Wednesday, October 28, 2009

NY fears cigarette tax dispute could spur violence

NY fears cigarette tax dispute could spur violence
POSTED: October 28, 2009

NEW YORK (AP) — State Police are concerned that a government effort to block the flow of tax-free cigarettes onto New York's Indian reservations would lead to violence and possibly escalate into a "military problem," an adviser to Gov. David Paterson said Tuesday.

The governor's chief legal counsel, Peter Kiernan, told a state senate committee that a police "threat assessment" predicted that tribes based in western New York would fiercely resist any attempt to interfere with their multimillion dollar cigarette business.

The cost of enforcing order, he said, could run as much as $2 million per day — a figure based on the state's experiences when it tried to impose cigarette taxes on the reservations in 1992 and 1997.

Both of those efforts ended after members of the Seneca tribe set up blockades on state highways, set fires and in some cases brawled with troopers.

Questioned by skeptical lawmakers, Kiernan declined to reveal how the State Police came to the conclusion that there might be bloodshed, other than to say it was based on law enforcement "intelligence."

Scores of Indians from across the state who traveled to the city to attend Tuesday's hearing by the senate's committee on investigations and government operations listened largely impassively as Kiernan discussed the potential for violence, although a few seemed offended at the suggestion that they would be the instigators of any conflict.

Still, J.C. Seneca, tribal councilor to the Seneca Nation, made it clear that the tribe takes its sovereignty seriously.

"Your government has no authority to collect taxes in our territory," he said, citing 19th Century peace treaties that, among other things, gave the Seneca control over land and freed them from any state taxes.

"We will fight to uphold these rights, now and forever," he said.

A small group of Seneca expressed their defiance Tuesday by lighting a fire near the state Thruway on the Cattaraugus reservation — an action that mirrored protest fires set in 1997. State Police Capt. Michael Nigrelli said traffic wasn't disrupted, and Seneca leaders assured state police the demonstration would remain peaceful.

New York already has a law on the books assessing taxes on cigarette sales to all consumers who are not members of a tribe, but a series of governors has declined to enforce it, in part because of the fear of unrest.

As a result, reservation shops have become some of the biggest cigarette suppliers in the state, selling hundreds of millions of packs a year.

Some of that product is bought by smugglers, who transport cartons of cigarettes off the reservations and resell them elsewhere. A sizable percentage also is sold over the Internet to buyers around the country.

Paterson has pursued a dual track with the tribes, attempting to negotiate while also litigating the tax issue in state courts. Tribes in other states have signed revenue-sharing compacts with the states regarding taxation on cigarettes, but most of the largest New York tribes have rejected any such compromise.

State Sen. Martin Golden, a Brooklyn Republican and a member of the committee on investigations and government operations, said during Tuesday's hearing that the time for negotiating is over. He said he favors a "drop dead" date, to start charging the tax whether the tribes agreed to it or not.

Wagging his finger at Indians in the audience, he said the U.S. victory over the British during the Revolutionary War gave the government the right to tax its citizens, and he suggested that the tribes benefited from state health, education and public works programs and should therefore be required to pay the same taxes.

"Is it too much to ask?" he said.

His comments were met with boos, and he was jeered again as he left the room.

Among members of the tribe, the issue is a simple continuation of a pattern that dates back centuries.

Arthur "Sugar" Montour, owner of the Seneca brand cigarette company, stood up before the start of the hearing, called himself a warrior and thundered that it was the state — not the tribes — that were the aggressors.

"Today is about taking away the birthright of our people," he said.

"It's just taking our land all over again," Sally Snow, chairwoman of the Seneca Free Trade Association, said during a break in the hearing. "How much do they want from us?"

Kiernan said the governor is ready to enforce state tax law, but hopes to avoid conflict through negotiation.

Bats reintroduced into Vermont caves hit by fungus

POSTED: October 28, 2009

ALBANY, New York (AP) — Wildlife biologists studying a mysterious fungus killing off hundreds of thousands of bats around America want to find out if they can repopulate caves decimated by the disease.

Researchers will introduce 79 healthy little brown bats to two hibernation sites in Vermont hit hard by the fungus, which may have killed as many as 500,000 bats in the eastern United States over several winters.

Scientists suspect a fungus that thrives in cold, moist caves causes white-nose syndrome, named for the sugary smudges of fungus on the noses and wings of hibernating bats.

The repopulation experiment starting Tuesday at caves in Bridgewater and Stockbridge, Vermont, is not aimed at curing the disease. But it could show whether affected caves can sustain new populations of hibernating bats.

"Can you have bats successfully survive there? Or will they develop the disease even if there aren't any infected bats there?" asked Al Hicks, a wildlife biologist for New York's Department of Environmental Conservation.

