By Matt Youngfrau
MONTICELLO March 13, 2001 For the last several years, the Sullivan County Legislature has been exploring the possibility of opening a Welcome Center in Sullivan County. After extensive study and research, four sites were chosen for the project, which is a partnership between the county and the New York State Department of Transportation (DOT). After even more study, the four sites were narrowed down to two one between Exits 111 and 112 on Route 17 and one by Exit 114.
And the finalist has been chosen at least in committee.
On Thursday, February 15, DOT representatives met with the Sullivan County Legislature's Department of Public Works (DPW) Committee. At that meeting, they discussed the particular details of each location.
Site A, between Exits 111 and 112 in the Town of Mamakating near its border with the Town of Thompson, would provide easy, safe access to and from the center, said officials. However, two dwellings would have to be taken down and their residents evicted. The cost of the project would be about $4,471,000.
Site D (based on the original four sites of A, B, C, and D) is by Exit 114, also in the Town of Mamakating, on top of the Shawangunk Ridge. The site would have a scenic view but not as easy access as Site A. There is also a higher risk of accidents at Site D, said the DOT. The cost for the project would be $5,798,000.
Funding for the project has already been set aside. The DOTs Regions 8 and 9 have pledged $4,000,000 ($2,000,000 apiece) to the project, and the county has a grant of $475,000 for the project. Any additional funding would come from the county.
DPW met again on Thursday, March 1 to further discuss the issue. Sullivan County Visitors Association President and CEO Roberta Byron-Lockwood was present to speak about the operation and maintainence of the center. She estimated that it would annually cost $81,500 to operate and have an income potential of $118,500. After the meeting, several legislators and county officials toured the proposed sites.
Finally, on Thursday, March 8, DPW met once again with the intention of deciding on a Welcome Center site. An hour-plus discussion took place, with strong arguments for both sites. Town of Mamakating Supervisor Mary Barbuti and other Mamakating residents were there to convince the legislators to go with Site D.
"The Town Board is in favor of the Exit 114 site," Barbuti told the committee. "It is in a favorable location. It would benefit the downtown [Wurtsboro and Bloomingburg] business community."
It was also suggested that the committee delay the decision and the center be considered at Exit 113, which serves Route 209 in the Bashakill Valley. In fact, Legislator and Committee Member Kathleen LaBuda asked the committee several times during the meeting to table the issue and consider the site at Exit 113. DPW Chair Rodney Gaebel informed her that it was considered but would not be feasible.
"We should revisit the 113 site," LaBuda implored the committee. "There are quite a bit of trees in Sullivan County, but none of them grow money. Let's be cautious."
"Exit 113 was one of the original sites looked at," Gaebel responded. "Cost was the problem with that site."
But due to Site D being on a rock ledge that would have to be excavated, costs there could easily rise over the $5.7 million-plus already estimated. Gaebel stated that no significant boring was done to test what cut of rock they had to bore into, and legislators were already expecting costs to go above that figure before boring begins.
That point was addressed by Legislative Chair Rusty Pomeroy.
"Sometimes, the most inexpensive site is not the best site," he stated. "The college and the hospital were also important, but they are not located well. This will be built one time only. Wurtsboro is a jewel in the county. We do not want to negatively affect it."
It was suggested that the Town of Mamakating might share in the costs of Site D. Barbuti could not answer that without talking to her board.
A vote was then taken on Site D. Pomeroy, Gordon MacKinnon, and Leni Binder were in favor of the site. Bob Kunis, Jodi Goodman, and Gaebel voted against it. LaBuda abstained. That vote defeated the plans for Site D.
A vote was taken on Site A. Gaebel, Kunis, Goodman, and Binder voted in favor of it. Pomeroy and MacKinnon voted against it. Once again, LaBuda abstained.
The resolution for Site A, having passed the committee, will now go before the full Legislature this Thursday, March 15.