September 1, 2011

NYSEG the laggard?

Hurricane Irene disrupted an area served by lots of different power companies, providing a rare chance to compare response. Unfortunately, NYSEG, the power company that serves Dryden, seems to be faring among the worst:

NYSEG, which serves parts of northern Westchester and most of Putnam County, came under the harshest criticism Wednesday by town and county officials and customers. They said the company did not adequately communicate about the status of outages and when power would be restored. They said NYSEG also gave conflicting information at times, such as sending out automated messages to homeowners still sitting in the dark that their power was back on, or reporting that a neighborhood had 980 customers out and then 30 minutes later, have the number jump to 1,800.

"My frustration with NYSEG at this point is beyond description. They are not giving us information to impart to our residents," Somers Supervisor Mary Beth Murphy said Wednesday afternoon. "They did not take this hurricane advisory seriously enough to prepare for this event."

Jim Salmon, a NYSEG spokesman, disagreed and said advance planning had been done and crews were ready.

"This was a huge disaster. We have a lot of damage and we are having our crews work straight through until everyone is restored," he said late Wednesday. Additional crews were flown in from Nebraska on Tuesday and from southern California on Wednesday, he added.

And Governor Cuomo seems to have noticed:

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo took the same tack on Wednesday, insisting that Mark S. Lynch, the president of New York State Electrical and Gas, make public appearances in areas without electrical service.

It is, of course, certainly possible that NYSEG faces more difficult terrain, customers dispersed further across the landscape, or other challenges that the other companies don't face. I worry, however, that this reflects the hollowing out of the company as it joined Energy East and then Iberdrola, reducing staff and outsourcing more and more operations.

Hopefully the remaining customers will get their power restored soon (Friday? Next week?) and some kind of study of the response will let us know what happened.

In the meantime, a generator and a wood stove are looking like more attractive options.

Update: the latest figures show NYSEG as 3rd of 5 companies, though the top two are at 97% restored and NYSEG is at 88%. More: Now they're the 4th of 6 companies, at 93%. The three above are at 99%, 99%, and 97%, and the two below are at 91% and 85%.

Posted by simon at 11:15 AM Comment

Varna firefighters help out after Irene

I heard back on Friday that the Varna and Slaterville fire companies were on call to help out anywhere in New York State if needed to respond to Hurricane Irene.

On Sunday, VVFC Board Chair Wendy Hoose reported that:

Roy Rizzo and Ashley Young are taking [truck] 1941 for Statewide Mutual Aid; currently they are staging at the Tompkins County Airport and may be away for up to four days. Slaterville (and Varna Mutual Aid) Carl Campbell and Tim Welsh are taking [truck] 1541 as well.

Ithaca Swift water and their boats as well as McLean are also going.

On Tuesday, she reported that:

Currently Roy, Ashley, Carl and Tim (as well as others) are working to get the Grand Gorge (near Blenheim) local fire department working again after their station was flooded by the Schohaire Creek with all vehicles inside. As of around 0900 this morning they had three of the four fire trucks up and going, and the station generally de-mucked from over 15 inches of floor water/slime....

Today they were served hot food and with the American Red Cross and FEMA Trucks they have been promised showers later in the day. They are all very happy to be helping their fellow firefighters and NYS communities, since in their words the damage is extensive.

As of this morning, all the people and trucks are back safely. If anyone has further news of area emergency responders helping out, please let me know or leave them in comments.

(Disclosure: I'm a Supporting Member of the VVFC, which mostly means that I work on software they use to print badges.)

Posted by simon at 11:31 AM Comment

Talk Time-Warner at Varna Tuesday

The Town will be hosting a meeting about Time-Warner's long-expired cable franchise agreement and the difficulties in getting them to expand service:

Dryden Town Meeting
September 6, 2011, 7:30 PM
Varna Community Center,
Route 366

This meeting will cover the history and current status of Time Warner Cable's Franchise Agreement with the Town of Dryden. It will be followed by citizen experiences of Time Warner access requests and customer service issues. Hope to see you there.

For a lot more detail about these issues, check out this Just the Facts piece from itsaboutthestory.

Posted by simon at 5:12 PM Comment

Dryden SEC forum Wednesday, September 7th

It's "the second in their series of public education meetings", though the first was invitation-only and in Binghamton, so I'm not really sure what this series is supposed to be. Anyway:

The second forum is on "Water and Energy Development," and will be held on Wednesday, September 7th, 7:30 - 9:00 P.M., at the Dryden Fire Hall on Route 13 in the Village of Dryden. It will be hosted by engineer Ron Szymanski, a member of the Freeville Planning Board, and moderated by Dave Vieser, WHCU morning personality. The public is invited.

I'm a little surprised to see WHCU mixed up in this, but maybe they were taken in by the same strange sense of "neutral" that the Ithaca Journal fell for?

Posted by simon at 11:32 PM Comment

September 2, 2011

Nodal development in a walled city

Gate at Gengenbach.
Gate at Gengenbach.

It's hard to imagine a more perfect nodal development scenario than a walled city on a trade route surrounded by farms. We don't tend to do things that way any longer. Even the German village I described earlier as a nodal development paradise doesn't bother with walls, which would get in the way of its orderly expansion.

Nearby Gengenbach, however, has had stone walls for a long time. The Altstadt (old city) is still within those walls and very distinctive, despite the cars going through its gates today.

House against the gate.
House against the gate tower.

In the Altstadt, Gengenbach.
In the Altstadt, Gengenbach.

The village today is about 11,000 people, and no, they don't all fit in the old city, which is now a tourist attraction. There is a development boundary, but it is well outside the old walls, as are the railroad and factory, and isn't the neat Meissenheim circle because the terrain is more complicated.

I've posted a gallery of photos of Gengenbach's Altstadt in case you're curious what an old walled city can look like in an age of automobiles. Yes, it's a tourist attraction, so not your average town. However, I've also posted a a gallery of photos from nearby Lahr, a much more typical city of 43,000 people. They have a pedestrian mall that strikes me as a much more functional version of the Ithaca Commons.

(I know, I know. First pictures from Germany, now discussion of the Ithaca Commons, which isn't even in Dryden or similar to much in Dryden. It's Friday evening, I guess.)