Hicks said that if the bats shipped in from Wisconsin survive the winter, that could provide evidence that bats can be successfully reintroduced to caves that housed infected animals. It also could show whether the disease persists at hibernation sites even after infected bats are gone.

Entrances at the two sites are screened to keep in the bats. Gates will keep out people.

First noted in upstate New York in 2006, the disease has spread around the U.S. Northeast and has been detected as far south as Virginia. Researchers worry about a mass die-off of bats, which help control the populations of insects that can damage wheat, apples and dozens of other crops.

The repopulation project is a cooperative effort among conservation officials from Vermont, New York and the federal government.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Lewis C. Petitt

Lewis C. Petitt of Chautauqua passed away in his home with his loving family at his side Oct. 25, 2009.

A Chautauqua resident for most of his life, he was born March 8, 1919, the son of Florence Wassink Petitt and Clarence Petitt.

Lewis served in the U.S. Army during World War II, part of the 817th tank destroyer battalion. He served in northern France, Rhineland, Ardennies, central Europe and Battle of the Bulge. He received a good conduct medal and four battle stars for the service to his country. This past June he attended his 64th consecutive battalion reunion.

He owned and operated a contracting business with his wife, Mary. In retirement, he was a realtor with Stranburg Real Estate in Chautauqua. He was a life member of the Chautauqua Volunteer Fire Department with 63 years of service. Lewis was a member of Hurlbut Memorial Community Church, having served as a trustee as well as being active on numerous committees. He was a charter member of the Chautauqua Memorial Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8647, the Masonic Lodge, Mayville, and the Rod and Gun Club of Lakewood, N.Y.

As an avid golfer, he was a member of The Chautauqua Golf Club playing in the Wednesday and Thursday night leagues. He was a Senior Club Champion and also won the Senior Member-Guest Tournament with his brother.

Lewis was a lover of life, a great teacher, who could always saw the sunny side. He was generous, kind, and loved by all who knew him. He enjoyed the lake, winters in Florida, fishing, and most importantly family and friends.

He will be sadly missed by his three daughters and one son: Marilyn (Carl) Scarpino of West Ellicott, N.Y., Sharon (James) Kiracofe of Howland, Ohio, Mary (Terrance) Hogan of Chagrin Falls, Ohio, and Frederick (Kimberly) Petitt of Orlando, Fla.; a brother, Floyd (Trudy) Petitt of Ormond Beach, Fla.; and a sister, Helen Snyder of Chautauqua, N.Y.; eight grandchildren: Patty (An-drew) Burnight of Potomac Falls, Va., Cindy (Thomas) Massey of Chagrin Falls, Ohio, Elizabeth Kiracofe of Cleveland, Ohio, Emily Kiracofe of Howland, Ohio, Allison (Brady) Hively of Columbus, Ohio, Kevin Hogan of Chicago, Ill., and Amanda and Megan Petitt of Orlando, Fla; and three great-grandchildren: Alexander and Reagan Burnight and Addison Massey.

He was preceded in death by his wife of 66 years, Mary; and his sister, Mae Petitt.

The funeral service will be held at 1:30 p.m. at Hurlbut Memorial Community Church in Chautauqua Institution. The family will receive friends on Thursday 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. at Freay Funeral Home in Mayville, N.Y. Memorials can be made to Chautauqua Fire Department or Homecare Education and Resource Team Support (HEARTS) P.O. Box 474 Burton, Ohio 44021.

Hurlbut Memorial Church in Late October

Hurlbut Memorial Community United Methodist is located inside the grounds of Chautauqua Institution. The local congregation of about 150 meets on Sundays September through June for Church School at 9:30 a.m. and worship at 10:45 a.m. and at 5:30 Wednesdays for Midweek Vespers. During July and August,, the congregation meets at for communion at 8:30 am Sundays and shares in the Chautauqua programs and worship at the Chautauqua Amphitheater. Hurlbut is a "church home away from home" for many seasonal Chautauquans and visitors.

Miller Bell Tower

The Chapel of The Good Shepherd

The Athenaeum Hotel in Oct.

The Historic Athenaeum Hotel sits on a tree-shaded hill overlooking Chautauqua Lake on the grounds of Chautauqua Institution in the southwest corner of New York State. Serving guests in style since 1881, and now listed on the National Hisotric Register.

Battle builds against NYS license plan

Paterson wants new plates next April and added fee

Updated: Friday, 23 Oct 2009, 8:05 AM EDT
Published : Friday, 23 Oct 2009, 8:05 AM EDT

CANTON, NY - A northern New York county clerk is carrying out an online petition drive to thwart Gov. David Paterson's plan to require all New Yorkers to purchase new license plates next April.

