April 1, 2005

WHCU Director of Operations retiring

This morning's Ithaca Journal pays a visit to WHCU 870's Hanshaw Road offices for a story profiling retiring Director of Operations Tom Joseph.

The Ithaca school district is reviewing its budget in preparation for a board vote April 12th and a referendum May 17th. The article lists proposed cuts and increases.

The Journal's editorial looks at the first on-time state budget since 1984, but hardly thinks New York State's problems are solved:

The lesson to be learned from this budget is that New Yorkers need to keep the pressure on their governor, senators and Assembly members. If they become partisan hacks, they need to be voted out of office and replaced by a representative who sees the bigger picture: Keeping the government of this incredibly diverse state moving. Such an effort requires humility and the ability to compromise.

If New York voters become complacent, it is a safe bet that late budgets will again crop up in a year or two, because few faces in the Legislature will have changed by then.

I have to say that the timing of the budgets is just one small facet of the problem, maybe good for headlines but not that meaningful otherwise. It was perhaps wise to pass a budget on the parts lawmakers could agree on instead of holding the rest hostage to more contentious issues, but there's a long way to go before New York's budget process, much less its legislative process, makes sense.

Posted by simon at 7:50 AM Comment

April meetings

The public notices page for April lists meetings for this month:

Unless otherwise noted, all meetings listed here are at the Dryden Town Hall (map).

Posted by simon at 8:15 AM Comment

Revised Village of Dryden election results

Apparently the voting machines in the Village of Dryden race had problems early on, so inspectors collected paper ballots. In the new numbers, 240 people voted (20.5% of voters), and the results changed from the ones I reported the day after the election:

PositionPersonOld VotesRevised Votes
Dryden MayorReba Taylor (R)156177
Dryden TrusteeBob Witty (R)136157
Mark Strom (R)125146
Jerry Carbo (D)9097

Each of the Republicans picked up exactly 21 votes, while Democrat Jerry Carbo picked up 7.

Posted by simon at 12:26 PM Comment

April 2, 2005

Dryden opinions, ICSD levy

Most of the Dryden-related information in today's Journal is on the opinion page.

Art Berkey (listed as Ithaca, but I know he lives in Dryden) leads Darts & Laurels with a thank you to the public library for postponing a referendum on a tax in the Ithaca and Lansing school districts, and thanks the Tompkins County Highway Department for new signage at the Turkey Hill/Quarry Road/Ellis Hollow intersection. I've been meaning to report on the latter for a while, so here are a few pictures of that dramatically improved intersection.

Stop ahead signs
Stop ahead and speed limit signs on Turkey Hill Road

Stop signs
Stop signs, including flashing red

From Quarry Road
From the Quarry Road side: left-hand stop sign, solar panel, back of flashing stop sign, school speed limit sign, back of stop sign with pedestrian sign.

You can see (at least in this season) the blinking red lights on the stop sign from Turkey Hill Road well before Stevenson Road, which should be plenty of warning for drivers. The school speed limit signs are for Stone Circle School.

Next up on the opinion page is Henry Kramer, with a set of prescriptions for lowering the cost of government. I find it strange that Kramer seems to exempt the federal government in the first sentence and never mentions town government, which in Dryden violated his Prescription 4 last year. He seems consistently upset with the fact that the public sector is different from the private sector, though I can't say the private sector organizations in which I've worked have lived up to his expectations either. I heartily agree with him that there's more government can do to reduce its costs, but I'd replace his nine prescriptions with one:

Involve more people more deeply in their government, making certain that information about finances is both available and understandable.

More transparency will make it easier for people to tell when their government is spending money needlessly, while more involvement is also an opportunity for people to say when projects are important enough that they actually want to spend more money. Dryden's creation of a Recreation Department and recent discussion of purchasing development rights from farms both strike me as examples of the latter.

(I do try to report opinions fairly blandly here, but Henry Kramer's screeds somehow drive me to respond.)

A letter from Lindsay Welsh of Freeville discusses responsible hunting in reply to a letter from Susan Weiner of Alpine about misbehaving hunters and poachers.

In news, the Journal looks at the revenue demands of the coming Ithaca school budget and their impact on taxes.

Posted by simon at 9:22 AM Comment

Village of Dryden annexation possibilities

At the March Town Board meeting, Mike Hattery distributed a map with one possible scenario for annexing more property north of the Village of Dryden to the village. I've had a little trouble scanning it in so that it's readable and doesn't take forever to download, but hopefully the map below will serve both purposes. (You can click on it to see a larger version.)

Annexation possibilities
Annexation possibilities north of the Village of Dryden

The purple is the area that was annexed last year to support a New York State Department of Transportation facility that hasn't been built yet. The yellow parcel is Dryden Mutual Insurance, which recently petitioned to be annexed to the Village. The orange-red is additional land Hattery would like to see annexed, including Dryden High School and Middle School. The turquoise is an area, including TC3, that Hattery thinks would be well-served by a water district without annexation. (Assistant Code Enforcement Officer Kevin Ezell, who prepared the map, told me that the building outlines date from a 1990 map, so may not be entirely accurate today.)

The reasoning, to quote the minutes of that meeting, seems to be:

Cl Hattery said he and ZO Slater and Mayor Taylor had been discussing getting the 2nd parcel-based annexation proposal and the possible solutions for getting water to the current Cortland Road Sewer District. They discussed about splitting the interests partly based on responses to the meeting organized by Michael Lane and ZO Slater's knowledge of the preferences of some of the property owners. There was bill introduced last year that didn't get passed by the Assembly that would permit two municipalities to initiate a larger scale annexation and one of the things they discussed between themselves and with Senator Seward's staff was the possibility of using that on a special bill basis. They talked about the potential for an annexation that took the west side of Route 13 as an annexation that would build on where the two requests for annexation have been, and creating a water district on the east side, which is largely the TC3 property and the Westerling mobile home park. He met with Mayor Taylor and Supv Trumbull and Assemblywoman Lifton today, and she seems generally favorable to that.

Cl Hattery distributed a map of his proposal and said he is making this proposal as a way of trying to get past this loggerhead and get water to the entire area. The use of the proposed special bill would include both boards agreeing that this is a good annexation and will then be voted on by the property owners.

Cl Christofferson said he had the sense that people were generally not in favor of annexation and Cl Hattery said he wasn't at the public information meeting, but was getting feedback in favor of annexation.

Cl Stelick asked if there was annexation would every property owner have to hook up, and Cl Hattery said no. Atty Perkins said he believed the Village's position is if you are in the Village you do hook up to water if the line runs past your property. The Town's policy in the past for a water district has been that you are not required to utilize the water line as your water source, but you will pay the benefit assessment whether you hook up or not.

Cl Stelick said Karel Westerling has stated clearly that he has his own well and wasn't interested in annexation, and Cl Stelick doesn't think he would be interested in a water district either. Cl Hattery said one way or another, that side of Route 13 has to be provided service. There are users on the east side of the road and there has to be some infrastructure up there and the Village can't do it. In the long run a district would respect Westerling's investment and the fact that he manages his own water system and has a license, and as regulatory authority increases over small water systems, it may get too costly for him and he may want a district-based water supply. M Lane noted that both Karel Westerling and the Nortes had said they didn't want annexation or a water district, and he found that troubling, saying that they didn't hear from people in the trailer park about having municipal services there.

Cl Hattery said the public users on that side of the road need a solution (the ones already served by the Village water system) that can't be accomplished under the current arrangements. The Village can't go out there and make an investment. ZO Slater pointed out that Village believes the water line on the east side of Route 13 is in dire need, and is the most attended line they have.

Cl Michaels said he thought the business owners and residents of the trailer park would benefit in terms of having a police force close by. The business owners had indicated they wanted water service.

Cl Hattery said this idea has some possibility legislatively and asked the board to consider it and suggest any changes. He said the Town needs to move ahead in some way. Cost is an issue for infrastructure since the DOT deal is apparently stalled.

Cl Christofferson and Cl Hattery suggested a survey could be conducted of the owners and residents once cost figures have been agreed on by the municipalities.

Annexation does make sense to me, though I know not everyone in the area is excited about it. I really wonder if a water district in place of annexation for the east side makes sense in the face of the Village's preference to extend their water supply only in the Village, but maybe they're showing more flexibility lately.

If you want a parcel-by-parcel list of which properties are in this area, Hattery provided a list (418KB PDF).

There will undoubtedly be more to come on this story.

Posted by simon at 10:15 AM Comment

April 3, 2005

School project news good, school budget complicated

This week's Dryden Courier leads with good news: bids for elementary school renovations came in $180,000 under the expected $9.4 million budget. The referendum authorizing the project had been passed two years ago, and the board was very concerned about costs having increased. Fortunately, they didn't.

There's also an article on the challenges of the "strong-willed" Dryden school budget, which increased between $35,000 and $100,000 after $1 million in cuts at a previous meeting. Sorting out which positions to keep and which to cut sounds painful, and board members had a "discussion of how this year's thrift might trigger the need for astronomical increases next year. There will be an open workshop tomorrow night at 6:30pm at the High School/Middle School library.

A picture of retiring Etna Postmaster Judy Auble-Zazzara cutting the cake at her retirement part graces the front page.

In sports, there's some discussion of new Dryden baseball coach Kim Brown, as well as the team's prospects: "the team will have to mature quickly in order to stay in the pack." There's also a picture of Dryden player Bryan White from a game against Trumansburg last year.

Posted by simon at 10:29 AM Comment

April 4, 2005

Flooding in Dryden

Local firefighters had a challenging Saturday as 2.5 inches of rain landing on saturated ground caused flooding around the area. I noticed Route 366 had some water coming across the road as the ditch on the south side of the road overflowed around 5:00pm, and the Journal has a picture of Route 13 northbound being closed between Route 366 and Etna Lane because of a blocked culvert. Fall Creek Road, West Malloryville Road, and Gulf Hill Road all had sections closed over Saturday night, and McLean firefighters opened a command center at their fire station.

Flood damage, Route 13
Flood damage at a blocked culvert, Route 13 near Etna.

Neptune Hose Company Chief Ron Flynn is quoted as saying:

"We've probably pumped about 22 basements since yesterday. Property damage-wise, some of the basements were finished basements so there's property damage there."

It sounds like Cortland County had even more problems, especially around the Tioughnioga River. NYSEG cut off gas service to part of the City of Cortland because of high water.

Freeville resident Pearl Mellberg is quoted in an article about the antique sale at the Rose Inn in Lansing, which burned last year. Mellberg tells the Journal, ""It's synonymous with this area... My husband and I have eaten here, and we've been to a wedding reception here."

Posted by simon at 8:32 AM Comment

April 5, 2005

Dryden school budget; more on flooding

This morning's Ithaca Journal reports on a possible 9% levy hike in the Dryden schools budget for next year, though the recently-passed state budget "would drop the levy increase by 2 percent" if all goes well. BOCES services and a GED program at TC3 were among the items the board was debating. The board's final budget vote will be April 11th at 7:15pm in the Dryden Elementary School cafeteria.

There's more on yesterday's flooding, with an article looking at the continuing effects of the weekend's rain and flooding. The Journal talks with residents of Fall Creek Road whose basement flooded and had to be pumped out by the Freeville Fire Department, and notes that the Red Cross "found temporary shelter for the 13 displaced Freeville residents in an area motel," and handed out clean-up kits including "a bucket, mop and other cleaning supplies."

Posted by simon at 8:27 AM Comment

April 6, 2005

Swing dance, senior citizens at Neptune Hose Company

This morning's Journal is pretty quiet about Dryden. They do list two events happening at the Neptune Fire Hall (map). The Recreation Department is sponsoring a swing dance there from 2:30pm to 4:30pm on Sunday, April 10th.

Then, on Monday, April 11th, the Dryden Senior Citizens will meet there at 11:30am, with a meatloaf dinner at 12:15pm. Bring your own table service and $5 for members, $5.95 for nonmembers and guests. Beyond Measure, the Dryden High School a cappella group, will provide entertainment.

Posted by simon at 8:10 AM Comment

Satellite pictures of Dryden

I've been meaning to link to Google Maps for a while, though I've been sticking to MapQuest out of habit. Google's posted satellite photos now in addition to their regular maps, as you can see at this link to the intersection of Routes 13 and 366. You can't zoom in very far (and I wonder how old the satellite photos are), but it's a good way to get an overview of Dryden complete with buildings, forests, and fields rather than just a road map. (Google does that too, of course.)

Posted by simon at 8:22 AM Comment

State legislators reach for NYSERDA piggybank?

I've been fond of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority for a while now. I first heard about them when I had work done on my house and received a rebate, but they also audited that work impressively, contributed to Dryden High School's solar panels, and are likely to help plan and pay for energy efficiency in Dryden's new Town Hall.

You can find out more about NYSERDA - origins, what it does, etc. - at their Frequently Asked Questions page, but for the current discussion, what matters is that their funding, which comes from the utilities and to some extent the federal government, is dedicated funding, not money that comes from or goes into the state's general fund. (You may think Lotto money goes into a dedicated fund for education, but it actually goes to the general fund.) NYSERDA's mission is squarely focused on energy, in particular on improving the state's energy efficiency, from businesses to rental homes.

NYSERDA doesn't seem to be very popular with the legislature this year, however. An AP story in Newsday suggests that the legislature wants to end NYSERDA's independent status and financing. Some of the highlights:

In its $105 billion budget passed last week, the Legislature included a measure to bring the $150 million System Benefit Charge energy efficiency program and the new Renewable Energy Portfolio program under the fiscal watch of lawmakers. The programs are run by New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and funded by a charge on utility bills.

Public authorities such as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the Thruway Authority and the New York Racing Association have been the subject of some of Albany's biggest scandals in recent years and lawmakers want them to be more open and accountable.

But environmental groups say the planning for many renewable energy projects is done in five-year increments and if projects have to undergo funding reviews on a yearly basis, energy companies will be reluctant to invest in new projects if there is uncertainty about whether the funding will continue from year to year at the same level.

Conservation groups also said legislators in other states like Connecticut and Wisconsin have raided similar funds to fill budget holes or pay for pork-barrel projects....

Jeff Jones of Environmental Advocates of New York said that instead of rushing to "take over" the Systems Benefit Program, the Legislature should have an "open and public discussion about what problems there are with the program, if any."

But while Jones says NYSERDA is one of the best run state authorities, Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, D-Westchester, says "that's not a very high fence to jump over."

"We're asserting the principle that decisions on spending not be decided by a Soviet style bureaucracy," said Brodsky, who as chairman of the Assembly Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions, has investigated several authorities.

"This is not a critique of way the money is used, it's a critique of a process that's done in secret," he said. "No one knows how or why the money is going to be spent. Whether it's the best or worst run authority is irrelevant."

Gov. George Pataki's office and environmental groups noted that an oversight committee, which includes two members of the Legislature, monitors the NYSERDA-run programs.

"This is one of the most open processes in Albany," said NYSERDA President Peter Smith. "This has been underway since 1998 and we file an evaluation report every quarter. There is a round of debate about this."

It's not every day I find myself siding with the Pataki adminstration against the legislature, especially when oversight of New York's generally overgrown authority sytem is involved. Still, I'm heartened to read that "the administration believes the legislature's measure is unconstitutional and is working to remove it from the final state budget." Why? Because the language the legislature passed is this:

to  provide  for  the transfer of moneys from the New York
         state energy research and development authority (Part  M);
   31    S  2. Commencing with the 2006-2007 state fiscal year, and each fiscal
   32  year thereafter, the governor shall, in his or her executive budget,  as
   33  submitted  pursuant  to  article  VII of the state constitution, provide
   34  appropriations for currently non-appropriated moneys received by the New
   35  York state energy research and development authority, under  the  direct
   36  oversight  of  the department of public service, related to assessments,
   37  collected for the purpose of funding public policy energy programs.

