Monday, December 31, 2007

Forecast for 2008: More of the Same

Sens. Griffo, Valesky, and Seward; and Assemblymember Destito have all commented on their plans for 2008. (Assemblymembers Townsend and Butler did, too, in print, but their editorials could not be found on-line. Did someone forget?)

They are going to "create jobs" by "rebuilding" this, "supporting" that, and "reforming" the other. They will "work" cooperatively with and "support" all our stars of local government, development and educational institutions. They recognize that "property taxes are too high" and will insist on "prudent budgeting." We are assured that our "concerns" will be "heard" and we'll get "relief" and "results."

These guys and gal say a lot of stuff with strings and bunches of positive sounding words . . . but stop short of anything specific . . .

Hot Air . . . Same Old Same Old . . . Bah Humbug. . .

Let's throw in our local mayors, mayors-elect, and county officials, too. We all know change is needed, we even know the no-brainer things that could be done to help things along, but are we really hearing anything different from all these elected officials? No. . . we don't . . . so we do not expect change.

Wouldn't it be refreshing to hear all these elected officials say they will work for some ONE thing that can be specifically identified -- some ONE thing that will have a clear, undisputed, positive effect on our local economy -- and hear them all say they will work TOGETHER for the same ONE thing? Wouldn't it be terrific if all our local institutional heads and civic groups such as Genesis and Breakthrough all resolved to push for the same ONE thing . . . and they made such a loud NOISE for the ONE thing, that they succeeded in embarrassing or shaming all those who would oppose the ONE thing into silence? Wouldn't that be Great?

Can't we all agree on this ONE Thing: By the end of 2008, the course will be set into law for the dismantlement of the Thruway Authority and the removal of all Thruway Tolls within a specific period of time. And if we all ask for it -- together -- and agree not to take no for an answer -- can't we get it? The "squeaky wheel gets the grease" as they say.

With this ONE thing, a free interstate, we finally become, transportation wise, AVERAGE with the rest of the country . . . and doesn't AVERAGE look GOOD to us now? No fees on commuters traveling between Upstate's cities to work. No fees on manufacturers shuttling parts between their plants in different cities. A road block to Griffiss becoming a Cargo Port for the entire North East gets removed. . . . Wouldn't this ONE thing be a tangible step in the right direction?

The forecast for 2008 is "more of the same" . . . . but forecasts can be wrong. Let's ask for this ONE thing, and . . . maybe . . . . have a

Happy New Year . . . .

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Consensus Crumbled?

The "consensus" on global warming has crumbled? It sure looks that way.

One hundred scientists, including many earth scientists and climatologists, have sent a letter to the UN Secretary General warning that the UN's attempts to stop climate change will be futile, will increase human suffering, and will be a distraction from adaptation.
"Contrary to the impression left by the IPCC Summary reports: - Recent observations of phenomena such as glacial retreats, sea-level rise and the migration of temperature-sensitive species are not evidence for abnormal climate change, for none of these changes has been shown to lie outside the bounds of known natural variability."
But we already knew that. :-)

Friday, December 28, 2007

A Wind Project That Might Be More Than Hot Air . . .

John Brezinski has an idea: have Herkimer County develop a wind farm.

Wind farms, particularly in Herkimer County, have been a favorite target of mine. Although touted as "green," their "foot prints" often extend over thousands of acres, radically changing the landscape and, for most people living near by, diminishing both their quality of life and property values. Benefits regarding "global warming" are speculative if not incalculable. They could justify more long distance power lines, such as NYRI -- extending negative impacts all over the countryside. Consumers usually are charged more for such "green" power than conventional power, so it is not cheap. Companies seeking permits to construct such projects usually seek a "PILOT" or "payment in lieu of taxes" agreement -- which amounts to a taxpayer subsidy not given to other businesses -- to make their projects viable. And the power is simply not needed locally, because our so-called power 'surplus' is the basis for the NYRI proposal. In sum, certain businesses request our subsidy and acceptance of negative environmental impacts for the "greater good" -- of people living elsewhere, of 'the earth' -- but probably for their own enrichment.

