Ten days ago, my answer to that was no. Today...
A week after Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's arrest for multiple federal felony corruption charges, 23 Democratic Assembly members did something unprecedented in recent memory. They formed a reform caucus, and asked new candidates for Speaker basic questions about the structure of the Assembly to come:
For example, should Members know how decisions are made inside of conference? ....
Should staff allocation information be distributed openly?
How can members have a greater opportunity to weigh in on policy and budget decisions before legislative negotiations?
How can we encourage a real and robust debate in committee meetings and on the floor?
Should Members have the ability to get bills voted on in committee and on the floor if there is broad support among colleagues?
Barbara Lifton's name is not on the letter. Perhaps she will sign on later?
Lifton's district, though, pretty much screamed reform in September, when Zephyr Teachout thrashed Governor Cuomo 3464-1415 in Tompkins County, the bulk of her district, and 444-304 in Cortland County, of which Lifton represent a part.
To put it another way, Teachout got more votes in a Governor's race with low turnout than Lifton got in Tompkins County in the 2002 primary that began her legislative career: 3340. Lifton's total for both counties is higher, but I don't have town data to compare for Cortland. However, her margins in Cortland County have been reliably lower than those in Tompkins County, and numbers this close are not comforting in any event.
The other complicating factor is that Sheldon Silver's campaign committees stood as a bastion against reform challengers, able to send out money to help those Silver thought would help him. It's not clear what will happen to those committees and their funds at this point.
State Democratic primaries haven't brought a lot of voters to the polls for a long time. Perhaps, given real choices, they might again someday.
Perhaps this will all be forgotten by 2016. Or perhaps it won't.
Wow. I hadn't been to a Town Board meeting in over a year, and Thursday night I returned somehow to a meeting that left me wondering if a former pillar of the Town's economy has completely and utterly lost contact with the place and maybe with a lot more.
NYSEG wants to build a gas line from the Village of Freeville to Lansing, along Route 38 and West Dryden and Farrell Roads. This is a pretty good summary from last summer of the proposal. NYSEG seems to call it the Lansing-Freeville Reinforcement Project.
The line that NYSEG wants to lay has a few interesting features:
It's a 10" steel pipe that structurally could carry about 20 times the amount of gas they want to regulate it for.
Even at that rating - the 124psi maximum rating for a distribution line - the pipe can carry 700,000 cubic feet per hour. The average residence uses 7. This pipe could carry enough gas for almost every Tompkins County resident. (The Cornell power plant has its own separate transmission line.)
NYSEG has let the pressure in their local network drift down to below 50% of maximum pressure. They like to run at about 70%. A little less than half of this line's capacity will bring that pressure up to above 70%, and rest allows expansion.
The line might bring some residents on West Dryden road natural gas service, but only those who live within 100 feet will get a free installation.
The easement that NYSEG wants to use:
Pays property owners a generous $1 for letting the line go through.
Is for transmission or distribution - and NYSEG acknowledged that they could run a larger pipe through the same space.
Leaves liability with property owners.
Is kinda sorta negotiable, though apparently not on the parts that actually bother people. NYSEG would rather not say anything about any details on that front ever.
I don't think NYSEG helped themselves much at the Town Board meeting.
The NYSEG building still looms over Dryden, but they don't seem to know anything about the place any more. I'd have guessed someone would have noticed Dryden's battles with frackers and series of court victories. Someone might have voted in or read about the elections that created and held a board that supported that long campaign. Perhaps it's too much to hope that they might have noticed Dryden's powerful combination of activists and residents eager to defend Dryden. Anyway...
The meeting kicked off with Citizen's Privilege before a full room. Town Supervisor Mary Ann Sumner asked speakers to constrain themselves to three minutes. Most of the comments were about the proposed gas line, most from town residents, esepcially people who live on its route, and are opposed. (Jim Skaley and I encouraged the Board to hire a planner to fill the gap left by two departures in the planning department.) Tony Ingraffea gave the board specific questions to ask about the pipe being used for the project, while David Bravo-Cullen asked the board to ask NYSEG about the tax contribution the pipeline would make to the town. (That question, alas, was forgotten.)
Next up was NYSEG - Community Relations Manager Bob Pass, Project Manager Dave Bovee, and Jennifer Negus from their Real Estate division. NYSEG presented to the board, not the public, though members of the crowd (70 or so?) expressed their opinions periodically, and the board called up Tony Ingraffea near the end of the session to answer some questions about NYSEG's answers.
Bob Pass handed out a sheet with "Information on how we design, install, operate, and Maintain Natural Gas Systems". It had a link to http://www.dos.ny.gov/info/nycrr.html, with directions to view the unofficial NYCRR, and track down Title 16, Chapter III, Subchapter C, Part 255. Following the directions takes you to here, which isn't especially readable.
Jennifer Negus awkwardly stonewalled all questions about the easement agreements, proclaiming repeatedly that negotiations were only to be between NYSEG and individual landowners and secret until complete. Somehow that was supposed to be a triumph for individual liberty when it was painfully clear that it's just a divide-and-conquer strategy. Insisting that "it's a distribution easement" when samples provided by residents plainly said "transmission or distribution" didn't help Negus either. (Especially when the answer on "what in this easement would keep you from replacing this with a transmission line?" was "Nothing.")
The board was, um, deeply unsympathetic, with Linda Lavine reminding her that "God didn't write that template" and suggesting repeatedly that NYSEG might get further in these negotiations if they didn't start from the extreme position they seem to take for granted. Residents and the board challenged NYSEG's negotiating tactics, but got pretty much no useful response.
Dave Bovee did a much better job answering questions, sharing facts even when they made Bob Pass grimace. His data about the pipeline - run through Tony Ingraffea, who the board had speak briefly during the NYSEG presentation - yielded the information above. He offered details about the pipes, the connection to Dominion's pipeline in the Village of Freeville, and how the system would respond overall.
My one doubt about Bovee's testimony is his faith that line pressure limits, once set, will never change. Yes, there are physical and government regulators involved, but both of those can change over time. While yes, it would cost money to change the physical regulators, and it might cost money to change the government regulators, neither is genuinely etched in stone. This pipeline, if built, should be around for a long long time, and given how overbuilt it is, it's not as hard for me to imagine regulators eventually allowing higher pressure in it than it is for Bovee to imagine the same.
So where next?
After almost everyone had left, the Board explored its legal options and asked Town Attorney Mahlon Perkins and Code Enforcement Officer David Sprout to prepare opinions based on the zoning and franchise agreement.
I hope NYSEG listened enough to recognize that their current strategy isn't working very well. Their approach and choices have made many residents skeptical or hostile in a town that's already defeated the gas industry once. I fear that they will change their strategy to eminent domain, which they acknowledged was possible, rather than listening and adjusting.