A rewind of 2013

The announcement of NRG becoming a natural gas plant has been selected as the top local news story of 2013.

Over the summer, more than 2,000 attended a public hearing for the Public Service Commission, voicing their support for NRG to construct a natural gas plant in Dunkirk, instead of operating its coal plant. NRG had said previously that the plant would be shut down if it wasn’t going to use natural gas.

A second rally took place in December, where hundreds of residents braved the cold and gathered at the boardwalk to again voice their support. Later that month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo came to announce the good news.

But it wasn’t all good news. In January, Ralcorp announced it would be closing Petri’s Baking in Silver Creek and the Carriage House in Dunkirk, eliminating 375 jobs. It was the biggest job loss the local area has had in the 21st century.

The Lake Erie Regional Health System of New York also cut positions at Lake Shore Hospital and Brooks, before announcing that Lake Shore Hospital would be closed next January.

Silver Creek chose to eliminate its police force.

School consolidation failed in Westfield and Brocton, but Ripley and Chautauqua Lake were able to reach an agreement on tuitioning Ripley’s students in Mayville.

Hearts were broken after 16-year-old Damon Janes of Brocton died from injury following a high school football game.

Three times the County Legislature failed to sell the County Home. Many of those who opposed the home sale outside of Dunkirk/Fredonia lost in the November elections, giving the Republican Party a super majority for next year. Vince Horrigan, who publicly supported selling the home defeated Ron Johnson, who said he believed the home could be financially viable.

There were no reported murders locally in 2013. In 2012, Clymer School Superintendent Keith Reed, Jr. was killed. Following weeks of trial this year, Anthony Taglianetti was convicted for the murder.

Below are summaries of the top stories for the year.

NRG GOING GAS

A lengthy period of suspense about the future of NRG Energy Inc. in Dunkirk came to a conclusion Dec. 15 when New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo came to Dunkirk to announce a retrofitting of the facility. While the state’s Public Service Commission has yet to weigh in on the proposal, it is unlikely the commissioners would vote against the governor’s announced plan.

While NRG’s original repowering proposal called for the investment of $500 million into a new facility, according to a press release Cuomo issued, a deal was reached between NRG and National Grid and was facilitated by the state Public Service Commission.

David Gaier is a spokesman for NRG’s East Region and was asked about the details of the plan.

“It’s a 10-year contract with National Grid for $150 million. That is for reliability and congestion management services,” Gaier explained. “We will also offer capacity and energy on the wholesale energy market. We will do that as a merchant generator, so we’ll be taking a risk.”

Those sales will be through the New York Independent Systems Operators.

Gaier said there isn’t a figure available for the cost of the changes necessary to modify or retrofit the boilers to use natural gas as the engineering is not complete. In addition, he said there is no cost for the pipeline that will bring the natural gas to the plant.

“We’re modifying boilers on coal units numbers 2, 3 and 4 to use natural gas,” he explained. “Those boilers will still have the capability to use coal, but obviously they will be using natural gas as their primary fuel.”

Boiler number 1 will remain mothballed, the current status of boilers 3 and 4. Output from the retrofitted boilers will be about 435 megawatts, including 75 on number 2 and 180 megawatts each on boilers 3 and 4.

The bag houses which were constructed in 2008 as part of a pollution control effort will remain in use with the retrofitted boilers and the plant’s footprint will remain as it is, according to Gaier.

When it is up and running, NRG Dunkirk will provide jobs for more than 40 employees, doubling the number that would have been employed if repowering had been the option selected.

“The important thing to keep in mind is this refueling as we call it, versus a repowering, which is the nomenclature we use for the combined cycle, actually preserves more jobs than the combined cycle,” Gaier explained. “Another great thing about this project is the full tax benefits to all the taxing jurisdictions will be maintained while the facility is under contract to National Grid.”

According to Gaier, that means the existing PILOT payment schedule will be maintained.

“I want to say we are very proud of our Dunkirk employees. We’re very pleased with this agreement, we’ll be able to continue to be part of the Dunkirk community for many years,” he added. “We want to thank Governor Cuomo for his leadership and we want to thank the people of Dunkirk and the people of Western New York for their strong support of the Dunkirk Station and for this project.”

