July 2, 2012

Visiting the faeries

And now for something completely different.

Yesterday we drove east to beautiful Ouaquaga, New York, to the New York Faerie Festival.


Sungiva brought her wings.

Watching Wolgemut.
Watching Wolgemut.

Some folks got very into the music.

More than your average dance outfit.
More than your average dance outfit.

You never knew what you might find.

Sword on, not in, the stone.
Sword on, not in, the stone.

They had things for sale, too.

Fine knives in the making.
Fine knives in the making.

And, of course, you had to watch for trolls in the trees, fishing for children with lollipops. They lost a lot of bait that way.

Troll fishing.
Troll fishing.

Want more? I think you'll have to wait for next year, but in the meantime here are many more photographs to tide you over.

(It was very different from the Sterling Renaissance Festival. That was busier and more detailed, but the Faerie Festival was somehow a lot more relaxing. I think there's definitely room for both in the area.)

Posted by simon at 5:36 PM Comment

Local power plant to keep going

It's not in Dryden, but the AES Cayuga power plant on the lake in Lansing has been Tompkins County's primary source of electricity for a long time. After a long period of wobbling, when it seemed that the plant's value was about equal to its cleanup cost, AES Eastern Energy filed for bankruptcy last week.

The Upstate New York Power Producers received final regulatory approval Friday to purchase two coal-burning power plants in Niagara and Tompkins counties. The price: about $300 million for both. Jerry Goodenough, who'd been the AES Cayuga manager, will run the new company.

Here are the Buffalo News article and the Ithaca Journal article.

Posted by simon at 10:10 PM Comment

So that's why the cheers for the DEC

I'd been wondering for a long time why local supporters of gas drilling had turned into such great fans of New York's Department of Environmental Conservation. Over the years I'd heard plenty of complaints about how the DEC was another terrible government agency out to cause trouble for private property owners on behalf of terrible environmentalists. When it came to gas drilling, though, the DEC suddenly achieved sainthood. Pro-fracking speaker after speaker at public conversations on hydrofracking lauded the great work they did on gas drilling regulation.

It's less mysterious now that I find the agency sharing updates on the SGEIS with industry while the rest of us wait in the dark, and when it seems that someone with the same name as the DEC Division of Mineral Resources head signed a petition denying global warming. (There aren't enough details to know if it's actually the same person, but that name definitely appears in the state-by-state list for New York.)

It's going to be a long summer. As Tom Wilber of Shale Gas Review put it:

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's attempt to turn down the heat on the shale gas controversy has only made it hotter.

Posted by simon at 10:18 PM Comment

Legislators voting with their leadership

Via Capitol Tonight, I saw that NYPIRG had crunched the numbers on how often New York State legislators voted with the leadership (1.3MB PDF).

Our local legislators were pretty much in lock-step, though the details are different:

  • Democratic Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton voted with Speaker Sheldon Silver 99.52% of the time, making her the 33rd of 150 most likely to vote with the speaker. She voted with Republican Minority Leader Brian Kolb 88.8% of the time.

  • Republican State Senator Jim Seward voted with Majority Leader Dean Skelos 98.91% of the time, making him 28th most likely of 62 to vote. He also voted with Democratic Senate Minority Leader John Sampson 97.01% of the time, and Independent Democratic Conference leader Klein 98.36% of the time.

Somehow pretty much none of those numbers seem healthy, but the Senate's apparently total lack of controversy in bills that reached the floor really makes me wonder.

Seward was also on the leader-list for bills passing two houses, at third in the Senate and overall, with 26. It's hard to tell if that's because of his legislative skills, or because of the way his district is drawn to overlap various municipalities. Over two years, he's had 47 bills passed, putting him in a three-way tie for fifth overall.

There's a lot more there if you're looking for what quantitative measures are possible for our legislature.

Posted by simon at 11:01 PM Comment

July 3, 2012

Equipment sale at Ludgate Farms

This Saturday, July 7th, Ludgate Farms will be selling off equipment, cabinets, cash registers, and lots of smaller pieces. It runs from 9am to 4pm and is cash only.

