December 1, 2011

DEC extends SGEIS comment period; event tonight

Still reading the enormous Revised Draft SGEIS on the Oil, Gas and Solution Mining Regulatory Program? Running out of time for comments? The State extended the comment period to January 11, 2012.

Also, there's a locally-sponsored public hearing tonight:

7-11 pm: Public hearing on DEC gas drilling rules, at the State Theatre, Ithaca. Sponsored by the Tompkins County Council of Governments; all comments will be sent to the DEC. Doors open at 6:30. State Theatre, 107 W. State St., Ithaca NY.

Posted by simon at 12:31 PM Comment

December 2, 2011

Bringing an SGEIS hearing here

Or almost here, anyway - to downtown Ithaca, since the DEC seemed too afraid of local feedback to put an event any closer than Binghamton. (Dansville, way outside the fairway for these, no problem! And NYC, well, they had to put one there. But Ithaca? Or even Elmira? No, no, couldn't have that.)

There's also a viewpoint article about fracking and farming worth some deep consideration. How have we reached the point where farmers are willing to play high-stakes Russian Roulette with their land and neighbors?

Also, from the New York Times, if you have a lease or are considering one, you may want to read the details closely.

Posted by simon at 12:18 PM Comment

Holiday field trips with Dryden Recreation

The schedule tells the story, but the first registration deadline is today!

We are ready to kick off the holidays here at Dryden Recreation! Please read below for fun opportunities for grades 4-9. Get a registration form at

We have a trip minimum of five and maximum of ten, so sign up as soon as possible to save a spot! Please email or call us at 844-8888 ex. 228 or 229 if you have any questions!

REGISTER BY 12/2/2011
Grades 4-5
$8.00 per child
Van leaves Dryden Elementary School at 4:15
Arrive at Onondaga Lake Park in Liverpool 5:20
Enjoy the Lights until 6:00 PM
Dinner at Heid's Hotdogs
Pick up at DRYDEN TOWN HALL: 8:00 PM
(Fee includes admission and dinner)

REGISTER BY 12/9/2011
Grades 6-7 $8.00 per child
Van leaves Dryden Middle School at 4:15
Arrive at Onondaga Lake Park in Liverpool 5:20
Enjoy the Lights until 6:00 PM
Dinner at Heid's Hotdogs
Pick up at DRYDEN TOWN HALL: 8:00 PM
(Fee includes admission and dinner)

12/17 SHOPPING TRIP (Saturday)
REGISTER BY 12/12/11
$5.00 per teen (lunch not included)
Grades 8-9
Van leaves Dryden Town Hall at 10:30 AM
Arrives at Ithaca Mall at 10:45 AM
Shop until 12:30
Lunch and check-in 12:30-1:00
gather at upper food court at 1:45
Pick up at Dryden Town Hall 2:30
The teens are trusted to shop on their own.
They will not be supervised during shopping times.

Register by 12/22/11
Grades 6-7 $30.00 per teen
Van leaves Town Hall at 11:00 AM
Returns to Town Hall at 4:00 PM
*bring money for refreshments

Register by 12/22/11
Grades 4-5 $15.00 per child
Ice Skating and Movie
Van leaves Town Hall at 11:00
Skating at Cass Park begins at 11:45
Skate until 1:45*
Regal Cinema for movie (rated G or PG)
Pick up at 5:15* at Town Hall
*Times are approximate until movie listings become available

Posted by simon at 12:26 PM Comment

Meeting to save Ludgate Farms

Maybe it doesn't have to go away. The latest from Shira Golding:


Since emailing everyone about my concern that Ludgate Farms is planning on closing, tons of people have expressed interest in keeping the business alive and all kinds of ideas have been suggested including turning the existing business into a worker-owned coop, getting a bunch of local nonprofits to invest as a group, or perhaps radically revisioning Ludgate's as a community meeting space offering equipment for food preservation, garden plots, classes and more.

We will be having a meeting to discuss all of these ideas and more with the current owners, the Quinn-Jacobs, and anyone interested in the future of Ludgate Farms as an ongoing contributor to our local food security.

Please come if you are interested in getting involved in any way, even if you don't have a lot of time but just want to be part of the discussion.

