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Rail Trail and other older projects show new signs of life

Consistency of need and expectation for government leadership has remained steady for the people of Amenia. When I first ran for Dutchess County Legislature in 2009 I heard numerous voices asking when the county was going to complete the Harlem Valley Rail Trail, whose unfinished portion north of Millerton was seen as having a negative effect on local tourism.

I heard from business people concerned that without a public sewer in the hamlet of Amenia that any effort for a business center there would fail. I also heard from people concerned about the future use of the Taconic Developmental Disabilities Services Office (DDSO) grounds after the inevitable closure of the state developmental center. These concerns had been surfacing for decades, and are as real now as they were then. This month, the dust was brushed aside on all three via small initiatives that may spawn future progress.

The Harlem Valley Rail Trail’s (HVRT) first section opened in 1996, with further paved additions in 1997, 2000 and 2005. It was then eclipsed in subsequent years by the Dutchess Rail Trail as attention shifted to the paving of the old rail bed from Poughkeepsie to East Fishkill.

As recently as March at a Harlem Valley Chamber of Commerce meeting, residents and business leaders implored county leadership to restore focus to the unfinished section north of Millerton to connect the trail in Amenia with the Columbia County portion. I listened, as did new legislator, David Sherman (North East), and our new county executive, Marc Molinaro.

At our July legislative meeting the Legislature voted to appropriate $100,000 to cover the local cost for preliminary engineering studies to extend the HVRT north of Millerton. Eighty percent of this cost will be eligible for federal reimbursement.

Also in July, we voted to consolidate the vital statistics registry at Taconic DDSO with the town of Amenia’s clerk’s office. This change, requested by both the town and Taconic DDSO, is in keeping with the Wassaic campus’ decision to no longer issue vital records. It is widely believed that the Wassaic campus is preparing for closure and then perhaps rebirth in some other capacity.

In August, the Legislature will vote to supersede current county law to allow the town of Amenia to locate a sewer district entirely within the town of Amenia. Although many towns or villages in the county already have sewer districts entirely within their municipality (for instance, Beekman has three), present law does not permit it without an exception voted on by county lawmakers. This legislative act is understood as a necessary prerequisite to funding the town is pursuing to make a sewer treatment plant and an ensuing Amenia sewer district a reality.

Everyone knows that government moves slowly. Although project completion is still many months, if not years, away, it is refreshing to see steps taken in the direction of progress.

Michael Kelsey represents Amenia, Washington, Stanford, Pleasant Valley and Millbrook in the Dutchess County Legislature. Write him at KelseyESQ@yahoo.com.