Taylor farmers rebuild after fire

Couple lost 60 sheep in Oct. 25 barn farm at their home on Duke Road


Photos by Bob Ellis/staff photographer  
Cincinnatus neighbor Henry Knickerbocker, left,  chats with sheep farmer Henry Gross inside one of Gross’ surviving barns. In the background a new barn is under construction, taking the place of the one destroyed by fire. 

Staff Reporter

TAYLOR — As the rubble of Henry and Helen Gross’ lambing barn still smoldered, Helen Gross watched as a set of twin lambs were born hours after fire tore through the barn.
“It was a nice thing to see after the disaster,” Helen Gross said Friday. The Grosses live on Duke Road in Taylor.
Three weeks after the Grosses’ lambing barn burned down, the skeleton of a new barn stands in its place.
Andy Hull, of Contracting by Hull, said building the barn is a 10-day job. Hull and his crew started work on the barn Nov. 2. 
Henry Gross said this morning the barn would be done this week
Hull credits the Grosses’ friends and neighbors for the progress they have achieved.
At approximately 4 a.m. on Oct. 25, Henry Gross saw flames licking at the bales of hay in his yard. Not only was the hay on fire, but his barn where he and his wife housed lambs, was also aflame.
Gross said it probably took firefighters “five minutes to get here, but it felt like forever.” Firefighters came from Cincinnatus, McGraw and Willet.
All Helen Gross could see were the haystacks on fire. She said in the back if her mind she thought the barn would be on fire, “but everything happened so fast.”
“We were so busy trying to get the rest of the lambs out of the barn, we didn’t have time to think,” Helen Gross said. “Things happened so fast, you just do what comes naturally.”
Henry Gross said firefighters helped rescue six lambs after they arrived on the scene.
“The fire department was unbelievable,” Henry Gross said. “They kept the other barn from burning.” He said an officer with the Cortland County Sheriff’s Department was the first official on the scene and he helped rescue 50 lambs.
Henry Gross said the hay burned for a week and a half. He said firefighters made 32 trips with a tanker truck. Gross said the assistant fire chief of Cincinnatus told him firefighters used approximately 50,000 gallons of water to save the remaining barn. Gross said the fire is believed to have been caused by an electrical problem.
The Grosses lost 60 animals, from their flock of 410 sheep. Henry Gross said they could have had more fatalities, but most of the sheep were out to pasture.
One of the ewes, which are female sheep, still carries scars from the fire. Parts of the ewe’s face are now pink as new skin is replacing the burned flesh.
Gross said the new barn is 50 by 96 feet, which makes it bigger than the old one, which was 40 by 80 feet. Hull is reusing some of the wood from the burned barn to construct the new one.
“We are just using the ones the fire didn’t get,” Hull said.
Henry Gross said the barn cost more than $30,000 to rebuild. The fire also created pinholes in the adjacent barn’s roof. Gross said they also lost grain feed and veterinary equipment in the fire.
He said he would like to have his flock indoors by the first of December because the ewes will start giving birth then. Hull sees no problem with the timetable.
“They will be in by the first week of December, easily,” Hull said.
Henry Gross said he and his wife moved from New Jersey six years ago with a flock of 25 sheep. He was a software consultant until being a part-time farmer became a full-time job.
“There became too many sheep to do both,” Gross said.


