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Not Your Kids’ Tractor

Historic tractors, farm equipment and other gas and steam engines were displayed in varying states of restoration at the 38th Annual Gas-Up and Old Time Equipment Show for the past two weekends, June 12-13 and June 18-19. The event was held in Gallupville and sponsored by the Hudson Mohawk chapter of the Pioneer Gas Engine Association.

photo:John Whipple

Killer or Killers?

Two similar attacks have many thinking the same guy is behind both; others aren’t so sure

The Waking Up With the Wolf morning radio show on PYX 106.5 has raised nearly $20,000 in reward money to offer for information leading to the arrest of the person responsible for the murder of Gretchen Perham on May 13 and the attack on Stephanie Quackenbush on June 9. That is assuming that’s it’s one person.

Both victims were 14-year-old girls, and were attacked with a knife on the way to or from Albany’s Hackett Middle School, probably on Myrtle Avenue. “There are too many similarities here, the school, the street, the weapon,” said Mayor Jerry Jennings. “It is a pretty good assumption we are looking at one individual here.”

The attacks have also drawn national media attention. A recent episode of America’s Most Wanted featured a reenactment of the attack on Stephanie Quackenbush. Curtis Frazier and Perry Smith, who witnessed the attack, were interviewed for the segment along with Quackenbush herself.

While Mayor Jennings and the hosts of Waking Up With the Wolf are willing to make the “leap of faith” that the incidents are connected, Perham’s mother and the Albany Police Department are not. “They haven’t made that connection at this point because they don’t have conclusive evidence, and until they do, they won’t,” said the mayor, speaking for the Albany Police.

Kim Perham, Gretchen’s mother, made it clear during the press conference to announce the reward that she doesn’t feel one person could be responsible for the horrific attack on her daughter: “I’m not a detective, but since day one when we found out about Gretchen . . . I just think it was more people than one. The reason I say that is because of what they did to her.”

At the time of the murder, the Times Union reported that Perham, who was new to the school district, was being harassed by other classmates and was regularly excused 15 minutes early so that she could avoid after-school confrontations. There has been a buzz in the community and on Capital Region blogs that Gretchen’s murder might have been gang-related.

But the head of Albany’s gang- prevention program, Ron “Cook” Barrett, thinks that’s unlikely. “I did what everyone did,” he said. “I put my feelers out, and after going through it all . . . I can honestly say I would lean away from it having to do with gangs. Usually in the small community we live in, word gets out there. Gang activity is bragatory; you know, ‘I heard this. I heard that,’ and you really haven’t gotten [that] with [these attacks], and that’s why it perplexes me.”

Before finishing the press conference, Wolf asserted that he would make sure there is a reward for information leading to the arrest of a second attacker. “If in fact it turns out to be two people,” he said, “I will raise the reward money for the second person or I will match it myself.”

—David King

dking@metroland.net


What a Week

Making an Oily Exit

Phillip Cooney, chief of staff of the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality, is headed to a position with Exxon Mobil, the world’s largest oil company. The announcement of Cooney’s departure from the White House came two days after it was revealed that he made several changes to reports on environmental climate change in 2002 and 2003—changes that downplayed scientific evidence that climate change does indeed occur. Exxon Mobil executive Lee Raymond has echoed a similar opinion, questioning the validity of climate change and, more specifically, the relationship between energy use and global warming.

The Old College Try

Arnold Schwarzenegger struggled to be heard over the shouting, catcalls and jeers during a recent commencement address he gave at his alma mater, Santa Monica State. Protestors filled the stadium at the two-year community college that Schwarzenegger attended during the ’70s. After the speech, the governor was quickly evacuated via golf cart. Much like his counterpart on the national level, Schwarzenegger dismissed the nurses, teachers and members of public-employee unions who protested his appearance as “special interests.”

Where’s Bin Laden?

“I have an excellent idea where he is. What’s the next question?” said CIA chief Porter Goss in a recent interview with Time magazine. Goss blamed Bin Laden’s elusiveness on “sanctuaries in sovereign nations.” (Huh? Sovreignity never stopped us before.) In any case, the next question on many lips has been how exactly is it that we can’t find and capture someone who is over 6’5” and reportedly needs kidney dialysis three times a week—especially if we know where he is.