So why is Mr. Brezinski's proposal worth looking at?
Several county officials met Thursday with Empire State Wind Energy President Keith Pitman to gain information about how much revenue can be made from wind projects, Brezinski said.

Pitman told county officials he would be able to give the county 75 percent of the revenue if he did a large project for the county, said Herkimer County Administrator James Wallace. That’s 10 to 20 times as much money as other developers are offering, Wallace said.
If the local benefit is great enough, it may make the local impacts more tolerable. (A year ago I wondered if some of the other proposals were simply 'lo-ball' offers that preyed upon Herkimer County's economic desperation.)
Brezinski said he thinks the county should try to make it so that any project
it’s involved with developing will produce electricity to be used locally instead of sold to other areas. This could bring down electricity costs and attract businesses to the area, he said.
If the power is used locally, that reduces the need for lines and impacts to people not receiving a benefit. It also reduces transmission costs. This suggests that the cost of production and local distribution might be cheaper than if the County buys power from National Grid. IF cheap power can be created, it will be a business advantage.
Also discussed was the possibility of a small wind project that would place a few turbines near Herkimer County Community College to help power the college and possibly other county facilities, Wallace said.
Smaller projects mean smaller impacts mean fewer objections.

Not to get carried away, the County would be taking on both a significant investment and significant risk. Like other local government-run utilities, the expertise needed to be successful is likely to be lacking -- hence the need for some professional management. And the negative impacts will still have to be dealt with in a way that is fair to neighbors.

But it is worth looking into ... NOT for global warming . . . NOT for the 'greater good' ... but for the possibility of bringing benefits to the people who will be paying the costs and living with the consequences.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

New York State Promotes Urban Sprawl . . .

New York State is giving Hartford Financial Services Group (a private company) a $500,000 grant (your tax money) to locate in a new office park being developed in New Hartford.

I wonder how it ever became State policy to give grants that encourage construction in undeveloped areas? I wonder if a generic environmental impact statement was done on such a policy - - and what mitigation was proposed for the sprawl that it promotes?

Just wondering . . .

Ineptness in UCSD . . . and Elsewhere

So now we find out that the Utica City School District has been wasting months "studying" a project that it cannot carry out. While the architects are taking the fall, I see this as really the administration's incompetence . . . and an example of how educators are not qualified to be managers. They saw a huge pot of money and could not wait to get their hands on it. They made the assumptions on what it could be used for and took action before Synthesis even got on board - - unless Synthesis was 'unofficially' advising the administration before they were 'chosen' from among several 'competitors' (but there is no evidence of that). The administration is letting their contractor take the fall.

Should this be any surprise when these administrators and school board are the same people who brought you the scheduling fiasco and no-textbooks fiasco a couple years back?

One has to wonder, also, about the competence of the state leaders who made such a tempting huge pot of money available. It only encourages waste. 300 million for Utica, almost a billion for Syracuse . . . now add together similar projects across the state and you know why NY is the highest taxed state in the land.

If New York can blow this kind of money on education, New York can well afford to give us a free Thruway . . . which will probably do more to boost Upstate's economy than all the new school facilities combined.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Unbuilding Bridges . . .

In Utica, we're still debating whether or not the North-South Arterial should be elevated over Court Street, and how we can best speed traffic through to New Hartford.

In Syracuse, the conversation is taking a different tone. Like the Arterial, I-81 overpasses are nearing the end of their useful life, but there, the talk is about removing them all together. Sandra Barrett of the Onondaga Citizens League commented.
"Basically, we think someone needs to take an advocacy role for downtown, or others will make the decision for downtown," Barrett said. "We want to make sure it's not just dollars and construction costs on the table, but that people take a look at the community at large. We want to take a look at alternatives to a highway that cuts through our city and separates our downtown from our fastest-growing industries."
People are starting to realize how superhighways, cutting through city neighborhoods, can destroy them. We need to think about this ourselves when remaking our own Arterial.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Transportation Collaboration in New Hartford

The New Hartford School District has come up with an idea that merits a close look: a shared transportation facility. Per the O-D,

The school district, town, village and local BOCES unit may collaborate to build a shared transportation facility.

