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It Ain’t Over
Malta and Stillwater are nearing two years of considering chip fabs in Luther Forest, and the decision is still up in the air

His list of concerns sounds quite familiar to residents who’ve been fighting for or against the Luther Forest Tech Park: “traffic, pollution, density, long-term development.” [“If You Build It, What Will Come?,” Newsfront, Oct. 23] But for Greg Connors, who was elected supervisor for the town of Stillwater in November, the questions will be open until they are answered. “There haven’t been any solutions proposed that have been definitive, that I’m willing to hang my hat on, yet,” he said this week, though he added, “I’m sure those solutions will be forthcoming.”

Stillwater would host 20 percent of the development proposed by the Saratoga Economic Development Corporation; the rest would be in Malta. Stillwater’s planning board is currently considering the plan, and once it makes a recommendation, the town board will schedule hearings and workshops, said Connors. In December, Malta’s planning board gave the plan a qualified approval, and the town board is now working on rezoning legislation.

David Meager, Malta supervisor, doesn’t consider his town’s decision made yet either. “We still consider ourselves to be in the fact-finding mode,” he insisted, noting that four of five board members would have to vote for the rezoning in order for it to pass. “This has been the greatest challenge of my career, and I’ve been here 33 years,” he said.

As long as government officials are still talking like this, the members of Citizens for Responsible Growth, a group formed to oppose the tech park, hold out hope. “They are being very careful, because they do realize the impact it’s going to have,” said CRG member Linda Cepiel.

CRG has been active this month. On Feb. 2, the group put out a press release questioning the ethics of Malta town officials for accepting an expenses-paid trip from SEDC to Arizona to tour a chip-fab plant. “It’s a matter of fairness,” said Cepiel. “If the taxpayers opposing the park could afford to send town officials to different locations across the country that hosted tech parks and it didn’t go as well, we would.” She said the ethics charge “wasn’t personal” and that town officials “thought they were doing the right thing,” but repeated that due diligence also means looking “at the bad side.”

Carefully neutral, Meager responded that on their trip, town officials made a point of going on their own to city hall, without SEDC representatives, where they quizzed “a high-level person” about “everything,” from who built the roads to whether the town is happy with its decision. He also noted that the town has received, shared, and questioned SEDC about plenty of negative scenarios. “No one’s been shy about giving us information,” he said.

CRG’s most recent effort on the information front was an open forum on Feb. 12, featuring Professor Gary Kleppel from the University at Albany and Frank Mauro of the Fiscal Policy Institute. The forum, titled High Tech Development and Your Future, drew 50 people, including a few officials from both towns.

While town board members struggle with their decision, opponents of the factory are also struggling with their message, trying to combine a regional smart-growth philosophy with their own distaste for the idea of living next to an industrial site, two genuine concerns that don’t always mesh neatly. “To put a factory in the midst of a residential area is ridiculous,” Cepiel said firmly. But in the next breath she advocated instead reusing sites in “Troy or Schenectady.” Aren’t those areas more densely residential than Malta? Well, said Cepiel, who lives on an unpaved road out of sight of her nearest neighbors, “When people buy there they know they are moving into industrial area. When I bought here I didn’t know I would be raising my children next to a factory.”

—Miriam Axel-Lute

Miriam Axel-Lute can be reached at maxel-lute@metroland.net or 463-2500 ext. 141.

Your (War) Tax Dollars at Work
Corporations profiting from reconstruction efforts in Iraq may be closer to home than you thought

Halliburton and Bechtel may be the first corporations that come to mind when you think of companies that are making millions in reconstruction contracts in Iraq, but add to that list the Computer Sciences Corporation, an international information technology company, which has an office based here in Menands. In 2003, CSC merged with private military contractor DynCorp, and was awarded a $50 million contract from the U.S. Department of State to provide up to 1,000 civilian advisers to help organize civilian law enforcement, judicial and correctional agencies in Iraq. The company recruits active-duty or retired American police officers to help establish police stations in Iraq. According to its Web site, DynCorp demonstrates police practices and techniques used by “democratic societies,” such as criminal investigation methods, to local police.

The United for Peace and Justice organization, a coalition of U.S. groups that formed in 2002 to coordinate efforts against the war in Iraq, called for a national day of action against the “corporate invasion of Iraq” on Tues. Feb 24. It asked for local demonstrations at business sites that profit from the war in Iraq. Its goals include supporting Iraqi worker rights and creating a government commission to oversee the war profiteers.