Gridlock Ahead

Cortland Professor Bob Spitzer outlines Election Day aftermath

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — Local elections don’t often reflect national policy issues, but SUNY Cortland political science professor Robert Spitzer said the Nov. 7 elections have proven to be the exception.
“You can count on one hand the number of times that national issues have swept local elections,” Spitzer said Monday during a presentation at the Cortland YWCA on Clinton Avenue that was sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the YWCA.
Community members listened to Spitzer speak before the professor entertained questions from the audience of about 25 men and women.
“Dust is still settling from the election Tuesday (Nov. 7),” Spitzer said, noting he had yet to find an accurate percentage of the eligible public who made it to the polls on Election Day.
Democrats won 28 seats in the House of Representatives, with nine races still undecided, and six seats in the Senate, giving Democrats control of Congress for the first time since 1994. Six governorships and 24 state legislatures also made the switch from the GOP to Democrat, Spitzer said.
“I think policy gridlock will be the order of the day for the next two years,” Spitzer said. “This was not a president who was very cooperative or disposed to working with Congress — and that was when his own party was in control.”
If there are any more Supreme Court judge confirmations within the next two years, Spitzer said, the confirmation process in the Senate might take a very different tone than it did for President Bush’s last two nominees, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito.
It would seem that while most evangelical Christians — a demographic that the Bush Administration, and especially chief strategist Karl Rove, had courted heavily since the 2000 elections — stuck with the Republican Party, Spitzer said, while independents apparently shifted toward the Democratic Party.
This might prove a repudiation of Rove’s concentration on motivating the Republican base, Spitzer said, rather than reaching out to moderate voters.
However, Spitzer pointed out that the increased concentration of moderate and even conservative-leaning Democrats might put the party in conflict with some of its congressional leaders, including the House majority leader for the next Congress, Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the “poster girl” of Republican-reviled liberalism.
“There’s still a number (of Democrat members of Congress) that if they defect, they could still affect the Democrats’ ability to effect legislation,” Spitzer said.
Regarding the 270 public referenda voters were able to decide upon Nov. 7, Spitzer said they were “not all of a single direction or a single stripe.”
If he could write a headline explaining Election Day, Spitzer said, it would be “Iraq swings elections,” with the second line reading “Rumsfeld ouster comes too late,” referring to the resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld the day after the elections.
“Republicans felt that it was a boneheaded move to wait until after the election,” Spitzer said, adding that it was obvious by the presence of Rumsfeld’s yet-to-be-confirmed replacement, Robert Gates, that the move had been in the works for at least several weeks.
Between the impending replacement of Rumsfeld and the political tide in general, Spitzer said it is likely that a change in policy toward the war in Iraq will be seen over the next two years.
A Democratic majority possibly could increase the amount of oversight of the war, as well as other issues that could require subpoenas for Congressional investigations, which the Republicans had been reluctant to proceed with. As Spitzer said, oversight is an important component of the checks and balances inherent in the Constitutional separation of powers doctrine.
“We will be seeing a lot of information coming out that we have not yet heard,” that could drastically change the political climate, Spitzer said.
When asked why incumbent state Comptroller Alan Hevesi might have won re-election, despite recent scandals alleging the mismanagement of state funds, Spitzer said it might be because many voters were not aware of the accusations, the strength of the rest of the Democratic ticket and public perception that his performance was acceptable.
Ruth Grunberg, of Cortland, asked if people “had reached their limit with negative ads” for the candidates on television, and Mary Beilby, of McGraw, wondered if there was some way to eliminate paid political ads altogether.
The freedom of speech inherent in these political ads is protected, Spitzer said, and so there would be no way to ban these types of advertisements — and those who could make such a law, namely, the incumbent politicians, don’t have an interest in changing a system that has benefited their own position.
“We’re not accustomed, to some degree here in Central New York, to hear so much political stuff on the news,” Spitzer said.



