Whitehall Times 2021 year in review

This year’s “Year in Review” is sponsored by:

Jean Marie Madden of Skenesborough Harbor receives her first dose of COVID-19 vaccine in January 2021.

Pandemic worries continue

With the roll-out of vaccines against novel coronavirus from Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson beginning early in the year, county residents – like Jean Marie Madden of Skenesborough Harbor (pictured above) who was one of the more than 200 nursing home and senior center residents and staff members in the Whitehall and Granville area who received their first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine – hoped that a quick jab in the arm might pave the way for a return to life as normal.

But with troubling variants developing throughout the year – most recently the highly transmissible Omicron variant – coupled with vaccine hesitancy and growing fatigue with taking precautions, like wearing masks, life is still anything but normal.

And in late November, the Washington County Department of Public Safety announced that the county was ranked first in New York State for highest percentage of COVID-19-positive cases across a seven-day average.

“You’ve seen everybody’s tests go up,” Washington County COVID-19 spokesman Roger Wickes said. “This thing does not recognize borders . . . You’ve got to stay vigilant. You have to assume when you’re out there, the other person is positive.”

The solution for now? Wickes continues to advise county residents to  stay persistent with the guidance and practices that have been repeated for close to two years.

“There’s definitely COVID-19 fatigue,” Wickes said. “You can’t give up.”

Hundreds of Sasquatch believers packed Skenesborough and Riverside Parks in Whitehall for the fifth annual festival.

Sasquatch Festival returns

Louie Pratt walked away with second place in kids’ calling contest.

Because of COVID-19, the 2020 Sasquatch Festival that takes place every September had to be canceled. However, just days into 2021, the planning process began for the 2021 festival, which took place on Sept. 25.

Hundreds of Sasquatch believers packed Skenesborough and Riverside Parks in Whitehall (pictured at top) for the fifth annual festival that included more than 40 vendors.

Whitehall High School student Louie Pratt (pictured to the right) gave his best Sasquatch call and walked away with second place in the children’s calling contest.

Dave Senecal at the summit of Basin Mountain

Whitehall man climbs 552 peaks in a year

Dave Senecal

Whitehall resident David Senecal officially completed the Adirondack GRID, meaning that he climbed each of the 46 peaks of the Adirondack mountains every month over the course of a year, for a total of 552 high peaks. Senecal is only the 19th individual known to have completed the feat in 60 years.

Hiking is one of the biggest passions in the Whitehall rural mail carrier’s life. Between the views, the exercise and the feeling of reaching the summit, Senecal said (pictured above at the summit of Basin Mountain), “For me, I feel like I am exploring, and I like to enjoy the trail as much as anything else.”

Finally, a football merger

Revived in February and called off in May after Whitehall coaches determined there would be enough players at the school to develop a varsity football program, the long talked-about proposed merger between the Whitehall and Granville football teams gained traction again late in the year, after a possible merger between Granville and Corinth/Hadley-Luzerne was rejected.

At its Dec. 13 meeting, the Granville Board of Education formally and unanimously approved a football merger with Whitehall Central School District for the 2022-2023 school year.

One week later at its Dec. 20 board of education meeting, Whitehall followed suit. Whitehall superintendent Patrick Dee said, “Both athletic committees, as well as our student athletes, feel this is the best thing to do to move forward with our football program.”

WashConnect identifies areas to improve broadband accessibility

An effort to locate, identify and assist households in Washington County struggling with broadband accessibility aimed to target “the last mile.”

With COVID-19 continuing to affect all aspects of life and work, having a fast and reliable broadband connection is the goal of WashConnect. A survey undertaken during the summer aimed to identify clusters of target areas deprived of broadband access.

Now it is the goal of broadband internet providers to fill those gaps.

As of late 2021, wires are being strung and plans are being finalized to roll out fast internet to residents of rural Washington County.

Worker’s comp denial leads to passage of law

James Brooks Jr.

A worker’s compensation claim denial for Whitehall firefighter James Brooks Jr. (pictured above) led to the passage of a new state law.

Brooks, who died in September 2020 from complications of a torn aorta he suffered while responding to a structure fire in Dresden, had a claim of nearly $1 million in medical bills that was being denied by Washington County and its third-party administrator Benetech Adjustments.

Because of this, the Brooks family fought for a change in the New York State regulations for volunteer firefighters. The Chief James Brooks Jr. Act aimed to ensure that vascular ruptures were covered by the Volunteer Firefighters’ Benefits Law.

New York State Senator Dan Stec said: “Volunteer firefighters risk their health and lives to help our communities and they deserve the utmost respect and support. When Chief Brooks was tragically hurt in the line of duty, the insurance fund for volunteer firefighters should have covered his injuries.”

The act was signed into law by Governor Kathy Hochul on Dec. 22.

Lorraine Bowen (left) and Monika Tupper and daughter Jess (right)

Manor volunteers grateful

In a pair of stories published at the end of the year, two volunteers at Whitehall’s Skene Manor, Lorraine Bowen (top) Monika Tupper (bottom, with her daughter Jess) described their 30 years of combined volunteer experience working in the historic house.

Said Bowen, “I would come over when I was a little girl. It was empty at the time and the front door was open. It was like walking into a castle for me.” She is grateful for all the experiences, knowledge and people it has brought into her life.

Tupper said she saw the manor as a place where she can share her love for the history of Whitehall and views the other manor volunteers as family. “We work together, and I help where I can and do what needs to be done.”

Canal wall fixed

The new canal wall was completed by the end of December.

Whitehall Village Board member Tim Watson said at the Sept. 21 board meeting that the village hoped to get the damaged canal wall in front of North Williams Street repaired “before winter” so that North Williams Street could finally be reopened.

The wall collapsed in September 2019. Repair was delayed for month after month for various reasons, including COVID-19, the retirement of the project manager and problems with getting approval for the blocks to be used to repair the wall.

The result was that residents of North Williams Street had to take circuitous routes to their homes.

But the work finally went ahead, and by the end of December, just a few days after the winter solstice, repair of the wall was complete. DPW foreman Steven Brock praised the repair as “a great accomplishment.”

Repairs to the Whitehall school building included new and updated technology, furniture and remodeled spaces.

High school reopens after repairs

Because of damage sustained from flooding during the severe rainstorm of Aug. 24, 2020, Whitehall’s Junior/Senior High School remained closed for the beginning of the 2020-21 school year while repairs were made.

Principal Ethan Burgess announced that cohorts of seventh and eighth graders would be the first students to return to the building in early March 2021, with high school students back in the halls by the middle of the month.

Superintendent Patrick Dee said the goal would be to have all high schoolers back in the building at the same time as long as COVID-19 guidelines were rolled back.

“Never before has education faced what it’s faced since COVID and then to pile on top the storm of Aug. 24” Dee said, praising teachers, administrators and all staff for their “incredible work.”

Repairs to the school include new and updated technology, furniture and remodeled spaces within the building.