Top news of 2011

Staff Writer
The Chronicle Express
Milly Bloomquist accepts the Presidential Citizens Award from President Barack Obama.

For those who find comfort in the passing of one year and the birth of the next, the end of 2011 may seem like a blessing. It was a very sad year for many of our neighbors and friends, with tragic accidents and farewells.

It was also the year that one of Yates County’s matriarchs was honored with a Presidential Citizenship Award and a year in which an endowment fund that will benefit the entire community was established, weather challenged our coping skills in the snow, rain, heat and cold.

The top news in 2011 in the Yates County area included:

• Milly Bloomquist receiving the Presidential Citizen Award. She was one of 13 people from around the country to earn the award on Oct. 20. When she talked with the president before the ceremony, she told him, “I’m not done yet.”

• U.S. Army Specialist Christopher J. Scott, 21, of the Dundee community, was killed by small arms fire while on patrol in Kandahar province. Preparing for the annual Scottish Festival, the community quickly prepared for the fallen soldier’s return to the town where he was remembered as the embodiment of the “small town big spirit” tag line that’s been used in recent years. He was laid to rest on Sept. 14.

His death is the first active duty military death of a Yates County resident since Oct. 12, 1967, when Richard Vroman Smith, also of Dundee, was killed in South Vietnam.

Chris’s father, Kenneth Scott, 42, died on Dec. 2 as he was driving himself to a hospital after experiencing discomfort in his chest.

• Six members of a Steuben County Amish community were killed in a horrific accident on Pre-Emption Road in Benton on July 19. Steven Eldridge of Penn Yan was indicted by a grand jury in October and has been charged with aggravated vehicular homicide, aggravated vehicular assault, six counts of manslaughter, three counts of assault, driving while ability impaired, reckless driving and five counts of assault in the third degree.

• Activism was in the headlines on a national level in 2011 and it took a different form in the Finger Lakes Region, as local and regional organizations gathered steam in their continued fight against the prospect of natural gas exploration in the Marcellus shale using high volume hydraulic fracturing. Several local municipalities listened, and passed local laws calling for moratoriums on drilling and a ban on disposal of waste water from the practice.

• Emergency workers were stretched to their limits. Ten years after one of the darkest days in the history of emergency services — 9/11 — Yates County’s own found themselves called to some tragic farm, recreational and motor vehicle accidents. Their work continues to be appreciated by a grateful community.

• Schools, Yates County, towns and villages were faced with some of their most challenging budget outlooks. As the year came to a close, the county was preparing to eliminate several full time positions, and each of the public school districts had already slashed their workforces as the gap between rising costs and declining revenues other than local tax levies widened.

• Weather challenged farmers with several inches of rain causing flood damage in April and keeping farmers out of their fields. Then, in July and August, drought conditions were posing new challenges.

• Drug arrests grabbed local headlines, and local law enforcement officials expressed their worries about the increased abuse of prescription medications, heroin and salvia.

• The closure of the Liberty Street bridge in Penn Yan was expected, but that didn’t make those caught in the first few versions of Penn Yan’s gridlock feel any better. The detour will continue through the spring and the new  bridge is on target to open by Memorial Day.

• New leadership in education came to the area. Keuka College selected Dr. Jorge L. Diaz-Herrera to be the next president of the college after Dr. Joseph Burke’s retirement. The Penn Yan School Board hired David Hamilton as the new Superintendent. Hamilton came to Penn Yan from the Churchville-Chili Central School District.

• The Finger Lakes Museum took possession of the former Branchport elementary school building and presented its first programs.

• The AES Greenidge power plant near Dresden went dark on March 18 when it was taken out of service in steps approved by the New York State Public Service Commission, NYSEG and New York Independent System Operator.

• As the first wines from the 2010 vintage were being released in early 2011, industry insiders were celebrating the outstanding harvest, increased sales figures and visitors as the business continues to grow.

• The first class of the Penn Yan Academy Athletic Hall of Fame was inducted Sept. 16.

Here is a summary of the year's news:

January

William Boutard-Hunt, born at 5 a.m. on 1-1-11 to Caroline Boutard-Hunt and Jonathan Hunt of Branchport, was the first baby born in 2011 at F.F. Thompson Hospital in Canandaigua.

