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The People, Unplugged

“I feel like they are robbing me and my family of our life savings,” said Anne Ball. “And we have no voice. There is nothing that we can do about it.”

Ball, a Scotia resident who has been fighting to stop Glenville Energy from building a power plant in her neighborhood, is outraged by a proposed power-plant siting bill that was discussed last Wednesday during a public hearing before the state Assembly Energy Committee. This law is intended to amend Article X, the Public Service Law that regulates all power-plant proposals in New York state, which is scheduled to expire on January 1, 2003. Two versions of the bill were discussed in the hearing: an industry-backed version and another backed by environmental groups.

The industry-backed version, Ball said, would make it harder for residents to prevent unwanted plant sitings in their communities. It seeks to shorten the review process for a siting application from 12 months to eight. In addition, she said, it prohibits residents from testifying to the siting board about “speculative matters,” including the impact that approval may have on adjacent property values.

“If New York state is going to build more power plants, it cannot be done by trampling on the rights of its citizens,” said Ball. “We do not deserve to be robbed of the use and value of our property while an out-of-state merchant plant developer makes millions of dollars at our expense.”

Eric Durr, spokesman for the Independent Power Producers of New York, said the idea behind the siting process is to look at the issues that can be quantified—such as environmental and health impacts that a facility could have on a neighborhood—and not matters that cannot be proven.

“We only want to deal with factual information,” said Durr. “We don’t want to get bogged down in ‘what ifs’ that could go on forever.”

He also pointed to a study put out by the New York Independent System Operator that states that New York needs at least 7,100 megawatts of new power by 2005 to avoid blackouts like those that happened in California last year. Unless New York works to entice power companies to 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.

Article X is expected to go up for a vote before the legislative session adjourns this year.


Into Africa

A fund raiser was held at the Albany Free School last Friday [June 7] to raise money and bid farwell to Lily Mercogliano and Megan Schmidt. The two women left on Tuesday for a two-month trip to Malawi, Africa, where they will volunteer at the Malawi Children’s Village.

Malawi Children’s Village, located in the district of Mangochi in Malawi Africa, cares for more than 3,000 children who have lost their parents to AIDS. This area is the one of the hardest hit by the AIDS epidemic and is known as one of the poorest districts in central Africa. Mercogliano, 18, a sophomore at Northeastern University in Boston and an Albany High School graduate, and Schmidt, 27, who first went to Malawi in 1997 when she was a junior at Grinnell College in Iowa, hope to start a peer outreach program that will educate at-risk youths about HIV/AIDS and teach them to be peer educators as well. The two are pulling on prior experience to get this program off the ground. Schmidt ran the Equinox HIV/Aids peer outreach program in Albany just last year, and Mercogliano worked with the Equinox Street outreach team.

“I think we have to get the message about HIV/AIDS to the younger generations if we hope to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS,” said Mercogliano. “The most effective way for kids to learn about HIV/AIDS prevention is to have other peers talk to them about it. That is how I learned, and I think it is a much more effective method than to have an adult stand there and lecture to them.”

In a presentation Friday night, the two women explained that in Malawi there are now 500,000 AIDS orphans, and it is estimated that there will be more that 1 million by 2003. These orphaned children are often placed with families in the surrounding villages that have also lost loved ones to AIDS. The organization provides food, medical care and money for schooling to orphans in the surrounding 37 villages.

“I have always wanted to go back to Malawi,” said Schmidt, who helped set up the children’s village in 1997. “When I was first there, the programs were just beginning, and I am looking forward to see how they have changed and grown. It is an amazing project that affects so many people. I can’t wait to just jump back in.”


Calling Off Hunger

In its first week of existence, the Emergency Food Helpline directed only one phone call—a single meal served from a buffet of food services available to those in need.

The recently developed helpline, modeled after the recipe used by New York City’s Human Resources Administration, was initiated by the Hunger Action Network of New York State to refer individuals and families to the 98 registered food pantries and soup kitchens in the Capital Region.

Sheila McCarthy, upstate community food coordinator for HANNYS, has been preheating the oven: gathering information for the helpline’s database and working to publicize the helpline’s services.

“It’s really important that word about the helpline gets out so we can direct a greater volume of calls,” McCarthy said. “Food pantries and soup kitchens are the first line of defense against hunger in New York, and we’re really excited about what this helpline can do.”

HANNYS’ helpline connects residents of the Capital Region, Plattsburgh and Hudson to food banks and soup kitchens registered with Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York; the organization plans to expand the helpline’s reach to the entire state by the fall.

“Hunger has been increasing in New York, and some 900,000 people go to soup kitchens each week,” McCarthy said. “This helpline can play a major role in getting food to people who need it in this state.”

McCarthy urges those interested in donating food to contact the helpline as well.

“The helpline should act as a referral service really, connecting people to resources and services in their community,” McCarthy said.

The helpline, which can be contacted toll free at (866) 526-2978, is staffed Monday through Thursday from 9 AM to 5 PM, and Friday from 9 AM to 1 PM. Calls received in the evenings and over weekends will be returned on the next business day.

—Travis Durfee

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