Saratoga Unites moderator Lois Shapiro-Canter; the audience inside the H. Dutcher Community Room; and local political candidates (left to right) Justine Culora, Nancy Dwyer, Paula Tancredi Penman, Tracy O’Rourke and Emily Mastrianni. Photos by www.photoandgraphic.com.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – A new political action group called Saratoga Unites, formed by local women and men in the wake of last year’s presidential election, held one of its first public forums Tuesday night in the Saratoga Springs Public Library.
Every other week since late in January, the members of Saratoga Unites have coordinated their efforts mostly at private homes in the city or near Saratoga Lake, according to President Lois Shapiro-Canter, a Saratoga Springs attorney.
“We have a great group of people,” she said, noting how eight members make up the Saratoga Unites leadership committee. (The website is https://saratogaunitesny.org/.)
Shapiro-Canter moderated the group’s “March to the Polls” event this week inside the library’s H. Dutcher Community Room.
More than 50 people were in attendance as ten women running for local offices were asked to describe the evolution of their political views in recent months, as well as the importance of electing more women candidates in general.
“Women are tired of always being put in the back seat,” Shapiro-Canter said. Saratoga Unites will support “progressive-minded women who want to preserve the rights that have been secured,” she added.
Shapiro-Canter pointed to the fact that men hold 80 percent of 535 seats in the U.S. Congress and comprise 75 percent of the governors or state legislators nationwide.
Of more than 40 total seats on the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors and the governing boards of Ballston Spa, Malta, Milton and Wilton, women occupy only four seats, or about 10 percent.
Saratoga Unites organized two separate panels of women running for local offices. All of the women are either registered Democrats or endorsed by that party.
Shapiro-Canter asked each of the candidates if they had attended the popular Women’s March in Washington, D.C. on Saturday, Jan. 21. At that event, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand had reportedly called on women nationwide to run for office.
The first panel included Justine Culora, who seeks a seat on the Stillwater Town Board; Nancy Dwyer, who is challenging incumbent Wilton Supervisor Arthur Johnson; Paula Tancredi Penman, running for Wilton Town Board; Tracy O’Rourke, running for Malta Town Board; and Emily Mastrianni, running for Greenfield Town Board.
Mastrianni was the only panelist who traveled to the nation’s capital for the Women’s March, together with two of her three daughters. “It was an incredibly moving event to be surrounded by all these families,” she said. “It was part of the reason why I’m here.”
Early this year, after current Wilton Councilwoman Joanne Klepetar had announced her intention not to run again, Tancredi Penman explained that she and Dwyer started meeting to discuss forming their respective campaigns.
“That’s the minute that I knew I could raise my hand and say, ‘I want that spot,’” Tancredi Penman said.
“We have a slate of candidates for the first time ever” in Wilton, she said a few minutes later, to a round of applause. “We know how to work as a team.”
“Please tell your friends and neighbors: Your votes count,” Dwyer said at the end of the first panel discussion.
The second panel included City Court Judge Francine Vero, who aims to win her first election for that position (Vero is the first woman to serve as a Saratoga Springs City Court judge); Tara Gaston, who is seeking a county supervisor seat; Deputy Mayor Meg Kelly, in a heated race for mayor; Patricia Friesen, who also seeks a county supervisor seat; and Elizabeth Fairbanks-Fletcher, running for Greenfield Town Justice.
Sergia Coffee and Meg Stevens, both of whom are competing for two open seats on the Milton Town Board, were invited by Saratoga Unites but did not attend.
“I have always been empowered by the women in my life,” offered Kelly, when asked for her input on the march in Washington, D.C.
Vero informed the audience how “judges cannot attend anything political,” or even speak publicly about such events as the Women’s March.
Vero added that she agreed to be a Saratoga Unites panelist only because her participation conformed to a “window” that judicial rules allow for campaign promotion.
In general, Vero said, she hopes more women “will be inspired” to take on “leadership roles,” citing her own experience in the Adirondack Women’s Bar Association.
Gaston, a Saratoga Springs attorney, was perhaps the most determined member of the second panel to make inroads in male-dominated local governments.
Gaston said her main goal is “putting sunlight on the Board of Supervisors.” If elected, she would support conducting a thorough review of the county budget to find out “where to save money.”
As the spouse of a U.S. Navy veteran and mother of four, Gaston explained, she had to move repeatedly around the country after her early life in Alabama. Her parents, she recalled, had devoted themselves to helping others. Those past experiences factor deeply into her analysis of Saratoga County’s current needs, she said.
