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Tuned Out, Turned Off, Unplugged

Citizens fear that a proposed law may shut the public out of the power-plant siting process

Anne Ball knows how much time and effort it takes to fight a power-plant company trying to move into your neighborhood. For the past three years, Ball and her husband have been spending their spare time attending meetings, writing letters, visiting with politicians and shuffling through piles of paperwork to find some way to stop Glenville Energy Park power plant from building a new facility just 200 feet away from their home.

“We did not buy our beautiful riverside home as a starter home,” said Ball, who lives along the Mohawk River in Scotia. “We bought it with the intent of living out our lives here and passing it on to our children.”

But if the GEP plant moves into the lot across from Ball, her family’s plans for the future are sure to change.

Which is why Ball is outraged by a power-plant siting law that will amend Article X, the Public Service Law that regulates all power-plant proposals in New York state. The bill, she said, would make it easier for power plants to come into a community and build new facilities.

The industry-backed version of the state’s power-plant law seeks to shorten the review process for a siting application from 12 months to eight. And, if a power plant wants to build a facility on a brownfield or an existing former industrial site, that review process would be shortened to six months.

“This will make it harder for people and municipalities to organize and fight against an application,” said Ball. “As it stands now, it takes at least three to six months for a municipality to familiarize themselves with the process and to contract the necessary consultants before they can even begin to review an application.”

Article X is scheduled to expire on January 1, 2003. For years critics of the law, which was first introduced in 1992 and then revised in 1998, argued that Article X unfairly benefits corporations by overriding local zoning laws and leaving communities with very little time to participate in the review process. The original law required a 24-month review process for all siting applications; in 1998, that time frame was shortened to one year.

Assemblyman Paul Tonko (D-Amsterdam) currently sponsors two bills that are being put before the Assembly Energy Committee: an industry-backed bill, and another version backed by environmental groups.

“The idea is to put both bills in just to start the discussion,” said John Howard, chief of staff for Tonko. “The industry wants this and the advocacy groups want that. Where the ultimate law comes out will clearly be somewhere in-between those two extremes. There has been no bill passed, and certainly no bill has been agreed upon, so we are a long way away from seeing this thing becoming law.”

But for Ball, who favors the environmental bill, there is no time to waste. In fact, her concerns that the industry-friendly bill could become law were heightened last week when the Senate Energy Committee endorsed the industry-backed version.

Gavin Donohue, executive director of the Independent Power Producers of New York, said that New York state needs to have at least 7,100 megawatts of power by 2005 to avoid blackouts like those that happened in California last year. Unless New York works to entice power companies to come here and build new facilities, he said, power companies will take their business to other states, where the laws are less stringent and the application process is shorter.

“We are trying to put incentives in the bill so that we can keep the lights on in New York state,” said Donohue. “We could all differ on what the appropriate time frame here in New York state should be. . . . but I don’t buy that argument that the public is shut out of the application process.”

Donohue said that prior to submitting an application, many power companies go into communities to educate the public about the possible effects, good and bad, that a power plant could have on an area.

“Most companies will not want to go through the process to get an application completed and then wait to see what the public’s reaction is going to be,” said Donohue. “They will want to see up front who supports it and give people a chance to voice their concerns.”

This makes the application period go much more smoothly, he said.

But for Ball, the six- to eight-month application process is just not enough time for the public to review a siting application once it is submitted.

“It puts anybody that is opposing a power plant at a huge disadvantage,” said Ball. “They then have half the time to go through these volumes and volumes of information, and half the time to have their own studies done and to hire experts like lawyers or environmentalists.”

—Nancy Guerin

Something in the air: (l-r) Arbor Hill Environmental Justice’s Rodney Davis, Beverly Padgett and Aaron Mair. Photo by Teri Currie

Indecent Exposure

Neighborhood residents wonder if strange health symptoms are a result of asbestos released during demolition of Arbor Hill Community Center

When Helen Black started noticing large amounts of dust particles building up in her home in Arbor Hill, she first thought it was the result of renovations she had done earlier that year. When her eyes and nose became constantly irritated and she began having frequent headaches, she thought that perhaps it was an allergic reaction to something in the air.