The effort reflects an opportunity to consolidate services and facilities, Superintendent of Schools Daniel Gilligan said Monday.

“Rather than everyone building their own, we should share one,” Gilligan said as the Board of Education passed a resolution that could help further the project.

Other potential partners: Oneida-Herkimer-Madison BOCES and the town and village of New Hartford.
But this idea really needs to be taken further because there is a customer already looking for a transportation facility: CENTRO.

CENTRO wants to consolidate its bus maintenance facility for both its Utica and Rome-based fleets. The City of Utica has voiced some reluctance to having it in downtown Utica -- not thinking that it would fit with the City's plans for downtown. The Mayor proposed that it be located between Utica and Rome. That seems to make sense. . . and that seems to make New Hartford's proposal for a facility on Middle Settlement Road a perfect fit for CENTRO as well.

Location aside, there are other obvious benefits:

(1) CENTRO'S expertise. The local bus system seems to have gotten a boost by the boys (and girls) from Syracuse. Something sorely lacking in almost all school districts, no matter how handsomely compensated the superintendent, is a business sense for running operations. Although CENTRO is subsidized, it competes for passengers against taxis and private automobiles. It has to make those fares it collects go as far as possible to survive. Integrating school transportation with a professionally run public transit system would seem to lead to both cost savings and increased customer satisfaction.

(2) Educational Opportunity. A facility co-located with BOCES would seem to tailor-make an opportunity for training mechanics much like MVCC's aircraft maintenance training facility already does at Griffiss. Students would not only learn about nuts and bolts, but they would have a chance to learn about the transportation business as well.

Location, Expertise, and Education . . . Adding CENTRO to the mix would seem a natural fit.

Friday, December 14, 2007

A Big Win for the Little Guy . . .

The Jordanville Wind Farm received a "setback" in court according to yesterday's paper. The ruling is being greeted with the usual moaning and groaning when governmental officials -- and big business interests -- don' t get their way. But in reality, the ruling is a big win for the little guy. . . on two levels.

A Big Win for Open Government

As reported today, the Towns of Warren and Stark will now pay for their failure to comply with the Open Meetings Law. Anything decided by the towns in violation of that law is void. This is a good thing. When decisions are made illegally behind closed doors, it usually is because government is being co-opted by private interests for their own benefit and the expense of their neighbors. Some of our Towns in Oneida County need to read this decision and learn a lesson from it. When government runs openly and honestly, everyone benefits.

A Big Win for the Environment

Another aspect of the ruling is that government decisions that are made without a 'hard look' at their environmental impacts will also be set aside. This has long been the law, but it is often forgotten because, quite frankly, local government seems to have been bought off by business interests, it's easier and less costly to ignore one's environmental responsibilities, and it is unlikely that private individuals or civic groups will fork over the money needed to sue. This case, however, was the exception: people did sue --- and they won. If they had not, GOVERNMENT would have simply continued to violate the law. Some of our Towns in Oneida County need to read this decision from the environmental angle and learn a lesson from it. New Hartford in particular should read very carefully the "Pyramid" case cited within this decision. Again, this decision is a good thing. If environmental impacts are ignored, it is usually the neighbors - - - the little guys who derive no benefit -- who are hurt. When all the impacts are revealed and studied and mitigated, everyone benefits.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

NHSD: Saving Money or Beating the Clock?

