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Hickory Ski Center staying closed this year

WARRENSBURG — The bad news: Hickory Ski Center is going to be closed again all season this year.

But good news could be coming next year.

The owner, Bill Van Pelt, and the Ivy Ski Club, which has had an active role in keeping the center running, are considering a ski school that would use Hickory’s uniquely untamed ski routes.

They could create a school for backcountry skiing. A ski club member is willing to lead it, but a lot more must be done before it could open.

Still, it seems like a way to reopen the center.

“Backcountry skiing is one of the reasons we fell in love with the place,” said David Cronheim of the Ivy Ski Club. “It would be a wonderful place for an alpine touring school. People can learn to navigate the backcountry in a controlled environment.”

The problem for Hickory has always been that it’s just too small, with too few skiers, to even pay all of its yearly expenses. Those include $30,000 to maintain the three big lifts — the center has four “vintage” lifts for which parts aren’t even made anymore — plus insurance and property taxes.

“You gotta sell a lot of lift tickets,” Cronheim said.

Van Pelt agreed, saying the club will play a pivotal role in bringing the ski center back to life.

So they are staking their hopes on a school.

“We’re definitely doing more than talking about it,” Cronheim said, but added that the plan is still in the preliminary stages.

The first step has been to ask the state Department of Environmental Conservation to reduce liability for property owners who want to allow backcountry skiing.

DEC collected comment on its High Peaks Wilderness management plan, and many skiers wrote in, asking for changes in backcountry skiing rules.

If backcountry skiing followed the same rules as cross-country skiing and similar sports, it would make things much easier for Hickory. Property owners would not have to mark hazards, for example.

“That would go a long way toward people letting people ski on their land,” Cronheim said.

Earlier this year, there was hope of opening Hickory for at least part of the winter. The lower mountain was landscaped in anticipation of skiing and a maintenance specialist was called in to look at the lifts. But the early snow in November made the lifts hard to reach and scuttled that plan.

“We definitely want to get something going next year,” Cronheim said.

But the lifts must be serviced first.

“Part of what’s cool about those lifts is they’re so old. But that’s what is so expensive about them,” he said.

There’s no immediate plan to add snowmaking technology, which would be an expensive investment. What people like about Hickory is the natural snow, Cronheim said.

“That’s the big differentiator,” he said. “It’s the paradox: How do you modernize it without destroying what makes it unique?”

He doesn’t think a lack of snowmaking is a problem.

“If natural snow is what you want, you just have to be patient and wait for it,” he said.

Shawn LaChapelle, Special to The Post-Star 

Runners take off in the First Night 5K at Skidmore College on Monday night, New Year's Eve, to kick off Saratoga Arts' annual First Night celebration.

House Democrats have a plan to re-open government

WASHINGTON — House Democrats unveiled a package of bills Monday that would re-open the federal government without approving funding for President Donald Trump's border wall with Mexico, establishing an early confrontation that will test the new power dynamic in Washington.

The House is preparing to vote as soon as the new Congress convenes Thursday, as one of the first acts after Democrats take control, according to an aide who was not authorized to discuss the plan and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Democrats under Nancy Pelosi are all but certain to swiftly approve the two bills, making good on their pledge to try to quickly resolve the partial government shutdown that's now in its second week. What's unclear is whether the Republican-led Senate, under Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., will consider either measure — or if Trump would sign them into law.

"It would be the height of irresponsibility and political cynicism for Senate Republicans to now reject the same legislation they have already supported," Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement late Monday.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The package does not include the $5 billion Trump wants for the wall on the southern border.

The president told Fox News Channel in an interview Monday that he was "ready, willing and able" to negotiate. He added: "No, we are not giving up. We have to have border security and the wall is a big part of border security."

McConnell spokesman Donald Stewart made it clear Senate Republicans will not take action without Trump's backing. "It's simple: The Senate is not going to send something to the president that he won't sign," he said.

Republican senators are refusing to vote on any bills until all sides, including Trump, are in agreement. Senators were frustrated that Trump had dismissed their earlier legislation to avert the shutdown.

House Democrats did not confer with Senate Republicans on the package, but the bills are expected to have some bipartisan support because they reflect earlier spending measures already hashed out between the parties and chambers.

One bill will temporarily fund the Department of Homeland Security at current levels, with $1.3 billion for border security, through Feb. 8 while talks continue.

The other will be on a measure made up of six other bipartisan bills — some that have already passed the Senate — to fund the departments of Agriculture, Interior, Housing and Urban Development and others closed by the partial shutdown. They would provide money through the remainder of the fiscal year, to Sept. 30.

The House is planning two separate votes for Thursday. If approved, the bills would go to the Senate.

Senate Democrats support the measures, according to a senior aide who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., the chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, tweeted that without funding for Trump's wall, the package is a "nonstarter." He said it "will not be a legitimate answer to this impasse."

But as the shutdown drags on, pressure is expected to build on all sides for a resolution, as public parks and museums close, and some 800,000 federal workers are going without pay.

Trump could accept or reject either bill, and it's unclear how he would respond. The president continued to insist Monday he wants to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, despite assertions otherwise of three confidants.

"An all concrete Wall was NEVER ABANDONED," Trump tweeted Monday. "Some areas will be all concrete but the experts at Border Patrol prefer a Wall that is see through (thereby making it possible to see what is happening on both sides)."

Trump's comments came after officials, including his departing chief of staff, indicated that the president's signature campaign pledge to build the wall would not be fulfilled as advertised. White House chief of staff John Kelly told the Los Angeles Times in an interview published Sunday that Trump abandoned the notion of "a solid concrete wall early on in the administration."

