March 10, 2015

Family Fun in Varna, March 14th

Family Fun in Varna

Saturday, March 14

We're raising funds for the new Varna playground!

  • 2pm - Kid-friendly music by Angie Beeler (Music and Motion)

  • 3pm - What's a community-built playground?? Refreshments, too!

  • 4pm - Classic rock songs you know you love from the band Encore

Everyone welcome! Suggested $10 donation per adult, children free. Donations above $10 will be matched by anonymous donors. Donations are tax-deductible and will help make the new Varna playground a very special place.

Varna Community Center, 943 Dryden Road (NY Route 366)

Posted by simon at 12:54 PM in

February 14, 2015

Etna Community Center schedule, 2015

Alas, the first of their events - the always amazing Etna Chocolate Festival - just passed, but here's a list of more fun to come from The Volcano newsletter:

  • Easter Egg Hunt - Sunday, April 5th, 1:00pm

  • Soup & Salad Supper - Wednesday, April 15th, 5:30pm-7:00pm

  • Annual Meeting - Tuesday, May 5th, 6:30pm

  • Ice Cream Social - Thursday, June 11th, 6:30pm-8:00pm

  • Ice Cream Social - Thursday, July 9th, 6:30pm-8:00pm

  • Yard Sale - Saturday, September 5th, 9:00am

Posted by simon at 12:24 PM in

January 31, 2015

NYSEG/Iberdrola loses the thread

Wow. I hadn't been to a Town Board meeting in over a year, and Thursday night I returned somehow to a meeting that left me wondering if a former pillar of the Town's economy has completely and utterly lost contact with the place and maybe with a lot more.

NYSEG wants to build a gas line from the Village of Freeville to Lansing, along Route 38 and West Dryden and Farrell Roads. This is a pretty good summary from last summer of the proposal. NYSEG seems to call it the Lansing-Freeville Reinforcement Project.

The line that NYSEG wants to lay has a few interesting features:

  • It's a 10" steel pipe that structurally could carry about 20 times the amount of gas they want to regulate it for.

  • Even at that rating - the 124psi maximum rating for a distribution line - the pipe can carry 700,000 cubic feet per hour. The average residence uses 7. This pipe could carry enough gas for almost every Tompkins County resident. (The Cornell power plant has its own separate transmission line.)

  • NYSEG has let the pressure in their local network drift down to below 50% of maximum pressure. They like to run at about 70%. A little less than half of this line's capacity will bring that pressure up to above 70%, and rest allows expansion.

  • The line might bring some residents on West Dryden road natural gas service, but only those who live within 100 feet will get a free installation.

The easement that NYSEG wants to use:

  • Pays property owners a generous $1 for letting the line go through.

  • Is for transmission or distribution - and NYSEG acknowledged that they could run a larger pipe through the same space.

  • Leaves liability with property owners.

  • Is kinda sorta negotiable, though apparently not on the parts that actually bother people. NYSEG would rather not say anything about any details on that front ever.

I don't think NYSEG helped themselves much at the Town Board meeting.

NYSEG building
NYSEG/Iberdrola's Dryden brain - hint: the management building is empty..

The NYSEG building still looms over Dryden, but they don't seem to know anything about the place any more. I'd have guessed someone would have noticed Dryden's battles with frackers and series of court victories. Someone might have voted in or read about the elections that created and held a board that supported that long campaign. Perhaps it's too much to hope that they might have noticed Dryden's powerful combination of activists and residents eager to defend Dryden. Anyway...

The meeting kicked off with Citizen's Privilege before a full room. Town Supervisor Mary Ann Sumner asked speakers to constrain themselves to three minutes. Most of the comments were about the proposed gas line, most from town residents, esepcially people who live on its route, and are opposed. (Jim Skaley and I encouraged the Board to hire a planner to fill the gap left by two departures in the planning department.) Tony Ingraffea gave the board specific questions to ask about the pipe being used for the project, while David Bravo-Cullen asked the board to ask NYSEG about the tax contribution the pipeline would make to the town. (That question, alas, was forgotten.)

Next up was NYSEG - Community Relations Manager Bob Pass, Project Manager Dave Bovee, and Jennifer Negus from their Real Estate division. NYSEG presented to the board, not the public, though members of the crowd (70 or so?) expressed their opinions periodically, and the board called up Tony Ingraffea near the end of the session to answer some questions about NYSEG's answers.

