August 18, 2007


Local man to go to Romania to aid Habitat for Humanity

Little York contractor volunteers to lead group that will build homes for the poor.


Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Local builder Jude Niederhofer will be leaving for Romania at the end of August to build houses for Habitat for Humanity.

Staff Reporter

A contractor living in Little York is packing his bags to go to Romania, where he will oversee construction of five houses for Habitat for Humanity International.
Jude Niederhofer, 57, a Tompkins and Cortland Counties Habitat for Humanity board member, found out at the end of June that Habitat for Humanity International was looking for block leaders to oversee house leaders and volunteers for its Euro 2007 Habitat Build.
The project will involve 650 volunteers, most of them European, building 27 homes in five days in a town in Northern Romania near the Ukraine border called Radauti.
The town has significant poverty and lacks quality housing, Niederhofer said.
“The houses are much smaller than what we’re used to,” Niederhofer said. “A lot of them are just metal sheets put together.”
Niederhofer said Habitat for Humanity was having a tough time finding people with adequate building experience to serve as block leaders, who each oversee five or six house leaders and about 130 volunteers who will build five or six houses.
With his 35 years of experience building and remodeling houses, he decided to offer his skills.
“Work is in my blood,” he said, noting he and his brother, Tom Niederhofer, are part of the family’s third generation of builders in the Cortland-Homer area.
Jude Niederhofer has gotten geared up about his trip over the last couple of months, buying matching fluorescent yellow colored T-shirts for his five house leaders, gathering drywall tools he’ll eventually donate to Romanian families and getting ready to wear his “screaming eagle” hard hat.
“They’ll see me from either side,” he said about the people working under him.
Niederhofer said families have been chosen to live in the new houses based on their incomes. The families, who will help build the houses, will all take out mortgages to pay for the houses, he said.
Niederhofer said in addition to helping Romanian families he is looking forward to seeing new and beautiful countryside. Even though training starts Sept. 1 and building starts Sept. 3, he will be heading to Eastern Europe a week early, on Aug. 26.
He said he plans to fly into Budapest, Hungary, where he will rent a car that he will take across Hungary, through Ukraine and into Romania.
“I’m a little nervous but more excited,” he said.
The trip costs $3,500, Niederhofer said, and the local Habitat for Humanity chapter has agreed to cover $2,000 of that cost.
“It was a unanimous vote by the board,” said Bill Sharp, chairman of the local chapter. “It’s very much in line with the kinds of things we’re trying to do. It’s great for him to be able to use his expertise in that fashion.”
Chuck Brodhead, president of the local chapter, said this is the first time the chapter has sponsored someone to work on a Habitat for Humanity project abroad, but that 10 percent of the approximately $50,000 it receives in annual donations always go toward the organization’s international projects.
“Our contribution for this opportunity just fits right in with that and we thought it was great one of our people wanted do something,” Brodhead said.
Locally, the organization is looking to build a house in April at the corner of Delaware Avenue and Tompkins Street that will be its first house built with “sustainable building techniques,” he said.