Last week the O-D had an article giving the time-table for the New Hartford School District's capital expansion plan. Bidding will be done in March, supposedly to save money.
Phase 1 includes construction of the athletic field and the auditorium.
Phase 2 will consist of the math, science and technology wing.
The athletic field is going to involve installation of artificial turf. However, the safety of such turf has recently been called into question. Apparently ground up tires are an essential ingredient in the installation, and there is a fear that toxic chemicals from the tires could pose a health risk. It has become somewhat of an issue in Fayetteville-Manlius, which has postponed a referendum for such a field. Legislation has been introduced by Assemblyman Englebright of Long Island to impose a moratorium on such installations, pending a study of the public health aspects of same.

Could New Hartford be trying to beat the clock and get itself grandfathered in?

If it was unaware of the legislation, maybe it should consider F-M's concern and postpone the installation until the health effects of the artificial turf are better understood.

Wouldn't you rather play on grass than cadmium?

Reverso Wheel of Fortune . . .

The Observer-Dispatch is hosting a new game on its on-line forum: "Reverso Wheel of Fortune."

You know Wheel of Fortune, that 7PM staple on WKTV where contestants take turns guessing the words behind the lines of blank squares . . .

The O-D game is the opposite. You guess which words will produce a line of blanks when you put them into a posting! So far the contestants have come up with one word: "sales."

Of course, the other name of this game is "Censorship." The O-D apparently has software that sniffs out certain words and prevents them from being used. Many readers won't put up with scatological words and will just stay away from forums where they are used. And if the O-D is trying to promote an intelligent level of discussion -- which it seems to be doing -- such censorship is appropriate. After all, their reputation is on the line.

But "sales?" One has to wonder what/who is intended to be protected by screening out that word.

It's all rather amusing . . . until one thinks about the implications!

The internet has been a liberating force for self expression - - but our ever increasing dependency on it for our information also opens an unprecedented opportunity for malevolent forces to control what we see, say, and even think. In Utica, we seem to have a renegade programmer -- or a glitch -- that doesn't like the word "sales. " Funny. In China, Google has cooperated with the Chinese government to screen and filter the results of internet searches -- to return only "government approved" results. Not So Funny.

Now consider what is going on in our schools. "Knowledge" is deemphasized in favor of subjectively judged "performance." It's been years since kids had to memorize anything -- but they are encouraged to look up the "facts" on the 'Net. In an era of "find and replace" programming, history can be rewritten in a few key-strokes -- or entire ideas -- such as "sales" -- can simply disappear. Programmers -- or their handlers -- rule.

Today's reality is fast becoming Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451" and Orwell's "1984."

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Free the Thruway 500 . . .

Another day, another story about the impending Thruway toll hike. This time truckers say they will be avoiding the Thruway and using secondary roads if the hike goes through. Just what we need on our secondary roads ... more traffic. And, of course, those big rigs will mean more wear and tear on the roads that local municipalities may have to raise taxes to fix.

But those trucks will only be those that HAVE to be on NY roads because they serve a NY clientèle. Trucks that have origins and destinations out of NY will try to avoid the state all together. But worse, BUSINESSES for whom Upstate NY might be a convenient location will avoid coming here to keep the costs of their products low. Others that may be here now may leave.

Without this 500 mile highway, a huge swath of Upstate NY becomes a backwater. If it is priced so that it is not used, it's like not having it at all.

The over arching issue is why do we need the Thruway authority?

Most interstates in the country are toll free, being supported out of general taxes or gasoline taxes. I-81, I-86, I-88, I-495 (LI Expressway), I-84, I-390, I-87 (the portion North of Albany) in NYS are all toll free. There is also the Taconic Pkwy (NYC to Albany areas) and a myriad of Parkways on Long Island which are open to cars only, but are toll free. I-84 deserves special mention because Thruway tolls are used to maintain it!

Essentially, we in the Mohawk Valley are taxed every day to support these free super highways elsewhere in the state -- but are taxed again in the form of tolls when we use our local interstate (I-90) here.


The Mohawk Valley is one of the poorest areas in the state, therefore, New York is literally taxing the poor to support the rich.