Standing on Principle

According to the Times Union (June 17), one of the compromises reached in order to get New York its long-delayed Help America Vote Act money was to create co-executive directors of the Board of Elections, one Republican and one Democrat, with no salary cap on the positions. Apparently the board had been without a director since 2003 because the deputy director wouldn’t take a $13,000-a-year pay cut (from $122,581 to $108,900) to move up. Poor baby.



Overheard

 

Overheard:“Do you have burritos?”

—Middle-aged white couple to the hostess of Thai Corner restaurant in Amherst, Mass.



Edibility unknown: Brook Nichols with a sunfish at Tivoli Pond.

photo:Alicia Solsman

Catch Anything?

Arbor Hill’s Tivoli Preserve is an urban refuge, but when it comes to protecting people who fish there, the lines of responsibility are not always clear

 

‘One day, my mom, my friend and I went to a pond,” wrote Brook Nichols, a 12-year-old student at Albany’s School 19, in a class assignment he penned last fall about a trip to Albany’s Tivoli Preserve.

“We were going fishing because we thought that the fish might be contaminated,” continued the essay. They hoped to catch a fish and have it tested, he wrote, because “people in the neighborhood are eating the fish.”

And while it’s no secret among Tivoli’s regular visitors that many of the sunfish and bass populating the little lake are destined for local residents’ dinner plates, uncertainties about the inner-city preserve’s current (and future) status have some people wondering not only whether the fish are safe to eat—but whose job it is to find out.

During a recent walk around the preserve, an 80-acre plot in Albany’s Arbor Hill neighborhood, Grace Nichols, Brook’s mother, stopped to point out a small stream of orange-tinted water emerging from the ground. The stream cut a path through pink honeysuckle and wild irises as it made its way toward the lake.

“See that?” she asked. “That’s why we want to know—because I’m not sure whether that’s mud or rust, and we don’t know who to ask.”

“For the 23 years I lived here, people were always fishing in the lake and kids were always wading in the water,” remembered Aaron Mair, founder of the W. Haywood Burns Environmental Education Center, a nonprofit organization serving as Tivoli’s informal steward. When Mair and other members of an Arbor Hill neighborhood group won a 1998 lawsuit that shut down a polluting incinerator located in their community, part of the settlement funded the creation of the WHBEEC. The group made the cleanup, preservation and protection of Tivoli, one of the state’s only urban wildlife preserves, its primary mission.

“People think that low-income communities are only concerned with poverty, crime and violence, but knowledge is power when it comes to learning about resources like this,” explained Mair. “We wanted to make the preserve a living lab.”

In some ways, however, that’s exactly what the lake had already become. Industrial pollutants, along with abandoned vehicles and other garbage, had long mingled in Tivoli’s water and soil. More than 70 years ago, slaughterhouse waste occasionally turned the waters of the lake’s source, Patroon Creek, a deep red. Today Patroon Creek runs down from the site of the old National Lead facility, possibly bringing depleted uranium with it.

The city acquired the land that is now Tivoli Preserve in the mid-1800s for a drinking-water facility. Since the waterworks were decommissioned in the early 20th century, plans and cleanup efforts have come and gone, never quite bringing the land out of limbo. Proposals to create swimming and boating facilities were introduced, discussed and scrapped, as were plans to drain the lake and build a stadium in its place, with pollution a major issue for the plans. The city designated Tivoli a nature sanctuary in 1957, but since that time it has still been the subject of one discarded plan after another.

While lawmakers and community groups debated the potential uses of the park, however, nature did what it does best—it kept on growing. In addition to attracting gaggles of geese and other common waterfowl, the preserve also plays host to several species of birds rarely seen elsewhere in the region. Recently, several chipped and felled trees have appeared around a corner of the lake, indicating that a beaver now makes a home there.

“See, that just goes to show you,” said Nichols during a recent pass by the beaver’s handiwork. “If you leave a piece of land alone, nature will do its best to restore everything back to normal.”

