That Bother Us So
can’t tell you why the sky is blue or why chickens don’t
fly, but thanks to our team of crack researchers, we can
tell you what’s going on at the NL Industries site, who
uses the Taconic Parkway, and what happened to the Lark
Street Dunkin’ Donuts
Travis Durfee, Erik Hage, Stephen Leon, Kate Sipher and
going on with the cleanup of the toxic mess at the former
NL Industries site in Colonie?
we checked in at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Web site,
we were unable to come up with a whole lot of current information
on the status of the cleanup effort at the former NL Industries
site in Colonie.
Until it was closed by federal officials in 1983 for spraying
uranium dust all over the neighborhood where it was located,
National Lead Industries occupied the 11-acre site on the
1100 block of Central Avenue and used it to convert depleted
uranium into ammunition and airplane parts. After NL pulled
out, it left behind tons of nasty lead- and uranium-tainted
soil and 200 buried drums of radioactive waste. Between
1984 and 1997, the U.S. Department of Energy was in charge
of the site, and it demolished all of the NL Industries
buildings and remediated contamination at 53 residential
and business properties in the area. In 1997, the U.S. Army
Corps of Engineers took control of the NL Industries and
was charged with its cleanup. One of the first orders of
business? Find a way to bury the contamination rather than
ship it out of town.
A couple of years ago, Assemblyman Bob Prentiss (R-C-Colonie)
led a neighborhood charge to discourage the U.S. Army Corps
from disposing of the contaminated materials in an on-site
dump. Essentially, Prentiss and his neighborhood said, that
would have created a 24-foot-high, 2-acre toxic-waste dump
on the very spot that the U.S. Army Corps was supposed to
be cleaning up.
Things have been very quiet around NL Industries the past
couple of years, and as columnist Al Quaglieri pointed out
[Al Things Considered, June 13], there’s not much information
at the Army Corps’ Web site (www.nan.usace.army.mil) to
clue citizens in on the progress being made there.
So we did a little checking around, and here’s what we found:
A new soil-remediation policy for the NL Industries site
was finalized in December 2001, which called for a large-scale
excavation and disposal of contaminated materials found
at the site. The materials would be trucked and disposed
of off-site due to “community concerns about the original
plan.” Under the new plan, the soil cleanup goals are as
follows: 35 picocuries per gram of soil for uranium-238;
450 milligrams per kilogram of soil for lead; 1,912 milligrams
per kilogram of soil for copper; and 7.4 milligrams per
kilogram of soil for arsenic. Two feet of clean soil will
be placed over contaminated areas; when cleanup is complete,
the site is expected to be safe for unrestricted residential,
commercial, industrial and recreational uses.
have planned a public meeting in mid-September, and we’re
going to continue to excavate and treat and dispose of soil
via rail,” says James Moore, project manager of the NL site.
“So far to date, we have excavated a total of 53,000 cubic
yards of soil. As of this year, 8,800. We have shipped off-site
this year app 15,000 cubic yards of soil.”
Moore says that the project appears to be targeted for completion
in the Army Corps’ 2004/05 fiscal year.
now we’re currently planning that the soil-remediation efforts
will be complete at the end of fiscal year 2004,” he says.
“So figure we’ve got another two years left. Things are
going very well. I’m very pleased.”
isn’t there one single bookstore in that huge expanse of
real estate they call the Crossgates Mall?
struck us that Crossgates Mall has no bookstore. After scouring
the directory several times and thinking “I must be missing
something,” our researcher inquired at the customer service
desk. He was sure that, somewhere in this cavernous, brave
new world of goods, there had to be a bookseller. The conversation
went something like this:
the mall have a bookstore?”
Do you know why that is?”
you get asked this question a lot?”
This was met with the kind of nod that can only come from
someone who has been asked this question a lot.
Some might attribute Crossgates’ lack of a bookstore to
the presence of large area retailers such as Borders and
Barnes & Noble. Nevertheless, Colonie Center, which
sits in close proximity to both of those stores, has a bookstore,
as do other Capital Region shopping centers such as Rotterdam
Square Mall. But nowhere in Crossgates’ sprawling acreage,
which encompasses 1.5 million square feet and 300-plus stores
(that run the gamut from Yankee Candle Co. to Nordic Track
to Orange Julius to Pottery Barn to you-name-it) is there
a single bookseller.
