Sullivan County heroin traffickers busted two days before drug forum

Photo by Eric Molina, via Flickr. 

After nine months of surveillance and wiretapping, investigators from the New York Attorney General's Office and the New York State Police have arrested a group of 13 people for trafficking heroin in New York and Pennsylvania.

The network, which reportedly revolved around a 52-year-old Bronx-based kingpin named Brian Bacon who is known as the "Prime Minister," funneled heroin from New York City into Sullivan County via two men in Monticello, according to a press release. 

Thirty-four-year-old Jamaul Aziz and 22-year-old Gilbert Maxi allegedly served as heroin resellers in Monticello, police say. Aziz is described as one of Bacon's "main resellers."

Above: A poster promoting two forums on heroin addiction in Sullivan County this weekend, from the Kingfisher Project. 

Bacon reportedly sold around a kilogram of heroin each month to his various clients in New York and Pennsylvania. Much of the heroin travelled by public trains and buses, police say. 

The investigation, called "Operation Iron Horse," began in June 2014. The 13 defendants were arraigned in Orange County Court on Thursday, March 26, according to the Times Herald-Record. 

  Read more

Trucker trapped for hour after rear-ending another truck on Route 17

A series of truck accidents on Route 17 in Sullivan County continues.

On Wednesday, March 25, eastbound Route 17 in the Sullivan County town of Mamakating was closed for an hour after the driver of an Isuzu box truck rear-ended a Mack tractor trailer and became trapped in his cab, police say.

According to a state police press release, Edward Pierno, of Plymouth, New York, was operating the Mack truck when Alan Spoor, of Syracuse, drove the Isuzu box truck into his rig from behind.

It took first responders, which included the Wurtsboro Fire Department and EMS personnel, over an hour extricate Spoor, police say. Spoor sustained non-life-threatening injuries and was flown to Westchester Medical Center.

This is the third time Route 17 has been closed by a truck crash in four months. 

In December 2014, a five tractor trailers were involved in a crash on Route 17 in the town of Thompson that caused the death of a 65-year-old New York City woman.  Read more

Woodstock Writers Radio with Martha Frankel and guests

Woodstock gas station manager stole $48,000 in lottery tickets, police say

Above: The Cumberland Farms convenience store on Mill Hill Road in Woodstock. Photo via Google Street View. 

While Peter Dinnocenzo was managing Woodstock's Cumberland Farms gas station convenience store on Mill Hill Road in Ulster County in 2013 and 2014, he was stealing $48,000 in lottery scratch-off tickets, the New York State Police said this week.

Left: Peter Dinnocenzo, via the New York State Police.  Read more

Six new Catskills publications cater to urban transplants

Above: An image from Catskill Made, a new digital publication. Photo of milkweed by Tom Smith.

Along with maple syrup and the first red blush of buds on the mountainsides, spring is bringing a bloom of new publications devoted to covering the culture, arts and lifestyle of the Catskills — through the eyes of flatlanders.

These days, urbanites are fleeing to the Catskills from New York City in droves. If you ask them why, they say that they're searching for something -- a kind of authenticity absent from more citifed environs.

“We yearned for a place with a slower pace of life, fewer pretensions, friendlier people, and more authenticity — something we had always experienced on our trips here," said Alecia Eberhardt, a new arrival to the Catskills who is the editor of Catskill Made, a new digital quarterly journal that launched on March 21. "So in the summer of 2013 we made the leap, and almost two years later, here we are.”  Read more

Catskill Made, a new digital journal, covers Catskills artists and makers

Above: The cover of the first issue of Catskill Made features Dina Bursztyn's photograph of "Catskill Sundial," a piece of public art in Dutchman’s Landing Park in Catskill.

There’s a brand new outlet for creative provocateurs in the Catskills. Launched on Saturday, March 21, the first day of spring, Catskill Made is a “quarterly digital journal of artists and makers in the Catskills.”

Writer and editor Alecia Lynn Eberhardt and photographer, designer and web developer Tom Smith, both based in Saugerties, are the team behind the publication, which is built on a web application platform and can be accessed from a smartphone or a computer.

