would have started plowing around 4:30 a.m., but because employees didn’t come in until 7:30 a.m., people going to work before then found 3 to 4 inches of snow on the ground.
“It’s not a big deal, but some people are used to the roads being plowed first thing in the morning,” he said.
Ken Ames, a part-time crewman with the Truxton Highway Department, said Truxton was a little thrown off by the late storm as well.
The department already had started using one of its trucks to do summer-type activities, such as hauling gravel, so it had to spend a couple of hours taking gravel out of the truck.
That caused the truck to go out a couple of hours after the two other trucks, which went out around_ 5 a.m., he said.
“We were not prepared 100 percent but we’re all right now,” he said.
A number of highway departments, as well as the Cortland City Fire Department, reported that trees, wires and mailboxes have fallen as a result of the heavy, wet snow.
National Grid reported 50 customers in Cuyler and 30 in Truxton lost power. The company estimated service would be restored by noon.
Ten to 15 accidents had taken place as of 9 a.m. today, most on Interstate 81 and none with any serious injuries, according to the Cortland County Sheriff’s Department.
All Cortland County schools were closed, as well as schools bordering the county, including Groton, Dryden and DeRuyter.
Moravia school district is closed this week for spring break.
Some of the schools, such as the Cortland City School District, may have to add a day onto the school year as a result of today’s snow.
The city school district already had taken three snow days before today, one more than it had scheduled.
Larry Spring, superintendent at Cortland schools, said that as a result of the third snow day, the district is considering making elementary school students attend school June 22, the day after the planned last day of elementary school.
Also as a result of the third snow day, high school students might have to attend classes on June 12, the day between the planned last day of school and the first day of Regents exams, when local exams will take place.
Today’s snow day could mean elementary school students will have to attend school June 23, and high school students will have to go to classes one day during the Regents exam period, Spring said.
A final decision will come from the state, he said, adding that he is unsure when that decision will be made.



C’ville Planning Board cancels meeting

A special meeting of the Cortlandville Planning Board scheduled for tonight has been canceled — the site plan review for a proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter on Route 13, which was the only agenda item, has been pushed back to April 24.
Board Chair Kathy Wickwire said the snowstorm prompted the cancellation, because the Wal-Mart representatives are based in Rochester and they had called Wickwire and said they would not be able to attend.
Without the input and feedback from Wal-Mart, Wickwire said that the board would not have been able to accomplish very much.
The Planning Board had scheduled three special meetings to review the Supercenter proposal during the site plan review process; Wickwire said that another meeting would be added to the schedule.
A planned unit development zoning designation for the 33.7-acre parcel was approved in March, paving the way for the construction of a 205,000-square-foot store and the development of two outparcels on the site.
At the beginning of April, the environmental group Citizens for Aquifer Protection and Employment, or CAPE, filed an Article 78 lawsuit against the town, the Town Board and Wal-Mart.
Article 78 proceedings are used to challenge decisions by agencies and officers of state and local governments.
The suit seeks to revoke the PUD approval for the project; annul the Final Environmental Impact Statement and the associated Findings Statement; and strike part of the town’s laws, Article XI, as unconstitutional because it allows the Town Board to usurp some of the powers of the town Planning Board in respect to the PUD approval process.
The lawsuit is pending.