I'm guessing this really is the end of the line for Ludgate Farms.

Posted by simon at 8:36 AM Comment

"No part of my district, no part of my state, is expendable."

That sounds like an incumbent speaking, but it's challenger Howard Leib taking on State Senator Jim Seward over fracking.

Posted by simon at 8:42 AM Comment

July 5, 2012

4700 gallons of hydrochloric acid, but it's not about fracking?

Well, except that it is, and this is why I'm glad the Dryden ban covered operations beyond the drilling pad itself:

When the anonymous industry report states there were "no drilling or fracking operations taking place" at the spill site in Leroy, it's somehow excluding the handling and storage of hazardous materials that are central to those operations. In short, the cause and outcome of this particular spill, like the impact of large scale fracking operations over time, are made obscure by industry-speak. This 4,700 gallon "release" is, once again, something to keep in mind when you hear that fracking has never polluted groundwater.

Posted by simon at 10:33 PM Comment

July 7, 2012

Economic development by paying down (individual) debt

Long long ago I won an Empire State Scholarship, but couldn't accept the money that came with it because I went to college in another state - Pennsylvania. In the long run I did something more important to New York than going to college there, deciding to live here. (In the 20 years since I graduated from college I've lived in New York State for 18.)

Lately I've also been wondering about New York's bloated and sometimes corrupt economic development infrastructure. Rochester reporter Rachel Barnhart has noted research on property tax abatements not really working, and points to a Syracuse Post-Standard story about the miserable scheme that was supposed to turn Carousel Mall into DestiNY.

Today I read about a different approach to supporting education and economic development, in Niagara Falls:

Remember how towns in need of a shot of youthful energy were dangling a tasty carrot of student loan payoffs in front of said young people to try and convince them to move there? It seems Niagara Falls' plan in that vein is doing quite well for itself, with a new report that young people from around the country are "vying for the chance to live in downtown Niagara Falls."

As the Buffalo News puts it for those unfamiliar with the plan, "No, that's not a typo." It's all part of the city's scheme to pay off up to $3,500 for two years in student loans for those accepted into the program. More than 200 people from as far away as Hawaii have contacted the city about renting or buying a home in the city since news of the program spread last month.

This is pretty radical, though they're only doing it for 20 people.

I have mixed feelings about this. The student loan business has turned into a racket over the last few decades, fueled by rising demand for credentials. Organizations, both not-for-profit and for-profits, have been chasing student loan dollars in ways that constantly make me wonder what students - and taxpayers subsidizing those loans - are actually getting for the money. An expensive education can certainly be worthwhile, but it's not always the right answer. (I marvel at Angelika's college education, which cost €250 a semester, mostly for a bus pass. There are other probably better models.)

It's also hard to track the impact of this, though the good publicity Niagara Falls is getting as a pioneer probably helps overall. I also have persisting doubts about the "chase the 'Creative Class'" approach that seems to have become a standard part of too many cities' economic development toolbox. (They're the most mobile people, so getting them to come and getting them to stay are two different questions, the second much more difficult.)

I think, though, that we're going to see more of this. It's definitely something to watch. At the very least, it's an interesting idea for making lemons into lemonade.

Posted by simon at 12:03 PM Comment

July 10, 2012

Freeville XtraMart closed for remodeling

This will inconvenience a few folks used to stopping there for coffee and gas, but it may also improve traffic flow along 13 for commuters - temporarily.

XtraMart closed temporarily
XtraMart closed temporarily for expansion to Dunkin Donuts.

I missed the Town Board review of the plans, but I'm guessing the XtraMart/Dunkin Donuts in Lansing on 34B is probably a good indicator of what's coming.

In the meantime, you can buy tasty and nutritious treats at BB Farms next door, though they lack coffee and gasoline.

Posted by simon at 6:58 PM Comment

July 11, 2012

Garden tour and much more

Cathy Wakeman's Dryden Town Talk is full of things to do. There's a garden tour this Saturday, Junior Fire Academy next week, a llama and snake coming to Southworth Library, "Homesteading & the Lost Arts" at 4-H Acres, and music all over town.