Now, with the creation of WHBEEC, the preserve sees regular use by local schools and environmental groups, and there’s a push to have the fruits of neighborhood cleanups that began in the early 1990s protected. Mair said the next step is determining the extent of Tivoli’s contamination and making its water and soil clean again, and that could be as much a matter of legislation as it is science.

“We’ve got eight or nine years invested in the preserve, and we’re ready to go to the city,” said Mair, adding that although WHBEEC has received more than $2 million over the last decade in state and federal support for its work with Tivoli and the surrounding watershed, it still has no formal arrangement with the city regarding the preserve. The ideal arrangement, he said, would involve a public-private partnership between the city and WHBEEC that would give the park the same legal and financial attention as the city’s more official green spaces, but still allow the same level of community involvement in restoration and management as is happening now.

Mair added that although the city has been happy to provide heavy equipment, rakes and all sorts of cleanup materials to neighborhood groups and WHBEEC, without formal recognition for both the park and their stewardship of it, the process could stall.

“Our stewardship here has always been informal,” he explained.

One thing that could accompany that responsibility, said Mair, is the ability to properly notify visitors to the preserve about issues like water quality and wildlife interaction. Mair said WHBEEC has posted signs around the lake in the past, warning that Tivoli’s fish are probably not safe to eat, but the signage—along with picnic benches—often end up as fuel for bonfires. While some of these problems might be blamed on local youth, Mair said he’s often had to chase off suburban kids who weren’t able to exercise their destructive tendencies in the region’s more regulated parks. Without any authority from the city, he claimed there’s little he or anyone else from WHBEEC can do to make sure the signs go up—and stay there.

Department of General Services Commissioner Willard Bruce said that WHBEEC had encouraged the city to take a more hands-off approach toward the preserve, allowing the community that had already been managing it to continue doing so, but his department was happy to provide support—usually in the form of heavy machinery to remove junk cars, or rakes, shovels and other cleaning equipment.

“They manage it on a day-to-day basis,” explained Bruce. “We provide the kind of support they don’t have the internal resources for.”

A park plan, passed through the Common Council and supported by the mayor, would be necessary to move to the more official arrangement Mair envisions. Calls to the mayor’s office were not returned.

Until such an agreement—and funding—can be arranged, said Mair, educated guesses about the danger of eating Tivoli’s fish are all that visitors will have to go on.

“There’s certainly a need for studies,” said Ward Stone, wildlife pathologist for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, of the uncertainty surrounding Tivoli. According to Stone, the most recent data regarding the lake’s fish population is more than a decade old.

Unfortunately, said Stone, the resources for this sort of testing are stretched thin. With regional problems like chronic wasting disease occupying state attention, there is little funding—or staff—available for localized toxicology tests. Stone is currently the state’s only DEC pathologist, and he said he often hears from people “frustrated about not being able to get tests done” in their neighborhoods.

For a small park like Tivoli, receiving formal recognition from the city may help get the park the sort of government attention that expensive toxicology tests require. Then again it may not, as the responsibility for such testing doesn’t seem to fall on any one agency’s shoulders.

“There’s not really any government agency you can just call and say, ‘Hey, we’re curious about this—can you test it?’” explained Stone. “And independent contractors can cost you thousands of dollars.”

Nevertheless, Stone said he’d be willing to try to find time to test a fish or two from Tivoli—provided Brook Nichols can catch one that’s big enough. So far, the lake’s inhabitants haven’t been very cooperative in that respect.

“It looked pretty small,” wrote Brook about his only catch during last year’s fishing trip.

“We thought it was too small, so we let it go,” he continued. “We’re going to keep trying to catch fish to go test.”

—Rick Marshall

rmarshall@metroland.net


Loose Ends

Following in the footsteps of activists at UAlbany [“Don’t Ask, Don’t Recruit,” Newsfront, March 10, 2005], nearly 100 Averill Park High School students protested the presence of military recruiters on June 8, and pleaded with the school board to forbid their presence on school grounds. Last month the board changed its policy to no longer allow recruiters to pass out phamphlets and other items in the cafeteria, but they are still permitted to hand out information in other areas of the school. The students feel that banning the military would be within the provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act because they would be being treated the same as college recruiters and employers—not allowed in if they discriminate, in this case against gays.



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