Property Rights Foundation of America®
Founded 1994

Two Years after Hurricane Irene: Property Rights in the Schoharie County Region

By Albert L. Wassenhove
Ghent, New York

Seventeenth Annual National Conference on
Private Property Rights
October 26, 2013
The Century House, Latham, N.Y.


Thank you, Madame President. Indeed, it's a privilege for me to be here at the Seventeenth Annual Conference. One of the greatest organizations that I personally have ever come to know.

I listened to my radio on the way up here this morning, folks, and you know there's been a lot of bank mergers and airline mergers lately. Well, I heard one this morning that's going to knock your socks off. FedEx and UPS are going to merge. They're going to be called FedUp as many of us are with this octopus and its ever-growing tentacles on our rights as guaranteed under our beloved Constitution of these United States. It's a real privilege for me today to stand here and share this podium with visitors from Sacramento, California; Detroit, Michigan; and the Commonwealth of Virginia; as well as some folks who have come from closer regions.

As Carol's eloquent introduction stated — and I thank you for that — I have been involved the past forty years in a number of community issues. I've never been known as a fellow that has stuck his toe in the water to see what political current was flowing. I've always felt that if the issue was right: jump in it; do it; and get it done, if it's in the majority interest of the people. I want to share with you today, take you on a little trip. So, journey with me, if you will.

It's the morning of December 14th when we decided to take a trip to Schoharie County. We crossed the Hudson River, that famous river on a bridge, commenced our drive up Route 145. It was a beautiful morning. Our car was loaded with some six brand new space heaters and other things we wanted to donate to those folks who were really hurting. This flood ravaged areas. We got closer to the border of Schoharie County you could see the ravines you could see the sheet metal in the trees. You could see the homes, You could see the barns — dairy barns — destroyed. Complete devastation, folks, hit this area. Folks, I can only describe to you briefly in my words what we saw but they were clearly visible as was some of the repairs that have been made to the roads and bridges. But there was so much that you could see that remained that was scarring the landscape.

Arriving at the headquarters of the Schoharie Recovery volunteer program we were met by Sarah Goodrich who was the coordinator of volunteer services. She gave us a briefing on the hardships of the residents and the frustration that has followed in the days after that flood that took some eight feet of water across Main Street into homes, businesses, churches, and other structures in the immediate area. Sarah told us she spends seven days a week this recovery site which is located behind the Reformed Church. At first, the only thing they had to help them in the hot August sun was a canopy or a tarp which is strung by rope between some trees. The site trailer being used today, as we were there, had been donated by a businessman. And let me tell you it was a bee hive of activity. There are many mid-morning arrivals, carpenters, tapers, painters, and those that were armed with shovels, came to get their next assignment for the day and to stay for as many hours as they could work to help their fellow man. Sarah invited us to join her for lunch in what was called the soup kitchen as a meal was being prepared every day for the volunteers and the residents that needed a meal and the place to come for moral as well as social support.

Prior to joining these folks, Joan and I took a suggested ride on Grand Street to see firsthand the damage to the homes that took a direct hit of the water and the muck that took foundations out from under all classifications of homes. Doors, windows, siding, carpeting, furniture, all the things that make a man's home his castle were stripped from these structures.

Returning to that volunteer site for lunch we saw people had already begun to gather. The serving line was staffed by locals that prepared turkey with gravy, lasagna, baked corn and soup with bread and rolls. On each table was a paper plate with Christmas cookies. If you want to get emotional, I could and I did that day. Christmas cookies that topped off a great meal. Next to me was seated a senior citizen with a spirit, ladies and gentlemen, that would astonish the average person. Her deep faith and her warm smile could melt an iceberg. A friend of hers seated immediately across from me said, "Where are you from?" And I said, "Well, we're from Ghent in Columbia County," and she explained to me, "I used to live in Pine Plains." Indeed folks, it's a small world, isn't it?

People continued to flock in. The main course of the meal ran out and one of the lady volunteers announced, "We're putting on some hot dogs." During lunch I had the personal pleasure of meeting John Borst who's the mayor of the Village of Schoharie whom I had called the day before to inform him of our planned visit and intention to make some contributions to the donation so desperately needed. And much to my amazement, this was the first time in all my experiences I have ever received a bear hug. A bear hug, yet, from an elected official. Carol, you're laughing.

