January 1, 2013

A local approach to a global problem

While I had a quiet December for blogging, Stuart Staniford was posting all kinds of great stuff. While much of his work focuses on global energy challenges and related topics, he connected it to local options with a look at the Finger Lakes Climate Fund:

For that reason, when I heard about the Finger Lakes Climate Fund, which promises to offset emissions with local projects in my own region I was very attracted to the idea. Because the projects are local, and I understand my area, I felt it was likely that I'd be able to assess the quality of the offsets. The main concern is what is called additionality: are the projects things that genuinely wouldn't have happened if you hadn't ponied up your cash?

...The ongoing process involves working with the local energy efficiency contractors to identify "stuck" energy retrofit projects that are unable to proceed due to lack of sufficient funds and then making a grant that will "unstick" them. Essentially, whenever they assemble a large enough balance of funds, the Climate Fund reaches out to all the local energy efficiency contractors and canvasses them for suitable projects. So far (they've only done a handful of projects to date) they tend to get about one submission of a suitable project which can then be helped by the offset grant.

...At any rate, I think local carbon offsets are a fine idea and the Finger Lakes fund is on the up-and-up and should be supported. I think it's also an interesting idea that other cities may want to take a look at. It's very early stage and probably a lot more exploration needs to happen of what other kinds of projects might be funded and how best to manage the process, but it seems like fertile terrain to explore.

He's made it part of his own household's efforts to go carbon neutral, and I'm now looking into taking the same path.

For more, here's their site.

Posted by simon at 7:05 AM Comment

"not the first time that Big Oil and Gas has tried to intimidate"

Dryden Town Supervisor Mary Ann Sumner and Town Councilman Steve Stelick have a joint op-ed in the Albany Times-Union today about hydrofracking and the key difference between residents and gas companies:

Norse Energy will be interested in upstate New York as long as it is lucrative. But we're not leaving. To us — and our constituents and neighbors — Dryden is home.

Hopefully the courts will recognize that there is more value to a place than the things that can be extracted from it.

Posted by simon at 1:17 PM Comment

January 5, 2013

Gun buyback today

We just saw the sign for this on Green Street in Ithaca. They're open until 4:30, there and on Brown Road by the airport.

Gun Buyback Program **Cash for Guns**

On January 5, 2013 the Ithaca Police Department and the Tompkins County Sheriff's Office will co-host a Gun Buyback program to help reduce the availability of guns on the streets.

This is a joint public safety venture and the goal of the program is to remove unwanted guns from our community before they fall into the hands of those that may do harm. The program is endorsed by the Tompkins County District Attorney's Office and City of Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick.


The program is really quite simple: the Gun Buyback program rewards citizens for their voluntary surrender of firearms. Cash will be paid on the spot for firearms that are in working order, including up to $200.00 for assault weapons.

Ammunition, non-functioning guns, BB-type guns, Air-soft guns, and Air-rifles will be accepted, however no cash will be paid for them. Citizens may turn in as many guns as they'd like, however there is a limit of three guns for which cash will be paid. Photo ID is required for accounting purposes.

January 5, 2013 8:30am-4:30pm

The event will be held in two locations:

Ithaca Fire Department, 310 West Green Street, Ithaca, NY
Tompkins County Airport Fire and Rescue Building, 72 Brown Road, Ithaca, NY

If you have any questions please call 607-327-0759

Update: Looks like they got about 145 guns.

Posted by simon at 12:53 PM Comment

January 7, 2013

More on the Route 13 bridge upgrade

A lot of people are driving by the construction at Route 13 and Fall Creek and wondering what's happening and whether there are massive delays and detours to come. (There shouldn't be.) Here's the latest on that from the Journal.

They also report on Dryden's snow sculpting contest, and snow helping Greek Peak's finances.

Posted by simon at 8:06 AM Comment

January 8, 2013

National politics and local politics

If there's anyone who knows politics, it's Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo. I don't always agree with him, but even when I disagree, he and his site do a great job of making me think.

Almost all of his great work, though, is on the national level, where it's easy to find the large audience he needs to sustain TPM as a business. It turns out that he - like most people - doesn't pay nearly as much attention locally:

I've followed New York politics for 25 years. I lived nearby in college. And I've now lived here for real for 8 years. But in almost every sense I'm a neophyte to the city's politics. My political mind still lives in DC or in the country at large. New York is just where I live more or less apolitically with my family.

The rest of the article makes clear that he's slightly more aware of local politics than that sounds, but it's not nearly as deep as his national coverage. The article talks primarily about people, not issues, with a touch of party.

National politics is much easier to learn and discuss - there are armies of people, many of them paid, who explain and discuss it at various level of detail and quality. State politics, even in the relatively huge Empire State, is a much tinier interest, and local politics, even in the larger cities, is a major jump down.