On Jan. 5 nearly 100 workers at The Connection Call Center in Penn Yan learned their jobs would likely end by Feb. 4 unless a new client or business was found.

The Dundee School Board announced plans to appeal the latest decision about the status of teacher Douglas Coleman. The decision would allow him to return to a position with student contact.

Four local people were charged with possession and sale of heroin.

Penn Yan resident Matt McFetridge, a Keuka College junior wrote about his experiences as the college's first exchange student to China.

Pilot Jim Poel died at his Floria home on Jan. 29. Poel, a retired commercial pilot, flew some of the Glenn Curtiss Museum replica aircraft in recent years. He was seriously injured when one he was piloting in June of 2009 crashed near the Penn Yan airport.

February

The Keuka lakefront home and other valuable assets belonging to Christopher Wheeler of Victor may be seized by the federal government because of ties to money laundering activities.

The U.S. Postal Service began examining 16,000 post offices with plans to close 2,000 around the country, but none locally appear to be in danger of closure.

The Penn Yan Varsity Cheerleaders took first place in their division and captured the grand championship crown in competition at Dansville.

As the first wines from the 2010 vintage were being released, industry insiders were celebrating the outstanding harvest, increased sales figures and visitors as the business continues to grow.

The Penn Yan School Board is facing a $3 million budget gap.

The Finger Lakes Museum bought the Branchport Elementary School from the Penn Yan School District for $200,000.

The Best Western Plus Vineyard Inn & Suites was being expanded with the addition of six suites and eight guest rooms.

The Penn Yan School community bid farewell to retiring Superintendent Ann Orman.

Local lawmakers said budget cuts announced at the state level will "gut" local progams. Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposed budget calls for the elimination of reimbursement to counties for marine patrol operations.

Keuka College honored Dr. Joseph Burke with a bobblehead figure.

Tops Markets begain making improvements to the Liberty Street store.

The debate about wine sales in grocery stores is heating up again.

The Penn Yan Mustangs and the Dundee Scots bowling teams captured league championship crowns.

The Jerusalem Town Board earned a standing ovation when they voted to enact a one-year moratorium on hydraulic fracturing anywhere within the town.

The Penn Yan Mustang boys bowling team won the Section V Class C Crown for the second year in a row. Dan Fox was named to the All-Sectional team.

March

Keuka College has selected Dr. Jorge L. Diaz-Herrera to be the next president of the college after Dr. Jospeh Burke retires later this year.

TV personality Lisa Ling stopped at Angel's restaurant in Penn Yan for lunch, and met some characters she just had to include in her news magazine, Our America with Lisa Ling."

Penn Yan Village officials debated amendments to the village's ethics code.

Penn Yan School District announced plans to cut 22 positions in the 2011-2012 budget.

Yates County officials hired a health care consultant to begin the process of selling the county's certified home health agency license to a private organization.

Yates County Legislator and Milo Town Councilwoman Leslie Church was among eight women honored by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society Upstate New York Chapter.

The AES Greenidge power plant near Dresden went dark on March 18 when it was taken out of service in steps approved by the New York State Public Service Commission, NYSSEG and New York Independent System Operator.

The Department of Environmental Conservation has given Yates County the documentation to move ahead with marketing the Penn Yan Marine Manufacturing property.

Joe Gibson was elected Mayor of Dresden, Christine Christensen was elected to return to her seat on the Penn Yan Village Board, Fred Cratsley JR. was re-elected Dundee mayor and Dundee Trustees Warren Smith and Greg Wright were both re-elected.

Data from the USDA Census of Agriculture revealed that the number of farms in Yates County grew by 20 percent from 722 to 864 between 2002 and 2007 and the land in farms increased by 10 percent from 115,113 acres to 126,118 acres.

Several Fire and EMS volunteers were honored at the county-wide annual awards dinner held at the Benton Firehouse.

April

The Penn Yan Community Chorus has been invited to sing at Carnegie Hall in November.

The Penn Yan Village Board approved the Waterfront Development and Conservation District zoning code.

Local law enforcement officials expressed concerns about the growing herion problem in Yates County. In the six months from October 2010 through March, drug related cases more than doubled over the same period a year ago.

Inergy, a Kansas City ase company announced plans for a $40 million project to use salt caverns in the town of Reading near Seneca Lake for storage of LP gas.