Friday, December 9, 7:30-9:00pm
Ludgate Farms, 1552 Hanshaw Road, Ithaca, NY

Feel free to bring a drink or snack to share!

Join the Save Ludgate Farms Google group:

RSVP on Swidjit:

RSVP on Facebook:

More about Ludgate's:

See you there!

Posted by simon at 12:35 PM Comment

December 3, 2011

Video from Ithaca SGEIS event

The amazing folks at Shaleshock just get faster and faster. Here's video of the Thursday night hearing on the Revised Draft SGEIS on the Oil, Gas and Solution Mining Regulatory Program.

Posted by simon at 2:39 PM Comment

December 5, 2011

Wireless broadband arriving

Infrastructure is difficult stuff, but it's getting here! Three and a half years after New York State awarded Clarity Connect a $430,000 grant to deliver wireless broadband to Dryden, we're just about to see it start up:

The move is expected to expand service to 97 percent of the 3,078 households in Dryden that now have Internet that doesn't meet federal requirements for speed to be considered broadband, according to Clarity Connect CEO Chuck Bartosch....

Although 152 homes will be unable to receive the new service, Bartosch said the company is considering options for those residents, including a small neighborhood transmitter.

A third of the $1.115 million project, or $430,000, was funded by a state grant. The town assisted the company in procuring the grant, and waived the more than $15,000 in associated permitting fees

I suspect that David Makar, who made internet access a key part of his platform when he ran in 2006 and 2007, is happy to see this happening while he's still in office. I also hope we remember why Time-Warner wasn't very interested in expanding service here.

Posted by simon at 12:10 PM Comment

December 6, 2011

Public hearing tonight on Freeville drilling moratorium

The Town of Dryden passed a ban on gas drilling back in August, but there are two places where that ban doesn't apply: the villages of Dryden and Freeville. The ban works through zoning, and the villages have their own zoning, so villages have to craft their own solutions.

Tonight, the Village of Freeville will have a public hearing at Village Hall, "Re: Local Law #6 of 2011: Resolution by the Village Board of Trustees Regarding Natural Gas Drilling". My understanding is that the proposal is for a moratorium on development.

Posted by simon at 6:10 AM Comment

December 7, 2011

Now THAT is a deficit

Maybe those signs about deficit spending cost more than planned? No?

Recent Town Supervisor candidate Bruno Schickel had run a $1364 deficit on his first campaign finance report and closed it up a bit on the second to $1166. His final report for the campaign, the 27-day post-election report, shows it blowing out to $6558 - from total campaign spending of $10,671, and donations of $4,113.

Now, this was the hardest-fought campaign in a few years, but when people ask me what it costs to run a townwide campaign in Dryden, my rough estimate lately has been "six to seven thousand dollars" - for the whole typical campaign. It's pretty much beyond my comprehension that a Dryden campaign, even a hard-fought campaign, could end up that deeply in the red.

Or maybe it was meant to be a self-financed campaign?

The rest of the Dryden reports are all saner. Republicans close with a balance of $3141 and the Democrats with a balance of $1152.

Posted by simon at 12:54 PM Comment

County takes its own stand on gas drilling

Tompkins County has no land use authority, so it can't do much to regulate gas drilling except, I think, manage truck permits and decide whether or not to lease its own land. Despite that, this was encouraging, especially given that it was "adopted without dissent".

Posted by simon at 6:18 PM Comment

December 9, 2011

Last-place region still funds some Dryden projects

The Regional Economic Development Council awards came out yesterday, and the Southern Tier region, of which Tompkins County and Dryden are a part, received the least funds. Per capita, I'm sure our $49.4 million beat New York City's $66 million, but New York City isn't exactly starving for economic development to start with.

Gannett's "three papers as one" strategy is useful for once, meaning that there is a set of articles on local leaders' response. Compare one from the Ithaca Journal, one from the Elmira Star-Gazette, and one from the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin.

$2.5 million of that $49 million will be coming right to Dryden:

$2.5 million to support the Poet's Landing affordable housing project in the Village of Dryden.

I still wonder if the Poet's Landing location across from the high school makes sense - and I'm not sure if that's really "new" money - but it will be the third major building project in the Village of Dryden since this recession came down. (The other two were the new sewage treatment plant and the Lincoln Center expansion of the Southworth Library.)

