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Officials unearth Emerson Park sluiceway pipes in latest clog-clearing effort

OWASCO — With Owasco Lake's level at its winter low, local officials finally got a look inside two buried concrete pipes Thursday at Emerson Park. 

The pipes run underneath the access road to the city of Auburn's upper pumping station, and were installed to keep water flowing around the outlet. But the approximately 180-foot pipes, often referred to as the sluiceway, have been clogged. For the past three years officials have battled with how to get them cleared.

Owasco Town Supervisor Ed Wagner said they were installed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers about two decades ago, and no one has ever cleaned them out. He did not know if the army corps had ever provided plans for how to maintain the culverts, nor why they were designed the way they were.

The town attempted to dig a hole and open up the pipes this past summer. High lake levels, however, made the hole immediately fill up with water, and Wagner said they never saw the top of the two culverts. 

Taking advantage of the winter lake levels this week, the town dug a hole and unsurfaced the structures. After cutting a hole in the two tubes, sure enough, they were full of sand.

Cayuga County Environmental Engineer Bruce Natale said within the next couple of days the city of Auburn will use its vacuum truck to see how hard-packed the pipes are. If the sand is loose enough, they may be able to vacuum the sediment right up. Vacuuming from the middle of the pipes could avoid water quality violation concerns, too, by keeping sediment plumes from the outlet and the lake.

"We'll end up just putting like a stormwater grate in the lawn," Natale said. "It'll be a little spot in the lawn and for the future that will be our clean-out access so we won't leave it for 18 years, I'm hoping."

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After traveling country in an Airstream, artisans to open Skaneateles shop

A new artisan retail shop on Thursday became the tenant of the 4 Jordan St. storefront in Skaneateles formerly occupied by F. Oliver's.

Syracuse natives Mackenzie and Blaine Vossler, a husband-and-wife artisan maker duo, plan to open their first brick-and-mortar shop for their business, The Local Branch, this spring.

The Vosslers established The Local Branch in 2009 as a creative outlet while still dating, and then in 2013 while living in San Francisco they turned it into a full-time venture by purchasing a 1978 Airstream trailer off of Craigslist for $3,000 with the help of a Kickstarter crowdfunding project. They self-renovated the Airstream to double as both a home and a workshop and toured the country for two years while selling their wares in different pop-up shops, music festivals and craft shows.

The couple specializes in crafting apparel and leather goods, and they also showcase a collection of other locally made goods, antiques and relics from around the country, Mackenzie said in an email to The Citizen.

The past two years, The Local Branch has been selling full-time at a space within Artists & Fleas at Chelsea Market in Manhattan. In addition to selling retail, The Local Branch has offered products wholesale to Urban Outfitters, Free People, Modcloth and over 30 other small boutiques both in America and abroad, the Vosslers said.

Last February the couple moved back to the area as they found themselves “migrating back to (their) roots,” Mackenzie said.

“We bought a house just seven miles from Skaneateles, and when this dreamy little storefront popped up, we knew it was a perfect fit,” Mackenzie said, referring to the F. Oliver's space. It became available after the specialty food retailer decided to close its Skaneateles location at the end of last month.

The Vosslers said in a statement that they “look forward to the opportunity to create a unique retail space specializing in both accessible and high end handcrafted clothing, accessories, and home goods geared towards men and women alike, while paying homage to the history and culture of New York and the finger lakes region.”

Opening details are still in the works, but The Local Branch hopes for a soft opening in the beginning of March with a grand opening the first weekend of April.

The couple and their brand have been featured on a variety of media platforms, including CNN, HGTV's Tiny House Nation,, as well as other blogs and in print books “Living the Airstream Life” and “Tiny House Living.”

For more information, visit

Auburn City Council sets public hearings for zoning code, CDBG funds

AUBURN — The Auburn City Council scheduled two public hearings next week regarding the update to the city zoning code and the 2018-2019 Community Block Development Grant Annual Action Plan.

Council members voted unanimously to authorize the hearings Thursday. Mayor Michael Quill did not vote as he was excused from the meeting. 

This will be the third public hearing for the zoning code update. The council was scheduled to adopt the new code on Dec. 21. However, the vote was postponed after resident concerns prompted substantial changes to the code.