St. Lawrence County Clerk Patricia Ritchie said it's an outrage to ask families and businesses to pay more for new license plates they don't need or want when they are being battered by the ongoing recession.

Beginning April 1, the state will begin requiring new license plates for every one of the estimated 10 million cars, trucks, trailers and ATVs registered in the state at a cost of $25 — a $10 increase over the current cost.

Ritchie said more than 5,000 people have signed the petition at in the first week to protest the new license plan.

Friday, October 23, 2009

'Extreme Makeover' coming to Buffalo next month

By Stephen T. Watson

ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" reality TV series is coming to Buffalo next month for the first time.

The show has selected David Homes to design and build an environmentally friendly home for a deserving family somewhere in the City of Buffalo, David Stapleton, the president of David Homes, announced today.

The identity of the lucky family will be revealed Nov. 7, the same day that David Homes will begin construction on the home.

David Homes is donating its employees' labor as well as some building materials and other resources.

David Homes and Western New York AmeriCorps will coordinate the subcontractors and other small businesses, skilled laborers and members of the public who are expected to volunteer their services for the construction project.

Work on the house will take one week and will be featured on a later episode of "Home Edition."

EPA move roils Great Lakes maritime industry

By Kari Lydersen and Juliet Eilperin

updated 2:49 a.m. ET, Fri., Oct . 23, 2009

DULUTH, MINN. - A horn blasts, seagulls screech and tourists clap as the longest ship in the Great Lakes, the 308-meter Paul R. Tregurtha, glides through Duluth's canal and heads into Lake Superior, loaded down with coal bound for Midwestern power plants.

Piles of crushed limestone, salt, iron ore and coal line the shores of the Great Lakes' busiest port, destined to forge steel, de-ice roads and build skyscrapers throughout the heartland. The towering grain elevators along the harbor's shores are stuffed with wheat and soy waiting for the trip out the St. Lawrence Seaway to the Atlantic Ocean, then on to Europe, North Africa or South America.

Underlying this show of commercial strength is a maritime industry many see as fragile, threatened not only by a weak economy but also by broader environmental initiatives. The emissions from these ships -- the only mode of transportation not under new federal air pollution regulations -- have been linked to increased levels of heart and lung disease.

Now, an Environmental Protection Agency proposal that would compel the vessels to burn cleaner fuel and upgrade their engines has sparked a furious behind-the-scenes lobbying campaign that has come to a head this week, pitting congressional Democrats against a Democratic administration as lawmakers allied with Midwestern and Alaskan shippers pressure the EPA to back down and protect jobs.

High stakes
The outcome of the battle -- which has delayed consideration of the EPA's budget -- has implications for a region battered by unemployment and one of the Obama's administration's key environmental strategies.

Large vessels rank second only to power plants as to the health risk their air pollution poses, and the EPA estimates the proposal will produce more health benefits than those it has applied to off-road vehicles, diesel trucks and other sources. Without further regulation by 2030, the agency projects that smog-forming nitrogen oxide emissions from the ships will more than double, to 2.1 million tons a year.

Environmental and health groups say the new standards, proposed in July and set to be finalized by Dec. 17, would prevent up to 33,000 premature deaths a year from problems such as heart disease, respiratory illness and cancer. Although coastal areas would reap the biggest clean air benefits, air quality would also improve for states hundreds of miles inland, including Nevada, Tennessee and Pennsylvania, and parks such as the Grand Canyon and the Great Smoky Mountains.

The proposal would limit air emissions from ships in the United States' exclusive economic zone, which extends 200 nautical miles from its coasts. This includes the 133 American and Canadian "Lakers" that spend their whole lives in the Great Lakes or St. Lawrence Seaway and the smaller "Salties" that go between foreign and Great Lakes ports.

The agency wants to require vessels to switch by 2015 from viscous bunker fuel, which contains about 30,000 parts per million sulfur, to fuel that contains no more than 1,000 parts per million. Trucks are required to use fuel with no more than 15 ppm sulfur, and by 2015 locomotives, bulldozers and barges will have similar limits.

Great Lakes shipping industry officials say the cost of the new fuel and the engine overhauls needed to burn it would undermine their competitive edge and shift commodity transport to rail and truck.

Lake Carriers' Association President James H.I. Weakley said the rule would cost U.S. and Canadian ships an extra $210 million a year for fuel. Out of a U.S. fleet of 65, he predicted that 13 steamships with 429 mariners would be scrapped and that 13 ships with old diesel engines might face premature retirement.