This area, folks, was really, really taken back by this devastating flood. He was taken back, the mayor was, by our visit and our concern of his fellow citizens and I saw appreciation in his eyes. His stance before me will forever remain vividly in my mind's eye.

Prior to leaving I met Bill McCabe who's the mayor of Middleburg, who said that he and the Schoharie mayor were working in tandem for the good of the residents. This area desperately needed a grocery store and I can tell you the red carpet will be rolled out for that business that chooses to establish itself in that region. There won't be any red tape with zoning or other obstacles that obstruct and delay progress in the name of environmental concerns or the mania that drives worshipers of the view, such as our friends down the river at Olana. Yes, it was a real pleasure for me to write this commentary which was published in the Watchful Eagle down in Columbia County.

But now let me tell you where we are two years later. Briefly. I have spoken with folks, Sarah Goodrich, the gentleman who was there, a Schoharie planner by the name of Shane Nickle and last evening John Borst called me, that mayor that gave me the bear hug for Schoharie. I have a kinship with those people. You see, up the road a ways in Cobleskill, I went to college there. Schoharie County at one time was known as the breadbasket of our beloved America during the Civil War. What an agricultural region. What a heritage they have and what a spirit these folks have. Do you know that over twenty-eight thousand meals have been served by these volunteers to help their people? Over thirty-five thousand volunteers have coordinated efforts of their time and served. I see you looking at your watch and I'm getting hungry for this lunch and I've just got a few more things I'd like to say. You want to talk about spirit of folks, there's an eighty-year-old man up there that just took out a thirty-year-old mortgage to buy another home. You see, now he's paying property taxes on two parcels because the government hasn't decided yet how much they're going to appraise him on the one that was washed away, but he's still got to pay taxes on the land. He's still assessed for the taxes. Sixty-three percent of the properties are recovered. Fifty percent of them are completed. Eleven percent of them are completely destroyed.

Those folks, Sarah tells me, need fifty million dollars yet to complete the job. What happens to the money that was supposed to come from New York state? Well, a week ago, as of last Friday, she called up and finds out, "Well, it's in process. Oh, we need more paperwork, we need more signatures." Isn't it typical bureaucracy when you deal with FEMA. FEMA has got a wonderful track record. When this flood hit the problem is the mayor told me we had our paperwork done, submitted it but the guy who was sent there initially to supervise field operations he got transferred shortly thereafter, so the next guy came in and didn't know a thing about it so they had to go through the same ritual. FEMA has a history of transferring its people too soon, too fast, and you get greenhorns come in who don't know a damn thing about what's going on, if you'll pardon my expression. And it's frustrating.

I'm going to cut my comments a little short because I don't want to cause Carol to become too concerned about this lunch but before I do wind up my comments I'll leave you with a direct charge to do. I always have a punchline. But before I do that I'd like to introduce a friend of mine from Columbia County, Richard Sardo. Would you please stand. Richard and I have become very good friends I'm very happy to say, if I may say it at this time, Richard is our candidate for the town supervisor for the Town of Ghent. A strict Constitutionalist and a great leader on property rights. That counts. So, as I said, President LaGrasse, I know you're thinking about that lunch and I was told, "Albert, you have so much time to fire us up." Well, I hope I've fired you up. I hope I woke you up because I see some of you back there starting to droop. Richard, you're one of them.

I leave you folks with this charge. You've got twelve months. Twelve months for each of you to line up two additional attendees for the Eighteenth Conference. Can you do it? Let's double the turnout next year. Carol told me she'd like to have a larger room. Well, if we get a hundred we're going to have to have a larger room. So, please don't disappoint her. Remember folks, if you can dream it, you can do it. I'm a great believer in that. I'm a very positive guy, you know. Well, now that I've charged you, I ask you the next time that you see a veteran thank him or her for their service to this country. The National Guard was an immediate help to the flood-stricken folks of that region that was a result of Hurricane Irene. Carol LaGrasse and Peter, we cherish you. You're devotion to our American way and the flourishing of the Property Rights Foundation of America organization is pure testimony to all that is good. The Constitution is our Rock of Gibralta, ladies and gentlemen. God speed. Good gosh, let's eat!

Carol LaGrasse: You should be ashamed of yourself for that flattery. That's a disgrace.

Mr. Wassenhove: No, it's well earned.

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