Fire pollution questions trouble farmers

MELLENVILLE–Peter Reiss of the Agricultural Advisory Committee relayed to the Claverack Town Board some of the committee’s concerns regarding the recent TCI fire in West Ghent at the board’s meeting last week.

“The recent TCI fire elicited some farming and agricultural related concerns,” said Mr. Reiss during the Thursday, August 9 board meeting. “I feel it’s extremely important to us that we really increase the awareness of all the concerns.” He went on to read excerpts from a letter sent by Chris and Katie Cashen, the owners of the Farm at Miller’s Crossing, who called for more information about disasters that affect farmland and produce.

The fire on August 1 and 2 destroyed the factory off Route 9H and released a plume of smoke from oil contaminated with PCBs, chemicals that are hazardous to human health and the environment. The smoke drifted away from the plant, but where it settled is not entirely clear. At the time authorities said the potential threat was confined to an area within a radius of 15 miles from the plant.

The letter from the Cashens said they were initially uncertain what to do about the crops that were exposed the night of the TCI fire, as many local farmers have been. They said they were “very relieved” when told by a representative of the state Department of Agriculture and Markets that they could assume the farm was safe.

The farmers then referenced last year’s storms, Irene and Lee, saying that after each one hit, the U.S. Department of Agriculture declared that any crops on farmland touched by floodwater were to be destroyed. The farm owners wrote that they were irked there was no information available as to what kind of contamination, if any, may have occurred from the floodwaters.

The owners added that maybe there also need to be procedures in place so that samples could be collected and gathered immediately after disasters.

“Treat these things like a crime scene. Time is of the essence,” the letter read. It went on to say, “The public should be given this information as soon as possible and at least know what we are dealing with. Secrets are bad and breed distrust and ultimately hysteria.”

An August 6 press release from Columbia County Emergency management stated that the Department of Agriculture and Markets advised, “there is no health concern to livestock or produce.”

In other business at the August 9 meeting the board:

Heard what the town plans to do with grant money it will get from the Flood Mitigation Grant Program. The program, signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo, is meant to help assist counties to repair damage done to waterways from the flooding caused by last year’s Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee. Columbia County was awarded about $302,000. The Town of Claverack was approved for two projects under this grant, Hollowville Creek in the hamlet of Hollowville and North Creek in Mellenville.

Heard Board member Clifford Weigelt talk about the town getting a new truck. He said that because of the storms, FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) steps in and reimburses the town for what it does in dealing with the storms. The town ended up with a surplus of money from FEMA, and has decided to upgrade the fleet by adding a new, stainless steel truck that won’t rust and will be able to carry larger loads than other town trucks. “So the fleet now is going to be almost up to 100% where we need it at this point,” said Mr. Weigelt. “And it really hasn’t cost the taxpayers anything to get this.”

Heard town Supervisor Robin Andrews commented on the status of the county’s homeless shelter proposal, saying that it’s still moving forward. “There are a lot of open questions about the lease and the agreement,” she said. “So that’s continuing on in discussion,” she said.

Discussed the possibility of accepting a donation of part of a streambed and stream bank near School House Road. Board members indicated there is little they could do with it, but that it wouldn’t hurt to accept the proposed transfer. “It’ll border us a little more,” said Highway Superintendent Louis Lamont. “That’s about the only thing it will do.”

Town Attorney Robert Fitzsimmons warned that the board should be sure to fully check out the property first. “Whatever complications come with the property, you inherit,” said Mr. Fitzsimmons. He said that when somebody offers something for nothing, you always have to wonder why. “You have to do a little bit of due diligence is all I’m saying,” said the attorney.

The board accepted the resignation of Deputy Clerk Michele Fuchs and the retirement of Building Inspector Stanley Koloski. The board also agreed to post job openings for those positions.

Heard Dr. Neil Howard, a Claverack resident, introduce himself to those in attendance as the new superintendent for the Taconic Hills School District. Dr. Howard, the former Middle School principal, is replacing Mark Sposato.

Next month’s board meeting has been rescheduled from September 13 to September 1.


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