Tuesday, November 28, 2006

BIA Bias . . .

Over the weekend the OD had a series of articles about the Oneida Indian Nation's Land into Trust application that is now pending before the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The articles centered around the recently released Bureau of Indian Affairs' analysis and Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS, written by a downstate New York-based consulting firm) of seven alternatives ranging from placing 35,000 acres into trust (i.e., the federal government would hold title to the acreage on behalf of the OIN who would exercise sovereignty over it) to placing none into trust.

The analysis' executive summary reveals that the alternatives center around three Nation-devised groupings of its currently-owned parcels: Group 1 for the Turning Stone Resort facilities, Group 2 for the Nation's governmental/cultural facilities and non-resort business enterprises, and Group 3 being agricultural or undeveloped parcels. The three groups total over 17,000 acres.

  • Alternative A places all 3 groups of currently own parcels in trust (17,000+ A).
  • Alternative B places all 3 groups of currently own parcels in trust plus an additional 17,000+ acres yet to be acquired (about 35,000 A).
  • Alternative C places only Groups 1 and 2 lands (Resort, and Governmental/cultural/business properties) in trust (almost 10,000 A).
  • Alternative D places only Group 1 (Resort) lands in trust (almost 3,500 A).
  • Alternative E places only a small part of Group 1 in trust: the Turning Stone Casino Gaming Floor Tax Lot (2 parcels - 225 acres).
  • Alternative F takes all of Group 1 and some parcels from Groups 2 and 3 to supposedly form a more compact grouping, but which essentially preserves all of OIN's businesses except for the Black Angus cattle ranch (almost 12,000 A).
  • Alternative G places no land in trust (0 A).
In discussing the environmental impacts of the alternatives the "analysis" is essentially a conclusory "no adverse impacts." NYS had previously made known its environmental concerns, but these have been given only cursory acknowledgement. New York State's concerns over not being able to adequately regulate the environment over a patchwork of interspersed Nation and non-Nation holdings are dismissed as the State's "assertions," followed up by a mention that the Nation has its own regulations. There is no assessment of whether or not the State's concerns are legitimate. This is unacceptable from a purely regulatory point of view. If the BIA were really concerned over environmental issues such as leaking storage tanks (pollution plumes know no boundaries other than geological), BIA should object to having NYS controlled lands interspersed with its own holdings under trust because OIN would be unable to enforce its rules on NYS lands. Of course, the parties tacitly recognize that NYS is really the only entity that has both regulations and an intent to enforce them. In fact, in today's online OD we find a letter from NYSDEC to BIA not only critiquing a preliminary draft of the DEIS but giving examples of how the OIN has not been a good steward of the environment. BIA apparently ignored this letter, too, since the current draft still does not address the state's concerns.

Either BIA bias, or extreme laziness on the part of its consultant, is evident.

While the grouping of OIN holdings according to OIN's perception of importance is useful to understanding OIN's position, no groupings are presented to reflect the importance to State/local government of keeping certain parcels OUT of the trust. For example, parcels in cities or villages (which were historical settlements of non-Indians that developed around some common purpose) could have been grouped to reflect their important values for non-Indians. Parcels in townships outside the cities and villages would be of lesser importance to non-Indian values, with undeveloped land being the least important. Looking at how OIN's groupings might intersect State/local-government groupings could have aided in identifying parcels over which an agreement might be possible. But this was not done.

The alternatives presented seem to have been chosen to reach an "all or nothing at all" result. Interestingly, it seems that BIA is more interested in placing ALL of OIN's business holdings in trust than it is in placing croplands, hunting grounds, and other properties important to preserving a "traditional" Oneida lifestyle in trust. It's really all about the money, isn't it?

The scattered nature of the OIN's holdings presents a challenge for both sides of the issue. There is no easy answer. We who live here recognize the good that OIN has done, and want to preserve it -- But we also want to preserve our own way of life, too. There will always be those who will never agree to anything, but there are others who want to resolve the issue for the good of everyone, but need a better analysis of the facts before they would be able to agree to anything. Lack of agreement will only land the matter back in Court. There is a pretty good indication from the Sherrill case that the Court recognizes that OIN can't turn the clock's hands back 200 years, but the Court could turn them back 40 years. That would be bad both for the OIN and for us non-Oneidas. Agreement is the only answer, and the BIA needs to show leadership in that regard.