“I saw governments all across the nation that didn’t serve their people,” Gaston said.
The day after the 2016 election, when both Gaston and her daughter were expecting the first woman to be elected president of the United States, the daughter asked what would happen next.
“What else are you going to say?” Gaston remembered, telling her daughter: “We’ve gotta take it over.”
[Readers are encouraged to post respectful comments regarding the article below.]
An aerial view of the SKS Bottle work site off Geyser Road; and work crews preparing the “pad” for construction. Photos by www.photoandgraphic.com.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – In recent weeks, drivers on Geyser Road definitely noticed when whole stands of trees were cut down and the operators of heavy machinery created an access road to the future site of the SKS Bottle and Packaging, Inc. warehouse.
A 118,000-square-foot facility will be the permanent home for a family business that has grown steadily and moved numerous times since it was first created in the 1980s, says company President Ken Horan.
The new SKS Bottle warehouse will be close to the train tracks on the eastern edge of the W.J. Grande Industrial Park. This week, crews were busy grading the “pad” on which it will be located.
From its existing warehouse in Watervliet, SKS Bottle supplies the multi-billion dollar trade in glass, plastic, metal and cardboard containers, as well as the associated caps and labels. The company does not manufacture the products it distributes to cosmetics, personal care, pharmaceutical and various other industries.
Horan said he expects the $15 million project on Geyser Road to be completed by late in the summer of 2018. He said the interior of his new warehouse and headquarters will offer a total of 143,000 square feet of space, including two stories of offices.
Horan added that he and his brother Steven are “extremely excited” that the project is coming to fruition for their family.
Most of the 112 employees at SKS are involved in “pack and ship” activities, Horan said. Other staff members manage the company’s sales, marketing and accounting, or develop in-house computer software used for tracking inventory.
All of the SKS jobs will be transferred from Watervliet to Saratoga Springs. The addition of a half-dozen jobs may be necessary by 2020, Horan said. Plans are also in the works to add 125,000 square feet to the main warehouse at a later date.
Munter Enterprises is the general contractor for the site work, according to Horan.
John Munter Jr., when reached for comment this week, said he and his brother Michael still own 50 to 60 acres of “developable” property in the Grande Industrial Park. Their father, John Munter Sr., had originally owned or sold much of the nearby land.
“We’ve had a very good, steady demand for the past seven or eight years,” Munter said, referring to a recent expansion of business in the industrial park.
The Horans bought 22 acres for their project. Two smaller properties, on either side of the SKS Bottle access road, are still available for development.
In a May 25 letter to Kate Maynard, the principal planner in Saratoga Springs, the Saratoga County Planning Board found that the SKS Bottle project would have “no significant county-wide or inter-community impact.”
“The site is relatively flat and comprised of grass and brush with a treed perimeter,” the letter states. “The Geyser Brook runs above the north property line and parallel to [the] eastern boundary and the site gradually slopes down toward the brook. Such conditions result in runoff not being of a major concern.”
In April, according to the planning board letter, the Albany engineering firm Creighton Manning issued a “traffic assessment” for that section of Geyser Road, which is a short distance from the warehouse shared by Artisanal Brew Works and Upstate Distilling Co.
The Creighton Manning assessment indicated that truck drivers who exit the SKS Bottle access road may experience some difficulty turning left on Geyser Road, due to the proximity of a bridge over the train tracks.
The county planning board endorsed the idea of city officials further monitoring the traffic situation if projects for “the other two parcels to be developed” are approved.
On July 3, Mark Torpey, chairman of the Saratoga Springs Planning Board, signed the official “notice of decision” that allowed construction on Geyser Road to commence.
In photos (from left): Jason Foden and Jim Petrecky of Plug Power demonstrate "GenKey" hydrogen fuel cell technology at Logistics One on Friday, Oct. 13, 2017. Photos by Larry Goodwin.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Jason Foden seemed eager to jump on the forklift for a quick lap around the Logistics One warehouse, as he demonstrated for a small audience the hydrogen fuel cells being marketed by his company.
Foden, the regional service representative for Latham-based Plug Power, was joined by colleagues in an event organized at Logistics One on Friday, Oct. 13 by the Saratoga Economic Development Corporation (SEDC).
