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Notable government and school stories

December 30, 2011
Adirondack Daily Enterprise

Somewhat quiet election year, but some changes

There were few big-ticket elections in 2011, but a few local races led to leadership changes.

In March, political newcomer Peter Holderied earned his first term on the Lake Placid village Board of Trustees while incumbent Jason Leon nabbed another open seat. Former Trustee Paul Strack and longtime incumbent David Jones came in third and fourth, respectively.

The fall elections were fairly quiet, although the village of Tupper Lake and town of Brighton both gained new leaders.

Franklin County Legislator Paul Maroun ran unopposed for Tupper Lake village mayor after incumbent Mickey Desmarais dropped out of the race over the summer, under pressure for an ultimatum he gave to Adirondack Club and Resort developers to make the Big Tupper Ski Area a top priority "or else." In Brighton, town Councilman Peter Shrope edged out incumbent Supervisor John Quenell by just five votes.

Meanwhile, incumbent supervisors retained their posts in the towns of North Elba and Keene. Supervisor Roby Politi handily fended off a challenge from friend and Councilman Derek Doty in North Elba, while voters overwhelmingly chose to stick with incumbent Supervisor Bill Ferebee over challenger Paul Vincent.

The Harrietstown Town Board picked up a fresh face, as Nichole Meyette, a Democrat, edged out Republican Jason Bourgeois for an open council seat. Incumbent Republican Bob Bevilacqua was elected to another term.

Most of the races were tame, and political opponents kept their campaigns clean, but one race did make headlines for its animosity. In the town of Franklin, incumbent Highway Superintendent Jacques DeMars won his re-election bid in a landslide. But before Election Day, challenger Eric "Pugsley" Merrill's father, Councilman Brad Merrill, created a stir when he made unsubstantiated claims about DeMars and accused the town board of making "back-room deals." Earlier in 2011, Merrill, who worked for the highway department, had been fired for threatening to beat up DeMars during a dispute outside the town highway garage. Merrill denied making the threat, but his firing has been upheld by a state arbitrator.

- Chris Morris


VA clinic opens in Saranac Lake

SARANAC LAKE - Local veterans fought for three years to get the U.S. Veterans Administration to locate an outpatient medical clinic in Saranac Lake.

That effort paid off on July 19, when a new clinic on Depot Street opened its doors. The facility is housed in a 2,600-square-foot addition to the Branch and Callanan building, construction of which began in October 2010 and wrapped up in mid-summer.

"It's been a long time coming, but the main thing is, it is here." said Frank Karl, an Onchiota resident who is adjutant of VFW Post 3357 in Saranac Lake and led the effort to get a local VA clinic. "It's been long-needed. It's going to keep a lot of our people from having to travel, but also it's going to encourage some people who didn't sign up for VA care in the past to come forward and do it now."

The Saranac Lake site and a sister clinic in Westport are designed to provide veterans with primary care and routine prescriptions. Both are also linked to the VA's telehealth program, which allows local patients to consult with physicians or medical specialists via videoconference or telephone.

A long-awaited ribbon cutting ceremony for the Saranac Lake clinic was held Aug. 25.

-Chris Knight


Saranac Lake's massive water project gets under way

SARANAC LAKE - After years of discussion and planning, the village's nearly $12 million, state-mandated water project finally got under way this year.

The project involves connecting two wells that have been drilled behind the village wastewater treatment plant to the village's water system, the building of a new 1.15 million water storage tank on the side of Mount Pisgah and a host of water distribution system improvements.

That work began in mid-August, after the village awarded several million dollars worth of contracts on the project and secured easements for the new water lines from several property owners.

Parts of the project were held up in late summer as the village board debated, and ultimately approved, a controversial annexation agreement with the American Management Association that grants the village easements across AMA's property and requires the village to take over some of AMA's water, sewer and road infrastructure.

Speaking to the Enterprise in late December, village Manager John Sweeney said he was pleased with how much progress the village's contractors and engineers had made on the project. He expected the new water system will go online sometime in April or May.

-Chris Knight


2010 census: Saranac Lake grows, Adirondacks get older

Census data released this year showed that Saranac Lake added to its population over the last decade, the first decade that has happened since drugs put an end to the village's foundation as a tuberculosis cure center.

Saranac Lake grew by 7.2 percent, while Tupper Lake had a 6.8 percent decrease in population and Lake Placid saw its population decrease by 4.4 percent.

Lake Placid, Tupper Lake and Essex County also showed populations aging faster than in other areas.

Hamilton County's already small population decreased by 10 percent, the biggest drop per capita in the state and one of the largest in the Northeast.

-Jessica Collier


School's goose-killing plan sparks a furor

SARANAC LAKE - Few decisions made by the Saranac Lake Central School District's Board of Education this year sparked more controversy than the board's May vote to round up and euthanize the geese that had been defecating all over the high school's athletic fields.

School officials said geese feces on the fields was creating a health hazard for their students and other methods of keeping the birds off the fields had proved ineffective.

But board's decision was met with a firestorm of criticism from some local residents and a New York representative of the Humane Society of the United States. Supporters, however, commended the board for protecting the health of its students.

The round-up was eventually called off because the birds were no longer on the district's property during their molting period, when they can't fly and are easier to capture.

Later in the year, the district purchased the Nature Sweep, a goose poop removal machine, for just under $10,000 and used it to clean feces from the athletic fields. School officials said the machine was effective but said they don't consider it the answer to all their goose problems. A "Goose Committee" was formed in October to look into other, long-term options for dealing with the geese.

- Chris Knight



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