Friday, August 31, 2007

Two Institutions . . .

Two institutions are in the news this week . . . and the similarities and contrasts between the two should make you think.

Yesterday the State Homeland Security Training Center made the news with the County's announcement of an agreement to rent 723 acres of the Old County Airport to the State for $600,000 per year for 15 years . . . As one astute reader noted, that's less than $1,000 an acre. The project was announced from "out of the blue," but with much fanfare, back in December 2005. At the time this blogger did not think it was worth getting excited over. He feels the same today as there has been little activity there worth noting. Now compare . . .

Today Utica College broke ground on a new facility for the Center for Identity Management and Information Protection.
. . . it’s not just a new building they’re getting. They are also getting the expertise of some of the country’s top-ranking government officials. . . .

Utica College officials said that since the program was founded last year, it has gained national attention, allowing for grants from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Administration, and the Department of Justice construction on the project will start in next month, and officials are hoping to complete it by the same time next year…only about 13 months away.
Both institutions are involved in security of one fashion or another. Both are law enforcement related . . . Both were born about the same time. Both are in Greater Utica. The similarity ends there . . .

The public NY State institution has announced no definite plans, and no partnerships. There does not appear to be a demand for its product. It has barely gotten state attention much less than national attention. No momentum is evident whatsoever ... just a lot of waffling after more than a year. The people running it don't seem to know what they want to do or what they are doing. Except that they want a handout of valuable taxpayer-owned land at a bargain basement rent from a County that would be bankrupt but for its decision to tax its residents to death. It also would deny potential tax benefits to a Greater Utica community, Whitestown, by taking land off the market.

The private Utica College facility is already recognized nationally. There is a clear demand for its product. It has national-level partners and is bringing money into the area from out of state. It is constructing a new building. Momentum and financial commitment are evident. The people running things are accomplishing things. And the Oneida County taxpayer is not getting stuck.

If these were two companies, which would you invest in?

Do you still think that renting the old OC Airport to State Homeland Security is such a good deal?

New Hartford Nonsense . . .

Taxpayers keep getting the run-around from their New Hartford Town Government. Cathy at New Hartford Online requested a copy of the 2007 Tentative Town assessment database back in May. The Town refused citing a case that had nothing to do with Cathy's particular request (and even though the town had provided such information previously). The Town Board, when given proper case law, was forced to reverse the decision (although Councilman Payne curiously voted against this). Then the Town tried to pass off a August 2006-dated database as the 2007 database! This was followed by another database that was updated only through September 2006. Remember, all these were supposed to be the updates into 2007. The requested database has yet to be supplied.

It's pretty apparent that someone does not want the updated assessment information to be posted on Cathy's website.

It's pretty apparent that some Town employee or official has no regard for the citizens paying their salaries.

It's pretty apparent that someone needs to be fired!

Get all the sordid detail on Cathy's blog at: Insubordination...Dereliction of Duty...and/or just plain Secrecy? Part 1

[If this is just Part 1, what more nonsense and outrageous behavior will we read in Part 2?]

Thursday, August 30, 2007

For Rent - Oneida County

The sign says For Rent and its hanging on Oneida County -- the old Oneida County Airport to be exact. The Sentinel reports that the state will pay $600,000 per year for the facility.

When weighing this, hopefully the Legislature will consider it as exchange of money for taking prime business land out of productive use, because, frankly, I don't expect much to happen out of Homeland Security. As blogged upon before, the State has NOT made the financial commitment to this project that it has routinely made to other parts of the state for other developmental projects.

If it were up to me, I would say the heck with Homeland Security, take the land back, and market it.

Tuesday's Sewer Meeting

It was an interesting meeting, reported upon in the Sentinel, the OD, WKTV, and News 10 Now.

It was admitted that 50% of the sewer users who will pay to fix the situation reside in Utica. However, no one representing Utica was invited to participate in the selection of the engineers who would study solutions. This omission was never adequately explained. The representative from Utica at the meeting voiced no protest, and had practically nothing to say.

The impression was made that this was a "storm water" problem and a "lack of maintenance" problem. However, while storm water management and proper maintenance will be part of the solution, it was the connection of separated sanitary sewers to a combined sewer overflow that caused the violations that DEC and EPA complained of (already pointed out in earlier posts on this subject).

Another impression was that a lot of people stand to make a lot of money from this problem -- and if things can be kept complicated, more work will be "justified." Beneficiaries/Participants present at this meeting were several engineering firms, two law firms, and a public relations outfit. Many ladles will be dipping into this big pot that rate payers will be tossing into.