Why is this so? Crossgates management declined to return
several phone calls, but Patrick White, a manager at Borders
in Albany, breaks it down succinctly: “Rent.” White, who
used to manage the Lauriat’s bookstore in Crossgates (which
left the mall in ’99), points out that it’s expensive for
bookstores to maintain “the inventory that’s necessary to
satisfy a customer’s needs.” As many know, Crossgates is
owned by Northeast mall-company-on-steroids Pyramid Cos.,
which is behind such other commercially strong, well-located
venues as the Carousel Center in Syracuse and the Palisades
Center in Rockland—places that have extensive waiting lists
for space. And, as one might imagine, the bustling, massive
Crossgates Mall, which expanded considerably beyond its
already formidable dimensions in 1994, is prime, mega-priced
real estate, and therefore prohibitive to many booksellers.
does Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings get that dark, savage tan?
is no “does-he-or-doesn’t-he?” question. No one in Albany—the
city where winter seems to last for nine of the 12 calendar
months—could ever maintain a tan like our mayor’s without
a little boost. The question is, what is our mayor’s bronzing
method of choice?
Tan-in-a-can? Long weekends spent on the beaches of Ft.
Lauderdale? (Southwest does fly there, ya know.) Nivea bronzing
lotion? The tanning beds at Sunsations?
OK, so we didn’t have the—ahem—balls to ask our fair mayor
this question directly. But we did have the spineless audacity
to ask a number of people we thought to be in the know
about some of the mayor’s more intimate affairs. We got
the following answers:
do you mean? Is this a joke?” followed by a hangup.
don’t know the answer to that question,” another person
told us. “I know people who do. But I don’t know anyone
who would spill it to you.”
we thought. This question may bother us forever.
Until we ran into a person who claimed to have the inside
track on the mayor’s trademark glow.
has a tanning bed in his house,” this person told us. “I’ve
seen it myself, and I’ve seen them change the bulbs.” Interesting,
we thought. And though this little bit of gossip is unsubstantiated,
unimportant and altogether uninteresting, we receive a strange
bit of satisfaction mulling over the image of Jennings in
his own private tanning hut. The question that bothers us
now, of course, is whether Jennings does his tanning in
his briefs or in the buff.
to see here: the FBI headquarters in Albany.
Photo by Joe Putrock
does the FBI do in that huge building in Albany?
answer to this question is not as exciting as we had hoped.
While we were imagining that behind the fortress-like doors
of the massive building on McCarty Avenue in Albany all
manner of X-Files type excitement was going on, it
turns out that nothing of the sort happens there. Rather,
according to law enforcement coordinator and acting media
relations coordinator Lisa Massaroni, the FBI’s Albany office
performs your standard, run-of-the-mill federal-agenty tasks.
we investigate federal crimes,” she told us.
of course,” we said. But why the humongous, Gotham City
that’s the headquarters building,” she tells us. “The Albany
division territory covers as far west as Syracuse, and as
far south as Kingston and parts of the state of Vermont.
There are smaller resident agencies within the territory,
but the building in Albany is the headquarters. So that’s
why it’s a bigger building.”
Like we said, not terribly exciting.
black water: the reflecting pools at the Empire State
Plaza. Photo by Joe Putrock
is the water in the Empire State Plaza reflecting pools
they drain these pools every fall, it never ceases to confound:
All summer long, the water in the reflecting fountains is
black, yet the bottom of the pools is a bright, swimming-pool
liner blue. To top it off, the water that sprays out the
fountainheads in the center of the pools appears to be white.
Paula from the state Office of General Services was kind
enough to give us the following answer: “We fill the pools
with river water, so we add a black dye to retard the growth
of algae and the collection of debris. There is no filtration
system in the pools, so we need to do something to keep
them cleaner. The water that comes out of the fountains
appears to be white because of the spray heads. They disperse
the water, so when it comes out into the air, it looks white.”