The word "oversight" is in there, but the action this legislation takes is moving money from a separate ledger under its own management to the appropriations decision-making of the legislature. And that sounds a lot like New York, in its current fiscal condition, may be following Connecticut and Wyoming's lead in raiding the fund for other projects.

Assemblywoman Lifton complained bitterly at her recent Town Hall about efforts by Pataki to take budget authority away from the legislature and to strengthen his control over education, but legislators seem to be playing exactly the same game here.

For once, I really hope Governor Pataki uses his veto pen on this budget language.

This seems worth contacting my legislators and the governor. I've mailed a letter to Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton, a letter to Senator Jim Seward, and a letter to Governor George Pataki.

Update: You can find more on the general debate in this March 25th Albany Times-Union article. (I agree that it would be smart for Governor Pataki to stay out of their advertising.)

And another update: the Times-Union has another piece which suggests that "Some speculate the fee might be a bargaining chip for lawmakers in talks with Pataki about changes in the Environmental Protection Fund -- which, coincidentally, is $150 million, too."

And yet another update: it looks like Governor Pataki will be vetoing this part of the budget (New York Times - registration required) while the rest of the originally on-time budget gets rewritten in the classic Albany back-room way.

Posted by simon at 4:24 PM Comment

April 7, 2005

Birds return to Dryden; ICSD middle school redistricting

The Ithaca Journal's editorial starts as "the raspy gee-gaw call of a male redwing blackbird echoed in a Dryden marsh," writing about the studies of local bird populations done by the Birdhouse Network, a project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The editorial hopes that concrete steps to ease pressures on bird populations will make "putting up a string of nesting boxes for the bluebirds becomes a good reminder of how if each of us walks a bit more softly on this planet it will be a much better place for all its life."

Abigail Krich of Fayston, Massachusetts, writes to emphasize that student pressure on Cornell is driving the university's alternative energy interest, including their proposed windmill project on Mount Pleasant.

The county discussed recent flooding and the environmental impact of the emergency communications system, with an executive session that may or may not have been appropriate.

The Ithaca school district is looking at middle school redistricting to follow elementary redistricting. The Journal says that "Currently South Hill, Cayuga Heights, Fall Creek and Belle Sherman students go to Boynton, while Beverly J. Martin, Caroline, Northeast and Enfield students go to DeWitt." While Superintendent Judith Pastel is talking about sending Belle Sherman students to DeWitt and Enfield students to Boynton, it looks like the shift of Varna students to Caroline will also mean that they will attend DeWitt instead of Boynton.

Posted by simon at 8:00 AM Comment

Dryden Town Board meeting next Thursday

There isn't yet an agenda posted for it, but the Town Board will be meeting tonight at 7:00pm at the Dryden Town Hall (map).

Oops. That's next Thursday, the 14th, as I wrote earlier. I need to pay closer attention to where I write in my calendar, apparently.

Posted by simon at 8:38 AM Comment

April 8, 2005

Dryden Red Hats photo; emergency services communication

This morning's Ithaca Journal has a picture of Dryden Dollies Red Hat Society member Sue Caldwell holding a newborn lamb at the Cornell Sheep Program.

In county news, the Public Safety Committee approved a conceptual plan for the emergency services communications network, though the number of sites isn't yet certain. Lee Shurtleff, the county's Director of Emergency Response "hopes to have the project completed in 18 months." The Journal notes that "the committee also discussed how members of the county should set up meetings with town supervisors," which I think is to address some concerns raised by towns about the system.

I'm curious what happened to some earlier questions about the system, both on siting and on its technical worth.

Posted by simon at 8:33 AM Comment

Pancakes Sunday morning in Varna

The Varna Community Association will be having a pancake breakfast at the Varna Community Center (map) on Sunday, April 10th from 8:00am to noon. $5.00 ($4.50 for seniors, $3.50 for children) gets you all the pancakes, bacon, ham, eggs, fresh fruit, coffee cake, and french toast you can eat.

Posted by simon at 9:26 AM Comment

Hammond Hill trail update

It looks like there will be another work day and block party on Hammond Hill this year, as Ann Leonard writes with news of the trail's condition:

Dear Friends of Hammond Hill

I'm a bit late getting started on the Second Annual Hammond Hill Block Party, compared to last year... I guess work overload does that to you... but I got that necessary nudge last night after having walked our trails.

Bad news is, the rainstorm last weekend did a number on our nicely rejuvenated Yellow Trail One. Good news is, with some muscle and a bit of gravel and maybe another pipe or two , we can put it back together. The worst spot is, not surprisingly, the short steep hill climbing out of the gully near the beginning of the trail. Our ditch did a stellar job of keeping water from washing out our graveled track, but the lower water pipe got blocked by a flat rock and consequently all that water washed out the trail below it. It's not something I would ride a horse or a bike on, at this point.

It's a bit early to put even a "bandaid fix" on, the ground is very soft. (We still have snow and ice on some sections of trail!) Would be good to get a couple work days scheduled though. First one just to do basic bandaid so that the trail is at least passably safe and water doesn't continue to erode the base, then another later once the ground dries out so that we can put a tractor with gravel over it.

The second work day can be our block party day as well. I'm thinking a dish to pass supper and music with lots of info from the various clubs, but maybe not the all out mini events of last year.

The trail coffers hold $500, I will call the gravel bank and find out how far that can get us. If we need more, ...well, let's cross that bridge when (or if) we come to it!

If folks could get back to me on when other clubs are planning trail work days, as well as potential time conflicts, that would be immensely helpful for my scheduling efforts.

PLEASE pass this along to your various list serves: bikers, birders, history buffs, land trust folks, runners, equestrians, skiers, snowmobilers and so forth. I have already notified the orienteers.

Ann Leonard

If you're interested, use the comment link below and I'll make sure your message gets to Ann. I'll post more about this as dates become firmer. Last year's work and block party were great fun, and I highly recommend them.

Posted by simon at 12:01 PM Comment

April 9, 2005

HANDS becomes a trust

This morning's Ithaca Journal reports on the Dryden Central School District's making Help a Needy Dryden Student (HANDS) into a tax-exempt charitable organization. Jennie Daley reports on how "the small fund has been used for almost 20 years to buy items such as shoes, review books or eyeglasses in cases where families were unable to provide them." The fund is shifting from an informal collection of leftover and donated funds to an expanded program, which received $1,000 from the February Dryden Sertoma pancake breakfast.

In the Ithaca schools, the board allocated $220,000 to help with the costs of implementing elementary school redistricting. They didn't take action on middle school redistricting. Open-enrollment forms are available and will be accepted through May 30th.

The SPCA will be having a birthday party for Cali the Cat tomorrow from noon to 5:30pm at their Hanshaw Road building (map). The SPCA is trying to collect $3,500 in donations to cover the shipping cost for a year's worth of donated dog and cat food.

In Darts & Laurels, Gil Levine sends a laurel to Dryden Highway Superintendent Jack Bush and County Legislator Martha Robertson for their help in getting a street light installed at the corner of Brooktondale Road and Route 79.

Posted by simon at 8:47 AM Comment

Dryden Central School reunion

I just got a notice from Gail Finnerty Keech '71 announcing the July 23rd multi-year Dryden Central Schools dinner.

2005 DCS Multi-year Dinner

Questions please email DrydenReunion@mindangle.com. Hope to see you this year,
Gail Finnerty Keech '71

We MUST have 40 earlybird registrations to meet the minimum required by the venue. Please mail your check right away and take advantage of the door prize opportunity!

Dinner Date: Saturday, July 23, 2005
Our home page mindangle.com/drydenreunion dot html
DEADLINES Earlybird May 6, 2005
RESERVATIONS must be mailed by July 12, 2005.

McLean Fire Hall
4:00-6:00 SOCIAL with hors d'oeuvres
6:00-7:30 DINNER Family Style Service

PROGRAM no formal program but there are plenty of memories, recognizing class years and Door Prizes!

COST: $15 per person

MAIL CHECK payable: Dryden Reunion, PO Box 29, Dryden, NY 13053

IMPORTANT INCLUDE: Your name, maiden name, class year, spouse name (if coming) and name of guest(s) for registration list and badge.

There are over 2000 students registered for Dryden at www.classmates.com!

Posted by simon at 3:23 PM Comment

April 10, 2005

Flying over Dryden

My friend Jeff is a flight instructor whose house overlooks the Village of Dryden, with a clear view all the way to the airport. As a flight instructor, he gets to spend lots of time in the air, but not a whole lot of time actually flying. He decided to enjoy a flight yesterday, and kindly invited Tracey and I to join him.

We headed northwest out of the airport, and then turned east, flying out over Dryden to Harford and then coming back over Varna and out over Ithaca. These are hardly professional aerial photographs, but they're unlike anything else I've ever taken.

West Dryden
West Dryden

Four corners, Village of Dryden
Four corners, Village of Dryden.

Downtown Varna.

I've posted a gallery of photos I took from the plane, including Freeville, Dryden, Dryden Lake, Varna, and a bit of Ithaca and Cayuga Lake.

Posted by simon at 1:02 PM Comment

Varna: Then and Now

The Dryden Town Historical Society talked me into leading a presentation on Varna, which will be held next Sunday from 2:00pm to 4:00pm at the Varna Community Center (map), and I'm hoping it will be similar to an event they held last year at Bethel Grove, both talking about the place and collecting more stories from the audience. There hasn't been much history written about Varna since George Goodrich in 1897, and I'd definitely like to hear from people who've spent more than my five years here.

The announcement looks like:

Varna: Then and Now, in the Heart of Downtown Varna and Beyond

Main Street, Varna (1897)
Main Street, Varna (1897)

An afternoon program recalling the history and changes in the Greater Varna community.

Simon St.Laurent and members of the community will use slides and personal accounts to illustrate activities in Varna and the surrounding area. Bring photos and memories to display and share.

April 17, 2005

Sunday Afternoon, 2-4 P.M.

Varna Community Center
943 Dryden Road, Varna

Free and open to all. Refreshments will be served.

Need a ride or more info? Have information to share? Call 844-4691.

I'm defining "Greater Varna" as roughly Route 366 from the Town of Ithaca line to the Route 13 intersection, as well as Freese Road, Forest Home Road to the Ithaca line, Turkey Hill Road to Ellis Hollow Creek Road, Game Farm and Stevenson Roads, and Mount Pleasant and Baker Hill Roads to their intersection. I'm planning to talk a bit about the development of the area from George Robertson's 1798 arrival in the vicinity of the current Plantation Inn to the present, noting industry, schools, businesses, and organizations along the way. I have some maps and photos to show, as well as a "Dynamic Detective" article on a 1930 murder in Varna and a 1962 article on the Taggin' Wagon, now Hillside Acres.

I'd also really like to see people bring their own history to the event. We'll have memories and a display on the Varna Home Bureau's activities, information on the Varna Community Association and Varna Volunteer Fire Company, and more. If you have something you'd particularly like to see or would like to talk about, let me know through the comment link below.

Posted by simon at 5:15 PM Comment

April 11, 2005

Dryden Lake Trail not for snowmobiles

This morning's Ithaca Journal is quiet on Dryden except for one letter from Leslie Fladd of Dryden, who writes about snowmobiles on the Dryden Lake Trail when they're not supposed to be there. As Fladd puts it:

The Dryden Lake Trail, particularly the portion running adjacent to the lake, is a tranquil oasis of beauty and peace, that is until we folks on foot have to jump out of the way of snowmobiles, and ducks and geese take fearful flight, and the buzz-saw screech and stench of fuel cut through the air, destroying the peace of this wonderful natural resource.

The Journal contacted Zoning Officer Henry Slater, who confirms that snowmobiles, except when formally grooming the trail, are not supposed to be there.

I've definitely seen snowmobiles on the trail, and it didn't look like any grooming was involved.

Posted by simon at 8:14 AM Comment

Garden plots on Freese Road

I finally figured out how the garden on Freese Road works after a few years of driving by it. It wasn't hard - there are posters around the area - but it's nice to know. If you want a garden plot, you can register now.

Garden plots awaiting gardeners
Garden plots along Freese Road awaiting gardeners

If the picture above is a little too daunting, the Cornell Garden Plot Committee has pictures of blooming gardens. The plots are on the eastern side of Freese Road, near Hanshaw Road and Cornell's Dyce Bee Lab.

The plots are 20' x 25', are already plowed and disked, have water available, and cost $15.00 to rent. The plots are distributed at a meeting to be held on April 30th from 9:30am to 11:00am at 107 Stimson Hall on the Cornell campus. To reserve a number for choosing a plot, send a self-addressed stamped envelope including your name, the number of plots you want, your phone number, and your email address to Cornell Garden Plots, PO Box 871, Ithaca, NY 14851.

Posted by simon at 7:52 PM Comment

April 12, 2005

Dryden school budget cuts teachers

This morning's Ithaca Journal reports that in its difficult quest for a tax levy increase under 9%, the Dryden school board approved a budget with cuts including "money for a fifth-grade teacher, a half-time reading teacher, a full-time aide, and a full-time director of technology out of the administrative budget," and reduced "supplies, maintenance, board development, staff development and athletics." Spending in the $26.7 million plan increases 7.03%, while the tax levy climbs 8.97%.

There's a guest column from Michael Stamm, president of Tompkins County Area Development, in which he looks over ways TCAD helped county businesses in 2004. Two Dryden businesses, Ithaca Produce and and F&T Distributing, are mentioned.

Posted by simon at 8:44 AM Comment

Courier on school budget, Anne Grant

I'm late getting to the Dryden Courier this week, and their article on the Dryden schools budget getting close to a 10% levy increase has been made obsolete by this morning's Journal article on their staying below 9%. There's lot of good detail on what went in and out of the budget in the Courier, of course.

The Courier also profiles Anne Grant, who will receive the second annual Sertoma Service To Mankind Award today. Grant has worked with projects and organizations including My Brother's Keeper, the Dryden Grange, Dryden Dairy Day, and the Southworth Library.

There's an article on the Onondaga Land Claim and what it might mean for Tompkins County, quoting County Legislator Mike Lane describing the recent Supreme Court ruling in the Sherrill case as "real good news, exciting news" for limiting the likely impact of the Land Claim on the area.

County Legislator George Totman, who represents Groton, the eastern edge of Lansing, and the McLean area of Dryden, announced he will run again this year.

In other county news, Tompkins County is now on the radar for an Empire Zone sometime in the next ten years, possibly in the next four years.

Harry Weldon writes about bridging Cayuga Lake, "just North of Lansing to just South of Trumansburg," in his Anecdotes and Brevities column. I've joked for years about the need for a suspension bridge there, though I think the tolls would have to be pretty steep (and people would have to want to pay them!) for that to work.

Dryden canoe racers Katherine and Gil Rosenberg placed in the Mixed Class in the Catatonk Canoe Regatta. Dryden track gets a mention in a survey of track teams in the area.

Posted by simon at 12:38 PM Comment

April 13, 2005

McLean afterschool; TC3 tech award

This morning's Ithaca Journal reports on the evening youth programs at Cassavant Elementary in McLean held each Tuesday and Thursday night. Tutoring and time in the gym give kids academic help, exercise, and social times. There's also a picture of students playing basketball in the gym.