Ryan Van Amburgh, SEDC’s development specialist, said it was the first time Plug Power representatives held such a demonstration in the W.J. Grande Industrial Park.
The Plug Power hydrogen fuel cell is “literally a drop-in replacement” for forklifts powered by similar lead-acid battery units, explained Teal Vivacqua, the company’s marketing director. She said Plug Power offers many different fuel cell designs, depending on the type of forklift.
Vivacqua added that Plug Power finds ways to ensure that switching to hydrogen fuel cells for warehouse use is “a very seamless process for customers.”
The company’s promotional brochure describes it as a “GenKey solution,” which provides the fuel cell units, hydrogen and fueling infrastructure and long-term service.
“Within no time, your lift truck fleet will be operating with enhanced efficiency and increased productivity,” the brochure reads. More information about the technology is available at www.plugpower.com.
In addition to providing information about fuel cells on the forklift and an airport luggage hauler, the Plug Power representatives briefly demonstrated how to use a hydrogen “dispenser” that companies can install inside warehouses to make refueling the units more efficient.
Jim Petrecky, Plug Power’s vice president of business development, said “very small particles” of platinum act as a catalyst for hydrogen gas inside the fuel cells. That scientific reaction yields 3 kilowatts of power for each forklift unit and more than 20 kilowatts in the larger airport haulers, he said.
Depending on the actual loads being handled, Plug Power's hydrogen fuel cells can last up to 12 hours on a single fuel up, Foden said.
Vivacqua indicated that, so far, Plug Power has tracked well over 8 million fuel-ups. The company's hydrogen fuel cells are now powering more than 16,000 forklifts in warehouses owned by such companies as Amazon, Wal-Mart and Home Depot, she said.
Stacie Dina attended the Plug Power demonstration on behalf of U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-Willsboro). She expressed a sense of fascination with the fuel cell technology, though admitted that her knowledge of it was limited.
Afterward, Dina said Plug Power representatives had discussions recently with the congresswoman in her Washington, D.C. office.
Saratoga Springs Mayor Joanne Yepsen also made an appearance, referencing previous attempts on her part to “encourage the private sector” to invest in various clean technologies as a means to “benefit all of us.”
Her goal, the mayor said, always has been to make Saratoga Springs a “more progressive, clean place.”
BALLSTON SPA – The Saratoga County Board of Supervisors voted on a resolution Tuesday declaring itself lead agency in the environmental review of a proposed $30 million public safety complex.
Galway Supervisor Paul Lent, chairman of the Public Safety Committee, said the full board would consider including the proposal in its budget for the 2018 fiscal year.
“We’ve got to make a determination here very quickly” for the measure to be included in next year’s spending plan, Lent explained.
Lent added that his committee forwarded a positive recommendation to the Buildings and Grounds Committee, which is chaired by Northumberland Supervisor Willard Peck and is currently reviewing the proposal.
BALLSTON SPA – On Tuesday, acting on the complaints of Wilton homeowners who claim that bullets from target shooters are hitting their homes, the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors voted to set a public hearing next month regarding a proposed law that would ban target practice on 64 acres of county-owned land north of Louden Road.
The public hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 15 at 4:40 p.m., in the Board of Supervisors meeting room at 40 McMaster Street in Ballston Spa.
“Target shooting on the northern section of Louden Road . . . poses a risk to the health and safety of users of the recreational trail through the parcel, of customers of the Wilton Mall, and of area residents residing on Carlyle Terrace, Ingersoll Road and Bog Meadow Run,” states the proposed law.
The county’s proposed ban for the Louden Road land does not apply to people “lawfully hunting wildlife during the applicable small or big game hunting seasons annually established by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.”
Front photo: Outside of the Saratoga Springs office, by www.photoandgraphic.com; and a rendering of the proposed Ayco offices in Colonie provided by Tara Ryan, the company’s vice president of communications.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Ayco officials announced this week that a location has been selected in the Town of Colonie for construction of a regional corporate headquarters.
The final design and development approvals are pending in Colonie, officials say.
Still, starting about two years from now, all jobs in Ayco’s offices at 321 Broadway in Saratoga Springs are expected to be transferred to a modern, 150,000-square-foot office structure built at the site of the former Starlite Music Theater near Adirondack Northway Exit 7.
Tara Ryan, Ayco’s vice president of communications, indicated that the company employs a total of 870 people in the Capital Region. She declined to share the precise number of people who work in the Saratoga Springs office.
