YEAR IN REVIEW: Life goes on in a pandemic year

Staff reports
The Chronicle-Express

This week concludes our look back on the major news stories of 2020 in and around Yates County, through excerpts of articles that appeared in The Chronicle-Express. The retrospective includes reporting from John Christensen and Rob Maeske of The Chronicle-Express; Sophie Grosserode, Joseph Spector and Jon Campbell of USA TODAY Network's New York State Team; and Laura Bailey of Cornell Cooperative Extension

JULY 2020

Community-wide grocery distribution

Pro Action of Steuben and Yates, Inc. is partnering with Foodlink and Yates County to provide a community-wide grocery distribution Thursday, July 23 from 2–4 p.m. at the Finger Lakes Produce Auction, 3691 Route 14A south of Penn Yan, providing three boxes of food per family. Each box is approximately 25 pounds and contains mixed dairy, cooked meat, and produce.

This will be a drive-through model; clients must stay in their car and put a piece of paper with first name and last name in window facing out for staff to see at check-in. Please have your car’s trunk cleaned out so the box of emergency food can be put into it. Once your trunk is closed and tapped, you may drive away. This will be a no-touch distribution and proper social distancing must be maintained at all times. No walk-ups; only pre-registered households in cars will be served.

East Elm St. to be closed to repair sinkhole

Beginning the week of July 13, 2020, the Village of Penn Yan Department of Public Works will be working on the storm sewer and sinkhole on East Elm Street at the Main Street intersection.

Street Supervisor Tim Marcellus says the cause of the sinkhole was a collapsed storm drain. He expects the repairs will go on into next week.

East Elm Street will be closed intermittently between The Wagner parking lot and Main Street during repairs. Expect congested traffic on Main Street. Please be aware of flaggers and workers at all times in work zones.

A collapsed storm drain was the cause of a sinkhole on East Elm Street in Penn Yan in July.

Leave the July 4 fireworks to the pros

The Fourth of July may feel a little different this year due to COVID-19. Smaller barbecues, fewer parties, and limited celebrations filled with displayed fireworks. Although sparklers and similar items can be bought and sold in much of New York State, the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York (FASNY) urges residents to let professionals handle the fireworks.

For the Branchport/Keuka Park Fire Dept.’s Annual July 4th Spectacular, launched from behind the Branchport firehouse, prime viewing spots include the parking lot for the Finger Lakes Museum (the former Branchport School) and the roads and hills surrounding Branchport. Route 54A heading into Branchport is annually lined with spectators on both sides of the road (please exercise caution on public roads). As residents and tourists light up Keuka Lake with flares and campfires, this is one celebration sure to delight from all directions.

Though Hammondsport’s annual Firemans’ Carnival has been cancelled, plans are still in place for the parade and fireworks. Food vendors will be on site at the fairgrounds from noon. Lineup for the parade begins at 5 p.m. and will commence at 6 p.m. Fireworks to begin at 9:30 p.m.

Both the Watkins Glen fireworks at Clute Park and the Geneva American Legion fireworks have been cancelled this year due to concerns over COVID-19.

Local schools issue plans for fall reopening

Local school districts have responded to the state’s announcement that schools will be allowed to reopen this fall, but only upon the completion of a plan to protect students, faculty, and staff from the potential spread of COVID-19.

Penn Yan Central School Superintendent Howard Dennis issued a letter late last week to school families with a detailed plan. The district would take the following actions:

• Physical distancing six feet, or wearing a mask, or using a barrier. Masking will be required for staff and students under the given guidance. Staff will have the authority to allow students to remove their masks when they can guarantee a six foot distance. 

• We will cohort (move together) students, reduce numbers of students in classrooms to ensure the six foot distancing, and reduce transitions when possible.

• We have put in place additional disinfecting protocols and realigned systems to ensure greater safety. We will also be requiring temperature checks.

• We will be reducing/eliminating facility usage and shared materials."

The district has designed plans for three possible scenarios PK-12: full-time, in-person instruction; hybrid instruction; and distance learning.

Penn Yan’s current plan involves the following:

-- Students will come back to school Sept. 8-18 in a Hybrid Model for a variety of reasons.

-- Smaller groups and an ease of transition will be beneficial for students

-- Students will be grouped into two pods and will attend on a Tuesday/Thursday or Wednesday/Friday schedule for these two weeks. The other days will be virtual learning from home

Beginning Sept. 21, students will come back to a traditional school model. This will allow full student participation with a variety of safeguards and changes in place to protect student and staff safety. Transportation is also a priority. 

In Dundee, Superintendent Kelly Houck said, “Our reopening plans provide all students with the opportunity to attend every day starting with day one. We will operate on staggered start and end times in order to effectively follow social distancing, avoid congregating, and to adhere to all requirements and guidelines. Specifically the elementary will operate on a 8 a.m.–2 p.m. schedule, and the junior/senior high school will operate 9 a.m.–3 p.m.” By having double bus runs, we are able to social distance students on buses. Daily health screenings of all students and staff have been planned for and will be completed.”

