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Conservation district stops farm project

HECTOR—An agitated group of Perry City residents gathered at the Friends Meeting House Tuesday evening, Nov. 10, to give their individual comments and voice their opposition to the planned installation of a three million gallon manure containment structure at the Bergen family farm. The construction of the manure site had been started Wednesday, Nov. 4 but the project was stopped Friday, Nov. 6 by the Soil & Water Conservation District because of environmental and historical preservation questions.
What the area residents were talking about before the meeting  was not an ordinary field of corn stubble. It contained one of the few drumlin formations in the area. A drumlin is a geological formation, a collection of debris pushed to the side of an ancient glacier and formed into a rounded hillock of unusual shape for the surrounding rolling countryside. These bell shaped mounds have been a cherished part of the local landscape for as long as the oldest residents can recall. Visitors often comment on their unusual appearance. Many local residents regard these as sacred sites used by Native Americans in their rituals and perhaps as burial grounds of some distinction.
The top of one of the drumlins had been removed by the time outraged residents brought the construction to the attention of local officials. Within hours the work was stopped by the Soil and Water Conservation District office out of environmental and natural historic concerns, reversing their authorization of the project. The Bergen family has indicated they will restore the excavation that had been completed under the guidance of the NY Department of State Parks and Historical Preservation.
Michelle Griego-Stillions modestly asserted control over the order of proceedings, asking in their turn several people to tell their stories or to speak of their concerns. She introduced Kurt A. Jordan, an anthropology professor at Cornell, who reviewed the human history of the area, which once held three distinct Native American villages along the Taughannock Creek near Perry City populated by hundreds of people. He suggested that the drumlins were most likely reserved by these early inhabitants for special purposes and may have been a burial site. Many others spoke of their affection for the local area’s natural beauty with clean air and water.
Dan Hill, the second representative of the Cayuga Nation clan of the Heron, spoke of the importance of this site. He stated forcefully that the land is sacred and it reflects the way we treat it. “These grounds must be protected, forever,” he said.
A member of the farm family that began building the impoundment structure, Jeremy Bergen, was in the meeting along with a few of his family’s employees. “I hope to be the next generation to take over the farm,” he said. He apologized to the whole community for the actions the Bergens have taken, but he assured his neighbors that the family did not know the field was a sensitive site. “If we knew, it would never happen,” he said.
Ben Dickens, Hector Town Supervisor, spoke to the group. He reminded his neighbors that agricultural structures are not subject to code enforcement rules. “Hector did not learn of the construction until a few hours after it started,” he stated.
One resident stood to declare it “... pretty strange that he needed a code officer to approve the installation of a wood stove on the interior of his house, when a 3 million gallon cesspool can go in next door and nobody even knows about it.”
Dickens let the assembled residents know their neighbors across Hector gave strong feedback in recent years in community meetings that they did not want zoning. “With zoning rules, you have more control,” Dickens said without endorsing the concept.
It was fitting that the community meeting was held in the Friends Meeting House. Many other speeches and comments focused on the effort to maintain a safe and beautiful countryside through keeping up community ties and common action.

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