As for the signing of final contracts, Gaier said that date has yet to be set.

“The final details of the agreement are still being worked out, including the required approvals and those approvals include the approval of the New York Public Service Commission, so that’s required,” he explained.

One thing that won’t be missed when the conversion is complete is Route 5 being blocked by the coal trains supplying NRG.

HOSPITAL CUTS

On Oct. 15, Lake Erie Regional Health System of New York Board Chairman Christopher Lanski sent out an open letter to the community announcing the board’s decision to close the Lake Shore Health Center facility with a projected closing date of Jan. 31. The reason given for the closing was a $7 million shortfall for 2013.

In 2008, Brooks Memorial Hospital and TLC Health Network including Lake Shore and Tri-County hospitals, the latter of which was destroyed in a 2009 flood, were combined in 2008 by the Berger Commission in an attempt to make the struggling hospitals more sustainable.

Over the summer, Brooks and Lake Shore staff were laid off reportedly due to declining business. According to LERHSNY acting Chief Executive Officer Gary Rhodes, 90 employees were laid off from Lake Shore and 30 to 35 from Brooks.

The Lake Shore hospital was put up for sale and on Oct. 27 a bid of $11 million was confirmed from local businessman Tony Borrello. Three days later the LERHSNY Board met and subsequently rejected Borrello’s initial bid.

On Oct. 31, Lake Shore and Brooks were legally separated and a separate TLC board of directors was formed. The board has financial powers but cannot approve the sale of the hospital, which is reserved for the LERHSNY Board.

A short time later, Lanski released a statement that Brooks is independent and “financially stable in daily operations.”

The TLC Board appointed interim CEO John Galati on Nov. 26 and charged him with reassessing all aspects of Lake Shore Health Care Center’s ability to provide health care in a financially sustainable manner.

On Dec. 16, TLC filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection as a way to restructure operations. Officials have said this is a positive step to keeping the hospital open.

PETRI’S, DUNKIRK CARRIAGE HOUSE CLOSES

In January, it was announced that Petri’s cookie factory in Silver Creek would close.

The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) for Petri’s said layoffs would commence June 15 and the closing of the plant would occur between June 15 and June 28, displacing 143 workers.

Local and county officials attempted to work on a solution to avoid the closure with Petri’s owner Ralcorp Holdings Inc.

At the end of January, Ralcorp Holdings was purchased by ConAgra Foods Inc. Officials also tried to find a way to keep the factory open with ConAgra, however it was decided the Petri’s and Dunkirk Carriage House facilities would close, leaving 375 employees without work.

The Department of Labor Rapid Response Team and Chautauqua Works took action during the closure process to try to help the nearly 150 Petri’s workers facing unemployment.

It held an open job fair, a targeted job fair, an workshop on training offerings and meetings with workers to explained what to do after being laid off.

After fulfilling contracts the cookie factory closed. Some of the equipment from the factory was sold. There have been rumors of interested parties purchasing the factory and local officials are keeping up to date on the sale prospects, but it has yet to be sold.

HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL PLAYER DIES FOLLOWING GAME

The Brocton-Westfield community was dealt a huge blow this year after it lost 16-year-old high school junior Damon William Janes to a football-related injury.

Damon, a running back on Brocton’s and Westfield’s combined team, suffered a severe head injury during a Class D varsity football game against Portville Central School on Sept. 13. Three days later, he succumbed to his injuries in the hospital. A funeral was held Sept. 21 as a final goodbye.

Damon’s death garnered national and even global attention as an outpouring of support flowed into a community stricken by grief and loss. A candlelight vigil three days after his passing drew about 1,500 people to the Brocton football field, where friends, family, teachers, classmates, teammates and loved ones relied on each other for support.

As a result of Damon’s passing, the rest of the Westfield-Brocton football team’s season was called off by the Westfield Board of Education. The board cited time for the community to heal as the reason for the cancellation.