A steering committee composed of residents and officials is going to be formed -- a good idea. But this begs the question, what is the role of the Sewer District Advisory Board? It almost sounds like a duplication. It was good to see that Concerned Citizens for Honest and Open Government is trying to be involved. Officials should be receptive to their participation.

Hopefully the steering committee idea will work out, and this problem will be resolved in a manner that is fair to all municipalities and sewer users. But with so many players involved, and with so much money to be made, the committee will have its work cut out.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Meeting Tuesday on Sewer Repairs

There will be a meeting on Tuesday, 8/28/07, 7 PM at the Whitestown Community Center to address the County's sewer repairs under the Consent Order. Per the Sentinel:
"Picente said the meeting will update all of the communities involved with the process of complying with the consent order and allow community representatives who serve on the Sewer Advisory Board to meet the professional staff that will be providing engineering services to the project. . . .

". . . The cost of the correction will be borne by those who use the part-county sewer district."
As noted in yesterday's post's analysis, the situation was caused by (1) the County allowing hook ups that caused separated waste to pass through its over flow untreated and (2) the individual municipalities' failure to recognize that this would happen due to their own inadequate environmental reviews of new development projects.

It will be interesting to see
if "all of the communities involved" will include the one whose residents will be paying the bulk of the costs through sewer usage fees -- Utica.

It will be interesting to see if the process for selecting the engineering firms (who will probably bill $3-5 million for the study alone) will be explained and justified.

It will be interesting to see if financial relief will be discussed for the residents of the municipalities that were innocent of wrongdoing or negligence.

It will be interesting to see if the County will reveal its plan to shaft the residents of Utica by denying them the treatment plant capacity that Utica residents paid for to accommodate Utica's Combined Sewer Overflows.

The County should be responsible for the Consent Order's fines, because the County violated the law. The Towns and Villages that authorized the developments which are sending separated sanitary waste into the river should pay the tab to fix the projects that the Towns and Villages authorized.

ndividual sewer users are innocent, and should be held harmless. The Consent Order's costs should not show up on our water bills.

Interesting indeed . . .

Sunday, August 26, 2007

A Consent Order Primer, Part 4: Dissecting What Happened

Part 1 of this series focused on sewage systems; Part 2 on how laws are developed to control water pollution; and Part 3 on the roles of the federal, state and local governments. This post examines the Consent Order and other documentation of the local situation to understand the nature of the County's violations. At the end is an analysis of what went wrong and what is going wrong.

The County's SPDES permit allows discharges to the Mohawk River from 2 places (1) at the sewage treatment plant in Utica and (2) at the Sauquoit Creek Pump Station in Yorkville. The latter, which receives sewage mainly from New Hartford and Whitestown, was permitted as a Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO), recognizing that sewers in older developed areas combined storm water with sanitary waste; that it would be burdensome and financially unreasonable to make older areas put in separate lines for sanitary waste; and that if an overflow point were not provided, the wastewater would back up into people's basements.

However, new developments all have separate sanitary sewage collection systems, and New Hartford and Whitestown both have a lot of new developments. These have been allowed to connect to the County's System via the line leading to the Sauquoit Creek Pump Station.

During early February, 2006, the US EPA conducted an inspection and notified the County and DEC that separate sanitary sewer systems were feeding the Sauquoit Creek Pump Station, and that the discharge from the SCPS should be regulated as a Sanitary Sewer Overflow (SSO). DEC agreed, and notified the County a few days later that its CSO would be considered an SSO, its SPDES permit would be modified to reflect the change, that the County also appeared to be exceeding the capacity of its sewage treatment plant, that to address the excess it needed to submit a flow management plan (6NYCRR§750-2.9(c)) within 120 days, and that it needed to participate with the City of Utica in the CSO Long Term Control Plan.

Oneida County responded with resistance.

The County argued that the discharge point was a CSO based on a 1982 study, data on the quality of the discharge, and the combined nature of the collection systems built in the villages 70-80 years ago. The County argued that it should not be held responsible for the actions of the communities sending it sewage, claiming that it had no legal authority to regulate what went on in those communities. The County alleged that the DEC was causing a financial hardship to the County and the satellite communities. The County also resisted certain aspects of participating with the City of Utica in the CSO Long Term Control Plan essentially contending that evaluation of how County facilities would interact with Utica's CSOs would be expensive and should be Utica's responsibility. The County further took the position that Utica should be exploring other alternatives for treating Utica's CSOs rather than sending them to the treatment plant.