Great Lakes shippers said the process is incomplete. The EPA analysis that the policy's health benefits would outweigh its compliance costs by at least 30 to 1, they said, fails to grasp the impact the rule would have on a region experiencing double-digit unemployment -- a problem that could spread to iron ore miners, farmers, salt miners and others if exports decrease. Iron ore shipments from Great Lakes ports are nearly half of last year's, with coal shipments falling by a third.

"We asked them to pause, go back, study the economic impact, work with industry," said Steven Fisher, executive director of the American Great Lakes Ports Association. "We applaud their goal of clean air, but how do we get there without wrecking this economy and wrecking this industry?"

The government has required businesses as small as bakeries, dry cleaners and auto body refinishing plants to curb emissions, said S. William Becker, executive director for the National Association of Clean Air Agencies. "How can all of these other industries be expected to clean up," asked Becker, "while this one, spewing all this stuff, be exempted?"

Lawmakers’ doubts
In an economic downturn, however, many lawmakers appear to have little patience for such arguments. Led by House Appropriations Committee Chairman David R. Obey (D-Wis.) and House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James L. Oberstar (D-Minn.), they are trying to soften the rule for Great Lakes shippers.

Neither Oberstar nor Obey would comment. But Rep. Candice S. Miller (R-Mich.) said she and others have asked the "EPA to really rethink what they're talking about. You can't imagine how bad it is in a state like Michigan. We're looking at this, and we could lose 50 percent of our shipping capacity -- that's what the shippers are telling us."

On Oct. 8, Oberstar arranged for EPA officials to meet with him, Miller, Obey and Reps. Kathy Dahlkemper (D-Pa.), Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), Dale E. Kildee (D-Mich.) and Don Young (R-Alaska). They raised the prospect of attaching language to the annual Interior and Environmental Appropriations Bill that could halt implementation of the rule, Kaptur and Miller said, and have delayed moving the bill as they seek to resolve the matter.

Kaptur said the lawmakers want "a realistic effort to assist our industry transition." Miller said the EPA could explore options such as exempting Great Lakes shippers temporarily as it studies the issue or permanently.

EPA spokesman Brendan Gilfillan said the agency is aware of the industry's concerns and its international obligations to curb emissions. The EPA, he said, listens to public comments and prides itself on "taking them into account."

Thursday, October 22, 2009

New York's new restrictions on open burning go into effect

New York's new restrictions on open burning go into effect

The new law prohibits open burning of residential waste throughout the state, regardless of community size.

Officials say backyard burning of trash releases toxic compounds, and is the largest single cause of wildfires in the state.

Exceptions to the ban include burning limbs and branches between May 15 and the following March 15 in towns with less than 20,000 people, as well as burning organic agricultural waste, and small cooking and campfires.

The law takes effect October 14, 2009

ALBANY, NY (10/05/2009)(readMedia)-- Taking a step to reduce harmful air pollutants and help prevent wildfires, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has extended restrictions on the open burning of residential waste effective Oct. 14. The open burning of residential waste will be prohibited in all communities statewide, regardless of population, with exceptions for burning tree limbs and branches at limited times and other certain circumstances (detailed below). Previously, the ban applied only in towns with populations of 20,000 or more. The New York State Environmental Board approved this state regulation on Sept. 1.

Chairman of the Environmental Board and Environmental Conservation Commissioner Pete Grannis said: "Burning household trash is dangerous on several levels. It can release potentially dangerous compounds – dioxins and other potential carcinogens – from materials burned in backyard fires. And it is the largest single cause of wildfires in the state."

Once considered harmless, recent studies demonstrate that open burning releases substantial amounts of dangerous chemicals into the air. A study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in conjunction with DEC and the New York State Department of Health, found that emissions of dioxins and furans from backyard burning alone were greater than those from all other sources combined for the years 2002-04. Trash containing plastics, polystyrene, pressure-treated and painted wood and bleached or colored papers produce harmful chemicals when burned. The study found that burning trash emits arsenic, carbon monoxide, benzene, styrene, formaldehyde, lead, and hydrogen cyanide, among others.

"While bygone generations burned their garbage, that practice now must end. Decades ago, garbage didn't contain plastics, foils, batteries, paper bleached with chlorine and other materials used today," Commissioner Grannis said.

In addition to releasing pollutants, open burning is the largest single cause of wildfires in New York State. Data from DEC's Forest Protection Division show that debris burning accounted for about 40 percent of wildfires between 1986 and 2006 - more than twice the next most-cited source. In 2006 alone, debris burning triggered 98 wildfires in the state.