BIA's DEIS only examines the trust issue from OIN's perspective. BIA is there to resolve conflicts, not take sides. It needs to do more.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

PSC: Disinterested or Uninterested?

Yesterday this article in the OD revealed that requests by Utica and other parties for additional information on the NYRI project had been "rebuffed for now" by the Public Service Commission.

On November 10, the PSC issued its Order. It is very lengthy and goes into excruciating mind-numbing detail.

The Commission can't see the forest for the trees.

The public is still asking, "Who is NYRI?" To its credit, the Department of Public Service Staff (i.e., the career civil servants) requested a description of the Applicant's organizational structure ". . .that clearly identifies its lines of ownership and responsibility . . ." The Staff also wants assurances that NYRI has the financial resources to start and sustain the project.

The response from the Commission, however, seems duplicitous:

"While our regulations do not specifically require the
submission of this information, we agree with Staff that the
Applicant's financial and organizational abilities are matters
that may bear directly on the interests of the public. The
information Staff identifies, however, seems preliminary and, in
our view, could benefit from some initial discovery. Should the
parties thereafter desire additional information that cannot be
obtained through discovery, a further motion to supplement the
record can be entertained." [see p 50-51 out of 53].

Basically, the Commission is telling its own Staff, the City of Utica, and the public to go pound sand . . . that IT is not interested in the information, and that if the Staff and others think the information is important, they will have to dig for it themselves. Knowing how important this information is to the public, and knowing the possibility of Federal intervention if proceedings drag on, the Commission appears to be setting the stage to create a delay it can use to wash its hands of the situation.

This is the Commission that we have come to know as not serving the Public . . . a Commission that has managed New York into having among the highest utility rates in the country in spite of its abundance of cheap hydropower . . . a Commission whose standards for determining "environmental compatibility" of a project are vague and ripe to be interpreted to the likes of insiders . . . a Commission we have come to distrust.

As we have previously explained, the public has a right to know "Who is NYRI?" The fitness of an applicant for a State license is an issue this is always on the table. The State has an obligation to protect the public from those who may be unfit to hold the license. The Department of Environmental Conservation gets this information from applicants who don't have track records. The State Liquor Authority gets this information. Even the State Racing and Wagering Board gets this information [consider the delays this region experienced in getting Vernon Downs reopened by a "fit" license holder]. But PSC doesn't get it. Apparently, PSC thinks the public needs less protection from a power line company than from the people running liquor stores or race tracks.

The Commission's behavior is baffling. It gives an appearance of serving private interests.

We hope the new administration will put consideration of the Public back into the Public Service Commission.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A Little Light Reading . . .

With the post election lull, we were able to spend some time surfing the web for interesting regional reading. We came across "Medieval Madness" [pdf] by Charles Carino and Frank Giotto, a story about this area -- our story -- how we grew as a region and where we might go. While we might disagree here and there on certain points, the ultimate conclusion, consolidation of all Greater Utica municipalities, is one we see as a possible solution to many of our regional problems.

It's worth the read. It is informative, gets you thinking, and is written in a style that is entertaining. For example, on how Utica got its name:

I'm glad the tag said "Utica"
When they pulled it from the hat.
It could have said "Size Seven."
What kind of name is that?

Friday, November 10, 2006

The 24th . . .

Bob at News Copy New York lamented the Republicans' loss of the 24th Congressional District. We had a bit to say about that, and reprint it here:

The Republicans should have won this, but they lost the confidence of their rank and file -- at least this one in Oneida County.

They abandoned their base. Tax cuts were replaced with a myriad of fees and mandates to local government levels. Instead of attacking the root cause of New York's economic decline (the high cost of doing business) they threw money at particular industry clusters such as nanotech -- essentially rewarding those industries at the expense of all others -- exacerbating the burden that drives people and jobs away. The initial crop of professional grade agency appointees of the mid 90s were eventually sent packing to be replaced by know-nothing hacks who could be dictated to. Promises of state development in the Utica area (Center for Brownfields Studies, Homeland Security Center, etc.) either did not occur at all or were only hollow shells of what the public had been told. Now we have to face the prospect of a powerline running through our midst that will blot our landscape, decrease our property values, harm our health (or at least our peace of mind) and RAISE our already non-competitive electric rates which consume a greater share of our incomes than the rates of the down staters it will serve. The line is the direct result of the current administration's failure to implement an energy policy that would require (or at least encourage) generation nearest the point of consumption.