It wasn’t until other people in her neighborhood started speaking up at the weekly Arbor Hill Environmental Justice meetings, saying that they too were experiencing similar symptoms and were worried that they had been exposed to asbestos, that Black became concerned for her health.

“People were saying that their eyes were bothering them, they were having respiratory problems, rashes and headaches,” said Black. “These were some of the same symptoms that I was having. They were also describing the same green, gritty dust particles on their furniture that I had in my house.”

A number of Arbor Hill residents believe that the asbestos exposure came in June 1999, when the city of Albany tore down the old Arbor Hill Community Center to build the New Covenant Charter School. As a result, eight families have filed a notice of claim against the city for possible health and property damage.

“We started going to the Common Council meetings and voicing our concerns,” said Black. “They told us to file a notice of claim against the city if we were concerned.”

Rodney Davis, executive director of the Arbor Hill Environmental Justice Corporation, said that many residents who lived on Third Street across from the old center while the building was being taken down do not recall receiving any warning that the city was going to be removing asbestos.

“This was done in the middle of the summer when everyone had their windows open and dust flew in every direction, landing in and around all the homes,” said Davis. “To the best of our knowledge, the proper procedures were not followed, such as bringing in a HAZMAT [hazardous materials] team to make sure that the building was demolished according to federal standards.”

Joe Montana, director of housing and community development for the city of Albany, said that the city has contracted with the environmental firm Malcolm Pirnie to research what was done at the time of the demolition. He said the firm is scheduled to give a presentation at the Common Council caucus on May 15 at City Hall.

“I believe that the proper methods were followed,” said Montana. “I believe that the city did what the city was supposed to do and Malcolm Pirnie is going to address that.”

Montana questions whether the residents’ symptoms could really be a result of asbestos exposure.

“I know that it is a little bit premature,” said Montana. “I have been certified in asbestosis, and I know it takes 18 to 25 years for that to show up in somebody. So there could be exposure, but there couldn’t be any results of it at this point. It’s only been a year down the road.”

Kerri Battle, spokeswoman for Albany County Executive Michael Breslin, said that the County Health Department did receive calls from people complaining of possible exposure. An engineer, she said, was sent out to test the dust on the exterior of those homes. However, those results are not back yet.

Anne Brown, whose 65-year-old mother has lived on Third Street for 14 years, said that she is scared not just for her mother’s health, but for everyone in the area.

“It is not just my mother that I am worried about,” said Brown. “It is also all of the kids in the neighborhood who were running up and down these streets that summer. What are the long-term effects of this going to be if the short-term effect is already showing up? Are people’s eyelashes going to start falling off?”


Joe Putrock

Latex In, Leather Out

No, they weren’t hookers. Those two pleather-clad beauties you may have noticed roaming the streets around the state Capitol last week were sent to Albany by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. The women (l-r, Kayla Worden from Ashville, N.C., and Lisa Franzetta from Oakland, Calif.) were on a mission to educate passers-by about cruelty in the leather industry.

According to PETA, much of the leather sold in the United States is produced oversecas in places where animal cruelty is common: Cows used to produce leather coats, for example, endure beatings and broken bones before they are slaughtered. PETA reports that it has even documented cruelty in slaughterhouses in the United States.

The PETA dominatrices wanted to show that faux leather, vinyl and synthetic fabrics can be just as comfy and sexy as leather.

Will Waldron

Scenes From a Courthouse

The political-corruption trial in Rensselaer County continued this week, as former county attorney Dan Ehring, former county labor lawyer Brian Goldberger and, last but not least, former County Executive Henry Zwack were called to testify.

Ehring (pictured right) took the stand on Monday and denied allegations that he threateningly stuck his finger in the face of personnel employees to express his displeasure with their refusal to bend to the Zwack administration’s requests to give a physical-fitness retest to T.J. Germano, a politically connected cop. “That’s not my style,” he insisted.

After Ehring came down from the stand, however, one observer noted that during his testimony Ehring “struck people as just the kind of person who would stick his finger in a person’s face.”

Zwack (pictured, left), who took the stand Tuesday and Wednesday, denied any knowledge of or connection to the bribery, corruption and coercion alleged during the trial; Zwack, Ehring, Goldberger and several other former Zwack aides are charged with trying to rig a patronage deal for Germano in exchange for votes from his grandfather, North Greenbush Democratic boss James Germano.

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