Posted by simon at 8:50 AM Comment

Come on up... from the Marcellus

I guess I wasn't the only one who studied our local geologic strata and concluded there might be some extended cracks between layers.

For me, that was mostly what I got from reading the patron geologist of the Marcellus Shale, but people with more skill, money, and time have taken a closer look, and found signs that fluid does move between the layers:

We present geochemical evidence from northeastern Pennsylvania showing that pathways, unrelated to recent drilling activities, exist in some locations between deep underlying formations and shallow drinking water aquifers. Integration of chemical data (Br, Cl, Na, Ba, Sr, and Li) and isotopic ratios (87Sr/86Sr, 2H/H, 18O/16O, and 228Ra/226Ra) from this and previous studies in 426 shallow groundwater samples and 83 northern Appalachian brine samples suggest that mixing relationships between shallow ground water and a deep formation brine causes groundwater salinization in some locations.

The strong geochemical fingerprint in the salinized (Cl > 20 mg/L) groundwater sampled from the Alluvium, Catskill, and Lock Haven aquifers suggests possible migration of Marcellus brine through naturally occurring pathways. The occurrences of saline water do not correlate with the location of shale-gas wells and are consistent with reported data before rapid shale-gas development in the region; however, the presence of these fluids suggests conductive pathways and specific geostructural and/or hydrodynamic regimes in northeastern Pennsylvania that are at increased risk for contamination of shallow drinking water resources, particularly by fugitive gases, because of natural hydraulic connections to deeper formations. (Emphasis added.)

I'm sure the gas companies and friends will think the italicized part of that is critical - these connections weren't created by drilling. However, the most important part is the bold - these connections already exist. We don't know where they are or how they work, but there is opportunity for migration of fluids and especially gases.

The shale-gas-friendly DotEarth blog has a nicely detailed (if corrected) report that talks with one of the authors of the report and a critic, that same patron geologist of the Marcellus Shale.

Posted by simon at 5:27 PM Comment

July 12, 2012

Saltonstall Foundation to host Open House Sundays

It's been a long time since I went to one of these, but the Saltonstall Foundation, on Ellis Hollow Creek Road, will be having Open House Sundays this Sunday, July 15th, as well as August 19th and September 23rd. If you have a chance, it's definitely a great way to stretch your mind for an afternoon.

Posted by simon at 10:23 AM Comment

Dryden Garden Tour this Saturday

I can't make it this time, but hopefully you can:

Dryden Open Gate Garden and Art Tour

Saturday, July 14th, 9am - 2pm

Enjoy four beautiful gardens with art on display and for sale in each garden!

Starting point: Municipal Parking Lot, George Street, Dryden, NY.

Free shuttle to each garden!

Tickets: $5.00/person (includes all four gardens!) Seniors: $4.00/person.

Maps available day of the tour
or download from the Dryden Beautification Website:

Posted by simon at 10:26 AM Comment

Deer Management Focus Area in central Tompkins County

Update: Thanks to Kris Altucher in comments, it's clear that "central Tompkins County" includes the Town of Dryden roughly south and west of the Ringwood Road intersection with Route 13. It looks like there's an extra January season "for taking of antlerless deer only".

Just when I was starting to forget that the Department of Environmental Conservation handles more than fracking regulations, I see that they're changing the hunting rules for Tompkins County:

Establishing a Deer Management Focus Area in central Tompkins County to intensify use of hunting to assist communities in the Ithaca area with the burden of overabundant deer populations. The focus area program is established to reduce total deer populations within the focus area by providing more time and more tags to hunters who can gain access to huntable land.

DEC plans to evaluate this new approach over the next several years and, depending on the results, will consider designation of other locations as deer management focus areas. More information about the focus area program, including registration forms will be available on the DEC website in September.

My main question is "huntable land" in "central Tompkins County"? There isn't a whole lot that's huntable by the usual rules. I don't know if they plan to suspend some of the rules, or if they're hoping more people will hunt in the adjacent areas (say, western Dryden) and the deer population might consider migration.

