May 25, 2007

Lime Hollow blazing new path

Lime Hollow

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
From left, Glenn Reisbweber, executive director of Lime Hollow Center Environment and Culture, Ben Rowell and Ray Rogers set fence posts around the parking lot of the center’s new visitor center, seen bottom left, on McLean Road in preparation for a grand opening ceremony Saturday morning.

Staff Reporter

CORTLANDVILLE — Glenn Reisweber, executive director of Lime Hollow Center for Environment and Culture, stood at the foot of a path overlooking Gracie Pond.
“Listen to the birds,” Reisweber said, excitedly pointing out that the wheelchair accessible trail he was standing on would allow people with disabilities to do just that.
The center’s grand opening for both the year and its new visitors center on McLean Road in Cortlandville will be held Saturday.
The $1 million, 1,820-square-foot log cabin visitors center was constructed as part of a three-year “Ready-to-Grow” fundraising campaign.
On Thursday, a large evergreen bough stretched across the threshold of the building, serving as more of an eco-conscious ribbon for the 11 a.m. ribbon cutting ceremony than a swath of bright red felt might.
Although the new visitor center will serve as the centerpiece of Lime Hollow for the general public, board of directors President John Hoeschele said that the center’s other buildings would still be very much in use.
“For the foreseeable future, the Gracie Road facility is going to continue to be our education center, where the kids will get off their buses and go right into the trails,” Hoeschele said Wednesday afternoon.
Although the exhibits in the educational center at the Gracie Road location were static — a stuffed fox and stuffed coyote have kept an assortment of animal skulls constant company, among other things — Hoeschele said that the visitor center’s modular displays could be changed between several presentations.
“These new displays are really meant for quick change out so that we can cover any topic that we find interesting or that the public finds interesting,” Hoeschele said.
Right now, there are several interactive exhibits in the visitor center.
“It basically gives a quick overview of how a water system works in a generic sense, and then it gives you a glimpse of how our region’s aquifer and water supply works,” Hoeschele said.
There is also an exhibit about environmentalist and author Rachel Carson, who wrote the pesticide-busting book “Silent Spring.”
The visitor center was built with donations from both sides of the Cortland-Tompkins county line, and Hoeschele is careful to point out that Lime Hollow has always served both counties.
Reisweber estimates that the volunteers’ hard work, experience and donations of construction material place the value of the facility far beyond the $1 million price tag for the visitor center.
“In addition to individual craftspeople who’ve donated everything from electrical wiring, wood-staining, and stained-glass windows to carpentry, landscaping and trail building, we’ve had Eagle Scouts and their families tackle projects here,” Reisweber said in a news release. “We’ve had the Tompkins Cortland Builders & Remodelers Association help us build displays and log stairs. And we’ve had landscaping courtesy of the great kids in Tim Sandstrom’s OCM/BOCES New Visions class … The list goes on and on.”
As he toured the grounds of Lime Hollow on Thursday, with volunteers scattered around the 375-acre nature center, Reisweber pointed out the contributions of volunteers — the attempt to short-circuit a beaver dam, ultimately washed out by mother nature; the masonry seating structure made to look like a hollowed out tree trunk on the “art trail;” the log bridge that would soon be replaced by a volunteer-built foot bridge; and the bird garden just to the side of the new visitor center where Reisweber has been watching visiting orioles.
He estimates that the center was 95 percent ready for the opening and that sometime in the near future, a temporary bridge over a creek cutting across the wheelchair-accessible “Trail for All” would be replaced by a permanent bridge once the state Department of Environmental Conservation gives its approval.
The trail is wider than the other 7.5 miles of trails at Lime Hollow, and has a more stable surface for pushing a wheelchair.



Handling of land deal criticized in lawsuit response

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — The county has filed its own motion for summary judgment in a lawsuit filed against it by the Moose Lodge, echoing the plaintiff’s request that a judge make a speedy ruling based solely on the facts involved.
County Attorney Ric Van Donsel asserts in his motion that the county had the right to reconsider the purchase of the Moose Lodge property for an agreed price of $250,000, along with the purchases of a number of other parcels along south Main, William and Randall streets.
Using affidavits from three legislators outlining the misgivings they had about the deal and the way it was handled, Van Donsel also argues that the Legislature had “the duty to employ its rules in furtherance of its role as stewards of the public’s money.”
Finally, Van Donsel states that the Moose Lodge “acted at its own peril by failing to timely deliver its title documents and understanding (the Legislature’s) process,” in requesting that the judge rule in favor of the county.
Arguments in the case are scheduled to be heard by Supreme Court Justice Philip Rumsey at 3 p.m. June 1 in the Cortland County Courthouse.
Russ Ruthig, attorney for the Moose Lodge, essentially charges that the county’s initial vote in December to purchase the property represented a binding contract, and a subsequent vote to reconsider in January had no authority to break that contract.
Van Donsel, on the other hand, argues that the vote to reconsider was an appropriate action, and effectively nullified the contract.
Much of the argument in Van Donsel’s motion has been expressed before in public discussion and in previous motions in the suit, but the inclusion of affidavits from legislators and the focus on why the motion to reconsider was brought forward was new.
“I just think it’s interesting because the way Mr. Van Donsel is presenting the county’s case pretty much supports what I’ve been saying all along,” said Newell Willcox (R-Homer).
Willcox was referring to complaints from him and other legislators that the land deal, which was intended to lead to the building of a new public health facility on south Main Street, was done without sufficient communication, both within the Legislature and between the county and the community.
Van Donsel said Thursday that the affidavits were an attempt to “give some meat to bones for the judge to evaluate.”
“There’s no requirement that there be a reason for the reconsideration, but it was done in the public’s interest and it’s certainly not going to hurt to show that,” Van Donsel said.
The affidavits from Legislators Willcox, Sandy Price (D-Harford and Virgil) and Ron Van Dee (D-5th Ward) all focus on their issues with the way the project was conceived, implemented and announced, and in the case of Price and Van Dee — Willcox voted against the project from the start — discuss why they ultimately moved to reconsider the purchase.