Posted by simon at 5:59 PM Comment

September 3, 2011

Yes, there are trash cans at Dryden Lake

Sungiva and I just had a nice ramble around a bit of Dryden Lake Park. She liked looking at the lake and the dam, sitting on the picnic benches, and, of course, playing on the playground. Unfortunately, I spent a fair amount of time doing something else:

McDonald's trash at the lake.
McDonald's trash at the lake.

I picked up two bags of McDonald's trash, a Subway drink, a plastic energy drink bottle, and lots of plastic lids. We didn't even go very far to find all that - parking by the lake, plus a pavilion and the bridge.

If you're looking for a trash can at Dryden Lake, they have them outside of the bathrooms.

Posted by simon at 11:46 AM Comment

Freeville shopping improves

Sungiva and I sometimes go out Saturday morning to look for horses and cows. I drive around Dryden, and she calls out when she sees the animals. Today, though, we spent a lot of time around Freeville, visiting some places that make Saturdays in Freeville extra exciting.

Edgewood Bakery.
Edgewood Bakery: treats and breads.

We stopped first at Edgewood Bakery (at 17 Railroad Street, on the other side of the recently re-opened Toad's Diner), and got cinnamon rolls. They mostly sell their delicious baked goods - try the danish! - through other places, but they're open 2-6 on Friday and 9-3 on Saturday.

We also stopped at Jerry Dell Farm Store, which is open Thursday and Friday 12-6 and Saturday 10-4. They're at 41 Fall Creek Road, Freeville, NY - which I last visited when it was the Marquis Farm for Farm City Day. They have dairy cows there, and have a license for raw milk:

Cooler for raw milk.
Cooler for raw milk.

We bought sweet corn and red onions from their selection of vegetables:

Vegetables at Jerry Dell Farm Store.
Vegetables at Jerry Dell Farm Store.

They also had eggs and grass-fed beef for sale.

We also visited that long-time shrine of sweet corn, Fall Creek Farm Market, further north at 397 Fall Creek Road, for corn, grapes, peaches, and some snacking tomatoes. They were a wonderful find during our year of local eating, and continue to be great.

I think all of these places only take cash - at least not credit cards - so come with a full wallet when you're visiting.

It's great to see Toad's Diner return, and the Waterwheel Cafe, next door to Tile-Tec, has been delicious. I think I'll be spending more time in Freeville!

Posted by simon at 4:21 PM Comment

September 4, 2011

How stable is the education business, anyway?

It's one of those days when I think One of Nine has an excellent point, something we need to prepare for.

Posted by simon at 8:10 AM Comment

RPM Ecosystems goes to auction

I hate to see these kinds of signs:

RPM Ecosystems goes to auction
RPM Ecosystems goes to auction.

The picture isn't great, but the site has lots of information on the pieces - pot filling machine, hoop houses, and a lot of equipment, including four tractors. Potential buyers can inspect the items on site September 18th and 19th.

(As I noted earlier, RPM didn't survive bankruptcy, and their remaining trees went to Tompkins County Soil and Water Conservation.)

Posted by simon at 8:18 AM Comment

September 6, 2011

Etna Post Office likely closing

I was hoping otherwise, but the Etna Volcano arrived today with a big article on page 2 about the August 23rd United States Postal Service Final Determination notice, Docket 1362780-13062 - which says the post office will close at an undetermined future date.

It sounds like most services will shift to Freeville, though PO Box holders may be able to keep the same address.

It's not over yet - the Etna Community Association is filing an appeal with the Postal Regulatory Commission.

Update: Not closing, for now at least.

Posted by simon at 5:02 PM Comment

September 7, 2011

DEC releases draft hydrofracking report

This one's for real, though there's a 90-day comment period, ending December 12th. This time the report is at least theoretically complete, including the 251-page socioeconomic report by a firm whose selection raised a few eyebrows.

Posted by simon at 11:37 AM Comment debuts

I'm more than a little wary of "neutral" projects run by people with agendas lately, but I'm intrigued by, run by Herald-Examiner publisher, 2009 County Legislature Candidate, Dryden Republican Committee Chair, and VillageSquared creator Jim Crawford.

The site describes itself as: was created to elevate the quality of public conversations by accurately measuring public opinion, while improving the public's grasp of important issues.

It is new, and at this time is starting with polling questions that are specific to Dryden, NY. We hope soon to serve many audiences with an accurate and convenient public survey platform, which also allows for articulate and intelligent debate among its users. is committed to serving its users with COMPLETELY NEUTRAL, and FULLY TRANSPARENT voting and debates. For that reason, we require all users to provide their real names and addresses at the registration stage. Real names and addresses are necessary to ensure that each user may only vote once, and that they live in the voting district being surveyed.

I have a few doubts about achieving those goals:

  • Neutrality is incredibly difficult, though the current questions seem workable. (Will that last? I hope so.)

  • The 'votes' here are, like all online polls, going to be from self-selected participants, who aren't necessarily representative of Dryden's population as a whole.

  • Yes/No questions are difficult too - I have "maybe" answers to 2 of 3 there now.

On the bright side, conversation is good. I do think that real names and addresses are worth trying. Anonymity hasn't served the Ithaca Journal forums well in particular. Even though this may not feel very "typical for the Internet", it seems worth trying here, and the visible usernames can still be whatever you like. (I just used my name.)

I just registered for the site, and I'll be keeping a close eye on it.

Posted by simon at 12:38 PM Comment

Water transforms Dryden SEC forum on water

Well, that certainly wasn't what I expected.

The Dryden Safe Energy Coalition sponsored a public forum on "Water and Energy Development" at the Dryden Fire Hall tonight. It was supposed to include WHCU host Dave Vieser as moderator, Mike Atchie of Chesapeake Energy, and possibly someone from the Independent Oil and Gas Association of NY, as well as Bill Kappel of the US Geological Service and Chip Northrup, a real estate investor who was there as the anti-fracking spokesperson.

Apparently the weather - I've had 2.5 inches of rain here today - kept Dave Vieser on the air for WHCU, and Atchie and the IOGA spokesperson away from Dryden. The Dryden SEC didn't cancel the forum, but many (not all) of the Dryden SEC folks left, leaving the floor to the speakers who did arrive.

