Monday, June 30, 2008
Thursday, June 26, 2008
Who wouldn't think of that old song when coming upon a pretty field of clover such as this one?
This field is practically in Downtown Utica, located near the eastern end of the bike path, bounded by the path and Erie Canal on the north and Mohawk River on the south.
But you might think twice before rolling around here because this is no ordinary field of clover. . . It was not there last year. . . .
Months ago I noticed heavy equipment knocking down the woods that were on the site. The site was graded until almost flat, about even with the bike trail. That was followed by truckload after truckload of what appeared to be rich black topsoil. "Good, the site is being prepared for development," . . . or so I thought. But the trucks kept coming and dumping, and the mound kept getting higher and higher until it towered over the adjacent DOT Maintenance Building. The contours started to look suspiciously like a landfill . . . and were those channels for drainage from the hill to the canal that had been cut across the bike path and then paved over?
"Who would want to build a mound of dirt?"
I did not find my answer until the early days of 2008 when I read an OD Editorial by DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis, who was responding to some parting shots fired at DEC by outgoing Mayor Tim Julian. According to Grannis:
Julian implied nothing has been done by DEC at Harbor Point, the site of a former manufactured gas plant now owned by National Grid. Again, he failed to mention a salient fact: a lawsuit by National Grid slowed action for a time. And he failed to mention the notable progress made by the department at this sprawling, polluted parcel: thousands of yards of contaminated soil excavated; a slurry wall to prevent tar from migrating toward the water; storm and sanitary sewers repaired to prevent leaks into Utica Harbor; dredge spoils capped. DEC also expects to approve a plan to remove tar deposits in the Mohawk River in 2008.A quick search at the DEC Website turned up this March 2001 "Record of Decision" (ROD) regarding remediation of only a portion of Niagara Mohawk's Harbor Point Inactive Hazardous Waste Site. On page 35 on a site plan, there it was! . . . "Dredge Spoils Area 2 (DSA2)" . . . DSA2, an area where dredge spoils from clearing Utica Harbor had been disposed of years ago, is the field of clover.
I was not happy with what I read. The dredge spoils in DSA2 had been heavily contaminated from the old coal gas operation nearby. They were considered a threat to public health and the environment and needed to be contained somehow. The ROD described the plan.
DSA2 contains no identifiable "hot spots" that can be readily removed. A soil cover on this area will eliminate direct human exposure to site contaminants and will reduce the generation of groundwater contamination. A use restriction will prevent future human exposure to contaminated groundwater. . . [p. 26]Perhaps I missed something or there is something I don't understand or there was a change of plans after 2001, but that site had been graded flat and a lot more than 18" of fill plus 6" of topsoil was dumped there afterward. Regardless . . .
Clearing, regrading and installation of a soil cover at DSA2, consisting of an 18-inch layer of non-contaminated fill material and a 6-inch layer of topsoil. Dredged sediment will be allowed as alternative grading material below the soil cover at DSA2 provided the concentration of PAHs in the sediment is less than 35 ppm and the concentration of total PCBs in the placed sediment is less than 10 ppm. . . [p. 27]
. . . there will be a deed restriction placed to ensure that redevelopment is limited to nonresidential uses. Further, deed restrictions on groundwater usage on and in the vicinity of the DSAs will be placed, as well as notices to future developers of the site regarding the need for worker protection and proper handling and disposal of any materials encountered during future development. Groundwater contaminant levels will be monitored. The deed restrictions will also require present and future owners to annually certify to the NYSDEC that the institutional controls have been maintained and that the conditions at the site are fully protective of public health and the environment in accordance with this ROD. [p. 28]
At this point I have to presume that DEC did its job and that the threat to health and environment has been eliminated. But what of the future?
The restrictions on residential and ground water useage do not seem to present big issues to redevelopment, but the mound is what it is, and most people would call it a hazardous waste landfill. . . . a downtown Utica landfill!
"Who would want to build ON a mound of dirt?"