Tompkins-Cortland Community College "was named top digital community college for 2005 earlier this month by the Center for Digital Education and the American Association of Community Colleges." The award is in the "small rural schools" class. The Journal's editorial says:

Why care?

Well, if you're paying taxes in Tompkins or Cortland counties, or are a state income tax victim, then your tax dollars are helping to foot the bill for TC3. Like most folks, it's not paying taxes that causes the greatest agony, it's paying taxes and feeling like your money is being wasted that really hurts. Awards such as the one Haynes picked up Monday from the national organization of his peers says a lot about how the folks at TC3 are spending our cash.

Also, if you live, work and raise a family in this land known for its love of higher education, the odds are pretty good that TC3 will be the higher education institution most likely to directly touch your life. The college offers 34 degree paths to more than 3,000 full- and part-time students every year, the vast bulk of them local people who live and work in our neighborhoods. With a proven track record of sending successful students on to careers or four-year institutions -- including its well-known neighbors Cornell University and Ithaca College -- TC3 is a proven asset to us all.

So hats off to Haynes, Director of Information Technology Marty Christofferson, Associate Dean for Instructional Technology and Learning Resources Bill Demo, and everyone else at TC3 who helped put our community college among the very best in the nation in this and many categories.

Cathy Wakeman's Dryden Town Talk column visits Boy Scout Troop 24's fundraising lasagna dinner. She also notes a "Healthy Children in Literature and Arts" program, which will be held from 3:30pm to 4:30pm on April 20th at the the Dryden Village Hall (map).

On the opinion page, Jennifer Semo of Freeville writes to share her suspicions of people filing for bankruptcy and suggest that too much is paid out for food stamps.

Finally, in news that potentially makes it easier to collect news for this site, the state legislature passed laws putting more teeth in New York's Freedom of Information Law, and Governor Pataki sounds like he'll likely sign it. In sadder Albany news, it looks like we're back to three men in a room deciding what the state budget will really look like (New York Times - registration required).

Update: I forgot to mention this story on the Ithaca schools raising their tax levy 4.32% and not yet deciding on middle school redistricting.

Posted by simon at 8:11 AM Comment

Furry neighbors across the street

While I don't love having Route 366 in front of my house, it's been nice to know that the forested property on the other side of 366 is Cornell Plantations nature preserve. Between that and the massive amounts of fill it would take to put a building there above the swamp, I've been reasonably confident that it would stay about like it is now.

Yesterday, I discovered that I do in fact have some neighbors there, residents of the nature preserve. I doubt Cornell will mind much, as the residents have four legs, fur, tails, and powerful teeth.

Signs of beaver activity
Signs of beaver activity - woodchips and chopped down trees.

Beaver dam in nature preserve
Beaver dam in nature preserve.

I didn't actually see the beavers - I may go back sometime for a longer and quiet visit to see if they'll come out - but it's pretty clear they've settled in along the old railroad bed. I was looking for an old building I thought might be a leftover from the railroad, but it doesn't look like it had anything to do with the trains.

I've put up a gallery of the beavers' work if anyone's interested. (I know this is directly across from me because I can see the windows of my house in this picture.)

Update: the beavers are gone, their dam destroyed, but it's still pretty much a swamp in there.

Posted by simon at 8:45 AM Comment

April 14, 2005

School aid numbers ease school district budgeting

Today's Ithaca Journal is quiet about Dryden, except for an article that looks at how having state aid numbers on time means school districts aren't guessing about the actual size of their tax levies. It notes that the Ithaca school district's aid has increased, allowing them to call for a 4.32% tax levy increase while spending increases 6.28%. Dryden assumed a $200,000 increase in aid on Monday, as part of a budget with an 8.97% tax levy increase.

Posted by simon at 8:23 AM Comment

Dryden Town Board meets tonight

Unlike my false alarm last week, there really is a Town Board meeting tonight at 7:00pm at the Dryden Town Hall (map).

The agenda is posted. Highlights include the long-delayed Time-Warner Cable franchise agreement, Six Mile Creek monitoring, next steps on the Comprehensive Plan, "Water to nine houses off Game Farm Road," "Trading Services - Using Village Police Protection for Court in exchange for Code Enforcement Services for Village," and "New Town Hall Site."

Posted by simon at 8:29 AM Comment

Signs of Spring

This week's weather has been wonderful, and signs of spring are appearing all over. These are just a few pieces of a developing story.

Crocuses bursting.
Crocuses bursting with color.

Flowers amid the sticks.
Flowers amid the sticks.

A small brown dogs sunning herself in the garden.
Sprocket, our small brown dog, sunning herself in the garden, watching traffic.

Black and white dog guarding the house.
Spring, our black and white dog, keeping an eye on the neighborhood.

Spring got her name for her jumping ability, but I think she likes her season as well.

Posted by simon at 12:09 PM Comment

April 15, 2005

Attorney Perkins: Town's golf course bid price was "public knowledge"

Last night, I continued the discussion of the Town Board's use of executive session with questions raised by the article on the golf course auction in the March 23rd issue of the Dryden Courier. I gave the Town Board an excerpt with questions.

I've put the full transcript of this discussion, which includes questions from the audience and lots of information about the town's decision-making process and outlook on the Lakeview Golf Course auction, in the extended entry. Right now, I'd like to focus on this excerpt:

Simon St.Laurent: Did the Town Board authorize you to tell your client what they were going to bid?

Town Attorney Mahlon Perkins: Did they?

Simon St.Laurent: Yes.

Mahlon Perkins: No.

Simon St.Laurent: That was my question. Thank you.

Mahlon Perkins: How does that fix the bid?

Simon St.Laurent: It doesn't fix it. It's just that your client says that you told him, which seems an odd matter in an auction like this.

Mahlon Perkins: I think it's public knowledge.

Simon St.Laurent: It was not public knowledge. I certainly knew nothing about $360,000. I've not seen that number published, I've not seen that number in minutes.

Mahlon Perkins: I think it was public knowledge around.

Simon St.Laurent: It might have been scuttlebutt. It wasn't public knowledge.

Mahlon Perkins: I can't comment on... my client actually gave the town more information than any other bidder, so that they could make an informed decision.

Simon St.Laurent: That's very generous of your client. My question is whether the Town Board was interested in extending the same generosity to your client that your client offered to the Town. I don't see a sign that they did. And that makes me wonder whether your participation at executive session was appropriate. Information from executive session is supposed to be...

Mahlon Perkins: They can invite anybody they want to executive session.

Simon St.Laurent: Is information from the executive session supposed to leave the executive session? That's a big question. Why do we have these executive sessions in the first place is a question I've brought up repeatedly in the matter.

To summarize: Perkins saw no problem in telling his client the amount the town was going to bid, because he felt that it was public knowledge. On what basis, he doesn't say. It doesn't seem like that number should appropriately have been been made public knowledge before the auction. That attitude directly undermines the idea that executive session is intended for the discussion of issues - like prices to be paid for real estate - that should not be public because they might otherwise reach the ears of competitors for a purchase.

The town didn't lose any money because of this, because they didn't bid. However, the Town Board would do well to address this precedent before it costs the Town money in other transactions.

Also, Mike Hattery described the article as hearsay, and Tony Hall later said that he felt he'd gotten his article "backwards", but that doesn't change any of the above conversation or Attorney Perkins' conversation with his client. There's more detail at the end of the full transcript below.

Full transcript of golf course conversation at the April Town Board meeting:

Simon St.Laurent: I'd like to read a brief bit of the March 23rd Dryden Courier into the record, and ask the board a few quick questions about it. If you wait until I'm done, it's probably easiest, and if anybody wants the whole thing, I have a few copies of the Courier with me.

[George Szlasa, who was foreclosing on the golf course,] was stunned the town did not make a bid, he said, because he knew exactly what the supervisor was authorized to bid.

"My attorney told me," he said.

Szlasa's attorney and the town's attorney are the same man, Mahlon Perkins, whose own house overlooks the golf course, sharing the same magnificent view of Dryden Lake with Hammond Hill in the background.

Perkins is out of town this week, but Trumbull said, "he's legal. He really is. A lot of people have asked about it."

Trumbull said questions have come up regarding Perkins' role, but nothing appeared compromised. Perkins, he said, attended executive sessions in which the purchase price was discussed, but had recused himself from participation.

So, the questions.

If Town Attorney Mahlon Perkins recused himself from this sale, what legal counsel did the town retain to advise it, and why was Perkins in the room for this discussion?

And then, What steps does the Board plan to take now to ensure that information which is supposed to be shared with the public is public, and information that is supposed to be confidential, executive session, remains confidential?

[Handing out copies of the Courier.]

Steve Trumbull: Any other comments?

Joe Osmeloski: Will you answer questions?

Steve Trumbull: Sure.

Joe Osmeloski: What was the highest figure the town was authorized to spend on the golf course?

Steve Trumbull: $360,000.

Joe Osmeloski: Why didn't the town bid on the golf course?

Steve Trumbull: Why?

Joe Osmeloski: Yeah.

Steve Trumbull: First of all, I was the guy who was authorized to bid. I was given authority to bid, but it was up to my discretion. I thought it would be like a normal bidding process but now I find out that's not the case. We have... our attitude for the last several months has been that we would like somebody private to come in and invest. We would support them. If you analyze $360,000 public dollars for all the stuff we'd have to do, to renovate, fix things up, it's taxpayer money, we're building a new town hall, and I just didn't think it was the right thing to do.

Sarah Osmeloski: I have a question.

Steve Trumbull: Yes.

Sarah Osmeloski: What is the town board doing now to ensure the preservation of that property? I mean, if it's a housing development, it's going to make a big mess over there.

Steve Trumbull: Well, it's zoned residential. I don't think you can stop it.

Sarah Osmeloski: So the Town Board is going to accept that.

Steve Trumbull: We don't want to accept it, but right now, that's what it's zoned as. We got to go through a procedure, is that right Henry?

Henry Slater: Excuse me?

Steve Trumbull: To change the zoning of where the golf course is?

Henry Slater: From residential use? You would have to think about what effect it has on all our D zones, not just that specific situation. [inaudible]

Chris Michaels: We put out press releases saying that we're interested in working with a developer who is interested in buying the property and maintaining it as a golf course. We're not trying to be secret about it. That's our strong desire: as a town, we're not interested in holding a golf course. We're interested in seeing a golf course exist in the Town of Dryden. And if we can facilitate that, we're all for it. There are things we can do - we're evaluating development rights and things like that. Rights we can acquire, that can help with whatever financial issues there might be.

Joe Osmeloski: The Comprehensive Plan calls for approximately 150 acres of Dryden to have recreational land, and any time you're looking to bump it up - I think we have 50 acres - in the Comprehensive Plan now of recreational property, and you could get to 150 acres according to the Comprehensive Plan. And that's all going to cost money, correct? Buying a golf course, 70 acres, would obviously bump that up substantially if the town was interested in purchasing the golf course. In any venue you look at getting up to that 150 acre requirement - or not requirement, but recommendation from the Comprehensive Plan - it's going to cost money, just as the golf course cost money. Is the town just not interested in not having a golf course, and would have their recreation sites on something else?

Steve Trumbull: That's a possibility. It's a good idea to maybe spread out this land instead of concentrating it in one part of the township.

Mike Hattery: But I think we've kind of talked about this publicly a number of times, and as we said, short of actually purchasing and operating a golf course, we've taken a lot of initiative in this, and we publicly made clear that we would partner with a private party that was interested in purchasing and maintaining it as a golf course. I don't know; we could go back and forth a lot more on this, but we've made it clear for quite a while and we've taken a number of actions to try and facilitate that.

Steve Trumbull: It's not like we didn't spend the money to investigate this. We spent a lot of money and a lot of time.

Simon St.Laurent: Did you actually hire outside counsel to advise you on this?

Steve Trumbull: Yes.

Simon St.Laurent: Who was the counsel?

Steve Trumbull: Mark Wheeler.

Simon St.Laurent: Mark Wheeler.

Steve Trumbull: Right away, we hired him. Last January.

Simon St.Laurent: And, if I can reiterate my question, why was Mahlon Perkins in the room for this discussion if he had recused himself from the discussion.

Mahlon Perkins: I was invited.

Simon St.Laurent: You were invited.

Mahlon Perkins: By the Town Board. My client authorized me to tell the board exactly what he was going to bid. And the price that the town set was based on what my client was going to do, not on any other fact. My client decided what to bid because that's what the judgment of the Supreme Court awarded him. It's public record. If you had bothered to call me, I could have explained this to you rather than make a public spectacle of this thing.

Simon St.Laurent: Did the Town Board authorize you to tell your client what they were going to bid?

Mahlon Perkins: Did they?

Simon St.Laurent: Yes.

Mahlon Perkins: No.

Simon St.Laurent: That was my question. Thank you.

Mahlon Perkins: How does that fix the bid?

Simon St.Laurent: It doesn't fix it. It's just that your client says that you told him, which seems an odd matter in an auction like this.

Mahlon Perkins: I think it's public knowledge.

Simon St.Laurent: It was not public knowledge. I certainly knew nothing about $360,000. I've not seen that number published, I've not seen that number in minutes.

Mahlon Perkins: I think it was public knowledge around.

Simon St.Laurent: It might have been scuttlebutt. It wasn't public knowledge.

Mahlon Perkins: I can't comment on... my client actually gave the town more information than any other bidder, so that they could make an informed decision.

Simon St.Laurent: That's very generous of your client. My question is whether the Town Board was interested in extending the same generosity to your client that your client offered to the Town. I don't see a sign that they did. And that makes me wonder whether your participation at executive session was appropriate. Information from executive session is supposed to be...

Mahlon Perkins: They can invite anybody they want to executive session.

Simon St.Laurent: Is information from the executive session supposed to leave the executive session? That's a big question. Why do we have these executive sessions in the first place is a question I've brought up repeatedly in the matter.

Mike Hattery: What you basically have here is hearsay published in a local newspaper.

Simon St.Laurent: We have an interview with the client. Perhaps that sounds like..

Mike Hattery: Local newspaper.

Simon St.Laurent: Well, we've got Tony over there if you want to ask what kind of hearsay it was. I guess the question is, do you want to keep information in executive session private. If not, why hold the executive session in the first place?

[inaudible about moving on]

Simon St.Laurent: Okay. It'll come back.

Martha Robertson: I'd like to know the answer...

Tony Hall: I can be real quick about it.

Steve Trumbull: Okay.

Tony Hall: [inaudible] article about the presence of the course. What Mahlon is saying is that it's not his client figuring out what the town is doing, it's the town figuring out what his client is doing. It's backwards. The article is essentially backwards.

Simon St.Laurent: So you wrote the article backwards? Is that

Tony Hall: No, I didn't know it at the time.

Simon St.Laurent: Okay.

Joe Osmeloski: Was the article accurate in stating that any land purchases shouldn't be discussed in executive session?

Tony Hall: I don't think I said that. I wouldn't have.

Joe Osmeloski: That was indicated in the paper.


Tony Hall: Thank you for your time.

Steve Trumbull: Okay.

Posted by simon at 8:03 AM Comment

Righting the legislative ship

Freeville resident David Branagan writes that "I have tried and I have tried and I have tried, but I can't get over the commentary of Assemblywoman (Barbara) Lifton in The Journal of Feb. 28," and concludes that:

It is inconceivable to me how legislators can file into their seats every day, play canasta or do whatever it is they do to pass their time, pick up their paychecks and go home. Is there no shame? Is there no guilt? It would bother my conscience terribly to know I was part of a body charged with budgetary obligations and not carrying out those obligations. Do they have to give a blood oath not to rock the boat before they receive their first paycheck? (Senate Majority Leader Joseph) Bruno and (Assembly Speaker Sheldon) Silver are not gods, they are ordinary men like everyone else, and it is time for the rank and file legislators to get up on their ear and make procedural changes to right this ship.

