The year in review

Part I

HARLEM VALLEY — There can be little question that 2020 was a year that most Americans will long remember, and that includes those living in New York’s Harlem Valley. Certainly the arrival of the coronavirus from Wuhan, China, at the start of the year and its declaration as a pandemic in mid-March set the tone for a year as difficult as most have ever experienced, with Governor Andrew Cuomo shutting down non-essential businesses, schools and mass gatherings statewide for months on end through his New York State on PAUSE Executive Order. Even as 2021 begins, the state’s economy has yet to recover and probably won’t for years.

While COVID-19 overshadowed almost all of 2020, there was plenty of other news that occurred, and as is tradition for The Millerton News, now is the time the newspaper looks back on the most discussed stories throughout the year, in a two-part year in review. The first part of the series will cover stories from last January through June. The second part of the series will publish on Jan. 14 and will focus on the stories from last July through December.

January

As town and village boards kicked off 2020 with their annual organizational meetings, the North East (Webutuck) Central School District discussed opening a health clinic on campus. Meanwhile in the Millbrook Central School District, Laura Mitchell went from being the interim superintendent to being appointed superintendent of schools by its Board of Education (BOE) on July 1.

Starting the year off with an unforgettable act of compassion, the New York State Police (NYSP) relocated 38 severely neglected animals from a Columbia County farm to Godspeed Horse Hostel in Amenia on Jan. 2. On Jan. 8, Amenia resident Jeremy L. Annis, 28, was tragically killed in a fatal accident on the Shunpike (State Road 57) in the town of Washington. Annis was the passenger in a Toyota sedan driven by his uncle, Amenia resident James M. Ruiz, who sustained critical injuries in the accident. 

Controversy arose in the village of Millerton regarding where its Police Department should be located, after it was moved from Village Hall to One  John St. to 50 Main St., for a variety of necessary reasons. Problems at 50 Main St., including traffic behind the narrow alleyway to the “stigma” of having the police located in a business district where restaurants and bars were trying to do business, led some Millerton merchants to voice their concerns to the Village Board and suggest the Millerton Police Department relocate elsewhere. The department, along with the rest of Village Hall (which was in need of new digs), eventually did.

February

Disappointed by the U.S. Senate’s decision to acquit President Donald J. Trump on charges of obstruction of justice and abuse of power, a group of area residents held a demonstration at Fountain Square in Amenia on Feb. 5 to protest the  outcome of his impeachment trial. While the Millerton Village Board continued to assess merchants’ concerns about the Police Department’s temporary relocation to Main Street, the North East Town Board reviewed concerns and complaints from residents regarding its proposed new sign law at a public hearing on Feb. 13, with the American Legion Post 178 weighing in.

After spending several months soliciting community feedback and fine-tuning design plans, representatives from The Durst Organization presented the Pine Plains Town Board and its Planning Board with new plans to develop the former Carvel property as a resort with multiple recreational activities; the original plans were to develop a luxury second-home community. Following the discovery of an unauthorized 59.8% tax cut in its budget for 2020, Stanford town Supervisor Wendy Burton and the Stanford Town Board addressed the community’s anxieties at two separate board meetings, during which time they discussed the town’s tax and financial status, the 2020 budget process and their intent to resolve the tax cut.

Given how enrollment in the school district has dropped over the past several years and the suggestions to either help bolster enrollment numbers or cut costs by streamlining the schools, the Millbrook BOE considered initiating a pre-k program at its board meeting on Feb. 25.

March

In spite of their efforts to appeal GRJH’s application to build a convenience store and gas station in the hamlet of Craryville, members of the community coalition Save Craryville were disappointed by the Copake Planning Board’s decision to approve GRJH’s plan on March 5.

With COVID-19 appearing in New York as well as throughout the U.S. and the world, by Friday, March 13, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared COVID a global pandemic. 

Though schools across the state closed in response to the pandemic, the Webutuck, Pine Plains and Millbrook school districts made sure students who rely on school breakfasts and lunches had healthy food delivered to their homes during the closure. Rising to meet the community’s needs during the pandemic, supermarkets and pharmacies found themselves busier than ever in trying to keep their businesses sanitized and their shelves stocked with vital supplies.

