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In perpetual peril: the Pine Bush.

photo:Doug Morse

Land Trust

Albany councilman introduces a resolution to make the mayor keep his word

Lynne Jackson stood outside Albany City Hall awkwardly fussing with a guitar amp and a microphone. “Can you hear me?” her voice squawked through the amplifier into the cold November night. The crowd of Save the Pine Bush supporters, mostly made up of residents of the Avila retirement home, let her know they could, and began to gather around her on the steps of City Hall. Then two younger faces appeared in the crowd: Common Council members-elect Corey Ellis (Ward 3) and Barbara Smith (Ward 4) made their way up the steps and stood beside her.

After answering some questions for a Fox cameraman, Jackson turned to see the latest champion of Save the Pine Bush, Ward 1 Councilman Dominick Calsolaro. “We can start now!” she announced through the tinny shrill of the amp. Calsolaro announced that he would introduce a resolution to dedicate the 60-acre, city-owned Fox Run Estate Mobile Home Park to the Albany Pine Bush Preserve. Currently, the site is split between a 20-acre mobile-home park and 40 undeveloped acres.

Calsolaro’s resolution would force the city to abide by an agreement it made in 2000 with the Department of Environmental Conservation as part of its effort to obtain a permit to expand its landfill in the Pine Bush. The city fulfilled one part of the agreement when it purchased Fox Run Estate, with the agreement of the Nature Conservancy, which had been holding options to purchase the land. But to finish its obligations, the city was supposed to immediately dedicate the undeveloped portion to the Albany Pine Bush Preserve and dedicate the mobile-home park as soon as the it could be closed.

However, for five years the city has put off the dedication. According to Calsolaro, the excuses he received from director of general services Willard Bruce are that some of the land belongs to other municipalities and that it takes time to subdivide the properties. Lynne Jackson contends that any Pine Bush developer knows that subdivision is an easy process. Save the Pine Bush also claims to have contacted planners in Guilderland and Colonie, all of whom say they have not heard from the Albany city officials. “The city is in violation of its current operating permit,” insisted Jackson.

On the other hand, Mayor Jerry Jennings and Bruce have both told the Times Union that they plan to expand the landfill onto 20 acres of the land that was to be preserved.

In an e-mail to Jackson, Bruce explained that “the portion of the site now being considered for a landfill expansion, (the developed portion) was never intended to be dedicated until 2015, because it would continue to be a developed site until then. If we do get an expansion approved, it would likely provide disposal capacity to perhaps 2017.” He further explained that the landfill would be closed in 2017, “2 years difference from the originally anticipated 2015 dedication of the developed portion of the mobile home park.”

Jennings’ excuse for this move is that it seems less and less likely the city will be able to utilize the land it purchased in Coeymans for a new landfill.

Calsolaro said the city’s excuse for failing to dedicate the land, although it was bound to do so immediately, is weak. “Their argument doesn’t hold up, because I would assume that if they have to deal with other municipalities to dedicate the land they would have to do the same thing to go and use it for a landfill,” he said.

Furthermore, Calsolaro worries that by delaying the dedication city officials have put the entire city in legal jeopardy. “If, legally, we misrepresented our intentions on the permit, the city could be in trouble,” he said.

Calsolaro’s argument is bolstered by a series of letters between DEC and city officials. Both Bruce and an attorney for the city, Ruth E. Leistensnider, assured DEC officials that the dedication would take place and was being held up only by legal matters. With the revelation that the city intends to use at least 20 of those acres to expand the dump, the sincerity of its intentions are cast into doubt.

At Monday night’s Common Council meeting, which featured a rare perfect attendance of council members, Pine Bush supporters spoke in favor of Calsolaro’s resolution and warned that the Pine Bush is a unique resource that is slowly being destroyed. Calsolaro’s resolution was to be introduced at the council meeting, but there were also two resolutions dealing with developments proposed for construction in the Pine Bush that came under harsh criticism. One is an office complex proposed near the Daughters of Sarah nursing home. The other is a hotel proposed by the Theraldson Group, one of the largest hotel owners in the country.

Jackson told the council that by promoting development in the Pine Bush, they are “destroying downtown.” Craig Waltz gave a firm warning to the council: “Stop Now! What’s your honor worth? What’s your word worth? You’ve sold yours cheap at the price of a pile of trash.”

Despite the exhortations, the council voted to accept the environmental impact statement for the hotel property and voted that there was no need for an impact statement relating to the Daughters of Sarah property. Calsolaro’s resolution was introduced and will be voted on at a later date.

Despite the fact that two developments in the Pine Bush were brought closer to reality at this meeting, Save the Pine Bush is gaining more support on the council, and not only for environmental reasons. When asked how and why he became involved in supporting the Pine Bush, Ellis replied, “I was asked by a number of constituents about how I stood on the Pine Bush. What struck me is it’s more than an environmental issue. It was a promise made, and any elected official should keep their word.”

—David King

dking@metroland.net


What a Week

Depends Who’s Counting

Administration officials can’t seem to agree on whether the U.S. military fell short of its recruiting goals this year. A report issued last week by the Government Accountability Office showed the various branches filling only a third of their specialist positions, which include bomb defusers and intelligence agents, and indicated that many of the shortfalls have been masked by overfilling other positions—in some cases, offering enlistment bonuses to overfilled jobs to meet recruitment goals. David S.C. Chu, undersecretary for personnel and readiness, replied that military recruiting goals are simply guideposts, and that the “dynamic nature” of America’s occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan makes such goals flexible.