DEC did not accept the County's argument that it was not operating an SSO, and followed it up with an enforcement action that charged the County with illegally operating an SSO, illegally discharging sewage without secondary treatment, not submitting a flow management plan, and not having an effective sewer use ordinance in all parts of its service area.

Ultimately last month, the DEC and Oneida County entered into the Consent Order to get DEC to lift its ban on new sewer hookups.


Certainly, at the time the County's treatment works and collection system were built, "CSO" would have been the proper classification for the discharge from the Sauquoit Creek Pump Station. Again, CSOs were allowed in recognition that it would have been financially prohibitive to require areas previously developed to conform to new standards, and the old sections of the Villages of New Hartford, Whitesboro, Yorkville and NY Mills could be expected to fall into this category.

But the 1982 study the County attempted to rely upon could not have addressed the new developments of the 1990s and later that we have seen in New Hartford and Whitestown -- all of which were required to have separated sanitary sewer systems. The County did not have to let the new developments connect to its system on the same pipe that carried combined sewage and storm water. The fact that the County allowed this defeated the purpose of requiring separated systems for new developments because, at times of high flow, the waste from the separated systems would be discharged directly to the river untreated -- which is a clear violation of the law. The County could have required a second line for separated waste that would have avoided the CSO, but it did not.

The County's arguing that it should not be held responsible for the actions of the communities sending it sewage because it had no legal authority to regulate what went on in those communities was actually an admission of another violation. The US EPA has long required that the owners of treatment works have the legal authority to control the use of their facilities. This is done through ownership of the facilities themselves, the passing of a local ordinance governing use of the facilities, and then preventing connections by (or cutting connections from) any municipalities who do not cooperate by passing their own ordinances or devising some other method to ensure that the owner's requirements would be met.

The DEC enforcing its requirements is not the cause of financial hardships to the County and the satellite communities. Any hardships are the result of (1) the County allowing hook ups that caused separated waste to pass through its over flow untreated and (2) the individual municipalities' failure to recognize that this was happening to the waste from the developments that they not only authorized but encouraged (i.e., the environmental reviews of the developments were inadequate).

Instead of protecting the CSO which was intended to relieve established communities from a monumental burden, the County abused the CSO as a way to reduce the cost of new developments.
Now that the abuse has been stopped, the County is going to cause what the CSOs were supposed to prevent: visiting additional costs on old established communities. The County will use its authority over sewer usage fees to make ALL users of the system pay for the solution, including the residents of the established communities that received no increases to their tax bases.

The County's approach to Utica is especially reprehensible.
"It is the County's position that the City of Utica and the NYSDEC should be exploring other alternatives for treating CSO's rather than sending them to the WPCP. The capacity of the WPCP should be reserved for treating sanitary wastes rather than combined wastes"

The treatment works were originally designed to accommodate the flows from Utica's old CSOs. Utica residents have been paying into this system for years, not only the County charges, but separate City sewer charges. Uticans have already paid for the treatment works to be adequately sized to meet their CSO needs. But the County now has signaled an intent to deprive Uticans of the use of the treatment plant for their CSOs which they have paid for. This would be a County requirement, not EPA's or DEC's.

It is amazing that Utica leaders and Utica legislators are not screaming in anger over this, but it is unlikely that they are even aware that this is being done to them . . . Things are rushed through the County legislature at the request of political bosses who appear to be answering to the desires of developers . . . And it is possible that even the County level bosses don't understand that this is happening.

Perhaps ultimately having everyone sharing the costs makes the most sense, but if this is going to happen, everyone needs to share in the benefits as well.

The innocent should not be made to pay for the violations of the guilty.

[Note: Articles in this series may be revised from time to time to provide additional detail and explanation as time allows, and as current events warrant.]

Thursday, August 23, 2007

From Albany to Buffalo-o-o . . .

Low Bridge . . .Ev'rybody down . . .
Low Bridge for we're comin' through a town . . .
Now its official. The Erie Canal once again runs from Albany to Buffalo . . . as a matter of State Law just signed by Gov. Spitzer (in spite of the fact that it really runs from Tonawanda to Waterford).
And you'll always know your neighbor,
You'll always know your pal,
If you've ever navigated on the Erie Canal. . . .