Some of the rest will be coming to Tompkins County:

  • $1 million to develop the Regional Sustainability Plan for the Southern Tier that will develop a baseline, including greenhouse gas emissions and energy use, assessing sustainability indicators including economic assets, liabilities, and opportunities, as well as transportation, land use, and natural resources.

  • $3 million to support the Rural Initiative Venture Fund, to provide start-up and expansion capital through revolving loan funds and grants.

  • $400,000 for the Tompkins County Housing Rehabilitation program, to renovate homes of 23 low and moderate income residents of Tompkins County.

I'm curious to find out what the Rural Initiative Venture Fund is - that's the piece here that sounds most "economic development" to me.

There will be more next year - New York's Three Men in a Room became Three Men backstage and agreed to it in "a three minute conversation".

I need to spend some time pulling together my thoughts on economic development, but it's hard not to just sputter cynically about anything and everything New York State does in this space.

Speaking of sputtering cynically, the other big news in today's paper is from Wyoming, where the EPA confirms that yes, hydraulic fracking chemicals themselves polluted groundwater. (Update: better article at the New York Times.) I want to see a lot more details before concluding that Dryden's geology offers similar disastrous possibilities, but hopefully this will put an end to people dismissing it without thinking hard about it.

Posted by simon at 7:43 AM Comment

December 10, 2011

Freeville passes drilling moratorium

The Journal's regular coverage seems not to have noticed it, but David Fogel, Chair of the Village of Freeville Planning Board, writes the Ithaca Journal to say that passing the moratorium was the right thing to do, and tells a bit about it:

At its regular monthly meeting on Dec. 6, the Village of Freeville Board of Trustees held a public hearing on a proposed local law that would enact a moratorium on natural-gas drilling in the village for a period of 180 days, "to begin at the expiration of New York state's moratorium on said drilling."...

All but one of the 13 Freeville-area residents who attended the hearing spoke in favor of the resolution, which was adopted by the board in a unanimous vote. The trustees further resolved to host a drilling-related informational forum if and when the local law is triggered by the expiration of the statewide moratorium.

I'm a little nervous about the language, because I'm not sure that New York State has a legal, as opposed to de facto, moratorium. Hopefully that will be all right.

Also, it's worth pointing out again, as Fogel does, that the ban passed by the Town of Dryden in August does not apply to either the Village of Freeville or the Village of Dryden. It operates through zoning, and the villages both have their own zoning. According to the Marcellus Accountability Project map, a sizable chunk of land in the Village of Freeville is leased, as well as several parcels in the Village of Dryden.

Posted by simon at 7:11 AM Comment

December 12, 2011

Vote today in Dryden school district

It may be an unusual day for an election, but Dryden Daily KAZ explains what's up.

Update: Also from Dryden Daily KAZ - all the propositions passed.

Posted by simon at 9:54 AM Comment

December 13, 2011

Can Ludgate Farms be saved?

The Ithaca Journal takes a look.

I was at the meeting Friday night. I can't say that it felt like we reached firm conclusions, but it certainly seemed possible. I suspect that the hardest parts will be assembling a business plan and a core group of people to drive it forward. Running a grocery store is never an easy thing!

Posted by simon at 5:07 PM Comment

December 14, 2011

"important to recognize that DEC is not a land use agency"

I would love to see a DEC official state something like this, in reference to potential conflicts between state and local regulation of various kinds of mining.

It is important to recognize that DEC is not a land use agency, and that the authority remains at the local government level. It has always been our position that localities need to determine appropriate land uses and that DEC, even if we believe that a site may not be zoned properly, will not interfere in those decisions. We do not want conflicts with the localities. We want and need local governments to plan for mineral resources as natural resources just like they would do for any other land use, consistent with [state law].

Another area where there may be misconceptions relates to DEC's processing of mining applications... The law requires a statement by the applicant inquiring on the application about whether mining is prohibited at that location by a local government's zoning law. If the applicant affirms that mining is prohibited, the application is deemed "incomplete" and DEC would stop processing it unless and until the prohibition is lifted.

