With 2023 fast approaching, our reporters updated select stories from the past year
Missing crew member — On Jan. 3, while walking his dog at Dockside Park in Cold Spring, Seth Dinitz spotted a red backpack resting on rocks at the edge of the Hudson River. “It was clean on the exterior,” he said. “Inside, everything was waterlogged.” Its contents included two days’ worth of neatly folded clothing, a wallet, cellphone, work documents, a mechanical engineering diploma, family photos and a photocopied passport. It also contained $599 in cash and 8,500 kyats, the currency of Myanmar, worth less than $5. The documents belonged to Aung Phone San, 26, a Myanmar national and a cadet engineer aboard the M.V. Medi Hakata, a bulk carrier registered in Panama that had passed Cold Spring in mid-December. It was thought San went overboard to avoid returning to Myanmar because he had opposed its military rulers and feared retribution.
Update: A body was found in the water in mid-July in Tompkins Cove near Bear Mountain Bridge. According to a friend of the family, San’s parents were informed by the shipping company that it was their son, based on its size and the fact that the deceased was wearing a uniform. The New York State Police have yet to confirm the identification.
Climate report — New York released the draft of a document that laid out what the state needs to do to receive 70 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2030, reach zero-emissions electricity by 2040 and achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
Update: After taking the plan on the road for public input, the state’s Climate Action Council released the final version in mid-December. One key difference in the 433-page document is the Inflation Reduction Act, which Congress passed this year. Another difference: Although the draft was approved unanimously by the council, the three panel members representing the fossil fuel, power and utility industries voted against the final version. They said it was unrealistic and unnecessarily favors renewable electric energy over natural gas sources. The plan isn’t legally binding: It’s essentially a series of recommendations for Gov. Kathy Hochul and the state Legislature.
Nelsonville limits rentals — With a 3-2 vote on Jan. 18, the Nelsonville Village Board approved a law that limits operation of short-term rentals to 100 days annually — or, alternatively, to two rentals of one week each — and requires owners to make the property their main residence. The vote ended several years of intermittent but intense debate over STRs booked through services such as Airbnb and VRBO. The law exempts units rented for periods of 30 days or longer. It also excludes traditional bed-and-breakfasts.
Update: The law takes effect on Sunday (Jan. 1).
Doing hard things — The Current profiled journalist Gwendolyn Bounds, a Garrison resident who recently competed in the Spartan World Championships, an endurance race through obstacles held in 2021 in the United Arab Emirates.
Update: Bounds is still racing and bleeding at the highest level of Spartan. Barbed wire tore into her shoulder during a race in South Carolina, but she managed to finish on the podium in half of the eight races she competed in (three silver medals and a bronze). Bounds is writing a book for Penguin Random House, due in 2024, that “tracks my transformation from an unathletic, middle-aged office executive into a world championship competitor, while tapping the latest science and research to help readers change the story of what they can expect from midlife, both mentally and physically.”
Liquor exception — Sen. Sue Serino and Assembly Member Jonathan Jacobson, whose districts include Beacon, introduced legislation that would exempt the Beacon Falls Cafe from a state ban on granting liquor licenses to establishments within 200 feet of a place of worship. The cafe is across Main Street from the Tabernacle of Christ Church. Owner Bob Nevelus said his application to the State Liquor Authority three years earlier was rejected because of the law.
Update: The measure passed the Assembly, 147-0, on May 9 and the Senate, 61-0, on May 18 and was signed into law by Gov. Kathy Hochul on June 30. Nevelus’ application to serve liquor on-site, filed Oct. 28, is pending.
Armed robbery — Putnam County Sheriff investigators used surveillance footage to identify and charge David Peres of the City of Newburgh with the armed robbery on Feb. 13 of $228 from the Gulf gas station on Route 9D in Garrison. Deputies turned Peres over to the custody of the U.S. Marshalls, who charged him with two federal crimes: Hobbs Act robbery and brandishing a firearm.
Update: Prosecutors are negotiating a plea deal with Peres but the process has been delayed because he is hospitalized for unspecified medical problems.