Activist Colin Hughes brought the Capital Region into the campaign by holding a small protest in front of the Menands CSC. Hughes is not involved in any specific organization, but he saw a “call for action” on the UFPJ Web site and decided to jump on. This is the first protest he has organized.

Hughes and a small group of friends assembled in front of the building CSC shares with other businesses on North Pearl Street, with signs that read, “CSC DynCorp—doing the government’s dirty work,” and a cake and banner that read, “Congratulations on your $50 million contract.” The group leafletted passing workers. “The money these companies charge is left up to business ethics, which is something we’re lacking in this country,” Hughes said.

The protests took place in more than 20 cities in the United States and in London. Their main targets were Bechtel and Halliburton, which both face criticism of their work in Iraq. Halliburton, a Houston-based energy company, is being criminally investigated by the Pentagon for overcharging the United States $61 million for fuel exports to Iraq, and it recently paid back $27.4 million in overcharges to the Pentagon for food never served to U.S. troops. Bechtel won an award for $3 billion to rebuild Iraq’s roads, hospitals, schools, electricity supply and water systems; the Pentagon has called its work “horrible.”

After 20 minutes of protest, the group was told to move to the parking lot by a police officer called by the building’s office manager. Many workers passing by on their breaks seemed curious about the message the group was promoting. Some asked if they were workers on strike. It was obvious most were unaware of the company’s ties to war-reconstruction efforts. “They hear about Halliburton and Bechtel, but a lot of people don’t really know about CSC,” said Hughes.

It was news to a contractor who worked for another company in the building named Safiulla, but he didn’t think the company was in the wrong. “These companies are just taking the opportunities the government is giving them so I don’t blame them,” he said. “I hold the government responsible for providing the opportunity.”

CSC worker Carmen Carociolo said he didn’t know his employer was involved in Iraq. “I wasn’t aware of any of it. I took a job; I should do the research, which I’m going to do now that this has been brought to my attention,” he said.

—Liz Healy


Huddled for a good cause: HAC Sleep-a-thon volunteers.

Baby, It’s Cold Outside
Volunteers raise money for homeless, all through the night

Volunteers and members of the Homeless Action Committee lined the streets surrounding the small triangular island dubbed Townsend Park in downtown Albany last Friday night (Feb. 20), armed with signs declaring that “every homeless person is somebody’s mother, father, sister . . . ” They beseeched passing cars to “honk for the homeless.” The 11th Annual Sleep-a-thon fund-raiser drew slightly more than 100 Albany citizens, who gathered pledges of donations to HAC based on how long they slept out, in shifts of an hour.

Earlier in the evening, amid the honking and cheering, supporters darted in and out of traffic, collecting money from cars stopped at red lights. A neighborhood boy brought out his dog Droopy to liven up spirits, but spirits were already high. Impressive levels of attendance and enthusiasm seemed to make participants less troubled by the cold—and it was cold enough that one’s breath came out in a swirly white fog. Despite this, the event’s programmers were quite content with the weather on this “great evening.” The cold also allowed for further understanding on the part of the participants as to the seriousness of homelessness.

“[HAC has] been a savior to me,” Bobby B., one of the night’s featured speakers, announced to a crowd made up of HAC members, Albany Common Council members, and students from all over the Capital Region. Struggling for the right words to communicate his gratitude with his audience, he merely repeated again, “a savior.”

Bobby was a homeless man living in downtown Albany until HAC provided him with a room in its single-room occupancy building. Having at one point resigned himself to a life of total intoxication and eating out of trash cans, Bobby repeatedly acknowledged that HAC had been a “—send” (He paused carefully before the word “send” each time, to avoid stepping on any religious toes). The Annual HAC Sleep-a-thon raises money to ensure the continuation of HAC’s programs, as well as awareness regarding the harsh realities of living on the street.

HAC’s main focus is assisting chronic alcoholics, those left to the wayside by much of society. HAC attempts to improve the quality of their lives by providing them with shelter, food, and an ear to listen. Often, as with Bobby, this is enough to give their lives new meaning. “It’s amazing what people can do when their basic needs are met,” HAC director Donna DeMaria said.