Aquifer monitoring plan a response to development

Staff Reporter

A new program to monitor the Otter-Dry Creek Aquifer will greatly expand the number of chemicals checked in the sole source of drinking water for more than half the county’s residents.
The expanded monitoring program is beginning because of concerns by Cortlandville Town Supervisor Dick Tupper and other officials about the potential impact of expanding development over the aquifer.
The town of Cortlandville and the city of Cortland municipal wells draw water from the aquifer, as do some private wells.
Tupper said Friday that about a year ago there were several projects being reviewed by the town for aquifer protection permits and residents were questioning the quality of the water. But they did not present data to support the concerns, and data that was being gathered at existing monitoring wells by different agencies was not being given to the town, Tupper said.
He said he decided to call together county and state environmental officials in February to look into the question. Those officials proposed the monitoring plan in May that is now being pursued. It expands and coordinates water sampling that has been going on for decades.
With residential, industrial and commercial growth in recent years in the town, the new program will add to the sampling list 35 chemicals that could be generated by those types of activities.
These include dissolved metals as well as chloride, sulfate, nitrate, organic carbon, dissolved organic carbon and cyanide.
“The development over the aquifer will continue because that is where business wants to go,” Tupper said. “We can control it with our aquifer protection laws and review boards.”
About 50 existing monitoring wells that have been drilled into the aquifer in recent decades for a number of projects will be incorporated into the program, said Pat Reidy, the county Soil and Water Conservation District water quality specialist.
Reidy said the United States Geological Survey installed many of the wells in the 1980s after the discovery of the potentially toxic chemical trichloroethene, known as TCE, in groundwater at and around the Smith Corona factory in South Cortland.
The USGS used the wells it installed between the factory site and the city Waterworks to the north to do initial testing and to study how the underground aquifer works, Reidy said.
“They got geology information, so they could understand the physical characteristics of the aquifer; they collected water levels to understand groundwater flow patterns; and they gathered water quality data to understand the quality of the water in the aquifer,” Reidy said.
While that federal agency has not used the wells since, the county Soil and Water Conservation District and county Health Department have used them to routinely test for TCE.
Those tests have included some other chemicals not associated with the concerns at the Smith Corona site, which the county has kept an eye on, Reidy said.
If additional testing locations are needed, Reidy said new monitoring wells could be added to fill any gaps.
The program will compare the samples to any taken in the past by county agencies.
He and Tupper said the network of sampling wells should allow officials to identify pollution and help to trace it back to its source.
Reidy said he anticipates details of the program will be worked out by the end of the month and at least one round of testing will be conducted by the end of the year, and possibly two.
He said the results of the planned water sampling will be available to the public, but he was not yet sure in what form it would be released. An annual report will be compiled.
The direction of the Otter-Dry Creek Aquifer Monitoring Program will depend on what the initial monitoring turns up, Reidy said.
The Soil and Water Conservation District has taken the lead in the monitoring program because it has the staffing and equipment to handle it, but the county Health Department will be heavily involved, Reidy said.
Soil and Water Conservation District Manager Amanda Barber said the commission that drew up the monitoring program is really an informal path of communication between the agencies responsible for monitoring groundwater quality.
Over the course of the first year wells will be sampled four times, once during each season, which Reidy said would establish the benchmark data that future monitoring efforts would be compared to.
The county Health Department regularly checks on the municipalities’ water quality, monitoring efforts at the municipal drinking water extraction points: at Lime Hollow and Terrace Road for Cortlandville and in the city’s waterworks.
Reidy said these results have never indicated any problems with the drinking water, but the new goal is to begin monitoring the groundwater in the aquifer “upstream” from the extraction points, in order to be able to pinpoint any future sources of contamination, if any arise.
Managing Editor Kevin Conlon contributed to this article.



Police confirm identity of girl’s caretaker

Family friends of girl who drowned at campground named

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — The Cortland County Sheriff’s Department confirmed Friday the names of the family friends of a 4-year-old who drowned at a local campground earlier this month.
Police said Lois Ayer, 63, of 111 Iroquois Lane, Liverpool, and Peter Rees, also of Liverpool, were supervising Grace Murray and her brother on Aug. 4 at the County Hills Campground in Lapeer.
Contacted by telephone Friday afternoon, Ayer declined to comment on what happened to Murray.
Capt. Glen Mauzy confirmed that Grace Murray was not wearing a floatation device. Bessie Ragan, 36, Murray’s mother, said that she had sent a floatation device with her daughter when she went on a trip with family friends.
Mauzy said Rees was watching the group of children at the campground pond when Grace Murray was reported missing.
The investigation had been ongoing since her death on Aug. 4 and Mauzy said Friday that it had been suspended pending further investigation. He said police are still waiting for a toxicology report, which could take up to 90 days.
Cortland County District Attorney David Hartnett would not comment Friday afternoon on any whether criminal action would be taken and said the case is still under investigation.
Ayer and Rees took Grace and her 10-year-old brother, Jerry, on a camping trip to County Hills Campground. Grace Murray was reported missing by her brother at approximately 7:46 p.m. and was found under water in the pond at 7:53 p.m.
She was taken to Cortland Regional Medical Center and then to Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse, where she was pronounced dead.