Ryan added that “a multitude of factors” led to the decision among corporate officials to select the Colonie location.
The financial planning and investment firm’s offices, which serve clients worldwide, are currently separated among the Broadway location and two other buildings in Albany and Latham.
In a statement, Ayco President and CEO Tim O’Hara said: “We’re excited to progress our plan to consolidate our people in the Capital Region. We believe this will allow us to better serve our clients and increase opportunities for our associates to collaborate and connect.”
The statement from Ayco reported how “initial moves into the building would begin no earlier than late 2019,” and that company officials are expecting to add 160 new jobs within two years after that date.
Saratoga Springs Mayor Joanne Yepsen, a strong supporter of Ayco expanding their offices on Broadway, responded to the announcement in a hopeful tone.
“We are pleased that Ayco will still have a significant presence in the city, but very disappointed, despite all our efforts, that they have decided not to build an expanded structure to their current location in Saratoga Springs to meet all their needs,” Yepsen said, in a statement provided by her executive assistant Lisa Shields.
“I know their employees love the quality of life, working and living in our city,” the mayor said. She added that the opening of new corporate offices for Ayco in Albany County “will be a very different experience.”
“This is a loss for Saratoga Springs, but I am confident we will partner with other great companies in the future,” Yepsen said.
In photos: Wilton Supervisor Arthur Johnson prior to a recent meeting of the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors, by Larry Goodwin; and Nancy Dwyer during a break from her political campaign in Wilton, by www.photoandgraphic.com.
WILTON – Since the first week of June, a real estate broker and former math teacher has knocked on hundreds of doors at homes in Wilton to garner support for her campaign to unseat longtime Republican Supervisor Arthur Johnson.
“Knocking on doors energizes me and is my most favorite part of campaigning,” says Nancy Dwyer, who started a new line on the Nov. 7 election ballot called Public Servants. A sample ballot for the Town of Wilton provided by the Saratoga County Board of Elections also lists Dwyer on the Democratic line for supervisor.
“I love meeting the people of this town and the one thing that stresses me the most is the time constraints prohibiting me from knocking on every door,” Dwyer added, noting how there are more than 11,000 registered voters in Wilton.
Johnson has run unopposed for supervisor since 2002, after serving as the town’s deputy supervisor in his seat on the Wilton Town Board. Prior to that, he served as the town assessor for nearly 15 years.
“My long-term goal is to build on our successes, provide quality of life, plan for the future and make Wilton the best place to live,” Johnson said.
Both candidates were asked to provide emailed responses to questions about this year’s contested election.
In addition to her recent professional work as a licensed real estate broker, Dwyer taught math classes in the Ballston Spa Central School District for eight years and has volunteered or raised funds for such groups as Sustainable Saratoga and the South Glens Falls Marathon Dance.
Dwyer, who received an endorsement by the Democratic Party, said she devised the Public Servants line out of a strong belief that elected officials should “work for the people, not party, not special interests.” She claims that 23 percent of voters in Wilton are like her in preferring “no party affiliation.”
Dwyer said that message “is really hitting home with people regardless of their registered party affiliation.”
Moreover, considering in particular Johnson’s tenure as supervisor, Dwyer said that many residents told her the “lack of competition and accountability” in Wilton has resulted in widespread “complacency.”
“Proven leadership skills developed as a math teacher, business trainer, realtor, treasurer, business owner, board member, community volunteer and fundraiser prepare me well to be able to pull people together, facilitate communication, manage employees, prepare budgets and negotiate the various issues that a growing town and county face,” Dwyer concluded.
“New energy does not translate into more energy,” Johnson responded. “I am at town hall every day working diligently for our residents on a full-time basis.”
“I agree that there is some voter complacency and that can be for a variety of reasons,” the supervisor continued. “I would like to think that it is because the residents are happy and satisfied with no apparent need for changes.”
Johnson indicated that he is “not sure” about the reasoning behind the lack of accountability that Dwyer mentioned. “The entire town board has been responsive to the public,” he said.
Johnson pointed to a recent finding that Wilton’s official town website, in terms of “information and ease of searching,” ranked higher than most others in the Capital Region.
“As far as I’m concerned,” he added, “the town is open and transparent and accountable to the residents.”
[Readers are encouraged to post respectful comments regarding the article below.]