Update: Thanks to Mary Ann Sumner in comments - it sounds like I missed some earlier drama, though I thought I got there early:

DSEC most emphatically DID cancel the event. But they could not persuade the fire department to close the building. Neptune president, Dan Tier said: It's a public education event. If people want to stay to hear the speakers who are here, that's okay.

Event organizer, Ron Szymansky repeatedly announced that the DSEC event was cancelled and DSEC did not endorse the continuation of the meeting.

Crowd milling before start of meeting.
Crowd milling before start of meeting.

Some people left early, and more people left after the 'center position' USGS Bill Kappel spoke, but others arrived and the room pretty much remained standing room only throughout the talks. The questions at the end were nearly universally concerns about the arrival of drilling rather than supporting its arrival.

Geologist Bill Kappel speaks.
Geologist Bill Kappel speaks.

It definitely wasn't what I expected, but it raised a lot of questions I need to look into. On the environmental side, both Northrup and Kappel emphasized that the activity on the surface was a greater environmental risk than the actual fracking below, though well casing issues in particular could cause problems underground. Water coming from underground - both fracking fluid flowback water and the brine that's natural there - raises difficult disposal issues, to put it very mildly.

One of the points that Chip Northrup made over and over again was that while we may think of New York as a state with a strong regulatory tradition, we lack a lot of basic legal protections that states with more intense histories of drilling, notably Texas, New Mexico, and Colorado, have. I'm not sure if it's because of our history with modest amounts of oil and gas in the western part of the state, or because Albany can't get its act together.

The next Dryden SEC forum will be September 21st, on "The Law and Energy".

Update: Here's the Ithaca Journal coverage of the event.

Posted by simon at 9:51 PM Comment

September 8, 2011

County roads closed - emergency in Caroline

Ithaca and Dryden schools are closed today, and Cornell is currently closed. Ithaca College delayed opening until noon.

Update: Closure order ends at 9:00am -

Sheriff Lifts Road Closure Order Effective 9:00 a.m.

Tompkins County Sheriff Ken Lansing has lifted the road closure order in Tompkins County effective at 9:00 a.m. The closure will be replaced by a Travel Advisory, with drivers urged to exercise extreme caution on all roads. Certain roads will remain impassable.

Tompkins County and the City of Ithaca government offices are scheduled to reopen at 11:00 a.m.

All other prior advisories and notices remain in effect.

Tompkins County offices have delayed opening until 11 a.m. this morning. Employees are advised to check with local news sources or the County's web page for any changes to this plan.

Officials continue to urge citizens to stay away from flood water and to keep themselves safe.

Earlier: Sheriff Ken Lansing has directed emergency traffic only to deal with the rain, and county and city offices are delaying opening until 11am. Caroline has also declared an emergency. Here are details:

Severe Weather Update: September 8 - 5:00 a.m.

Sheriff Lansing Directs Emergency Traffic Only
State of Emergency Declared in Town of Caroline

Because of ongoing heavy rain and flooding conditions impeding travel throughout Tompkins County and affecting public safety, Tompkins County Sheriff Ken Lansing has issued a directive of Emergency Traffic Only, with no unnecessary travel in Tompkins County until further notice.

Caroline Town Supervisor Don Barber has declared a State of Emergency in the Town of Caroline, as of 3:30 a.m. this date because of ongoing weather conditions that have created significant flooding and threaten public safety--specifically, "hazardous conditions caused by creek and stream flooding" throughout the Town.

The State of Emergency will be in effect for five days, through September 13, 2011. It will then be reevaluated to determine if the Emergency Order should be lifted or extended, based on the weather conditions at that time.

The National Weather Service has just issued a Flash Flood Warning for Tompkins County through 10:45 a.m.

Heavy rain has created numerous traffic hazards and road closures throughout the County, including many in the Town of Caroline. Among the many road closures and hazards, Route 79 east of Slaterville is closed. There are numerous problems throughout the county caused by the high water, and high water is also obstructing Route 13/South Meadow Street in the City of Ithaca.

The National Weather Service reports rain has caused significant flooding throughout the region, and a strong band of rain continues to head north from Southern Pennsylvania toward the Tompkins County area, and is expected to continue to produce more heavy rain beyond what has already fallen.

The National Weather Service has issued a Flood Warning for Fall Creek, from late tonight to late Thursday night or until the warning is cancelled. Moderate flooding is forecast.

Town and County highway departments are out working throughout the County. Other trouble spots include Route 13 (South Meadow Street) in the City of Ithaca, Route 79 and Boiceville Road in the Town of Caroline, and numerous secondary roads throughout the county.

Officials continue to urge motorists to take precautions to keep themselves safe:

  • If barricades are up, Don't move them - Go around.

  • Do not drive through flood water--Turn around; don't drown!

  • Stay off the roads except for emergency travel!

Remember to call 911 only if you have an emergency. Reports of flooding or other concerns can be communicated to the Department of Emergency Response office at 607-257-3888 or 607-342-4568.

Contact: Director of Emergency Response Lee Shurtleff, 607-257-3888 or Assistant Director Beth Harrington, 607-257-3888 or 607-342-4568.

I got up to a total of 3.67" of rain here, though I saw that Binghamton Airport got 6." Update: Nope - per @NewsChannel9: '7.49" in Binghamton Wed. Record for any date. Already broke record for wettest YEAR on Sept 7th!'

Posted by simon at 7:46 AM Comment

Fall Creek full, but mostly short of flood

Fall Creek (measured at Forest Home) is abnormally high, but just touching the 'action stage' and not crossing into flood stage territory. We got 3.67" of rain at my house yesterday, but that scarcely compared to Binghamton's record 7.49", which is producing some serious flooding there.

At lunchtime, I took a quick tour of Fall Creek and some of its tributaries, including Dryden Lake, Virgil Creek, and Egypt Creek. Streams were high, and lots of people were taking pictures. The only substantial flooding I saw, however, was very close to Fall Creek, and largely in undeveloped (for a good reason) areas or fields.

Flooding along Herman Road.
Flooding along Herman Road.

Campbell Meadow, I mean stream.
Campbell Meadow, I mean stream. (Compare with this earlier picture.)