IDA, city at odds over National Grid contract

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — The Industrial Development Agency will not apply for economic development funding from National Grid until the city renews its franchise agreement with the utility company, the agency’s executive director said this morning.
The issue surfaced at Monday’s IDA meeting when the agency’s executive director, Linda Hartsock, said National Grid wouldn’t give the Finger Lakes Business Park in Homer funding unless the city signed the franchise agreement.
Hartsock said this morning her decision to not apply for funding from National Grid should push the city to sign the franchise agreement, which would benefit the county.
“I suspect it will enhance our competitive position applying for those grants,” she said.
The county is eligible to receive hundreds of thousands of dollars each year from National Grid, Hartsock said. The funding can help revitalize downtown structures, bring infrastructure to business parks such as Finger Lakes Business Park in Homer and market businesses, she said.
It can also pay for feasibility studies of possible projects, she said.
Andy Damiano, director of administration and finance for the city, said the city’s 50-year franchise agreement with National Grid, previously Niagara Mohawk, expired a few years ago.
The city has not renewed the agreement because National Grid has not agreed to pay a franchise fee in return.
The city receives fees from other utility companies. For example, it has signed a franchise agreement with Time Warner for phone, Internet and television service, and it receives 5 percent of Time Warner’s local sales — which ends up at about $120,000 a year — in a franchise fee, Damiano said.
Damiano said the city has also signed lease agreements with a variety of phone companies, including Verizon, in which the companies pay the city 1 percent of their sales.
Damiano said he does not see why National Grid cannot pay a franchise fee as well. The company does not seem to care about anyone’s interests but its own, he said.
“What we have is a case of a large monopoly, which is a foreign-owned company, attempting to bully a small city into signing a franchise agreement that only benefits some,” he said.
Damiano said the city is also negotiating with New York State Electric and Gas over a natural gas franchise fee. The city’s franchise agreement with the company ended a few years ago, and it has not been renewed as the company will not agree to a franchise fee.
He would not say how much in franchise fees the city is seeking.
Damiano said negations with both National Grid and NYSEG have been relatively sparse because neither one of the utilities is going to leave Cortland any time soon.
“We don’t expect them to go anywhere,” he said. “There’s no urgency.”
Michael Kelleher, senior vice president of business services and economic development for National Grid, said it is optimistic the city will sign the agreement sometime soon.
Otherwise, it will not be able to fund certain economic development projects in the future. One requirement for a $50,000 residential/business use grant and a $300,000 brownfield redevelopment grant, for example, is that a municipality has signed a franchise agreement with the company, he said.
As far as projects outside of the city, National Grid will determine on a case by case basis if the projects are eligible for funding, he said.




Little York farm being sold

Staff Reporter

LITTLE YORK — A large corporate-owned dairy farm that has been the subject of complaints about its odor will revert to a family-run farm by the end of the year.
DeLaval, which is based in Sweden and has owned the Dairy Development International at 5937 Route 11 since 2001, will be selling its facility to a local farming family, said Don Calhoun, executive vice president of the company’s U.S. operations.
The farm is 116.6 acres and assessed at $1.5 million, according to the county’s Real Property Tax Services. Calhoun said a big reason for the sale is that the farm is not suited for the latest cow milking techniques.
“In fact, one of the latest installations is fully automatic, fully robotic controlled, whereas this facility is still being milked with people, in a rather conventional milking parlor,” he said.
Calhoun said the company would have to construct a new facility to make way for new technology, and at this point, the company would prefer to invest its money elsewhere.
Plus, the current facility is in very good condition and would serve a traditional farming family just fine, he said.
“We’re in a position to hopefully make somebody a good living,” he said.
Calhoun would not reveal the name of the family the company is selling the farm to, though he did say the family lives within 20 minutes of the property and has run a dairy farm for more than 30 years.
Fred Forbes, town supervisor, said several families have bid on the facility, and the process has taken longer than originally hoped. DeLaval, which researches and develops dairy products, will continue to do research at the Little York facility for a few years, Calhoun said.
The farm has about 850 cows that are milked three times a day, providing the company with a good testing ground for its products, he said.
“Milking cows three times a day gives us a substantial amount of data points a day,” he said. “You get 2,550 data points in one day versus milking 40 cows.”
DeLaval will continue to test hygiene products for cows, such as a formula that protects cows’ udders during cold temperatures. When cows’ udders are exposed to cold temperatures after being milked, they can become sore and diseased, he said.
By just testing on the property and not actually owing it, the company will save money, Calhoun said.
“So much of what was going on — planting, handling of manure — not all of those functions directly related to our core business,” he said.