Bob Pass handed out a sheet with "Information on how we design, install, operate, and Maintain Natural Gas Systems". It had a link to http://www.dos.ny.gov/info/nycrr.html, with directions to view the unofficial NYCRR, and track down Title 16, Chapter III, Subchapter C, Part 255. Following the directions takes you to here, which isn't especially readable.

Jennifer Negus awkwardly stonewalled all questions about the easement agreements, proclaiming repeatedly that negotiations were only to be between NYSEG and individual landowners and secret until complete. Somehow that was supposed to be a triumph for individual liberty when it was painfully clear that it's just a divide-and-conquer strategy. Insisting that "it's a distribution easement" when samples provided by residents plainly said "transmission or distribution" didn't help Negus either. (Especially when the answer on "what in this easement would keep you from replacing this with a transmission line?" was "Nothing.")

The board was, um, deeply unsympathetic, with Linda Lavine reminding her that "God didn't write that template" and suggesting repeatedly that NYSEG might get further in these negotiations if they didn't start from the extreme position they seem to take for granted. Residents and the board challenged NYSEG's negotiating tactics, but got pretty much no useful response.

Dave Bovee did a much better job answering questions, sharing facts even when they made Bob Pass grimace. His data about the pipeline - run through Tony Ingraffea, who the board had speak briefly during the NYSEG presentation - yielded the information above. He offered details about the pipes, the connection to Dominion's pipeline in the Village of Freeville, and how the system would respond overall.

My one doubt about Bovee's testimony is his faith that line pressure limits, once set, will never change. Yes, there are physical and government regulators involved, but both of those can change over time. While yes, it would cost money to change the physical regulators, and it might cost money to change the government regulators, neither is genuinely etched in stone. This pipeline, if built, should be around for a long long time, and given how overbuilt it is, it's not as hard for me to imagine regulators eventually allowing higher pressure in it than it is for Bovee to imagine the same.

So where next?

After almost everyone had left, the Board explored its legal options and asked Town Attorney Mahlon Perkins and Code Enforcement Officer David Sprout to prepare opinions based on the zoning and franchise agreement.

I hope NYSEG listened enough to recognize that their current strategy isn't working very well. Their approach and choices have made many residents skeptical or hostile in a town that's already defeated the gas industry once. I fear that they will change their strategy to eminent domain, which they acknowledged was possible, rather than listening and adjusting.

You can see the Ithaca Journal's report on the meeting or WHCU's report.

Posted by simon at 8:41 AM in

January 30, 2015

Might Assemblywoman Lifton be vulnerable to a 2016 primary?

Ten days ago, my answer to that was no. Today...

A week after Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's arrest for multiple federal felony corruption charges, 23 Democratic Assembly members did something unprecedented in recent memory. They formed a reform caucus, and asked new candidates for Speaker basic questions about the structure of the Assembly to come:

For example, should Members know how decisions are made inside of conference? ....

Should staff allocation information be distributed openly?

How can members have a greater opportunity to weigh in on policy and budget decisions before legislative negotiations?

How can we encourage a real and robust debate in committee meetings and on the floor?

Should Members have the ability to get bills voted on in committee and on the floor if there is broad support among colleagues?

Barbara Lifton's name is not on the letter. Perhaps she will sign on later?

Lifton's district, though, pretty much screamed reform in September, when Zephyr Teachout thrashed Governor Cuomo 3464-1415 in Tompkins County, the bulk of her district, and 444-304 in Cortland County, of which Lifton represent a part.

To put it another way, Teachout got more votes in a Governor's race with low turnout than Lifton got in Tompkins County in the 2002 primary that began her legislative career: 3340. Lifton's total for both counties is higher, but I don't have town data to compare for Cortland. However, her margins in Cortland County have been reliably lower than those in Tompkins County, and numbers this close are not comforting in any event.

The other complicating factor is that Sheldon Silver's campaign committees stood as a bastion against reform challengers, able to send out money to help those Silver thought would help him. It's not clear what will happen to those committees and their funds at this point.

State Democratic primaries haven't brought a lot of voters to the polls for a long time. Perhaps, given real choices, they might again someday.

Perhaps this will all be forgotten by 2016. Or perhaps it won't.

Update: More on the reform caucus here, and we may get to have similar conversations about Senate Republicans soon.

Posted by simon at 7:55 AM in

December 17, 2014

Thank you, Dryden

From earlier today:

12:11 p.m.: DEC Commissioner Joe Martens reveals local fracking bans a "legal game changer."....