In photos (left to right): Milton Councilman Benny Zlotnick; Supervisor Dan Lewza; Councilman Frank Blaisdell, Councilwoman Barbara Kerr and Councilman Scott Ostrander. Photos by Larry Goodwin.
MILTON – In a crowded meeting room Wednesday night, Milton officials took three controversial votes related to a development proposal on Hutchins Road, the purchase of former Boy Scout land and a town-wide property tax hike to solve budget problems.
Tom Samascott, owner of Malta Development and the popular Winner’s Circle apartment complex on Geyser Road, was present as the Milton Town Board voted 3-2 against his proposal to build 83 apartments for people aged 55 and up in a 14-acre wooded parcel off Hutchins Road.
Samascott’s project was first proposed nearly a year ago. However, stiff opposition from more than 100 local residents in the neighborhood’s existing single-family homes apparently resonated with Councilmen Frank Blaisdell and Scott Ostrander, and Councilwoman Barbara Kerr, who voted against changing the current residential zoning for the creation of a Planned Development District (PDD).
A 4-1 majority was required to pass the PDD resolution, according to Supervisor Dan Lewza, who voted in favor along with Councilman Benny Zlotnick.
“This has been a great struggle for myself,” offered Blaisdell, when Deputy Town Clerk Mary Ann Mevec had called on him to cast his vote. “But I’m a strong supporter of open spaces, low-density housing and well-settled communities with a history of caring for each other.”
Blaisdell continued: “I’m concerned that the proposed building is not appropriate for the area—and regardless of the age of the people that will potentially occupy it, the addition of 150 to 200 people in that area would be more density than we could ask the area to support. I’m voting no.”
Kerr raised similar concerns about the “density” of the apartment complex.
Zlotnick expressed disbelief that his fellow board members would turn down the offer by Samascott to spend $432,000 for an extension of water lines to homes on Red Oak Lane and White Oak Path, which are located about a quarter mile from Hutchins Road.
“The town of Milton board in the past made some mistakes or errors and people couldn’t have water,” Zlotnick said. “We have an opportunity for this developer to put something in with roads that we don’t have to pave, snowplow or pick up leaves on. We have a chance for people to get water at no cost to the town, and very little costs to residents on those two streets.”
Malta Development, Zlotnick added, has “offered us hundreds of thousands of dollars in free services to the town, and I think it’s very short-sighted to vote no. I vote yes.”
Ostrander voted against the resolution without comment. Prior to the vote, he said the decision should not be based on extending water lines only to two streets, when there are other areas of Milton that need better water service.
“Thank you all, for all of your time,” Samascott said, before abruptly leaving the meeting room with his son Wayne.
The second resolution taken up by the board was approved 5-0. It dealt with a proposed $500,000 town expense for purchasing the former Boyhaven property off Route 29.
In effect, the resolution empowered Milton Town Attorney James Craig and the town engineer to begin the formal process of finalizing a contract with the Boy Scouts of America Twin Rivers Council, which selected Milton’s bid for the 300-acre property earlier this year.
A separate resolution would be required to approve the finalized contract. Town residents have 30 days from now to collect approximately 900 signatures and force what Lewza called a “permissive referendum” allowing the town to borrow the money.
Most of the people in attendance Wednesday night favored the Boyhaven purchase at the scheduled public hearing for the resolution.
Milton Planning Board Chairman Larry Woolbright again called it a “once in a lifetime opportunity” to acquire valuable land—otherwise, he said, developers would quickly purchase it.
“It will be a development, and then it will be beyond our reach,” Woolbright said.
Jason Miller, who oversees buildings and grounds and is one of four people on the Milton Budget Committee, argued that “nobody has put forth any plan” in recent months to address how exactly the town can pay for the Boyhaven land.
“Before we move forward with a purchase, we need to do our homework,” Miller said.
The board members voted in favor of another resolution that would allow the town to exceed a state-mandated 2 percent cap on property tax increases, due to serious budget problems that Milton is facing.
If approved, the property tax rate per $1,000 of assessed value in Milton would increase to $.66 from the current amount of $.33.
Lewza criticized members of the media, the public and even other town board members for presenting incorrect numbers about the proposed tax increase and the tentative $7.7 million budget for 2018, singling out those who post on social media accounts.
He produced a copy of his own property tax bill to demonstrate that the rate hike would amount to an increase of about $85.
The town’s budget committee will meet for a workshop that is open to the public on Tuesday, Oct. 24 at 6:30 p.m. The full board will hold a formal public hearing for the tentative budget on Wednesday, Nov. 1 at 6:35 p.m.
