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Trouble down the line: Kara Jefts and the rail line that will separate her family’s Native Farms nursery from its soon-to-be neighbor, a Homeland Security Public Safety Training Center.

photo:Alicia Solsman

Home on the Firing Range

A proposal to build a Homeland Security training center has some Glenville residents up in arms

The land her family bought for their home and farm back in 1984 wasn’t much to look at in the beginning, according to Glenville resident Barbara Jefts. Two decades later, she’s hoping the product of all her family’s hard work won’t be sacrificed in the name of homeland security.

Bordered on one side by a landfill and on another side by an active high-speed rail line, the once-wild, 13-acre plot of land now hosts the family’s secluded Native Farm nursery—a change that, said Jefts, was as much a product of her family’s efforts as Mother Nature’s.

“But, for all we know, these green hills are going to be burning buildings, race tracks and firing ranges a year from now,” said Jefts, gesturing beyond the treeline that separates her property from the bright mound of earth dotted with white methane-release vents.

What has Jefts and other nearby residents worried is the prospect of a new, $8.7 million Homeland Security Public Safety Training Center moving into the neighborhood. The 11.6-acre facility, which would include fire-fighting facilities, vehicle-training courses, a four-block cityscape and possibly an FBI firing range, is the product of a collaboration between the town and several state and local emergency service agencies, as well as the Schenectady County Community College.

“The billions of dollars Homeland Security has come up with is for training, not for bricks and mortar,” said Peter Russo, a town of Glenville councilman, of the facility’s Homeland Security banner. “Once the facility is up, we can tap into those funds.”

Although the project has been nearly five years in the making, Jefts and her neighbors say their input has never been a part of that planning process, despite the presence of about a dozen homes near the facility’s potential site. All they know, said Jefts, is that they’ll have to live with whatever the facility brings with it.

“Are we talking night-time goggles, helicopters, smoke and screeching tires here?” asked Jefts during a recent walk along the railroad tracks that separate her property from the intended site for the new facility.

According to Russo, these questions are simply the product of misconceptions about the project, and insisted that many of the concerns brought up by residents have already been addressed. He acknowledged that both the capped landfill and the Great Flats aquifer underneath sections of the site are have necessitated some changes in the initial design, including moving the live-burn building to avoid placing a heavy structure over the aquifer.

“People seem to think that there’s going to be cars skidding and screeching and going 60 miles an hour all over the facility,” laughed Russo, who said he has watched this type of police training at the Schenectady Airport. “The maximum speed is 40 miles an hour at most.”

Additionally, Russo said that only gas or straw would be burned in the firefighters’ training facility, and the environmental specialists hired by the agencies reported that very little methane is currently being released from the landfill.

“I know, I would have thought it was the reverse, too—that there would be more methane over time—but that’s what we’ve been told,” said Russo. Regarding the firing range, Russo said it had once seemed a certainty, “when the FBI announced they’d be willing to build it and pay for it,” but “that was in May, and we really haven’t heard back from them.”

Whether or not the FBI gets involved, however, Russo said he expects to break ground on the first component of the facility, the fire-training facility, next spring.

Some residents still aren’t convinced of the project’s merits.

“I wonder if it’s still going to be a necessity in 10 or 20 years, when the term ‘homeland security’ fades out of use,” said Barbara Jefts’ 23-year-old daughter, Kara, as she stares out across a plot of land speckled with wildflowers. “The land around here has healed so much, it would be a shame to see it reverting back because of some passing fad.”

For Barbara and her daughter, the most frustrating aspect of the project is not the potential for noise or interruptions. They said they’ve grown accustomed to the sound of the passing trains over time, but aren’t looking forward to the smoke or sound of gunshots and screeching tires they believe the facility will bring with it. Questions—and very few answers—about how these aspects of the facility will affect the local flora and fauna they and their neighbors have worked so hard to bring back to the region have left them feeling helpless, shrugged Barbara.

“Everyone knows you have to train people, but it seems like this sort of thing would be better suited for one of the closed military bases,” reasoned Jefts. “I don’t know how to fight this sort of thing. . . . but I’m afraid that if we don’t raise our concerns now, we won’t have a chance later on.”

A public hearing regarding the final site plan for the facility will be held in the late fall, said Russo.

—Rick Marshall

rmarshall@metroland.net


What a Week

Cold Medicine Crackdown

In a desperate attempt to stop the production of methamphetamine, many prosecutors have enacted broadly written laws to prosecute convenience store clerks who sell products that can be used in the production of the drug. These products include cold medicine and lighter fluid, and clerks are expected not to sell them if they suspect the buyer may use them to make meth. The application of these laws in Georgia has led to the arrest of 49 people, 43 of whom are of Indian descent and speak English as a second language, and who can’t understand drug-related slang like “need to finish my cook-up.”