It's time to end the unfair treatment, end the bureaucracy, and end the patronage gravy train that is the New York State Thruway Authority. The original bonds that were the reason for the tolls have long been paid off. The federal government even contributed a large sum on top of this. There is no good reason why the Thruway should be treated differently from any other Interstate in New York.

It's time to FREE THE THRUWAY 500.

Since Utica-Rome and Buffalo are the only two metropolitan areas entirely dependent on the Thruway for their connection to the outside world, the legislation to dismantle the Thruway Authority should come from majority-party legislators from these areas. Buffalo, however, just got the Niagara Thruway freed of tolls. Mr. Griffo, Mrs. DeStito, it's now your turn. If you have the guts to place your constituents above your personal political ambitions, you would pick up the gauntlet. And if you do, the machinations to keep the status quo will be interesting to see.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Why We Need Recall . . . in New York Mills!

I've blogged at least a couple times about our need for rights of initiative, referendum and recall - - so that the voters can do the dirty work that their elected representatives are unwilling to do. Well today on page 6D of the Observer-Dispatch is a prime example of why we need recall.

Just a few weeks ago New York Mills voters rejected an 8.9 million dollar school construction project - - - It was a narrow defeat, but a defeat none the less. Today a Legal Notice was published that the matter is coming back for another vote on January 23.

This is an abuse of power, plain and simple.

The school board knows that all they have to do is some minor tweaking and they can bring the matter back on a second time. . . . or a third. . . . or whatever it takes until it passes. The schools control more votes than ever because of their expanding employment practices, with teachers' assistants and aides becoming the norm rather than the exception. Although voting is a "civic duty," people eventually get sick of being ignored . . . so voters who don't support such spending will stay home. . . . .

Once a bond vote passes, the voters on the losing side don't have an equal opportunity to bring the matter back up again . . . and again.

New York Mills' population is dropping, so not expanding is not going to create an emergency for the school board to deal with. The school board needs to show respect for the residents. The voters have spoken.

The New York Mills school board mocks the referendum process and disrespects the will of the people. Every school board member who voted to put this matter up for a vote again should be ashamed.

A right of recall -- the right to immediately vote them out of office -- might make these people a little more sensitive to what the voters are saying.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Key to the Future . . .

According to the O-D headline, "rivers, trails key to area's future." Oneida County is seeking to make better use of waterways in the Mohawk River corridor. Undoubtedly, the headline is a lot of hyperbole.

But Oneida County Chief Planner, Ms. Breiten, makes a good point:
“This whole thing started because there is currently a lot of public-held property within the corridor, along the river and the canal, and it just seemed logical to try to link these publicly owned lands,” Breiten said.
That's what we like to see -- LOGIC in our government's workings. And linking existing publicly owned lands along the river and canal seems to be one way of making the whole greater than the sum of its parts.

As readers of this blog know from some of my photos, there is a lot of beauty along the river and canal. I regularly bike from Utica to Oriskany and have gone from Oriskany to Rome. The bikeway is a great asset that people are just starting to become aware of and use.

A greatly under utilized (non-utilized is more accurate) area is the eastern end in Utica at the canal entrance to Utica Harbor. The lock looks non-functional. Maybe it can be fixed? The harbor proper holds potential for waterfront development and boat useage. Down valley villages have done a marvelous job with their harbors. Utica, the largest city on the canal between Syracuse and Schenectady, logically should have the largest harbor development. There is a lot of public land just ready to be used. And there should be money available to clean up a lot of the contaminated old riverfront sites.

A disappointment on the western end is the trail ending on a heavily traveled highway just short of Rome proper. It is just begging for a pedestrian/bike-friendly connection into downtown and the fort, with some clear signage.

Another disappointment is the lack of a connection from the canal trail to the Oriskany Battlefield and Monument. It would seem to be a natural destination.

Of course (and I hate to say it but it seems to be true) the O-D is pushing a New Hartford agenda again by wanting trails in the Sauquoit Creek Basin. While that would be nice, NH has already gotten a lot of County largess . . . and it can well afford to implement its own trail system. While the 840 trail is "OK," it does not have the scenic or historic potential to attract a regional clientèle like the Mohawk River trail system does (which will eventually stretch from Albany to Buffalo). It would be wasteful to spend county money on far flung projects that would attract limited interest.