12:30 p.m.: [DOH Commissioner] Zucker says he wouldn't live in a community that allows fracking.

12:33 p.m.: State DEC has banned hydraulic fracturing

Local politics can make a huge difference, even in - perhaps especially in - battles that seemed hopeless. The Town of Dryden's passing a drilling ban and persevering in its defense wasn't the only thing that led to today's decision, but it was a critical component of the story.

You can make a difference.

(More here and here.)

Posted by simon at 4:47 PM in

November 25, 2014

Free Thanksgiving dinner in Varna

The Varna Community Association will be putting on a free Thanksgiving dinner this Thursday, November 27th from noon to 3:00pm at the Varna Community Center, 943 Dryden Road (Route 366). Come enjoy the turkey and much more!

Thanks also to the Town of Dryden for supporting this with a grant.

Posted by simon at 8:27 PM in

November 4, 2014

Vote

Polls will be open in Dryden today from 6:00am to 9:00pm.


Current election district boundaries in the Town of Dryden.

Once you figure out what district you're in, you can figure out your polling place:

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

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

Most of all, vote!

Posted by simon at 6:00 AM in

November 3, 2014

Martha Robertson for Congress

Want to make up your own mind? Here's the debate.


This is one of the easiest endorsements I've ever made.

Martha Robertson has impressed me since she first came to my door to ask for my vote in her first run for County Legislature. We don't always agree, but when I ask questions she either has a thought-out answer or takes the time to find one.

I'm jealous of her energy. She's about the hardest worker I've encountered in politics. She reaches out on a regular basis, she takes advice well, and she's good at finding common points among people from very different backgrounds. I hadn't realized she was a kindergarten teacher, which I take to be a good thing. She's learned lessons from that but doesn't talk to people like they're five.

She's been able to tell the difference between her own views and those of the people of her district a number of times, and built bridges the people in her district and the people inside government. That's been especially helpful on Varna-related issues, but I've also found it important on highway issues and the lightning rod of fracking.

She's worked with every level of government, from town through county to state and federal. She's worked with Republicans, including Chemung County Republicans, through the Association of Counties, and fought together with them to make Albany take a saner approach to Medicaid.

I knew Tom Reed growing up, and nothing he's ever done has made me think he should be a Congressman. We share a hometown of Corning, but little else. His politics irritate me, and his campaign strikes wrong note after wrong note. His constant contempt for Tompkins County, where I now live, makes me embarrassed that we share a hometown.

As much as I talk about Upstate New York, my heart is in the Southern Tier and the Finger Lakes. Robertson will make sure we still have a Southern Tier and a Finger Lakes to love, with jobs that last longer than a gas boom and at less risk of being exported. It's an easy choice for me.

Posted by simon at 7:27 PM in

Howie Hawkins for Governor

I finally saw a Cuomo sign this weekend, in Freeville. Someone is cheering for the Governor, but finding strong Cuomo fans is surprisingly difficult.

Here's how I read this year's ballot for Governor:

  • Astorino (Republican / Conservative / Stop Common Core) - GOP for real, forever

  • Cuomo (Democratic / Independence / Women's Equality ) - GOP-lite, bent on controlling everything

  • Cuomo (Working Families Party) - GOP-lite but desperately hoping that he'll be nice or something and that the Working Families Party will get the 50,000 votes they need to keep their ballot line despite endorsing someone out to destroy them.

  • Hawkins (G) - Wow! Someone with ideas about how New York should be different!

  • McDermott (Libertarian) - Well, I can't see libertarians voting for anyone else here.

  • Cohn (Sapient Party) - Their principles are an odd mix of "sounds great" and "what does that mean?"

I'm happy to support Howie Hawkins. As a Syracuse resident, he'd break the curse of Nathan Miller, our last Governor from Upstate (1921-22). He's a Teamsters member loading trucks for UPS, and he would push New York away from the continuing capture by New York City financial and real estate interests that is drowning our politics in empty advertising. There's a lot more in this introduction.

Isn't a vote for Hawkins a protest vote? Isn't Cuomo guaranteed to win?

Does it matter? I don't mind lost causes at all, though. Sometimes they're the best causes. And sometimes they even yield pleasant surprises, especially in the long run.

Posted by simon at 6:58 PM in

Those Pesky Proposals

Another year, another set of constitutional amendments on the New York State ballot. We don't go as far as some states, but occasionally it gets interesting.

