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(Via It's About The Story.)
A landmark of Dryden architecture, built by John Southworth, is now formally in the hands of the Dryden Town Historical Society. I'd mentioned it earlier when the Ithaca Journal did an article, but it's good to see the transfer happen.
Sara Rebecca "Becky" Southworth Simpson left the house and its many contents to the Historical Society, on condition that the DTHS establish an office there. She had been active in the founding of the organization, and always interested in the history of her house, built by John Southworth in 1836. Her niece Betsy Van Sickle was there to celebrate the transfer, along with a small group of DTHS trustees and executor Mike Lane.
A sign is in the works, and the Historical Society will be having a more public celebration of their new home sometime later this year.
It's an amazing building, and I'd never seen the inside before yesterday. It's always felt like a calm spot separating the Village Green by the churches from the commercial zone on North Road, and it's wonderful inside as well.
George Frantz, once the consultant on the Dryden Comprehensive Plan, sent the Sustainable Tompkins list a note last week about the American Farmland Trust's No Farms, No Food rally day, coming on February 15th. He included their agenda for lobbying (72KB PDF), which mostly looks great. Good things like farmland protection money, nutrition assistance for consumers, getting state agencies to buy food from the state, and support for farmers markets.
I like all of it, but looking around Dryden and especially after the contentious battles over hydrofracking, it seems weak.
Farmers are getting crushed in New York State, and not just for lack of farmers markets. Some of it, to be sure, has to do with farmers getting lousy prices from food processors, who seem immune to much-needed antitrust action, but a lot of it comes from the way New York State makes municipal governments and school districts fund themselves.
In two words, that's property taxes.
The state has tinkered a little bit with income taxes in the last few years, but relying on property taxes for schools in particular creates large problems for poor districts and massive headaches for farmers. Every year, whether the farm does well or not, they get huge bills from schools, and smaller bills from counties and towns.
Why are we stuck here? Partly it's because Republicans have fought constantly against any increase in income taxes. (Last year's "we can call it an increase or decrease as politically convenient" was a masterpiece of Albany nonsense.)
At the same time, however, state Democrats make an equal but opposite mistake. This piece from the New York Observer really hammers it home:
The Democratic conference was still dominated by liberal and minority members, but they had taken control of the chamber by winning in longtime GOP strongholds on the suburbs of Long Island and even in rural hamlets in the North County and western New York.
On the first day they were in the majority, in a closed-door meeting, Brian Foley, a freshman lawmaker from Long Island in a seat long held by the GOP, told his new colleagues that he was thrilled to be a part of the team, and was looking forward to doing something about skyrocketing property taxes.
He was told he was in the wrong room. The Democrats are not the party that cares about property taxes. If you pay property taxes, you are rich, his new colleagues told him, according to people who witnessed the exchange. We are the party of renters. Mr. Foley said no more.
And so it went for the newly elected Senate majority. They instituted an MTA payroll tax and a millionaire's tax, both of which angered suburban swing voters. Instead of lavishing resources on the upstate counties their newly elected lawmakers represented, they devoted attention to their base in the city.
While I think renters are important and understand their central part in pretty much any conversation about Downstate politics, those dynamics don't work the same way Upstate. Despite what certain State Senators might think, renters get hurt by property taxes too - but here the distribution falls harshly on the farms we're trying to keep alive.
I've been appalled by the eagerness some farmers show for hydrofracking cash, but they have a point when they say the government just takes and takes and takes from them. If we want farms to continue here - and pretty much everyone I've talked with wants farms - we need to change the structure of taxes. That means reducing the hit of property taxes, or at least finding some sane way to move that hit away from farmers.
Unfortunately, the most local governments and school districts can do is try to keep their spending as low as the state will allow. Changing the formula for where that money comes from is something that only the state can do.
Maybe the American Farmland Trust thinks that's too much to ask? It sure won't be easy to get there.
Now that's a headline I never thought I'd write. It's Dryden Republicans, too.
Seward is a very dedicated and well-received member of the New York State Senate among both his colleagues and his constituents. Why is he, then, buying into this campaign? Because he apparently thinks it won't amount to much and he can thrown a bone to his Cooperstown friends. What he is doing, though, is sending a message, a message that New York State is closed for business, when it should be open.
Isn't that nice? Seward is well-liked, but he's sold out to the people in Cooperstown. (I guess EID forgets this end of the vacuum cleaner district.) They even manage to rephrase "giving aid and comfort to the enemy" into the somewhat gentler:
Trying to play ball with both sides only enables the anti-gas special interests to maintain the pretense they are winning a status quo battle against the future.
Never compromise, never surrender, never imagine a world in which your opponents might have a point. It's kind of a strange position to take in New York politics, though maybe New Yorkers are so tired of random Albany compromises that it has some small chance of working. (Either that or EID hopes that all part of New York State that have gas will decide to become part of Pennsylvania instead.)
