November 2, 2009

You cannot still vote absentee

Nope, sorry - this is all over. The only way to vote for November 2009 now is at the polling place.

Until 4:30pm, Monday, November 2nd, you can cast an absentee ballot in person at the Tompkins County Board of Elections, 128 East Buffalo Street, Ithaca, New York 14850 (map).

If you currently have an absentee ballot and haven't mailied it, it needs to be postmarked no later than November 2nd. Putting it in a mailbox doesn't guarantee a postmark.

Posted by simon at 6:47 AM Comment

Where to Vote

Most Dryden residents are voting in the same places that they used to vote, but if you voted at the Dryden Village Hall or the Dryden Baptist Church, you now vote at the Dryden Fire Station. There are now four districts at the Fire Station, three of them large, so please be patient and careful getting in and out of there.

Polls will be open Tuesday, November 3rd, from 6:00am to 9:00pm. Remember that you can't campaign inside of the polling places, and that this includes things like T-shirts, signs, and buttons.

Most voters will still be using the lever machines. Disabled voters will be using the new machines. (This is apparently the last year for the lever machines. The Board of Elections is switching to all electronic in the City of Ithaca this year, and will be switching to electronic machines county-wide next year.)

Depending on which district you live in (see the district map (597KB PDF), you can vote at:

  1. Etna Fire Station - 26 Wood Road, Etna (map).
  2. Freeville Fire Station - 21 Union Street, Freeville (map).
  3. Dryden Fire Station - 26 North Street, Dryden (map).
  4. Varna Community Center - 943 Dryden Road, Varna (map).
  5. Etna Fire Station - 26 Wood Road, Etna (map).
  6. Dryden Fire Station - 26 North Street, Dryden (map).
  7. Dryden Fire Station - 26 North Street, Dryden (map).
  8. Bethel Grove Church Activity Center - 1749 Slaterville Road, Bethel Grove (map).
  9. Varna Community Center - 943 Dryden Road, Varna (map).
  10. Reach Out for Christ Church - 318 Johnson Road, Freeville (map).
  11. Dryden Fire Station - 26 North Street, Dryden (map).

If you'd like to see a sample ballot before going in, the Board of Elections has them.

Posted by simon at 4:35 PM Comment

November 4, 2009

Congratulations to Mike Lane, Jason Leifer, and Steve Stelick

Yesterday's elections were close. Mike Lane (D) has a 39-vote lead over Jim Crawford (R) in unofficial returns for County Legislature District 14, 746-707, with 106 absentee ballots out there. I expect that will hold, but it's not certain. (Nor was it nearly the closest race in the county.)

In the Town Board races, I didn't quite make it. I'm not surprised, given the support I heard for incumbents Jason Leifer and Steve Stelick while I went door-to-door. Unofficial results for that look like:

Jason Leifer (D)1315
Steve Stelick (R)1235
Simon St.Laurent (D)1164
Deb Shigley (R)1073

There are 177 absentee ballots out for the whole Town of Dryden, but I expect these margins to be pretty stable.

In County Legislature District 9, which includes the northeasternmost corner of Dryden as well as Groton and eastern Lansing, Brian Robison (R) has a 632-102 lead over independent candidate A. Damon Ferguson.

In uncontested races, Martha Robertson (D) will be representing County Legislature District 13, Mary Ann Sumner (D) will be Town Supervisor, and Jack Bush (R) will be Highway Superintendent.

The Journal has a more complete run-down of the whole county.

I'm off to start collecting Democratic signs. We're planning to collect them all today!

Posted by simon at 6:21 AM Comment

November 5, 2009

Mike Lane wins

Maybe it was the "I like Mike" buttons that did it, but today's absentee ballot recount pushed Mike Lane ahead in the vote totals for every election district - though a few were close.

By my unofficial count, Lane picked up 64 votes, while Republican James Crawford picked up 38, making the total Lane 810 - Crawford 745.