The Penn Yan School Board hired David Hamilton as the new Superintendent. Hamilton comes to Penn Yan from the Churchville-Chili Central School District, where his was most recently the executive director for instruction.

The final version of the Dundee Central School budget for 2011-2012 calls for $13.6 million in spending, a scaled-back technology plan and a 3 percent increase in the local tax levy.

Yates County legislators say nearly $2.7 million in reimbursements from state and federal sources are past due.

The Keuka Arts Festival board of directors were working on ways to expand the arts festival.

The Finger Lakes Museum Board of Directors began the design process focusing on the first of several phases — renovations to the former Branchport Elementary School.

Cara Booth of Dundee was named the distinguished youth for the first quater of 2011.

The Village of Penn Yan established parking fees for boat trailers. The daily fee is $5, and boaters can buy a $30 annual pass. Village residents and taxpayers will not be charged.

Severe weather dumped several inches of rain on the area, causing flood damage in Canandaigua and Cayuga Lakes and very high water levels in Keuka and Seneca Lakes. Flooding also damaged some roads in Middlesex and Italy and a clogged culvert on Elm Street in Penn Yan caused flood damage to nearby properties. Volunteer fire fighters were kept busy pumping out basements. Early estimates put the total cost of damage at $500,000.

May

Experts say Riesling's popularity will be the fuel to propet the Finger Lakes wine, grape and tourism economy to the next level.

Farm property assessments in Yates County have jumped by 30 to 50 percent.

The Dundee Fire Company recognized several members for their years of service.

The Penn Yan School District has established an Athletic Hall of Fame to recognize individuals who have made significant contributions to the athletic program.

Ed Wedge and Brian Murphy received the president's award and Wedge was named volunteer of the year at the Penn Yan Ambulance Corps annual awards dinner.

Kelly Lickert, Keuka College's Womens Lacrosse Coach, was named Coach of the Year in the North Eastern Athletic Conference.

Adam Foster, a Watkins Glen man whose mother is a native of  Dundee and postmaster in Reading Center, found himself at the center of an international incident. He was taken into custody in the United Arab Emirates after a pair of handcuffs was discovered in his carry on luggage. He says he found the cuffs laying in a parking lot of a shopping mall. His family sought letters of support for his release, and he was eventually set free.

A crowd gathered at the Yates County Courtyard to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the day the Keuka Rifles left Penn Yan to join the Union Army in the Civil War.

State Senator Tom O'Mara hosted a spirited round table discussion about legislation he was sponsoring to permit wine sales in grocery stores.

Gen. Peter Pace, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke at Keuka College's 103rd commencement ceremony.

Erma Zimemrman, 14, was seriously injured in a farming accident on May 31.

The Penn Yan Mustang boys varsity lacrosse team returned to the top of the Section V Class C heap, re-claiming the championship crown with a 12-6 win over Bath-Haverling. It was the Mustang's 13 crown in 14 years.

June

The Finger Lakes Museum began programs, offering "Back from the Brink" the story of Hemlock and Canadice Lakes. The programs were first presented at the Rochester Museum & Science Center.

The 2011 Keuka Arts Festival was held June 11 and 12 along the Keuka Outlet at the Keuka Street Boat launch. Nearly 100 artists and other venders were part of the festival.

BWF Holdings sought financial incentives for the construction of a new 8,500 sq. ft. wine and beer tasting facility that will be built near Glenora Corners in the Town of Starkey.

Village crews continued work on improvements to East Elm Street. The work, which was completed in phases, included installing a new water main, excavating old brick pavement and constucting a new roadway.

Nathaniel Woodcock, 30, died in a fire on the second floor of a Penn Yan apartment house.

A brief but fierce storm struck a Keuka Lake neighborhood on the afternoon of June 11. At least seven large trees were slammed to the ground, damaging a cottage, garage, camper and SUV.

Kevin Bissel of Penn Yan was arrested in connection with a major drug bust in Rhode Island. Identified as an accomplice to the main target in the bust, Bissel was charged with possession of cocaine with intent to deliver.

Five Penn Yan Academy students drove their tractors to school for one of the last days of classes.

Members of the Yates County Marcellus Shale Task Force say the group's role is to make sure the area is prepared to manage changes resulting from natural gas exploration using hydrofracturing methods.

The New York Annual Haiti Benefit Auction attracted hundreds of buyers and supporters of missions to Haiti.