Anyway, it's strange to watch the ever further shift right of our local Republican party, especially on energy issues. I can no longer bring myself to call these folks "conservative". They're not. "Right wing" is about the only term I have left, except maybe the 1860s "Radical Republicans" name, which doesn't seem to fit.
Now I'm starting to wonder if anything at all in the Geology chapter (4.2MB PDF) of the Revised Draft SGEIS on the Oil, Gas and Solution Mining Regulatory Program can be trusted. I posted a while ago about the 'fairway' it described, supposedly the best place to drill for gas. Dryden was inside the edge of that, as were Corning, where I grew up, and Auburn, where my mother grew up.
The recent rant against Senator Seward from Energy In Depth Marcellus, however, shows a very different map.
A different take on the Marcellus Shale. (from EID Marcellus.)
EID Marcellus unfortunately doesn't give a source for its "economically viable" line here, but it's clearly calculated differently than the DEC's "fairway". In particular, it extends much further west, to the western edge of Cattaraugus County, includes much more of Allegany and Steuben counties, and much less of those troublesome Tompkins and Otsego counties.
It makes me start to wonder if gas companies are factoring local opposition into their economic calculations, or think it would cost less to operate in much more Republican municipalities. Given the number of other things that were geologically questionable in the dSGEIS, though, maybe the fairway map is botched too. Or maybe the shift toward drilling for oil and 'wetter' gas instead of the drier gas that's here may be having an impact.
I'll keep an eye and an ear out for explanations.
I didn't know Jack, but I know lots of people who did. An obituary is here, and there's a letter from the Dryden school district here (222KB PDF).
My heart goes out to his family and friends.
Lots and lots of small pieces, in no particular order:
Dryden Town Talk offers history, chocolate Saturday in Etna, and a link to this great piece about the proposed Etna post office closing.
Dryden nurse Jamie Otis made it to the sixth episode of The Bachelor before being cut.
It looks like new county legislative district lines are settling.
Freeville resident Sloan Sheridan-Thomas wrote a guest viewpoint, Defending bigotry isn't a true mark of character
The new USDA climate map is out, and reflects that it's warmer in the valley of downtown Ithaca than up here on the hills.
The soldier captured in Dryden at the end of a crime spree is now facing additional charges.
Stuart Staniford doesn't report whether Jon Harrod cackled madly as he saw how energy-inefficient Stuart's house was, but otherwise it sounds much like the energy audit Jon did for this house almost a decade ago, long before I was blogging and before Jon was running his own company, Snug Planet.
This morning's Ithaca Journal asks Has New York missed the hydrofracking boom? and concludes sort of maybe. Over two years ago, I suggested that there were good economic reasons for drilling to come later if it came at all, and that piece seems to be holding up pretty well.
The Journal seemed to binge on "don't worry [about people who want to make lots of money], be happy" guest viewpoints this week. They let Henry Kramer continue his jurisdiction-shopping in an assault on home rule I commented on elsewhere. Brad Gill of the Independent Oil and Gas Association suggests that we "rely on the credible and competent experts in the energy field" and hopes we don't remember that "experts in the energy field" (that he considers credible) get paid by or through "the energy field".
I can't help giving a bit of extra attention to this nonsense:
Experienced journalists know, however, that the Internet is an unreliable source of information, and they can easily detect every Internet-sourced letter to the editor or Guest Viewpoint.
Just remember - if you read it here, it's unreliable, and experienced journalists will detect (and do something with?) letters based on it.
That might explain why the Journal hasn't published a letter I sent them a few weeks ago about redistricting, though apparently the (less?) experienced journalists at the Cortland Standard let it through. (I'm guessing they lost it, though - it's happened before.)
In more reasonable news, the Independent Redistricting Commission for the county legislature wrapped up its work and sent it on to the county.
The New York State Legislature is terrible on many levels. I could probably set up a blog just to catalog their many screwups and corruptions. At the same time I despair of their awfulness, though, I'd rather see that legislature fixed - not that it wants to be fixed - than hand their power over to a single individual.
It seems that approach can cross party lines all the way to One of Nine, who write:
Being wary of creating a dictatorship in Albany, however benevolent it might appear at the moment, is just prudent.
Empowered: The Movie came out a few months ago, but I'm afraid I hadn't realized just how deep its Dryden, mostly West Dryden, roots are. Suzanne McMannis, who built this wonderful strawbale house on Bone Plain Road with her husband, produced it. Shira Golding Evergreen, the director, is one of the people working to revive Ludgate Farms over on Hanshaw Road.
The film is about a local phenomenon:
Tompkins County, NY is one of the cloudiest, least windy places in the country, and yet its residents are proving that we can meet our energy needs through totally renewable resources. From solar and wind to veggie oil and geothermal, Empowered: Power from the People tells the story of one community's role in the energy independence revolution.