Yates Emergency Relief Fund has awarded $106,035

The Yates Community Endowment’s Yates Emergency Relief Fund, launched in early May, has distributed 23 grants totaling $106,035 to nonprofit organizations supporting Yates County residents and businesses adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Launched in early May, the fund has raised more than $140,000 so far with contributions from individuals, businesses, family foundations, and organizations. Every dollar raised is being distributed to nonprofits providing critical services in Yates County.

The Emergency Relief Fund is focused on supporting immediate and urgent needs, recovery as nonprofits return to normal operations, and resiliency relief to help nonprofits most crucial to communities’ ability to thrive. Since grant applications opened eight weeks ago, a committee has been meeting weekly to review the newest requests for funding. 

The recipients of grants from the Emergency Relief Fund so far are: Arts Center of Yates County ($5,000); Catholic Charities Community Services ($5,000); Cornell Cooperative Extension-Yates County ($5,000);  Dundee Central School District ($5,000); Dundee Children’s Center ($5,000); Dundee Library ($1,935); Finger Lakes Health Foundation ($3,000); Finger Lakes Museum ($5,000); Finger Lakes Economic Development Center of Yates County ($2,500); Friendship House of Middlesex Inc. ($7,500); Legal Assistance of Western New York ($5,000); The Living Well ($15,000); Mozaic, formerly Arc of Yates and Arc of Seneca Cayuga ($10,000); Penn Yan Central School District Family Support Services ($5,000); Penn Yan Public Library ($6,100); ProAction of Steuben and Yates, Inc. ($7,500); Rainbow Junction Ltd. ($5,000); Yates Cultural & Recreational Resources Inc.

AUGUST 2020

Yates Concert Series: Dundee, Penn Yan, and Branchport concerts go on this month

Tonight’s Wednesday evening concert is at 6:30–8:30 p.m. at Dundee’s Seneca Street Park Gazebo where the Yates Concert Series presents a free performance by “Marilla and the Moonlighters,” a trio comprised of members of the popular Rochester group “Cool Club & the Lipker Sisters.”

The next concert Wednesday Aug. 19 is by Penn Yan’s own Rod Blumenau and his “Upstate Dixie Three” at the Indian Pines Park pavilion in Penn Yan from 6:30–8:30 p.m.

The final concert Wednesday, Aug. 26 brings this unusual summer of free music to a close with the country music band “High Country” appearing at the Finger Lakes Museum Creekside Center in Branchport from 6–8 p.m.

Having had to cancel the traditional Concerts on the Courthouse Lawn this summer because of the pandemic, the Yates Concert Series directed its energy to providing a series of PopUp mini-concerts at “Live Music HotSpots” in the village of Penn Yan during July, and then a series of safe, limited size outdoor musical performances in various venues across Yates County Wednesday evenings throughout August.  

Performers included: Chuck & Kim Smith; Meg Williams; Bryan “Jake” Jacobson and Mike Madigan; Dave Boyd; Tim Ball; Casey Kowalski and Artistic License; “2Young 2B Old” (Cindy and Steve Pieramico); Ryan and Ryan (Sutherland); Rick Constantino; The Kate and Dave Duo (Kate Ferguson Schmidl and Dave Kuykendall). 

Fox Run Vineyards celebrates 30 year anniversary

2020 marks a milestone year for Fox Run Vineyards. The Seneca Lake winery is celebrating 30 years since they opened their doors in August 1990.

Founding members Larry and Adele Wildrick produced the first Fox Run estate wine back in 1989, five years before the winery was purchased by current owner Scott Osborn and his past business partner, Andy Hale. Over the last 30 years, Fox Run has transitioned to a family-owned business and grown to over 50 acres of east-facing vineyards, producing 17,000 cases of Finger Lakes wine annually.

Since transitioning into ownership, Osborn and his wife, Ruth, have expanded production and the tasting room, increasing the footprint of the original Civil War-era dairy barn, adding the café, and investing in ways to reduce the winery’s environmental impact. In 2002, Fox Run became certified as a lake friendly farm and in 2015, solar panels were installed on the property to power the entire business.

Lately, the Osborns have been focused on capital improvements to keep up with COVID-19 regulations. They recently tripled the size of their lake view deck, a necessity to accommodate the increasing number of visitors they see annually and to safely social distance.

“We never imagined celebrating our 30th anniversary during a global pandemic,” said Osborn. “It’s been a challenging year to celebrate anything with close friends and family, let alone our community and customers, but we still feel it’s important to commemorate the year and thank everyone in some way.”

Free school supplies for all Yates Co. students

Once again, Milly’s Pantry will be giving away free school supplies for the anticipated 2020–’21 school year. 

One of the largest contributors to the program was KanPak and the GSF Foundation’s Penn Yan committee, which donated 1,400 backpacks to the children in and around Penn Yan as part of its annual Back(pack) to School program.

