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Two-year moratorium on hydrofracking passed in Assembly

Above: Screenshot of a video from a Wednesday morning press conference by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and fellow Assembly Democrats on a bill that, if passed into law, will place a two-year moratorium on fracking in New York State. Source: The Albany Times-Union's Capitol Confidential blog. Watch the full video below.

A bill placing a two-year moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in New York State passed the Assembly by a wide margin on Wednesday, March 6, and is now headed for the Senate, according to several news reports. 

If signed into law, bill A.5424, which has local Assemblyman Kevin Cahill as one of its sponsors, would suspend gas drilling permits in the Marcellus and Utica shale until May 15, 2015, and require the state to complete a review of the public health impacts of hydrofracking before any permits can be issued.  Read more

Walton man arrested on drug and weapon charges after car accident

A 47-year-old Walton man was arrested on Tuesday morning at the scene of a one-car accident on County Route 14 in Franklin, when Delaware County sheriff's deputies found drugs and weapons in the car he was driving.

Rafael Macken was charged with driving while ability impaired by drugs (a misdemeanor), one count each of second- and third-degree criminal possession of a weapon (class C and D felonies), fifth-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance (a class D felony), two counts of fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon (misdemeanors), unlawful possession of marijuana and failure to keep right.

According to a news release from the Delaware County Sheriff's Office, an investigation of Macken's car after the accident turned up a loaded .22 caliber handgun, a silencer, switchblade and metal knuckle knives, a number of unspecified controlled substances and marijuana.

Macken was arraigned in the Town of Franklin Court and remanded to the Delaware County Correctional Facility in lieu of $15,000 cash bail or $25,000 bond.

Cuomo announces $25 million in grants to build more broadband

Utility poles near Binghamton. Photo by Flickr user Enoch Ross; photo published under Creative Commons license.

Rural utility companies call it the "last mile problem": Even in places where there is a network nearby that carries data, the final connections that bring service to individual houses are the most difficult and expensive to build. In the rural Catskills, where houses are far from one another and remote from population centers, many homes and communities still lack access to high-speed internet or cable television. 

Some of those areas may soon get new broadband access. On Tuesday, New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the awarding of $25 million in grants to fund the expansion of broadband networks in underserved parts of the state, through the Connect NY Broadband Grant Program.   Read more

Delaware County board passes anti-SAFE Act resolution

In a near-unanimous vote, the Delaware County Board of Supervisors voted on Wednesday, February 27 to pass a resolution opposing the SAFE Act, New York State's new gun control law

The resolution that was passed (embedded below) is a slightly different one than the resolution that was initially brought forward by Deposit supervisor Tom Axtell

Board chairman Jim Eisel, supervisor of Harpersfield, told the Watershed Post that at Wednesday's meeting, two supervisors objected to the wording of several items in the initial resolution: Marge Miller of Middletown and Dennis Valente of Davenport. 

"[Miller] felt there were some inaccuracies in it. She moved to table it, and Dennis Valente seconded it," Eisel said.

Rather than send the resolution back to committee and delay a vote by another month, Eisel said, he opted to take a recess and rewrite the resolution on the spot.   Read more

CWC announces grants for flood-damaged nonprofits

Above: The Empire State Railway Museum in Phoenicia on September 5, 2011, a week after Irene flooding damaged the building and grounds. Photo by Flickr user fixbuffalo; shared in the Watershed Post's Flickr group.

Over a year and a half since the Irene and Lee floods wreaked devastation on the Catskills, the long work of recovery is still going on.

This week, the Catskill Watershed Corporation announced a new initiative: a grant program to help nonprofits that were badly damaged in the 2011 floods. The program is open to any 501(c)3 organizations or state-chartered museums with buildings located inside New York City's Catskill-Delaware watershed.  Read more

USDA's new definition of 'rural' could hurt small towns

Rural enough for ya? Photo of dirt road in the Delaware County town of Meredith by Flickr user somervillebikes; shared in the Watershed Post's Flickr group.