"The extension of the ban on open burning to all municipalities in New York will afford people living in all communities the chance to breathe air that is free from the contaminants that are byproducts of open fires," said Michael Seilback, Vice President of Public Policy and Communications at the American Lung Association in New York. "We thank and commend Commissioner Grannis and the DEC for adopting these regulations that will undoubtedly improve the quality of the air we all breathe and improve the lives of people suffering from asthma and lung disease."

"We have known for many years that open burning of garbage releases toxic fumes and poses a serious fire hazard," said Laura Haight, NYPIRG's senior environmental associate. "Burn barrels are considered the major uncontrolled source of dioxin, a potent cancer-causing chemical that is created when plastic and other materials are burned together. We applaud Commissioner Grannis and his department for taking this critically important action to protect our health."

Jackson Morris, Air & Energy Program Director for Environmental Advocates of NewYork said, "We commend DEC for finalizing the state's new open burning regulations. This rule will result in immediate, on-the-ground improvements in air quality, as the open burning of household waste spews volumes of toxics into our air. Millions of New Yorkers will breathe easier with this rule on the books."

Open burning of residential wastes in any city or village or in any town with a population of 20,000 or more has been prohibited since 1972. DEC moved to expand the prohibition to all communities after holding meetings to receive input from stakeholders and state agencies. A proposal was released in May 2008 and was followed up with public hearings and an extended public comment period. Approximately 1,800 comments were reviewed by DEC.

As a result of public comments, modifications were made to the original proposal to include an exemption for burning of tree limbs and branches in smaller municipalities during certain times of the year.

The regulation bans all open burning except for the following:
On-site burning of limbs and branches between May 15th and the following March 15th in any town with a total population less than 20,000.
Barbecue grills, maple sugar arches and similar outdoor cooking devices.
Small cooking and camp fires.
On-site burning of organic agricultural wastes, but not pesticides, plastics or other non-organic material.
Liquid petroleum fueled smudge pots to prevent frost damage to crops.
Ceremonial or celebratory bonfires.
Disposal of a flag or religious item.
Burning on an emergency basis of explosive or other dangerous or contraband by police, etc.
Prescribed burns performed according to state regulations.
Fire training with some restrictions on the use of acquired structures.
Individual open fires to control plant and animal disease outbreaks as approved by DEC upon the request by the Commissioner of Agriculture and Markets.
Open fires as necessary to control invasive plant and insect species.

Towns totally or partially within the boundaries of the Adirondack and Catskill Parks are designated fire towns under Environmental Conservation Law. The law prohibits open burning without a written permit from the DEC. On-site open burning of limbs and branches allowed under the new regulation still requires a permit if it occurs in a fire town. To find out if your town is a Fire Town and/or to obtain a permit, contact your local DEC Forest Ranger. A list of rangers and their phone numbers may be obtained at or by calling 518-897-1300.

In addition to the open burning regulation, the Environmental Board also approved two additional rule proposals - a regulation that requires automobiles to include environmental performance label standards and a regulation that sets new limits on emissions of smog-causing Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) from 11 new categories of consumer products.

A complete outline of common questions and answers on the new regulation is available at on the DEC website.


I live out in the country where people have always burned chairs and shingles and large pieces of plastic etc.. Here I am living out in this rural area and I can hardly breath much of the time. Some of my neighbors were the worst offenders. They burned mattresses, and the plastic wraps off of big hay bales, and many other toxic things. Mark Findley used to burn up to 20 heavy-duty industrial oil filters every week from their fleet of Interstate Battery trucks as they ran an Interstate Battery business out of the barn across the street. Although this bites into my rights some I will enjoy not walking outside to plumes of black smoke and the smell of plastic in the air all the time. Many households on my road regularly burned plastics and trash. Between that and Interstate 86 and it's smoking trucks I have to take allergy medicine almost year round and every day. My guess is there will be allot of people who still sneak and burn and just hope they won't get caught. I hope everyone respects the law, I would like to smell fresh mown hay and spruce trees not smoldering shingles when I go outside.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Mansion owned by Peace Bridge

Mansion owned by Peace Bridge Authority gets landmark status
By Brian Meyer
Updated: October 13, 2009

The Common Council voted unanimously today to give landmark status to a long-vacant mansion on Busti Avenue, complicating plans by the Peace Bridge Authority to tear it down.

Preservationists and some neighborhood residents tout the 146-year-old structure at 771 Busti as an architecturally and historically significant building. It was once owned by Col. Samuel H. Wilkeson, grandson of the builder of Buffalo's harbor.

But the Peace Bridge Authority cited studies indicating that the three-story Italianate-style building is unsound and cannot be adapted for reuse.