We went through the ballots for districts 2, 6, and 7 individually, but Crawford suggested, and Lane accepted, just letting the election commissioners open and count the remaining ballots. I was keeping track of how many split tickets I saw, and there were many. Most of them were votes for Lane on an otherwise Republican ballot, though there were also a few votes for Steve Stelick on Democratic ballots and for Jason Leifer with Lane on an otherwise Republican ballot.

Lane will return to the County Legislature in January.

Posted by simon at 5:50 PM Comment

November 6, 2009

Food and crafts this weekend

It'll be a busy weekend in Dryden over the next couple of days:

  • The Dryden Town Historical Society will be having its regular baked goods sale tomorrow morning at 9:00am at the First National Bank of Dryden. It's always delicious!

  • The Etna Community Association will have a Craft Fair at Houtz Hall from 10:00am to 2:00pm.

  • The Dryden Community Center Cafe will have its Third Annual Chili Cook-off and Apple Pie Bake-off from 11:00am to 2:00pm.

  • The Varna Community Center will have a Pancake Buffet Breakfast from 8:00am to noon on Sunday. I'll be working there!

I'm sure I missed something - let me know if I did!

Posted by simon at 12:35 PM Comment

November 10, 2009

Honoring Bethel Grove School and Community Home

This Sunday afternoon, the Dryden Town Historical Society will be celebrating the accomplishments of the Bethel Grove community:

In 19th century Bethel Grove, the local school was the heart of the community. Everyone had to be involved; it was either contribute money or help with the work. The building was also used for church services on Sunday and was the location where holiday and other grand community events could be celebrated. The school operated from 1851 to 1959. However, in the 1930's, the community decided the school was too small for other uses and built a community center called the Bethel Grove Community Home.

Earlier this year, Molly Adams spearheaded a campaign to raise funds to purchase an historic marker for the Bethel Grove school. The effort was so successful that there was enough money to honor the Community Home with a marker as well.

Join the Dryden Town Historical Society on Sunday, November 15th - from 3 to 5 PM at the Bethel Grove Community Center (1825 Slaterville Road)- to celebrate a neglected part of our local history. Refreshments will be served and the event is free and open to all.

[Funding for this event was provided through a Celebrations Grant from the Tourism Advisory Board of Tompkins County.]

Posted by simon at 8:05 AM Comment

Finger Lakes Land Trust expands Ellis Hollow preserve

This morning's Ithaca Journal reports that the Finger Lakes Land Trust has added to its preserve in Ellis Hollow with a purchase of 39 more acres and a conservation easement:

The Land Trust had made protecting the land a priority because of its woodlands on both banks of a Cascadilla Creek tributary and because it borders Cornell University's Durland Bird Sanctuary and forest owned by the Saltonstall Foundation artists' retreat...

Pearman's easement on the 11 adjacent acres includes a scenic meadow on Ellis Hollow Creek Road while allowing the development of a single home on a designated portion of the land. These are the Land Trust's sixth protection projects in Ellis Hollow and put the preserve at 159 acres, in addition to easements on several forest parcels and on wetlands bordering Cascadilla Creek.

There's also a picture of Dryden students Kayla Jackson and Devin Joyce at the BOCES hairstyling contest.

Posted by simon at 8:12 AM Comment

November 11, 2009

Veterans Day ceremony

I haven't seen it advertised, but the Veterans Day service in the Village of Dryden will be this morning at 11:00am at the Village Green, between the Methodist and Presbyterian churches.

Update: Here are a few pictures of the ceremony.

Salute as the flag is raised.
Salute as the flag is raised.

Firing a salute.
Firing a salute.

Crowd applauds.
Crowd applauds.

Posted by simon at 8:23 AM Comment

November 12, 2009

Sungiva's 19th month

It's been busy around here, but we did notice that Sungiva's now 19 months old. Her favorite word, unfortunately, seems to be 'no', but hopefully her vocabulary will expand.