One rotten apple in a barrel contaminates the whole barrel. So, Ms. Lifton, to keep from being contaminated, do something.

There isn't much Dryden news - the Journal didn't have a reporter at the Town Board meeting last night - but there are two items on the Ithaca Schools, as the board postponed decisions on start and end times and middle school redistricting and restated their support for foreign language classes.

In county news, Tompkins County's population grew 0.7% last year, faster than the statewide average of 0.1%. The census bureau now reports that Tompkins County is home to 100,135 people.

Posted by simon at 8:26 AM Comment

Varna Fire Company having smoke alarm day May 14th

Update: This event has been postponed. I'll post a new story when it's rescheduled.

If you live in the Varna fire district - roughly Varna, Ellis Hollow, and the northern side of Snyder Hill - you can contact the Varna Volunteer Fire Company about your smoke detectors or need for them - or better still, volunteer.

Smoke Alarm Day: May 14 (Saturday)

Does your home have a smoke alarm? Or are you unsure whether the one you have still works? Or do you need to have it relocated so that your mother-in-law's pizza incendiaria does not always set it off? If you answered "yes" to any of these and live in the Varna Fire District, mark May 14 on your calendar and contact your local volunteer, Veit Elser (539-6707). The Varna fire district is the western part of the Town of Dryden and includes Ellis Hollow. On May 14, Varna Volunteer Fire Company members will install 100 new smoke alarms in area residences. This event was the idea of VVFC member Ted Halpin, and is made possible by Ithaca Walmart. Earlier this year, VVFC Chief and Ellis Hollow resident Natan Huffman approached Walmart manager Dave Jacobson with the idea, and received the donation of 100 smoke alarms. VVFC personnel will be assisted in the event by area volunteer groups.

The VVFC needs more volunteer firefighters and emergency medical services (EMS) personnel to help keep our community safe. If you are interested, please come and talk to us by visiting us any Thursday night between 6:30 and 7:30pm at the fire station (14 Turkey Hill Road). Firefighting and EMS training is provided by the VVFC and the State of New York. For additional information, see http://varnafire.org/join.

Posted by simon at 8:34 AM Comment

April 16, 2005

Dryden population to grow 15% this decade

An excellent article in this morning's Ithaca Journal about sewer systems (or their lack) around the county includes this bit of news I hadn't heard:

The Claritas numbers indicate the towns of Enfield, Dryden, Caroline and Lansing are each expected to grow by at least 15 percent between 2000 and 2009; Enfield by almost 20 percent.

Of those four towns, only Dryden offers water and sewer services. It is also the only town with the convenience of a centrally located grocery store as the Village of Lansing's two grocery stores are perched on the town's southern edge.

I'm not sure on what basis Claritas is making that forecast, but if that kind of growth is coming this way - and as the article points out, Dryden has vastly more convenience than competing towns - then the Comprehensive Plan and its implementation suddenly loom much larger than if we were still in the low growth rates of recent decades.

There's more in the article about Dryden, specifically the problems for growth brought on by the maximum capacity of the Village of Dryden's wastewater plant, which it shares with the town. (There are a lot of issues to sort out in that conversation.)

For those who want to reduce their impact on sewer and septic systems, the Journal offers advice on how to reduce water use, including former Dryden Town Board member Deb Grantham's concerns on the impact of using drains for waste disposal.

Posted by simon at 8:15 AM Comment

Varna barbecue date changes

If you're hungry for the summer delights of chicken barbecue, you may be happy to hear that the Varna Community Association has moved its barbecue up from May 7th to April 30th, with serving starting at 2:00pm at the Varna Community Center (map).

(There's a pancake breakfast on Mother's Day, May 8th, and having two food events on consecutive days seemed like a bad idea.)

If you're really hungry for chicken barbecue, there will be a barbecue tomorrow starting at 11:00am in Slaterville.

Posted by simon at 8:21 AM Comment

Cornell Plantations to hold Arbor Day event

Just on the western side of the Town of Dryden line, Cornell Plantations will be holding an Arbor Day event on April 30th:

Tree lovers of all ages are invited to celebrate Arbor Day with Cornell Plantations. “Discovering Trees,” a fun-filled event for the whole family, will be held on Saturday, April 30 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m at Cornell Plantations’ F. R. Newman Arboretum. Activities will take place, rain or shine, under the tents near Houston Pond, off Caldwell Road. Free parking is available.

A tree-planting ceremony at 3:30 p.m. will feature Ithaca mayor Carolyn Peterson. Activities throughout the day will highlight the importance of trees in our lives. Visitors will have the opportunity to:

  • Identify trees with Cornell Plantations staff
  • Tour the urban tree collection with Cornell professor Nina Bassuk
  • Listen to tree stories with The Green Man storyteller
  • Learn the history of Arbor Day from Ithaca’s city forester Andy Hillman
  • Discover forest farming with Cornell professor Ken Mudge
  • Help plant live trees with Cornell Plantations staff
  • Go on an oak tour with Cornell professor Kevin Nixon
  • Learn tree care techniques from the experts
  • Watch a tree-climbing demonstration
  • Play apple games and taste a few snacks from the Cornell Orchards

“Trees are so important in our lives and in our world,” says Kevin Moss, Plantations’ community outreach coordinator and organizer of the event. “We want our visitors to come away with a deeper awareness and appreciation for nature’s gentle giants.”

“Discovering Trees” is free for Plantations members, Cornell students, and children under five. Admission for non-members is $3 per adult or $5 per family. This event is offered as part of Discovery Month, presented by Ithaca’s Discovery Trail partnership.

Posted by simon at 8:32 AM Comment

April 17, 2005

Varna history; Dryden Barbershop

I should have looked over The Shopper earlier, as it had ads for a Kiwanis can drive and a McLean bluebird box event, both of which happened yesterday.

There are still a few items worth noting. The Dryden Town Historical Society has an ad for the Varna Then and Now talk I'll be leading today from 2:00pm to 4:00pm from 2:00pm to 4:00pm at the Varna Community Center (map). The DTHS also runs an ad thanking the businesses that let them post signs for their events.

The Dryden Barbershop reports that it "has gone back home!" The Dryden Barbershop is once again open at 44 West Main Street, in the Dryden Hotel building. They had to move to Stafford Chevrolet because of flooding from a broken sprinkler system. Hopefully the Dryden Hotel itself will be open again soon.

Posted by simon at 9:10 AM Comment

April 18, 2005

Golf course bidding questions; child endangerment

Reverberations from the golf course auction continue in today's Ithaca Journal, with an article on who knew what and when about the price the town was going to bid. Course owner George Szlasa seems to have stepped back a little from his earlier position that his attorney, Town Attorney Mahlon Perkins, told him exactly what the town's bidding price would be, but otherwise the facts of the story still line up with earlier reports.

There's one paragraph jump in the story that I worry creates a misleading impression:

Szlasa said Perkins was authorized to share this bid with interested buyers, which included the town and a potential buyer from Las Vegas. The number was "public knowledge" according to Perkins. "Anyone who asked knew the price. It was based on the public record," he said.

"What struck me was that information he said was public I never saw in The Ithaca Journal or the Dryden Courier," said Simon St. Laurent, a regular town board meeting attendee and chair of the Dryden Democrats. "The reason given for going into executive session was so that it wouldn't affect the price of real estate but it was shared with a key participant in the auction."

The two paragraphs both talk about 'public' information, but in the first paragraph, the information is about the bid Szlasa made, which was based on the published court award. In the second paragraph, where I'm quoted, the information is about the amount the town was going to bid, which was not public knowledge.

I think Town Supervisor Steve Trumbull gets the last word on the process, taking a position I can agree with:

"I divulged what I was authorized to bid. I'm still learning that part of things," he said. "This is something that people have talked about for years. If things get out, seems to depend on who's in executive session and who they talk to later. I don't think it's supposed to be talked about."

And Joe Osmeloski, who's been volunteering to keep the course going, closes the article with bad news for golfers:

as the course goes unmowed it is dying a slow death.

"The greens are in very, very bad condition. Right now they're unplayable. It's definitely not open for golf," he said.

The other major news story about Dryden is pretty dark, as New York State Police arrested "a Staten Island man who allegedly planned to engage in sexual intercourse with a 12-year-old girl after meeting her on the Internet." The girl disappeared from Dryden Middle School Friday, and troopers found her with the man, Gary Reid, who has been charged "with fourth-degree conspiracy, a class E felony; second-degree unlawful imprisonment, a class A misdemeanor; and endangering the welfare of a child, a class A misdemeanor."

The Journal's editorial today isn't specific to Dryden, but the call it makes is very similar to my motivations for running this site:

Learn. Talk. Use public forums - including this opinion page - to share ideas and solutions. Demand more from the corporations and governments that serve you.

Or risk being the people our grandchildren will imagine they could never have been.

Posted by simon at 8:12 AM Comment

Farewell to The Boxcar

While it may have been an eyesore recently, it was once a popular restaurant and it was certainly an interesting building. I took some pictures of The Boxcar back in 2003 and speculated on its future. Its future seems to have arrived.

Cutting off the end of a boxcar
Cutting off the end of a boxcar.

Though the workmen I spoke to wouldn't say what the building was going to become, they did let me take some pictures of the interior during the demolition, so you can see the undersides of the boxcars. I also took some pictures of the demolition in progress and the final debris field (now cleaned up), and put them together in a gallery.

Posted by simon at 8:42 AM Comment

Green Town Hall?

In this past week's Dryden Courier, Tony Hall asks "how green will the new building be?" He reports on NYSERDA's possible financial support for an energy-efficient Town Hall, and related green-building projects at the SPCA and the Town of Lansing Highway Department.

There's also an article on the Dryden Kitchen Cupboard, which is having a food drive, with the support of the Dryden Serteen Club. (As the article notes, they'll also take checks, sent to Dryden Kitchen Cupboard, PO Box 42, Dryden, NY 13053.) The Dryden Kitchen Cupboard, hosted by the Dryden Presbyterian Church (map), is open every Monday and Friday plus the last Saturday of the month from 11:00am to noon, as well as from 5:00pm to 6:00pm.

The Courier was popular at last week's Dryden Town Board meeting for its photos of the Band Showcase held earlier this month by the Dryden Recreation Department at Neptune Hose Company.

Courier photographer (and Etna resident) Skip Thorne took first place in the feature photo part of the New York Press Association Better Newspaper Contest, as well as second in sports photos and third in picture stories.

If you want to learn how to farm, Cornell Cooperative Extension will be having a series of workshops starting April 26th. Contact Debbie Teeter at 272-2292 for more information.

In sports, the Courier covers Dryden Track and Softball, with a photo of Dryden Softball player Kayla Seager.

Posted by simon at 12:18 PM Comment

April 19, 2005

TC3 expansion finally funded

This morning's Ithaca Journal reports that funding for a $10.6 million expansion at Tompkins Cortland Community College is finally in the state budget, after last year's veto of the money and the slowly unfolding failure to override that veto. As the Dryden Courier noted earlier, there are still sewer issues to work out for the expansion. TC3 also got increases in operating aid and had rental aid restored.

The Ithaca City School District will be having budget information meetings from April 27 to May 14th around the district.

The Journal's editorial questions secrecy around the county's emergency communication network planning, concluding that:

without full public dialogue throughout the process, lawmakers abandon their political responsibility to govern openly and they abandon the genius of the people they serve. How many towers are needed? Where should they be? Will it work? Will it really cost taxpayers no more than $20 million? Is this all headed in the right direction?

All good questions; all impossible to discuss when the only people who know the details meet in a room with the doors closed.

This isn't spring break or Barry Manilow. This is millions of dollars and the safety of 100,000 lives. Hide the specs from the terrorists and the top price from the real estate lawyers, but shed the secrecy for the rest of us.

Otherwise, the only thing you'll build is suspicion.

Finally, though it's not in Dryden, I highly recommend an excursion to the 22nd annual Finger Lakes Railfair, which will be held this Saturday from 10:00am to 5:00pm and this Sunday from 10:00am to 4:00pm at The Field (map), sponsored by the Cornell Railroad Historical Society. My N scale model railroad stuff is sadly in the attic now (no space, even for N), but the railfair is a great place to find out all kinds of things about railroading.

Also, just west of Dryden, the Cornell Vet School will be having "Feline Follies", a cat show, held Saturday from 1:00pm to 5:00pm.

Posted by simon at 7:51 AM Comment

Windmills generate controversy

Cornell's proposed windmills on Mount Pleasant, near the WHCU radio tower, encountered a lot of opposition last week. I missed the informational meeting at the Varna Community Center, so I went to the Environmental Management Council meeting last Wednesday instead. The Council seemed surprised at how full the room got, and a lot of the people attending weren't very happy. I'll start with the opening of the meeting, and cover the rest of the meeting and comments at last Thursday's Town Board meeting in follow-up stories.

At the beginning of the meeting, they posted maps showing wind energy potential in Tompkins County from AWS Truewind, the consultant Cornell hired to do modeling for the project.

Wind energy potential in Tompkins County
Wind energy potential in Tompkins County (pink is more potential).

Wind energy potential in the Dryden area
Wind energy potential in the Dryden area (pink is more potential, red is powerlines).

The EMC chair reminded the audience that there was a seat open from the Town of Dryden, and then let people speak for one minute at the start of the meeting. Linda Lavine, of Ringwood Road, told the council that:

Relatively speaking, Mount Pleasant is my back yard. It's a place that people in our neighborhood use for walking and for meditating, and for going to watch stars in a beautiful silent place - it's a fairly sacred space for us in many ways in our neck of the woods. In addition to being truly the back yard and the front yard of a fair number of people who live on Mount Pleasant. While wind power seems like a marginally good idea at this point in terms of energy efficiency, this is not the place to put it at all. Somebody at the Varna meeting jokingly suggested to put it on the Newman Golf Course instead, and that seemed about as appropriate as putting it in Mount Pleasant.

Mount Pleasant has an astronomy lab that is used, it has major migratory paths for birds, for hawks. It's a beautiful place that in effect is a kind of sanctuary as it stands, a sort of time out place that hasn't changed in a long time, it's very magical, and it would be a great crime environmentally to destroy it by putting in 400-foot high noisy towers which apparently are very unproven in terms of their environmental impact on people.

I noticed in today's paper the photograph that was in the background for announcing this meeting had the absurd picture that I assume was provided by the people who really stand to gain by this, which is the company that makes the equipment that they sell to set up the towers, and that's a picture of a giant cow with teeny-tiny little towers. In fact, that picture we determined in Varna was quite an insult. These are 400-foot towers, so it's a very inappropriate image. This is not a cute little Dutch windmill, this is a major energy - you might as well make it an oil pump.

Next up was Lavine's husband, Buzz:

One thing I'd want to point out here - well, two things - one is that there's an economic or financial incentive for this stuff which has nothing to do with the broader economy. There is also an energy analysis on this which is yet to be done, really... When I first started off this project, as an environmental planner, I said to myself "what a great idea," but as I started looking into it more and more, I began to think more and more negatively about it, and at this point I am definitely against it.