Oh, wait. That actually was a DEC official, the Director of the Division of Mineral Resources, speaking in 1998.

Not only that, it was Gregory Sovas, the same guy who now claims in an affidavit for Anschutz in their lawsuit against Dryden that he can't imagine how the DEC would allow such sharing of authority.

Now how does Sovas avoid a perjury charge when there's such a contrast between that and the claims in the Anschutz filing? Well, the quote above is about the Mined Land Reclamation Law (MLRL), a different part of the environmental conservation law. The precedents around the MLRL, especially Frew Run, are at the heart of the approach Dryden took to making it clear that gas drilling is banned here, and of its legal defense.

I think these broad statements demolish Sovas' credibility, but it's not likely to create legal action against him.

There's more on this here, if you'd prefer a video. (And yes, I learned about this through DRAC.)

Update: And here's more straight talk from a from a person who's worked in different corner of the DEC:

Hydraulic fracturing as it's practiced today will contaminate our aquifers.

Not might contaminate our aquifers. Hydraulic fracturing will contaminate New York's aquifers. If you were looking for a way to poison the drinking water supply, here in the Northeast you couldn't find a more chillingly effective and thorough method of doing so than with hydraulic fracturing.

My experience investigating and remediating contaminated groundwater taught me some lessons. There's no such thing as a perfect well seal. Occasionally sooner, often later, well seals can and do fail, period.

Posted by simon at 11:20 AM Comment

Holiday happenings and gardening

As usual, go read Cathy Wakeman's Dryden Town Talk column. This time it's mostly holiday-related, with a bit on the Dryden Community Garden's classes.

There's an update on sentencing of a Dryden teen for sexual contact with a 13-year-old. And another Dryden abuse case, this one with a perpetrator from Groton.

I'm guessing that this head-on collision at Routes 13 and 366 explains the sirens I heard yesterday afternoon.

Posted by simon at 12:36 PM Comment

December 15, 2011


(An annual story...)

People often seem to make their donations at the end of the year, both for holiday and tax reasons. This is a list of organizations in Dryden that could take donations. I believe, though I'm not entirely certain, that these are non-profit organizations, and therefore tax-exempt, but I could be wrong. Check with the organization if you have a question about that.

This year I'd like to feature two non-profits whose scope is larger than Dryden, but whose work helps ensure that Dryden's natural beauty stays with us - and healthy - for years to come.

The first, the Cayuga Lake Watershed Network, focuses on water, the many channels that flow above ground and below to Cayuga Lake. Dryden is filled with creeks and wetlands, as well as steep slopes we need to protect from erosion. Though the southwestern corner of Dryden flows to the Susquehanna river, Six Mile Creek and Cascadilla Creek have their headwaters here, and Fall Creek drains much of the town. They've been active in the fracking conversation, where protecting water is a key part of the discussion. You can find them at:

Cayuga Lake Watershed Network
170 Main Street POB 348
Aurora NY 13026

The Finger Lakes Land Trust focuses on the land more than the water, but it often tries to find important pieces of land next to water. It's worked to convey the Parke-Dabes Natural Area above 366 to the Town, as well as the Campbell Meadow at the intersection of Pinckney and Lower Creek Roads. Over the past few years, they've protected 52 acres in Freeville, expanded the Ellis Hollow Nature Preserve, protected land along Six Mile Creek, and most recently preserved 12 acres on Fall Creek. You can find them at:

Finger Lakes Land Trust
202 East Court Street
Ithaca, NY 14850

I've posted a list of churches earlier, and I'm sure they'd all happily accept donations, with the exception of Ellis Hollow Community Church, which closed a few years ago.