Going Green

The New York Public Interest Research Group is hoping its new guide to buying renewable energy will get people the information they need to make the switch from standard energy sources to green energy easy. The guide, which explains how green energy factors into the regional power grid, describes the pros and cons of the primary sources of renewable energy, and provides instructions on how to make the change, can be found on the Internet at http://www.nypirg.org/ENERGY/greenenergybrochure.pdf.

Jerry’s Docs

On Aug. 12, the doctors and nurses of the Albany Family Practice wore Jennings 2005 T-shirts and visited the mayor to “wish him well” for the Sept. 13 primary. Why would busy doctors and nurses take time out of their schedules to worship a mayor who obviously pays no heed to their warnings about skin cancer? Well, you probably didn’t get the memo: The AFP declared the day “Jerry Day.”

Kill ’Em All

Capital punishment was suspended in Iraq after the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Recently, the death penalty has returned, and overzealous Iraqi judges have wasted no time putting it to use. According to Amnesty International, at least 50 death sentences have been handed out since the start of this year. Many see this as a sign that Saddam Hussein, who was allegedly ousted because of his murderous, genocidal ways, probably will be executed.



Overheard

Overheard:

"So I gave him $50 for 'cheese' from Vermont, and he brought back $50 worth of actual cheese! It was damn good cheese though."

—late night at the Old Songs Festival campground



The center of the fray: Founding Albany Civic Agenda member Paul Bray asks the city to take notice.

photo:Alicia Solsman

Give Us a Sign

The Albany Civic Agenda urges Albany to act on its charter-reform ballot initiative despite signature disqualifications by the city clerk

Last week, Albany City Clerk John Marsolais announced that the Albany Civic Agenda had not collected the required 3,000 signatures to get its charter-reform agenda on the November ballot. Marsolais found 766 out of 3,675 signatures invalid, due mostly to what he said were signers who gave addresses that did not correspond to their official addresses on record with the Board of Elections.

On Monday, nearly 40 members and supporters of the ACA’s charter-reform initiative gathered on the steps of City Hall to announce that they are reviewing the disqualified signatures in hopes of validating them. And in case their validation effort should fail, they wanted to remind the City Council that it has the authority to put the initiative on the ballot regardless of how many signatures were gathered.

ACA members and supporters held signs and chanted “Let the people vote!” Council members Shawn Morris of the 7th ward and Dominick Calsolaro of the 1st both spoke in favor of the reforms and noted that 3,000 people had spoken clearly in favor of putting the reforms on the ballot.

Members of the ACA and petition carriers expressed disappointment over what they characterized as the hypersensitive way some signatures were disqualified. According to ACA founding member Paul Bray, “A number of signatures were disqualified because they were Green Party or Working Families, as if they were looking at this as a Democratic primary vote. Their signatures count and will be validated,” he asserted.

Marsolais stands by his assessment of the petitions. He said he had not heard the accusations that signatures were disqualified due to party affiliation, and stated that “Party affiliation didn’t matter.” Marsolais added that he had help reviewing the signatures from the Albany Board of Elections and that most invalidated signatures came back marked NR, the denotation for “not registered.” However, other petition carriers claim they found pages of their petitions invalidated because dates were written not illegibly, but “too sloppily.”

Peter Caracappa, an 11th ward Common Council hopeful who supports the ACA, said he was not surprised that the signatures were given such a close review, but that it was perhaps a little too close. “Fair is fair,” he said, “but this may have been a little bit beyond fair.”

According to Bray, at least 70 of the disqualified signatures are obviously valid. He also was told by other ACA members who have looked over the signatures that another 200 to 300 also will be easily validated. Bray said that he was not surprised by the challenges to the signatures, and that he thought they might have needed a larger number to pad against scrutiny.

The Common Council’s Law, Buildings and Code Enforcement Committee will meet on Thursday to discuss whether they have the authority to move the charter-reform initiative onto the November ballot.

Addressing the Common Council on Monday during the public-comment period, Bill Washburn, a member of the Coalition for Accountable Police and Government, asserted that the council should act now to put charter reform on the November ballot. “There can be no denial or deferral.” he said. “The integrity of our city’s future is at stake. The public wants and deserves to know where you stand.”

—David King

dking@metroland.net

Loose Ends

--no loose ends this week



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