Partly it's because of the tax subsidies and the renewable energy subsidies - there's a whole separate economy just for those certificates - and that adds a lot of value to it for the people who own it or run it, which has nothing to do with the value to the general society. That might be okay if indeed it was an environmentally sound and just as important, energetically sound. I used to do energy analyses back when I was researching these things and this was a little over 20 years ago, but at that time, wind generation was a major net energy loser. I know there are systems - at least I expect the systems from what I have seen of them have gotten to be better in terms of their net energy production, but a net energy loser means that... if you look at all the indirect energy cost to make the system, make it run, and keep it going, it costs more energy than you get out of it. In an energy production system that's obviously something you don't want to do...

Modern systems may have a better net energy but they have an awful long way to go, and they're not as good in net energy as other alternatives that we have, and consequently other sites for this would be much better if you want to look at it as an experimental thing.

Buzz Lavine addresses the Environmental Management Council
Buzz Lavine addresses the Environmental Management Council.

After Lavine spoke, John Semmler, of Mount Pleasant Road, spoke:

This project is in my front yard, back yard, and both side yards. I'm totally surrounded by Cornell. We moved to where we live in large part because of the natural beauty of the environment on Mount Pleasant. It's just a wonderful area. If you haven't driven up Mount Pleasant Road on a day like today, it's a gorgeous gorgeous scene. I consider myself an environmentalist. I've often thought about a wind turbine for my own home, but I quickly realized that would be about a quarter of the size of the project that we're talking about here for Cornell.

I went up to Fenner to take a look, thinking maybe there's something here that I don't understand. Fenner has, I think, the largest wind energy site in New York State as well as in the northeast. I found it very discouraging. The units are mammoth, just incredibly large. They make at least four different kinds of noise:

  • The sound of the rotors going around;
  • the sound of the generator that's on top of the pole that they sit on, a humming noise like a fluorescent light or a refrigerator;
  • a screeching kind of a noise when the unit turns to face the wind;
  • and a noise that I think most of us will never hear, and that's the sound of when the brake goes on because the wind is going over 55 miles an hour, which is I think the speed they have a governor which causes them to stop.

In any event, one is so close to my house that I'd be able to throw a stone and hit it, and my wife and I and our family feel that we just wouldn't be able to live there under those kinds of conditions.

Howard Evans of Turkey Hill Road also spoke:

I'm not as close as John Semmler is to this, but what I wonder about is really the noise. I was at a wind field in Hawaii, where one of the problems was the blades flying off it every once in a while. Maybe that doesn't happen any more, but that's a consideration. The other thing is the constant humming and the noise. I think even where I live on Turkey Hill that I would hear the noise. Perhaps the situation has improved greatly, but I think we ought to think about that.

The EMC turned to other business for the next forty minutes until Lanny Joyce of Cornell arrived, which I'll cover in a story tomorrow.

Posted by simon at 7:06 PM Comment

April 20, 2005

Not much Dryden news, many Dryden events

Today's Ithaca Journal has nothing on Dryden in its main news stories, but the weekly Briefly in Dryden section is full of happenings:

  • There's a Healthy Children in Literature & Arts program today from 3:30pm to 4:30pm at the Dryden Village Hall (map).

  • From 7:00pm Friday to 7:00am Saturday, Tompkins-Cortland Community College will be hosting the Relay For Life, which "is designed to celebrate survivorship and raise money for research, advocacy, education, and patient services programs for the American Cancer Society."

  • Dryden Seniors will be meeting on Monday, April 25th at the Neptune Hose Company (map) at 11:30am. Bring your own table service; lunch is $5 for members and $5.95 for non-members.

  • There will be an a cappella concert featuring local groups on April 30th at the Dryden High School auditorium starting at 8:00pm. Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for children.

  • The Town of Dryden Highway Department's scrap metal cleanup will run from May 2nd to May 31st, with a dumpster at the Town Highway Garage (map) open from 7:00am to 2:00pm Monday through Thursday and 7:00am to 11:00am on Fridays. (Also, I just noticed a photo gallery of highway department activity that's worth a visit.)

Also, in the sports section's Local Briefs, the Dryden Athletic Department is seeking volunteers to help supervise their Fitness Center. They need to cover the 6:00am to 7:15am shift Monday through Saturday and the 6:00pm to 8:00pm shift Monday through Friday. If you're certified in first aid, CPR, and AED and are interested in a free yearly membership for regular supervising, call the athletic department at 844-8694, extension 9243.

Posted by simon at 8:25 AM Comment

April 21, 2005

Arrests; county legislators' plans

A Dryden and a Freeville resident appear in today's monitor, one arrested for forgery and the other for possession of marijuana in violation of parole.

The Journal has a roundup of county legislators' plans to run for re-election, including news that all three representatives from Dryden (Mike Lane, George Totman, and as of yesterday, Martha Robertson) are planning to run for re-election.

Posted by simon at 7:44 AM Comment

County Legislator Robertson announces plans for re-election

County Legislator Martha Robertson announced that she would run for re-election yesterday at a press conference that packed Dryden resident Nancy Huffman's Sadie D's restaurant.

Robertson said that she was:

announcing with great pleasure that I am seeking a second term on the Tompkins County Legislature. I have really enjoyed the work, I am passionate about the work, and in particular, I feel that I have made a difference, a positive impact on decisions that we've had over the last few years, but... I feel that there is still a lot more to do.

Robertson then outlined the accomplishments and goals she listed in her press release (102KB PDF). She noted that by a tabulation of last year's budget votes (45KB PDF) she was came in 10th of 15 on the total amount she wanted to increase spending, and discussed the growing use of the TompkinsRx prescription discount card (81KB PDF), and the declining Tompkins County jail population.

Natan Huffman, who has worked with Robertson on the improved signage for the Turkey Hill/Quarry/Ellis Hollow Road intersection, offered a ringing endorsement:

I think we've very fortunate to have Martha doing what she's doing....the degree of commitment, the degree of involvement, that Martha has shown us. She's reminded me of what it means to be a Democrat... Martha has done an incredible job of sorting it all out, making sure that what is important is really important, and sticking to her own sense of what is right. I'm so delighted that we have Martha here, doing what she's doing.

Let me tell you a little story. One of the things that fire departments do is they're called to the scene of accidents, and my company was called much too often to the intersection of Turkey Hill and Ellis Hollow Roads. It was a frequent event, a much too frequent event. I probably have seen many of you pass by as I stood there in turnout gear watching my men and women pull kids out of cars because someone hadn't seen the stop sign, or someone was speeding, whatever the reason.

Natan Huffman endorses Martha Robertson
Natan Huffman endorses Martha Robertson

I looked into this a little bit, and talking to someone - I forget who it was, it wasn't Martha - but the person said to me, "why, there's only X number of accidents there." And I said "no, no, no." What we found was that the database that the different agencies use, such as the state police, the sheriff, and the fire departments, was not particularly shared too well, because each of them had their own view as to what happened. But when you brought them all together, and looked at it, and said "gosh, there's a lot of accidents here," it was pretty simple to make the decision.

However, who's going to accomplish this? That would be Martha. She got all the front people to the table, and now that intersection sports additional signs which say "hey, there's a stop sign up ahead," there's a flashing light in one direction, a much bigger stop sign. We're working on getting a pole moved. We've had the sight line improved by moving trees and so forth, and since that has been done, we haven't had one accident there.

That's making a difference, and that's why it's so important for us to rally our forces to make sure that Martha gets here.

Robertson closed with questions. WHCU asked about her goals and how to achieve them in the currently difficult financial situation. Robertson talked both about the need to make sure that the county spends its money responsibly and that it applied for grants from the state where possible, such as one for a single room occupancy residence for people with who need help with mental health issues but don't need hospitalization. Ben Nichols of the Working Families party said that they were also "looking forward to supporting you this year."

Posted by simon at 8:39 AM Comment

Cornell perspective on Mount Pleasant wind farm

Lanny Joyce, Manager of Engineering, Planning, and Energy Management in Cornell's Utilities Department and a member of the Kyoto Task Team, presented at the Tompkins County Environmental Management Council meeting last Wednesday after residents spoke at the beginning of the meeting.

Joyce's perspective was rather different than the other attendees speaking. He discussed the $4 million Cornell has spent so far on conservation efforts on campus including a million square foot lighting retrofit, but given trends of growth on campus, the "bottom line is that our energy use will go up." Cornell purchases 85% of its energy, and generates 15% - 13% co-generated from the heating plant, and 2% generated by hydroelectric on Fall Creek.

Lanny Joyce of Cornell speaks on windfarms
Lanny Joyce of Cornell speaks on windfarms, while County Legislator Mike Lane and others listen.

Cornell, driven in part by its Kyoto Now group, is looking for additional ways to reduce its carbon dioxide generation, aiming to reduce its carbon dioxide to 7% below its 1990 production by 2008. While they could buy wind credits for energy, Cornell sees that as "just a cash expense," and the University also turned down a proposed "green endowment" to pay for that, though students are setting up their own endownment.

Last spring, students asked the University to do a survey of wind power. The University picked a circle of 15 miles around the campus, plus the Arnot Forest. Dawes Hill, Connecticut Hill, Yellow Barn Hill, and Mount Pleasant were all considered, though Mount Pleasant had some key advantages in being mostly deforested, already owned by Cornell, and close to campus. There were also some problems, because Mount Pleasant has residents, a radio tower, is on the approach path for the airport, and has lots of birds.

The Cornell Daily Sun reported that Mount Pleasant was under consideration for wind power, which started some speculation, but Cornell only began discussing its plans recently, and their hope for generating 10-12% of campus energy with wind power with up to eight generators on Mount Pleasant.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is doing a study of bird and bat migrations over Mount Pleasant, doing bioacoustic studies in addition to the usual radar that will help them determine which species of birds and bats are flying there.

Joyce briefly discussed the neighborhood meeting at the Varna Community Center, saying that while "it was a strong meeting in terms of emotion and opinion and strongly negative in its tenor," "the reality is that there's going to be a lot of wind energy in the state." He expected wind generation to grow from 50 megawatts today to 3000 by 2010, given Governor Pataki's push for New York to use more renewable energy. The Fenner wind farm has 27 wind mills now, and a report in the Syracuse Post-Standard suggests 35 more are coming.

Joyce also mentioned the rents on wind turbines, including those paid to counties and to school districts, saying that Fenner contributes $150,000 annually, split between the town and the school.

Next, I'll cover the lengthy question-and-answer session Mr. Joyce had with the EMC and the public.

If you want more on windmills today, I found a couple of articles on this at the Cornell Daily Sun. The March 17th issue includes "Cornell Studies Pros, Cons to Wind Power", while the April 15th issue includes "Inherit the Breeze", an opinion piece in which student Danny Pearlstein says "I am no longer an unabashed supporter of tapping Mount Pleasant."

Posted by simon at 10:45 PM Comment

April 22, 2005

Six Mile Creek monitoring

This morning's Ithaca Journal mentions a meeting for Six Mile Creek monitoring volunteers to be held Monday at Cooperative Extension (map) from 6:00pm to 8:00pm. (I posted a story on volunteer training last summer, and I have to say it was both educational and a lot of fun.)

Two Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA) bargaining units have declared an impasse in their negotiations with Tompkins County. 550 employees have been working without a contract since January 1st. The declaration of an impasse means that New York State can assign a mediator to try to work things out.

The Journal's editorial encourages legislators to strengthen New York's Freedom of Information Law, a law that makes it easier for citizens to know what their state and local governments are doing.

Posted by simon at 8:17 AM Comment

Jeremiah's Place and Creed

We took a bit of a trip for lunch today, driving into the Town of Virgil, just past Greek Peak on Route 392, and enjoyed a meal at Jeremiah's Place & Creed (map), a fine restaurant that opened last September.

I enjoyed a cup of bisque and an astoundingly juicy bacon cheeseburger, and Tracey had the bisque and a stuffed portabella mushroom. The french fries alone were worth the drive to Virgil. The menu had lots more to offer, including appetizers, salads, sandwiches, steaks, and seafood.

It's an interesting place - a room with a fireplace and a bar, a large dining room, and a smaller dining room. They've got plenty of room for big events, an excellent wine list, and some beautiful surroundings. They also have an interesting tale of Jeremiah and his creed, explaining the name of the place.

Right now they're open Wednesday and Thursday from 5:00pm to 9:00pm, Friday and Saturday from noon to 9:30pm, and Sunday from 1:00pm to 7:00pm. Their hours are seasonal though, so if you want to go, it might be a good idea to give them a call at (607) 849-4922.

As it turns out, the owners, Douglas and Amanda Leach, live in Freeville, and Amanda's family are good friends of my wife's family. (And yes, if anyone's curious, I'd be happily writing this even if I didn't know anyone there.)

The Dryden connection is nice, but I also thought I'd take the opportunity to inaugurate a new category, excursions, about places to see within day's drive of Dryden. I've occasionally covered things outside of Dryden, mostly when they related directly to things happening here, but I did have fun writing about the State Capitol in Albany as well.

Posted by simon at 5:45 PM Comment

April 23, 2005

Iraq; lacrosse; school races

This week's Dryden Courier is packed with news about the town, on levels from local lacrosse to the county legislature to a protest at Congressman Boehlert's office to a Dryden dentist returning from Iraq. Once again, if you don't read the Courier, now's a good time to start.

George Birman, a dentist practicing in Dryden and Groton, turns out to have volunteered for a tour of duty in Iraq with the U.S. Army Reserves, though he originally told his family he was called up "for fear [his wife and daughter] might talk him out of going." Birman, who immigrated here from Russia in 1991, served four months as a dentist in Mosul before coming down with a severe case of pneumonia.

A picture of Town Board member Marty Christofferson coaching lacrosse shares the front page, leading a story telling of the creation of the Dryden Youth Lacrosse League from its genesis as an idea through a year of unsponsored volunteerism and then to its current position as an ongoing sport supported by the Town Recreation Department, barbecues, garage sales, and volunteers.

Inside the paper, there's a report on a protest at Congressman Boehlert's Cortland office, objecting to his refusal to call a town hall meeting to discuss Social Security with his constituents. Joyce Kantor of Dryden is quoted in the article, noting her concerns "that the object of the privativation plan 'is to destroy Social Security, nibble at it until it is gone," as well as her questioning the Congressman's communications with his constituents:

If they aren't going to be in contact with us, then what are we doing?

Boehlert's spokesman, Sam Marchio, claims that "the congressman and his staff have taken time to answer as many questions and speak to as many people as possible through letters, emails, and phone calls." Perhaps he's replied to everyone else's letters, but I still don't have an answer to my February 2nd letter on Social Security. (I did get a quick answer on a later letter about another topic, however.)

The Courier's editorial looks at the protest and the issues, and concludes:

His office claims to be listening to and reading every phone call and email that comes in. So, why not gather everyone together for a meeting and have it all at once? To us, that seems like the easiest way to gauge his constituency and do the right thing for his district.

In Dryden School Board news, all four incumbents - Rachel Dickinson, Chris Gibbons, Karen LaMotte, and Amanda Kittelberger - will be running for re-election, with two newcomers, Linnette Short and Brad Raush. Three of the seats are for three-year terms, while the fourth, currently held by appointee Kittelberger, is a one-year term, filling the remaining time of former board member Patricia Edgecomb. The article also takes a closer look at changes in the budget and a new initiative to start each day with twenty minutes of silent reading.

There's a quick note on County Legislator Martha Robertson's announcement that she will run for re-election, and a longer article on a project she's been encouraging, the development of a park and ride near Varna to reduce commuter traffic on Route 366. Cornell is doing a survey now to ask users of its cheapest parking lots whether they would consider using a variety of park and ride locations.