Other possible Dryden organizations for donations include:

  • Bethel Grove Community Center
    1825 Slaterville Road
    Ithaca, NY 14850

  • Dryden Community Center Cafe
    P.O. 801
    Dryden, NY 13053

  • Dryden Go-Green Team
    c/o Dryden Elementary School (checks payable to Dryden Elementary School)
    P.O. Box 88
    Dryden, NY 13053

  • Dryden Kitchen Cupboard
    Tompkins County Food Pantry
    800 Enfield Falls Road
    Newfield, NY 14867

  • Dryden Town Historical Society
    36 West Main Street
    P.O. Box 69
    Dryden, NY 13053

  • Dryden Veterans Memorial Home
    2272 Dryden Road
    Dryden, NY 13053

  • Dryden Youth Opportunity Fund
    Make checks out to Community Foundation of Tompkins County/DYOF
    P.O Box 1076
    Dryden, NY 13053

  • Ellis Hollow Community Center
    111 Genung Road
    Ithaca, NY 14850

  • Etna Community Center
    P.O. Box 425
    Etna, NY 13062

  • Freeville Food Pantry
    Freeville United Methodist Church
    PO Box 229
    Freeville, NY 13068

  • Neptune Hose Company & Dryden Ambulance
    26 North Street
    Dryden, NY 13053

  • Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts
    P.O. Box 6607
    Ithaca, NY 14850

  • Southworth Library Association
    P.O. Box 45
    Dryden, NY 13053

  • Tompkins County SPCA
    1640 Hanshaw Road
    Ithaca, NY 14850

  • Varna Community Association
    PO Box 4771
    Ithaca, NY 14852-4771

  • Varna Volunteer Fire Company, Inc.
    14 Turkey Hill Road
    Ithaca, NY 14850

  • W.B. Strong Fire Company
    21 Union Street
    PO Box 129
    Freeville, NY 13068

  • Willow Glen Cemetery Association
    P.O. Box 299
    Dryden, NY 13053-0299

If you have additions or corrections, please let me know in the comments. I'm guessing I missed a few as always. (And thanks to everyone who's helped me add to the list!)

Posted by simon at 12:12 PM Comment

December 16, 2011

No-till methods in the garden

It may be December, but the Dryden Community Garden continues to have great classes! This one will be next Tuesday, the 20th, at the Dryden Community Cafe from 6:30pm to 8:00pm.

What and Who:
This month's topic: No-till garden methods. Grow your own without plows, rototillers, or any heavy tools. You can have a garden without even using a shovel. We'll cover the basics of several methods of no-till home gardening including French Intensive, a German method where you begin with a mound of yard debris, planting directly in straw bales, raised beds, double dug beds, square foot (more of a design than a no-till way), lasagna gardening, sheet mulching... and maybe more if others have ideas to share!

Kerra Quinn will be leading this class and discussion. As always, Grow Your Own! classes are for everyone to share, so come with your no-till knowledge and be a teacher, too! I spent 8 years having to cram as much food as possible into a relatively small space where the "soil" I had to start with was nothing but red clay and limestone, with only a shovel and a rake (and my favorite gardening tool is still a sharp stick, go figure). This blessed me with the need to read a lot of books and try a lot of different things and talk to a lot of neighbors and wise old farmers. With a long 10 month growing season every year for 8 years I got a lot of practice.

To teach and learn and meet new people, to build connections in the community, to have organic air-popped popcorn with nutritional yeast and sea salt (or plain, or bring your own topping), to have locally grown and/or wild harvested herbal teas, to get out on a Tuesday night, to be part of the great, beautiful, wonderful thing that is our community and our food.

All ages are welcome, there are toys and books for little ones.
Donations are gratefully accepted to help us cover the cost of materials, snacks, and advertising.

Posted by simon at 11:01 AM Comment

December 19, 2011

Making beauty out of cold

"And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not." (John 1:5)

In the darkest season of the year, the lights go up.

Every year, Christmas lights go up on houses, trees, shrubs, and lately, all kinds of stands. They go up on my house too, three brilliant sets of LED lights that add up to a mere fifteen watts of power. Some of these displays are massive, some tiny, but nearly all of them are electric reminders of long-ago candles and lamps.

Electric light feels very different from candle light. Even the best electric lights seem frozen in place, or blink and move awkwardly.

I decided this year that I wanted to do something with candles again - something safely outdoors, far from the children and the house, but something beautiful. That brought me back to ice lanterns, something I'd talked about doing years ago.

Ice lanterns are what they sound like, candleholders molded from ice. Eventually I'll figure out how to make my own molds, but to get started I ordered three plastic molds. Yes, it's plastic, but it seems to be the right plastic, able to expand a little with the ice, and should last for years. If you have an empty freezer, you can make lots of these, but for my own use I'm just filling them with water and putting them out in the cold.