National politics is important and the gossip can be fascinating, but stories about national politics overwhelmingly teach us that politicians (and sometimes bureaucrats and soldiers) are what matters, with citizens turning up at the polling place or writing letters beseeching the powerful to do something good.

I dream of reversing that, of encouraging people look around their neighborhood to see what they can do, rather than hoping enough people across the country might agree with them. There is so much we can do - so much we can change - if we're willing to start on a smaller but critically important stage.

Dryden has already demonstrated how important local activity can be, as an awakened populace encouraged the Town Board to ban hydrofracking and the Town has stood its ground against an ever-shifting cast of powerful characters. I'm pleasantly surprised that people I encounter elsewhere have heard of Dryden, support Dryden, and want to know more of the story.

Local politics can make a huge difference - we just have to figure it out, and participate.

Posted by simon at 8:13 AM Comment

January 10, 2013

Developer sues critic

It's not here, but over in Halfmoon. Despite state laws to the contrary, some folks can't seem to handle the idea that someone might point out that their poor past performance is not a sign of brighter things to come.

like a rising number people in Halfmoon, Rischert has grown concerned with the quantity and quality of development in a town that's among the state's fastest growing. In particular, he recently spoke out against a 165-unit apartment complex proposed by developer Bruce Tanski...

Rischert seems to have gotten under Tanksi's skin. Last month, the developer filed a slander and libel suit in which he seeks $2.5 million in damages and claims to have suffered "disgrace, humiliation and shame throughout the community, permanent harm to his professional and personal reputations, and severe mental anguish and emotional distress."

...what Rischert did was question the standards of Tanksi's prior projects and his property-management history. He cited poor reviews about Tanksi's complexes on apartment-rental websites, for example, and he noted that the U.S. Attorney General had once sued Tanski for alleged violations of the Fair Housing Act.

Rischert also claimed that Tanski himself had admitted to being a sub-par builder.

Tanski's lawsuit is unlikely to succeed - "New York has an anti-SLAPP law that extends special protections to speech that opposes a person or company seeking an approval from the government." However, the mere filing of it means that Bruce Rischert now has a lot more stress than he had before, and suddenly makes a lot more people think twice about speaking up.

I need to find out more about the "much-needed legislation that would strengthen SLAPP protections" and write about it. In the meantime, if you want to help in this particular case, there's a fund set up to help pay the legal funds - banding together may be the one way to keep this obnoxious practice from spreading:

Bruce Rischert Legal Defense Fund
PO Box 75
Clifton Park, N.Y. 12065.

It's not just the gas companies who use misguided lawsuits as a club.

Posted by simon at 7:57 AM Comment

January 11, 2013

Hunting season REOPENS Saturday for SW Dryden

In central Tompkins County (and nowhere else in the state), deer hunting season is open again from January 12th through 31st. You can find more details here, including a map. It's roughly Dryden west of Hanshaw Road, south of 13 to Ringwood.

Hunt antlerless deer only (limit 2 per day) during a DMFA season from the second Saturday in January through January 31. During the DMFA season, a hunter may use any hunting implement that is lawful during any other deer season in that area. Rifles are not authorized for big game hunting in Tompkins County.

I don't know if having an extra season that only applies here will bring hunters from elsewhere, but a fair number of people I've talked with were not aware that this would be happening. Tomorrow's weather forecast looks great, so I suspect a lot of unsuspecting people will want to take hikes in the woods.

Be careful out there!

Posted by simon at 10:52 PM Comment

January 12, 2013

Key problem on fracking regs

This is pretty much the heart of the matter on the DEC's utter failure to manage their hydrofracking regulation process:

A salient complaint is that the regulations were issued prior to the final SGEIS on which they were based, forcing the public to evaluate regulations without access to the SGEIS and relevant health and environmental considerations.

Not a good sign, and one that makes a bad joke out of "Department of Environmental Conservation". Perhaps they should change the name to "Department of Environmental Conversation"? They're very good at provoking conversation, even when they attempt to stay quiet.

It would be nice if they'd actually try to figure out the geology first.

Posted by simon at 8:04 AM Comment

January 14, 2013

Former Mount Varna for sale

The former Mount Varna site at the corner of Route 366 (Dryden Road), Freese Road, and Mount Pleasant Road is for sale.

I have an unpleasant history with the owners, so I think I'll let the photos and transcript tell the story by themselves.

Former Mount Varna for sale
Former Mount Varna for sale.

That original site was more like two acres, so I'm pretty certain that the five acres includes the land below the fill, heading toward Fall Creek on the east side of Freese Road.

Former house property, also part of the five acres
Varna holiday party, Saturday December 15th, 1:00pm to 3:00pm.