. . . And we know every inch of the way
From Waterford to Tonawanda

Albany to Buffalo.

Making Government Do the Right Thing . . .

Knowing what your government is doing is the first step in reforming what your government is doing.

The Concerned Citizens for Honest & Open Government has been putting this plan into action, filing Freedom of Information Law requests with the Town of New Hartford -- to hopefully pierce the veil of secrecy that seems to cover Town dealings. When the Concerned Citizens get the scoop, Cathy at New Hartford Online gets it to you.

Of course, the Town kicks and screams in resistance, but the Concerned Citizens have found a partner: THE LAW. Cathy has posted the latest development on her blog.

Keep up the good work!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Another Oneida County Deal?

The Sentinel reports that:
"Prominent businessman Harold "Tom" Clark Jr. is about to become the landlord of the county Health Department. . . ."
Ninety county employees will move into space in two floors of Clark's Adirondack Bank Building, which will be the subject of a five year lease.
"Clark bought the high-rise for $1 from the City of Utica in 1996. . .

"Clark also is the owner of McDonald’s fast-food restaurants in the area. He is the former chairman of Mohawk Valley EDGE. The 1965 graduate of Utica College became the school’s first $1 million donor in 1996."
Now, this deal begs the question: Was this put up for competitive bidding? Isn't there a lot of other office space downtown -- such as the City Center Building?

Another OC "bolt from the blue?" . . . or is it "Insider Trading?"

A Consent Order Primer, Part 3: Laws Working Together

A few weeks ago, Oneida County entered into a Consent Order with the Department of Environmental Conservation to solve the problem of raw sewage being spilled into the Mohawk River. This is the third of a series of posts covering some of the concepts and terminology to help clarify the issues. On 7/15 Part 1,"Plumbing" focused on the sewage disposal system itself, talking about POTWs, CSOs, SSOs, Inflow and Infiltration, and the different levels of treatment . On 7/29, Part 2, "Legalizing Pollution" examined how laws are developed to control water pollution, describing water classification, water quality standards, point sources, permits and effluent limitations. Today in Part 3 the roles of the federal, state and local governments are examined.

The Federal authority to control water pollution is grounded on the Commerce Clause of the US Constitution. The Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899, the first federal environmental law, made it a misdemeanor to discharge refuse of any kind into navigable waters of the USA. The Federal Water Pollution Control Act (a/k/a the Clean Water Act) came later in 1948 and has been amended many times since, with a major revision in 1972.

Currently, the Federal Clean Water Act (CWA) is well over 200 pages! Section 101 made national goals that (by 1983) wherever attainable,water quality would support recreation and fish propagation, and (by 1985) the discharge of pollutants into navigable waters would be eliminated. Section 301 and others made the discharge of any pollutant unlawful, and required the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) to prescribe effluent limitations based on "best practicable control technology" for point sources other than sewage treatment works; secondary treatment for treatment works; and more stringent limitations necessary to meet water quality standards and other state requirements. Section 306 requires the USEPA to set national performance standards for discharges from particular groups of industries. Section 307 requires "pre-treatment" standards for discharges into sewage systems: to prevent discharges from overwhelming, passing through, or upsetting POTWs. A federal discharge permit system, the "National Pollution Discharge Elimination System" (NPDES), is provided by Section 402, which contains provisions enabling individual States to implement the federal program and write their own permits in lieu of federal permits (i.e., creating a "State Pollution Discharge Elimination System" or SPDES). And if the state or federal government don't do their jobs, the CWA in Section 505 gives individual citizens the right to bring suit to abate violations of the CWA under certain conditions. There are also many sections devoted to funding for research and pollution abatement facilities, as well as to address special situations in particular parts of the country such as the Great Lakes, the Hudson River, and Long Island Sound. The federal law contemplates a ratcheting down over time the amount of allowable pollution to ultimately meet the national goal of no pollution.

The CWA is exceedingly complex, and this is barely scratching the surface. The regulations implementing this law are even more overwhelming. Key ideas to remember, however, are that the Federal government relies heavily on State governments to implement the Federal requirements, that the Federal government will provide big bucks to the states to do this, that it is expected that the States will have their own requirements (often more stringent) to address their own particular needs, and that it is more efficient for the States to implement their own and the Federal requirements at the same time rather than each government doing things separately.