April

While congregations found a way to connect with one another on a virtual platform in order to celebrate Easter and Passover from a safe and social distance, New York State officials and businesses assessed the long-term impact that COVID-19 would have on the economy. Local businesses began receiving Payment Protection Program (PPP) funds from the federal government to  stay afloat while the pandemic raged on.

On April 15, Cuomo issued an Executive Order mandating New Yorkers wear face masks when in public when social distancing was impossible. As a way to protect the electoral process from the pandemic, New York’s presidential primary was postponed from Tuesday, April 28, to Tuesday, June 23.

With the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) dwindling and communities scrambling to shield themselves from the spread of COVID-19, Millbrook engineer and inventor Greg Loibl manufactured face shields for health care workers on the front lines and others in the community trying to stay safe. To make them more accessible to those needing them most, Loibl’s wife set up a GoFundMe account while Loibl either donated the masks or sold them at cost.

The Pine Plains Town Board bought a key piece of property at 12 North Main St. for $100,000, which may ultimately be used as the site for a future Town Hall in the main hamlet. The board voted to go forward with the contract at its April 16 meeting after negotiating for a 2% interest rate through a Bond Anticipation Note (BAN) — only for it to be challenged by a “petition,” which called for a referendum on the property’s purchase. The petition was an online document containing no addresses or signatures as required by law, and was ruled invalid by the Supreme Court of the State of New York County of Dutchess.

After commemorating its centennial year in the village of Millerton in July of 2019, the iconic store, Terni’s, announced it would close its doors for good on April 30.

While local residents volunteered to sew face masks for the community, the Four Brothers Drive-In Theatre in Amenia sought to be declared an essential business by New York State so it could open for the 2021 season. The drive-in theater would later reopen with new COVID-19 guidelines on May 15.

May

After waiting anxiously to get word from the state, Harlem Valley school districts were informed that schools would remain closed for the remainder of the academic year following Governor Cuomo’s announcement on May 1.

On May 13, the Pine Plains Planning Board organized a preliminary discussion to examine The Durst Organization’s pre-sketch submission of its resort development project. Also in Pine Plains, Stissing Mountain freshman Paige Arent created a GoFundMe page to purchase gift cards for families struggling to support themselves during the pandemic, surpassing her $1,000 fundraising goal by raising upwards of $1,710 by May 12.

While this year’s celebration of Memorial Day was altered due to COVID-19, local communities found a way to safely honor their heroes who died in service. Dutchess County commemorated the nation’s fallen heroes with a vehicle convoy that drove throughout the region with stops in the Harlem Valley on Monday, May 25.

The Webutuck Central School District secured a $100,000 grant from the Foundation for Community Health in Sharon, Conn., to support its plans for an in-school based health clinic.

The governor gave the all clear for most area businesses to reopen, with some exceptions. The Moviehouse in Millerton remained shut, but it kept moviegoers entertained through the launch of a new streaming service.

June

Due to the challenges posed by the pandemic, the annual Regents exams scheduled for June were canceled. Local school districts pulled out all the stops to give the Class of 2020 the graduation ceremony it longed for while adhering to the proper health and safety restrictions.

New York voters showed their support for their school districts by sending in their mail-in ballots for the annual school board elections and budget votes on June 9. 

Following George Floyd’s death at the hands of a white ex-police officer in Minneapolis on May 25, area residents and local students joined together to take a stand against systematic racism and rally for racial equality this spring throughought the region. 

Channeling her passion for the Black Lives Matter movement into her senior mural painted in June, Dover High School graduate Jody Grant said she was dismayed when the district said she had to get rid of it and then painted over her artwork within 24 hours of giving her notice.

After finding a headstone placed by “Friends” of former slave Thomas Stansbury outside the stone wall of the North East Center Burying Ground in Millerton, local history buff Bernie Silvernail urged Dutchess County Legislator Gregg Pulver (R-19) to help investigate the situation. Pulver reported later that the property was surveyed and it was determined that some of the graves, including Stansbury’s, were located outside the cemetery proper’s confines in a small adjacent area owned by heirs of the original property. Pulver worked with a pro bono lawyer to complete the sale of the land-locked property to the Cemetery Association to include the land in the hallowed ground. The land’s heir was said to be pleased to make the sale, though it was put on hold due to COVID-19 restrictions.  

Students from the North East (Webutuck) Central School District and nearby Region One School District over the border in Connecticut staged Black Lives Matter protests in Millerton this summer to support calls for social justice. Photo by Kaitlin Lyle

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