Thousands of people strolled along Main Street in Penn Yan to appreciate nearly 250 classic and unique show cars on display for Cruisin' Night.

Mary-Howell Maretns will join 21 other agriculture experts on a national advisory council appointed by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

July

The State Department of Environmental Conservation released its revised recommendations on mitigating the environmental impacts of high volume hydraulic fracturing.

The Penn Yan Teacher's Association and the Penn Yan School District agreed to a two year contract that included a 2.29 percent salary increase.

Almost 90 percent of the Yates County area businesses who responded to a Chamber of Commerce survey reported activity at or above last year for the first four days of July. Nearly 92 percent reported their business was at or above that of the first six months last year.

Susan Hoover, 16, died when a boat she was in capsized on a farm pond July 10.

The Third Annual Tony Collins Class of '77 golf classic, paired with a football and cheerleading clinic, brings out the stars.

Several Public Health workers spoke out against the proposed sale of the county's home health care services, but the Yates County Legislature voted to sell the operating certificate to Lifetime Care.

Corey Slocum was named the Yates County Distinguished Youth for the second quarter.

Five visitors from a Steuben County Amish community were killed in a Pre-Emption Road accident involving a 14-passenger van and a large tractor fitted with spraying equipment on July 19. Nine other people were injured and Steven A. Eldridge, the driver of the car that caused the accident was charged with five counts of criminally negligent homicide.

August

Lown's House of Shoppes owner Carl Schwartz confirmed the store is closing and that he is seeking a new tenant.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo appointed Steve Griffin, CEO of Finger Lakes Economic Development Center to the Finger Lakes Economic Development Council that will develop a five-year strategic plan for a nine-county region. The plan will complete with similar plans from nine other regions around the state for millions of dollars in state funds and tax benefits.

The newly organized Yates Community Endowment, a new permanent fund of the Rochester Area Community Foundation, was awarded a $100,000 grant.

A sixth victim of the July 19 Pre-Emption Road accident died on July 26 at Strong Memorial Hospital.

A very wet spring and early summer kept farmers off their fields for weeks later than usual, then drought conditions in July and August began to take a toll.

A New York Comptroller's Office audit of Penn Yan Fire Department records has led to a recommendation for closer financial oversight.

NASCAR driver Tony Stewart, who went on to win the 2011 Sprint Cup Championship, made his annual stop at Black Rock Speedway, where he set a record for the 360 winged sprint cars at the Dundee Speedway.

Badger Industries CEO Togo DeBellis announced the company will be leaving its Keuka Business Park location, moving all operations to Farmington.

Magnus Ridge Winery opened on Route 14 near Rock Stream.

Several Yates County fire fighter volunteers traveled to southeastern New YOrk to assist with clean-up efforts following Tropical Storm Irene.

September

U.S. Army Specialist Christopher J. Scott, 21, was killed by small arms fire while on patrol in Kandahar province. Preparing for the annual Scottish Festival, the community quickly prepared for the fallen soldier's return to the town where he was remembered as the embodiment of the "small town big spirit" tag line that's been used in recent years. He was laid to rest on Sept. 14.

LiDestri Foods officials confirmed the company's Dundee Foods plant will be sold.

Several area municipalities have taken action related to the use of hydraulic fracturing, a process that could be used to extract natural gas from the Marcellus shale formation in the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes.

The demolition of the Liberty Street Bridge began in preparation for construction of a new bridge over the Keuka Outlet.

Abby Arnold was crowned homecoming queen in Penn Yan.

The inaugural class of the Penn Yan Academy Sports Hall of Fame was inducted Friday, Sept. 16. The class included the 1944 undefeated football team; Thomas Noteware, football coach; Burton Fingar, basketball player; Thomas Smart, cross country coach; Deb Eaves Curbeau, basketball and Todd Lindsley, cross country and track & field.

Hailey Brown was crowned Dundee's homecoming queen and Max Gorton was crowned homecoming king on Sept. 24.

Six people launched write-in campaigns for the Yates County Coroner position that up for election after learning the only one candidate was listed on the ballot, that of former Penn Yan Trustee and middle school teacher Ronald Dailey.

October

A Yates County Grand Jury has indicted Steven Eldridge, 42,  with aggravated vehicular homicide, aggrivated vehicular assault, six counts of manslaughter, three counts of assault, driving while ability impaired, reckless driving and five counts of assault in the third degree.