This year's Proposal 1 is the "fake independent redistricting reform" option. It's basically the same terrible broken system we have today with a little bit of window-dressing and a fallback to the usual corruption. Please vote against it. Or listen to Kathy Zahler or Mike Lane's gentler tellings.

Proposal 2 makes me sad, because the temperature of the freshly-copied legal papers hitting legislators' desks combined with the lateness of their arrival is a historically important indicator of how broken last-minute legislation will be. I'll probably vote no, but Kathy Zahler's take on why to vote yes is a saner approach.

Proposal 3 is also a bad idea. Technology is magical, and needs no maintenance right? So let's go into debt and it'll all be fine even if the debts last longer than the tools. Er, no. Again, Kathy Zahler has the right idea.

Posted by simon at 5:06 PM in

October 31, 2014

Death, Hell, or Canada - rides again November 8th

I'll be giving an expanded version of my talk on the Battle of Queenston Heights at the History Center in downtown Ithaca, on Saturday, November 8th from 3:00pm to 5:00pm.

History Center talk poster.
Death, Hell, Or Canada: Dryden and the War of 1812.

This time around, I have more information about soldiers from elsewhere in Tompkins County, notably Lansing and Trumansburg, thanks to Carol Kammen and a few town historians. I have more about the comparisons between the armies, and I'll be including more about the Canadian perspective on the battle.

I started from this chapter in George Goodrich's Centennial History of Dryden, which made clear that Dryden militia had fought at the Battle of Queenston Heights, and been killed (one), injured (at least one), or captured (everyone who crossed).

I'll talk about the many ways in which war was different then, and focus on the challenges of a largely militia attack across the Niagara River.

Redcoats firing a musket volley.
Redcoats firing a musket volley.

Somehow, most Americans have forgotten about the War of 1812. Canadians seem to have put a lot more effort into remembering.

Brock cenotaph and monument.
Cenotaph and monument for the fallen General Brock.

I've also posted sets of photos I took while doing research for this:

Obviously, I won't be showing all of those pictures!

Posted by simon at 7:32 AM in

October 10, 2014

Snakes, Pancakes, and Demolition at Varna

The next two weeks at the Varna Community Center, 943 Dryden Road, will be pretty exciting:

  • On Saturday, October 11th, from 2:00pm to 5:00pm, the Cornell Herpetological Society will be showing and discussing reptiles and amphibians. My kids loved this last year!

  • On Sunday, October 12th, from 8:00am to noon, we'll be serving our Pancake (and French Toast and Waffle) Breakfast. We also have bacon, sausage, potatoes, scrambled eggs, fruit, cake, orange juice, and of course coffee. It's $7.50 for adults, $7 for seniors, and $5 for kids 5-12.

  • On Saturday, October 25th, we'll be tearing down the old playground behind the Community Center to get ready to install a new one next year:

Varna 's Playground: Down With the Old, Up With the New

Varna residents and friends will gather on Saturday October 25 at 9am to take down the existing play structures behind the Varna Community Center, 943 Dryden Rd. (NYS Rte. 366). Although kids have spent many happy hours on the old equipment, safety concerns mean it is time to take it down.

Next spring, volunteers will come together again to put up new, safe play equipment that will satisfy all the climbing, swinging, balancing and exploring desires of Varna's youngsters and their friends.

United Way of Tompkins County, Jim Ray Homes, and The Strebel Planning Group have contributed major gifts toward the project. Individual donations have also been received, but we are still $8000 short of the amount needed to purchase new equipment and establish a fund for ongoing maintenance. Tax-deductible donations in any amount will be much appreciated. Send to:

Varna Community Association
P.O. Box 4771
Ithaca NY 14852-4771

Please put "playground" on the memo line of your check. Volunteers to help take down the existing playground are also needed. Many hands will make the work go fast, so consider joining this worthy effort on October 25th. Children are welcome, but must be under a parent's supervision at all times. Snacks will be available for volunteers. Have questions? Contact: Sue Heath (607-272-8919).

Posted by simon at 7:57 AM in

October 8, 2014

Dominion wants to expand natural gas pipeline capacity

Energy company Dominion wants to push more natural gas through the pipeline that crossed Dryden in the 1960s. The E. M. Borger station on Ellis Hollow Creek Road is the most visible (and sometimes loudest) local piece of the pipeline system.

