By Zander Frost, Chronicle Staff Writer
Moreau Town Supervisor Todd Kusnierz and the rest of the Republican slate are being strongly challenged this election by a “Moreau United” ticket led by Jesse Fish, the former Water Superintendent who is seeking the supervisor post.
In the race for two town board seats, the Republican candidates are incumbent Alan Van Tassel and newcomer Carly Mankouski, co-owner of Radici restaurant in Glens Falls.
The “Moreau United” ticket for town board has incumbent John Donohue, currently the only Democrat on the board, along with Patrick Killian, a farmer and electrician for Local 236, he said.
Mr. Kusnierz, town supervisor since 2017 and now also the Chair of the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors, touts development along the Route 9 corridor and says his administration has “globally moved the town forward.”
He says they’ve protected “not only the town for today, but for generations to come with affordability, low taxes, great services. All the reasons why people are moving to the Town of Moreau.”
Moreau United candidates have called Mr. Kusnierz a “bully” and charged he is flanked by “yes men” including Mr. VanTassel on the Town Board.
Mr. Fish, who retired as Water Superintendent in 2021, said, “I just don’t understand why things are going the way they are…I just believe it’s time for change in Moreau. I do not agree with the Biochar. I don’t like what I call a failed sewer system sewer line.”
Mr. Fish also criticized what he says is a lack of transparency in Moreau.
“People have been kept in the dark for these big projects and stuff. They’ve had no say in it whatsoever. And I think it’s time for a change,” he said.
Mr. Fish and Moreau United have focused much of their criticism around the proposed Saratoga Biochar project. The facility, planned for the Town’s Industrial Park, would use combustion to turn “biosolids” — processed human waste — into carbon fertilizer.
“I’m totally against bringing human waste into the Town of Moreau,” says Mr. Fish.
Mr. Donohue said, “I believe there’s too many unanswered questions. What’s gonna go into the soil? What’s gonna go into the water…the air?” He said, “there’s too many unanswered questions about what they’re going to be bringing into our community — truckloads of raw sewage.”
Mr. Donohue contends, “The people in the town of Moreau overwhelmingly, overwhelmingly said they don’t want this…I have not gotten one phone call from pro-Biochar people.”
After contentious meetings, Biochar was approved by the Town Planning Board last year. Saratoga Biochar and its CEO Ray Apy have been adamant that the process is safe and well-vetted.
Mr. Kusnierz has said he didn’t endorse the Biochar project, just let the developer know of the industrial park site.
Now, Mr. Kusnierz told The Chronicle, “I am shackled,” from commenting. “We’re tied up in the Article 78 proceeding, which the town ended up coming out on top of; however, they are perfecting their appeals, so we’re still in the midst of litigation,” he said.
Mr. Kusnierz says, “The town board played no role — zero role in the approval process of Biochar and were precluded from doing so. This was a planning board determination. It was done through a democratic process.”
He says, “The voters are very attuned to how things work, and what I found is they recognize that the town board played no role in it, nor could it play a role in it.”
Incumbent Republican Councilman Mr. VanTassel said, “We’ve got some exceptional people that work on the boards, the Planning Board in particular. And there’s a process.
“It’s their job to see that those folks that apply for doing businesses in the Town of Moreau meet those ordinances and guidelines have been established.
“It’s inappropriate for a town board member to influence those other board members. It’s their job. And I feel very proud about the job they do.”
Mr. Fish says of Mr. Kusnierz, “I know he says he has no influence over the planning board. But let’s add two and two up here.” He contends, “Some of the planning board members just went along with it — and never read the whole book that they were supposed to read on it.”
Republican council candidate Mankouski balks at Biochar too.
“I’m not a fan,” she said. But “I feel that unfortunately, at this point, Biochar is kind of out of the board’s hands. From what I understand, it’s in the court system right now.”
Ms. Mankouski said, “I just feel like there’s miscommunication. I feel like maybe it wasn’t presented properly.”
She said, “One policy I hope to put into effect, if I’m elected, is transparency and creating a quarterly newsletter where projects like that can be floated to the community.”