Mr. Meier and many other Republicans did not get elected or reelected because the Party became more oriented to the personal advancement of its top honchos and their buddies than the good of the People in general. Proof in point: NO succession plan by the current governor.

It's enough to make one Republican turn Democrat!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Chip . . . Not So Fab?

In all the post-election euphoria (or depression as the case may be) this little story about about the Chip Fab plant that we "lost" to Saratoga County should not be overlooked. Susan Lawrence of the Hudson Mohawk Group of the Sierra Club has come out against putting the Chip Fab there.

""We just think it's an unwise use of the public's money when you have to build infrastructure and encourage sprawl," Lawrence said. . . .
"Lawrence and other activists argued upstate communities such as Utica, Marcy, Schenectady and Troy need development, and sites in those cities would have a less impact on the environment, she said."

Obviously we agree ... and we already know that the taxpayer would save $300 million in infrastructure costs by putting the Chip Fab here in Marcy.

"The company said it plans to create 1,205 jobs by 2014."

2014? Did we hear that right? 2014 is 7 years from now. Seven years is an eternity when computers are concerned. It will be anyone's guess if the plant will even be viable by then.

Some math helps put things in perspective. Divide the hoped-for jobs by 7 and it works out to adding an average of about 172 jobs per year. 172 ? We seem to lose that that number of jobs locally several times a year.

We love math. Here's the real interesting calculation: Divide the $1.2 Billion in taxpayer funded assistance by the number of jobs we will wait 7 years for and we come up with almost a Million Dollars per job. . . .again, that's Taxpayer Dollars mind you.

Yep. If our elected officials are going to throw that kind of money around, we want it thrown our way . . . and if they cared about the taxpayers, they should want it thrown our way, too, since they will get more "bang for the buck" here.

However, the whole idea of lavishing such huge sums to benefit one company is disturbing (if not illegal under Article VIII of the State Constitution -- but who's watching? Apparently not the Attorney General or the Comptroller). Wouldn't this money be better spent by leaving it in the taxpayer's pockets? Given the common knowledge that NY Taxes are what drives businesses out of state, wouldn't leaving the money with the taxpayers achieve better economic results? Why should other business segments be forced to subsidize nanotech? Like Rockefeller a generation ago, perhaps our elected leaders have an "edifice complex" and need to leave buildings behind as a sign of their achievements. Such psychotherapy is too costly.

We know that Mr. Spitzer has mentioned spending initiatives that sound similar to Mr. Pataki's, only favoring stem cell research instead of nanotech. We hope that Mr. Spitzer's administration will rethink this approach to business development.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Noise in New Hartford . . .

Congratulations to the organizers and volunteers who used their time to circulate several petitions concerning New Hartford's recent Borrowing Binge. You have forced the issues to be put up for a public vote.

This was no small feat. The Town Board's decision to borrow in eleven separate resolutions (even for things as piddling as a leaf machine) forced the organizers to circulate (and members of the public to sign) eleven separate petitions. One might infer that this was a deliberate move by the Town Supervisor and Town Board Members to discourage the public from getting involved. But New Hartfordites are no dummies ... they understood this, and it got them angry.

"Town Supervisor Earle Reed . . . said town leaders will have to work to educate residents about the borrowing plans. . . . "We've got to do more education for the taxpayers because this is needed for the town," Reed said Friday. "

That statement will certainly win points! The taxpayers need to be educated? Mr. Reed's got it backwards. It is the Town Board and Town Supervisor who need to be educated. The taxpayers see borrowing for things that normally are paid for out of current taxes and wonder why they should pay for finance charges that will not pave one pothole.