New York State has its own water pollution control laws which are found in Article 17 of the Environmental Conservation Law. If you page through, you will note that the state law makes numerous references to elements of the Federal system -- an intent to implement the Federal system. The Department of Environmental Conservation is charged with classifying waters and adopting standards of purity. There is a general prohibition on discharges of pollutants except when in compliance the state's requirements. Permits are required for discharges. The State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System is created in Article 17 Title 8.

Since they discharge pollutants to the state's waters, the owners of treatment works (POTWs), such as Oneida County, are required to have a SPDES permit. It is through the SPDES permit that particular federal and state requirements are imposed locally.

Like water rolling down hill, Oneida County is required to impose its own requirements on the entities using its facilities. This is for self protection, and to ensure that people don't use the County's treatment works as a way of avoiding the requirements that they would face if they were discharging directly to a stream. No one should be allowed to put things into the County system that would overload it, allow pollution to spill from it, simply pass through it without treatment, upset its treatment processes, or damage the County's facilities. The County imposes its own requirements through the county's sewer use ordinance. And since multiple municipalities have their own facilities that feed into the County's facilities, the County, in turn, requires its municipal customers to have their own laws and ordinances to control their own individual users, to prevent them from doing things that would cause the County's facility to violate its SPDES permit.

In a very real sense, there is a legal "pecking order" that leads from the Federal Government to you, the person with a toilet or drain who can cause a problem if the wrong thing gets flushed away. It can be summed up in this diagram:

Federal Government [CWA] -> NY State [ECL Article 17, SPDES Permit]-> Oneida County, POTW Operator [Sewer Use Ordinance] -> Towns/Villages/City [Local Ordinances] -> You.

In Part 4 we will look at what the Consent Order reveals.

[Note: Articles in this series may be revised from time to time to provide additional detail and explanation as time allows, and as current events warrant]

Friday, August 17, 2007

Water Fight!

It was an interesting scene last evening down in Herkimer at the public forum on the MVWA expansion, and it was covered by the Herkimer Telegram, the Observer-Dispatch, the Sentinel, and News-10-Now. The Sentinel's coverage seems the most complete if you only have time to read one article.

We got to see (again) Mr. Becher's little demo with what appeared to be a fish tank, a plastic bowl and a shot glass to make a point that the MVWA's withdrawals are insignificant. Then we got to hear Mr. Goebels of Canal Corp. explain why MVWA's withdrawals ARE significant after all -- in essence, when the tank is not full, the shot glass is important.
"We have a serious drought right now," the Canal Corp. official said, but later noted that levels are supposed to fluctuate." (Sentinel)
While I have no reason to doubt Mr. Goebel's calculations on MVWA's impacts on water levels, I have to question his conclusion that we are now in a drought. This year certainly does not seem to have been unusually dry to the point that most people would call it a drought . . . and there was that snowy February. Maybe some statistics are in order.
"It was built for one purpose: to supply water for canal needs," he said. (OD)
Well, that may be true, but it has also been adapted for power-generation, and recreation use has been encouraged.

Additionally, there is downstream power generation, predating Hinckley. And I guess that is what makes MVWA's attitude so disturbing, which was made clear (but unreported in the media) when Mr. Becher alluded to power being sold on the spot market at fluctuating prices. The impression was made that there was something wrong with a profit being made, and that this should give way to MVWA's use. But isn't that why compensating reservoirs were required -- for MVWA to put into the system what it takes out -- to neutralize its impact -- so others can use the stream too? And isn't it MVWA's destruction of its compensating reservoir (along with expansion plans) that brought this controversy on?

None of the other interested parties on this issue comes with unclean hands.

Of all the uses of Hinckley water, only MVWA actually takes the water away, out of the West Canada Creek drainage basin.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Community Forum Tonight re MVWA . . .

There will be a community forum sponsored by Assemblyman Marc Butler tonight, Thursday, Aug. 16 at 7 p.m., in the Amphitheater at Herkimer County Community College to address the Mohawk Valley Water Authority's expansion plans. Authority Executive Director Patrick Becher, representatives of environmental and sportsmen's groups, local elected officials, and various others have been invited to come.

Hopefully this will be a truly public forum where the public is allowed to speak, and not a "dog and pony show" designed to push one point of view.

More information is available in the Herkimer Telegram.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Utica History . . .

A big Welcome to "Historical Utica, NY," a new blog about . . . Utica History. In the first post, Utica-Post says:
"Like when you lose your keys, I believe, you must retrace your steps in order to find them. Well that's what I hope to come from this blog. I plan to retrace Utica's history with the hopes that those with the power to do so, will find their way again."
A nice thought. Here's another . . .