Sungiva loves swings.
Sungiva loves swings.

Sungiva enjoys Cheerios.
Sungiva enjoys Cheerios.

Sungiva builds a removable carseat for her doll.
Sungiva builds a removable carseat for her doll.

Every day is a new experience! For more, I've posted a gallery of 19th month photos.

Posted by simon at 12:16 PM Comment

Route 13 bridge replacement in 2011-12

I was wondering what the big electronic signs on Route 13 near Fall Creek that said:

RTE 13

NOV 17

6:30 PM
INFO 315

would mean for life on Route 366. I tried calling the number, for the New York State Department of Transportation, this afternoon, but they open and close early. Fortunately, I didn't have to wait long to get all the details, as Jan Morgan of the Varna Community Association sent this PDF out. Here are the key parts about what'll be coming:

The proposed project will involve replacement of the existing bridge on Route 13. The new bridge will be on an adjacent alignment just southwest of the existing bridge. The project will include resurfacing and reconstruction of the highway approaches, drainage improvements, guide rail replacement, and minor stream work. Traffic on Route 13 will be maintained on two lanes (one in each direction) with the exception of short term operations using flaggers. Construction of this project is scheduled to begin in late 2011 and be completed by the end of 2012.

I hope the new bridge will be wider, so folks on the Finger Lakes Trail who have to cross Fall Creek there can walk on the bridge without disrupting traffic patterns. The bridge was listed as 'functionally obsolete' back in 2007, but it's not clear from this what they have in mind.

I'd been fearing a massive diversion of traffic from 13 to 366 over the course of the project, but it sounds like we'll avoid that.

For more details, be at the Varna Community Center - 943 Dryden Road, Varna (map), next Tuesday, November 17th at 6:30pm. (Though the formal presentation starts at 7:00pm.)

Update: Here's the Ithaca Journal article on the meeting:

The new bridge is not expected to have a pier, and it will be around 5 feet higher in order to reduce the grade of the slope as vehicles approach from the high ground on either side. The road on either side of the bridge and its drainage system will also be upgraded.

The new bridge is also expected to have 10-foot shoulders, a large expansion from the 2-foot shoulders the current bridge has -- a change that was well received by members of the Cayuga Trails Club at the meeting.

Posted by simon at 6:03 PM Comment

November 13, 2009

A community not dissolved, and the Journal mourns

Every now and then the Ithaca Journal goes out of its way to demonstrate that it's not actually a local paper, but rather the local office of a huge company with little genuine interest in the landscape it supposedly serves - even the expanded Ithaca-Elmira-Binghamton zone it now publishes on. Today's editorial is one of those painfully telling moments, a thudding series of missteps in which the Journal assumes that the only important goal voters should have is lower taxes.

The poor Journal is shocked - shocked! - that Johnson City voters decided that preserving the identity of their village was more important than potential savings from a merger with the Town of Union. The editorial is worth tearing apart piece by piece, I'm afraid.

Self-interest prevailed and foresight was flushed away, along with a chance for residents to slash their annual village tax bill - according to a study - by about 25 percent. Change isn't easy, especially if it involves breaking with tradition....

In this context, I'm used to hearing "self-interest" used to praise people who want lower taxes, not applied as a slam to people who decided higher taxes might be worth the cost. And "foresight" seems to be used creatively here to mean only lower taxes. Then they come in with the corporate consulting style call for "change", and dismiss tradition. Given the amount of change Gannett's gone through lately, I can only assume this was written by a true corporate believer.

Certainly, dissolution wouldn't have solved all of JC's problems. But it would have been a start, and it would have sent a message to other communities to be more aggressive about saving their taxpayers' money....

Now this is interesting. Not only are these voters foolish for not reducing their taxes, their actions tell other communities that they don't need to pay attention to taxes? I can just hear it now - "Hey - Johnson City didn't dissolve. I guess that means we can hike taxes 10%!" Right.