While some people confuse urban sprawl with growth,
it is starting to sink in that we are expanding infrastructure and increasing future expenses WHILE THE TOWN'S POPULATION IS DROPPING. This is not growth. It is a recipe for higher taxation in the future. While there may be some short term tax relief from the businesses moving in (though the degree is questionable because they may have been given taxbreaks), it is in exchange for the quality-of-life values for which many moved to New Hartford.

Mr. Reed and the Town Board, in their penchant for secrecy, seem to be working for the development interests rather than the population as a whole. That needs to change. The petitioners are saying:

If it doesn't. We the People will make the necessary changes ourselves.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

B.O.C.E.S. Blather

They're after our wallets again! BOCES plans $38 million expansion and renovation. The BOCES Behemoth will expand even further, moving alternative-ed programs from Utica to New Hartford along with the special-ed program. There are several problems with this.

1) The taxpayers are going to pay BOCES to do the job that they have already paid the local districts to do. Many in our local school districts are salivating at the chance of ridding themselves of their "alt-ed" and "special-ed" (a/k/a "problem") students, and BOCES is only too willing to grow itself at more taxpayer expense to meet the demand. The problem is that the demand for "alt-ed" and "special-ed" services is largely self-created. The local districts long-ago abandoned instructional methods that were proven to be effective at educating large numbers of students efficiently.

2) Students will be discouraged from pursuing vocational education because the perception that BOCES is the place for "dummies" will be strengthened. That characterization is one we heard from a student 30 years ago. It is unclear why the perception developed, but it is suspected that subtle elitism by college-educated teachers might have been involved: that students who were not "college material" (like the teacher) were mistakenly presumed to be more amenable to learning a trade. The perception is still there today. It is one that educators are well aware of and claim that they want to change. However, what they say and what they do seem to be the opposite when looking at this consolidation plan that turns BOCES into a concentration camp.

3) The plan will do little to meet the regional demand for capable tradespeople . The whole point in having a system of public education is to ensure that society is capable of maintaining itself. Skilled tradespeople are needed locally, and their earnings can be as much as their college-educated peers.
While it is hoped that the special-ed and alternative-ed students who will participate will be successful, it does not seem realistic to think that the BOCES' plan will make any material dent in satisfying the demand. Given the demand, given the earnings, and given the general paucity of other good paying jobs, it does not make sense that more students are not taking up trades -- unless they are being discouraged from doing so. We think that is what is happening.

The consolidation plan appears to be driven more by educators' and bureaucrats' interests than the students' and society's needs.

Society needs knowledgeable tradespeople. Learning a trade should not be at the expense of learning academics. Putting students on a bus and transporting them across town in the middle of the school day is time away from academics. If BOCES were focused on meeting students' and society's needs, it would be consolidating in Utica adjacent to or in Proctor High School because that is where the greatest demand for Voc-Ed services exists. Relocating to Proctor will enable more students to integrate Vocational and Academic learning without giving up one for the other.

Friday, November 03, 2006

The Blogger Brigade Thins ...

It's been awhile since we've heard from Roman Hokie and Rome NY Sucks ... and Mrs. Mecomber at Mohawk Valley View has decided to take a break. That's understandable. Life happens . . . . and Blogging should take a back seat. Their blogs are still here, however, available to be read and enjoyed, each with its own unique perspective. We just hope they don't stay away too long.

But it is sad to discover that CNY Underground is no more; the blog is entirely gone. From the last few posts we learned that Biggus Dickus was 3 people and that job opportunities beckoned from out of the area. CNY Political Insider did a nice "obit" of sorts, and we reiterate Joe Politics' sentiment.

We always looked forward to Biggus Dickus' blend of humor and prose, with even a dash of science at times! One post on immigration and the silence of our local congressional candidates was particularly memorable . . . a cashed copy from Google is available (for awhile) here. Biggus Dickus, you will be missed. Good luck where ever you are.

Meanwhile, Blogger Dan Weaver at Upstream celebrates his first anniversary, keeping us informed of what's going on deep in the Mohawk Valley. Congratulations!

UPDATE 11/4: and the Blogger Brigade Grows . . . A new Utica area blog comes on the scene: "Utica, New York: From the Cheap Seats" with a twist: multimedia commentary! A big Welcome to Scott Moon.