Had this site been graded to be flat and left that way, reuse of the site would have seemed feasible... perhaps for a restaurant, some type of concession stand, shops, offices, or a park. But the grade present won't even allow for siting a picnic table! And because regrading would be required to reuse the property, the contaminated spoil beneath probably will prevent this site from ever being productively used.
What a WASTE! It's water-front property (front AND back) with a view of Downtown!
Again, it is unknown if the mound that we see was planned, was not apparent from the plans (it's not apparent from the ROD), or was a change to plans, but the mound is the problem to redevelopment. Interestingly enough, the ROD's "responsiveness summary" does not indicate any concern by our local officials or local news media.
Draw your own conclusions about why things like this just seem to happen.
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
This should be a message to the nay-sayers: Utica does have things to offer people that they want . . . and maybe having been located in Herkimer County had something to do with this development . . .
Had they been located in Oneida County, they probably would have simply gotten whatever services they wanted by having the county "regionalize" the services for them.
"We're extremely disappointed," Herkimer County Administrator Jim Wallace said. "We have no problem or concern with how the individuals voted. They did what they had to do. We understand that. We're just very disappointed with the Masonic Home for the tactics they used ...we think it's a historical break, and totally unnecessary. We also didn't get the support of the City of Utica or Oneida County. It's just disappointing in a time for regionalization."But, Mr. Wallace, Annexation IS Regionalization . . . the way it should be.
. . . but see below for an idea on how both Utica and Herkimer County might benefit from more Utica annexations . . . if the annexed land were allowed to stay in Herkimer County.
Think about this for a minute. If Utica expanded into Herkimer County with the right kind of zoning (eg. industrial or retail -- whatever will not generate need for social services), Utica services would provide all that are needed to support growth. . . with minimal negative impact to Herkimer County finances. . . However, the property taxes and sales taxes that would be generated for the Herkimer County coffers could be significant. Since Herkimer County and the City of Utica have roughly the same population, Herkimer County probably could cut its County Wide sales tax in half and not even feel it because Utica would shop in the Herkimer County part of Utica! Retail traffic might even move from New Hartford to the New East Utica because of a significantly lower sales tax. Utica would have property to expand its tax base . . . and Herkimer County would have services to expand its tax base. Herkimer County could not do this by itself because it does not have the population to support the services, but a Utica-Herkimer County team does! While the Town of Frankfort might lose a few acres, it will not have to service them . . . And probably very little land would need to be annexed to accomplish a transformation of both the Utica and Herkimer County economies. . . There might even be some benefits that Frankfort could be given for the favor of giving up a few acres.
Now THAT would be regionalization!
Monday, June 23, 2008
Why does annexation by Utica require annexation by Oneida County? It is Utica Services that the people want - - - NOT Oneida County Services. Why shouldn't these people be allowed to annex themselves to Utica without leaving Herkimer County?
New York City spans 5 counties, so the precedent is there. It should not be much different than when a village is split among two towns (like New York Mills in our area) which is not uncommon in NYS.
I can (mischievously) think of all sorts of benefits that might accrue to a portion of Utica lying in Herkimer County. Perhaps the presence of Utica services and low Herkimer County sales tax might spawn large retail development in the new (but currently under served) East Utica area - - with the money benefiting Herkimer County -- of course. I'm sure that the City of Utica will not insist that it be located entirely within Oneida County.
Sunday, June 22, 2008
So what's the point?
Pay in all of Oneida County is "below par" -- in 2002 for individuals, being only 81% of the national average and 85.5% of same for the median family.
Pay in all of Herkimer County is "below par" -- in 2002 for individuals, being only 74% of the national average and 78% of same for the median family.
Ya gotta wonder: What is the motivation for this article?
How about some real investigative journalism for a change? . . . Like telling us . . .
Who owns all the properties along the MVWA's proposed pipeline to Verona (and who will get to write off the cost against their water bills)? Or . . .