Working with Milly’s Pantry, KanPak volunteers helped stuff the backpacks with supplies and distributed throughout seven school districts within Yates County and surrounding areas such as Ontario County, Schuyler County, Steuben County (200 backpacks per district).

This national Foundation program is aimed to equip students with school supplies to alleviate the financial strain that the new school year puts on families, especially during a global pandemic.

SEPTEMBER 2020

Anita Maroscher, Annette Toaspern and Jerusalem Town Supervisor Jaimie Sisson, who presented Toaspern with the town's "Good Citizen Award" at the Route 54A overlook above Keuka Lake near Branchport. This is just one of eight stops on the Jerusalem History Trail established with Toaspern's leadership and the work of Jerusalem History Club members and others.

Spotted Lanternfly (SLF) infestation detected in NY

The first known infestation of the invasive spotted lanternfly (SLF) was discovered in New York State on Staten Island during August 2020. Currently, that is the only known infestation in the state, but several individual adult SLF have been found in counties across the state including Yates County, in September 2018. Spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) is an invasive insect native to Asia. Its primary host tree is the invasive tree-of-heaven (Ailanthus altissima) but it can also feed on and cause significant damage to a wide variety of other plants including grapevines, hops and apple, maple and walnut trees.  

SLF poses a significant threat to New York's forests and agriculture. Damage and stress caused to host plants, including grapevines and apple trees, could impact fruit yield and lead to economic losses. New York's annual yield of grapes and apples has a combined value $358.4 million. In addition to plant damage, honeydew excreted by dense populations of SLF could also hinder resident and tourist outdoor recreational activities and associated economic revenues.

Nymphs and adults suck sap from stems and leaves, stressing the plant and making them more vulnerable to disease and attacks from other insects. As they feed, SLF excrete a sticky substance known as honeydew, which attracts sooty molds that interfere with photosynthesis, affecting growth and fruit yields. SLF may also change plant species as it goes through its different developmental stages throughout the year. The nymphs tend to feed on a larger variety of plants, while adults prefer to feed and lay eggs on the tree-of-heaven.

According to NYS DEC, in the U.S., SLF was first discovered in Pennsylvania in 2014 and has since been found in New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and New York. In New York State, an infestation was discovered on Staten Island in August 2020. Currently, that is the only known infestation in the state, but several individual adult SLF have been found in counties across the state including: Delaware, Albany, Yates, Westchester, Suffolk, New York, Kings, Monroe, Chemung, Erie, Ontario, Ulster, Nassau, Sullivan, and Orange.  

School sports to resume Sept. 21

On Monday, Aug. 24, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that some school sports would be able to resume later this month. As of Sept. 21, certain sports deemed as “low risk” for spreading COVID-19 will be able to begin activities, while others, including football and volleyball, will continue to be on hold as they are considered to have a higher risk of spreading the virus.  

Specific sports that have been given the go-ahead in September include soccer, swimming, field hockey, gymnastics, golf, cross country, and tennis. However, school teams will be restricted from traveling outside of their home regions.  

While those sports that have been deemed too high risk for competitive play still have an indeterminate wait on their hands, they are being allowed to begin practices, according to Cuomo.

It came as welcome news for athletes and scholastic sports programs who faced an uncertain future just a couple of weeks ago, but Cuomo’s announcement also raised several questions including fan attendance and what exactly would be required of schools before they begin sports activities.

Attendance at events will be restricted to two spectators per athlete. There will currently be no direct media attendance allowed at events.

2020 Arts Center Juried Show winners

Artists from Canandaigua, Ithaca, and Rochester took top honors at the Arts Center of Yates County’s 2020 Juried Show, now on exhibit. A fine portrait by Nancy Lane won first prize for the exhibit, while Bill Mowson’s landscape of Keuka vineyards received second prize and Kathy Armstrong’s bright and detailed Reach Ligularia plant took third. Paintings by Penn Yan’s Lisa Saether and Jean Stephens of Honeoye Falls both were given honorable mentions. In all, 60 paintings were selected for the show from 157 entries from throughout the region. 

Judge Ron Netsky says he was not surprised to find a lot of beautiful landscapes in an exhibition taking place in the Finger Lakes region. “I was most drawn to those depicting less common scenes, or exploring traditional vistas in a fresh way,” he said. “In all categories there were wonderfully expressive works; among the most painterly were the abstract pieces. Overall, I hope that the exhibition reflects the best of contemporary art produced in the region’s studios.”

Corks out and bottoms up in FLXposure 2021 calendar

The FLXposure 2021 Calendar, featuring top Finger Lakes winemakers in pin-up style images, is now available for purchase. The monthly wall calendar exposes 15 different winemakers from 12 different wineries. Accompanying each racy photo in the calendar is a wine pairing for a selected wine from the winery, determined and written by noted beverage professionals from around the country. All proceeds from the FLXposure 2021 Calendar will be donated to support New York food banks, restaurants and restaurant workers, coordinated through the Debra Whiting Foundation.  