Catskill Made will investigate a different theme each issue; the first, “Equinox,” examines the idea of “balance” through multiple lenses. There are meditations on the coming of spring, on art therapy, and on the ways in which the cold winter months impact the making process. There are in-depth maker profiles: a potter, a weaver and a singer/songwriter. There’s a photo essay of luminous night time shots, and a collective interview in which random creatives describe their morning routines.   Read more

This weekend: Make 'Em Laugh

It's spring, sort of. It's freezing and there's still ice on the ground. The only thing you can do at the end of March, after six months of snow, is laugh.

The Open Eye Theater in Margaretville is hosting a comedy night this Saturday that doubles as a fundraiser for the theater's upcoming season. Catskills locals -- Gail Lennstrom, John Bernhardt, Marcy Thorn, John Exter, Jill Ribich and Erwin Karl -- will mount the stage and put on their best Borscht Belt routines.

Make 'Em Laugh Fundraiser. Saturday, March 28, 7:30 p.m. The Open Eye Theater, 960 Main St., Margaretville. 845-586-1660.

Catskill Center director to retire; replacement sought

Alan White, the executive director of the Arkville-based Catskills Center for Conservation and Development, is retiring, according to a press release issued by the CCCD on Wednesday, March 25.

Left: Alan White. Photo via the Catskill Center's website. 

The statement quotes Jim Infante, the chairman of the CCCD's board, saying that White will "devote the next chapter of his life to his beloved farm." White raises goats on a homestead in Halcott Center. 

White took the job almost exactly five years ago, in 2010. Previously, he was the director of the Nature Conservancy's Catskill Mountain program. 

The press release does not say when White will formally end his tenure at the CCCD. A candidate to replace White has not yet been chosen.   Read more

Main Street Boot Camp conference brings scores to Delaware County

Above: Attendees at the Main Street Boot Camp in Margaretville on Tuesday, March 24. Photo by Julia Reischel.

A two-day Main Street Boot Camp conference sponsored by the Arkville-based MARK Project nonprofit attracted 90 attendees each day, according to Peg Ellsworth, the MARK Project's executive director. 

The conference, which was held on Monday, March 23 and Tuesday, March 24 at the Hanah Mountain Resort and Country Club in Margaretville, aimed to bring together business owners, county and municipal officials and state development coordinators to discuss economic development in the Catskills.  Read more

Out of money, the Belleayre Music Festival goes on hiatus in 2015

The Belleayre Music Festival, which has been held at Belleayre Mountain Ski Center in the Ulster County hamlet of Highmount for 23 summers, will not happen in 2015, said Mel Litoff, the festival's executive and artistic director. It will return after a one-year hiatus to celebrate its 25th season in 2016.

"We're not closing up shop. We just don’t have the funds to mount a season at the moment," Litoff said. "We just ran out. We need to go back to all our friends and if everybody gives us a little bit, we'll be fine." 

The decision not to hold a summer season was made at the last meeting of the festival's board, Litoff said. The board members examined the proceeds from the festival's Snowball fundraising event, held in January, and decided that they couldn't fund the festival's $700,000 budget this summer.

"We had a great Snowball, but we still weren’t able to get enough money in the bank," Litoff said.  Read more

The best of the new Catskills restaurants

Above: Fresh-made donuts at Twin Peaks Coffee & Donuts. Photo by Julia Reischel.

New eateries serving fresh doughnuts, Vietnamese banh mi, baklava and cheesy grits have all opened in the mountains this past year or so. From the 2015 Catskills Food Guide, here are some of our favorites.

The doughnuts at Twin Peaks Coffee & Donuts (5950 Main St., Tannersville, 518-589-6262), which opened in late 2013, are made to order by the Doughnut Robot, a countertop machine that deploys circles of batter into bubbling hot oil while you wait. After frying, they’re dipped in flavored glazes like Key lime, pumpkin, apple cider, and caramel and sea salt. For a quarter, you can add a bacon glaze. For $4.50, you can add eggs, cheese and meat to make a true caloric heavyweight: a doughnut-based breakfast sandwich “slider.”