What was recently buried beneath the clover field next to the Canalway Trail only a stone's throw from AquaVino and North Genesee St. (and what it means for the future development of Utica) ? Or . . .
What is the value of all the properties improperly hooked up to the Sauquoit Creek Pump Station (and which jurisdictions are collecting how much in taxes, but who is paying to fix the problem)?
There are plenty of things people want to know about that will sell newspapers . . .
but what we seem to mostly get are pieces that drag 'certain' people through the mud, puff up 'certain' others, prop up some communities over others while incompetence or wrong doing there gets a pass, and (like this article) generally distract the public from the real issues affecting them.
Clearing a hurdle, however, should not make us feel too secure since the Big Wigs in state government still want to shut it down, and more than likely will pull out all the stops to cater to the NIMBYs of Westchester -- people who need the power, but would rather foist the impacts of power generation and transmission on others (us). Of course, there being more people in Westchester, what do you think the politicians will do?
While this is an issue for discussion downstate, it is not mentioned by our local media . . . which allows it to be off the radar screens of our reps in Albany.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
The American Red Cross chapters in Utica and Herkimer will merge, according to a joint release from the groups. . . .Since Herkimer County only has about 60,000 people and since the chapter serving Rome and Western Oneida County is not included, that means that the remaining 160,000 people must be from the Greater Utica - Eastern Oneida County area ... but somehow their regional identity disappears into the "Mohawk Valley" -- which is already the name of the Herkimer Chapter.
The American Red Cross of the Mohawk Valley, with its 600-plus volunteers and 11 staff members, serves 221,380 people in Herkimer and Oneida counties.
Frankly, I'm getting a bit sick of what seems to be the systematic extermination of "Utica" from our regional identity. It does not have to be done this way. E.g., when the Utica Area and Herkimer United Ways merged, "Utica" remained in the new name.
I've given to the Utica Chapter of the Red Cross before . . . but seriously doubt that I will give to a "Mohawk Valley" Chapter in the future.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
"In recently promoting four Utica police officers who live outside the city, the Roefaro administration chose not to enforce the city charter’s residency requirement.So far, so good...
"Here’s a better idea: Don’t break the law — scrap it."
While I do not necessarily feel that the residency law should be scrapped (there are pros and cons on this), scrapping a law is always better than breaking it.
"This issue has been going on for decades, and Mayor David Roefaro must put an end to it once and for all. . . .How impatient of the OD! . . But the last time I checked, the Mayor does not have the authority to "scrap" any law . . . The Common Council does. . . .
"“The last administration left this in my lap, but I plan to put it to bed once and for all,” he said.
"Good. So do it already."
It's simple civics: the Legislative branch (Council) makes the laws and the Executive Branch (Mayor) carries them out.
The editorial is directed to the wrong person. Is this just ignorance . . . or is the OD looking for an excuse to dump on the Mayor?
Monday, June 16, 2008
While the Radisson's tax advantages are clearly unfair to the Hotel Utica, they are understandable because when they were given, there was NO downtown hotel. Nevertheless, the Hotel Utica's complaints should cause us to reexamine policies that dole out advantages to newcomers over taxpaying competitors.
Unmentioned in the article are the advantages being given to the New Hartford Business Park. While school taxes will be collected, they will be diverted to pay for a road to service the park. (The legality of this is clearly questionable because there is nothing in the Education Law that authorizes Boards of Education to divert their tax monies to non-educational purposes. . . . but that is a side issue). Again, this particular developer is being given an advantage that is not being given to competitors . . . and others should be expected to complain (but no one in the media seeks them out).
These complaints about unfair advantages should remind us of the words of Article VIII of the NYS Constitution:
Section 1. No county, city, town, village or school district shallThere was a reason why these words were written.
give or loan any money or property to or in aid of any individual, or
private corporation or association, or private undertaking, or become
directly or indirectly the owner of stock in, or bonds of, any private
corporation or association; nor shall any county, city, town, village or
school district give or loan its credit to or in aid of any individual, . . .