Making lanterns - molds filled with water, left out to freeze.
Making lanterns - molds filled with water, left out to freeze.

To get these out, you turn them over and fill the center hole with warm water. It's more easily done inside where the warmer temperature helps melt the outside edges too. The lantern drops out of the mold and it's ready to go.

Imperfect lanterns - but they'll work.
Imperfect lanterns - but they'll work.

(I tried removing these outside and wound up using too much warm water, creating a much bigger hole in the middle.)

The hole in the middle takes a candle. The instructions recommended against the metal-base tea candles, and even some plastic-base ones I got melted their way through quickly. I got some 10-hour votives instead, without a base. They seem much steadier in there.

Lantern with lit candle.
Lantern with lit candle.

They shine best in the dark, of course, though it's easier to set them up and light them while you can still see.

A single lantern, lighting the dark.
A single lantern, lighting the dark.

Lanterns against the dark.
Lanterns against the dark.

It's hard to tell in a photo, but the effect of the lanterns is very different from the lights on the house.

House, lights, and lanterns.
House, lights, and lanterns.

These lanterns do more than ease the darkness. They give me a reason to look forward to the coldest days. Since I got the molds, I've been looking forward to days where the highs are below freezing, since that's when I can best make and display the lanterns.

So far I've managed to make two batches of three, far from the dozen I'd planned. It looks like I'll have to wait until after Christmas is over to make more, but hopefully the Twelve Days of Christmas (and beyond) will be colder.

Posted by simon at 7:21 AM Comment

December 20, 2011

RPM bankruptcy limits clawback

I've been slack, and there's a lot to catch up on at the Ithaca Journal.

Posted by simon at 12:06 PM Comment

December 21, 2011

What's your vision for Ludgate Farms?

Ludgate Farms may be mostly closed now (Christmas trees and wreaths through the end of the week), but there's an effort growing to re-open it next year. They've put up a survey you may want to explore:

We have created a community survey to see what interest there would be in reopening Ludgate Farms on Hanshaw Road in Ithaca, NY. If there is enough local support, the store could live on, perhaps in a new form, providing much needed local food to the East Hill community and beyond. It all depends on the collective vision! This is your chance to express your preferences for the new store and pledge your support. So thanks for participating...


Please fill out one survey per family. There are only 10 questions and it should take about 5 minutes. All answers are optional.

The more people that fill out this survey, the more useful it will be, so please share the link with your contacts!

To stay in the loop, join our Google group:

More about Ludgate Farms:

Posted by simon at 4:01 PM Comment

December 22, 2011

Zoning changes delayed

I went to last night's Town Board meeting expecting to watch them pass the new zoning. Despite my serious misgivings, I encouraged them to proceed. The old random zoning isn't getting any better with age.

They closed the public hearing, but didn't move to a vote. At the end of the meeting, there was a surprise. The Town is rewriting what had been a Zoning Law to be a Zoning Ordinance - a set of amendments to the current zoning. Most of the changes involved require changing "law" to "ordinance", though there are a few things they have to drop, because they can't be done in an ordinance. (They can't change some penalties, nor can they expand the use of alternates for the Zoning Board of Appeals and Planning Board.)

Why? This avoids a "changing horses in midstream" issue with the Anschutz lawsuit. It leaves the pieces Anschutz is contesting in place, without repealing the ordinance in which they are contained, but replacing almost everything around it.

Although the core of the zoning will remain the same, they'll have to hold another public hearing and wait for the county to review the zoning again, so it'll likely be February before anything passes.

Craig Anderson asked if this might be an opportunity to pass the Subdivision Law changes at the same time as the zoning since they really go together, and the Board sounded like they liked that idea. I agree it's a good idea, but suspect the timing will only work if the Board passes the current version without much consideration of what it contains. I think a lot of the most toxic parts of the zoning migrated into the Subdivision Law and need much more review, but doubt I'll find support on the Board for that position.

Maybe they could give the new ordinance a politically exciting name - the Home Occupation Liberation Act, or something. (Yes, it pretty much does that, shattering a lot of old limitations if you're willing to live where you work.)