And if you’re one of those Empire State Plaza visitors who
likes to let Fido play fetch in the fountains, not to worry
about his well-being: Paula says that the dye that turns
the water black is “environmentally friendly and nontoxic.”
the hell is the Rapp Road Landfill always burning?
days of yore, a few of the more literally burning questions
bothering we alt-journalists is the matter of the flames
leaping from Rapp Road landfill and whether or not the source
of said flames is being used for any productive purposes.
Well the source is methane, folks. The natural decomposition
of the rubbish discarded by the residents of Rensselaer,
Watervliet and Cohoes, the towns of Berne, Bethlehem, Knox,
Guilderland, New Scotland and Westerlo and the village of
Green Island produces enough of the methane gas that a company
from Minnesota came in six years ago and erected an electrical
generating station to harness the potential of this renewable
No need to fret over the 20-foot flare to the side of I-90
westbound sporadically exuding flames monstrous enough to
roast a buffalo—it’s only temporary. Willard Bruce, commissioner
of Albany’s Department of General Services, said the torch
will continue to exist only until the generating station
finds its new, permanent home, on-site at the landfill.
Trond Aschetoug, general manager of Minnesota Methane, the
company in charge of harvesting trash gas, said the landfill
generates 1.9 megawatts of electricity per hour, enough
to power some 2,000 homes per month. The electricity created
from the rotting garbage’s breakdown is sold to Niagara
Mohawk and pumped into the area’s general power grid, resold
to you and used to power the lamp under which this article
So the city of Albany didn’t require/strongly suggest that
Minnesota Methane or NiMo donate/invest some free/discounted
electricity in the downtown area to aid revitalization projects,
lure prospective businesses owners, or attract homebuyers
or renovators—but at least they are making some return on
much land remains undeveloped in the Albany Pine Bush?
a good question. And though we do not have an exact answer,
we can give you the ballpark estimate. The Albany Pine Bush
originally encompassed 26,000 or so acres. Over time, much
of that sensitive ecological environment has been developed,
strip malled, landfilled or otherwise ruined by urban sprawl.
At last count, the Albany Pine Bush Preserve contained a
mere 2,000 to 3,000 acres of undeveloped land. But the Save
the Pine Bush group and the Pine Bush Preserve Commission
are always looking for new ways to add scraps of land to
the preserve. The goal is to eventually obtain 4,000 acres
of preserve land that will be protected from development.
Steuben Place Partners been making payments on the $2.4
million it currently owes the city of Albany?
Steuben Place Partners made headlines and aroused citizen
concern in the late ’90s when its failure to make payments
on a loan from the city put Albany’s federal Community Development
Block Grant funds in jeopardy. In a sweetheart deal arranged
through the administration of former Albany Mayor Thomas
Whalen, the block grants were used as collateral to back
a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development loan,
funneled through the City of Albany Industrial Development
Agency, to Steuben Place Partners, which owns the building
housing the Steuben Club. A few years ago, the financially
troubled partnership struck a refinancing deal with the
city to make a lump-sum payment on the loan of $600,000;
but as part of that settlement, SPP is under no specific
obligation to make regular payments on the outstanding balance—and
in fact has made no further payments.
According to George Leveille, Albany’s commissioner of development
and planning, the Albany IDA still owes HUD about $1.3 million
on the original loan, but is well-funded and is making regular
semiannual payments. In other words, he says, the city’s
community block-grant monies are no longer in jeopardy.
But will the city ever recover its loan money? Only if Steuben
Place Partners finds a way to profit from the Steuben Club
property. “There’s no way they can make any money on this
property without paying us first,” says Leveille. “The bad
news is that if they don’t ever recover the investment they
made on this real estate, they’ll never pay us back.”
train stops here: the Rensselaer Rail Station.