Friday, June 13, 2008
The kiddie porn conviction was three years old . . . so that is not news.
The disqualification of this person's company from the EDGE Business Plan Contest prize happened weeks ago . . . so that is not news either . . . although the public never got an adequate explanation why this company was disqualified.
The OD now implies that somehow the conviction and the disqualification are connected, yet offers not a shred of evidence, such as a contest rule that disqualifies entrants with a conviction.
This is not news, it is speculation.
A more plausible explanation is that the judging may have not been impartial and EDGE got caught by a disgruntled contestant. (Frankly, I was shocked when the innovative "rubber sidewalk" entry did not win.) Why else has the runner up not been awarded the prize? But this would be speculation, too . . . and while EDGE's silence invites speculation, it does not convert it into news.
Why is this person's sin hung out like laundry for the public to see? Did he do something politically that the OD does not like? Or is the OD running interference for EDGE? Or does the OD just look for excuses to run provocative headlines to sell papers, no matter who it hurts?
This odd story allows us to speculate on what the OD's motivations may be.
A judge in Manhattan ordered state leaders Wednesday to increase judicial salaries within the next 90 days, ruling that it was unconstitutional for lawmakers to link pay raises for judges to their own salary hikes. . . .And if Messrs. Paterson, Silver and Bruno ignore this ruling . . . then what?
The judge ordered the defendants -- Gov. David Paterson, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno -- to adjust judges' pay to reflect an increase in the cost of living since 1998 and to make it retroactive . . .
Our judicial branch seems to have forgotten the functions of the three branches of government. . . . shown disrespect for the other two . . .
and given us citizens reason to disrespect them all!
Thursday, June 12, 2008
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
What is going on?
While veterans, police and firefighters are certainly deserving of public appreciation and honor, isn't this overdoing it? The school districts (presumably NYM and New Hartford) and the villages of New Hartford and NYM and Town of New Hartford supposedly are teaming up for this project as a joint effort, although why the NH school district and its Superintendent, Dan Gilligan are involved raises an interesting question. According to Gilligan “We will work together to raise money,” he said. “The town would help them build them a pavilion and a park.”
The implication seems to be that no taxpayers' dollars will be needed but ... Just who will have to pay to maintain and police all these new installations?
There is already a nice park in NYM. The population is going DOWN not up. If the village and town did not need this park 40 years ago when the population was larger, why do they need one now?
This looks like an excuse just to spend taxpayer money so some one can clean up.
Update: Looks like this will be a Big Money Boondoggle: at least $1,000,000 Big!
In promoting four police officials who live outside the city, the Roefaro Administration has chosen not to enforce the city charter's residency requirement.Last night we read: Factory may grow in New York Mills after all.
The New York Mills Village Board recently decided not to fight a lawsuit by Oriskany Manufacturing over zoning regulations.In neither case was the law changed. In both cases it was ignored.
Why should people have respect for public officials when the officials have no respect for the public laws?
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Unfortunately, there is concern because some of our more recent forays into historic preservation have left a bad taste in some people's mouths. The Hotel Utica comes immediately to mind. Although beautifully restored, the Hotel's financial situation has become a drain on Utica taxpayers . . . and the high Utica taxes, in turn, make it difficult for new people to want to invest here both in historic structures and otherwise. The Oneida County Courthouse is another. All at taxpayer expense, it went beyond historic preservation to reflect the $40 million self-indulgence of its occupants, with no visible benefit to the environs. This project contributed to high Oneida County taxes, which, again, make it difficult for new people to want to invest here.