Milly Bloomquist travelled to the White House to be honored by President Barack Obama with a Presidential Citizens Medal. She was one of 13 people from around the country to earn the award. When she talked with the president before the ceremony, she told him, "I'm not done yet."

A local group of community leaders and business representatives are working with the Rochester Regional Community Design Center to create a new vision for the Penn Yan area community.

November

The first "Service Above Self" awards were presented by the Penn Yan Rotary Club to Michele Swarthout, Kathy Waye, Joanne Drewno, Lisa Conley, Sandy Mashewske and Kelly Smith.

Penn Yan sophomore Evelyn Pinneo qualified to run in the New York State Class C cross country championship meet. She finished in the top 1/3.

The Penn Yan JV football team completed the season with a perfect 8-0 record.

Bruce Allison, formerly of Penn Yan, was inducted into the U.S. Lacrosse Hall of Fame.

Ronald Spike was re-elected as Yates County Sheriff, outlasting a bid by Kenneth Kamholtz for the post. Others who were elected in contested races included Coroner Ronald Dailey; Italy Supervisor Margaret Dunn; Italy Town Council, Malcolm MacKenzie and Richard Craig; Italy Highway Superintendent, Jeffrey Hicks; Jerusalem Supervisor, Daryl Jones; Jerusalem Town Council, Michael Steppe and Patrick Killen; Middlesex Clerk, Kathryn Pelton; Starkey Highway Supervisor, Louis Seeley and Torrey Highway Supervisor, Jeff Finger.

A Dresden couple was issued a criminal summons for a charge of failure to pay the Yates County occupancy tax.

Members of the Penn Yan Community Chorus travelled to New York City to perform in the Christmas Concert at Carnegie Hall on Nov. 27.

December

A recent report by the U.S. Department of the Interior,  "America's Great Outdoors," lists the Finger Lakes among 100 of the most promising opportunities for projects that can help Americans reconnect with the outdoors.

"The county property tax is now a state property tax," said County Administrator Sarah Purdy when she presented the proposed 2012 county budget at a public hearing on Nov. 14. Several people turned out to encourage the legislators to restore two county clerk positions to full time status, but some other positions were cut to keep costs down.

Abigail Eaves, sponsored by Yates Community Center, was crowned Miss Penn Yan 2012 during the StarShine celebration that was held on the Yates County Courthouse lawn because of the Liberty Street bridge detour.

A crowd of over 100 people turned out for a town hall meeting hosted by State Sen. Tom O'Mara and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano, and most of the comments were from people encouraging the two to take a stand against the practice of hydrofracking.

Kenneth Scott, 42, the father of  Christopher Scott, who was killed in Afghanistan on Sept. 3, died at Schuyler Hospital on Dec. 2. He was driving himself to the hospital after experiencing chest discomfort and had a minor accident in Watkins Glen. The chief of police said he died of a medical condition, not injuries from the accident.

A 4-year-old boy was seriously injured in a farming accident on South Glenora Road near Dundee.

The committee studying the potential for reconfiguration of classes within the Penn Yan School district's buildings is recommending that no changes be made without extensive research.

Yates County projects netted $5 million in grants and tax benefits in the competition for state economic development funding.

Santa Claus, with a lot of help from the Dundee American Legion Auxiliary, surprised Lenny and Debbie Pierce of Dundee by bringing their son, Rob, home from Fort Campbell, Ky. A staff sergeant in the U.S. Army, Pierce has served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and had not been home to Dundee since November 2008.

Hundreds of families and children will have a merrier Christmas this year thanks to the efforts of the organizers and volunteers of Christmas for the Needy.

A group of consultants reported on the study they conducted into ways the Penn Yan, Dundee and Marcus Whitman School Districts could work together to share services and save money.

A state Commission of Corrections report clears the Yates County Jail of responsibility for the Nov. 17, 2010 suicide death of Aaron Shehu, but Shehu's parents are suing the county, jail administration, individual corrections officers a nurse and others over his death.

Former Penn Yan Trustee Wayne Davidson has filed a lawsuit against the village over resolutions the village board passed on Dec. 20 regarding the fire department's length of service awards program.

U.S. Army Specialist Christopher J. Scott was killed in Afghanistan Sept. 3., just days before he was to be married.