Peace Bridge Authority General Manager Ron Rienas said today that while he's disappointed by the Council vote, he doesn't expect it to have an impact on the long-debated Peace Bridge expansion. Rienas contended that even with the structure being designated a local landmark, bridge officials are confident that an ongoing federal process would clear the way for demolition, assuming the expansion moves forward.

Meanwhile, city Preservation Board member Timothy A. Tielman said he's hoping the landmark designation will have a two-pronged impact. He said the Council's action should send a signal to the Peace Bridge Authority that it has an obligation to fix a blighted structure that it has owned since 1996. In the longer term, said Tielman, he hopes various groups will band together to restore the once-opulent mansion.

"This is the front door to Buffalo," said Tielman of the Busti Avenue site. "It would be a wonderful monument as a museum or even as a home that is occasionally opened to visitors."

The Preservation Board had urged the Council to name the Wilkeson House a city landmark.

Tielman said relocating the house to another site would be imprudent, claiming its location in the Prospect Hill neighborhood is one thing that adds to its historic character.

Some Council members said they based part of their decision-making on testimony Rienas gave last week in City Hall when he stated that a landmark designation would have no effect on bridge expansion plans. Rienas clarified his remarks to a reporter today, saying what he meant was that the authority believed it would eventually be permitted to demolish the building even if it became a local landmark.

Rienas said the Council legally agreed to the demolitions several years ago when it adopted a plan that called for tearing down structures on Busti between Vermont and Rhode Island streets. He said officials were in agreement that the demolitions would improve the neighborhood by providing additional greenspace and other enhancements.

"This isn't consistent with the position that members of the Common Council took before," said Rienas.

Sean P. O'Rourke

Sean P. O’Rourke

Sean P. O'Rourke, 24, of Dunkirk died Saturday afternoon (Oct. 10, 2009) as the result of an accident in the town of Pomfret. He was born Jan. 13, 1985 in Dunkirk, the son of James S. and Carol (Ludwig) O'Rourke of Dunkirk.

A lifelong resident of Dunkirk, Sean graduated with honors from Dunkirk High School, Class of 2003. While there, he had been a member of the cross country and indoor/outdoor track teams. He earned an associate's degree in welding engineering from Jamestown Community College in 2006.

He had been employed by Dunkirk Metal Products as a welder. Sean was a former parishioner of St. Hedwig's Church, where he had been an altar server and Eucharistic minister. A loving son and brother, and devoted uncle and godfather, Sean was a hard worker who enjoyed his welding job. He also enjoyed fishing, disc golf, music and working on cars with his buddies. Sean and his friends shared their time, labor and resources to keep each other going. Besides his parents, he is survived by his twin brother, USAF Staff Sgt. Brian O'Rourke of Brandon, England; two sisters, Kerry O'Rourke of Dunkirk and Erin (Andrew) Hellwig of Fredonia; two nieces, Ashleigh Hellwig and Allison Hellwig; one nephew, Gabriel Hellwig; his maternal grandmother, Caroline Ludwig of Fredonia; and his paternal grandmother, Janet O'Rourke of Liberty, NY. Many aunts, uncles, cousins and his canine companion, Boomer, also survive. He was preceded in death by his maternal grandfather, Edward Ludwig; paternal grandfather, John O'Rourke; and and aunt, Janet (Siegelman) O'Rourke.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated Thursday morning at 10:30 in St. Anthony's Church, Fredonia. Friends are invited to call Wednesday from 2-4 and 7-9 p.m. at the McGraw-Kowal Funeral Home. Memorial donations can be made to Roswell Park Alliance Foundation, Elm & Carlton Streets, Buffalo, NY 14263 or Lakeshore Humane Society, P.O. Box 12, Fredonia, NY 14063.

Sean was the son of our rural Mail carrier, Jim and our thoughts and prayers are with the O' Rourke family in this difficult time.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Troopers Release Names of Deceased in North County Train Collision

Troopers Release Names of Deceased in North County Train Collision
By April Diodato
POSTED: October 12, 2009

Emergency crews respond to the scene of a collision between a train and moving truck Saturday afternoon between Van Buren and Berry roads in Pomfret.
Photo by Tim Latshaw

Three Dunkirk residents succumbed in an accident Saturday afternoon when a train collided with their U-Haul rental truck in Pomfret.

Sean P. O'Rourke, 24, was identified as the operator of the vehicle, with William T. Marquardt, 24, and Zachary P. Nydahl, 25, as passengers.

The three victims were pronounced dead on arrival by Chautauqua County Coroner Richard Mackowiak.

According to a report from New York State Police, the truck attempted to cross the railroad tracks after driving around the safety gates, with crossing gates lowered and lights flashing, while traveling northbound on Van Buren Road at approximately 2:39 p.m.