Yet, David Oster's conceptual drawing of a renovated Rutger Park, above, gives a sense that honoring our past could be a key to our future. People travel thousands of miles to experience an ambiance -- a sense of place -- a mixture of history and beauty. We have that here, but too often take it for granted and allow it to erode. An editorial over the weekend by David Mittel, Jr., of Providence suggests as much:
... Utica is a city God has blessed. It lies on the Mohawk River and... it was built by the Erie Canal. . . . The Erie Canal still runs through Utica . . .But the beauty of the canal cannot be overstated, and it seems to me that better exploiting it could help revive Utica and all the other cities and towns along it.Greater Utica has a good thing in its natural and man-made environment, and needs to resist those things that threaten its quality -- such as NYRI, the North South Arterial proposals, and decay.
Utica’s architecture is dominated by the Italianate style dating to the 1860s. Seeing the city for the first time, a young couple might easily say, “Here we will stop and raise a family.” . . .
... in France, there are cities in the Loire Valley about as far from Paris as Utica is from New York that thrive on their beauty alone. At a glance, the Mohawk Valley has every advantage of the Loire. Somehow, the beauty, the housing stock, the Internet, leadership and a bit of luck ought to be able to bring back Utica and the many cities like it.
A good thing for this particular project is that the Landmarks Society, rather than politicians, will be in charge. Government is notoriously inept at creating anything of quality. It certainly won't be easy to make the restorations a success, and it will get increasingly harder for this and similar projects until the local economy is turned around and the public is better able to make the necessary contributions.
Nevertheless, time is of the essence. Something needs to be done, now, before the losses are unrecoverable.
Thank you, Landmarks Society, for taking on this project. . . and Good Luck.
Sunday, June 08, 2008
- $82K for unpaid vacation, sick, and personal leave
- $168K negotiated settlement.
Additionally, according to Roefaro, the City had been notified by the State that the waiver Pyleman had been given to both work for Utica while collecting his state retirement check would end next year . . . ending the retirement check and (under his Julian-era contract) obligating the City to make up the difference (an additional $67K per year).
The original Pylman contract was a bad deal for Utica just considering the 2019 expiration date. The $ provisions made it worse.
Roefaro's numbers may inflict some pain now, but they may result in a gain in the long run.
Saturday, June 07, 2008
Congressman Michael Arcuri does not support the construction of new refineries in the United States. "For what," he asks, saying it has not been "demonstrated how building a refinery will lower the cost of gas. No one has done that."Hmm . . . No refineries built in the US for more than 30 years . . .
More people driving more cars for more miles (Urban Sprawl, my dears) . . .
What about the Law of Supply and Demand. . .
(Do you have to be over 60 to understand)??
Hopefully the Congressman was misquoted.
This is almost (but not quite) as bad as the Boehlert theory of 'Global Warming' before he was demoted.
It's scary . . . and disturbing . . .
Maybe there is something in the Washington, DC atmosphere that explains such blathering.
Friday, June 06, 2008
Last summer's crisis, where Greater Utica's drinking water supply was threatened, can now be comfortably forgotten because government agencies have done an impressive job to get things under control. They have spent countless hours studying the issues, produced a massive report with tons of data, and have made recommendations designed to ensure that what happened last year never happens again....
At least this is what the agencies and our elected representatives hope you will think. And they would be right, based on the comments posted on the OD's version of the story.
But the basic question still remains:
Would the crisis have occurred had everyone been following long standing rules such as the 1920 Rule Curve and the 1917 Agreement?
Until that question is answered, you should not be comfortable ... because a government that did not follow its own rules in the past cannot be counted upon to follow new ones in the future.
Thursday, June 05, 2008
Finished goods are now stored locally, but those operations will be moved to Atlanta, Ga., and shipped from there. Atlanta is a transportation hub, and freight costs are lower, officials said.Last week Gloversville received similar news when Callaway announced it was closing its golf ball factory by July 31.
" . . . when we looked at the production of some of these products, it was the only way to stay competitive . . .”
. . . more than half of the company's customers live outside the United States, making it more cost efficient for the company to move its manufacturing operations outside the country. . . ."Competitiveness" : That's it in a nutshell . . . Companies leave New York State to stay competitive. New York State is Not Competitive.