I wonder if there's an easy place in Dryden to hold a screening?
I'm delighted that Dryden resident Dan Lamb is running for Congress. No one knows what the district lines will look like, thanks to the New York State Legislature's chaos, but it would be great to see Dan in Washington.
Dan has managed Maurice Hinchey's Ithaca and Binghamton offices for years, and I've always thought his Broome and Tioga county experience in particular gave him a solid understanding the difficult challenges of the Southern Tier. He lives just west of McLean in the most Republican corner of this very Democratic county, and does well talking with Republicans as well as Democrats. I've watched him deal with some incredibly combative people, managing to listen even when they were just lecturing, and ask polite questions that moved the conversation forward.
I don't always agree with Dan on every detail, but I always appreciate the way he comes to his conclusions. He's smart, he's flexible, and he's very capable of working with a wide range of people.
We'll see what lines Albany comes up with, but I'm really hoping this works out.
I didn't expect attorney and lobbyist Tom West to be happy about losing the first round of the Anschutz lawsuit, but I also didn't expect this in the New York Times:
The Dryden case, however, is sure to prompt further litigation. Thomas West, the Albany lawyer representing Anschutz, said the company might appeal or instead pursue a "takings" claim against the town — based on the principle that private property should not be taken without just compensation. Mr. West said the company had spent more than $5 million securing land leases from Dryden property owners and could claim the lost value of its assets, including any profits it would have derived from exploiting the mineral rights under the land.
"It could be a very large claim," he said.
By my reading, that '"takings" claim' threat is just a lot of wind. New York State's actual rules on taking claims don't resemble the rhetoric of gas advocates, and I'm reasonably confident, despite not being an attorney, that West would get laughed out of court for filing such a case.
However, Solid Shale takes a look at how much would have to change for such a claim to become plausible, which I guess means that Anschutz and friends would have to run through the legal process on a quest to find right-wing activist judges willing to demolish precedent in this space.
That doesn't seem likely to me, except that it fits a particular right-wing corporate agenda that goes well beyond the oil and gas industry, and maybe this is the kind of case they've been looking for. Given that natural gas prices just keep plunging, I'm not sure the gas industry by itself is going to be too excited about trying to win this case if drilling in Dryden is really the issue.
Mostly, though, it seems like Tom West's classic approach, making big claims that sound terrible but really lack the certainty he projects.
Update: This bluster faded fast.
Update: If you prefer your bluster local, here's Henry Kramer of the Dryden Safe Energy Coalition. Even Henry seems to have lowered his sights, only threatening the Town with $5 million of potential damages for Anschutz's actual investment instead of the $175 million in (his dream of) possible lost income. I don't think even the $5 million is plausible.
and more, as always, in Cathy Wakeman's Dryden Town Talk.
and minimal steering, you're bound to hit walls sometimes.
When I checked in yesterday at Energy in Depth Marcellus, the PR mouthpiece for the gas companies, to see what their response to the Dryden lawsuit ruling might be, all I found was this piece shouting at Vestal lawmakers not to pass a ban that pretty much made exactly the same arguments that Judge Phillip Rumsey had just thrown out.
Maybe their posts are just scheduled in advance? Or maybe they just don't care what the court says?
From their later post on their loss in the Dryden suit, it seems to be the second option (or maybe both). After griping that people mysteriously don't like them, and referencing WKRP in Cincinnati (always a good idea), they march on to "a critical flaw in the judge's reasoning" and give a lot more detail than I would have thought wise on outlines for an appeal. None of their arguments seem especially fatal to me, but there are of course another two levels of court before this case is settled.
Launched by the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) in 2009, Energy In Depth (EID) is a research, education and public outreach campaign ... an effort that benefits directly from the support, guidance and technical insight of a broad segment of America's oil and natural gas industry, led in Washington by IPAA, but directed on the ground by our many affiliates — and IPAA's more than 6,000 members — in the states.
They also seem to think that all of their opponents must be mercenary, as this bizarre piece on the Park Foundation suggests. At first I thought that piece was just an incredible exercise in paranoia, but after thinking about it for a while, I suspect they just can't imagine that their opponents would be structured differently from their own operation. People couldn't possibly oppose these things because it's a bad idea - just like Energy in Depth, they must be coordinated from some central place.
On the bright side, mercenary operations require financial support. Maybe collapsing natural gas prices and our having the "wrong" kind of gas, dry instead of wet, will give these folks the opportunity to take their paranoia someplace else - or better yet, shut down.
I don't drink very much any more, and it's been an even longer time since I brewed my own beer, but it's great to see brewing come to Dryden. Bacchus Brewing, on Ellis Drive, will be opening March 24th, and the Journal reports on the hard work and craft involved in getting there.