The future is built on the past, and "short cuts" seldom last.

It was many years out of school before I realized how important history was. Why waste time "learning by doing" when you can learn from what someone else has already done?

Utica-Post also promises that a new independent newspaper will be coming soon.

Good luck to these new ventures.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Metaphor Courthouse . . .

Behold the beauty within the Oneida County Courthouse, the latest renovation costing about $5 million, unveiled. A courtroom across the hall awaits a similar renovation. Ongoing renovations have cost about $40 million over the last 10 years.
County Executive Anthony Picente vowed a continuation of support for such historical preservations.

"The people assembled here come for justice, come for comfort, come to see their problems get solved," Picente said. "We in county government really need to take hold of buildings such as this and landmarks that we have."

State Supreme Court Justice Bernadette Romano credited Julian's "dogged diligence and demeanor and his just never-say-die attitude" for keeping the project on track. Julian noted Romano's role in choosing the courtroom's deep blue and gold-trim coloring.

"You should also know the architects allowed us to design the carpet," Romano said. "I mean, we literally picked every color, and every nuance in the carpet was designed from scratch."
Historical preservation is important, particularly in a city like Utica which is losing its architectural treasures at an alarming pace. The buildings, from Utica's properous era, would be irreplaceable today.

But there is a difference between preservation and renovation.

Renovation is renewal, but this region currently does not have the "juice" to do what it once did. The industry that financed our prosperous era is gone.

Most of us never see the inside of the courthouse. But we see and have to tolerate the exterior every day. The exterior of the courthouse looks like a dump and has looked that way for years.166_6632

The exterior mirrors our problems: job killing taxes, raw sewage spilling into the Mohawk, children being poisoned by lead.

The money is gone for most of us . . . . but not for those who hold court in the court house - our "power elite." They are inside -- and have surrounded themselves with opulence at our expense. They can look at their surroundings and pretend that they are as great as their forerunners who originally built this place, this city, this region.

They need to open the door, leave the courthouse and look around -- and see what they really created.

Preserve the building, but let the renovation wait until it has been earned: when this region is prosperous again.

[Update: For a more humorous take on this story check out the Snakepit.]

Monday, August 13, 2007

More Backroom Dealing - Homeland Insecurity

Not unexpected, today we read Homeland Security center short of its goals. Instead of 60 jobs and 600 people a week at classes, only 9 jobs have been created and class attendance has been about 600 for an entire year.

Six months ago, the lack of a lease was a concern. Now, after a year, the State and the County are still negotiating. According to Assembly Member Destito, the lack of a lease is what is holding things up.

"I think that's what's been holding back any expansion or further discussion," she said. "From the state's perspective, I don't think that they are going to make any further investment until they have a lease."

To me, it is something else. I don't think the state was ever really committed to this project. As I commented over a year ago, the financial resources set aside for this project were practically non-existent compared with other initiatives the state was making elsewhere. Additionally, there was an odor of politics and maybe even some Utica - Rome rivalry. This deal, which came out of no where, seemed (1) ready made to give incumbent candidates something to crow about and (2) calculated to ensure that the old airport could never be used for airport purposes again (and potentially compete with the new airport in Rome). The swiftness of the destruction of the interior of the terminal building, which was an uncomfortable reminder that we recently lost all scheduled passenger service (something even smaller places like Binghamton and Elmira have managed to retain) did not have to wait for a lease.

Now we read that we will not find out about the lease until after it is a done deal. While this may be permissible under the letter of the Freedom of Information Law, it violates the spirit of Open Government because BOTH SIDES ARE TAXPAYER FUNDED. We the people have every reason to expect to be apprised of every step of the negotiations because we will be paying the price for it in the end. While the state may not want to make the disclosure, there is no good reason why our county should not. There is nothing under the FOIL that requires the negotiations to be kept secret.

Oneida County should pull the plug on Homeland Security, and market the old airport to companies who are in aircraft-related businesses.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

We Won! ... and Now We Pay: for Solid Waste

This story, Supreme Court's decision on trash boosts recycling (interestingly placed on the newspaper's opinion page), gives us a good example of why it is bad business to let government go into business.

The US Supreme Court ruled that local governments have the right to pass laws that direct all waste and recyclables generated within their jurisdictions to their local public waste management facilities. Such laws ensure revenue to the local facilities, and create a volume of recyclables that makes them more amenable to market. Here, the funds help to offset the costs of operating the recycling center, which is a money loser.
"But, those fees fund not just the landfill, but an efficient and comprehensive recycling system and saves residents in other areas, including household hazardous waste disposal.