Above: Doughnut sliders at Twin Peaks Coffee & Doughnuts. Photo by Julia Reischel. 

Tara and Nathan Jamieson, the owners of Feather & Stone (38 West St., Walton, 607-510-4027,, which opened in September 2014, express their love of travel in their menu. One week, they’re celebrating the Midwest with fried cheese curds, and the next it’s the American southwest with Texas smoked brisket. They have a special affection for New York state dishes — the Rochester Garbage Plate is a mix of meats, chili, fries and salad — and the humble burger, seven versions of which appear on the menu.  Read more

Key Bank will rebuild its Phoenicia branch

Above: Ice gathered on a hydrant across the street from the Key Bank fire on Feb. 16. Photo by Lissa Harris.

Key Bank will rebuild its Phoenicia branch, which was destroyed by a fire on Feb. 16, according to a press release issued by the bank on Monday, March 23. The bank estimates that the rebuilding will take several months, and may begin this spring. 

In the meantime, Key Bank will install a full-service ATM in Phoenicia "as soon as possible." The bank has been closed and its employees have been assigned to other branches since the fire.

According to the bank's press release, the cause of the fire at the bank is still being investigated.

On Feb. 20, fire investigators told the Watershed Post that the fire was accidental, caused by an "unspecified electrical event within the building."  

Read the full press release below:  Read more

Snow days weigh heavily on Catskills college students

Above: The SUNY New Paltz campus on March 13. Photo by Keady Sullivan.

After a brutal winter in the Catskills, college students are holding their breath, hoping for no more snow days.

College classes at SUNY Cobleskill, SUNY Delhi, SUNY New Paltz, SUNY Oneonta, SUNY Sullivan and SUNY Ulster have all experienced weather-related cancellations with more frequency than usual in 2015.

For SUNY New Paltz and SUNY Sullivan students, Monday classes have been hit particularly hard. Three consecutive Monday snow days on Jan. 26, Feb. 2, and Feb. 9 prevented classes from meeting and have significantly set back course curriculums.

SUNY Sullivan had the most official, university-declared cancellations of colleges in the Catskills region. Four whole days of classes were cancelled, and classes were either delayed or closed early on three additional days. In Ulster County, SUNY New Paltz cancelled classes six times and SUNY Ulster cancelled classes four times.

In Schoharie County, SUNY Cobleskill cancelled classes three times. In Delaware County, SUNY Delhi cancelled classes twice. And in Otsego County, SUNY Oneonta cancelled classed on one day and partially cancelled classes on another day.  Read more

Rescuers take to the ice

Above: An ice rescue training on the Rondout Reservoir on March 10. Photo via the DEP's Flickr page.

March, when the ice of Catskills lakes and reservoirs is the thickest, is the time of year when first responders freshen up their ice rescue skills.

Last week, police and fire departments around the region chopped holes in ice and took turns donning bright, insulated dry suits to practice how to reach a victim who had fallen through ice into frigid water.

On March 10, on the Rondout Reservoir in Ulster and Sullivan counties, police and water quality experts from the New York City Department of Environmental Protection conducted rescue drills.

That same week, in Schoharie County, rescuers practiced used a Rapid Deployment Craft (RDC) in Summit. (We wrote about the annual Summit drill last year.)  Read more

To avoid flooding, DEP proposes 10 percent void in Schoharie Reservoir

Above: Siphons on the Gilboa Dam. Photo by Julia Reischel.

The New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) wants to regularly release water downstream into the Schoharie Valley for the first time since the Schoharie Reservoir was built in 1927, according to a press release issued by the agency on Friday, March 20.

Right now, most of the water from the Schoharie Reservoir is channeled through an 18-mile tunnel into the Esopus Creek in Ulster County. From there, it enters the Ashokan Reservoir and goes on to New York City.