The array of suggestive photos in the FLXposure 2021 Calendar displays Finger Lakes wine production and vineyards in a new light. Photo themes include reimaginations of an iconic scene from the movie "lashdance," an Edward Weston iconic photo titled "Nude" and a Dionysus-style Greek nymph. All images were captured by photographer Alana Ahouse, who also works in vineyard management, with stylist Cary Becraft. James Haswell of Stomping Grounds provided layout and design expertise for the calendar.

The FLXposure 2021 Calendar features both male and female winemakers ranging in age from 27 to 50-plus. Participating winemakers include Peter Becraft from Anthony Road Wine Company, Meaghan Frank from Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery, Peter Bell from Fox Run Vineyards, Alex Bond from Hector Wine Company, Oskar Bynke and Fred Merwarth from Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard, Julia Hoyle from Hosmer Winery, Liz Leidenfrost from Leidenfrost Vineyards, Kelby James Russell and Meagz Goodwin from Red Newt Cellars, Nancy Irelan from Red Tail Ridge Winery, Dave Breeden from Sheldrake Point Winery, Kim Marconi and Paige Vinson from Three Brothers Wineries and Estates, and Matt Denci from Treleaven Wines.  

CPEP brings new hope to mental health needs

The Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program (CPEP) -- now being used by Penn Yan Police and the Yates County Sheriff’s Office for mental hygiene calls -- provides crisis and emergency psychiatric services outside of the hospital for residents of Yates, Ontario, Wayne, and Seneca counties. It is a 24/7 team of mental health professionals trained in crisis assessment and intervention. They also provide evaluations regarding the need for an emergency department visit or admission. Additionally, they provide Mobile Crisis Team response for the four-county region of the Finger Lakes.

“Basically the police department uses CPEP when we come across someone who is exhibiting mental health problems, but the issues don’t rise to the level of an immediate Mental Health Law arrest,” says Penn Yan Police Chief Thomas Dunham. “If our officers come across this situation, we will call CPEP and they will send personnel out to meet with the person in crisis. From there, CPEP can either offer them services or possibly get a doctor to sign a mental hygiene pick up order. Depending on the circumstances, we may or may not respond with CPEP.”

Contrasted with the outcomes from relying on Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hospital’s treatment of mental health cases in recent years, Dunham is understandably impressed by CPEP: “We have had great success with this program, and their staff has been excellent to deal with.”

Of the 36 total mental hygiene arrests by Penn Yan Police, eight of 36 have been taken to Clifton Springs (some from before PYPD’s July 2 memo). Concerns have been raised over the amount of time the on-duty PYPD officers will spend away transporting such cases to Clifton Springs rather than their main duty of patrolling the village. Another concern is how some cases who are released would return home.

George Roets, Yates County’s Director of Community Services, says there is an active Crisis intervention Training work group which meets monthly under the leadership of him and Sheriff Ron Spike. The work group members includes both Soldiers & Sailors and Clifton Springs hospitals, social services, mental health treatment, substance use disorder treatment, probation, emergency management, public health, and community members who meet monthly.

Roets says outpatient mental health care will continue at Soldiers & Sailors, as well as services to the Yates County Jail. There are other options available to residents as well.

High school tennis, cross country and soccer begin practices locally Sept. 21.

Sexton sentenced to prison for drugged driving crash

Danielle Sexton, 34, of Canisteo, was sentenced to 1 to 3 years in prison for a two-car crash in April 2019 that left the other driver with a brain injury.

Appearing in Yates County Criminal Court before Judge Jason L. Cook, Sexton was shaking and crying as her sentence was read on her conviction for first-degree vehicular assault with a previous conviction (a class D felony), and DWAI by drugs with a previous conviction (a class E felony). Cook sentenced her to one to three years in prison on each charge, to be served concurrently, and with a recommendation for in-prison drug treatment programs. She must also pay a $1,000 fine, plus a mandatory state surcharge and DNA databank registry fee; and her license is suspended for one year.

Defense attorney Eric Smith argued for probation saying, “This is a catastrophe for everyone involved.” He described Sexton’s drug problem, her anxiety, and mental health issues, and that Sexton will lose her children while in prison. She lost her baby, and she will lose her nursing license by this conviction. “She has been severely punished already.”

Before the sentence, Sexton said, “I want to express how sorry I am. I wish I could take his pain away.” She admitted her addiction issues adding, “I take full responsibility. I don’t blame anybody but myself, and I am truly, truly sorry.”

While high on a cocktail of drugs, Sexton, a registered nurse with two children and pregnant with a third, was driving north on Ferguson Corners Road when she failed to stop at a stop sign at the intersection of Hall Road. She struck the westbound car of William Spears, 38, of Penn Yan. Both cars went off the road and struck two parked vehicles and a trash dumpster. Sexton was airlifted to Strong Memorial Hospital for treatment of abdominal pain and later miscarried. Spears was also taken to Strong for head injuries and multiple lacerations. He has suffered cognitive damage from his injury that will impact him for the rest of his life.