In neither Tompkins nor Chemung did a village have to say goodbye to itself to achieve savings, but if that's what it requires, voters may have to take those drastic steps to afford to live in their communities.

Right. They wouldn't want to, say, offend readers by suggesting specific villages that should dissolve, right? Let's just make clear that voters should be on the lookout for ways to consolidate into ever-larger units because that'll make government cheaper. Not more responsive or more responsible, just cheaper.

Next, they reach back to the founders of Johnson City just to make clear how little interest Gannett has in 'tradition', really brings home how they'd like to make very certain that we all understand that it's not up to us, but up to the companies that might or might not want to stay in our area:

That didn't happen this time in Johnson City, a village named for a man who took fellow residents' problems on as his own. Maybe the majority who defeated dissolution don't mind high taxes. Maybe they're happy with the present and not worried about the future.

But they should be. As history shows, financial security can be fickle. George F. Johnson built a successful shoe business, but one that over time could not keep up with changing consumer tastes and global competition. Endicott-Johnson is a part of JC's glorious past, but those wonderful memories cannot balance the village's annual budget.

You know, that really reminds me of how the Elmira Star-Gazette was Frank Gannett's first paper, and the Ithaca Journal his second, and how these papers' glorious past cannot balance a budget that keeps reporters on staff, local news flowing, and much semblance of connection to their home cities intact. Of course, they aren't allowed the luxury of elections to decide how that goes - they're just getting merged in with the Binghamton paper and given fewer resources all the time.

The conclusion demonstrates to me that whoever wrote this doesn't have any great sense of connection with their community:

Hardly anything would have changed except the size of their tax bills.

What a lesson in missed opportunities.

What a lesson in not comprehending people's interest in control over their own area, their sense of identity, their sense of place, and how the two intertwine.

There is real work to be done in consolidation and in sharing services. There is little good reason for the proliferation of water and sewer districts, each with their own terms, billing, and accounting. There is certainly room for municipalities to share equipment and services, and to form cooperative pools for things like insurance where size leads to discounts.

But expecting that people should want to push government itself into larger units, handing off local decisions to people further away? I have a very hard time seeing the appeal of that.

I'm glad we already cancelled our subscription, though we had to tell the Journal we didn't want their paper repeatedly before they actually believed it. There's not much left there.

Posted by simon at 8:58 AM Comment

November 17, 2009

Final Town Board results

All the absentee ballots have been opened, and the deadline for late military ballots has passed, so I think we can trust these will be the final result:

Jason Leifer (D)1388
Steve Stelick (R)1316
Simon St.Laurent (D)1225
Deb Shigley (R)1149

Looking through the details, the district-by-district patterns shifted slightly. Republicans did better in District 1 (West Dryden) than I would have expected - it's a fast-growing district with more registered Democrats than Republicans these days. Turnout there was the weakest in town, though, at 18.38%. For once, District 3 (McLean), wasn't in last place for turnout.

Republicans did best in the east and north of the town, while Democrats prevailed in the southwest. Steve Stelick whomped me 37-10 in his home district 3, while I had 131 votes in District 4 to his 48, and 229 to his 53 in district 9.

Jason Leifer, I think, had the most balanced results across the town. He kept things much closer on the east side than I did in particular, while still storming the west side.

The biggest oddity in the results is the large number of blank votes, especially in the districts where the Republican candidates won. In District 3 in particular, nearly a quarter of votes were blank, and one was a write-in. On the west side, Etna had only one blank vote, while the Ellis Hollow and Bethel Grove districts had 5.86% and 2.84%. West Dryden had 8% and Varna had 9%, but the east side districts Republicans won were all over 10% - 15%, 10%, 11%, 10%, and 18%. I'm not sure if that was bullet voting, voters unfamiliar with candidates, or voters who came out only for the County Legislative race on that side. (Though District 3 was in a different legislative district.)