Former tools of the agrarian trade on display

Staff Reporter

EAST HOMER — Despite cold temperatures and the threat of a winter storm, the incessant hum of tractors echoed Saturday from the field behind the East Homer Methodist Church.
More than 200 people attended the third annual Plow Day at the church. The event is organized by the East Homer Methodist Church and the Truxton United Methodist Church.
The churches plan to use the more than $1,000 raised to send children to Methodist camps, the general fund for both churches and a nearby softball field on East Homer Crossing Road.
East Homer Grange also raised funds through a pancake breakfast, but the figure for how much was received was not available this morning.
The tractors and plows brought by members of the Tractors of Yesteryear, or TOYS, organization were all built in 1960 or earlier. The event also featured food and a Civil War display.
TOYS members brought a dozen tractors and three horse teams with plows to the event, said John Phelps, a member of the group, who organized Saturday’s presentation by TOYS.
“This is how America began and I think it is great that people come and enjoy seeing how it used to be,” said Rebecca Merritt, who sat on the seat of a wagon drawn by Duke and Sabrina, two Haflinger horses. “Horses were a huge part of our heritage and the development of our country and it is good that people appreciate that … my grandfather walked behind them. They were the tractors of yesteryear.”
Gerred Hand made the journey from Virginia to East Homer to drive the family’s green and yellow 1951 John Deere B tractor. Hand said the tractor used to be his grandfather’s, and Hand inherited it when his grandfather died.
Hand said that although his father was never a farmer, he has about 30 antique tractors, ranging from the 1930s to 1950s, with about a dozen in working order.
Hand said the tractor doubles as a snowplow.
“We just took off the plow on it yesterday,” said Hand, a Preble native.
He said he makes the trips to New York state to help keep the tradition going that was passed down from his grandfather to his father and now to him.
“This is something I take pride in,” Hand said. “I want to be able to pass this on to my children some day.”
Jaime Denkenberger, of Truxton, sat Saturday on an orange sulky plow, drawn by a team of three horses. He said he still uses it to plow his garden.
Marissa Phelps, 11, the daughter of John Phelps, who lives in East Homer, said the horses were an unexpected surprise.
“I expected big tractors,” Marissa said. “But I didn’t expect the horses.”
Denkenberger said the ride on the plow is usually a smooth one, but on Saturday it was a little rocky.
“This is the best weather we’ve had in 60 days,” Denkenberger said. “It’s a pretty nice day. Its better than watching TV.”
The event included a chicken barbecue and a pancake breakfast.
Phelps said more than 100 tickets were sold for the breakfast.
“We do it mainly for the fun of it,” Phelps said of the event. “Plus, we help keep the church and the Grange Hall going in the community.”


New jail captain sees space, training as top issues

Staff Reporter

Budd Rigg was promoted to captain in charge of the Cortland County Jail, and three others were promoted last week after the retirement of the former jail captain.
Rigg, along with Colleen Hull and Richard Barnhart, were promoted April 9 to fill leadership positions in the jail after Roy Lewis retired in February.
Rigg was promoted from lieutenant while Hull was promoted from sergeant to lieutenant and Barnhart was promoted from officer to sergeant.
“This is a good challenge. I’m looking forward to the leadership,” Barnhart, 60, of McGraw, said of the promotion.
Barnhart has been with the department for 17 years.
In their new administrative positions Rigg and Hull said they are eager to work together to increase training for the officers under them.
“I’d like to see a little more training because it builds morale,” said Hull, 41, of Cortland.
Hull and Rigg said they enjoy working with one another, adding that they were both hired in 1995 and they worked their way up through the ranks together.
Some of the training that they hope to increase will help officers better deal with “inmate con-games,” Rigg said, explaining that oftentimes inmates run scams in which they try to resist officers’ orders or bait officers into an argument or fight with the hopes of filing a lawsuit.
He said the training helps better prepare an officer to avoid potential problems.
In addition to increased training, Rigg, 43, of Homer, also plans to address overcrowding in the jail. Prior to his retirement, Lewis was a major proponent of getting the county to build a new jail, something county officials are now considering.
Rigg said the current jail is overcrowded and officials are forced to house inmates in other facilities because of classification issues. He said inmates are classified based on several factors such as age and sex, making certain inmates a threat to each other.
He said as the county explores the options of building a new facility, he hopes to be involved in the design and location so that the new facility can avoid some of the pitfalls created when the current jail was built in 1990.
“We’ve had a lot of good dialog with the county administrator and the county chairman. They are very open to hear our ideas,” he said about the issue, adding that he hopes a new facility will help his department manage more inmates with the same amount of manpower.
Rigg said he is also working with county officials to create a centralized booking location at the current jail for every law enforcement agency in the county.
“They get double processed now,” he said, explaining that after an arrest the arresting agency books the inmate and holds him or her for arraignment, and then if they are sent to jail, the jail books them again.
Rigg said if the all the county agencies brought people they have arrested to the jail to be booked first, jail officials would book the person, transport them for arraignment and then if necessary hold them at the jail.
This way, he said, officers will be back out on the road faster and the person arrested will not be run through booking process twice.