Current house, also part of the five acres
Current house, also part of the five acres.

There is more to the story, of course. From the minutes of the December 20, 2012 Dryden Town Board meeting (Word file), here's the owners' version of how their efforts to do good have been thwarted at every turn:

Nick Bellisario and Otis Phillips said they are not real happy with the zoning change and reviewed the history of what they've been through with their property at the corner of Route 366 & Freese Road.

The purchased it in 2004 with a material storage special permit (transferred to them) and they cleaned up the site. They started filling the site and had to control the water that belongs to the state, town and neighbors that should have continued down the road. They had to take fences down that were part of the special permit and remove some trees in order to fill. Their special permit was revoked, and the town didn't give them a second chance. Every step of the way they were given problems.

H Slater made them do a full stormwater management plan and they thought they only needed a silt fence. They had to put in a retention pond that was later filled in. They did not do some of the things they were supposed to do, and were subject to weekly inspection at $150 per week. They were fined $8,000 for vehicles on the property. It seems they are not allowed to do anything on that lot.

They tried some development things. The Planning Department said to try townhouses, and wanted a site plan and stormwater plan and they paid $5,000 for that. Then there was a problem with the size of the lot that would cause them to go to site plan review. Site plan review didn't happen because it was too costly.

This summer they wanted to try for a material storage yard and tow yard. They were told by the Planning Department it was okay. Then after submission of the paperwork, they were told a material storage yard was not an allowed use anymore. They tried the tow yard and were told to try a smaller version. They never received a call back from the Planning Department, and now they've been told a tow yard is not an allowed use in the new zoning.

N Bellisario said they have asked several people in the Planning Department, and there seems to be a lot of confusion about the old law and new law. It seems that they've been blocked every step of the way. They bought the lot for what was an allowed use. That corner wouldn't be in the development plan if they hadn't filled it, yet everyone fought them on the fill.

They get the feeling that the zoning is being developed to prevent them from using their property. Their plan would not have lowered anyone's property values. They have a trailer park across the street (with an unrepaired trailer in it), and an auto repair shop and Laundromat and parking lot across the other road. Their investment goes down and their assessment goes up.

Cl Lavine said it seems the property would be good for housing, and N Bellisario said they lost their investor for that. That doesn't fit their needs, but they were willing to give it a try.

Supv Sumner said it seems there has been a lot of misunderstanding and she will arrange a meeting with Planning Department and a few board members.

N Bellisario said he is totally against the new zoning. No one will invest in sidewalks, or clear them after they are covered by a snowplow. It's unrealistic. A lot of the people in favor of this planning don't even live on that road. They are ready to sell the lot and will look at getting their taxes reduced. [Paragraph breaks added. There's more in the minutes.]

Perhaps it will find owners who will care for it.

If you're interested in seeing more, I've posted a brief gallery of its current state, all taken from safely across the road.

Posted by simon at 12:31 PM Comment

January 15, 2013

And the gas bust cycle is here early

Northern Pennsylvania hasn't run out of gas, but lots of rigs are moving west to seek much more valuable oil. Chemung County (NY) is feeling the shift, even as the rest of the state is doing better:

The county's sales-tax revenue fell 1.84 percent between 2012 and 2011, the worst drop off in the state and one of only four counties to have negative growth. The others were Essex, Schuyler and Schoharie -- all small, rural counties...

Chemung County had, for several years, led the state in sales-tax growth because of natural-gas drilling across the border. Declining demand for natural gas and the closure last month of the Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. plant in Big Flats has hurt the county, Santulli said.

"What a difference a year and a half makes," [Chemung County Executive] Santulli said. "We went from leading the state in sales-tax growth and room-tax growth, and we missed our sales-tax budget number by $3.3 million" this year.

Think there's a rush to drill here now? There really isn't, and we should use the breathing space to find more dependable and less damaging ways to make a living here.

Posted by simon at 9:52 AM Comment

January 23, 2013

Cold beauty

Why do I like winter so much?

Because it creates so many beautiful things for me.

Frozen start.
Frozen start.

Temporary forest.
Temporary forest.


Posted by simon at 7:23 AM Comment

January 24, 2013

Dryden Community Garden fundraiser Sunday

The Dryden Community Garden will be having a soup, bread, and pie fundraiser this Sunday, January 27th from 4:30pm to 7:30pm (seatings at 4:30pm and 6:00pm) at the Dryden Community Center Cafe. You need to buy tickets in advance - they are $10 each, and you can call Jean Simmons at 607-280-4784 for tickets.

The fundraiser is for a really cool project - building a pavilion with water catchment so that they can use rainwater to reduce their need to carry water in to the site behind Town Hall.

Sorry not to have posted this earlier!

Posted by simon at 8:18 AM Comment