December 19, 2006

Keepin’ it real

Families continue their holiday tree traditions


Photos by Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Bill Roberts of Roberts Family Tree Farm in Groton carries a wrapped Christmas tree to a customer while his niece, Emily Saracene, 10, hides from the wind in the tree-wrapping machine. 

Staff Reporter

Mary Roberts has a simple credo when it comes to promoting her business, Roberts Tree Farm in Groton, which she has owned and operated with her husband, Bill, for 25 years.
“I always say, at Thanksgiving you don’t have an artificial turkey — why, at Christmas, would you have an artificial tree?” Roberts said on Saturday afternoon, the last day of the season for Roberts Tree Farm.
Tradition was the operative word Saturday, as families bundled up (as much as they needed to on a 50-degree December day), piled into vans, trucks and station wagons, and headed to farms like Roberts’ to pick out the perfect tree.
“We’ve been coming here for at least 15 years,” said Leslie Kannus, who was searching for a tree with her husband, Dave, and their two children, Caleb and Ainsley. “It’s very quaint with the hot cocoa and all the trees — it just wouldn’t be the same if we don’t come out to cut down a tree.”
In past years, according to Caleb Kannus, the family has braved cold weather, snow, even an allergy-induced trip to the emergency room one year, but always has managed to carry on the tradition.
“Caleb got terrible allergies Christmas morning and we found out that it was because of the tree,” Leslie Kannus said. “We almost got an artificial tree after that, but it must have been a bad year for allergies or something, because we didn’t have problems after that.”
This year the Kannus family tradition had to wait, Dave Kannus said, until Caleb could return from college at Binghamton University.
“We had to wait until everyone was home before we could get out,” he said.
Sheila and Norm Chace and their children, Alicia and Connor, who were cutting down a tree at Hill of Beans Tree Farm in Homer, had a similar story — they had to wait for Alicia to return from college.
“I asked if they wanted to take the easy way out and just get an artificial tree, but they said they wanted the fun of picking it out,” Sheila Chace said.
The Chaces have been getting their tree at Hill of Beans for at least five years, Sheila Chace said.
According to owners of both the Roberts Tree Farm and Hill of Beans, its repeat customers like the Chaces that drive their businesses.
“We get a little more every year — most of our business comes from word of mouth,” said Hill of Beans owner Steve Bean. “We get lots of families — they come in, take our hayride, get to see Santa Claus, it’s all part of the deal — and they get to take away a nice, fresh Christmas tree.”
Both Bean and Roberts said that the most popular trees tend to be firs, although both farms have other varieties available.
“Firs tend to be more aromatic, and they keep their needles well,” Bean said.
In recent years people have begun buying their trees earlier in the season, according to Roberts, and where families used to look for the biggest possible tree to fill their homes, now many look for smaller trees.
“There’s still a lot of interest in the big trees, but we’re also seeing a lot of people downsizing,” Roberts said.
With about 15 acres of trees apiece, the Roberts and the Beans will plant new trees to replace the ones cut down.
“It’s definitely more environmentally sound to have a real tree, because for every tree we sell, we probably plant two more,” Roberts said. “And it’s such a great tradition — we love seeing the families come in once a year.”
Amanda Willcox, a Homer resident and a freshman at the University of Vermont, carried on her own sort of tradition Saturday, despite resistance from her family.
“My parents said they weren’t gonna get a tree this year because I wasn’t going to be around much anyway, but I wasn’t going to stand for that,” said Willcox, who went to Roberts on her own Saturday to cut down a tree. “It took maybe three minutes, so I’m satisfied.”



Dryden PE teacher suspended after lewdness charge

Staff Reporter

DRYDEN — A schoolteacher was suspended with pay Monday after SUNY Cortland police charged him with public lewdness on Friday.
Police said Joseph A. Truax, 36, of 2390 South Cortland Virgil Road, Cortland, was arrested Friday morning and charged with public lewdness, a misdemeanor, after a female student saw him fondling himself while driving around the SUNY Cortland campus.
“A female student reported that a male was driving in a car and she could clearly see that he was masturbating while watching her,” said Assistant Chief Mark DePaul of the SUNY Cortland Police Department.
Police said Truax was operating a 2004 Pontiac Aztec on Prospect Terrace around 11 a.m. near SUNY Cortland’s Memorial Library when the student saw him performing the lewd act in his car.
Dryden School Superintendent Mark Crawford said this morning that Truax has been a physical education teacher at the high school for five years.
“We are going to make a determination quickly and still respect due process,” he said about the school’s internal disciplinary actions.
Crawford said Truax wasn’t teaching on Friday morning because he took a family sick day.
Truax is scheduled to appear at 9 a.m. Jan. 5 in City Court.




C’ville uses GIS technology to map water and sewer system

Staff Reporter

Until he got a call from the Cortlandville town clerk a few weeks ago, Glenn Ripley had been paying the town for both water and sewer, although Ripley knew he had a septic system out back.
“Over the years, I was wondering why we got charged,” Ripley, of 4516 West Road, said Monday night. “We just figured everybody on Route 281 had to pay it.”
Pete Alteri, chief of the town Water and Sewer Department, found the discrepancy while working on the geographic information system mapping program that eventually will include nearly every piece of vital information one can fit onto a map.
“We started this probably a year and a half, two years ago,” Alteri said Monday morning. “We’ve still got a long way to go with the water and sewer mapping, but it’s been a valuable tool so far.”
While comparing customers’ billing with the existing water mains and sewer lines, Alteri found that Ripley had been paying for sewer usage since he moved into his house in October 1999. The town owed Ripley about $255.
“When you get a visual, you get a better picture of things. And hopefully, in the future, that won’t happen again,” Alteri said. “We found it, the customer got credit, and we’re just happy we could find that.”
“Christmas came early,” Ripley said.
About a quarter of the water and sewer mapping has been completed, Alteri said.
A $13,000 grant awarded by the New York State Archives Program in June allowed the town to hire the Syracuse-based engineering firm Barton & Loguidice to complete a needs assessment for the GIS. Although Alteri already had been using a handheld global positioning system unit and mapping software to chart vital information relating to the water and sewer operations, the other town departments will begin their own mapping processes once funds to implement the system are awarded by the state.
Ann Hotchkin of Thoma Development Consultants, which the town hired to write the grant request, estimated that about $30,000 would be needed to do the map work. The grants don’t require any matching funds from the town, Hotchkin said, but the money must be spent within one year.
The maximum amount a single municipality can request is $75,000, but partnerships between municipalities can apply for twice that, Hotchkin said.
Using aerial imagery from the state, Alteri has built up a map of the town with several layers. Roads and property lines are outlined in yellow, while sewer lines and water mains snake across the computer screen in his office. Contour lines and shading indicate the topographical features of the town.
“We’ve gone out and GPSed all of the manholes and fire hydrants, and water main valves,” Alteri said. “If a manhole gets buried, and they’re out looking for that manhole, they can download all of the information into the GPS and go find that manhole.”
Details such as depth in the ground, elevation above sea level, date of installation, size and component materials can all be indexed within the program, Alteri said, and specialized searches allow users to find — for example — every manhole installed in 1986.
Alteri said he also would be able to track customer usage of sewer and water and identify any infiltration of the lines.
“There’s a lot of information we’ve got to put into here, and by the time I retire, everything should be in here so the new person won’t have to go looking for it, and it should make the transition easier,” Alteri said. “That should be the job of any utility manager.”