[Readers are encouraged to post respectful comments regarding the article below.]
MALTA – On Tuesday, as the sun dropped below the tree line in Luther Forest, several dozen local homeowners appeared in a clearing off Fox Wander Road to voice their concerns about logging operations that began in April.
Luther Forest is known for streets designed with distinctive “loops” that reduce through traffic and maximize residents’ exposure to densely forested “common” areas, complete with recreational trails. Most of the tree cutting has taken place in those common areas at the behest of the Luther Forest Corporation.
“My number one thing is the safety of the kids,” stated Wineberry Lane resident George Fredericks. He said chainsaw crews have left behind many trees—or “leaners”—that pose risks of falling on children and adults who use the recreation trails. “I want cones out when you’re in there,” Fredericks insisted.
Marissa Mackay, a part owner of the Luther Forest Corp., is the granddaughter of Carol Luther, the last surviving descendant of the family that started planting trees on the barren lands of Malta and Stillwater south of Saratoga Lake nearly 120 years ago.
Mackay had organized the 5 p.m. gathering on Oct. 17 to address the slew of complaints from residents regarding dangerous trees as described by Fredericks, and significant damages to trails reportedly caused by heavy machinery in the common areas.
“Luther Forest Corporation began in 1898,” Mackay said in a prepared speech. “We are, as my great- great-grandfather was, stewards of the land.”
The company she now runs, Mackay continued, “maintained the timber rights and development rights, among others, in the deeds to all of the common areas to assure the residents that purchased homes here would not have the risk of a neighbor building in the center of their loop.”
She quoted from the official pamphlet that was provided by Luther Forest Corp. to homeowners when the neighborhood was originally built more than 40 years ago. It said the company “will continue harvesting, pruning and reseeding the forest in keeping with the soundest practices of timber, wildlife, watershed and recreational management.”
“This is not a new operation that is taking place presently, nor is it an operation that will disappear,” Mackay said. “The sustainable forestry practices that occur in one area are typically every 10 to 15 or 20 years, depending on forest growth and species of timber. It is a labor of love and respect for my roots.”
Mackay went on to say “no paycheck could cover the amount of disappointment I have in the humanity of some residents in this development who have stooped to certain acts like putting water in our machinery, or beer cans and notes of harassment towards my crew. This is vandalism. It’s illegal.”
Chuck Gerber of Saratoga Land Management, which performs most of the tree cutting in Luther Forest, joined Mackay in her presentation. The company continuously harvests trees on the 3,500 acres of property that are still owned by the Luther and Mackay families, down from an original holding of 7,000 acres.
If there are problems with trees left behind, Gerber told those gathered, “we will take care of it.” He offered his phone number and contact information to Fredericks.
Similarly, Mackay made it clear that her phone line is always open to homeowners.
Other residents requested that work crews place better signage near active logging operations. Still others asked to be provided with maps of precise cutting locations ahead of time, and how long the logging would last in general.
Gerber and Mackay explained that unpredictable market forces influence what types of trees Saratoga Land Management crews can harvest during any given week. That, in turn, determines where in the common areas the crews can cut—and for how long.
Juliana Ellsworth-Howe, another Wineberry Lane resident who posted graphic videos of the tree cutting sites on social media in recent weeks, admitted that “it kind of came as a shock in the community” when logging crews started their work in April.
She said “it probably would have taken away some of the anger” if the “science of forestry” was explained to homeowners earlier in the process.
There are three separate homeowners’ associations in Luther Forest, which Mackay said bear responsibility for communicating to residents the particulars about her company’s legal rights to cut down trees in common areas. She said repeated attempts were made to inform the associations (HOAs), or their respective management companies, before the cutting had begun.
In June, the Fox Wander West HOA filed suit against Luther Forest Corp. in Saratoga Supreme Court in relation to the alleged “hazardous” trees and damage to trails.
“I love living here, don’t get me wrong,” Ellsworth-Howe informed Mackay. “We don’t know who to believe. It’s not a personal attack on you in any way. We’re stuck in the middle right now.”
[Readers are encouraged to post respectful comments regarding the article below.]
Marissa Mackay on a pile of harvested red pine; and scenes from a recent tour through Luther Forest given by Mackay. Photos by www.photoandgraphic.com.