Simply offering compassion and putting a roof over the heads of these men, HAC spokesman Sean Moran continued, often encourages “people [to] start to make changes on their own,” from exhibiting more responsible behaviors to maintaining sobriety for extended periods of time. Bobby, for one, was proud to announce his long abstinence from drinking. Bobby was also thankful for maintaining a permanent address, with which he was able to track down relatives whom he could not keep in touch with while living on the streets.

Yet the committee’s tolerance for continued drinking and lack of any mandatory rehab programs affects the group’s funding. HAC receives little government money because it refuses to alter this policy, and so is forced to turn to the community for assistance with events such as the Sleep-a-thon. The community responded: Already $12,500 has been raised by the 100 people participating in the event (and more pledges are still being collected), allowing for the continuation of services such as the HAC Outreach Van and HAC’s SRO housing.

Remarkably, “when times are tough economically,” HAC’s Sean Moran explained, “is when individuals are more generous; the less they have, the more they give.”

Apparently, the same is true of time as well. Approximately a dozen Albany citizens spent the entire night on the cold street. Trying to create warmth by rubbing her hands together, participant Tara Vaccaro noted, “people live out in the cold every night; now we can sympathize, but it’s still unacceptable. I’m glad we can do something to help.”

—Ariel Colletti


Bring on the bottles: Patches supports increased deposits. Photo: John Whipple

A Nickel for Your Water Bottle?
Legislators and environmentalists renew their push to expand returnable-containers law

He wasn’t tapped for any official polling, but consider his voice counted: Patches is all for expanding the state’s returnable-containers law.

“I’d love it. Look at all these bottles lying around,” Patches said, pointing to an empty Aquafina bottle lodged in a dirty snowbank in the Delaware Avenue Price Chopper parking lot. “Look at that one in that barrel. It’s water; five cents, right there. You could go all around this parking lot and find water bottles.”

Currently, New York state’s returnable-containers law requires that consumers pay a five-cent deposit on only beer, soda and wine-cooler containers. But state legislators and advocates for the environment have for years been pushing legislation that would expand that law to include sports drinks, juices, teas and other beverage containers.

Patches, a 63-year-old who lives in government-subsidized housing in Albany, said he regularly pushes aside empty tea and water bottles during his daily troll through the city’s dumpsters and garbage cans seeking nickelworthy containers. Patches said he rakes in about $70 on a good week, and estimates he’d collect another $30 or $40 should the law expand.

According to a study recently released by four environmental lobby groups, Patches isn’t alone in his support for expanding the state’s returnable-containers law. Approximately 70 percent of 800 registered voters polled expressed support for an expansion of the returnable-containers law to include noncarbonated beverages.

“Regardless of a person’s race, income level, age, gender, where they live, or their political affiliations, there is very strong support for the existing bottle law as well as the expansion,” said Laura Haight, senior environmental associate with the New York Public Interest Research Group.

As currently written, bills introduced in both houses of the state Legislature would place nickel deposits on all beverage containers (excluding milk, infant formula, wines and spirits) of one gallon or less. Another aspect of the proposed bottle-bill legislation would allow the state to collect the unclaimed deposits, which would add an estimated $179 million annually to the state’s coffers. Beverage distributors, wholesalers and retail stores currently share unclaimed deposits.

Thomas DiNapoli (D-Nassau), who is sponsoring bottle-bill legislation in the Assembly, wants the unclaimed deposit money earmarked for environmental initiatives statewide. The state is facing a $5 billion budget deficit.

“It makes more sense for those unclaimed nickels to end up back in the public domain devoted to enhancing recycling and environmental programs across the state, ” DiNapoli said.

Michael Vacek, president of the New York State Beer Wholesalers Association, Inc., opposes DiNapoli’s legislation because it would take away the funding that beverage distributors currently use to pay for the transportation of returned containers. Further, Vacek said, the legislation would broaden the scope of containers his clients would be responsible for transporting to recycling centers.

“Think about all those different package configurations, styles, types and sizes, and think about the nightmare it would be to be able to accommodate taking all that stuff back,” Vacek said.

James Calvin, president of the New York Association of Convenience Stores, which represents 1,800 stores statewide, is also opposed to expanding the bottle law.

“Our primary concern is that as small retailers, we don’t have a whole lot of space to store all of these bottles and cans,” Calvin said. “Everyone wants to make sure that beverage containers don’t up on our roadsides . . . but there already is a system in place for recycling those containers—it’s municipal recycling.”