Trusted St. Mark’s Terrace employee charged; grand larceny, forgery

A former director of the Enriched Housing Program at St. Mark’s Terrace has been arrested on nine felonies and two misdemeanors for stealing money from 10 elderly residents of Penn Yan she was entrusted to help.  

Yates County District Attorney Todd Casella says that after a long and exhaustive investigation by New York State Police, dating back almost two years, Amy MacKerchar, AKA Amy Wetmore, 41, of Phelps, has been charged with second-degree grand larceny (class C felony), two counts of third-degree grand larceny (D felony), three counts of second-degree forgery and three counts of second-degree possession of a forged instrument (class D felonies), as well as one count of third-degree forgery and two counts of fraudulently obtaining a signature (class A misdemeanors).   

Casella says MacKerchar’s fraudulent conduct took place over a course of time when she took undue advantage of seven residents of St. Mark’s Terrace as well as three other victims. While he would not disclose an amount, Casella said that the 2nd degree grand larceny charge is for amounts in excess of $50,000.

St. Mark’s Terrace Board President, the Very Rev. Dan Burner, Rector of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church and Dean of the Southeast District of the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester, says that upon learning of the investigation in 2018, “The board responded by suspending Amy MacKerchar from her position, and improving our internal controls over finances to prevent such a thing from happening again. MacKerchar was later terminated from her job.

OCTOBER 2020

NY’s plastic bag ban starts Oct. 19

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos says the DEC will begin enforcement of the State’s ban on single-use plastic carryout bags Oct. 19.

The plastic bag ban, which went into effect on March 1, was not enforced per an agreement between the parties in a lawsuit brought by Poly-Pak Industries Inc., et. al., in New York State Supreme Court.

DEC continues to encourage New Yorkers to use reusable bags wherever and whenever they shop with the #BYOBagNY campaign, launched earlier this year.

Haunted Sampson a healthy scare

The past seven months have proved to be a very trying time for many people. Events have been canceled and lives uprooted by the on-going Coronavirus pandemic. However, the volunteers and board of the Penn Yan Theatre Company have found a way to provide the people of Yates County with just a bit of normalcy — The Haunted Sampson.

A committed group of volunteers, led by the directorial team of Dusty Baker, Ray Crosby-Willis, and Simon Gaston, have been working tirelessly over the past month and a half to create their biggest, greatest, and most technologically advanced attraction.

For the sixth time in eight years, the Sampson Theatre will “come to life” during the Halloween season. Most of the haunt experience will feel familiar, but enhanced safety protocols and features have been added to meet current guidelines. New this year will be a socially distanced “queue area” for patrons waiting to enter the haunt. The first attraction once in will be the “briefing room” where visitors will be notified of the rules by way of video instead of a physical person talking to them face-to-face.  The achievement the group is most proud of is that the entire haunt has been mechanized and automated to limit opportunities for exposure of patrons and volunteers.

PY FFA named 3-Star Chapter

The Penn Yan FFA chapter of Penn Yan, NY, has been recognized as a 3-star ranked chapter in the 2020 National Chapter Award Program from the National FFA Organization.

The program recognizes outstanding FFA chapters from throughout the country that actively implement the mission and strategies of the organization. These chapters improve chapter operations using the National Quality FFA Chapter Standards and a Program of Activities that emphasizes growing leaders, building communities and strengthening agriculture. Chapters are rewarded for providing educational experiences for the entire membership.

Even though many activities have been canceled this year, the Penn Yan FFA has been keeping busy. The Penn Yan FFA adopted a two-mile stretch of Route 54 on the east side of Keuka Lake. Saturday, Sept. 19, advisor Carlie Bossard and four FFA members collected eight bags of garbage along their two-mile of Adopt a Highway. Most of what they picked up was fast food wrappers and bottles and cans.  

The Penn Yan Academy FFA adopted a 2-mile section of Route 54 on the east side of Keuka Lake. In September, the chapter members collected eight bags of garbage along their stretch of Adopt a Highway. Most of what they picked up were fast food wrappers and bottles and cans.

Dundee/Bradford boys varsity soccer team placed in quarantine

Following a COVID-19 exposure Oct. 8, Steuben County Public Health has directed all members of the Dundee/Bradford boys varsity soccer team and coaches into quarantine.

The positive case in question is not at Dundee, and with the few people placed in quarantine, Dundee Central School will continue classes.

Superspreader COVID-19 event at Keuka

An off-campus party is reportedly the “superspreader” COVID-19 event which has now caused a widespread outbreak among the students of Keuka College. As of press time, Keuka College reported 48 students have tested positive.

Yates County Public Health initially reportedthat 10 cases of the Coronavirus had been detected on the campus. Deputy Director of Public Health Sara Christensen said, “We continue to investigate a cluster of cases at Keuka College with 10 new cases received today. We are working closely with the Administration and the Health Center. We will provide an update tomorrow as we continue to our investigation and contact tracing efforts.”