MALTA – In recent months, a legal dispute has been escalating between Luther Forest homeowners and the company that literally created the forest in the towns of Malta and Stillwater more than a century ago.
The Luther Forest Corp., managed by siblings Marissa and Cailean Mackay, has long retained the legal rights to harvest mature stands of trees in the 335 acres of “common areas” scattered throughout the Luther Forest neighborhoods.
Marissa Mackay says “sustainable” logging operations take place in those common areas roughly every 15 or 20 years. A new round of tree cutting began in April, she explained, and is expected to continue through the winter.
In recent months, though, a number of Luther Forest homeowners have expressed opposition to the Mackays’ logging operations. Some have made appearances at Malta Town Board meetings to voice complaints, only to be told by officials that the town has no legal right to intervene.
The Fox Wander West Homeowners’ Association has filed suit against Luther Forest Corp. in Saratoga Supreme Court, claiming that the company is liable for “hazardous trees” left behind as well as damages to recreational trails caused by heavy machinery during the logging operations.
Penny Kretchmer, the association’s president, did not return repeated requests for comment.
A woman answering the phone for Walsh and Walsh, the Saratoga Springs firm that represents the Fox Wander West association, said attorneys there “prefer not to comment.”
On the neighborhood association’s website (http://www.foxwanderwesthoa.com), “an important message about trees” is on the front page: “After reviewing the deeds and original offer documents for the forest,” the message says, “it's clear that The Luther Forest Corporation is responsible for hazardous trees.”
Video messages on Facebook, under the title “Save Our Forest,” have been appearing in recent days condemning the Mackays’ logging operations.
“Farming trees right up to someone’s property line and leaving nothing left but a huge mess is not respectful,” posted one “Save Our Forest” commenter. “Destroying our trails that have existed for decades and leaving the repair costs for the residents is not respectful…We are tired of being disrespected.”
Mackay disagreed, noting how, after logging in Luther Forest common areas began in April, she had communicated promptly with about 50 homeowners to address concerns regarding fallen trees near their property. “I made a point to be available,” she said.
Mackay has organized a forum on Tuesday, Oct. 17 at 5 p.m. for residents to get more information about the logging process in Luther Forest. It will be held at 2 Fox Wander Road, in one of the first areas cleared of trees this year.
Previously, Mackay said, letters announcing the start of logging operations were sent to each of the three main neighborhood associations in Luther Forest. This is the “loudest” residents have ever been about the tree cutting, she added.
Heidi Brooks, who recently resigned as vice president of the Fox Wander East Homeowners’ Association, opined that its directors “are keeping a lot of information from the homeowners.”
Brooks has communicated regularly with Mackay, attempting to clarify the process for other homeowners.
Yet Brooks also expressed concern for damages to trails, and for veterans in Luther Forest who are sensitive to the “loud crack” and noticeable vibrations of a tree falling.
“I think that people forget that a forest isn’t meant to be a park,” Mackay said this week in response to such concerns, during a tour of the “logging headers” in common areas that recent work crews created as staging areas for fallen trees. “When you decide to go walking in the forest, you might have to step over something—like that root I just caught my toe on.”
“The tops of the trees and the stumps have a lot of nutrients in them. We want them to stay here and rot, and feed what’s left,” Mackay added, as she walked the same trails that were created by her grandparents as part of a legal agreement with the original Luther Forest homeowners’ associations.
She explained that Luther Forest Corp. is harvesting trees year-round on 3,200 more acres owned by the Mackays, down from the original 7,000 acres belonging to their ancestor Tom Luther.
“We almost always have a crew on property somewhere,” Mackay said. “It just so happens that we have a lot of neighbors over in this neck of the woods.”
The company that cuts down most of the trees is Saratoga Land Management, which was started by Mackay's grandfather and later managed by her father, Alexander, a retired certified forester who now lives in New Hampshire.
Mackay said the cutting crews approach every tree they harvest as seasoned professionals. “I can probably put a can down, and they can drop it on the can,” she said. “They’re good at what they do. That’s why they do it.”
She also hopes Luther Forest residents will understand the long-term role her family has played in preserving the health of the area’s trees, albeit through the constant logging.
“You come in and you do that selective harvest to try to make sure that you allow the species that are more desirable, that are stronger in this environment, the proper space and nutrients that they need so you can have stronger species be the ones that are regenerating and surviving,” Mackay said.
[Readers are encouraged to post respectful comments regarding the article below.]