Campbell Meadow definitely makes great sense as a natural area. I'd wished for a while that maybe it should have a picnic table or chairs, though the water I saw today makes me think that would have been a risky idea.

Virgil Creek under Route 13 in the Village of Dryden.
Virgil Creek under Route 13 in the Village of Dryden.

I've also posted a gallery of pictures of Fall Creek and its tributaries around the town for a more complete view.

Posted by simon at 5:22 PM Comment

Bridge closed at German Cross Road

I drove around a lot of Dryden today, but only had time to explore the Fall Creek watershed. I missed something important in the southwest corner of the town - the German Cross Road bridge is closed.

Bridge closed - German Cross Road.
Bridge closed - German Cross Road.

The bridge crosses Six Mile Creek between Route 79 and Coddington Road. The road is open for local traffic, but the bridge is closed. Burns Road or Brooktondale Road are possible alternates. I didn't get to explore them, but haven't seen them on lists of closings. Then again, I hadn't heard about German Cross until recently.

Posted by simon at 10:56 PM Comment

September 10, 2011

Town finances becoming rational, not derelict

The Ithaca Journal noticed "developer and Republican candidate for town supervisor" Bruno Schickel and has an article discussing his claims and the response from incumbent Democratic Town Supervisor Mary Ann Sumner.

It's been a few years since I watched the Dryden budget closely, but most of Schickel's points seem to me like an odd effort to blast Sumner for bringing some rationality to what had long been a very strange budget process. It sounds like he's picking numbers to make a situation that's actually pretty normal look grim - and ignoring, I suspect, a major way the Town did what he claims was a good thing.

When I first got into this in 2003 and 2004, I went to talk with former Supervisor Mark Varvayanis. To be blunt, town finances at that point were a complete mystery to me. Reading budgets and looking at expenditures didn't seem to tell a coherent story. Varvayanis made it clear that budgets were - as they had been for a long while - padded with extra money that rolled over from year to year. Comparing this year's budget to last year's spending was always going to be strange, and the numbers that mattered would be year-to-year budget or year-to-year expenditures.

Though I need to sit down with actual figures, it looks to me like Schickel is indulging in an apples to oranges comparison in this discussion.

The other piece that surprised me in talking with Mark was how much money the Town had. Some of it, to be sure, had been saved for the new Town Hall, but much of it was just massive rollover funds. The Town was on a long slow slide path spending those funds down, without (thankfully) binging during either Republican or Democratic-controlled Town Boards. As Sumner puts it:

The office of the state Comptroller recommends an unreserved fund balance of about 16 percent of expenditures. When Sumner took office in 2008 the fund, at $5.6 million, was at 200 percent of expenditures, which led her to request the board decrease the fund gradually, through a combination of one-time payments, transfers to reserve funds, and some advance payments, she said.

A few years back we had people calling for the Town to just hand that money back to taxpayers with some kind of tax holiday. The Town took a more cautious route and moved the money out of general fund rollovers and set up dedicated capital reserve funds, including highway and recreation funds.

The one recent financial decision the Town made that seemed genuinely risky to me was when they decided to go ahead with the farmland protection for the Lew-Lin farm despite New York State failing to come up with the actual money. We're apparently still waiting for the state to cough up the cash. Based on his comments at various Town meetings, Schickel seems to support this activity, so I'm not sure why he's complaining about it.

After the Journal wades through the financial back and forth, they give Schickel space to talk about the rest of his platform, including his support of gas drilling as a way for farmers to make money and his opposition to zoning in general.

On zoning, he claims that "With the exception of Varna, the rest of the town seems to want to be left alone. It seems like they're trying to push this down people's throats." I think Schickel needs to get out a little more often to listen to what people say about zoning. "Leave us alone" isn't necessarily something residents are saying to the Town so much as to prospects of unwanted change in their neighborhoods, and not just in Varna.

On the bright side, he seems to have borrowed much of my platform when I ran for Town Board in 2009 - looking to encourage alternative farming approaches, a farmer's market, and a trail network on the old railroad beds.

Posted by simon at 7:18 AM Comment

September 13, 2011

More on 5 Freese Road

The plateau expanded all summer, and the technicolor mailbox remains though its colors are more muted. I put in a FOIL request with the town for any new information since my last request, and got back two PDFs.

The first set of documents (1.4MB PDF) reports another violation of stormwater law, though I understand that has since been fixed.

The second set of documents (4.7MB PDF) is more general reports and pictures.

Posted by simon at 7:32 AM Comment

Not remotely a "Balanced Middle Way"

It gets harder and harder to report on the Dryden Safe Energy Coalition's continuous claim that they're the middle way, since it's so excruciatingly obvious that they're the local representatives of the industry line.

The piece, written by Henry Kramer, starts as a complaint about last week's forum, which he tried and failed to cancel at the last minute when his preferred speakers couldn't make it.

Kramer seems to think that people who call him pro-drilling haven't spent much time considering options other than a ban:

Some of those who would totally ban energy development in our area have called DSEC "pro-drilling." The problem with this description is that it divides the world of opinion on energy into just two camps. Either, like them, you are opposed to all energy development or you are their enemy and are assigned the label "pro-drilling." For them, there is no room for a middle position.

Kramer is completely wrong, at least about most of the people I've talked with who support a ban. A ban is one of the very few things that is possible at the local level. There are lots of other options that could help, but thanks to the design of state law, they mostly happen at the state level. There certainly is room for a plausible "balanced middle way", but it doesn't happen to be Henry's. I'd suggest looking at State Senator Greg Ball's proposal, which isn't a ban but includes enforceable safeguards for drilling. Even Chip Northrup, who Kramer complained about earlier in the piece, spoke about regulations that are taken for granted in Texas but aren't in the New York proposals.

(And if he'd stayed to listen to the speaker he'd invited instead of storming out, Kramer might even have known that.)

Kramer continues that:

DSEC believes the world is divided into three parts, not two: those for bans; those for immediate production; and those, such as DSEC, who conclude that energy development requires careful regulation to protect the public.