Photo by Joe Putrock
does Amtrak go to Rensselaer and not Albany?
historian and state Assemblyman Jack McEneny explained the
reason for this, as he also does, apparently, on page 166
of his book Albany: Capital City on the Hudson. When
the Empire State Plaza was built in 1962, Nelson Rockefeller’s
vision was that it reside on the hill between his pad, at
the Governor’s Mansion, and his job, at the Capitol. According
to McEneny, that’s why the Plaza, then known as the South
Mall (Washington, D.C. style) because it extended south
from the Capitol, wasn’t put along the river instead of
where it went—smack dab in the middle of a neighborhood,
displacing more than 7,200 people.
Getting to the train issue: Workers and visitors alike needed
a way in to this seemingly impenetrable plaza, so I-787
came into being. But the road that would bring folks into
and out of this marble mall, was built over the train tracks
that, at that time, brought train travelers into and out
of Albany’s Union Station—a splendid depot on this side
of the river. Once the tracks were covered, the station
moved across the creek, to, as McEneny puts it, “that cheesebox
in Rennselaer.” The last train pulled out of Union Station
in December 1968, and the Union Station building was empty
for a decade after that; however, the structure has since
been brought back to some semblance of glory as Peter D.
does the I-90 exit leading onto Albany’s Henry Johnson Boulevard
still, after all these years, look like an unfinished construction
It’s weird enough how the exit’s design feeds cars so clumsily
from the interstate to the city street, featuring, at one
point, a too-wide ramp that narrows suddenly, guided by
construction barriers that have been there as long as we
can remember. It’s even weirder when you notice the section
of pavement that heads straight into the side of a hill.
That, and a couple of other roadway oddities in the city,
are the enduring results of the failure—more than 25 years
ago—of highway planners’ overwrought scheme to build a crosstown
arterial through the heart of the city, tunneling under
Washington Park in the process. Unexpectedly, vehement citizen
resistance halted the project, which would have connected
the Arbor Hill exit on I-90 to New York Thruway Exit 23
at the southern end of the city. Meanwhile, another interchange
under Washington Park would have connected the arterial
to the I-787 exit that instead feeds motorists through the
bowels of the Empire State Plaza to . . . a U-turn back
under the plaza, or a modest little ramp onto one-way Swan
Another little oddity left behind by the project’s cancellation
was an unusually sharp curve, since corrected, at the entrance
to I-787 at McCarty and Hoffman avenues. And it’s downright
frightening to imagine what the finished project would have
wrought, especially when you consider that (A) at some point
between Washington Park and Thruway Exit 23, the arterial
was to come out of the ground and rise over the city on
a viaduct, and (B) air vents resembling small smokestacks
would have poked out of the ground in Washington Park to
provide fresh air to the carbon-monoxide-choked tunnels
One more piece of fallout from the whole mess was that I-787,
originally planned for the Rensselaer side of the river,
was hastily moved to the Albany side. And that highway,
like the rest of the project that was never built, is now
widely considered a design disaster.
you see it, now you dont: former site of the Lark
Street Dunkin Donuts. Photo
by Joe Putrock
happened to the Lark Street Rankin’, er, Dunkin’ Donuts?
are things in life you just expect will be. The sun will
rise. The sun will set. The cat will piss behind the couch.
The Lark Street Dunkin’ Donuts will always mark the northwest
corner of Lark Street and Madison Avenue. What are we getting
at? Well, the cat’s healthy as a horse, and there’s a gaping
hole where my beloved donuts used to be. Someone stole the
Dunkin’ Donuts. It was there on my walk to work, but gone
by the time I passed in the evening. Reduced to sweet and
sticky rubble—a pile of powdered sugar and jimmies.
But never fear, the Coolattas again will flow from that
very location—just from a newer, historic-neighborhood friendly
building (it will be more in keeping with the character
of the neighborhood, we’ve been told) sporting a brick exterior.
Also, expect a more efficient use of the inside space, with
additional counters (and, hopefully, more servers). The
new building should be up and running some time in August.
Until then, there’s a hole where that four-in-the-morning
sickly sweet smell used to be.
do all the doggies in Albany live?
been a burning question burning in our bellies for ages.