By the next day, that number had risen to 18. By Sunday, it was 34. The 48 cases now reported at the campus raise Yates County’s number of positive cases to over 110. With the Columbus Day holiday, Yates County Public Health was closed and unavailable for comment.

Keuka College’s Director of Communications Kevin Frisch confirmed the outbreak adding that one staff member also tested positive, “but that person had been off-campus when diagnosed and was not on campus at the time of the infection, so no danger of transmission there.”

Beginning Monday, Oct. 12, classes will transition to distance instruction for a period of two weeks. As of Friday, more than 70 students who may have had contact with the affected students were quarantined on campus, per the recommendations of public health officials. Students were expected to remain on campus during the distance-learning period, but faculty members have reported seeing numerous students packing and leaving campus.

As of the last Public Health report Friday, there were 121 cases and/or traced contacts in quarantine, along with another 46 in travelers’ quarantine. One is currently hospitalized in Geneva. The number of deaths remains flat at seven, all from The Homestead nursing home earlier this year. 

Some N.Y. movie theaters can reopen Oct. 23

New York is allowing movie theaters to open with limited capacity Oct. 23 in areas of the state where COVID-19 rates are low, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Saturday. Theaters will be able to open outside New York City in counties that are below a 2% infection rate on a 14-day average and have no COVID hot spots, which would rule out Rockland and Orange counties, as well as a few counties upstate, including Chemung, Schuyler, and Steuben Counties. As of Monday, Yates County was still on the list of those allowed.

Theaters were closed in mid-March when the pandemic struck the state, and Cuomo had not allowed their reopening. But he said Saturday he would loosen the restrictions, allowing a partial reopening.

Lance McFetridge, owner of Lakes Street Plaza Theaters in Penn Yan, says he is contacting his distributor this week to find available films after Hollywood stopped releasing new films during the pandemic. McFetridge has been able to continue some operation during the shutdown.

“Penn Yan has supported us so well with our drive-through popcorn sales,” he says, “but we’re all looking forward to going back to the movies.”

Theaters will be allowed to reopen at 25% capacity with up to 50 people per screen.

Democrats' political signs stolen; thieves arrested

Two men were apprehended by a Yates County Sheriff’s Deputy at 5 a.m. Oct. 10 just outside of Penn Yan for stealing over 25 political signs.   

The Deputy saw the driver stop his pickup truck on Route 364 near County House Road, as the passenger got out and stole a political sign from the yard of a residence.

The driver, Marcus F. Gingerich, 20, of Townline Road, Penn Yan, and the passenger Ryan A. Lawrence, 19, of Wayne, were discovered with 25 more signs in the bed of the pickup. They were also found with alcoholic beverages in the truck.

The signs held in evidence at the Yates County Sheriff’s Office were all for Democratic Presidential running mates Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, and for Democratic congressional candidate Tracy Mitrano. 

“The majority of signs were stolen out of yards in the village of Penn Yan,” says Sheriff Ron Spike. “Deputies were in the right place just outside the village at the right time. Good police work.”

Gingerich and Lawrence were charged with petit larceny and unlawful possession of alcohol under age 21, though the total number of counts and in which jurisdictions is not yet clear.

Keuka College temporarily closing campus operations

Keuka College announced plans to temporarily close campus operations and began making arrangements for healthy students to return home as it continues to navigate a cluster of coronavirus cases.  

“While the public health guidance to keep students on-campus remains best practice, the growing number of cases has made separating healthy students from quarantining populations increasingly difficult,” College President Amy Storey said in a statement sent to students, faculty, and staff. “County and state health officials have given their permission for the college to allow healthy students who are not subject to a quarantine or isolation order to leave campus in order to create additional isolation and quarantine capacity.”  

As of noon Thursday, Oct. 15, Yates County Public Health confirmed 14 new positive cases over the previous 24 hours, bringing the total number among the college population to above 70. These figures don’t necessarily reflect new infections, as the college and public-health officials are still processing test results from an initial triggering event last week.

Since the first positive student case was reported Oct. 7, the college has instituted a series of escalating response strategies, including transitioning to distance learning, closing high-traffic campus facilities, canceling all athletics-related activity, requiring non-essential personnel to work from home, and converting the Geiser Dining Commons to 100% take-out.

“We had hoped this step wouldn’t be necessary,” said President Storey, “but the quickly escalating number of positive cases has made this temporary shut-down unavoidable.”

While not the same as in the past, Halloween fun at The Windmill would still go on.

Yates County early voters line up

Yates County voters came out in big numbers Saturday, Oct. 24 for the first day of early voting in the 2020 national election. This is the first time the state has offered in-person voting prior to Election Day in a presidential year.

By 9 a.m. Saturday, the line of voters at the Yates County Office Building on Liberty Street in Penn Yan stretched from the front door all the way around the building to Court Street.