Finally, in sports, the Dryden Athletic Department is seeking volunteers to help supervise their Fitness Center. They need to cover the 6:00am to 7:15am shift Monday through Saturday, the 6:00pm to 8:00pm shift Monday through Friday and "any time on Sundays." If you're certified in first aid, CPR, and AED and are interested in a free yearly membership for regular supervising, call the athletic department at 844-8694, extension 9243.

Posted by simon at 8:43 AM Comment

Questioning Cornell about wind, Part 1

After Lanny Joyce, Manager of Engineering, Planning, and Energy Management in Cornell's Utilities Department, gave a presentation at the April 13th Tompkins County Environmental Management Council, it opened up to questions from the council and the public.

Steve Nicholson, the EMC chair, said he'd been on two tours of the Fenner wind farm site, including one conducted by their Town Supervisor, Russ Cary. Nicholson said that there were some things they'd have done differently, as there are twenty turbines there now, and none are on the windiest site in the county, which is further southeast. Apparently they started with a location that isn't visible from other towns, "to see how the public received it", and are now moving to build on the windier ridge that's visible from Cazenovia.

Lanny Joyce described how he's seen Fenner:

I've talked with Ross, with many others that have turbines on their property, in Fenner and in Madison. They're supportive now. As with anything that's new technology, or different, there's going to be detractors, and there are some very vocal folks associated with the Fenner-Madison projects that have written some pretty strongly worded emotional negatives related to those two projects, about sound, and shadow flicker, and other perspectives, and they clearly don't like it there.

Someone on the EMC asked how much the farmers get for turbines on their property, and Joyce replied:

A typical - the way I understand it - is about $5000 a year per turbine for rent, for a lease on the property. Municipalities and school districts split an additional amount that is not standardized and is semi-public. It sounded like for Fenner that was an additional $5000 per megawatt per year that got split between the school district and the county, and I think Ross would share those numbers with you. So for them, it's twenty machines times one and a half megawatts is thirty megawatts times five thousand is $150,000 bucks a year that the Town of Fenner and the school district share.

Joyce wasn't sure if those payments were temporary, or lasted for the lifetime of the project. Nicholson then opened the discussion up to questions, first from the EMC and then from the audience.

County Legislator Dooley Kiefer asked if there was information about sound produced by the turbines below audible frequencies. Joyce replied:

It's called in the industry, infrasonic noise, and the answer is yeah, there's quite a bit of information about it, actually. The British Wind Energy Association website has a flyer that we had at our meeting last week... that talks specifically about infrasonic noise.

As I understand it, noise is sound generated on a lot of different frequencies. It's either tonal, in that it's single frequency, like a gear box, or it's broad spectrum, just a mixture of frequencies. The tone-specific stuff, or single-frequency stuff, travels further. It's harder to dissipate in the air. The broader spectrum stuff just kind of gets lost quickly.

Infrasonic noise is something that was a big problem with the earlier generation of wind turbines that had the rotors downwind, and only had two blades. When the blade swept past the post of the support, it created a pressure wave, and it was really a bad thing. In Boone, North Carolina, for example, I know the DOE had a big test site where they were trying to study the infrasonic noise, and they eventually got told just to turn this thing off, because it's driving us crazy. And so, that older technology, two-blade-downwind, was a real problem for infrasonic noise, and that's not the case any more. The machines are three-bladed upwind configurations. So you can't have that pressure wave.

Is there no infrasonic noise or sound? No. I'm sure there is. I don't know what it is. It would have to be characterized, and it's machine-specific, so whatever turbine it is you're buying, you're going to have to get from the manufacturer what it is that it generates for sound, and then calculate how far away that would be sensed. Sound is about frequency and power level both. If you're beyond a certain distance, the physics would say you're not going to notice it at all, or even notice it a little bit. I think it's something you'd have to calculate and show whatever you're doing isn't going to be a problem.

Cindy Schulte, an EMC representative from Newfield, started discussion by saying that she hadn't heard much from her consituents until rumors of Cornell putting wind farms on Connecticut Hill started,

and then everybody's gabbing to me, and wanting to know what the EMC was... I'm really frustrated sitting here because I'm trying to be reasonable on this subject - I think it's great, anything we can do to get off of oil is a wonderful thing. But I heard these words come out of your mouth: "Of course everybody's first concern is the bird and bat population." I strongly disagree, because my first concern are the neighbors, not the animals. I would just like you to be careful how you word things, because even those of us who want to support you have a hard time doing so when you don't take the human factor into consideration.

EMC member (and Cornell student) Danny Pearlstein asked, "given that the neighbors have such a concern, and given that we're at the outset of this process... in the scenario that this doesn't go through, what are the alternatives?"

Joyce said:

We're continually looking at alternatives for heat generation in the plant, as the campus grows, we now have to pay attention to those technologies. How we do that in the heating plant will determine how the combustion part of our CO2 mix happens. How we buy electricity can dictate how much of these emissions happen. We chose right from the start to take a host approach and look at electricity and heat together, because it's the total use of energy that is what we are concerned about, not just take one or the other.

It'll be a combination of technologies, both out in the buildings and in the supply side that'll help get us there. All of it will have to be done as cost-effective as possible, because there is no mandate to do it without that.

EMC member Neha Khanna asked about the health impacts of infrasonic noise, and about the impact of commercial wind farms on property values. Joyce replied:

On the low-frequency sound, I think I answered that. We would have to do our own analysis of whatever turbine we would propose buying, and then characterize whatever low-frequency sound emissions might happen.

Khanna repeated the question, specifically on health effects, and Joyce replied:

I can't answer that question. I don't know. It's something that clearly has been very important for folks who are concerned, and I think we need to have some careful literature review, and then a study appropriate to whatever it is we're proposing. I'm sure the industry's working really hard to make it possible for everyone to understand this issue. If they don't, they're going to have a real problem, the wind industry in general, so I wouldn't think Cornell would have to invest everything here, on that particular topic.

On the property values side, there's been one prominent study, finished in the last year. That's a real eastate value assessment done very quantitatively, that was sponsored, I think, by DOE. You can find it on the AWEA web site, a wind energy association web site... which has this report, which really it's quite fat, it's 85 pages or something like that. I printed it and looked at it, and it basically studied about fifteen wind sites around the country, including Fenner and Madison, and showed how real estate property values next to or right around the turbine wind farms had changed relative to the neighbors that weren't that close in the same towns and the same areas. What that study showed was that property values increase at the same rate as others in the area, and in some cases faster and higher.

EMC member Steve Ozuff raised the prior example of the Landfill Neighborhood Protection Committee, organized to protect property values around a proposed county landfill, with the county buying houses if values fell.

Someone else noted that Tompkins County is trying to reducing its own emissions 20% from 1998 levels by 2008, and:

in the last year or so, we've been interested in having the county itself being able to purchase renewable energy. In the energy committee, the only option that's really feasible for us is to purchase green energy - renewable energy, wind energy...

We're also looking at longer-term, where it's possible for the county itself to build its own wind turbines and things like that to start our own source of renewable energy, and what in your opinion are the possibilities of Cornell sharing their toys? Of being able to put a wind turbine up there that the county could be using, or having neighbors being able to use this electricity, things like that. Energy co-oping, lots of different groups that might be interested in either using some energy that Cornell is producing, or in setting up their own tower to use the same site for instance.

Joyce sounded positive, saying "it sounds like an idea worth investigating." The questioner, as a followup, asked "How are we going to get the electricity from Mount Pleasant to Cornell campus?" Joyce had a longer and more complex answer to that:

We're actually not sure which way we would do that. There's interestingly on Mount Pleasant two possibilities. One is to have it come back to campus, because campus isn't that far away by wind industry standards. Five miles, though, from Mount Pleasant back to campus. The other option is to tie it into the grid. It turns out that NYSEG transmission lines actually run across Mount Pleasant, not too far to the north.

So, the option is there to do either thing. The economics are very different. For one case it's behind the meter, and you avoid a higher percentage of the total cost you're paying for electricity. It's worth more. No rebates are needed. In the case where you've tied into the grid, you need at least a federal rebate to make it break even with the expenses. In New York State, what we've done is the governor and the PSC have added a renewable portfolio standard benefit, which is another increment of rebate, that makes wind look better - good enough to finance it in New York State. That's part of the reason why there's so much activity in 2005 with the newly renamed, I understand, Maple Ridge project on the Tug Hill Plateau. It used to be called Flat Rock....

The two different choices have different environmental impacts. One has to build a circuit back to campus. The other one has a short circuit. They have different economic income streams. One is an avoided cost, the other is you sell it to the grid, at the wholesale price, when you grid-connect. That runs around 4 cents these days on an annual basis, where it use to be 2.5 cents, as recent as three years ago it was down really low, at 3 cents. It's gone up a lot because the price of natural gas has doubled. The price of coal is headed up. The wholesale price for electricity is dictated by the last person into the grid, the highest price usually is least efficiency. Wind energy's now, if it can get it out of its own fence, and connect to the grid at 4.5 cents it's close.

The federal rebate... you're actually doing better than break-even, and with the state rebate, you're good enough to get a bank to finance. I think we're going to get more in New York State because the state's decided to fund it as a tax on our electric bill. The income stream for that is the tax on everybody else's - all of our electric bills.

So it's two different things, and we don't know which way it'll go. That would be something we have to look at in the feasibility study, what makes sense. People have said to us, "well, if you're just going to grid-connect it, why do it on Mount Pleasant? Why not go somewhere else? Get anywhere off of this hilltop, please." And the answer is "well, we were comfortable thinking about it on Cornell property near campus. I don't think we're comfortable thinking about it far away from Cornell, grid-connected, because we're not in the wind development business, we're in the education business.

Asked if net metering would matter for Cornell, Joyce replied that:

As a generator now, we're already subject to the tariff that's necessary if you generate. NYSEG's always going to be there when we aren't generating. If the hydro plant doesn't have water in the creek, or the campus steam load is really low in the summer time, we're not generating hardly anything, so NYSEG has to provide all of it. We still have to pay for the benefit of being connected when we need them.

There's a lot more to cover, but this will have to do for one article. I'll have more up in the next few days.

Posted by simon at 12:47 PM Comment

Dryden Hotel reopening tomorrow

I stopped by the Dryden Hotel this afternoon, as it looked like it might be open, after a months closed for renovations after a flood caused by a frozen sprinkler system. They weren't open today, but they'll be open tomorrow.

The Dryden Barber Shop is back in its usual home as well.

Posted by simon at 12:59 PM Comment

April 24, 2005

Monkey Run mystery

While I was assembling the presentation for last Sunday's Varna Then and Now session, I went through a lot of maps of the area over time. One of the largest changes I noticed in those maps was the 19th century growth and 20th century disappearance of an area along Monkey Run Road (now abandoned) and north of Fall Creek. It's roughly in the middle of the map below.

Monkey Run area, Varna (1897)
Monkey Run area, Varna (1897)

If you need help lining up this map with current roads, the diagonal in the bottom half of the map is present-day Route 366, while Hanshaw and Lower Creek Roads go across the top. Baker Hill Road is in the bottom right.

The map shows Monkey Run road continuing through to the modern intersection of Hanshaw and Lower Creek Roads, not just the short segment that exists today. There's a second branch of it - the right hand side of the "Y" - that crosses Fall Creek twice, and there's a road that goes from near the Baker Hill Road/366 intersection to this now completely vanished branch of Monkey Run.

While there aren't a lot of houses on these roads, the area is much more densely populated than most of the surrounding farmland, and there's a grist mill to the northwest of Fall Creek. (Mrs. J. McDonald, F. Whitman, W. W. Sherwood, C. O'Leary, W. Norton, and the grist mill are all in the area that's gone today.) Three bridges would not be a minor road-building issue, especially given Fall Creek's capacity.

It's all vanished today, largely into the Monkey Run Natural Area, which "was acquired over the years of 1908-26." All that seems to be left (though I'll go looking for more) is the steel remains of a single bridge.

Remains of the bridge at Monkey Run Road
Remains of the bridge at Monkey Run Road.

If anyone has more information about the sudden decline of this area in the early 20th century, please let me know through the comments below.

The map is from Goodrich, George B. The Centennial History of the Town of Dryden, 1797-1897. Dryden: Dryden Herald Steam Printing House, 1898. Reprinted 1993 by the Dryden Historical Society. (The Dryden Historical Society, which sells this book, may be reached at 607-844-9209.)

Posted by simon at 7:50 AM Comment

Finger Lakes Railfair

There are still a few hours to get to the Finger Lakes Railfair, open today until 4:00pm in Lansing at The Field (map), sponsored by the Cornell Railroad Historical Society.

I had a good time wandering, though I only bought a book, and saw some great things. Here are two of the more striking pieces I saw, though there were all kinds of interesting displays and things for sale.

Finger Lakes Live Steamers
Finger Lakes Live Steamers.

Will Parker's Z-Scale crystal railroad
Will Parker's Z-Scale crystal railroad.

For a broader perspective, hurry down there or visit the gallery of photos I took this morning.

Posted by simon at 12:51 PM Comment

April 25, 2005

Canoes tip in Fall Creek

This morning's Ithaca Journal reports on a frightening canoe trip down Fall Creek that left four people with hypothermia. The Varna and Dryden fire departments as well as New York State Troopers and Cornell's Environmental Health and Safety Office responded to an area near the Freese Road bridge after two canoes tipped their riders into extremely cold waters.

The Ithaca schools will be discussing school start times and possibly middle-school redistricting at tomorrow's 7:00pm meeting at the administration building (map).

There's a broad article on how to improve upstate New York's economic and demographic fortunes, worth considering even though Dryden and Tompkins County generally appear to be growing now.

Posted by simon at 8:41 AM Comment

Questioning Cornell about wind, Part 2

Continuing with the comments at the EMC meeting about Cornell's Mount Pleasant wind farm proposal, Mount Pleasant resident John Semmler asked Lanny Joyce, Manager of Engineering, Planning, and Energy Management in Cornell's Utilities Department about infrasonic noise, noise below the human hearing range:

When Neha asked about the effects of infrasonic noise, I fully understand that you wouldn't be in a position to say what Cornell's possible project would do, but what about - what's in the literature to date? What do we know about adverse effect?

Joyce replied:

I probably don't have a balanced perspective, because I'm only getting what I know so far from the wind industry itself. If that's unbalanced, it says it's not an issue with the new generation machines, and it's very manageable, and we can show the physics of why that's very manageable. If there are other studies out there that show that these new machines that are being erected today and operating today have an infrasonic noise problem, I'm not aware of it, but it doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

Semmler followed up:

So just out of curiosity, what was the problem with older, more primitive machines? What is the big deal with infrasonic sound?

Joyce replied:

The physics of it was this pulse - pressure pulse - that came from low frequency, and it travels long distances. A pressure pulse that happened when the blade went past the mast in front of the pedestal that is holding up the generator in the middle. The wind's coming by and it hits the blade and bounce in between and you get that wave traveling down away from the turbine, so the upstream technology makes that issue completely go away.

Is there some other generation of infrasonic noise in the machine? I don't know enough technology yet to tell you, so... but I'm told by the folks at GE and the folks in AWEA that it shouldn't be an issue.