The basic problem here that while there are many many more than two positions, "those for immediate production" is not a lobby that's even remotely plausible. Yes, there's a house on Route 13 near Alpine Junction with a "Fracking OK. Start Here." sign. Does that sign make a pro-industry anti-ban position the "Balanced Middle Way"? Does it help that the article was cross-posted at the drilling industry's Energy in Depth PR site?

No, it doesn't. Not at all.

The natural gas industry would like to come to New York. They're willing to accept regulation - as little as they can get away with - because they recognize that the New York public actually demands some regulation for what are obviously hazardous activities.

It's been very strange to me to watch our local Republicans, the conservative wing at that, suddenly cheering on the amazing powers of the DEC and EPA. Instead of cursing these organizations for daring to regulate, they seem to be hoping that they'll regulate just enough to make this politically palatable without disturbing their industry friends.

It's not the middle way, not by a longshot.

Posted by simon at 8:02 AM Comment

September 14, 2011

Anschutz announces lawsuit

They haven't actually filed it yet, so I'm guessing they bravely led with a press release, but apparently a gas company is stepping up to sue over Dryden's ban on gas drilling (Update: expanded article):

Anschutz Exploration Corp. plans to file a lawsuit in state Supreme Court in Tompkins County to have the ban struck down in the Town of Dryden, according to the company's Albany-based attorney Thomas West. He said the lawsuit is expected to be filed this week...

"It will be a good opportunity to let the courts decide whether municipalities can, under the guise of zoning or otherwise, ban or regulate drilling," West said. "Hopefully, it won't be a difficult issue for the court."

I'm surprised they didn't wait until after the elections, but pouring fuel on the fire is after all what they're about. I'll be curious to see the actual filings, and will try to post them here.

I wouldn't expect early rulings in this case to settle anything, either - this will likely be settled by New York's highest court, the Court of Appeals, unless something like the proposal from Senator Seward or the one from Senator Ball intercedes on the side of the Town.

Posted by simon at 7:04 PM Comment

September 15, 2011

Why sue Dryden? Why now?

While I suspected that the gas companies would eventually sue to try to overturn Dryden's drilling ban through a zoning clarification, I'd also thought such jousting would wait until after the DEC finished the review of the sGEIS, came up with regulations, and actually began issuing permits. Instead, they announced a lawsuit yesterday.

Dryden, however, seemed like a plausible target for the gas companies from the beginning:

  • Dryden is at an interesting geological location, with Trenton Black River, Marcellus Shale, and Utica Shale drilling all possible though not necessarily ideal.

  • They have a local surrogate happy to handle their public relations and cheer on the lawsuit.

  • Unlike Middlefield, we don't have the Baseball Hall of Fame to make it a potentially national issue.*

  • The Town, though trending more and more Democratic, is still definitely a place where elections can shift policy drastically. Lawsuits can certainly be election issues.

In particular, Anschutz has had an application in for a Trenton Black River well for a while, sometimes called the Cook Well, off Irish Settlement near Ferguson Road. It was poorly written and poorly handled by the DEC, leading to a complaint by the Town. It's basically sat on hold through the DEC Marcellus process - though Anschutz claimed at the time that they "weren't sure that well would even be drilled", those delays are oddly coincidental with the Marcellus process.

I wouldn't have thought - though I am not a lawyer - that they would actually have legal standing to sue before the DEC actually issued them a permit. Perhaps they can do it in advance, but we'll see. It's not clear to me how they've actually been damaged at this point, but I suspect they'll use the prior Trenton Black River portion of the application to claim that they're an innocent victim of the charge against hydrofracking.

If they do have standing, I'm guessing this is largely a "might as well sue before other towns get the idea this is a good thing." Whether or not they have standing, announcing the lawsuit just as election time is gearing up seems like they hope the legal process will influence the election process.

It may well do that - just not necessarily in the direction they hoped.

* - Update: There's a different kind of lawsuit, without the gas companies' obvious involvement, in Middlefield.

Posted by simon at 7:41 AM Comment

Dryden opportunity to help with flood relief

Though we mostly stayed dry in Dryden, here's an opportunity to help out our neighbors in Owego:

The members of the Golden Meadows Girl Scout service unit are holding a rally for Owego flood relief. The rally is 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday, September 17th in the Dryden village parking lot on George Street, behind the First National Bank of Dryden. From there, volunteers will take to the streets with wagons going door to door asking for donations.

You are also welcome to deliver items to the drop-off location. Items of particular need include: bottled water, paper products (towels, plates, toilet paper), bleach, painter's masks, toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, razors, hand sanitizer, rubber gloves, garbage bags, buckets, diapers, wipes, pet food, clean used clothing or bedding, towels and washcloths. No monetary donations may be accepted.

Thanks to Dryden Daily KAZ for the tip!

Posted by simon at 12:17 PM Comment

September 19, 2011

Lawsuit filed; more details

Thanks to the combination of a (wonderful) beekeeping class Saturday, lots of sneezing yesterday, and a huge pile of work today, I haven't been able to give the Anschutz lawsuit the coverage it deserves.

Here, to get you started, are some key pieces:

Please note that all of those links go to pro-drilling sites. I'll have more comment as soon as I can find a moment to write!

Posted by simon at 11:40 AM Comment

September 20, 2011

Tonight: sauerkraut and pickles

I'd meant to post this earlier, but:

Tonight, September 20th, from 6:30-8 at the Dryden Community Center Cafe (1 West Main St, Dryden), community member Nancy Norton will be teaching a class on lacto-fermenting your garden produce! Lacto-fermentation is the original "pickling" process and can yield delicious and nutritious foods with little work! All you need are vegetables, salt, and time- the rest of the work is done by beneficial microorganisms. The class is free and all are welcome to come learn about and taste some delicious pickled products. Join us!

We'll discuss:

  • What is lacto-fermentation? How does it work?
  • What are the benefits?
  • What foods can be preserved this way?
  • How do you know the food is safe?
  • How do you do it?

Nancy will demonstrate the process of making two popular fermented foods: sauerkraut and sour pickles.

This is from the always-amazing Dryden Community Garden.

Posted by simon at 10:15 AM Comment

You can do what you want with your property if and only if...

it's compatible with what the oil and gas companies want to do with it.