A newly-released report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends a change in the agency's definition of "rural," a shift that would make larger towns newly eligible for a variety of USDA grants.

The new definition, if adopted, would replace several different definitions currently used in different USDA grant programs with a single criterion: To be considered "rural," a community must have less than 50,000 people.  

Under the old definitions, to be eligible for community water and waste disposal grants and loans, a community could have no more than 10,000 people. For community facility grants and loans, the upper limit was 20,000 people.  Read more

New York State toughens law on hydrocodone prescription

Photo by Flickr user Jeff Adams; published under Creative Commons license.

A new state law intended to combat illegal recreational use of hydrocodone, a highly addictive opiate that is the main ingredient in Vicodin and other prescription painkillers, went into effect this week.

The law reclassifies hydrocodone from a Schedule III to a Schedule II drug, tightening restrictions on prescribing the drug and banning automatic refills. It also establishes a new statewide online database for doctors and pharmacists to report and track controlled narcotics, dubbed the Internet System for Tracking Overprescribing, or I-STOP.

Other opiates with high addictive potential, like oxycodone, have been on the Schedule II list for some time. Many public health advocates have argued that hydrocodone deserves to be regulated more strictly, citing the drug's widespread abuse, addictive nature and the frequency of hydrocodone-related deaths.   Read more

Rumors of more bodies in Walton case untrue, cops say

Above: Lieutenant Erik Dauber of the New York State Police briefs local news reporters on an unfolding homicide investigation at Troop C's Sidney headquarters on Tuesday. Source: New York State Police's Facebook page.

Number of bodies found so far in a gruesome Walton case of suicide, homicide, arson and deceit: Three. (Four, if you count the dog.)

Persistent rumors have been swirling in the small community, and on social media, that other bodies were discovered in the course of the investigation. On Wednesday, Lieutenant Erik Dauber of the New York State Police, who is involved in the Walton investigation, emphatically denied the rumors.

"I have heard that rumor a bunch of times, and it's just not true." Dauber said. "Those three are the only bodies we have in this case. Let's hope it stays that way."

Here's what is known about the case so far:  Read more

Heavy snow to fall in the Catskills

Forecasters are calling for heavy, wet snow to fall across the Catskills late this evening and overnight, moving from south to north.

Accumulations could reach 5 to 10 inches in western Greene and Ulster Counties, according to a winter storm warning issued by the National Weather Service in Albany

Maximum Snowfall Rates...An Inch Per Hour...Mainly Late Tonight Through Wednesday Morning. * Timing...Snow Arrives After Midnight. Snow Possibly Heavy At Times...Mixing With Or Changing To Rain In Some Areas By Wednesday Afternoon...Then Changing Back To All Snow Wednesday Night. * Ice Accumulations...A Minor Coating Of Ice Is Possible Over Western Greene And Western Ulster Counties.

Schoharie County is under a winter weather advisory, with forecasts of up to 3 to 8 inches of wet snow  Read more

New details emerge on Walton deaths: Randy Sundstrom's body was found in a barrel

More disturbing details are emerging from the police investigation into an apparent murder-suicide and arson that occurred last week in a Walton home.

On February 19, two people were found dead at a house at 294 John Lockwood Road, which was set on fire shortly before gunshots were heard from within. The two were identified as 48-year-old Debra Sundstrom of 1884 South River Road, whose death was ruled a suicide by gunshot to the head, and 51-year-old Dominick Bosco, who lived in the house. Bosco's death was ruled a homicide.

The body of Debra's husband, Randy Sundstrom, was later found by police at the Sundstroms' home at 1884 South River Road.

On Tuesday, New York State Police troopers revealed a grim detail in the unfolding case: Randy Sundstrom's body was found stuffed into a barrel behind the Sundstrom house.

Randy Sundstrom had been dead since roughly February of 2010, police said. His death has been ruled a homicide.  Read more