The Schoharie Reservoir stores 19.6 billion gallons of water and supplies 15 percent of the city's drinking water every day. Beneath the dam's mammoth, recently rebuilt spillway, the Schoharie Creek is usually stagnant and dry.   Read more

Catskills sugarhouses open for Maple Weekend

Above: Maple syrup from the Catskill Mountain Sugar House in Grahamsville. Photo by Richard A. Smith

New York state produces almost a fifth of the nation’s maple syrup, and much of that comes from the Catskills. The mountains are home to many sugarhouses, from large operations with state-of-the-art evaporators that use reverse osmosis to little shacks that still use the old-fashioned boiling method.

Maple syrup is available all year long, but the tapping season lasts for just a few weeks in March, when frosty nights and sunny days get the sap moving.

The best way to watch a sugarhouse in action is to visit one. The sights, sounds and smells of sap boiling in the sugarhouse mean that sweetness, like springtime, is just around the corner. Shake off the late-winter blahs and come celebrate Maple Weekend -- actually two weekends of open houses -- in the sugar shacks of the Catskills. Listed below are events that are within the Watershed Post's coverage area; a statewide list of all 160 locations can be found at  Read more

Hancock man stockpiled 20 pounds of C4 plastic explosives, police say

Above: A satellite image of Stephen D. Esolen's residence. Esolen buried 20 pounds of plastic explosives nearby, police say. Via Google Earth. 

A 24-year-old man stockpiled a large amount of bomb-making material in his home and on another property he had burglarized in the Delaware County town of Hancock, police say. 

Left: Stephen D. Esolen. Photo via the New York State Police. 

Stephen D. Esolen was arrested on Tuesday, March 17 after New York State Police and Delaware County Sheriff's Office investigators discovered that he had buried 20 pounds of powerful C4 plastic explosives near his home on County Route 67 in Hancock, according to a State Police press release.

A pound of C4 can demolish a truck, according to  Read more

Election results: Villagers dump incumbents, vote for newcomers

See video

Above: Aaron Rabiner, a candidate for village trustee in the Sullivan County village of Bloomingburg, in a campaign interview. Rabiner has a two-vote lead on incumbent trustee Katherine Roemer in a tight race that won't be resolved until next week. 

It was a throw-out-the-bums kind of year in village elections across the Catskills, which were held yesterday, March 18. In the few village races in the region that were contested, most incumbents fared badly against upstarts and challengers.

Many of the races are nailbiters. Some results are preliminary due to razor-thin margins in races where affidavit and absentee ballots have yet to be counted. In a few races, a single vote separated the winners from the losers.  Read more

"Obsessed" vegan cheesemaker found calling after career in restoration

Cheezehound's Barneveld variety, named for the upstate New York town, is a sharp, aged, semi-soft nut cheese. Photos courtesy of Lori Robin.

Lori Robin didn’t set out to start a vegan cheese company. A gilder and stone carver by trade, she had planned to teach restoration workshops for antiques lovers in a studio in the Delaware County village of Fleischmanns.

“Take people out shopping, buy something from one of the antique shops, bring it back to the studio, restore it, and go home with a finished product. That was the plan,” Robin said. “But I was…” she paused, searching for a word.

“Derailed by cheese?” I offered.

“That’s exactly right!”

Now Robin’s space is a commercial kitchen, where she handcrafts an increasing variety of organic, cultured vegan nut cheese alternatives for sale in the Catskills, New York City, and — thanks to a new distributor — beyond.

Robin has no doubt that there’s a market for her cheese.  Read more

Village elections are mostly quiet, with a few hot races

Photo by Flickr user Vox Efx. 

Today, Wednesday, March 18, is Election Day for most New York villages. Village elections in many Catskills villages are sleepy, uncontested affairs, but a few are real contests with full slates of candidates from multiple parties.  Read more

Child killed in Fallsburg fire

A one-year-old child was killed in a mobile home fire at Foxcroft Village in the Sullivan County hamlet of Loch Sheldrake on Tuesday, March 17, according to reports from the Times Herald-Record and the Sullivan County Democrat's Facebook page.

The child was named Shelby Koskey, according to the THR. The mobile home park is near the Neversink Reservoir. (Click here to see a map of the location.)

Details are scant, and the Watershed Post is waiting on a return phone call from the town of Fallsburg Police Department for more information.

The Democrat has photos of the blaze, which was battled by seven separate fire companies:

  Read more