That seems to be the message of the career of Thomas West, the "Super Lawyer" who announced that his firm would be bringing a lawsuit against the Town of Dryden last week. (I didn't originally mean to single out West, but he's proud of his work and appears at many of the most important places where gas drillers demanded that everyone else bow down before their power.)

Do you ever wonder how compulsory integration, which basically lets drillers force their way under up to 256 acres of a 640-acre drilling unit, could have happened?

He was one of the principal authors of the spacing and compulsory integration legislation that overhauled New York's oil and gas program in 2005.

Or, in a version with more detail:

Compulsory integration now plays a crucial role for gas drillers assembling sites in New York. No well can be drilled without a state permit. And no permit can be awarded until the drilling company creates an approved "spacing unit" -- typically 640 acres -- at the proposed well site. The spacing unit is made up of property leased to the drilling company, plus property owned by holdouts who won't lease.

Compulsory integration may only be applied if the driller obtains leases on property totaling at least 60 percent of the proposed spacing unit. After that threshold is reached, the company can force the holdouts to join against their will.

To some, that arrangement seems an outrageous violation of basic private property rights.

"It is a way to get around negotiating price with landowners, a way to acquire gas rights at below-market rates, and a way to force people into leases or lease terms they don't want," said Fractracker, a website managed by a group founded at the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Public Health.

When the gas industry in Pennsylvania sought a milder version of New York's compulsory integration statute for drilling in that state's Marcellus Shale — the leasing threshold was 75 percent instead of 60 percent — it met vehement opposition and died.

In New York, opponents never had a chance to mobilize because there were no public hearings before the bill sailed through, Denton said. Albany attorney Thomas West claims on his website bio that he "played a key role" in winning passage of the 2005 bill. Denton agreed, saying, "Tom West shepherded it through the Legislature."

Yep - New York's delightful combination of a sleepy legislature and sleazy lobbyists frequently adds up to a not very funny joke. For all the complaining industry does about the cost of doing business in New York, we sometimes sell ourselves cheap.

As that article notes, West's firm also delivers the notices that your mineral rights are being taken from you at a low bargain price with pretty awful options. It's not clear if that same firm is leading Anshutz's charge to countersue people in Big Flats who dared take legal action when their water turned black and smelly.

And now, of course, this line of thinking has come to Dryden. Dangle riches in front of large landowners, downplay the risks, and hope they'll come along voluntarily. If they don't, worm your way toward enough acreage to take the rights anyway. And if they step up to say "Stop! This is a lousy idea!" - well, sue them.

Posted by simon at 5:02 PM Comment

September 21, 2011

Finally an article on the lawsuit that

actually discusses the legal issues - both past precedents that set the stage and what this could mean.

But whether an outright ban is the same as a regulation is an unresolved question, and one the court will likely be forced to address more often now, beginning with the case against Dryden....

State appellate courts have never reviewed the scope of the ECL's pre-emption provision, but the Court of Appeals has twice ruled that a similar statute, the Mine Land Reclamation Law, does not pre-empt local zoning ordinances.

To some, this suggests that the courts should rule similarly with regard to gas drilling.

Most of the legal opinions in it come from attorneys (West, Joy) completely in the pocket of the gas companies, but it's still worth a read.

Posted by simon at 8:19 AM Comment

It's been a wonderful life: 75 years with the George B. Bailey Agency

I almost forgot to post this - definitely worth seeing tomorrow night!


George Bartlett Bailey opened his agency for business on April 1, 1936. George's guiding principal in serving his clients was to treat others as he would like to be treated. This philosophy remains the cornerstone of a respected Dryden insurance agency that is celebrating 75 years of service. Over the years, the Bailey Agency has played an integral part in the growth and maturity of Dryden and the surrounding area. The Dryden Historical Society has invited Bill and John Bailey to relate the history of a family business that continues to supply support and leadership to our community.

Bill's presentation will focus on his memories and impressions of many important events in recent Dryden history including: the electrification of the in the 1920's, travelling with his father to visit clients in the 30's and 40's, the arrival of natural gas in the 50's, a new Junior/Senior high school the demise of the Lehigh Valley railroad in the 60's, attracting TC3 to locate in Dryden in the 70's, and construction of the flood control dam on Virgil Creek in the 80's and 90's. Bill will also share his experience communicating with his clients from the typewriter of his father's day to the use of email and iPhone by his son, John. Bill will give credit to the leaders in the community who made these improvements in the infrastructure a reality.

Join us on Thursday, September 22nd in the Dryden Village Hall (corner of George and South Streets). The doors will open at 6:30 PM and the evening's presentation will start at 7 PM. Everyone with their own stories or early policies they would like to share is encouraged to attend.

As always, this program is free and open to all.

Posted by simon at 10:02 AM Comment

Fort Drum soldier captured in Dryden

I'm way behind on local news, but hopefully this will catch up on some.

A soldier from Fort Drum was captured in Dryden. It sounds like he had just been bailed out on burglary charges, when he escaped in his parents' SUV from an escort back to the base. Running into the woods and then stealing a car got him to Gee Hill Road, but then he was stuck.

TC3 will be part of a biology research grant working "to roll out a national model for incorporating research into community college biology courses."

Cathy Wakeman's Dryden Town Talk reports on the merger of the Dryden Assembly of God with Lansing's Asbury Church, and events they're having for kids. She notes the Historical Society talk on Bailey Insurance tomorrow night, the Southworth Library book sale this Thursday through Saturday, fundraisers at Holy Cross Church this Saturday, and scouting news.

Posted by simon at 12:23 PM Comment

September 22, 2011

Fairways (for drilling, not driving)

I mentioned earlier that Dryden is at "an interesting geological location", but hadn't gone into much depth about why.

The first half of the geological section of the New York State draft SGEIS (4.2MB PDF) explores the question of where the two key shales containing natural gas, the Marcellus and the Utica, might be. So far, we've mostly heard about the Marcellus, which is closer to the surface, but the Utica gets about as much attention in the SGEIS.

I guess geologists or drilling companies must be golfers, because the area in which you can best drill a given formation is called a "fairway". The SGEIS looks at a variety of factors, including the depth and thickness of the formations and their organic matter content to estimate where these fairways are.