Fond farewells — On Feb. 26, Cold Spring showed its appreciation for two retiring mainstays of Main Street. Friends holding a party for Jeff Consaga, the owner of the Foundry Cafe for 26 years known for his French toast and generous portions, and a parade for Leonora Burton, the proprietor of The Country Goose for 37 years, who returned to her native U.K.
Updates: Consaga says he misses many things but not the 4:30 a.m. wakeup calls. “No stress. No pressure,” he said. After fishing five times in the 26 years he ran the café, he has matched that in one summer. “I’m a happy camper,” he said. This year, he will gather with friends for another of his series of New Year’s bashes but will not be cooking. On Tuesday (Dec. 27), Burton wrote from Putney, South London, where she lives with her sister: “I’m settling in and working on writing a book about Waffles, one of my favorite Cold Spring dogs. I’m also planning on visiting Cold Spring in February, as long as there is no airline strike. I miss the village, the store and the community spirit.” She helps her sister with a pet-walking business, which allows her to see her son, Robert, each morning when he drops off his dog.
Right-of-way — A New York state court judge on Feb. 23 stopped Homeland Towers from transforming a right of way it needs to reach a Nelsonville cell tower site and predicted opponents of the plans would prevail. The injunction against Homeland came less than 24 hours after then-Mayor Mike Bowman said the firm expected to start construction in June of a 95-foot tower disguised as a fir tree. Located off Rockledge Road, the 9.6-acre site overlooks Cold Spring Cemetery. It can only be accessed through a neighbor’s property.
Update: Homeland is fighting the order and, in September, a judge ordered the homeowner to post a $50,000 bond to keep it in place. A status conference is scheduled for Jan. 12.
Good-cause eviction — On March 7, Beacon became the fifth municipality in New York state to enact “good-cause” eviction legislation. Among other provisions, it requires landlords to demonstrate “good cause” before a judge can begin eviction proceedings. Those causes could include nonpayment of rent; violation of the terms of tenancy; interference with other tenants’ comfort or safety; health-and-safety violations; use of the apartment for an illegal purpose; refusal to grant a landlord access for repairs; or a landlord’s need to use the property for a family member or personal residence. The law exempts landlords who own fewer than four apartments and live on-site. Landlords sued to invalidate similar laws in Newburgh and Albany.
Update: The law may be in danger if a decision earlier this month by a state judge is seen by another court as precedent. The judge struck down Newburgh’s good-cause eviction regulation, saying it conflicted with state law. The Beacon City Council took other action to address evictions. In January, it used $25,000 to provide free assistance to renters through Legal Services of the Hudson Valley. This year, the nonprofit has helped 6,034 clients facing eviction in the lower Hudson Valley, including 71 in Beacon.
Prison closes — The Downstate Correctional Facility near Beacon was one of six state prisons that closed as New York State evaluated the cost of keeping its facilities open while the number of inmates shrinks. Downstate, a maximum-security facility in Fishkill with 690 prisoners — just over half of its capacity — was the largest of the prisons. Gov. Kathy Hochul earlier said the moves would save $142 million annually.
Update: On Dec. 22, the New York Prison Redevelopment Commission, a 15-member panel convened by Hochul earlier this year, released a 140-page report called Unlocking Opportunities with recommendations on what to do with Downstate and 11 other former prisons. Among its suggestions was that requests for proposals to solicit development bids for Downstate be prioritized in 2023 so that its buildings don’t deteriorate. Its general recommendations included a marketing campaign, website and Prison Redevelopment Fund; prioritizing housing plans; and dividing larger sites into smaller parcels (Downstate, with 80 acres, is the fourth-smallest of the 12).
Capitol defendants — Robert Ballesteros, 28, of Mahopac, pleaded guilty to parading, demonstrating or picketing inside the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2020, and was sentenced on April 28 to 36 months of probation. The next day, Anthony Vuksanaj, also of Mahopac, pleaded guilty to the same charge and was sentenced to three years of probation that included three imprisonments of 14 days each and three months of home confinement. In May, Robert Chapman of Carmel pleaded guilty and received 18 months of probation. They are among nine men from the area arrested following the attack.