The Yates County Board of Elections reports that Saturday’s voters totaled 394, and Sunday saw 296. And Monday morning, voters were lining up again in the drizzle, waiting about 30 minutes to cast their votes in person.

Republican Election Commissioner Rob Schwarting says the number of early voters is higher than he expected, and with nearly 700 voters in just the first two days, he expects to lose a gentlemen’s bet with Democratic Commissioner Bob Brechko in the total number of early voters. Schwarting predicted about 1,000 before Election Day, while Brechko predicted it would be double that.

New York’s early voting period runs through Sunday, Nov. 1. Election Day is Nov. 3.

Early voters in Penn Yan numbered almost 400 on Saturday, Oct. 24, with the line stretching around the Yates County Office Building at 9 a.m. when the polls opened at the Board of Elections office.

NOVEMBER 2020

Yates County votes early and in person

Yates County places in the top 10 of New York counties for early voting as a percentage of registered voters, say county election officials; a record they did not expect.

Each day of the nine-day early voting period saw hundreds turn out at the county office building on Liberty St. in Penn Yan. Oct. 24: 394. Oct. 25: 296. Oct. 26: 436. Oct. 27: 482. Oct. 28: 323. Oct. 29: 383. Oct. 30: 310. Oct. 31: 163. Nov. 1: 224. Total: 3,011.

Election Commissioner Bob Brechko reports that 20.68% of registered voters chose to vote early in-person, placing “Little Yates” in the top 10 of New York's 62 counties.

To the early voting figures for Yates can be added the 1,614 absentee ballots returned so far from the 2,081 applications received by the Board of Elections. Absentee ballots postmarked by Election Day, Nov. 3 will continue to be accepted until next Tuesday, by law.

At 9 a.m. Oct. 24, the line in Penn Yan stretched from the front of the county building all the way to Court St. The longest wait, once the doors opened, was approximately 30 minutes.

Folk Art Guild hosts Holiday Shopping Preview

On Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 14 and 15, the Rochester Folk Art Guild will host a Holiday Shopping Preview from noon to 4 pm both days. Visitors can safely tour the Weaving Studio, the Woodshop, the East Hill Gallery, and “Romeo” to view and buy the crafts the Guild is widely known for, at 1445 Upper Hill Road in Middlesex. Signs for East Hill Gallery guide you from Naples, Rushville, or Penn Yan.   

Michael Hunter, a long-time Guild member, said, “The Graphics Shop will offer this fall’s harvest of one-of-a-kind notecards made from dried flowers and handmade papers. In addition, we are excited to have a new Guild publication, East Hill Farm by Peter Gillan. With over 250 pages of photographs from the Guild’s archives, it offers a glimpse into our shared life here from 1967 to the present.”

Election commissioners report strong turnout

In Yates County 8,891 voters cast ballots in person either in early voting at the Yates County Office Building, or on Election Day at one of the 18 polling sites. Of that number, 5,929 voted in person on Election Day.

As of Friday, The Yates County Board of Elections had received 1,769 absentee ballots. “They will continue to dribble in until Tuesday, Nov. 10,” said Election Commissioners Rob Schwarting and Bob Brechko. Earlier totals should underestimate the numbers of absentees actually in hand, and some of the absentee ballots will be pulled from the process because the voter went to the poll and voted in person. There are also 104 provisional or affidavit ballots to be evaluated and counted if found to be valid. The Commissioners will be opening and casting the approximately 2,000 ballots starting Wednesday morning.

The commissioners report the volume of voters at the poll sites this year was “high and steady.” Waits averaged under 30 minutes, except in the town of Starkey where turnout has been the strongest in recent years. The longest wait was on the first day of Early Voting when voters started lining up 70 minutes before the poll opened.

“Typically, voters in Yates seldom had wait times over 10 minutes,” say the Commissioners. This year it was longer for several reasons. Many voters who showed up at the polls had not voted in years and had one of many irregularities in their registration file. (They had moved, they had changed their last name, they were inactivated because the Board of Elections lost contact with them, or because their voting registration attempted through the Department of Motor Vehicles had failed.)

The judges of the 7th Judicial District and County Judge Jason Cook handled a record number of exceptions and enrolled 41 new voters through the court-ordered registration process in Yates County.

In contrast to the national atmosphere leading up to the presidential election, the Commissioners report the mood among voters at the polls in Yates County was very congenial.

“We have great people in Yates County – everyone from all the parties. They didn’t succumb to the anger and hype displayed in the national media,” say the Commissioners.

At the Board of Elections Office, however, the story was a little different.

“Staff were constantly handling calls from concerned voters who were trying to verify that their vote was counted or received. Many needed assurances that processes in New York or Yates County were not subjected to the problems reported in other states,” say the Commissioners.

‘Tis the season to ring the bell

It’s bell-ringing season again! Yes, there will be Christmas in 2020, and neighbors and friends will be ringing bells at several locations around the community to encourage donations for the Yates Christmas Program from Nov. 20 to Dec. 24.

All cash donations support programs that make the holiday season brighter for Yates County Children.