However, in the wake of tragedy, the community came together to support Damon’s family and a memorial fund set up in his honor. Numerous fundraising events were held across the area, including a large benefit at the Nickel Plate Depot in Brocton on Sept. 29. A benefit motorcycle run was held on the same day, with more than 200 bikes participating.

As for the legacy Damon has left behind, one of his favorite sayings still offers a resounding impact on those who remember him well: “Giving up is simply not an option.”

COUNTY HOME SALE VOTE REJECTED THREE TIMES

Election Day 2013 may well be remembered in Chautauqua County as the County Home Election.

Six of nine legislators who voted against the sale of the County Home on Oct. 30 lost their seats in the legislature Tuesday.

County Executive-elect Vince Horrigan has always supported selling the home since the issue came up while his opponent Ron Johnson is the owner and operator of Johnson Adult Homes and was in favor of trying to make the county-owned home profitable again without selling it to a private buyer.

Even the race for county clerk was won by Larry Barmore, who supported selling the home as a legislator, while his opponent Lori Cornell was opposed to selling during her time as a legislator.

One of the former legislators who lost his seat was William Coughlin D-Fredonia.

When asked if the County Home had anything to do with the election, Coughlin’s opponent Bob Scudder, R-Fredonia, said, “Yes. I would say that some of the Jamestown races were affected by it.”

Scudder added that roughly 87 percent of County Home residents are from the north county region, while there are not currently any Jamestown residents living at the facility.

Both Scudder and Coughlin voted against the sale while sitting on the legislature together. “The vast majority of my constituents have expressed that they don’t want me to sell the home. What do you do? It’s a fine line between making a decision as a legislator, what you think is best, and then making the decision considering the results for the whole county,” he said.

The legislature will downsize from 25 to 19 members in January, which could change the outcome of any future votes. In order for real property owned by the county to be sold, a supermajority vote would be required. For privitization of the County Home to take place in the new year, 13 of the 19 legislators will have to vote in favor.

HORRIGAN ELECTED, GOP TAKES SUPERMAJORITY WITH FEWER LEGISLATORS

Chautauqua County Executive-Elect Vince Horrigan has a lot of work to do before his term officially begins Jan. 1.

Horrigan has been very busy getting things done and believes all the communities deserve the best.

“This is my time to really have everything in place,” Horrigan said. “The primary reason is it’s important for me to be able to use this limited time to engage our community.”

Horrigan announced his transition team earlier in November, following through with one of his campaign promises.

“The purpose of this transition team,” Horrigan said, “is to provide an external, nonpartisan assessment of Chautauqua County government’s strengths, weaknesses and opportunities.”

Horrigan added that he wants to spend time between now and Jan. 1 allowing the transition team to give feedback.

“We can do this prior to (me) actually sitting in the seat when things get busy and hectic,” he said. The team will provide recommendations to improve economic development and the delivery of Chautauqua County services.

Northern Chautauqua County Local Economic Development Committee John Jay Warren said he is happy to advise Horrigan.

Warren plans on using his experience to advise Horrigan. He wants to form a “vision” and then provide the new county executive with strategies.

“In my area, economic development, what are some things we should be doing, some ideas we should be putting into place?” he asked.

“I’m happy to be on the team,” Warren added. “I think Vince is a very capable manager with his wide breadth of experience in management. I think he’s going to do a great job for all of us.”

BROCTON, WESTFIELD SCHOOL MERGER VOTE FAILS

After numerous discussions and public meetings, the proposed merger between Brocton Central School and Westfield Academy and Central School was defeated by voters in Westfield’s district.

A statutory merger vote was held in both communities on Oct. 9, with results showing Brocton overwhelmingly approving the proposal (643 “yes” votes to 74 “no” votes) and Westfield rejecting it by about 200 votes (718 “yes” to 507 “no”).

A non-binding straw vote in June told a different story; both communities supported additional research into a possible merger at that time (468 “yes” to 77 “no” in Brocton; 508 “yes” to 168 “no” in Westfield).

A feasibility study released in March concluded a merger would benefit the two communities due to declining revenues, populations and student opportunities, as well as the benefit of $25 million in state operating incentive aid directed toward the merged district.