"[Callaway] does have a responsibility to its employees and shareholders to maintain its competitiveness in the industry . . . "
The responses in both cases are similar . . . Look at bright spots . . . Look forward to the future. We'll just keep (spending lots of money) trying to sell our respective areas to other prospects.
But do we EVER hear any of our elected leaders and industrial development types use their respective bully pulpits to lobby for changes that will actually FIX what is driving businesses away?
NONE of our local legislators has lifted a finger to dismantle the Thruway Authority and rid our main commerce artery of tolls. NONE of our mayors, county executives, industrial development heads have even suggested it. NO ONE suggests ways to spend less on our schools (which are the biggest drain on the taxpayers). Does anyone really believe that we need to spend $18,000+/ student in NYS to educate them? Does anyone really believe that Utica needs $187 million in new school construction - - - or Syracuse needs $900 million?
Money spent on "economic development" is money wasted because we're promoting a defective product. "Wins" cannot last in a state that has no control over its spending, and nickels-and-dimes its people to death.
Wake up, people! Time to say enough is enough.
Wednesday, June 04, 2008
NYCO ruminates on the relationship between stuff and community planning.
Cathy at New Hartford Online gives us the scoop on how the Town makes some residents pay for their water lines, while making all taxpayers pay to give them free to other residents. (Maddening!) .
Finally, Gear at CNY Snakepit contrasts the very different public reactions to two separate Utica fires.
Why are taxes so high?The solutions offered:
1. New York schools spend more per student than any other state in the country - a total of $18,768, about 50 percent more than the national average. . . .
1. Place a cap on property taxes to keep them from rising more than 4 percent annually. Voters could choose to override the cap.
2. Create a "circuit-breaker" program by redirecting $2 billion from the existing STAR program to people who pay the largest portion of their income in property taxes.
3. Reduce unfunded mandates by requiring the state Legislature and Education Department to propose revenue sources to cover the cost of any new directives.
This is a sham - Bait and Switch. It's not a cap on taxes, its a cap on annual growth of taxes. It's Business as Usual! Generous increases are still allowed. Whatever happened to the 2% constitutional limit (that government could never take more than 2% of the value of your property) that we once had? School taxes alone exceed that in my district.
The most troubling aspect of this report is that it ignores the obvious:
If New York State schools are spending more per student than schools in every other state, and are spending 50% more than the national average, then tax relief could easily come if NY Schools would
But spending less is no where suggested in the report. Heaven forbid there should be an analysis of what schools are doing differently now that requires spending in excess of former limits.
It's obvious that the Suozzi group caved in to the Teachers Union and education cartel (including book sellers, technology marketers, architects, and construction firms who have gotten rich from school spending).
Same old, same old.
Tuesday, June 03, 2008
- Five hotels with 2,040 rooms.
- 6,000 slot machines.
- A three-quarter mile speedway with seating for 120,000.
- A 20,000-seat, quarter-mile drag strip.
- A 1-mile harness-racing track that seats 10,000 people.
- A 270,000-square-foot entertainment/events center and arena.
- An 18-hole championship golf course.
- A parking garage.
Neighborhoods at the edge of a downtown district that were blighted begin to attract interest -- and more importantly -- investment dollars. . .Can Utica be far behind? Will it be ready to make the most of it?
"There is a tremendous amount of really great infrastructure that's waiting, and as money starts to flow, people are starting to look into downtown Elmira and they see a great opportunity and an appreciating real estate market" . . .
How would you like a guaranteed 8.25% return on your money? That's what a New York City teachers' savings plan guarantees that has actuaries scratching their heads. The only problem, it's the City's Taxpayers that give the guarantee, courtesy of the folks in Albany passing a law to allow it. Of course, the law was slipped through with practically no notice. . . At least we don't live in NYC, but it shows you how easily these things happen.
Double dipping administrators with six-figure pensions are becoming as common as the dandelions on my lawn. Why does this happen?
"It's a closed shop," said Sen. Dean Skelos, R-Rockville Centre.