Rachel Barnhart, a reporter at Rochester's 13WHAM-TV, wondered about the future of Frontier, a local telephone company that also covers much of Dryden:
I asked Frontier in the fall of 2010 about its future plans. They did not include an upgrade to higher-speed networks. The company doesn't believe most people need super-fast Internet.
She also posts a response from the company that feels to me like boilerplate - but then I don't have Frontier service. (I'm on the very edge of Verizon's coverage area, in a place where they don't even offer DSL.)
Any Frontier customers have good news to report?
It's been a bad week for the gas industry and their lead attorney, Tom West. The Town of Middlefield, New York was battling a lawsuit parallel to Dryden's. In Dryden's case, the gas company, Anschutz Exploration Company, had sued, while in Middlefield, a landowner, Cooperstown Holstein Corporation, had sued. Both cases rested on the interpretation of New York State Environmental Conservation Law §23-0303(2), and both judges came to similar conclusions.
For Middlefield, the result reads:
Specifically, did the State of New York, by the enactment of ECL §23-0303(2), prohibit local municipalities from enacting legislation which may impact upon the oil, gas, and solution drilling or mining industries other than that pertaining to local roads and the municipalities' rights under the real property law? This Court finds the answer to this question to be in the negative.
Again, this is round one. There will likely be an appeal to a panel of judges, and then an appeal to New York State's top court, the Court of Appeals.
I really didn't think Anschutz would live up to its bluster, and I'm mostly surprised they folded this argument so quickly:
Although early reports (NYTimes 2/02/2012) quoted West saying Anschutz could sue Dryden under "takings" law, West said February 22 in an interview with the Dryden Courier, "I don't know that they (Anschutz) would pursue a takings claim at this point. I do think we will see a takings claim somewhere in New York State."
My guess on that last sentence is that West is hoping not to endure the personal embarrassment of filing such a claim himself, but maybe he just prefers to leave the vague threat out there.
After yesterday's Middlefield loss, he did offer up a polarizing quote:
"This is really the kiss of death for drilling in New York," West said in an interview. "No prudent operator is going to invest in leases in New York if those leases are at the mercy of a zoning ban."
For many opponents of drilling, that sounds all right. For supporters, even in places that haven't passed bans, that's a call to arms to make sure no place can ban it. He may lose cases and bluster a lot, but West does seem to know how to keep industry supporters motivated.
His current path forward? Appealing the Dryden and Middlefield rulings:
"We're looking forward to getting the issue before the appellate court," said Thomas S. West, one of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs in both cases.
Update: If you still want takings bluster, another law firm is offering it.
I was wondering when the DSEC would post something about the first results of the lawsuit they had so eagerly awaited, but there's nothing on their site. the Ithaca Journal had used some of Henry Kramer's quotes in an article, and One of Nine spoke of intermission, but the DSEC's press release isn't on their site.
It's at EID Marcellus, with a typically paranoid EID preface on the front of it and a misleading headline. Lots of Dryden landowners, myself included, are pretty happy about these decisions.
Somehow the Ithaca Journal managed to publish a letter from me last week without my noticing its appearance:
In a representative democracy, voters are supposed to choose their legislators. In New York, the legislators instead choose who gets to vote for them.
This corrupt system has been popular in the cesspool we call a state legislature for the last 40 years. The Republican-dominated Senate draws lines that favor Republicans, the Democrat- dominated Assembly draws lines that favor Democrats, and the gerrymander also provides a convenient incumbent protection plan, at least to those who curried favor with the right leaders.
New York and Tompkins County spent a lot of time evaluating voting machines a few years ago, working to reassure voters that their votes would be counted. How much does it matter, though, if the fix is already built into the maps?
It's possible that with these grotesque maps, the legislators have overstepped the bounds of reason so severely that Gov. Andrew Cuomo will actually use his promised veto pen. It's also possible that these atrocious maps are a deliberately extreme negotiating position, part of the Albany dance of letting everyone pretend they improved an idea. Or not.
New York's democracy has never been particularly vibrant, but this is a new low. We need voters in charge, not political patroons.
Simon St. Laurent
Town of Dryden
I wrote that a month ago and they published it a week ago (the Cortland Standard published it earlier). Redistricting, though, remains in the same unfinished but corrupt haze it was in then. The strangest complications seem to revolve around Charlie Rangel's Harlem district, but none of it looks good. At this point I'm hoping there's a way for the courts to say enough and just do something even vaguely sane.
The Oneonta Daily Star has an editorial looking at the judicial and legislative paths ahead after last week's victories for home rule in the first round of the lawsuits against Dryden and Middlefield.
However it happens, the end of the legal conversation with the gas industry will not be quick. The Dryden Town Board has scheduled a meeting for 8:00pm Thursday night to discuss next steps.