Posted by simon at 9:52 AM Comment

December 24, 2011

Make-A-Wish causes unemployment issue

Back in October, the Ithaca Journal was reporting on a happy gift to a Freeville 5-year-old. Today, it seems that the trip to Disney World is causing his father painful problems with unemployment benefits. It seems that the eligibility maze doesn't offer exceptions even for situations like this.

In the viewpoints section, Kathy Zahler demonstrates the challenges of cutting school budgets to stay inside of a tax cap when the state's promised mandate relief never appeared. Tracy Marisa questions the EPA study connecting fracking to water pollution in Wyoming, and Gary Simmons objects to an earlier letter about coverage of a fight.

Finally, perhaps in time for your holiday eggnog, an article on temperance mentions bootlegging in Dryden. I've heard of it in Varna, but wonder where else it was happening in Dryden.

Posted by simon at 8:47 AM Comment

Closed caucuses aren't open government

I've made this point before at the state level, and have to agree with it at the county level:

The Democrats' caucus meeting is legal, thanks to a mischievous change approved by the New York state Legislature in 1985. Caucuses do not violate the letter of the law, but they do circumvent its spirit. Tompkins legislators defending the practice will tell you that no votes are taken and thus no public business conducted. If you believe that, then you believe Santa Claus will slide down your chimney tonight....

Decisions made in closed caucus sessions are wrong.

There's much much more, written in a tone that feels more like a rollicking blog rant than a staid newspaper editorial, but I guess the Journal wanted to make sure the coal got in the stockings.

Posted by simon at 9:45 AM Comment

December 29, 2011

Definition and Determination of "Taking"

Supporters of gas drilling (and opponents of zoning) seem to enjoy calling every effort by any government anywhere to regulate land use for whatever reason a "taking". They argue that these takings must be compensated, and threaten gigantic lawsuits over uses of land that haven't been proven to be worth anything.

I was looking though the 1992 Final Generic Environmental Impact Statement on the Oil, Gas and Solution Mining Regulatory Program (GEIS), the predecessor to the currently controversial Revised Draft SGEIS on the Oil, Gas and Solution Mining Regulatory Program (September 2011) Well Permit Issuance for Horizontal Drilling and High-Volume Hydraulic Fracturing in the Marcellus Shale and Other Low-Permeability Gas Reservoirs, when I stumbled on a clear description of how "taking" works in New York State.

The numbered steps sound promising for those claiming that "taking" has happened to them - and then "lost all but a bare residue of value" knocks down practically every possible case in these situations.

Definition and Determination of "Taking"

To determine whether a mineral rights owner can be awarded just compensation for a taking of mineral property, the legitimate public interest served by environmental land use restrictions must be balanced against the equally legitimate property rights of the mineral rights owner. The New York Court of Appeals has interpreted this balance to mean that a taking has occurred only if the property is rendered unsuitable for any reasonable income-producing or private use for which it is adapted, and thus its economic value, or all but a bare residue of its value, is destroyed.

To establish that a "taking" has occurred, the minerals owner must do the following:

  1. present evidence of the monetary value of the property under the current and proposed permitted use,
  2. show that the permit has been applied for and denied,
  3. demonstrate that the effect of the denial is to prevent economically viable use of the land, and
  4. show that the mineral rights were obtained prior to the regulations that limit the property --

The courts will entertain the taking issue only if the minerals owner presents "dollars and cents" evidence that the property has lost all but a bare residue of its value and that all avenues of administrative remedy have been exhausted. The minerals owner must also demonstrate to the court that the prohibited use would not have a negative or conflict-creating effect on the protected land.


... Even if a permit to drill a well was denied, and the operator could not recover the minerals from the property, the owner would have to demonstrate that the land was rendered unsuitable for any purpose.

(1992 FGEIS 23, 24, emphasis added)

I suspect that "lost all but a bare residue of its value" issue is why both the lawsuits against both Dryden and Middlefield only seek to have zoning prohibitions lifted. Even in the Middlefield case, which is a landowner suing rather than a gas company, they simply aren't going to be able to prove that the existing dairy farm use only qualifies as "a bare residue."

In short, unless there's a massive reversal of long-held policy, this piece from the DEC suggests that we don't need to lose too much sleep over claims that takings lawsuits will bankrupt the Town.