However, controversy soon arose on the matter, as some Westfield residents claimed the merger would benefit Brocton much more than Westfield and could potentially harm Westfield’s finances rather than help them.

A public survey is currently in the works by the Westfield Board of Education to pinpoint exactly why the merger was voted down, while the Brocton Board of Education is focusing on its future and how it can avoid fiscal insolvency.

Both school districts reserve the right to hold a revote on the merger, but must wait until next October to officially decide, as per State Education Department rules.

RIPLEY MIDDLE, HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS HEAD TO CLCS

The class of 2013 became the final class to graduate at Ripley Central School. In February, the school community agreed to send middle and high school students to Chautauqua Lake Central School for a fee. The vote followed a community poll in 2012 where 127 residents said yes to tuition students. The vote had only 20 votes apart – 282 to 262.

In March, the Ripley Board of Education approved to tuition grades 7 to 12 at a rate of $7,219 per student, with an adjusted rate for BOCES students, costing the district $1,017,819 for 141 students. Both districts approved to the agreement for a five-year term expiring June 30, 2018. A new rate will be negotiated after two years but if the districts cannot come to an agreement, the rate will increase 2 percent.

Following the tuitioning vote, a lawsuit was brought against the district with a stay of tuition being filed with the New York State Education Department Commissioner John King on behalf of Advocates for Ripley Central School. With figures released by the school, the lawsuit would cost the district about $58,000. King eventually denied the stay and tuitioning did move forward. The commissioner still has yet to officially rule and could take several months, even up to a year.

When school started in September, there were 141 students who attended CLCS from Ripley. CLCS Principal Josh Liddell spoke highly of the transition stating it was a smooth transition for students, faculty and staff.

SILVER CREEK ENDS POLICE

In recent years the Silver Creek Police Department had staffing troubles and continued to increase in cost for the village. In 2011-2012, the total cost of the police department, including personnel, contractual, capital and benefits was almost $529,000. During this time the department lost two full-time officers, leaving the department with two full-time officers and four part-time officers going into 2013.

After the election in March, the new board crafted a budget for 2013-2014 with nothing budgeted in the police budget lines but designated $330,000 in the mayor’s contractual fund for police protection and $12,000 budgeted for gasoline.

At the time Mayor Nick Piccolo said the village was “mothballing” the village police department while it tried out the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office. After the contract with the sheriff’s office it was said the board would review its options and then the equipment would be ready if it decided to go back to a village police department.

Residents voiced many concerns about the transition from the Silver Creek Police to the sheriff’s office.

However, on June 1, the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office began patrolling the village. The board had worked out a contract for 24-7 police coverage with extra coverage for special events for two years retroactive to June 1, with quarterly payments of $91,315 for 2013-2014 and $94,413 for 2014-2015, not including fuel cost.

This contract was not approved by the Chautauqua County Legislature, but a six-month contract until the end of the year at the terms was approved. Later in November, the legislature reconsidered the contract and approved it for one year at the previously agreed upon 2014-2015 rate.

TAGLIANETTI FOUND GUILTY

After only about three hours of deliberation from a jury, Anthony “Rob” Taglianetti II was found guilty of second-degree murder on Nov. 8. Taglianetti was accused of killing Clymer Superintendent Keith Reed Jr. in September 2012.

The 10-day trial, which began Oct. 22, in Chautauqua County Court accused Taglianetti of driving more than 300 miles from his home in Virginia to kill Reed after finding out about an affair between the late superintendent and Taglianetti’s wife. There was surveillance video of Taglianetti searching for Reed at Clymer Central School prior to the murder when Reed was found dead at his residence on Sept. 24, 2012. Taglianetti was named a suspect three days later. He was finally apprehended on Sept. 28 and brought back to New York state.

Taglianetti will be sentenced in February on the charge.

Compiled by Managing Editor Gregory Bacon. Contributing to this report were staff members Gib Snyder, Greg Fox, Nicole Gugino, Samantha McDonnell and Jasmine Willis.