"To be honest, it's not a wall," Kelly said, adding that the mix of technological enhancements and "steel slat" barriers the president now wants along the border resulted from conversations with law enforcement professionals.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., emerged from a Sunday lunch at the White House to tell reporters that "the wall has become a metaphor for border security" and referred to "a physical barrier along the border."

Graham said Trump was "open-minded" about a broader immigration agreement, saying the budget impasse presented an opportunity to address issues beyond the border wall. But a previous attempt to reach a compromise that addressed the status of "Dreamers" — young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children — broke down last year as a result of escalating White House demands.

The partial government shutdown began Dec. 22 after Trump bowed to conservative demands that he fight to make good on his vow and secure funding for the wall before Republicans lose control of the House on Wednesday. Democrats have remained committed to blocking any funding for the wall, and with neither side engaging in substantive negotiation, the effect of the partial shutdown was set to spread and to extend into the new year.

Nearly 40 die from 9/11 illness in last four months

NEW YORK — They survived the most horrific terror attack in our nation’s history but may not make it through another year.

Nearly 40 people who either responded to, or lived and worked near the twin towers when terrorists brought them down 18 years ago, have died from a 9/11-related illness since September, health care advocates told the Daily News.

That’s a rate of roughly 10 a month.

“Every time someone dies, a part of me dies,” said 9/11 survivor advocate John Feal, who’s taken on the somber duty of tabulating the grim numbers. “You can have a week without posting a death, and then you can get four in a week. It’s just weird.”

Feal said at the current rate, the number of 9/11 illness deaths by September 2019 will either match or exceed 163 — the total accumulated between Sept. 1, 2017, and last Sept. 1, which is considered the highest World Trade Center yearly death toll since the terror attacks.

At the same time, increasing numbers of victims suffering from the toxic effects of the terror attacks and the recovery effort at Ground Zero are applying for compensation from the federal September 11th Victim Compensation Fund to offset treatment and living expenses.

By the end of November, 41,729 compensation eligibility claims were filed with the VCF — 3,000 more than the 38,502 victims who filed claims by the end of August, or 1,000 a month.

Each Sept. 11, Feal adds the names of those who died of a 9/11 illness during that year on his Wall of Heroes in Nesconset, Long Island. Everyone listed was either near the WTC when it was destroyed or worked on the recovery effort, and sought treatment through the WTC health program, dying of an illness treated by the program.

“Every time someone dies of a 9/11 illness, that’s a family suffering,” said Feal. “But there is such a lack of empathy for the 9/11 community.”

“Everybody asked me what I wanted for Christmas this year,” he added. “I told them, ‘I want humanity to come back.’ ”

Feal and other 9/11 health care advocates plan to turn 2019 into the year of the WTC survivor. Beginning in January, he and a team of 9/11 survivors plan to descend on Washington, D.C., to get VCF extended.

The $7.3 billion fund is slated to expire in 2020, but so many victims have been requesting compensation there are concerns the fund will run out money before the deadline. This February, the fund is expected to compensate for the expected shortfall by amending its award payouts; those currently applying could receive less than those who applied a year ago for the same illness.

In October, a bipartisan group of legislators introduced bills in both the Senate and Congress to extend and fully fund the VCF.

“Our approach is … everyone is going to be on our side until they’re not,” said Feal, who is pondering his own run for Congress. “Then we will deal with them when that time comes.”

It’s estimated that 90,000 first responders showed up at the WTC in the aftermath of the attack. An additional 400,000 survivors lived and worked in the area at the time.

More than 180 FDNY employees have died of illnesses from the toxic dust at Ground Zero since the terror attack, when 343 members of the department were killed.

Post-Star file photo  

A skier glides down one of the trails at Hickory Ski Center in Warrensburg in 2016.

Granville hit-and-run case presents issues for system

GRANVILLE — The Granville woman accused of hitting a man with a car last winter and seriously hurting him, then fleeing, is to appear in court next month to determine how her case should be handled in light of a determination she cannot proceed to trial.

The case of Catherine F. Myer has presented challenges for Washington County’s criminal justice system, as prosecutors and her defense lawyer work to find a resolution that is fair to a person who has dementia and claims to have no memory of hitting a man in the village nearly a year ago.

Myer, 74, was charged with leaving the scene of a serious personal injury accident in connection with the collision last Jan. 2 that seriously injured Hebron resident Frank Grunert.

Grunert, 78, was hit and nearly killed as he walked along Church Street. He suffered a severe head injury that required extensive hospitalization and rehabilitation. He died last summer of a medical issue that authorities said was determined to not be related to the crash.

Myer was charged last June, after an extensive investigation by Granville Police that determined she hit Grunert and went to her nearby home afterward. A not guilty plea was entered on her behalf, and Granville Justice Roger Forando ordered an examination to determine whether she understands the case against her and could stand trial.

It was determined she did not understand, and the case has been postponed as the Washington County District Attorney’s Office and Myer’s lawyer, Michael Martin, work to find a resolution to the charges. Those who are charged with felonies and found incompetent to stand trial can be institutionalized, or required to get treatment in an effort to improve their health so they can understand the case and be prosecuted.

In Myer’s case, though, her lawyer said her dementia cannot be treated to the point that she could improve and be prosecuted.

District Attorney Tony Jordan said his office has been working with Robert York, director of mental health for Washington and Warren counties, to find a solution for Myer within the parameters of state law.

“We are working to see what can be done to address her needs and where it would be best for her to be treated,” Jordan said.

Myer’s lawyer, Michael Martin, said he was working with the district attorney’s office to find a resolution that would provide treatment for Myer, preferably on an outpatient basis.

Myer is free on her own recognizance, pending a Jan. 15 hearing in Granville Village Court.