Posted by simon at 4:32 PM Comment

Southworth House plans developing

This looks exciting:

A piece of Dryden history is set to become part of the town's future when the Dryden Town Historical Society takes full ownership of the historic Southworth homestead on North Street in February.

The historical society, given the house by a descendant of its namesake, plans to occupy the house the following month and hopes to open it for an event in the spring, said Gina Prentiss, a board member and one of the organization's founders...

The house will be an interesting museum with a steady rotation of exhibits, and the property will be a venue for outdoor events, Jacobson said.

It's an amazing house, with much of its original feel, and I'm really looking forward to seeing more happen there. They'll be starting fundraising formally in the spring, but if you want to drop them a check this year, they're at:

Dryden Town Historical Society
36 West Main Street
P.O. Box 69
Dryden, NY 13053

As always, Dryden Town Talk is packed with news from Eagle Scouts to dances to pancake breakfasts.

The dog who had a massive marijuana overdose in Ellis Hollow is back to normal.

Also, note that in the new year, amber lights like those on tow trucks get the same legal respect as emergency vehicles on the side of the road.

Posted by simon at 4:59 PM Comment

Elm Tree Inn for sale

It's just across the Groton line in McLean. Anyone want to buy the Elm Tree Inn?

Posted by simon at 8:18 PM Comment

December 30, 2011

David Makar's parting thanks

Retiring Town Councilman David Makar offers thanks to Dryden, and talks about the many good things that happened in the last five years.

Posted by simon at 10:38 AM Comment

Tompkins County Community Impact Assessment for drilling

I've written earlier about some Tompkins County Council of Governments projections on what hydrofracking would bring to Dryden, but that was kind of the appetizers for the larger meal that's the larger Community Impact Assessment. The full assessment is 130 pages of detailed information on how much drilling there could be and what it might bring (15.5MB PDF). There's also an Executive Summary (1.8MB PDF).

It may not seem like the most fun holiday reading, but it certainly sets the stage for much of the conversation to come in 2012 and beyond.

Posted by simon at 8:16 PM Comment

December 31, 2011

Changing gears

I've spent the last eight or so years writing this blog and getting involved in Dryden politics. I've run for offfice, chaired a party committee, and participated in many conversations.

I've learned a lot about Dryden's history, people, and neighborhoods. I've also watched people argue for a wide variety of contradictory proposals that they said they were doing because they valued history, people, and neighborhoods.

After all of this, I've concluded a few things:

  • Local political life is indeed much more interesting (and diverse) than the supposed "higher levels" of government.

  • People happily choose their own sets of 'facts', don't like to have those 'facts' challenged, and sometimes complicate things further by refusing to share their 'facts'.

  • "Listening" in political conversation usually means "I'm hearing you and can tell you what you said" rather than "I'm willing to change what I think based on what you think". People's opinions can and do change, often very slowly, but marshalling facts against strongly-held bad ideas rarely accomplishes much.

  • I'm fairly tired and have less time to share. That's largely thanks to having toddlers, of course!

All of this tells me that it's time to change what I've been doing. In this case, it means refocusing on two things:

Even more local emphasis

I still plan to stay involved in "Greater Dryden" conversations, but I joined the Varna Community Association board this month. I'll also be focusing more on the stretch of 366 where I live and the adjacent 13/366 overlap, as well as what I can do at my own house.

Data collection and analysis

Many conversations, especially those around traffic and other environmental impacts, would benefit from data that our governments just barely collect. Even when information is available (like census data), it often comes as either a flood or a trickle.

Right now, the most obvious place to see this in action is my weather station, which needs a more readable page and some additional tinkering - but is exactly minute-by-minute reporting of data regarding hyperlocal conditions.

I'd like to add a few things down by the road, like a weathercam so people can see road conditions before they leave the house. Ideally, I'd like to be able to do something like this daily report on traffic, though unfortunately that seems to have broken. I'd love to do similar things for air quality and radiation tracking, and make these kinds of tools available cheaply to a lot more people than the current primarily government market. (Safecast is a big inspiration here.)

There will be a lot more to come, and this blog probably won't change instantly, but that's a rough look behind and ahead.

Posted by simon at 7:47 AM Comment