Lets focus on the Erie Canal - Mohawk River areas first -- Utica, Rome, and Oriskany -- and make better use of the public lands we find there.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Mohawk Valley: Help Thyself . . .

There was an interesting editorial by a Mr. Livadas in this past Sunday's (12/2) O-D entitled "It's time for the Mohawk Valley to help itself." [I would link to it, but it has not been posted online yet.] He really got my attention and had me nodding in agreement (in spite of the mixed metaphors) when he described "the ship of state," as a now grayed "yellow brick road" passing eastward through places from Lackawanna to Amsterdam, "once stable, industrious cities and towns, now laying comatose," that ends in a "flourishing Emerald City" (i.e., Albany). He had me cheering when he said:
"Space prohibits citing the litany of ill-advised decisions leading to the current disheartening state of affairs. But one thing is certain: the birthplace of many of our problems is on the steps of the state Capitol in Albany."
He then called on the leaders and people from Rome, Utica, Herkimer, and the various townships to "[p]ush aside all city vs. city competing "priorities" and establish one priority - the revitalization of the Mohawk Valley . . . " to "join together in an unprecedented spirit of cooperation and good will to . . . "
"form a study commission to undertake a thorough analysis of the issues confronting our region."
That's where he lost me! He had just articulated a lot of the problems that NYS has created for upstate, but now we need a study commission? To tell us what? The things that we already know?
"Commission members would be composed of local state officials such as state Sen. Joseph Griffo, who has formed a committee of business leaders to review the area's needs, together with the presidents of the Utica, Rome, Herkimer and other Chambers of Commerce. Mayors, supervisors, the county executive , economic development officials, civic leaders and area college presidents are to be included."
He really lost me there. He would put in charge the very same officials and "influential" community leaders who have presided over our decline. Their impotence has spanned decades.

The end product of this committee would be a "Revitalization Master Plan" for the Mohawk Valley. But this is just "pie-in-the-sky" philosophizing. While Mr. Livadas would have each municipality put aside its own interests for the benefit of the whole, it simply does not work that way when are talking about local development. As I pointed out in my "Reconnect" post, as long as our municipal boundaries separate people into groupings that will unevenly share costs and benefits, attempts to force "cooperation" will end in "competition," and efforts will be lost in "friction" among the elements. Only when the people reorganize themselves into new municipalities which encompass people with common interests and lets them all share in both the costs and benefits of their decision-making will that friction be overcome.

But even if the Mohawk Valley could be remade into one city to eliminate our regional "frictions," it would not remedy the major woes that stretch in common across Upstate from Schenectady westward -- the woes so well articulated by Mr. Lividas. We would still have Albany-imposed millstones around our neck such as the Thruway and its Tolls, utility rates that are out of proportion with our incomes, state taxes and fees that are out of proportion with our incomes, government programs and regulations that make sense from a Downstate -- but not an Upstate -- perspective. The fact that Upstate legislators do not demand removal of these millstones bespeaks of their being beholden to Downstate interests for their survival.

The only thing we could hope for is for a new boundary to be drawn around Upstate that allows us the opportunity for some self-determination -- to make our own policies in certain areas. The current political leadership on both sides would never go for this. If the public had the right of initiative, referendum and recall, however, there may be a chance for a reorganization -- because, on a person to person level, people are not that different. They have many hopes and aspirations in common. Downstaters would understand and appreciate the benefits of self-determination as much as Upstaters would.

Monday, December 03, 2007

New New Hartford Nonsense ... Part 2

Cathy continues her story of the NH Official plates on privately owned vehicles. It is amazing that the trucks could have sat in the same parking lot at the same time as two manned NH police cars . . . but nothing got done until months later when the State Police got involved. Give me a break.