But Haight and DiNapoli both state that municipal recycling programs have come up underfunded of late, most notablly in New York City. Looking to conserve funds, Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg axed the city’s curbside recycling program for glass and plastic in 2002. (It will be fully reinstated later this year.) Should the state begin collecting the unclaimed deposits, the money could be directed to municipalities struggling to maintain their existing recycling programs, said Haight and DiNapoli.

DiNapoli was cautious when discussing whether the bottle bill would pass this session. He said he believes that Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-NYC) supports the legislation, but he is sure that Sen. Majority Leader Joe Bruno (R-Troy) does not. This has not deterred Haight and other environmental advocates, who are lobbying legislators weekly about the bottle bill.

“Despite the overwhelming public support for this proposal, despite the overwhelming body of evidence that shows that [expanding the returnable containers law] will be good for the environment, it’s still an uphill battle in the Legislature,” Haight said.

—Travis Durfee

Travis Durfee can be contacted at tdurfee@metroland.net or 463-2500 ext. 144.

Cleanup Time
BASF site awaits remediation, and many in Rensselaer let DEC know they want to see it come clean

Mike Mancini can’t take his eyes off of the Hudson; it’s essentially his front yard. He watches all of its action from his Victorian home a few doors down from Fort Crailo, built in the 1640s and the location where the lyrics to Yankee Doodle were born. He also is a few blocks upriver from the old BASF property, home to three state Superfund sites getting a lot of attention lately, and which he and his neighbors want cleaned up.

Mancini, president of the Fort Crailo Neighborhood Association, remembers the neighborhood feeling as though a huge weight was lifted off of it when BASF closed its doors. “It was like this is the break that the city has needed, and this is the kind of life we really want around here,” he said. “We’ve struggled to make our case that this cleanup is of the utmost importance. We envision better things, as soon as possible.”

“This city really needs this to happen,” Mancini said. “New York State is at this crossroads with environmental issues and cleanups and it’s like the whole country is watching what we’re doing.” Moreover he agrees that BASF should be held responsible for the site’s pollution. “It’s vacant land and the opportunity has to be now,” he said. “People here today are concerned about the problem today.”

Yesterday [Wednesday], the Coalition Against Riverfront Pollution and Fort Crailo Neighborhood Association delivered a letter to Erin Crotty, commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation, criticizing the agency’s chosen cleanup levels for two of the sites and urging for a stricter cleanup of the entire BASF property. During the lunch hour, CARP representatives also held a press conference outside the DEC building in Albany, joined by local elected officials as well as representatives of New York Public Interest Research Group, Sierra Club, and Citizen’s Environmental Coalition.

CARP and the neighborhood association represent residents who have restated their dissatisfaction with DEC’s remediation plan, which only will force BASF to clean up the sites to industrial standards locking the site to industrial use through deed restrictions because of the remaining pollutant level. This would be true with or without the ultimate approval of Besicorp’s proposed newspaper recycling facility on the part of the former BASF property, which the Rensselaer City Council recently rejected. [“Unfit for Print?,” Newsfront, Feb. 5]

“The South 40 site, a 34-acre parcel, arsenic levels of up to 500 parts per million will be left on that site, even though the state has a recommended cleanup standard for arsenic of 7.5 parts per million,” CARP’s Tom Ellis pointed out outside of DEC, citing one of the many concerns about pollutant levels that would remain after the cleanup. There are huge empty “lagoons” next to the Hudson where waste water went after the company was told it couldn’t pipe it straight into the river. Many of the concerned citizens fear that these are sources of off-site leaching.

The near-90-acre plot was vacated in 2000 by BASF, whose dye manufacturing was moved overseas. Dye manufacturers have operated on the premises since 1883 and tenants before BASF included Bayer Co., who made aspirin as well as dyes. Currently it includes a 9-acre capped landfill and BASF’s old riverfront manufacturing plant.

DEC did not return Metroland’s calls.

“For the future of the city it’s very important that we clean up this site, regardless of what is built,” said CARP’s Eric Daillie. “Twenty years down the road, when the paper mill goes bankrupt and the power plant is decommissioned and we find ourselves with a still-contaminated site, it will have a great financial impact on the city.” That is, at that point taxpayers, not the padded pockets of BASF, would have to pay for the cleanup.

BASF, Daillie points out, is a multinational company that pulls in $40 billion a year. “Forty million dollars is nothing for a $40 billion company, and they certainly owe it to this community after polluting here,” he said. “They have a historical and ecologic responsibility to clean up this site.”