In a NOTICE OF INTENT TO PREPARE AN ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT FOR THE PROPOSED NEW MARKET PROJECT, REQUEST FOR COMMENTS ON ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES, AND NOTICE OF PUBLIC SCOPING MEETING (586KB PDF), Dominion describes the project as:

Specifically, the New Market Project would consist of the following proposed facilities:

  • construction of the new Horseheads CS in Chemung County;
  • installation of gas coolers and filter/separator at the existing Borger CS in Tompkins County;
  • construction of the new Sheds CS in Madison County;
  • installation of gas coolers and filter/separator at the existing Utica CS in Herkimer County;
  • installation of additional engine and turbine driven compressor units at the existing Brookman CS in Montgomery County; and
  • modifications to the existing West Schenectady Meter Station in Schenectady County.

The Public Scoping Meeting is tonight at the Georgetown Town Hall at 7:30pm, and the scoping period is open through the 20th for written comment. The full docket is available online as well, including the original application.

These are more excerpts from the original application.

Specifically, as described more fully herein, DTI requests Commission authorization of the "New Market Project" (Project), pursuant to which DTI will provide 112,000 dekatherms per day (Dt/d) of firm transportation service....

DTI proposes to commence construction of the Project facilities in September 2015 in order to meet an in-service date for the contracted firm transportation service on or before November 1, 2016.

Natural gas produced from the Marcellus and Utica shales in the Appalachian region of West Virginia and Ohio is expected to continue its strong and rapid growth. DTI's natural gas pipeline system is uniquely positioned to transport Appalachian production, as its pipelines traverse the areas of significant supply growth. DTI is proposing the Project in response to customer requests for incremental pipeline capacity to increase supply diversity while meeting growing market demand for natural gas. The additional firm transportation capacity for the new gas supplies will also alleviate the possibility of shortages by providing more gas to market....

DTI executed precedent agreements with both Brooklyn Union and Niagara Mohawk (hereinafter, referred to as the "Customers") for firm transportation service totaling 112,000 Dt/d....

1. Horseheads Station: DTI proposes to construct a new compressor station with a new 11,010 horsepower (hp) gas turbine/compressor package and auxiliary equipment near Horseheads, Chemung Co., NY.

2. Sheds Station: DTI proposes to construct a new compressor station with a new 10,880 hp gas turbine/compressor package and auxiliary equipment in Madison Co., NY.

3. Brookman Corners Station: DTI proposes to install a new 6,393 hp gas turbine/compressor package, two 2,370 hp reciprocating compressors, and auxiliary equipment at its existing Brookman Corners Station in Montgomery Co., NY. The compression facilities will be housed in an addition to the existing compressor building within the fenced limits of the existing station site. DTI also proposes to construct a new M&R facility at this station.

4. Borger Station: DTI proposes to modify station piping at its existing Borger Station in Tompkins Co., NY.

5. Station Coolers: DTI proposes to install station coolers at its existing Brookman Corners Station in Montgomery Co., Borger Station in Tompkins Co., and Utica Station in Herkimer Co., NY.

6. West Schenectady Metering and Regulating (M&R) Facilities: DTI proposes to modify its existing West Schenectady M&R in Schenectady Co., NY.

7. Suction and Discharge Pipeline: Pipeline facilities required for this Project are limited to approximately 1,425 feet of new 42-inch diameter suction and discharge pipelines at Horseheads Station.

...the estimated total cost for DTI's construction of the Project is $158,960,570.

NY Friends of Clean Air and Water has a reference page on the proposal as well.

Posted by simon at 6:32 AM in

September 9, 2014

Cuomo wins primary, but gets stomped in Tompkins

Tompkins County was the one place I was pretty certain Zephyr Teachout could win when she first announced she'd be challenging Governor Cuomo. I'm sure there are Cuomo fans here, but apparently not very many:

CandidateVotesPercent
Governor
Zephyr Teachout 3266 70.8%
Andrew Cuomo 1274 27.6%
Randy Credico 67 1.45%
Lieutenant Governor
Tim Wu 3034 69.17%
Kathy Hochul 1346 30.69%

Much crazier, though, are the New York Times results maps. Cuomo lost most of the Hudson Valley, and a swathe of counties through Upstate west to Ontario County. Kathy Hochul held the far west of the state for him.

I know it's a Democratic primary with a limited number of voters participating, but I never thought I'd see a map like that.

I'll update this post with final statewide numbers when they're settled.

Posted by simon at 11:08 PM in