The lack of a contested legislative race certainly seems to have hurt west side turnout, which was around 25.5%, compared to the Mike Lane-Jim Crawford race, which had 38.4% turnout.

Posted by simon at 8:50 AM Comment

November 23, 2009

Economic Reasons to Delay Marcellus Shale Drilling

Most of the discussion about gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale has turned on environmental questions - will it poison our water, irradiate the area, destroy our roads, and generally prove difficult to fix? All of these are important questions, but they've mostly been contrasted with rosy pictures of large royalty payments to landowners and economic benefits for municipalities.

I'd like to suggest to landowners and municipalities that being in a hurry may not be to our advantage. Yes, of course people prefer their money now, and often place a significant premium on cash up front. At the same time, though, drilling as quickly as possible also may bring a lot less return.

The Marcellus Shale wells are not the usual natural gas wells that reach down into permeable sandstone and give gas a simple path to the surface. Drilled into less permeable shale, they need to expand horizontally to create more pathways for gas. This is typically done with water and a variety of additives, and is called hydrofracturing, or just "fracking".

This process creates most of the controversy around gas drilling, as it uses huge amounts of water, adds chemicals to the water, extracts the water from the ground, and then has to dump that water somewhere. The process of blasting water through the ground isn't exactly precise, either, and seeing what's happening thousands of feet down is difficult.

From a mining perspective, though, the problem with fracking isn't environmental - it's simply that it's expensive. Having to frack a well once is natural to shale production, and the story we've been hearing locally about Marcellus fracking, but it also seems that as production declines on a well, it may be worth fracking again and again:

"They have fantastic initial rates, but the question is whether the (rate of production) persists as they say." For example, he says, in deep shale formations "the rock collapses as gas is produced, and crushes the proppant. And as the fractures are drained you have to frac and frac and frac."

The question of the rate of decline on shale well production has created some explosions in the energy community recently, with World Oil magazine canning a column and then canning its editor for not being enthusiastic enough about canning the column, which a few gas companies weren't happy about. (For more detail on that, see the columnist's web site, with a letter from the editor.)

For energy companies, the scary questions are the size of their recoverable reserves and the cost of extracting that gas, which largely determine the value of their companies.

For landowners looking forward to what they'd hoped would be long-term income, the scary questions are how long their well will actually stay in production, and what they'll get for income. A shorter production window of just a few years makes the value of the well much more vulnerable to fluctuations in natural gas prices. Right now, prices are historically low, and likely to stay that way for a few years at least, until the economy recovers and natural gas becomes a more important component of energy generation.

Landowners, of course, have no control over when the gas comes out of the ground and for what price it's sold. Their lease agreements ensure that they'll get a share of the revenue, as it's a royalty-based system. Energy companies would of course like to get the highest possible return on their wells, but they have a lot of other factors they consider beyond the current price of gas and the return to the landowner.

They have a business to sustain, customers to supply, stock prices to watch, and while they certainly hope for high prices, they'll sell what they have to, without much worry about the people from whom they leased rights.

To the extent that municipalities and especially the State of New York stand to benefit from these revenues, they have a similar interest in waiting. Yes, of course New York is desperate for revenues, and may have a much more severe hunger for short-term fixes than landowners - but that doesn't mean the quest for a few more years of stopgap revenue is a great idea.

Whatever the pros and cons of drilling, a short potential lifespan for these wells and a crashed-out natural gas market that's likely to stay that way for a few years make a lousy combination. Even proponents of drilling should take a hard look and ask: why rush?

Posted by simon at 8:25 AM Comment

November 30, 2009

Preserving food in Dryden

This morning's Ithaca Journal has a great article on canning and preserving food, including photos of cider-making at a home in the Town of Dryden. Katie Quinn-Jacobs has been working hard on this for years, and it's great to see more and more people getting involved.

There's also a forum on Marcellus Shale gas drilling today in Owego.