Update: The trial of Roberto Minuta, who owns a Newburgh tattoo parlor, resumes on Jan. 3; Will Pepe of Beacon, Gregory and Matthew Purdy of Kent, Jake Lange of Newburgh and William Vogel of Pawling have court or trial dates in early 2023.
World records — On April 30, Garrison resident Emily Quant broke two world records. First, she balanced 28 prop swords on her body within a minute, more than doubling the minimum of 12 set by Guinness. It took her a year of training to reach the 21-sword mark. (The swords, though dulled, are still sharp enough to cut skin.) Next, Quant balanced 56 swords on her body within three minutes, or 26 more than Guinness required.
Update: While Quant received certificates from Guinness, her records were not among the select marks highlighted in the annual Guinness World Records book. Now, she says, she is curious about getting into Ripley’s Believe it or Not. And she may attempt to break a whip-cracking record. In the meantime, fans can enjoy her occasional gigs as a harpist at the Cold Spring Coffee House.
Murder case — A state judge ruled that the Putnam County district attorney could continue to prosecute the case against Andrew Krivak, whose conviction for killing a 12-year-old Carmel girl was overturned in 2019 after he spent 24 years in prison. Krivak was convicted with Anthony DiPippo in 1997 for the rape and murder of Josette Wright in 1994. He filed a motion in December to replace D.A. Robert Tendy with a special prosecutor. His motion alleged that the district attorney’s office withheld evidence; is pursuing him despite the recantations of three eyewitnesses and the admission by a fourth that she lied about “significant details”; and questioned Tendy’s comments criticizing the county’s $12 million settlement with DiPippo, who sued after being acquitted at a retrial.
Update: During a hearing in November, Krivak’s lawyers asked a judge to throw out a statement Krivak signed in 1996, saying it was coerced by investigators. The retrial is scheduled to begin Jan. 17.
A second killing — On May 14, Lionell B. Pittman Jr., 32, was shot in a parking lot at the Forrestal Heights apartment complex on West Center Street. Beacon police said officers responded at 6:50 p.m. to a report of shots fired. Nearly five months earlier, Rene Vivo, 65, a veteran known as “Scout,” had been stabbed near the intersection of South Brett and Main streets on Christmas Day. He died at Montefiore St. Luke’s Cornwall Hospital in Newburgh.
Update: Beacon police did not respond to requests for updates on either investigation.
Dutchess Mall — A developer wants to revive the south end of the long-abandoned Dutchess Mall by building an industrial warehouse. Crow Holdings Industrial, a Dallas-based firm, has applied to raze the abandoned structures and redevelop the mall, which is located on Route 9 just north of the Putnam County line. If approved by the Fishkill Planning Board, CHI said it would construct a 350,000-square-foot warehouse with 215 parking spaces, 78 loading docks, four drive-in ramps and 30 trailer parking spaces.
Update: In addition to other approvals, the Planning Board must grant floodplain and wetlands permits. After appearing before the board this month, project officials asked the town to consider completing its environmental review in January. The project will include what developers called a “contemporary design” and will feature six charging stations for electric vehicles. During a public hearing, there was a question about drilling for underground stormwater tanks and whether the digging would disturb historic artifacts but development officials said their plans only call for drilling in already-disturbed areas. The state Department of Environmental Conservation has said the site could include timber rattlesnake habitat. A freshwater wetlands permit from the DEC will also be required. Town Supervisor Ozzy Albra said this week that he expects the project to receive preliminary approval from the town in February. He called the redevelopment of the site “a great addition to our tax base” that will not add any children to local schools.
Watchtower project — The Jehovah’s Witnesses applied to construct a complex just north of Beacon. The church would like to build a 47,000-square-foot office building, 15,000-square-foot maintenance building and renovate a 14,500-square-foot warehouse for storage and exercise use and add an accessory park with athletic fields and meditation areas.