I'm sure this will add to the cranky conversations around Cayuga Heights and its efforts to deal with seemingly infinite deer. Even a lot of the land bordering "central Tompkins County" is Cornell Plantations and similarly protected land. I guess people could hunt on the research fields?

Posted by simon at 10:03 PM Comment

July 14, 2012

Earthship underway

You really just have to see this construction, underway on Ed Hill Road. via David Makar.

Posted by simon at 8:29 AM Comment

Greek Peak in trouble; Seward to face primary opponent

It looks like Greek Peak's debts to a failed bank may be causing it major headaches. Let's hope they stay open - they're in Virgil, but despite the distance they still create business and definitely recreation for Dryden. (Update: More here.)

In political news, State Senator Jim Seward will have a Republican primary challenger, Jim Blake.

Posted by simon at 9:36 AM Comment

Dryden SEC meets

...in Spencer. Well, at least it's closer than Binghamton, right?

No mention on their own website, either, just on the industry-run Energy In Depth.

Posted by simon at 9:51 PM Comment

July 18, 2012

Regulators evaluating science... who and how?

In my review of Under The Surface, I noted that it was hard to sympathize with the regulators - mostly because they don't do their job. After a spate of doubts about the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation's work, Tom Wilber, author of that book, asks some uncomfortable questions about the head of the DEC Division of Mineral:

So is Bradley Field, the petroleum engineer and drilling proponent who can't remember if he is a climate change denier; the holder of a singularly influential position to determine the outcome of shale gas development in New York state as the issuer of permits and the overseer of regulations -- Is this Bradley Field nonpartisan? It's a relevant question. Elected officials come and go. (Field has already served under five governors.) The policy being derived under Field's long and unchallenged tenure with the DEC will be enduring.

Posted by simon at 2:03 AM Comment

July 20, 2012

Power plant to be mothballed

The former Milliken Station/AES Cayuga coal-burning power plant in Lansing has had a busy news year, but a very quiet year as far as generating electricity. It sounded like investors were bringing back signs of life, but now those investors are mothballing the plant, shutting it down but keeping it available.

"Cayuga Operating Company intends to take all steps within its control to avoid permanently retiring the facility by continuing to explore any and all alternatives with its suppliers and other parties, including reductions in its variable and fixed costs," wrote Jerry Goodenough, the company's chief operating officer.

Goodenough cited wholesale electricity prices that "are inadequate for the Cayuga facility to operate economically." The mothballing, he wrote, is a way to put the plant in "protective lay-up to limit the costs that are incurred at the facility."

This will mean a lot fewer trains through the city of Ithaca, which also makes me worry about the long-run future of that track and because of that, the Cargill Salt mine - does anything else move on that line?

Posted by simon at 1:43 PM Comment

Donating our yellow jackets to science

Every now and then living near a major research university provides some immediate advantages.

Angelika noticed a growing nest of yellow jackets under the eaves of our house. It's been a few years since we had lots of them, but this nest was probably softball size and you could see a small army of wasps flying around by the gutter, closer to our back door than made me comfortable.

I was about to run out and buy a spray bottle of insecticide, though I hate doing that. Spraying this side of the house isn't likely to contaminate the beehives on the other side, but the bees have enough trouble. Fortunately, I remembered a poster I'd seen at the Varna Community Center, and ran down to look at it.

Seeking yellow jackets and wasps.
Seeking yellow jackets and wasps.

I emailed Kevin Loope, and he wrote back quickly. He scouted out the nest, and it would work, so he came back with a lot more equipment. Angelika got a series of pictures through one of our windows. (Sorry - I definitely need to clean the storm window!)

Collecting the yellow jackets with a vacuum.
Collecting the yellow jackets with a vacuum.

Collecting the nest itself.
Collecting the nest itself.

Taking the nest away.
Taking the nest away.

I suspect this is a limited-time offer, and I'm not sure how many nests they really need, but it was great to have a better solution than spraying toxic chemicals on my house. (I suspect that much of the blurry stuff on that window is from past sprayings, too.)