The U-Haul was struck by a westbound CSX train, with the train and truck coming to rest about half a mile west of Van Buren Road, nearly to the next crossing on Berry Road in Pomfret.

The accident was reportedly witnessed by several people waiting at the crossing.

One witness, who requested not to be named, said the crossing barriers had been lowered but some vehicles chose to drive around them.

"Two cars came around and one ahead of us went; and when this last car was coming through, the train was coming and hit them," the witness said.

According to the Associated Press, witness William Brown said the U-Haul "just exploded when the train hit it."

The Fredonia Fire Department reported that the vehicle was trapped underneath the train.

The Chautauqua County Sheriffs Office and CSX investigators also assisted at the scene.

An investigation into the collision by the State Police and CSX continues.


Victims in train accident may have thought gates malfunctioned
By Gene Warner

A mistaken assumption -- that the crossing gates and warning lights were malfunctioning at a Chautauqua County railroad crossing -- may have led to the tragic accident that claimed three lives Saturday, state police investigators suggested today.

Three Dunkirk residents were killed Saturday afternoon when their rental truck was struck by a westbound CSX train in the Town of Pomfret.

Investigators believe the driver of the rental truck tried to drive around the crossing gates, which remained in the down position shortly after an earlier slow-moving train had just cleared the tracks from the opposite direction.

State police also say that at least one other vehicle in front of the rental truck went around the crossing gates. So investigators believe the drivers of both vehicles may have assumed the crossing gates and flashing lights were malfunctioning after the first train had gone through the crossing.

"The one train cleared, and they probably figured that the gates just didn't go up," State Police Capt. Richard S. Allen said today. "So we assume they drove around the gates thinking the tracks were clear."

All three Dunkirk residents in the rental truck were pronounced dead at the scene. They were identified as Sean P. O'Rourke, 24; William T. Marquardt, 24; and Zachary P. Nydahl, 26.

State police say they have found no evidence of any drinking or drug use.

O'Rourke was driving the rental truck north on Van Buren Road in the Town of Pomfret shortly after 2:30 p.m. Saturday, state police said.

After the first eastbound train cleared the tracks, the gates remained down and the lights flashing. The driver of the rental truck, apparently like the driver in front of him, tried to cross the tracks, but his vehicle was struck by the second westbound train that was traveling at about 59 mph.

Calling it a terrible tragedy, Allen, zone commander of the state police in Chautauqua County, cited the lessons that can be learned from the horrific accident.

"The gates are down for a reason," Allen said. "There are occasions when they do malfunction, but we get [an officer] to direct traffic around the gates. Unless someone is telling you to go around them, you should never go around activated warning lights."

Allen also used the concept of a crossing-gates malfunction as a safety tip. Even when the gates aren't down, he suggested, drivers should look in both directions before crossing the tracks.

Following the accident, the weight and speed of the train kept it and the truck traveling about a half mile west of the impact site.

"To safely stop a train, it usually takes up to two miles," Allen said. "In this case, it took about half a mile."

Friday, October 9, 2009

Fans toast ‘Office’ wedding

Television vows celebrated with cake and champagne at Hard Rock Cafe
By Denise Jewell Gee
Updated: October 09, 2009, 10:56 AM / 1 comment

NIAGARA FALLS — The guests of honor weren’t real and they only showed up on television.

But that didn’t deter dozens of fans of “The Office” from downing champagne and wedding cake at the Hard Rock Cafe on Thursday in honor of fictional bride and groom Jim Halpert and Pam Beesly.

The much anticipated hourlong episode of the NBC comedy — in which the fictional Dunder Mifflin officemates finally wed aboard the Maid of the Mist—drew loud cheers and laughter from fans gathered to see Niagara Falls on national television.

“It lets people know we’re still here, we’re still a tourist town,” said Youngstown resident Clara Kuntz, 21, who has been watching the show since its first season. “We’re still the Honeymoon Capital.”

Several fans gathered to watch the debut of Niagara Falls on “The Office” on Thursday were also extras in late August when the cast and crew taped scenes in the city outside the Red Coach Inn and on the Maid of the Mist boat.

Those extras—who got a glimpse nearly two months ago of the show’s surprise ending aboard the Maid — were sworn to secrecy about its plot.

That proved a tough task for some who described themselves as “huge” fans of “The Office.”

“I told people to keep an eye out for me,” said Andrew Piniarski, a 22- year-old Cheektowaga resident and film major at the University at Buffalo who was an extra. “It’s really tough. You want to tell everybody, but you can’t. But it’s just part of the fun.”