Semmler continued, asking "What's it doing downstream? That sound, when it is generated, what's the adverse impact 10 miles away, or whatever distance it is?" Joyce didn't have much of an answer:

I don't know. I can't tell you. I wish I could tell you I knew enough to have an answer to that question, but I don't know. I'm told that there's basically no measurable noise beyond a much smaller distance than that. I don't know if that's really true - I can't say until you actually do some sound modeling, and there's people that do that.

EMC liaison Heather Filiberto asked Joyce to explain the timeline and extent of Cornell's feasibility study, and asked about the impacts on views and recreation. Joyce replied:

We're going to move slowly and carefully and with input from the community. If that's resoundingly negative input from the community, we'll move slower...

At this point, [we don't have a timeframe for the project]. We had hoped to do the wind resource work and the bird studies this year. The bird resource work is underway... As part of the wind resource monitoring... the plan there was a 50-meter tall, 165-footish, tall tower that looks very similar to the county emergency tower that would have two wind monitoring stations for wind speed and direction, one halfway up and one at the top. That would go about 450 feet east of the road that runs into WHCU's tower, and about 250 feet north of the road. That's where we imagined that to go.

Unfortunately, that would have gone up this winter, actually, but designing a tower that is truly transparent to WHCU so that it doesn't affect people's radio reception proved to be more costly and time-consuming than we thought. We missed the frozen season, now we're in the muddy season. The researchers don't want us to rut up the field, so we're... not moving fast to put that up... Since the October to April season is the windy season in our area, we kind of missed that window for getting the tower up. There's really no reason to smash it up and make a mess of the fields, so we'll probably wait until later in the summer when it's drier...

That met station was part of the plan for the feasibility study. It'll be up there for a year to two years, temporary installations.

Asked what proportion of Tompkins County's electricity this would be generating, Joyce wasn't sure, but he did say it would generate about 30 million kilowatt-hours, enough energy for 3000 homes, but the campus uses 240 million.

Danny Pearlstein asked how close the neighbors would be to the installation. Joyce replied that the Semmlers were closest, around 800 to 1000 feet away, while the other neighbors were at least 1600 feet away. He added that "I've talked to a number of people who live 600 to 750 feet away from turbines, with very positive feedback. But I don't know whether it's right or not, I just talked to them."

Another questioner asked how much information was available to the public. Joyce said "Nothing's available that we did, other than the resource map that we have shared with the EMC." Asked about bird studies, he said the Lab of Ornithology study, Joyce said that they had worked with the National Wind Coordinating Committee, who are "trying to come up with what's the right way to standardize bird and bat studies." Joyce suggested he was a lot more comfortable with the Lab of Ornithology "that with some of the conversations I had with consultants who do this for hire, because they're used to working for developers who don't want to do anything more than is necessary to get a project approved and get the heck out of Dodge." Joyce did emphasize that this is a feasibility study, not a study "good enough to finish the permitting and approval process." Joyce also noted that they're looking into "visual, sound, property value... shadow flicker" as well as "good old engineering and economic analysis" and "some further work with the FAA on the approach path."

Someone asked if hydroelectric power was possible, noting that Cornell already generates 3% of its power that way. Joyce said that while "40% of the water that flows into Cayuga comes from Fall Creek," the other streams are small, and that "anything else we could get would be really small in comparison." Ithaca Falls, further down Fall Creek, is a scenic and recreational river, so hydropower development there is prohibited. He also said that "the view of hydroelectricity now is that if it's big it's not green. No more big hydro."

County Legislator Mike Lane noted that:

Lanny mentioned I had contacted him. I wanted to explain that. Anyone who's been up to TC3 understands that the wind blows up there a lot. Over the years, many people have talked about should that be a location for a turbine. When we learned that Cornell was looking at studying areas within 15 miles, I called Lanny and said "is there any way we can glom on to this and get a study of the TC3 site?" Unfortunately I learned that it was too late in the process to do that. But that's the focus we've had, about the possibility of a demonstrator turbine up there.

As Kenny mentioned, we've been looking, at the county, at different renewable energy sources for some time. As far as the Mount Pleasant site, I just want to say that that really came to my attention as the one that's being focused on when some of the residents started talking about it, and then I read it in the paper. I'm very concerned about some of the residents' concerns, and I'm glad for meetings like this where we can be educated about these issues and learn what they are, and whether they can be mitigated or not.

Dryden resident Nancy Munkenbeck

wanted to bring up two points... that were brought up at Varna... Denmark has a lot of wind power, and recently put a moratorium on building any more wind power on land near people.... When people survey acceptance of wind towers near them, I would really like to see it broken down into those who are obtaining financial recompense for it versus those who are not, and how that went. My understanding was up there at Fenner those, at least some of those who are more accepting are receiving the payments, and some of those who are not are not receiving the payments. I could see where that might very well bias what you think.

(Lanny Joyce said later that "it's very typical in the industry... anything's possible" when asked about the possibility of compensation for neighbors.)

Asked about the cost of a turbine, Joyce replied that "installed, costs somewhere around a million and a half dollars per turbine.

Cindy Schulte of Newfield asked if Cornell would consider less populated areas if this site fell through. Joyce replied that:

I don't honestly know at this point. We didn't think it made sense to look somewhere else other than Mount Pleasant after looking hard at the county.

There was a question about audible noise. Joyce said that there is no noise below winds of 8mph, noise from the turbine between 8mph and 16mph, and then no noise again above that "because the wind is louder", and the mills max out between 24mph and 28mph. The mills move one degree per minute, and "if it's working right, you shouldn't hear it... the manufacturers are working really hard... I'm sure it's getting better and better."

Dryden resident Linda Lavine raised the point that:

We're talking about a huge investment, not something that is an experiment, but something that is a permanent fixture, when in fact it's in a pretty experimental stage. I don't find it comforting to hear that things are getting better if you're about to spend several million dollars on an installation. That's not a temporary, experimental installation. That's a permanent bet on the future. This is not the place to experiment.

Lavine also asked how close to actual homes these had been built, and Joyce said as close as 450 feet, and Fenner has some in the 650 foot range. Asked about how many turbines might be installed, Joyce replied that "up to eight was what we imagined could be possible. Three on the west ridge and five on the east ridge, maximum."

John Semmler raised the Precautionary Principle, which is being considered by the New York State Legislature as a possible addition to the environmental review (SEQR) process.

Dryden resident Buzz Lavine raised an additional concern about noise from windmill maintenance problems, especially given the cost of fixing them. Joyce replied that:

We're not an out-of-town entity. We're a large civic member, we're a bing neighbor. We would have to pay attention as we do when we're pointed out that something's not right. Guarantee fixing something right away? I don't know. If it's the middle of winter, you're not going to mobilize a crane up to the hilltop, but we would have to fix that in a timely manner would be my answer.

Lavine pressed on the cost of such maintenance if "it makes the financial feasibility turn around," and Joyce said:

It's not likely it'll do that, but there's certainly rules for the municipality can put in for how fast we have to respond. We have to negotiate those to make sure that they don't make us deploy a crane in February, that's not going to work. You can't work on these machines in high winds. That's going to be October to April, so you'd probably shut it off for the winter if it was that obnoxious.

Jeni Wightman asked about the lifespan of the turbines, and what would happen at the end of that lifespan. Joyce suggested that:

We don't do anything in the energy business short-term at Cornell... We would expect the machines to last 25 years in their original form without major maintenance and after that, they would probably be there in perpetuity, because wind turbines are going to get repowered over time with better generators and better blades and better electronics. They're going to just try to get a quarter-percent, and then another quarter-percent, and then another quarter-percent over time. Once you have a site that is harvesting a resource, you're going to want it forever. You're going to have a lot of first upfront cost that you don't need to renew on a regular basis, transformers and wires and those type of things don't wear out. The rotating equipment's what's going to wear out.

Kind of like our hydro plant. It was built at the turn of the 1900s, it got turned off in 1960 because we thought electricity was going to be too cheap to meter due to nuclear energy; Hans Bethe said so, and I guess we believed him. Of course, it didn't quite work out like that, so in 1981 we brought it back, after the energy crisis. And so here we are in 2005, still running it.

There was also a question on protecting bats, which Joyce said was rarely a problem except when turbines were built near caves, in the path of major traffic. New rules should prevent their siting near bat colonies.

Dan Lamb, EMC member and a resident of Dryden, told Joyce:

I can appreciate the crosshairs you find yourself in. You're almost in a damned if you do, damned if you do situation right now. I think that's expected when you look at case studies on this kind of process... Don't get discouraged in the early stages here, because I'm okay to support wind power, and I think everyone on this - I don't want to speak for everyone, but many in the environmental movement support this and want to see it pursued. If anyone's going to do it in this county, it's probably going to be Cornell to take the first stab at it.

My concern is that if it doesn't wind up where you're looking now, that you might not try elsewhere... It may take more of a community-wide effort to see this placed in a proper place. I see Ed Marx here, they just finished their Comprehensive Plan at the county level.

Would you be able to sit down with the county and look at areas in the county where perhaps this could go, other places.... work with the county. I think people would rally to see this done if it was done right and in the right place.

Joyce replied that "I think it's a good idea. I don't know that I want to answer for the university, but I think it's a good idea. You could certainly ask." Lamb felt that "there'd be a lot of buy-in... it would be a badge of honor, another distinction for the community to have this."

Dryden resident Avery Park asked Lamb, "the gentleman who just made the remark, how would you like to walk up to your picture window and see eight of these, 400 feet high, during your sunset, sunrise. Would you like that in front of your house? You say you like wind power, but would you like to have it in front of your house?"

Lamb replied that:

That's what we're talking about. Where is the appropriate place? Depending on how close it was and how loud they were, and what they did to the bats, and all the other things you've got to address in this. But we know that our current energy use is unsustainable, at the national, international, and local level. We need to pursue other options... Sure, I'll have one in my back yard if I get free electricity... Everyone understands what you're saying, and if you look at this county there are a lot of spots where it could go, without affecting so many people.

The meeting ended at this point, because it was 9:00pm.

Posted by simon at 7:09 PM Comment

April 26, 2005

The need for contested races

This morning's Ithaca Journal doesn't have much news about Dryden, but it does have an editorial on the need for competitive local elections in Tompkins County. The editorial states:

Just as competition makes athletes better -- and more interesting to watch -- active, contested elections force all candidates to be stronger, more open and more thorough in how they outline their goals or defend their records. That vigorous public debate is the surest way to engage an otherwise districted electorate and, if you believe in the democracy we all love to preach, the best way to find the wisest course for public policy.

Without this debate, public interest wanes and the number of votes needed to win shrinks to the point that small groups of interested parties can control the fortunes of thousands through quiet manipulation and inside deals.

They also note that:

a new non-partisan political group is forming, the "Coalition for Change," and it's looking for people from all political backgrounds to challenge what it calls the county's "status quo." If it keeps its non-partisan pledge, is could add some much needed energy.

I've heard Tom Hatfield, the Chairman of the Town of Dryden Republican Committee, has been promoting this on the Casey Stevens show on WHCU, but I haven't seen any details on what they're supporting. Something to watch for, I guess.

In the Ithaca schools, Superintendent Judith Pastel gave a history of the district, while an archeology dig over at Enfield Falls makes me wonder what, if anything, is still along old Monkey Run Road.

Posted by simon at 7:36 AM Comment

Two extra Town Board meetings

The Dryden Town Board will have two extra meetings in the next couple of weeks. The first will be Thursday night, in joint session with the Planning Board. The Planning Board will have two subdivision public hearings at 7:00pm and 7:15pm, and then the two boards will meet jointly to discuss the Comprehensive Plan.

The Town Board will also meet at 3:00pm on May 4th "with Egner Architects regarding siting of the new town hall and general discussion of the building design and process."

Both meetings will be at the Dryden Town Hall (map). The Town Board's next regular meeting will be May 12th at 7:00pm.

Posted by simon at 7:43 AM Comment

Wind farm discussion at April Town Board meeting

Now that I've finally finished what happened at the EMC meeting on the Cornell wind farm, I'd like to report what happened at the April Dryden Town Board meeting the next night.

During citizen's privilege, Bill Openshaw read a prepared statement:

At the last Town Board meeting, we presented a petition urging the Board to amend the zoning laws to prevent the construction of large windmills anywhere in the Town of Dryden. We also brought each of you an information pack pertaining to our wind turbine concerns. I hope you have found some time to review that material.

Since the March meeting, I and my neighbors have been going door-to-door, informing other folks what Cornell is planning. We have also made phone calls to different Cornell departments who have an interest in the Mount Pleasant area. What we have discovered is that practically no one, including the affected Cornell departments, had any knowledge of Cornell's wind turbine farm plans. After being informed, the overwhelming reaction to this news was that of surprise and dismay. People can't believe Cornell would even consider this defiling of one of the county's very special natural areas. But at the same time, the prevailing public sentiment is that Cornell has come to expect that it can do whatever it wants.

I've attended two information meetings in the last couple of weeks. The first was at my home, with Cornell and a small group of neighbors. The second meeting, which was well-attended, over a hundred people, was held a week ago at the Varna Community Center.

In both cases, Cornell did their best to minimize our concerns and fears. Cornell had large posters on display in which they incorporated what I consider trick photography, which gave the illusion that these 400-foot wind turbines weren't really that big. Cornell did acknowledge that these structures would have to be equipped with flashing strobe lights, that these lights were most visible only at night. And yes, Cornell said there is a flickering shadow effect, created by the sun and the propeller blades, but it really depends on where you are, how bad that effect would be.

If you're on the Cornell campus, it's not really a problem at all. On the issue of noise, Cornell said not to worry - the new improved turbines are not as loud as the old ones. Cornell assures us they are looking into the bird and bat mortality issue. They have contracted their own in-house Lab of Ornithology to make the determination. Coincidentally, in California, many wind turbine farms are shut down because of lawsuits involving bird and bat mortality.

Also, Cornell has told us not to worry about the wind turbines close proximity to the landing flight path of the airport. According to Cornell's interpretation of the FAA regulations, it's not a problem. Interestingly, though, the chief flying instructor from East Hill Flying Club stood up at the Varna meeting and stated, in his opinion, putting up eight 400-foot wind turbines on Mount Pleasant seriously jeopardizes the safety of the airport.

We are here again this evening to present you with the same petition, this time with what we hope you will a significant number of signatures: over 400. It is signed by many folks who love living on Mount Pleasant. The rest of the signatures are from people who love Mount Pleasant for a multitude of other reasons. We are counting on you to prevent Cornell from making this unethical self-service mistake in the Town of Dryden.

Town Board member Chris Michaels was the first to speak, saying that "my understanding of current town law is that our zoning does not allow that use." Zoning Officer Henry Slater concurred. The use isn't specified under the zoning law, and unspecified uses are prohibited by default.

Michaels continued by saying "They can't do it if they're complying with our zoning law.... obviously they've got something in mind, or are planning to come to us. If they act under the state college do they [need to conform to] our zones?"

Town Attorney Mahlon Perkins suggested that "it's an open question." Michaels noted that Cornell had submitted to the City of Ithaca's processes.

County Legislator Martha Robertson pointed out that Cornell was just doing a feasibility study now, and that Cornell would begin more formal processes once that was complete. "I don't think there's any contemplation of getting around the approval process," she said, "but I think we've all seen that they have a lot of firepower if they really want to get a variance for a particular zoning issue. But at this point they're not ready to come to you for approval or a variance, because they're just not sure it's worth it."

Supervisor Steve Trumbull reported that Cornell had said that "if Dryden denied them, they'd stop right there."