Mancini, like others, remains hopeful that DEC will change its mind about strengthening the cleanup’s strictness. He added, “if you don’t clean this site up to the fullest possible extent, you’re condemning the future of this neighborhood.”

—Ashley Hahn

Ashley Hahn can be reached at ahahn@metroland.net.

Trailmix: Beating Around the Bush

Whether New Yorkers antici-pate March 2 anxiously or not, Super Tuesday is the crown jewel of the primary season.

Despite the conventional wisdom that the race has been decided, voters in these relatively late primaries can pack a serious punch if they choose for themselves rather than following the pack of voters that have hit the polls first. That is to say, John Kerry’s nomination is not a forgone conclusion; March 2 could be John Edwards’ day.

Edwards has made his pitch to upstate communities, in person and through ads, hoping his pro-labor message about the “two Americas” will resonate with voters. He has won the support of Albany’s Mayor Jerry Jennings and Congressman Michael McNulty, while other state Democratic leaders like state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver have gone for Kerry.

But at this point in the primary season, many voters are wondering if it’s more prudent to simply follow suit and help Kerry’s lead, or to send more delegates for a different candidate to the convention. Delegates matter: The more delegates a candidate has at the national convention this July, the more bargaining leverage he and his issues will have, potentially affecting the party’s platform in a serious way even if the candidate is not selected as the nominee.

Candidates receive delegates when they get more than 50 percent of the votes in any congressional district. This unusual form of proportional representation in our usually winner-takes-all electoral system makes voting in primaries important, particularly for those who support candidates other than the frontrunner.

Tuesday’s 10-state showdown accounts for 1,100 delegates to the Democratic National Convention, half the amount needed for the party’s nomination. New York’s 236 delegates, second only to California in number, are a prize for any campaign’s war chest. And it is this math that might make the difference for Edwards.

If he stays in the race into June, Edwards could continue to accumulate delegates, narrowing Kerry’s lead over the remainder of the primary season. With the field narrowed, Dennis Kucinich is also starting to pick up non-negligible numbers of delegates, beating Edwards in three states.

According to a mid-month poll conducted by Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, 36 percent of likely Democratic primary voters in New York most wanted a candidate who can beat President Bush, whereas 19 percent wanted someone closer to them on issues. Of that 36 percent, 80 percent were pro-Kerry.

This anyone-but-Bush approach is determining electability in the minds of Democratic voters across the country. A recent poll by the Pew Research Center found that twice as many Kerry supporters say theirs is a vote against Bush rather than for their candidate.

Ron Seyb, chair of Skidmore College’s Government Department, noted that “people gained the impression that Dean simply couldn’t beat George W. Bush and that’s why Kerry has now moved to the front of the pack. That also suggests that Kerry’s support is soft.” Seyb, who teaches a course on the U.S. presidency, adds that electability is a “very thin reed to base your candidacy on,” and as such, things could change.

Meanwhile, Kucinich and Al Sharpton vow to stay in the fray as long as they can to make sure their ideas are included in the debate and answered to at the convention. As Kucinich was fond of saying earlier this year, “I’m electable if you vote for me.”

—Ashley Hahn

Not Me

Albany County’s rescheduled legislative primaries will be held on Tuesday, and the candidates are busy trying to pick up where they left off last fall before the elections were postponed. And apparently this quick campaign has resulted in some mistakes, one even fueling the heated race to represent the 2nd district.

County legislator Luci McKnight is running for reelection, and her new campaign flyer claimed she was endorsed by the Civil Service Employees Association. CSEA, however, endorsed her opponent, Marilyn Hammond.

McKnight says it was simply an error. “The Working Families Party supplied my graphics person and they made a mistake,” she said. “They left out SEIU by mistake, they left out Citizen Action by mistake, and they put in CSEA.” McKnight said that she was well aware that she did not have the endorsement.

CSEA has issued a statement clarifying whom it endorsed, in which the union’s Capital Region president, Kathy Garrison, decried the flyer as misleading and “wrong.” Hammond also has distributed information and demands that McKnight apologize.

McKnight, who represents the South End, has since had new material with the correct information printed and is working on distributing it. She says she’s grateful that Hammond pointed this error out, because now she has more campaign literature to hand out for free.

—Ashley Hahn


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