The Yates Christmas Program is creative and flexible in light of the pandemic’s limitation on safe assembling. There will not be a distribution of clothing, toys, games, and blankets as in other years, but keeping the health and safety of families and volunteers in mind, a drive-through distribution of gift cards will be Santa’s solution.

No immediate plans to allow winter youth sports, officials say

With growing COVID cases in New York, state officials said they are less likely to allow indoor winter youth sports, such as basketball, hockey, and wrestling.

New York has yet to announce any official decision on winter sports, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his top aides doubted whether the teams will be able to convene later this month as the youth leagues had hoped.

Winter sports practice was originally scheduled to begin Nov. 16. But basketball, ice hockey, wrestling, and competitive cheerleading have all been deemed high-risk sports by the state health department, leaving their fate undecided.

Owners Todd Hatch and Catherine Graves are proud to open their new business, Blue Heron Bakery, at The Landing on the Keuka Outlet in Penn Yan.

DECEMBER 2020

Torrey solar project faces opposition

The Town of Torrey Zoning Board of Appeals will be considering two applications for a 15-megawatt solar farm on Hansen Point Road between Route 14 and Seneca Lake, at 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 7 at the Torrey Town Highway Department on Geneva Street in Dresden.  

The Norbut Solar Farm project came before the Planning Board Nov. 16 to propose an area variance in lot coverage from the town’s code of 20% to 28% for the solar panels on the 106-acre site. That number reflects the coverage of the ground by the panels installed on driven posts at a south-facing angle, rather than the square footage of the panels themselves, or the 20–30 acres each site will occupy.

The 15 MW Norbut Solar Farm is proposed on land immediately adjacent to a previously approved 7 MW solar farm owned by Chris Hansen of Climbing Bines Hop Farm and Craft Ale Co., which will occupy approximately 30 acres when completed. Both are community solar projects that offer discounted electric rates to share buyers.

Near neighbors have expressed their objection to further alteration of the use of agricultural land and the visual impact the approximately 70 additional acres of solar panels will have in the rural neighborhood.

New lands added to High Tor

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the Finger Lakes Land Trust today announced the state’s acquisition of the 86-acre Parker Trust property, which will be added to the High Tor Wildlife Management Area in Yates County. The addition supports DEC’s ongoing efforts to enhance wildlife habitat, strengthen regional watershed protections, and increase access for wildlife-related recreational opportunities such as hunting, trapping, fishing, and wildlife viewing that bolster the local economy.  

The DEC purchased the Parker Trust parcel for $171,300 utilizing federal Pittman-Robertson Act funds. The newly acquired parcel contains extensive trail networks running through forestland and meadows and past ponds, streams, and wetlands. DEC previously identified the land as a regional conservation priority.

This WMA consists of approximately 6,800 acres of numerous ecological habitats with many steep wooded hills, gullies, eroded cliffs, and wetlands. The area offers a variety of wildlife, including game species such as white-tailed deer, wild turkey, ruffed grouse, cottontail rabbit, grey squirrel, waterfowl, muskrat, raccoon, mink, and beaver. High Tor Wildlife Management Area is a designated Bird Conservation Area. 

Zadul sentenced to 9 years in prison

For a late-night car chase, an off-road wreck, and a confrontation with police in early January, the last of three people arrested for weapons and drug charges was sentenced in Yates County Criminal Court.

Bradley Zadul, 40, of Niagara Falls -- convicted of second-degree criminal possession of a weapon (a class C felony) in a negotiated plea bargain as a second felony offender -- was sentenced to nine years in prison, followed by five years parole, by Judge Jason Cook Oct. 20 in Yates County Criminal Court.

Police reported seeing Zadul leaving a suspected drug location in Penn Yan driving an uninspected vehicle in the early hours of Jan. 2. They stopped him for the violation at East Elm and Main streets, but as officers approached the vehicle, Zadul fled the stop. They pursued Zadul through the village north on Route 14A into Benton at speeds over 100 mph, turning east on Buckle Road and to North Flat Street where Zadul left the roadway and attempted to drive through a farmer’s field in a small Mazda station wagon. Zadul broke through an electric fence and struck a barn before driving into a ditch. Zadul attempted to flee on foot and was tasered by Yates County Sheriff’s deputies who were assisting in the pursuit.

While searching Zadul, PYPD located a loaded .25 caliber handgun in his waistband and a sheath knife on his belt. Officers also located a sawed-off 20 gauge shotgun in the vehicle that had the serial number defaced, along with several bags of suspected methamphetamine and marijuana. Zadul’s vehicle was impounded, and a further search revealed a .22 caliber revolver, along with numerous bags of marijuana seeds, over $1,100 in cash, a baton, knives, and drug paraphernalia. Police also located a full Kingsmen Motorcycle Club vest along with numerous Kingsmen patches, and say Zadul appears to be a member of the Kingsmen, which has been involved in criminal activity in Western New York and has chapters in other states.