Ms. Mankouski said “Especially with Biochar becoming such a hot button issue over the last few months, I feel like the community was looking for information, because I don’t think everybody does attend to the town board meetings.”
Possibly allowing solar farms in the agricultural district is another contested Moreau topic.
Mr. Kusnierz previously told The Chronicle that allowing large solar arrays on “prime soil” would “essentially result in the eventual demise of the ag district.”
He said industrial solar operations can be toxic, and batteries can catch fire.
“We spent a couple of years on our last draft solar law, which really started to become very pointed, confrontational debates among neighbors, and the town board,” he said.
Mr. Kusnierz says when a proposed change ”causes this kind of animosity, that’s probably not good public policy.”
But Mr. Donohue says, when the town discussed the solar law, “People spoke at the meeting…20, 24 [supporting] getting the solar law, with some in the agricultural district if it makes sense,” compared to two or three against, he said.
“When all was said and done, The Supervisor said it was overwhelming that people didn’t want it in the agricultural district,” Mr. Donohue said.
He said he advocated, “Let’s schedule a workshop, and let’s sit down to hammer this thing out,” but that the board voted 3-2 to not move forward.
“I guess we’re never going to have a solar law in the Town of Moreau as long as he’s supervisor,” Mr. Donohue said.
The Chronicle asked Mr. Kusnierz about the assertion that the Town should have a solar law, one way or another.
Mr. Kusnierz said, “You have to recognize that a member of their [Moreau United] team stands to benefit directly financially if there is a solar law.”
“Mr. Killian was not shy in making it known that he feels that he’s entitled to have this development on his property and there’s some others that feel that way as well,” Mr. Kusnierz added.
“It’s unfortunate that he’s running for town board for personal gain,” Mr. Kusnierz contends.
Mr. Killian, who said he owns a 500 acre property in Moreau, says, “No, that’s not why” he’s running.
He said of Mr. Kusnierz, “I don’t know whether he’s jealous, based on because I own more land than him, or because I’m a better farmer than him? I don’t know.”
He said, “I’ve got a daughter going to Cobleskill and looking to carry on the family tradition in the farm. So as a business person, you look at those margins, debt to profit ratios, and say, okay, well, what do we need to do.
“Agritourism, or we can do some different things there to be creative. And why not harvest the sun? It makes sense. But again it’s something I don’t have to do. Would it make it easier for my kids the next 30 years? Sure it would.”
But Mr. Kusnierz still maintains, “I don’t think there’s a strong willingness to move forward with a blanket solar law that allows for an industrial type of solar arrays in our town at this time.”
Another hot button is expanding the sewer line down to Exit 17 and other sewer issues.
The sewer extension, now completed, was narrowly approved by the property owners along the line.
Mr. Kusnierz says, “We put it to a referendum, we did not have to…because the individuals in the district who would have to pay for it should have a direct say,”
He said, “the taxpayers don’t pay for the infrastructure. It’s those that benefit from it, i.e. those in the legally created district. So they’re the ones who voted on it, they are the ones that knew the estimated cost.”
He said the project was completed early and “well under budget.”
Mr. Fish calls it a “failed sewer system.”
“The only people that will pay for this are people that are on the line. And 87 people that got a pretty big nut to crack, a big payment to make,” Mr. Fish said.
“You have people that are going to pay huge amounts of money for their sewer. And I don’t know that I have an answer to that,” he said.
“I know what their answer is right now. They’re talking about consolidating the districts. And if they do, the biggest user out there right now, of course, is Schermerhorn, and he’ll end up paying for 73% of that sewer line,” Mr. Fish said.
“I just don’t think that’s very fair.”
Moreau United also objects to the decision to “send our sludge to Saratoga County, because [Mr. Kusnierz] screwed up the deal with the city of Glens Falls, needed capacity,” Mr. Donohue said.
Mr. Donohue said that Mr. Kusnierz “dropped the ball,” when Moreau’s contract expired with Glens Falls.