"Recycling is at the heart of the matter, waste authority Executive Director Hans Arnold said.

""Recycling couldn't exist without flow control," he said. In essence, requiring that local trash go to waste authority facilities ensures sufficient revenue exists to support it, he said."

How can the recycling system be "efficient" if it is a money loser? And this does not even include the cost and inconvenience associated with washing recyclables at home. Water is getting more expensive (every day it seems). Maybe "recycling," dreamed up by academicians and government theoreticians, was the wrong approach. Maybe we should not be producing the stuff that gets thrown away to begin with . . . but that is another discussion . . .

So the Court said that we were right -- but were we smart?
""There is no question it's a bad decision," Syracuse-based environmental lawyer Richard J. Brickwedde said. "The last thing we need in particular in Upstate New York is a higher cost of doing business and a higher cost of living.""
Just how much higher? Broome County, which does not have a flow control law, has a tipping fee of $40 a ton. Oneida County's tipping fee is 80% higher: $72 a ton.

While we can boast a state-of-the-art land fill, and state-of-the-art recycling center, are they worth paying 80% more than other places do for the same services?

People are not flocking to Oneida County for our solid waste management or our recycling. Add this cost on top of our higher than reasonable sales tax, on top of our near-the-top cost of utilities, on top of the costs associated with our myriad and overlapping levels of state and local government, on top of the costs of maintaining an ever expanding public infrastructure while population declines, and you will understand why our population is declining, relative incomes are falling, and jobs are disappearing.

Perhaps (and it's a BIG PERHAPS given our know-nothing rubber-stamp county legislature) had solid waste management remained a function of a county agency or the local municipalities where elected representatives have a say (rather than being turned over to "An Authority"), someone would have realized that we were pricing ourselves out of the jobs market and started a conversation to put an end to this nonsense. But that never happened.

So we have nice new facilities and nicely paid government officials to run them.

Aren't you just proud?

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Protecting "People" . . . or Keeping Things Secret? Part 3

More news today about on-line records at the Oneida County clerk's office - on the editorial page.
"One of DePerno's first acts of office was to pull the data from the Internet because it contained as many as 20,000 Social Security numbers and a handful of bank account numbers."
Last week we were told by former OC Clerk Rick Allen:
""There were not very many. It was rare," he said of the records containing the Social Security numbers."
Can both statements be correct -- because they sound contradictory? We know where Rick Allen's statement came from -- but it needs to be clarified. We don't know where the "20,000" number comes from.

Somehow I'm getting the impression that the public is being manipulated into accepting keeping public records off line.

11:00 PM Update:
Holy Hawkeye! Gear follows the money and come up with who may be calling the shots.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Misleading on Lead?

A couple weeks ago we were presented a series of articles on the scourge of lead in our older neighborhoods -- lead poisoning to be exact -- a serious subject developed with a lot of useful information.

Today we read the headline "Water no longer major lead source in Utica.
According to Mohawk Valley Water Authority Executive Director Patrick Becher, water leaving the treatment center meets current federal standards.

"Lead levels are extremely low, not a threat" Becher said. "We don't want to scare people.
No, we don't want to scare people . . . but we don't want to mislead them either.

People don't get their water at the treatment plant -- they get it at their taps -- and the water has to pass through miles of pipes to get there.
"At issue for many Mohawk Valley homeowners are lead service lines that are still in place in older homes. Replacing the lines that connect a house's plumbing to the water authority's distribution network is a costly job.

"Lead service lines in some places also connect the main transmission lines to the curb station, which is under the water authority's jurisdiction, Becher said.

"Unless there is a break in those services, the water authority will not replace them with copper lines, he said. . . "
The Water Authority has addressed the lead problem by adding chemicals to reduce the corrosiveness of the water, to reduce the water's ability to leach lead out of pipes and service connections. Of course, this has had a noticeable adverse impact on water quality. Anyone living in Greater Utica for more than 30 years should remember the joy of bathing in soft water: that "squeeky clean" feeling, that shining hair. It didn't take much soap to get clean, and it didn't take much water to wash it away. Utica was reputed to have had some of the softest water in the country . . . but it came with the cost of lead leaching out of the pipes. It was probably worth giving up soft water's benefits to reduce the risk of lead poisoning. It was a price that we've already paid. But has it solved the problem?