The maps in the SGEIS are drawn to include all of Upstate New York, and given their nature, the boundaries they suggest are fuzzy anyway. However, they do give a rough estimation of what the likely drilling areas look like.

For the Marcellus Shale, the fairway cuts across Dryden such that the eastern and southern parts of Dryden are inside the edge, while Freeville and West Dryden are likely outside.

Marcellus Shale Fairway.
Marcellus Shale Fairway (area with lines), south-central New York State.

You'll want to read the full chapter for details on why the line is drawn this way. In Dryden, we seem to have a combination of:


2000 to 3000 feet down

thickness of the organic-rich layers

125-175 feet

total organic carbon

4.5 - 5.5% by weight here, some of the highest carbon in the formation

vitrinite reflectivity, indicating thermal maturity

"greater than 3.0"

That thickness may be too low to be ideal, and the vitrinite reflectivity, "a measure of the maturity of organic matter in rock with respect to whether it has produced hydrocarbons", too high. As the SGEIS puts it:

Values of 1.5 to 3.0 % Ro are considered to correspond to the "gas window," though the upper value of the window can vary depending on formation and kerogen type characteristics. (4-16)

From looking at the maps and reading the descriptions, it sounds like the western boundary of the fairway is uncertain at best. There's a lot of organic matter in this shale underneath Dryden, but it may also be kind of overcooked.

Update: Now I wonder more about how clear this fairway designation is.

The Utica Shale fairway includes more of Dryden, probably everything except the northwest corner.

Utica Shale Fairway.
Utica Shale Fairway (area with lines), south-central New York State.

There's less detail on the Utica Shale, perhaps in part because of its greater depth. In Dryden, it seems to be around 7000 feet down. The contour lines in Figure 4.6 of the SGEIS suggest a thickness in Dryden of 50-100 feet of high organic carbon shale. With less information, they took a fairly simple approach to defining the fairway:

Based on the available, limited data, Nyahay et al. (2007) concluded that most of the Utica Shale is supermature and that the Utica Shale fairway is best outlined by the Flat Creek Member where the TOC and thickness are greatest. This area extends eastward from a northeast-southwest line connecting Montgomery to Steuben Counties (Figure 4.7). The fairway shown on Figure 4.7 correlates approximately with the area where the organic-rich portion of the Utica Shale is greater than 100 feet thick shown on Figure 4.6.20 The fairway is that portion of the formation that has the potential to produce gas based on specific geologic and geochemical criteria; however, other factors, such as formation depth, make only portions of the fairway favorable for drilling. Operators consider a variety of these factors, besides the extent of the fairway, when making a decision on where to drill for natural gas. (4-13)

There is also another deeper formation not covered in the SGEIS, the Trenton-Black River formation, which is at least theoretically drillable in Dryden. From conversations with landowners, it seems that many of the leases in the area were signed with that formation as the suggested target, and the Cook 1 permit application was originally for that formation.

However, Anshutz, in its lawsuit filing, omits the Trenton-Black River. In Section 7, Parties, they write:

It will, therefore, have lost its investment in acquiring its oil and gas leases through geological assessments as well as a loss in development opportunity by being prevented from drilling in an area believed to be prospective for Marcellus and Utica shales.

I was surprised that they didn't mention the Trenton-Black River, but then they're the ones with the seismic data to indicate whether that's feasible here. Perhaps it isn't, or perhaps it might only make senseto their accountants as part of a larger drilling operation that already puts much of the expensive infrastructure in place. The DEC map shows activity mostly to our west. However, this Introduction to New York's Trenton / Black River Play from the New York State Museum suggests that it might be feasible here, though the data for Tompkins County is thin.

Posted by simon at 12:29 PM Comment

September 23, 2011

New York Times on local hydrofracking controversies

They mention the lawsuit, but Signing Leases for Drilling, and Now Having Regrets spends more time with landowners who were told happy stories of cash and minimal disruption by the landsmen and are stuck now that that it turns out that those stories aren't true.

DRYDEN, N.Y. -- Four years ago a man and a woman knocked on Katharine D. Dewart's door, offering easy money for the use of her land.

Handing her a brochure that included serene before-and-after pictures, they explained that a natural gas company was seeking to drill somewhere on her 35 acres of wildflower fields surrounded by hemlock woods in this Tompkins County town near Ithaca.

Ms. Dewart, 68, served lemonade and signed, accepting $1,909 upfront and royalty payments of 12.5 percent of any sales of gas extracted from her property. "I assumed it'd be noisy for a couple of months, and I'd have a little extra cash and wouldn't that be great," Ms. Dewart, a writer, said.

Now, she said, she is stricken with remorse. And she is not alone. Hundreds of other state residents who signed leases allowing gas companies to drill deep into their properties with a method known as horizontal hydraulic fracturing have changed their minds and are trying to break or renegotiate their contracts....

There's much much more at the article.

Posted by simon at 7:48 AM Comment

Crazy short lawsuit deadlines

Apparently the Anschutz lawsuit includes an Article 78 proceeding, which seems to be New York's way of saying "you think our courts are slow? We'll make them go so fast no one will know what happened!"

At least for that part of the complaint, the Town (and anyone who wants to put in an amicus or friend of the court brief) has to file in paper by October 3rd 6th. Update: Extended to the 20th. The hearing will be November 4th in Cortland Ithaca, with a decision handed down within 60 days.

Posted by simon at 7:54 AM Comment

Draft zoning posted

I'd been watching the Town web site for information about the proposed zoning, but the most recent thing there was the Sound Performance Standards from April. The proposed zoning documents were from September and July 2010.

On Wednesday, the Town Board discussed introducing a "Draft A" or "Draft B". "Draft B" included some minor suggestions from the Planning Board, including:

  • Clarifying that Home Occupation Level I could have a 3-square-foot sign.

  • Listing "residential districts" by name.

  • Removing a "the".

  • Something about concept plans for planned unit developments having to be in accordance with the Comprehensive Plan.

  • Requiring an amenity package of developers who want to create Planned Unit Developments of greater density than allowed by the underlying zoning of the area.

Today, finally, new drafts are available. There's a new zoning map as well as Draft A and a list of amendments that would create Draft B.