Closer to the Truth

Last weekend (Nov.19-20) School of the Americas Watch held its 16th annual protest at the Ft. Benning, Ga., school that has long trained Latin American militaries in “counterinsurgency” techniques, which opponents claim has included torture and kidnapping. On Monday (Nov. 21), The New York Times reported that new details of the activities of some of the school’s graduates may soon surface. Recently discovered moldering in a munitions depot, a century’s worth of records kept by the Guatemalan National Police include details of kidnapping of children from suspected “guerrillas,” arrests simply for being “Communist,” and whole filing cabinets on those “disappeared.” The Guatemalan government is nervous, but so far has committed to making the archives available.

Mistakes Happen . . . Over and Over

The Daily Mirror in Britain has reported that President Bush was talked out of bombing Arab cable news service Al-Jazeera by British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Although the White House dismissed the charges as outlandish, the British government has charged two civil-service agents for leaking a memo that details the conversation between Bush and Blair. Former British defense secretary Peter Kilfoyle called for the document to be made public and said it “raises questions about subsequent attacks that took place on the press.” Al-Jazeera offices have been hit by U.S. missiles and bombs several times, but these attacks have been labeled “mistakes.”




Who Can Complain?

Citizens’ Police Review Board takes a hard look at the definition of “complainant”

‘When it comes to the let-ter of the law regarding complaints about the city’s police force, a complaint is defined . . . but there’s no definition for who can be a complainant,” said Barbara Gaige, chair of the Albany Citizens’ Police Review Board, at a recent meeting of the city’s Public Safety Committee.

That may all change, however, when members of a task force appointed by the board report back next month about whom they believe should be allowed—and who should be barred—from filing complaints against the city’s police.

“Could someone who just thought there was an error on the part of the police file a complaint or does it have to be someone who was either involved in the incident or whose life was put in jeopardy by the things that happened there?” said Gaige of the sort of questions the five-person task force is charged with exploring.

According to Gaige, the question of who is legally allowed to file a complaint has come up due to several complaints filed in recent years by individuals—and, in one case, by a group of individuals—who weren’t directly involved in the incidents in which alleged violations occurred. That group, the Coalition for Accountable Police and Government, submitted a list of concerns to the review board regarding events that occurred over the last few years involving the police department.

“There are some members of the board who feel that anyone should be allowed to file a complaint—whether they observed a situation or were directly involved in it,” said Gaige. “But the question has come up about whether the coalition is a proper complainant even though they weren’t involved in any of the events on the list they submitted.”

Gaige said the task force will look into what other municipalities around the nation have done, if anything, to address such concerns.

While Gaige presented the task force’s mission as a quest to build a legal foundation under the complaint system, city representatives offered a different take on the need for such a definition.

“We have problems with certain members of the city that, quite frankly, sit home and make complaints,” said Patrick Jordan, assistant corporation counsel for the city, during the same committee meeting.

Gaige said she’s heard this concern—that it was too easy for people to file complaints—brought up during past meetings of the review board.

“One of the things said [during meetings] was that, as the laws stands now, we could have 95,000 people sitting home and watching the television news and they could all file complaints,” she explained.

However, she added, the board’s history of complaints thus far has shown little cause for concern about such a scenario.

“We’ve had one complaint by someone who observed an incident, we’ve had Dr. [Alice] Green’s complaint about the New Year’s Eve [accidental shooting of bystander David Scaringe] incident, and we’ve had a list of complaints submitted by the coalition,” she said. “Those are the only complaints we’ve received that have not been from a person immediately involved in a situation.”

While Gaige said the board is approaching the idea of limiting complainants cautiously, she argued that there are certain situations in which such limits might benefit both the police and the individual who is directly involved with the event.

“If I observe a situation and decide to file a complaint, am I violating the privacy of the individual who’s involved in that situation with the police?” she asked. “Maybe that person doesn’t want a complaint filed or has a different perspective on the actions of the police.”

Detective James Miller, spokesman for the Albany Police Department, offered a similar rationale for defining who can—and can’t—file a complaint. According to Miller, resolution of complaints often relies upon getting the individuals directly involved in the situation to provide their perspectives on what occurred.

“If someone saw something wrong happen, we want to look into it,” he said, “but a lot of the time, when you want to resolve an issue, you do actually need a victim—a directly involved complainant—to talk to.”

—Rick Marshall

rmarshall@metroland.net


Overheard

Overheard:

“Delaware Avenue’s haunted.”

“Delaware Avenue?”

“Yeah. Something bad happened there.”

—CDTA Route 18 bus, in the midst of a discussion of haunted houses.

 

Overheard:“Question his manhood.”

—Ralph Nader, at a press conference Tuesday supporting Alice Green, in response to a question about how Green could convince Mayor Jerry Jennings to participate in a debate.



Loose Ends

Saratoga Springs mayoral candidate Valerie Keehn had her slim victory [“Election Round-Up,” Newsfront, Nov.10] confirmed after absentee ballots were counted. Keehn’s victory was the narrowest among her fellow Democrats who swept Saratoga elections. . . . On Thursday (Nov. 17), the state’s Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s decision to bar All Star Wine and Spirits owner Craig Allen from suing wholesaler Service-Universal Distributors over incentives the company offered to certain retailers [“What If I Throw in a Few Drinks?” Newsfront, Nov. 17]. In the decision, the court cited the State Liquor Authority’s unwillingness to take a position on whether such practices were legal as a deciding factor. Allen described the decision as “disgusting,” but has yet to decide whether he’ll take his lawsuit to the Court of Appeals. . . . The Town of Sand Lake recently approved Right to Farm legislation that many local farmers have been pushing for [“Agriculture Wars,” Sept. 15] as protection against encroaching development.



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