City staff remedied the concerns by adding back the specialized commercial district along South Street, which replaced the proposed downtown zoning district that would have allowed additional uses within the South Street historic district, including commercial businesses such as night clubs, dry cleaners or hotels, returning the R-2 residential zoning designation to South Street south of Elizabeth Street and reestablishing the industrial park zoning district in the northwest quadrant of the city.

Natalie Brophy / Provided 

This map shows the new zoning districts proposed under the city of Auburn's zoning code update. 

Residents will also have the opportunity to give their input on the city's annual action plan, which city planning staff will present during the council meeting. This will be the third opportunity for public input on this project as well, after a public meeting was held Oct. 24 and a public hearing was held during the Nov. 8 Auburn Planning Board meeting. 

The council is scheduled to approve the updated zoning code and the action plan Feb. 15. 

In other news

• Upon the closure of the city's municipal landfill in the next three to four years, the city will no longer operate a landfill as Auburn City Council members officially decided not to expand the facility by authorizing a request for proposal for design services for a small transfer station at the current site of the landfill. 

The small transfer station, also called a convenience station, is a registered, unpermitted facility where residents can drop off their own trash. Curbside trash pickup would not be impacted by this decision. After collecting curbside trash, city workers would bring the waste to the convenience station, compact it, load it into large trailers and drive it to another landfill in either Seneca or Ontario counties.

In a presentation to the city council on Jan. 25, Superintendent of Public Works Mike Talbot said convenience station will be able to accept between 35 and 45 tons of trash per day. It will cost just over $1 million to construct the convenience station and purchase additional equipment and machinery, such as tractor trailers and loaders. The facility will generate an annual income of $33,000. 

• Councilors approved four change orders for the North Division Street Dam Hydroelectric Facility, totaling $524,502.09.

Director of Municipal Utilities Seth Jensen said the additional payments are a result of extra work "unforeseen circumstances" over the course of the project. The $6 million project was expected to be completed in August, but rainy summer weather and issues with rock excavation pushed construction into December

"A lot of these costs are associated with acceleration of the construction schedule for basically the entire month of December," Jensen said. "Our general contractor had delays. They did work extra hours to try to make up time." 

Jensen said he is working with the general contractor to negotiate payment due to the construction delays. Jensen said he has issued two negative change orders — where the city gets money back — for $116,000. 

Katko has financial lead over Dems

U.S. Rep. John Katko holds a sizable fundraising advantage over his potential Democratic challengers in the 24th Congressional District race, according to the latest campaign finance reports.

Katko, R-Camillus, raised $256,884.15 in the fourth quarter of 2017. He now has more than $1.08 million in the bank for his second re-election bid.

The two Democrats who have been in the race since last year, Dana Balter and Anne Messenger, raised over $102,000 combined. Balter, D-Syracuse, received $59,444.20 from donors. Messenger, D-Manlius, had $43,122.70 in total receipts.

Balter, a Syracuse University professor, has $46,626.47 cash on hand. Messenger, a longtime career management professional, ended the quarter with a balance of $37,474.70.

The reports cover the period from Oct. 1 through Dec. 31, 2017. The Federal Election Commission gives candidates until the end of January to submit their year-end filings.

There are two other Democrats in the race. Bill Bass, of Syracuse, and Scott Comegys, of Palmyra, formed campaign committees in January and weren't required to submit year-end fundraising reports.

A majority of Katko's large haul came from political action committees and some of his House Republican colleagues. Records show House Speaker Paul Ryan's campaign committee donated $4,000 to support Katko's re-election. Prosperity Action Inc., Ryan's leadership PAC, contributed $5,000.

One of Katko's largest contributors was the Amalgamated Transit Union's political committee, which gave him $7,500 in the fourth quarter. The union represents transit workers across the country.

Unlike the incumbent, individual donors were the primary source of campaign funds for Balter and Messenger.

Balter received one donation from a political committee — $100 from former Syracuse mayoral candidate Andrew Maxwell's campaign. Most of Balter's support came from donors who live in the 24th Congressional District.

All of Messenger's donations came from individual supporters, most of whom reside outside of the district. One of her notable donors is Dr. Julie Shimer, former president and CEO of Skaneateles Falls-based Welch Allyn. Shimer donated $1,000 to Messenger's campaign, records show.

Democrats from Cayuga, Oswego and Wayne counties will meet in Auburn next week to designate a candidate in the 24th Congressional District race. Onondaga County Democrats will meet later this month to decide on their endorsement.

If a primary is necessary, it will be held Tuesday, June 26.