May 1, 2013

Solarize, Wednesday at Varna Community Center

It's time for the second Dryden meeting, before the meetings shift to Caroline and Danby. You can, of course, go to any meeting to learn more, or visit the website.

Solarize Tompkins SE wants to bring many new solar photovoltaic (PV) or solar thermal (hot water) installations to Caroline, Dryden, and Danby in 2013. Working with state and county organizations, area residents, and solar energy installers, this campaign will streamline the installation process, making a Solar Energy system easy and affordable. This program is open to residences, farmers, business owners, municipalities, and institutions.

The Solarize campaign will reduce costs and technical barriers by pre-selecting qualified installers, enrolling a group of motivated customers that will enable bulk purchasing discounts, and educate our neighbors about the benefits and feasibility of solar power.

Our first workshop (last Tuesday) was a big success. We learned about the Solarize program, heard informative presentations by Rory from Solar Liberty about solar electric systems and Joe from Renovus about solar hot water systems, and we had very good conversations about going solar with our full-house of interested friends and neighbors. If you missed the first, we're having five more. You only need attend one, but you're welcome to attend as many as you'd like!

Come learn the details of the program with Solarize Tompkins SE.

Varna Community Center, 943 Dryden Road (Route 366), 7:00pm, Wednesday, May 1st.

Kick the fossil fuel habit. Go solar in 2013!

For the complete schedule of public meetings see

Solarize will have additional meetings in Caroline and Danby.

Posted by simon at 4:44 AM Comment

May 6, 2013

Appellate Division rules Dryden opinion matters

Last week, a panel of judges from the New York State Appellate Division, Third Department, ruled unanimously that Dryden can ban gas drilling through zoning. The gas companies can still appeal to New York's highest court, but because the decision was unanimously against them they have to ask permission.

The key part of this case, to me, is that the gas industry and its supporters have pushed regularly to keep decision-making as far away as possible from the people who would feel the effects of their operations. New York State might not be as eager to extract every drop as, say, Pennsylvania or Texas, but state government is (for example) far more eager to do that than many places.

What is the gas industry afraid of?

They're afraid of places like Dryden:

I went up to Albany to see the oral arguments on the appeal, and there was a moment that really summed it up for me. Judge Peters, the presiding judge, asked attorney Tom West:

Here at page 7 you state that "indeed if municipal prohibitions are allowed, no prudent speculator will ever invest because it will subject to the fickle whim of municipal officials." Are town boards fickle?

West: That was written in response to a landfill case I have where the board has flipped 3-2 over several years and several elections....

Peters: Isn't that the voters' prerogative?

West: I shouldn't have said fickle.

West and his friends are all about creating a safe long-term environment for their investments, and can't imagine that local political conversations over a safe long-term environment for localities should be allowed to interfere with that. Fortunately, the court saw through that argument.

In an age when much of New York State politics is about insulating politicians from voters, it's delightful to see a court rule that Albany hasn't claimed all the power for itself. Voters' voices matter on the local level, and have power over issues that can transform the local landscape. Towns are a key middle ground between everyone doing what they want without regard for their neighbors and centralizing decision-making in Albany.

Update: Here's a state of play article looking at the interactions between state and local government and a variety of ways they could go.

Posted by simon at 5:56 AM Comment

May 7, 2013

Mount Pleasant Road intersection dangerous

The Journal has an excellent long piece up on the dangers of rural roads. I'm not surprised to find a nearby intersection (I drove through it yesterday!) heading the list for severe accidents:

East of Cornell University's sprawl and just south of Fall Creek's meandering waters, the intersection of Mount Pleasant Road and Turkey Hill Road sits at a foot of hills extending east toward Route 38.

Varna Fire Chief Roy Rizzo and his firefighters know the country crossroads well.

He wasn't surprised to hear that the intersection -- which is just a mile and a half from the Varna Fire Station -- has seen the most severe accidents of any in the county, according to Ithaca-Tompkins Transportation Council data....

Like all the surrounding roads, Mount Pleasant Road and Turkey Hill Road hug the grades and terraces of the hills. From Route 366, Mount Pleasant Road rises steeply, crosses Turkey Hill Road between two of its curves, and keeps going up.

The curves -- which lie less than 500 feet on the north and south side of the intersection-- create blind spots for drivers, Rizzo said.

"People coming in both directions need to slow down," Rizzo advised.

In his experience, most of the accidents at this intersection don't involve local residents, Rizzo said. He feels these residents have respect for the intersection.

Sadly, Mount Pleasant's intersection with 366 isn't much better, but at least traffic is (usually) moving slower there. The 13/366 intersection to my east isn't much better, either. I wish they'd posted the list of intersections, but this is a great piece overall.

Posted by simon at 6:52 AM Comment

May 8, 2013

Hopshire Farm opening this weekend

If you've wondered what was going on in the field across from the Covenant Love Church on Route 13, wonder no more - Hopshire Farm & Brewery is opening this weekend.

Posted by simon at 7:34 AM Comment

May 9, 2013

Who pays for heavy road use?

The Town of Dryden held an informational meeting last night on a proposed Road Protection law. I went feeling uncertain about whether we actually needed a law - fracking seems distant at the moment - and came away convinced by the law's opponents that we could have used this all along.