Update: Although the project has not been approved, the Fishkill Planning Board gave the Watchtower Society the OK earlier this month to clear 150 trees by Dec. 31 after the state Department of Environmental Conservation noted that bald eagles could build nests if the developer waits until next year.
STR enforcement — The Beacon City Council on June 6 approved spending $1,500 to hire Granicus, a digital communications and records management firm, to monitor compliance with the city’s law regulating short-term rentals. A Dutchess County grant covered the other $5,000 of the cost. Under a 2020 law, homeowners and tenants are permitted to rent or sublet homes or apartments for up to 100 days per year and 30 days at a time. The rental spaces must be owner-occupied, which means that they must be the owner or renter’s primary residence, not an investment property. An inspection and $150 permit is required. The city had issued 11 permits in the past two years, but Granicus told the council it had identified 170 Beacon properties listed on Airbnb or other platforms.
Update: City Administrator Chris White said during the council’s Dec. 19 meeting that the city mailed a first set of letters this month to unlicensed property owners who are advertising rentals in Beacon. White said there are about 85 unlicensed STRs in the city, which is down from the summer.
Barber shop fire — Not much was left following an afternoon fire on July 6 that destroyed the interior of the barber shop at 209 Main St. in Beacon that Alvin Bell had occupied for more than 30 years. Bell said he worked until 3 p.m. and the woman who braids hair in the space locked up around 4 p.m. A half-hour later, he said, someone told him that a fire had broken out. Chief Gary Van Voorhis said that Beacon firefighters were on the scene within 60 seconds of the 4:04 p.m. alarm. Fighting heavy smoke, they found the blaze in the rear portion of the barbershop and were able to confine it to the first floor of the building.
Update: Bell, 88, said this week that he has decided to retire rather than rebuild his business, which he called “a museum and a barbershop.” Bell said he returned $10,200 raised through GoFundMe, although the outpouring of community support was heartwarming. “I’ve never seen so much love in one town in my life,” he said.
Monkeypox — The Dutchess health department on July 21 confirmed the first case in the county of monkeypox, part of a national outbreak. The virus is similar to smallpox, but milder and rarely fatal. There were 670 cases in New York state, mostly in New York City. Putnam County would report its first case on Aug. 11.
Update: As of Dec. 21, the state Department of Health said there have been 10 probable or confirmed cases in Dutchess, five in Putnam and 373 statewide outside of New York City, which separately reported 3,808 cases as of Dec. 19.
Pot farmers — As Alex Keenan and Ryan McGrath oversaw the harvesting of Hudson River Hemp’s first-ever marijuana crop for the state’s recreational market, the Hopewell Junction farmers worried that a slow rollout of retail dispensaries would also delay a return on their investment in plants, equipment and labor.
Update: They have reason to worry. The state’s first dispensary opened on Thursday (Dec. 29) in Manhattan, but a federal judge on Nov. 10 ordered a temporary ban on retail licenses in the Mid-Hudson and four other regions. The judge is hearing a lawsuit in which an applicant accuses New York of discriminating against out-of-state companies. The state filed an appeal Dec. 12. Four days later, Keenan and Grath told NBC New York that they are storing 2,000 pounds of marijuana ready for sale. “By the time we put our next plants in, by May — if we’re still sitting on what we have here, we’ve got a massive problem,” said Keenan. “And it’s not just us, it’s all the farms.”
Lee at West Point — A commission appointed by Congress recommended on Aug. 29 that the U.S. Military Academy at West Point remove nearly all references to Confederate military leaders, as well as a panel that commemorates the Ku Klux Klan. The Naming Commission was created in 2020 to review monuments and building and street names at U.S. military bases. In its report, the commission dismissed charges that it was “erasing history,” noting that “the facts of the past remain” and that cadets would continue to be taught the details and complexities of the Civil War.