Posted by simon at 2:31 PM Comment

July 24, 2012

Where those yellow jackets are headed

I was curious about where the yellow jackets from our house were heading - what kind of science did we donate them to? So I asked Kevin Loope some questions, and I added some links to his answers:

How long will you be looking for more nests?

I'll be looking for the next 3-4 weeks, after which this species enters decline and nests are no longer active.

Any idea what species those guys were?

The species is the common aerial yellowjacket, Dolichovespula arenaria. It is in the same genus as the bald faced hornet (Dolichovespula maculata) which builds similar nests and is actually a type of yellowjacket, not a true hornet (genus Vespa).

How much more difficult is this than working with bees?

These guys are in some ways more challenging than working with honeybees, in that they are typically much more aggressive than honeybees, and studying them requries finding new nests each year. Plus, their biology is much more poorly understood, which makes it both more exciting and challenging to study their behavior and ecology.

Seeking yellow jackets and wasps.
Seeking yellow jackets and wasps. (Photo from Kevin Loope)

I've attached a photo of a nest in observation boxes I have set up, and here's a link to a video of a fascinating behavior I'm currently investigating, when workers kill their queen in some colonies. They are like honeybees in many ways, though there is much more conflict among colony members over who gets to reproduce, and in some colonies this appears to lead to outright violence!

Kevin also adds:

I'll be collecting nests this year and again next year, so if folks want to contact me, they can email at kjloope@gmail.com.

Posted by simon at 5:18 AM Comment

Why does New York State lean so Democratic?

Sure, part of it is New York City, but even if you take out the four boroughs of NYC where Obama demolished McCain 82-18 (leaving in Staten Island), Obama still carried the rest of the state by nearly ten points.

There's clearly more to this story than New York City, and Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo is curious. He's posted two rounds of replies from readers.

I agree that New York Republicans were never as far right as Republicans elsewhere. There certainly were self-described conservatives among them, but I've heard from a fair number of 'classic' or 'standard' Upstate Republicans that their party left them behind in its rightward march. They aren't necessarily excited about converting, but the Republican label is less exciting for them than it used to be.

The other piece is sadder, though. I've seen a few times among my friends from high school in Corning and in conversation in Dryden that a lot of kids moved south when they finished school. At least in my circles, I see more folks on the right making that move. The numbers I have aren't statistically significant, of course. However, I suspect that if you grow up under a constant barrage of stories about how leftists are ruining New York State, and in particularly Upstate's economy, then leaping to "right-to-work" states that seem to be growing is an appealing option.

Overall, I suspect lots of things are combining to create this long-term shift, especially Upstate. Republicans have difficult choices here.

(And Democrats have different challenges. I often wonder how long the status quo can last for either party.)

Posted by simon at 5:49 AM Comment

July 31, 2012

Gas companies push legal lunacy further

It's bad enough that the gas industry can't seem to accept that two judges have already thrown out their claims about state energy law pre-empting local zoning, but really?

Lenape is threatening to sue the state because localities - in this case Avon - are reading the law the way the courts so far have said they can?

Lenape respectfully requests that your office, as the regulatory body with authority over Lenape's oil and gas industry activities in New York State, take the following actions: (1) advise the Towns that the Law Prohibiting Natural Gas is an illegal and unenforceable act; (2) affirm to Lenape that its lawful conduct of operations under the exclusive authority of New York State law will not subject Lenape, its agents, employees or contractors to local enforcement proceedings, including fines and imprisonment, under the Law Prohibiting Natural Gas; and (3) acting through the Office of the New York State Attorney General or on your own volition, take legal action to extinguish the Law Prohibiting Natural Gas provisions in conflict with the ECL or the complex oil and natural gas regulatory scheme administered by the Department.

If the state doesn't do what Lenape wants, buying completely into arguments that have lost in court twice so far, then Lenape "may initiate legal action". Somehow I don't expect that Lenape would win that action.

I thought Anschutz's lawsuit against Dryden was obnoxious, but this is a whole new category of shamelessness.

Update: a polite but blunt response from the state:

"The scope of the preemption must be left to the courts," said Emily DeSantis, the [DEC] spokeswoman.

Posted by simon at 2:39 PM Comment