A speaker told of a moratorium on windfarm development after they'd been permitted because of a fall in property values of up to 27%. Legislator Robertson replied that

They did talk about, that in many cases, a project like this, the developer would make some payment to the municipalities: county, school district, town, whatever, in sort of compensation for essentially the use of the wind. That doesn't do anything particular for homeowners, except lower everybody's property taxes. But I think the point is that this is pretty preliminary, and they did, as you say, Steve, say at that meeting in Varna that the answer was "we'd stop if we didn't get a variance," which is significant because they've taken other projects through the courts, through lawsuits.

When asked if Cornell had come before the board, Supervisor Trumbull replied that all they'd had were letters. Resident Avery Park asked what power the town had over the project, and Trumbull reiterated that it would take "a use variance, if we agreed to it, but I don't see it happening." Park encouraged the board to imagine walking out their front doors and seeing 400-foot towers, and Trumbull replied that "I wouldn't like it."

John Semmler said that Cornell had come to their meetings and claimed that their property values would increase, but Semmler believed that was only possible because property values had already decreased because of the announcement of the project. Semmler told of his visit to the Fenner wind farm site:

It scared the hell out of me. It really did. It's noisy - I don't care what they say about not hearing it, well, I don't hear a thing right now when I walk out my door. I hear birds, and trees rustling, beautiful sounds, and you go up there, and you hear, when these things turn to face the wind, there's like a train on a railroad track. It's the only way I can describe it, metal on metal. The blades whirl around. You get what would be like a fluorescent light hum from the generator, this thing that's the size of a school bus that sits up on top of the tower. I would hate to see these in the Town of Dryden, anywhere. Call me a NIMBY, I don't want to agree, but I'd hate to see it in anybody's back yard.

The other thing I'd like to bring to your attention is the financial implications. It's not all that clear, and I don't think Cornell is making that that clear, I respect Martha's view on this, but I think there's a lot more than just feasibility stage right here. I think we're seeing Cornell digging in, doing some things. I think they were sincere about saying they would stop when it reached the Town Board, and they know you're not going to approve it - come on. Why are they going to all these meetings, and putting all this energy, and building an anemometer, you know - I don't think this is feasibility. I think they've got a plan. So I'm not as confident that that's not going to happen.

The financial part of it is, there are state grants available for the construction of these facilities, our state tax dollars. There are federal subsidies for what they call production credits, our federal tax money. To me, there's something inherently wrong with everybody in this room paying Cornell's utility bills. If it were nothing else than that, I don't care what kind of power it was, I would think that that's a travesty. What the hell are we doing that for?

The other thing is that they keep saying that there isn't going to be any effect, everything we read says no effect on health, and environment, and all of that. Well, they admitted at the [EMC] meeting last night... that they get all of their data from the wind energy coalition, and the turbine builders, General Electric being the big one. They're in bed together, believe me. There's no question. They need to be reading some other stuff and I would encourage you to look at some other stuff too.

I think if it weren't for the financial incentives they never would have gotten into this. I don't think this is about Kyoto Now, I really don't. I think it appeases the students, and you know, makes them look like good citizens, but I think there's a whole other scenario that's behind the scene there.

The other thing is there's a principle that New York State is adopting, called the Precautionary Principle, and it has to do with the development of projects, developers and the responsibility that developers have. It's sort like, if you don't know what the outcome is going to be, the burden of proof is on you to prove that it's not going to be harmful, that it's not going to be detrimental, or whatever. I think so much of what we're hearing right now is "Well, we understand this won't happen, we don't think it's going to be a problem, we're looking into that." You know, there's really a lot of unanswered questions.

I just hope whatever happens, we hold their feet to the fire, because there are a lot of people impacted, and I think one of the most beautiful areas in the Town, and I'd just hate to see it littered up. I said to somebody today, I pick up beer bottles out of the ditches alongside of my house there, and this is just another piece of trash, a big beer bottle.

Councilman Christofferson asked if Semmler had talked to anyone in Fenner, and he replied:

No, I didn't knock on any doors. We've got reports from a couple of people - I'm glad you brought that up - because a lot of these people that love the wind farms are getting $5000 a year lease payments, and they want more of them. They're not going to say to the power company or the town, or anybody, "this is horrible," because that's a nice sum of money, five thousand bucks. People that aren't getting paid and live near them - there's some material I think we gave you last time, which Bill handed out, and it paints a pretty sorry picture.

Legislator Robertson mentioned that "Cornell is taking a bus, or as many buses as needed, up to this wind farm on May 14th, that's a Saturday. I guess they're saying 9 to 3... if anybody's interested, get in touch with me and I'll get the names to the right people."

Semmler noted that:

it's not a bad drive about an hour. I would encourage you to go up... the Cornell thing is going to go to the sites, which, I think, are the least offensive, and all of that. I'm not trying to sound paranoid here, but I think they're taking orders from their energy consultant on this, AWS Wind Power... I would encourage you to go up there, it's maybe an hour fifteen or twenty... on your own. Drive right up to the base of some of these, stand there and listen to them, go over around various places, because the noise and the effect of these depends on the lay of the land. It's not always the same in all the places. You can be a quarter of a mile away, maybe, Dan mentioned that earlier, and not hear anything. But maybe you can be a mile away and hear it all the time.

There was another brief discussion at the very end of the meeting, when Town Councilman Steve Stelick warning that:

we need to be proactive with this possible wind turbine. I agree that Cornell's moving along. Why would you continue on with something when you know that, from what I can tell, we don't allow this kind of use. Why would you continue on with that unless there's this desire to complete this project? I just think that we need to be a little bit more proactive... we don't want to be waiting until the last second when they come forward with whatever the proposal is. I think they're spending a lot of money, to come up with all of this.

Legislator Robertson wanted Cornell to discuss alternatives to the approach they were currently taking, like buying alternative energy power from other locations. Environmental Planner Debbie Gross said that the Conservation Advisory Board was also discussing it. Resident Avery Park suggested not letting Cornell build its case, but Town Attorney Mahlon Perkins warned that "the safest course of action is proactive." Councilman Hattery especially wanted to get their comments on the record.

Posted by simon at 4:40 PM Comment

April 27, 2005

Upcoming Dryden events

Between Cathy Wakeman's Dryden Town Talk column and the Briefly in Dryden section of today's Ithaca Journal, there's a lot going on in the Town over the next few weeks:

  • The Ithachords, Beyond Measure, and six other a cappella groups will perform Saturday at the Dryden High School auditorium at 8:00pm. Tickets are $5 for students and $10 for others.

  • Briefly in Dryden announces that the Varna Community Association will be having a chicken barbecue April 30th, with serving starting at 2:00pm at the Varna Community Center (map). Half chickens and dinners (including beans, cole slaw, salt potatoes, a roll, and dessert) are both available.

  • The Dryden United Methodist Church will be having its annual rummage sale May 6th from 9:00am to 5:00pm and on May 7th from 9:00am to noon.

  • Boy Scout Troop 24 will be having a chicken barbecue at Clark's on May 7th from 11:00am until it's gone.

  • Dryden Sertoma will be having a golf tournament on May 20th at the Elm Tree Golf Course. You'll definitely want to read Wakeman's column for details on the many things they have planned.

Briefly in Dryden also notes that absentee ballots are available for the May 17th Dryden Central Schools elections and budget vote. To get a ballot that will be mailed, you must apply by May 10th, but if it's delivered personally, you can get a ballot all the way up to the 16th. (I still don't think the Journal's done an article on the Dryden school board race, but hopefully soon.)

In the Ithaca schools, the board decided to postpone both changes to start times and middle school redistricting. They also rejected a petition signed by 600 people to put the recent elementary school redistricting on the May 17th ballot.

Posted by simon at 7:58 AM Comment

April 28, 2005

TC3 fundraiser for Nicaragua, Ivory Coast

This morning's Ithaca Journal reports that TC3 will be hosting a fundraiser for a Nicaraguan orphanage and an Ivory Coast medical clinic tomorrow with a benefit dinner at 6:30pm. Students visited the orphanage in January and will be sharing photographs and experiences, while a silent auction will be going on.

The Journal reports on candidates in the Dryden school board race, profiling newcomers Linnett Short and Brad Rauch in addition to incumbents Rachel Dickinson, Chris Gibbons, Amanda Kittelberger, and Karin LaMotte. There's also an article on the three incumbents on the Ithaca City School Board who are retiring.

The Journal's editorial looks at a proposed law for ensuring that non-profits receive tax exemptions only for uses "in correlation to the not-for-profit activity." The article notes that 1 in 16 parcels in Tompkins County is exempt, and 40% of the total assessed value.

Posted by simon at 8:33 AM Comment

Dryden Democrats to meet next Thursday

The Dryden Democratic Committee will be meeting next Thursday, May 5th, at 7:30pm at the Dryden Village Hall (map). We'll be gearing up for the November election, discussing candidates, issues, and fundraising. Democrats from the Town of Dryden are welcome.

Looking ahead to November, the following town positions, all currently held by Republicans, will be up for election:

  • Town Supervisor (2 years - currently Steve Trumbull)
  • 2 Town Board members (4 years - currently Steve Stelick and Chris Michaels)
  • Highway Superintendent (4 years - currently Jack Bush)

And County Legislators Martha Robertson, Mike Lane, and George Totman have all said they're running for re-election.

Posted by simon at 8:41 AM Comment

Dryden Hotel reopens; duck or not duck?

This week's issue of the Dryden Courier leads with the reopening of the Dryden Hotel, starting with a party last Friday night and returning to its usual schedule this week. Closed for four months because of a flood from the sprinkler system, the Hotel has been repaired and reopened. The mural of Dryden has been retouched where necessary by the original artist and a new homestead added to it, a copper ceiling added, and a new, longer bar installed. Upstairs rooms were renovated.

Sharing the front page is an article on Saturday's upcoming a cappella Night of Songs, featuring the Ithachords and Dryden High School's Beyond Measure, as well as POPS, Alakazam, Chapter 2, the Extension Chords, Ascending Heights, and Last Call.

On the editorial page, in "Perhaps not a duck?", the Courier continues the strange retreat on their golf course story that reporter Tony Hall began at the end of discussion of the subject at the March Town Board meeting. The editorial states that the article "which triggered much of the controversy, was accurate, and, yet, misleading," without actually saying what in the article was wrong or misleading. A very strange set of paragraphs seems to be their conclusion on the matter:

What never existed here is the board's fear that Perkins, who has been their attorney for years, would act dishonorably. That means something else was in the room, something commonly known as trust.

We extended our trust, in this case, to the town board members and supervisor Steve Trumball, who failed to bid on a financially insolvent golf course, perhaps a very wise decision. The board, in turn, extended their trust to Perkins, a signal that, perhaps, he was the only attorney who should have been in the room, not the other way around.

Unfortunately, that conclusion doesn't really parse. It seems to boil down to "the board trusted Mahlon Perkins, and kept him in the room," without addressing what happened afterward. The entire editorial seems to me to chase after the wrong set of questions, never quite attempting to answer Mark Wheeler's simple question: "Where's the beef?"

The beef is pretty simple: Information that the board deliberately discussed in executive session leaked, and leaked to parties directly interested in what they were discussing. That makes a mockery of the very reason for holding executive session in the first place. If the board doesn't care who hears about the price they're bidding for real estate, they should hold the session in public, not share its contents with favored parties.

The Courier also overlooks the recent Journal article on the subject, in which Town Supervisor Steve Trumbull took responsibility for the leak, and seems to understand "the beef":

"I divulged what I was authorized to bid. I'm still learning that part of things," he said. "This is something that people have talked about for years. If things get out, seems to depend on who's in executive session and who they talk to later. I don't think it's supposed to be talked about."

The Courier has a nice feature on County Legislator Martha Robertson's re-election announcement last week, complete with discussion of who was there, the tabulation of votes for spending last year (45KB PDF), quotes from Robertson on TompkinsRx and the number of inmates in Tompkins County Jail, and Natan Huffman's endorsement.

There's an article on the $136,442 per year the Dryden Central School District could save on energy costs by reducing its consumption through closing doors, organizing shifts, and replacing windows and light bulbs.

In sports, there are reports on the post-season future of the Dryden baseball team and the return of a strong Dryden track team.

Posted by simon at 12:11 PM Comment

Another possible Village of Dryden annexation

It looks like there's another petition to annex property from the Town of Dryden to the Village of Dryden, this time along Route 392 at the eastern boundary of the Village. From the Ithaca Journal's legal notices:

PLEASE TAKE NOTICE that the Village Board of the Village of Dryden and the Town Board of the Town of Dryden will hold a joint public hearing pursuant to General Municipal Law 705 on the petition of Paul E. Simonet for annexation to the Village of Dryden of Town of Dryden tax parcel no. 48.-1-64 containing approximately 3.94 acres. The parcel proposed to be annexed fronts on East Main Street (NYS Route 392) in the Town of Dryden. The joint public hearing on the petition shall be for the Village Board and Town Board to hear testimony and receive evidence and information which may be presented concerning the petition and the question of whether the annexation is in overall public interest including testimony, evidence and information with respect to objections to the legal sufficiency of such petition as set forth in General Municipal Law 705.

The joint public hearing, and whether the proposed annexation is in the overall public interest will be held Thursday, May 19, 2005, at 7:00 P.M., prevailing time, at the Village Hall, 16 South Street, Dryden, New York at which time and place all interested persons will be heard.

Any person with a disability who wishes to attend this public hearing should contact the Village Clerk's Office at 844-8122 at least three days prior to the meeting so that their particular needs can be accommodated.

As noted, this will be a joint public hearing, probably much like the one held in March for the Dryden Mutual Insurance annexation proposal.

Posted by simon at 2:24 PM Comment

April 29, 2005

County assessments up 9.13%, Town up 8.18%

This morning's Ithaca Journal reports that taxable assessments in Tompkins County are up 9.13%. Tracking down the more detailed breakdown from the assessor's office (14KB PDF), the Town of Dryden is listed with an 8.18% increase and the Villages of Freeville and Dryden with a 6.50% increase. While the overall rate increase for the county and many towns slowed down this year, the Town of Dryden slightly accelerated from last year's 7.55% increase, although the villages were at 10.47% last year. (The number of parcels in Dryden only increased 0.51%.)

Briefly in Tompkins reports that the Tompkins County SPCA is looking for volunteers for tasks including "cat or dog socializing, dog walking, adoption counseling, fostering, assisting at special events or general office support". They have an online application (76KB) if you're interested. Volunteers do have to be over 18.

Posted by simon at 7:29 AM Comment

April 30, 2005

Wind turbines stopped

This morning's Ithaca Journal reports that Cornell has decided to stop its study of putting wind turbines on Mount Pleasant, publishing a brief press release to that effect after notifying residents at a meeting Thursday night.

According to Simeon Moss, the director of Cornell's press office, even the meteorological testing tower won't be going up on Mount Pleasant:

"We are not going to put up a tower at this time," Moss said. "There were a number of issues that came up, there was the question of land use, view sheds, the regulatory environment that's out there. To go forward in such an uncertain environment doesn't make sense."

Cornell will continue with a bird and bat study being conducted by the Lab of Ornithology, testing the use of bioacoustics and radar to study bird and bat populations in the area.

Residents, who had spoken at a number of meetings in opposition to the project and collected over 300 signatures on a petition against it, sound happy - "elation", "surprised and gratified" - and the airport manager sounds relieved about possible issues with the flight path.

For more on the previous windmill discussions, see:

In other news, the county economy grew 2% in March, and the first quarters sets the pace for 2.7% growth over the year.

Posted by simon at 8:28 AM Comment