What have your first three months in office brought?
They’ve brought many things I did expect: the dynamics of working with the department heads and the town board members, for example. But I didn’t expect that more than a full month would be devoted to storm prep, storm management, and storm cleanup.
What exactly happened with the storms?
It was disingenuous of the utilities to claim that they didn’t understand the magnitude of the storms beforehand. Obviously, I understand not being able to put workers at risk during the storm; I was out driving with [Highway Superintendent] Dave Paganelli that night, and trees were coming down everywhere, and we witnessed firsthand how dangerous it was. I am so proud of our town’s highway and sewer and water and police departments, our ambulance corps and fire department. On the local level, everyone worked tirelessly.
But the fact that the utility companies didn’t put boots on the ground the following morning was outrageous. Eighty five percent of our town was without power, and it took almost two days before workforces came to cut and clear trees. Even then, they only had 60 crews devoted to the entire county—ConEd was averaging less than one crew for every municipality.
I was very pleased that Yorktown was one of the few to have a warming and charging station, but the utility companies failed my constituents. They need to do better.
What’s the follow-up?
We’re doing post-mortems with ConEd and NYSEG so that we’re more prepared when the next storm comes. And even though our town did an outstanding job, I conducted our own post-mortem just for Yorktown to pin down some things we still need to do as a town, like get additional generators.
I’m also proud to say that we’re the first municipality in Westchester to file as an active party in the NY State Department of Public Service investigation of the response of the utilities. As of this morning, the only two municipal entities involved are the town of Yorktown and the county of Westchester
What other items are on your agenda in these early days?
Now that the storms have passed and spring is finally in the air, I hope to move on to some things I pledged were important to me during the campaign, like forming a committee for economic revitalization and attracting smart business and development here.
We’re also dealing with some issues with the infrastructure for the Lowe’s contract, keeping a close eye on the ongoing pipeline work, and addressing the garbage contract we inherited from the previous administration to find an agreement that will be in the town’s best financial interests.
And something else I’m really passionate about: creating a strategy to deal with substance abuse and mental health issues of our citizens.
This is a bit like the old Ed Sullivan routine with the twirling the plates on the sticks — it’s not overwhelming, but there’s a lot going on in this town, and it’s a full-time job. I have a strong fiduciary duty to the people of Yorktown, and I want to protect it as best as I can.
What are some things you’re excited about?
Several great new businesses have opened in the last three months! Bagel Emporium is fantastic — the bagels are very high quality, boiled and then baked just like a traditional New York bagel should be. We also have a new Greek restaurant about to open where Friendly’s was, and it’s owned by a Yorktown resident.
We’re thinking creatively about how to address the high rents and prohibitive development issues here. I believe everyone has the best interests of the town at heart, and we can ultimately work together to make Yorktown even better. It’s a wonderful town, with great resources, some of which I still I believe are untapped.
Agrotourism is one. The farms in our town — like White Oak Farm, the largest maple syrup producer in the Southern part of the state. They’re part of Westchester’s Farm Trail, which has six farms on it in Yorktown (out of a total of 13 — basically half!).
The director of Hilltop Hanover Farm once told me that he thinks something about Yorktown people don’t realize is that because of these farms, and Turkey Mountain, and our amazing hiking and biking trails — if you live in the city, you can almost have a Vermont-type experience here and still be home for dinner at the end of the day. It’s a wonderful selling point and it’s a wonderful feature of our town.
So I’m tremendously excited about bringing in more business, but also doing it in an environmentally sensitive way so we protect the other assets of the town.
This column is a regular Q&A with Yorktown Town Supervisor Lanny Gilbert. Have a question for him? Email AskLannyGilbert@gmail.com.