County begins process to seize house for office building parking

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — The Cortland County Legislature voted Thursday to begin the process of seeking to acquire a property next to the County Office Building, a move that could ultimately yield between 25 and 30 additional parking spaces and could cost about $187,000.
Questions lingered about how much the county will ultimately have to pay for the property, whether the impact will be worth the cost and potential legal complexities with the acquisition, but legislators were assured that, as those questions are answered, they would again have the chance to consider the acquisitions.
Thursday’s 16-2 vote authorized County Attorney Ric Van Donsel to move forward with seeking to acquire the property at 13-15 Elm St., which comprises two houses and a garage on an 80-foot-by-156-foot lot owned by Pierre Beaudry, through eminent domain.
“That house is a mess and someone’s got to clean that property up,” said Legislator Ron Van Dee (D-5th Ward). “This gives the county attorney a chance to go forward and negotiate.”
The property, which has been condemned by the county Health Department and has accrued $33,777 in back taxes owed to the city, would be used to expand the County Office Building parking lot, County Administrator Scott Schrader said.
The property would provide between 25 and 30 additional spaces in the lot, Schrader guessed, although he said an engineering design would need to be done to maximize the parking on the parcel.
Initial acquisition discussions included discussion of placing a new emergency generator on the parcel, but Schrader said that the generator would be placed closer to the building and that the parcel in question would only be used for parking.
Responding to questions about the ultimate cost of the property, Schrader and County Attorney Ric Van Donsel said a judge would determine fair market value for the property, likely based on appraisals offered by the county and by the property owner.
Schrader suggested after the meeting that the property’s current assessed value of $187,500 was as good a guess at a starting point as any in terms of the final ruling, but added that several mitigating factors, including that the property has been condemned, could influence the final valuation.
“The first step is to obtain the value so we know where we’re headed,” Van Donsel said. “Once we get an appraisal, we can come back and talk about the numbers.”
Should the potential cost of the property outweigh the positive impact, the county doesn’t have to move forward, Van Donsel said.


Former Northwoods workers plead guilty

Staff Reporter

Three former Northwoods Extended Care and Rehabilitation Facility employees pleaded guilty Thursday in County Court to neglect and fraud charges.
A fourth former employee involved was convicted of the same charges in March while a fifth employee awaits a July trial.
Judy Abreu-Boswell, 24, of the Bronx, Mary Kenyon, 40, of Cortland, and Renee Fulmer, 30, of East Freetown, all pleaded guilty to numerous charges of willfully violating state health laws and nine counts of falsifying business records, misdemeanors.
As part of their plea agreements, the three former caretakers will receive three years probation and will not be able to work in a health care facility without permission of the court.
Abreu-Boswell, Kenyon and Fulmer were indicted on felony neglect charges as well as the fraud charges. The felony charges were dropped as a result of their pleas.
The former employees were charged after the state Attorney General’s Office conducted a three-month investigation in 2005 in which investigators placed a hidden camera in the room of a comatose patient at the Kellogg Road facility.
Investigators said the employees repeatedly neglected to provide proper hygiene and physical therapy care to the man between January and March 2005. The employees were also accused of filling out paperwork stating they provided the care when they had not.
Steven Nadeau, 40, and Theresa Loy, 50, both of Cortland, were also charged in the investigation. During a jury trial in March, Nadeau was convicted of the same misdemeanor neglect and fraud charges that Abreu-Boswell, Kenyon and Fulmer pleaded guilty to Thursday. He was acquitted of felony fraud charges and sentenced to three-months probation on May 17.
Loy still faces the original charges and is scheduled to go to trial in July.
Highgate LTC Management LLC, the corporation that controlled the facility before it went into receivership in December, faces six counts of willful violation of health laws and three counts of second-degree falsifying business records. Those charges are pending and the corporation is scheduled for trial in October.