How the hell do all of the city’s dogs fit into the three
available pet-friendly apartments? It doesn’t add up. It’s
not possible that all of the park’s stick slingers fall
into the homeowner category. It just can’t be. So in an
attempt to find the answer to this oh-so-vexing question,
we took to the parks, we took to streets, we took to the
stoops. But, lo and behold, no one was talking. Mum’s the
word on the doggie digs. In the parks, pet owners mimicked
their wary beasts, eyeing us distrustfully and cautiously,
then sprinting in the other direction—Dewdrop in tow. On
the streets, dog-walkers feigned hearing affliction. On
their stoops, they went inside.
Perhaps these animals are living on the edge of the law—in
apartments not accepting of their canineness, but taking
it nonetheless. Is it just a big don’t-ask-don’t-tell scheme?
We don’t know. No one will talk. Not even Dewdrop.
are the prospects for some kind of light-rail or commuter-rail
transit coming to the Capital Region?
so good, in the near future.
For one thing, our local leaders seem unlikely to move beyond
conventional wisdom on transportation issues, which says,
in general, that the automobile infrastructure merits endless
subsidy while mass-transit projects must meet stringent
Still, we almost had a commuter rail “demonstration” project,
a line running on existing track from Saratoga to Albany,
for which some federal funds had been earmarked. But there
was political infighting over whether the line would swing
through Saratoga County over to Mechanicville and down to
Albany, or follow a route through Schenectady. And when
the CDTA added up the costs, it realized there wasn’t enough
funding to go through with it. Now, such a “demonstration”
project—sort of a test run—is considered even less likely
to happen, as rail projects are just too costly for a short-term
Also, the implementation of a modern light-rail line along
the Route 5 corridor between Schenectady and Albany—something
that has been bandied about over the last five years or
so—is unlikely in the near term, according to the Capital
District Transportation Committee’s John Poorman. To make
a long story short, such a line might be justified if it
would bring significant new economic development to transit
“nodes” that might develop along the line; but local experts
are skeptical that the Route 5 corridor will grow enough
to meet that requirement (or even reverse its current decline).
More likely, says Poorman, is that the region might soon
see something called “bus rapid transit,” sort of a hybrid
mixing the features of rail and conventional bus transit:
Buses would be used, but on dedicated lanes, with formal
station stops, and higher speeds between stops.
So rail buffs, don’t get your hopes up, and get used to
using those buses. Or move to Portland.
uses the Taconic Parkway?
OK, we exaggerate. But as anybody can attest who does use
the upper portion of this roadway—which snakes through the
rolling hills of Columbia and Dutchess counties on its way
to . . . well, somewhere in Westchester—the Taconic often
is virtually deserted. For a divided highway that more or
less parallels its counterpart across the Hudson, the southern
leg of the New York Thruway, it may seem strange that the
Taconic doesn’t pick up more of the Thruway’s traffic—after
all, the Thruway is more crowded and less scenic, and has
Our researchers couldn’t find exact telltale statistics
or a definitive explanation for the Taconic’s apparent underuse,
but were offered a clue in the form of a reminder of the
road’s historical and social origins. Like other “parkways,”
the Taconic comes from an era (think Robert Moses) when
highways typically were designed primarily for affluent
city dwellers escaping to someplace more pleasant. Some
were built with the destination in mind—such as Moses’ highways
that eviscerated entire New York City neighborhoods so that
rich people could get quickly to Long Island beaches—while
the parkways were meant to be destinations in themselves,
offering lovely countryside vistas, little if any congestion,
and perhaps an inviting spot to stop for a picnic.
So the Taconic, with its narrow lanes (and only two of them
on each side), its too-sharp curves, and its general lack
of focus (it doesn’t really go directly from anyplace to
anyplace), is an anachronism that simply doesn’t fit the
way we live today—or at least, the way highway planners
believe we should live today. And as befits an anachronism,
the Taconic stretches sleepily through hills and forests,
overlooked and neglected by most of the driving public,
its in-median service stations long-since closed. And ironically,
with its lovely views, lack of traffic, and easy access
to any number of spots for a quiet Sunday picnic, it is
perhaps everything it was originally designed to be.
did that big old U-Haul truck get on top of that big old
fable passed down through generations of U-Haul workers
is: a crane.