The Board did not introduce the zoning, deferring to concerns from Steve Stelick, who wanted to wait until he'd gone through the whole thing once more. I suspect that the soonest they might introduce it is October 19th, their next regular meeting.

(I need to read it myself, though I don't think it actually addresses most of my many earlier concerns.)

Posted by simon at 7:14 PM Comment

September 24, 2011

Deb Shigley on the ban, gas leasing

Via One of Nine's cranky commentary, I find Republican Town Board candidate Deb Shigley's comments to the New York Times on the gas drilling ban and more:

Opposing candidates like Deb Shigley, a Republican, said the town "moved too quickly" in passing a ban that possibly could be overturned in court. (A natural gas company has already sued to pursue that goal.)

Ms. Shigley contends that the ban interferes with the rights of landowners who are counting on the drilling income. She adds that she has little sympathy for those undergoing a change of heart.

"If you signed the contract, you couldn't now say, 'I didn't know and therefore I don't want it,' "she said. "You took the money, and you're under contract."

That is, at least, much clearer than her vague comments in this week's Dryden Courier about "Other issues are energy development and the changes to the town zoning plans."

Posted by simon at 12:43 PM Comment

Rape case in Dryden?

The Ithaca Independent and Ithaca Journal are both reporting on a rape case involving a Connecticut man and a Town of Ithaca woman that's in Dryden Town Court. It's not clear from the reporting if the alleged crime actually happened in Dryden. More soon.

Update: No - that was in Ithaca, just in the Dryden courts.

Posted by simon at 10:06 PM Comment

Dryden has a fault?

Update: I'm now pretty sure there's more than the DEC reports to this story.

Okay, okay, it's hard to imagine that Dryden has faults.

However, the Geology section of the hydrofracking SGEIS (4.2 MB PDF) includes Figure 4.13, a map of faults in New York State, and there seems to be one in south-central Dryden, maybe even on the Caroline line.

Faults in Tompkins County.
Faults in Tompkins County.

It doesn't seem like something to worry about, as the area has seen pretty much zero known seismic activity.

Just out of curiosity, though, does anyone know about this fault?

Update: Dryden Daily KAZ sends this link with more information on faults in the Finger Lakes area.

Posted by simon at 10:35 PM Comment

September 28, 2011

Joe Solomon on fracking ban

Statewide coverage of the lawsuit means I'm finding Dryden coverage in all kinds of places where I don't normally look. Here's Town Board member Joe Solomon in the Binghamton University Pipe Dream:

Joseph Solomon, a member of the Dryden Town Board, defended the town's ban on the basis that it protects the interests of Dryden residents.

"Our town values the community, it values its agriculture, it values our way of life," Solomon said. "Ninety percent of the people get their water through wells. We're looking at putting in place optimal protection measures ... [and with] the information we have available and with the chemicals used in hydrofracking, any type of accident could be detrimental to tens, hundreds of water supplies for the town."

Solomon also asserted that most Dryden residents agreed with him.

"[The Town had] public information meetings for residents to voice their opinions, and throughout this whole process a large majority ... did not want to see hydrofracking within the town," Solomon said.

Posted by simon at 2:57 PM Comment

September 29, 2011

TCAT to discuss service reductions, fare increases

Dryden residents who depend on TCAT buses may want to come to some public meetings and a public hearing over the next month or so. They're proposing some fairly major changes, including service reductions and fare increases.

The pieces that seem most likely to affect Dryden residents include:

  • discontinuing out of county service on the Route 52 as Tioga County does not contribute to the service (however TCAT staff is presently in talks with the county to determine if they can offset the cost)...

  • combining the mediocre performing Routes 53 and 54 in a way that will still enable full coverage...

In addition, for the first time since 2003, TCAT is proposing fare increases for our rural boardings, beginning Jan. 1, 2012, as it obviously costs more in labor, parts and fuel to operate rural routes than our urban routes. We are proposing fares that originate in rural areas (Zone 2) outside the Greater Ithaca Area (Zone 1) to increase from $1.50 to $2.50. Click here for fare increase zone map. The fare for a trip that originates in Zone 1, traveling to Zone 2, will remain at $1.50. Rural trips at $2.50 inbound and $1.50 outbound, result in $4 round trips, up from current $3. (NOTE; In 2007, rural round trips were reduced from $6 to current levels.)

The boundaries for those zones in Dryden are at Kirk Road for routes using 366 and 13, Genung Road for Ellis Hollow Road routes, and German Cross Road for routes using 79. I don't see anything explaining how the combination of Routes 53 and 54 would work, and the changes to 52 all appear to be east of Dryden.

If you'd like to talk with TCAT about these changes, they're having meetings all over the county. The first is this coming Tuesday, October 4th, from 5:30pm to 7:00pm at the Varna Community Center, 943 Dryden Road. They'll have one at Dryden Town Hall, 93 East Main Street, on Thursday, Oct. 13th from 6:00pm to 7:30pm.

They're also having a more formal TCAT Board Public Hearing on November 3rd, from 5:00pm to 6:30pm at the Tompkins County Public Library, Borg Warner Room, 101 East Green Street, Ithaca.

Posted by simon at 12:17 PM Comment

Party news

I can't remember the Ithaca Journal ever publishing about political committee elections before, except maybe when there was a change, but they published on both the County and Dryden Republicans and the County and Dryden Democrats.

Yes, I'm the Dryden Democratic Committee vice chair again, but mostly I'm marveling at what seem to be verbatim press releases turning up in the Journal on a more regular basis.

Posted by simon at 12:48 PM Comment

September 30, 2011

Raw milk troubles

This morning's Ithaca Journal reports that Jerry Dell Farm's raw milk has been taken off the market for now, and anyone who has some should discard it:

The New York State Department of Health received two reports of campylobacter enteritis from people who had consumed raw unpasteurized milk purchased from Jerry Dell Farm, 39 Fall Creek Road, Freeville. Both patients have recovered. Jerry Dell Farm has been operating with a state permit to legally sell unpasteurized milk at the farm....

The farm will be prohibited from selling raw milk until subsequent sampling indicates that the product is free of pathogens.

I've enjoyed their vegetables, but hadn't yet tried the milk.

Posted by simon at 7:59 PM Comment