“He got the votes to take it to Saratoga County, got some money from the county, got some money from the state. But the project is $6 million to take it to Saratoga County. We could have bought a whole lot of capacity from Glens Falls for $6 million.”
Mr. Fish said, “They’re running a line to Wilton as we speak. And Glens Falls has been an awful good neighbor for 30 plus years.”
Mr. Kusnierz dismisses the criticisms.
He said the line south to Saratoga County “is an incredible feat in order to pull it off in such a quick amount of time, to come in under budget. We expect that that will be completed by the end of this year, maybe early January. “
“We won’t be limited by buy-in or capacity anymore, like we are with the city of Glens Falls,” he said. “The Town of Moreau will now have a direct say in the destiny of future decisions made by Saratoga County.”
Mr. Kusnierz said sewer consolidation would result in a net decrease of costs to Moreau residents. “Everybody in the district will share in the cost of the county connection,” he said.
“However, they will also all benefit from: If there won’t be any caps on capacity, they won’t be responsible for purchasing additional capacity down the road. So it’s a win-win situation.”
Mr. Kusnierz says the sewer line along Route 9 has enabled new development.
“We’ve seen the development take place as a result of that infrastructure.
“And I did so working in a bipartisan fashion. I got $2 million in ARPA funds from the county, working with [Democrat] Congressman Tonko, working with [Democrat] Carrie Woerner,” he said.
Mr. Kusnierz said without sewer in Moreau, “they’re passing us by. They’re going north to Queensbury or going south to exit 16 and 15.”
“All you have to do is drive from the Northway up to the village of South Glens Falls…you’ve got [Alltown] Fresh” grand opening this week, plus Saratoga Olive Oil, and soon, Hoffman Car Wash, he said.
“And just look at what the properties are selling for now,” Mr. Kusnierz said.
Late accusation, that Jesse Fish let $1-million in water fees go unpaid; Fish replies: ‘This is political B.S.’
In recent weeks, a new issue entered the Moreau race for Town Supervisor.
Incumbent Todd Kusnierz said the Town’s engineering team discovered that the former water superintendent Jesse Fish who is now his challenger for supervisor, “failed to ensure payment of connection fees” while serving as Water Superintendent.
“It’s a big number, it’s just under $1.1-million,” Mr. Kusnierz said.
He said the bulk of these fees were owed by developer Rich Schermerhorn, who now employs Mr. Fish.
Mr. Kusnierz said this was discovered “during the process of putting a map plan and report together for the consolidation of the sewer districts.”
Mr. Fish adamantly denies the Kusnierz assertion as “absolutely crazy.”
“That was not the water department’s responsibility. I don’t set fees. I don’t chase fees. I don’t waive fees. I did nothing with fees, I make the poop go away, and the clean water come in,” Mr. Fish said.
He says, “Wasn’t my responsibility to bill him at all for anything, or anybody else for that matter.”
Mr. Fish cited Town of Moreau code, which does not mention fees.
It said, “The Water Superintendent shall have the responsibility for the general supervision of the operation and maintenance of the water system within the Town, which shall include, but is not limited to, the responsibility and obligation to consider approval of all applications for the issuance of permits required hereby, read the meters at intervals as determined by the Town Board, and immediately make a report of such readings by filing the same with the Town Clerk.”
The Chronicle asked Mr. Kusnierz about the claim that collection of bills is his responsibility as supervisor.
Mr. Kusnierz said, emphatically, “Absolutely false. I don’t get involved with collection of any money here at town hall.
“The way the process works is the department heads, whether it’s a water project or a sewer project or billing department, notify or indicate that a project as far as their oversight and responsibility is complete, and then directs and gives the clerk a total amount of what shall be paid by the applicant,” he said.
Mr. Kusnierz also says the engineers’ report revealed Mr. Fish “allowed undersized pipes” to be installed.
Mr. Fish denied this allegation, too, saying “that wasn’t my job neither.”
He said the town code says the Water Superintendent “has nothing to do with fees. I don’t do that. And I wouldn’t do that.”
Mr. Fish said, “This is nothing more than political bullshit…reaching for the stars.” — Zander Frost
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