No doubt the risks of lead from water have been reduced by the Water Authority's action. It's basic chemistry. But it is premature to say that water is no longer the major lead source in Utica.

We don't know the actual sources of lead in the people who have been poisoned. We need a study of those people to be able to conclude that. While lead paint in older homes has been painted as the culprit, can we conclude that kids munching on windowsills is more of a source than water that may have sat a few hours in lead service lines that was later used in baby formula? I don't believe we have the data to conclude that.

It would be irresponsible if the intent of today's headline was to take pressure off of the Water Authority for instituting a lead service line replacement program.

It would be a shame if today's headline lulled people into thinking that they no longer had to be concerned with lead in their water -- that they did not have to worry about replacing service lines -- that they did not have to run the water for several minutes each day before ingesting it.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Protecting "People" . . . or Keeping Things Secret? Part 2

Things are getting confusing. On Monday County Clerk DePerno said that only abstract companies and members of the Oneida County Bar Association would have on-line access to County Clerk records via the Internet. But today we read that she sent the O-D an e-mail stating:
""All access to online records will be granted to anyone who has registered for an
ID and password including legal groups, abstract firms and the general public,"
she said.
"After sending it, DePerno did not return numerous phone calls for clarification of
her comments. She also refused to make herself available for an in-person

She probably needed time to ask the little man behind the curtain what she should do next.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The Issue du Jour . . .

With the fatal bridge collapse in Minneapolis, the safety of our roads and bridges has taken a new urgency.

Not to miss a beat, State Sen. Thomas Libous, a Republican from the Binghamton area, revealed that the State has been diverting as much as $750 million a year from a fund that was created in 1991 and "dedicated" to bridge and highway maintenance and repair. He announced a bill to end the practice.

Remember the NYS Thruway Bridge collapse near Amsterdam in 1987? Several people lost their lives there. Traffic was disrupted for over a year. It happened practically in Sen Libous' back yard. The "dedicated" fund was created in 1991. We were never supposed to have to worry again about the safety of our roads and bridges. Then the Republicans became in charge a few years later. What happened? Memories must have been short.

Do people have to lose their lives to get the state to do what it is supposed to do? Maybe someone has to get killed every 5 years or so to remind these guys of why that fund was created.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Protecting "People" . . . or Keeping Things Secret?

I was afraid of this, when Oneida County records were taken off line a few months ago. A few social security numbers and birth dates that somehow found their way into instruments recorded at the Oneida County Clerk's Office became a media brouhaha, an excuse to give former Oneida County Clerk Rick Allen (no "yes man") a primary, and an excuse to take ALL records off line. Now information is being put back on-line -- but only for an anointed few.
"But the number of people getting Internet access to the database will be limited when the information is placed back online in a few months, Oneida County Clerk Sandra DePerno said. Passwords and identification names will be issued to members of the Oneida County Bar Association and local abstract companies, she said."

"Bar association members and abstract companies need access to the information to prepare deed and mortgage paperwork, DePerno said."
Why the exclusivity and the deference to a particular club? What about attorneys who do not belong to the Oneida County Bar Association? Why would not their need be as great? What about people who are pro se and representing themselves? Why shouldn't they be able to access records? What about people contracting with businesses for snow removal, house painting, etc.? Don't they have a need to be able to identify exactly whom they are dealing with under a "doing business as..." name?

What about the retired gadfly who can't sleep at night and has nothing better to do but to review land transactions in his pajamas -- all to determine who is benefiting from the actions of certain public officials?

Why are the people of Oneida County entitled to less than the people of: Monroe County (Rochester), Albany County, Suffolk County (Long Island), Erie County (Buffalo), Schenectady County, and Broom County (Binghamton) - - - just to name a few?

Maybe Ms. DePerno IS interested in protecting "People" -- the people who don't want their transactions available for general public consumption, available where they may be linked to and quickly disseminated by those who are internet savvy -- such as bloggers.

Welcome to Oneida County -- where who knows what is carefully controlled.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Picking Up the Slack ...

I'm a slacker today. It's just too nice a day to be cozied up inside, pecking at the computer.
Besides, Gear has been hard at work and said everything that needed saying, producing a trio of biting posts about local "economic development" efforts: A Cry for Help, Speaking of Empire Zones, and Call The Waaaaahmbulance. Head over to the Snakepit and give 'em a read.

I'm going biking!