Update: Based on the recommendations, West Point said it planned over the Christmas break to move three items into storage: a 20-foot-high portrait of Gen. Robert E. Lee in his Confederate uniform that hangs in the library; a stone bust of Lee at Reconciliation Plaza; and a bronze triptych at the entrance of Bartlett Hall that includes an image celebrating the Ku Klux Klan. A committee will also select a quote to replace one from Lee at Honor Plaza and modify stone markers at Reconciliation Plaza that commemorate the Confederacy. In addition, the academy will rename streets, buildings and areas that honor Lee, Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard and Gen. William Hardee. “We will conduct these actions with dignity and respect,” Superintendent Steven Gilland said in a statement.
Pedestrian death — A Beacon woman who struck and killed a pedestrian was found guilty by a city judge, who ruled that she had not exercised “due care” when she turned off Main Street onto Teller Avenue. Jacqueline Milohnic was driving a 2019 Jeep Wrangler on Dec. 1, 2021, when she struck Carla Giuffrida, 75, of Beacon. Milohnic’s lawyer on Sept. 22 called Judge Greg Johnston’s decision “a legal injustice” and said that her client planned to appeal after sentencing.
Update: Milohnic’s driver’s license was revoked for six months on Oct. 28 in Beacon City Court. She was also ordered to pay a $750 fine and complete a driver’s safety course. The prosecution did not seek jail time.
Stream protections — On Sept. 6, the Putnam County Legislature voted 6-1 to pass a resolution urging Gov. Kathy Hochul to veto a bill that would provide additional protections for waterways suitable for fishing but that do not provide drinking water. The bill would require state permits for projects that disturb the banks and beds of “Class C” streams. The county legislators who opposed the bill said it would unduly slow projects as a result of the Department of Environmental Conservation being understaffed from cuts enacted during the 2008 financial crisis.
Update: Hochul vetoed the bill on Dec. 9, citing “significant regulatory impacts on related projects” and “substantial costs to the state, as well as to local governments and to the communities.” She added that “the legislation would be more appropriate to address in the state’s budget process.”
Gun lawsuit — New York officials believe shootings that have killed religious worshippers in recent years justify the banning of weapons in churches, synagogues, mosques and temples. The Rev. Scott Harris, pastor of Grace Bible Church in Wappingers Falls, believes the prohibition makes his church unsafe for the same reason. It is a conviction he shares with Christian ministers in 19 other New York counties who, along with an evangelical advocacy organization called New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the designation of houses of worship as a “sensitive location” under the state’s Concealed Carry Improvement Act.
Update: The lawsuit is one of several in which lower court judges issued injunctions against enforcement of different parts of the law, including the ban on weapons in houses of worship. This month, a federal appeals court sided with the state and stayed those injunctions, leaving the law intact.
Fare increases — The CEO of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority warned on Nov. 30 that the agency faced an “existential” financial crisis and needed to raise fares and tolls for the first time since 2019 to offset lower ridership.
Update: Those hikes went into effect Dec. 21. The MTA’s $19.2 billion budget and financial plan approved by its board restored biannual fare and toll hikes that had been suspended during the pandemic, starting with an initial 5.5 percent increase sometime next year. The increase will yield an estimated $1.3 billion over four years from Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road riders, and travelers using the MTA’s buses, subways, bridges and tunnels. It is one of several strategies aimed at narrowing deficits projected to reach $3 billion by 2026, a period when ridership is projected to trail pre-pandemic levels.
COVID deaths — By Dec. 28, more than 60,000 people in New York state had died of complications of COVID-19 since early 2020, including 140 in Putnam County and 727 in Dutchess. Three people died each month in 2022 in Putnam, on average, and 16 each month in Dutchess.
Reporting by Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong, Brian PJ Cronin, Chip Rowe, Jeff Simms, Leonard Sparks and Michael Turton
Dear Current, thank you for your update regarding my friend and Cold Spring’s favorite, Leonora Burton. The village is not the same without her sharp wit, her warm, caring nature and her yummy treats. I miss her terribly but I’m very happy to know she’s enjoying time in England with her family and with other doggies. My dads loved reading her book about being an ex-pat. She’s a great writer and I’m very excited that she’s writing a book about my adventures. It’ll be a great read! Woof, woof!