The show’s “Niagara” episode that aired Thursday was set in Niagara Falls for the wedding of Jim and Pam. The double episode was heavily promoted on NBC as the culmination of a lengthy romance between two of the show’s main characters.

The first few minutes of the show — packed with Niagara Falls references and a “Viagra Falls” joke — drew laughter and loud cheers from the local fans.

“What happens in Niagara stays in Niagara,” office worker Andy

joked before they headed from their fictional office in Scranton, Pa., to the Falls.

Actors Jenna Fischer and John Krasinski, who play Pam and Jim, spent a day in Niagara Falls on Aug. 27 along with the show’s crew to film outdoor scenes.

Filming aboard the Maid of the Mist provided a challenge for “The Office” crew. The scenes were taped on regularly scheduled boat tours of the Maid of the Mist. Extras dressed in plastic blue ponchos were used to buffer the cast and crew from real tourists on the boat.

Producer Randy Cordray — who also played a captain in the episode — described the mist from the falls as like “having someone spray a hose right in your face.”

The crew also shot a scene in front of the Red Coach Inn, renamed the Statler Falls Hotel for the show.

Extras from Western New York dressed in blue ponchos taped scenes several times in August to get the final moments of the show just right.

“It’s amazing how many times we did it over and over again, and how little of it they used,” said Karen Wall, a Hamburg resident who got on the show as an extra because her oldest daughter works on the program.

Most of the episode’s scenes were shot on a set or inside a restaurant and chapel in Los Angeles.

Cordray, speaking by phone to the fans at the Hard Rock Cafe shortly before the episode aired Thursday night, said the on-site taping in Niagara Falls almost never happened because of budget concerns. Cordray said studio officials at first suggested the show use a green screen to replicate Niagara Falls.

Shooting on-site prevailed. “Jim and Pam are spontaneous people, and they do things on the spur of the moment,” Cordray told the crowd. “And it seemed so perfect for these characters that they would get married on the Maid of the Mist. So it was our goal to make this happen.”

Cordray called it the “best episode” he has been involved with.

“There is a moment,” Cordray said, “where Jim and Pam start walking down the ramp down the sidewalk to the Maid of the Mist, I get chills and I tear up every single time.”

The crowd gathered at the Hard Rock on Thursday to watch the episode and raise money for Niagara Falls State Park was emotional even before the show began.

Falls Mayor Paul Dyster gave a brief toast to the fictional couple shortly before it aired.

“To a long and successful marriage for Jim and Pam,” Dyster told the crowd as they lifted champagne glasses. “May you return to Niagara Falls often in the future to visit once again to honor and to celebrate your romantic love and your new marriage. Cheers.”

The waterfalls didn’t make their television debut until the final minutes of the episode.

The couple — desperate to escape their wacky officemates — snuck off from their ceremony to wed on the Maid of the Mist. They exchanged vows. Drenched in mist from the falls, the couple embraced.

And waterfalls roared in the background.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Prince Charles to visit Niagara Region

Royal couple to stop at Niagara-on-the-Lake

Updated: Wednesday, 07 Oct 2009, 8:28 AM EDT
Published : Tuesday, 06 Oct 2009, 12:51 PM EDT

TORONTO, Ont. - The Niagara Region is preparing for a royal visit. Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwell are planning a visit to Niagara-on-the-Lake next month.

The Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that the royals will be in Canada from Novemer 2 through November 12.

The couple will be taking in four provinces and will spend time in Toronto and Hamilton during their visit.

A complete itinerary will be announced soon.

This will be the 16th visit to Canada for Prince Charles and the first for the Duchess.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Bonnie Loch Fiddlers

Fiddlers at Harmony Harvest Festival

Great Fiddling at the Harmony Historical Society in Blockville, NY

A wonderful time was had by all at the Harmony Historical Society's
Fall Harvest Festival. Its not too late to get over there tomorrow. The lilting music was provided by the young fresh fiddle players known as the Bonnie Loch fiddlers. They all hail from right here in the greater Chautauqua Lake region of New York. The band consists of 5 fiddlers backed up by keyboard, guitar and percussion. The fiddlers are ages 14 -17 excluding their director. They have many honors and awards among them and perform regularly throughout the region as well as a recent performance in Inverness Scotland as part of a Trans Atlantic exchange concert series. Bonnie Loch member, Lydia Byard recently earned the title of the US National Scottish Fiddle Champion and is featured on track No. 7. She is the youngest ever to win this honor. This CD, though primarily of Scottish influence, is an exciting combination of genre’s both contemporary and traditional and features exciting originals composed by members of the band.

Bonnie Loch Fiddlers

Harmony Historical Society's
Fall Harvest Festival - October 3-4