While road failure often looks like a seasonal thing, with potholes appearing in late winter and spring, the reality is more complicated. Heavy vehicles do vastly more damage to roads than light ones, and road failures can happen quickly once a threshold is reached. The invisible tends to become visible suddenly. While towns plan their road systems around expectations of use, unexpected projects can pound those roads into expensive collapse.

Fracking has driven the road protection conversation over the last few years, including many places that eagerly want fracking but don't want to pay for the damage to their roads. These laws don't bar development, but they do make sure that developers pay for the unusual costs they incur. (Locally, DRAC has encouraged this conversation and many DRAC folks were at the meeting last night.)

Steve Sanyshyn of Delta Engineering explained the way the road protection law worked in detail. Developers - not truckers, developers - with projects that will put a substantial number of trucks in motion fill out an initial form when they get their permits. The form collects information about the number of round trips broken down by Federal Highway Administration vehicle classifications (here with pictures). It then uses those calculations, combined with a rough estimation of Equivalent Single Axle Loads (ESALs) to see if the project crosses a threshold requiring a closer look.

The suggested threshold was 50 ESALs, which allows pretty much any number of small (pickup truck and smaller) vehicles or up to 119 three-axle class 6 trucks, like dump trucks.

Projects that cross that threshold get a more detailed look. That look can include road studies, monitoring, and agreements to make sure that the developer pays repair costs, not the town.

This only applies to construction projects with a start and end date, whether building construction, fracking, or, as seemed to come up most frequently when real projects came up, large-scale fill hauling. Regular operations of school buses, fire trucks, concrete plants, gravel mines, and so on would go on as usual, because they are regular use that the Town has already planned for. Normal house construction won't come near the threshold. The road protection would only apply in cases where projects created large temporary spikes of traffic on Town roads. (Town roads are those marked in green on the official Town map.)

Bruno Schickel, Bernie Cornelius, Dennis Mix, and David Bravo-Cullen all asked a variety of questions about the intent and details of the law. Some of the questions - Bravo-Cullen's in particular - were clarifying, but a lot of it was not. Two threads in particular seemed like they were looking for any point on which to attack the law, even if it meant contradicting their other arguments:

  • Raising taxes would be terrible, but even though roads are the largest chunk of the Town budget, it would also be terrible to inflict use fees on the people making those road repairs necessary.

  • A complicated form would be dreadful, but without a complicated form you can't possibly capture what's really happening in the work.

The first argument has the unfortunate side effect of reminding me of how much of our town (and county and state) taxes go to pay for roads that would last far longer if there weren't massive trucks on them. At the town level, where gasoline taxes aren't a factor, a system originally created to make sure farmers could get from their farms to markets has grown into something else. Right now, all town taxpayers are subsidizing dump trucks pouring fill into the town for little long-term benefit, any time those trucks use town roads.

Of course, about the rudest thing possible in modern politics is pointing out to someone complaining about taxes that they're actually the beneficiary of massive subsidies, and I don't think Bernie Cornelius is fond of me at the moment.

(To take it further, the largest producer of construction fill is usually Cornell, with their Synchrotron expansion project gearing up to create many many more tons of fill. After hearing years of complaints about how Cornell doesn't pay taxes, I'm not sure Dryden taxpayers are looking forward to subsidizing Cornell's latest ventures in fill.)

Dennis Mix and Bruno Schickel pursued the complication questions, arguing both that the form was too complicated and that it didn't capture enough information. Highway engineers seem to think in ESALs, and ESALs are built deeply into the expectations for road design and maintenance, so questioning their use to simplify the initial paperwork seems strange. The other options would be massive paperwork or some kind of surveillance, and I didn't see anyone eager to encourage those.

Schickel concluded by asking that the threshold be set as high as possible, and I suspect that "what threshold?" is going to be the key question moving forward with the law. Sanyshyn suggested 50 ESALs as normal, and mentioned a Town that thought its roads were in great shape had gone with 70.

There are other hard questions in the road protection law - projects in other municipalities or even other states that create traffic here can be difficult to track. Cooperating with other municipalities can capture a lot of that, and "have the highway crews keep an eye out" was Sanyshyn's suggestion. Enforcement on projects that aren't immediately local is going to be difficult. (I suspect that's a larger problem for county roads which tend to connect better, than for the Town roads. The county has its own road protection law.)

Hopefully road protection will protect taxpayers.

Posted by simon at 5:56 AM Comment

May 18, 2013

Open pool day at Ellis Hollow, with pig roast fundraiser

The Ellis Hollow Community Center will be busy Memorial Day weekend!

Memorial Day Weekend is just around the corner and that means so is POOL SEASON!

The pool will be open to ALL Saturday, May 25 thru Monday, May 27! Come and join us and bring friends. There will be no charge on any of these days so spread the word.

In addition to the Pool Open House the Ellis Hollow Nursery School will be having the first (of what they hope will be an annual event) Pig Roast and Music. Come and enjoy!


Come Celebrate Summer!

The Ellis Hollow Pool is free and open to all (and heated!) for the entire holiday weekend, so come swim, enjoy delicious food and music.

Picnic style, bring your own dishes!



Posted by simon at 7:15 AM Comment