Sullivan County leaders have endorsed a plan by Gov. George
Pataki that would bring five Indian-run casinos to the Catskills
as part of land claim settlements. The 6-3 vote does not assure
the casinos will be built, only that the matter now will be
considered by state and federal lawmakers, who must approve
the plan before casino gambling can come to the region.
State Sen. John Bonacic has said he plans to introduce just
such a bill in Albany later this month. Senate Majority Leader
Joseph Bruno has said hearings will let the Senate decide how
to act on Pataki’s proposal.
The recent vote came after months of debate between casino advocates,
who say the gaming halls will mean new jobs and a renaissance
for the county, and critics, who argue that most of the new
jobs will go to outsiders and the casinos will create social
The vote supported Pataki’s recently announced plan to
allow five casinos in Sullivan, rather than three. The governor
said the extra casinos are needed to satisfy all outstanding
land claims by Indian tribes.
The plan needs state and congressional approval, and some legislators
said they wouldn’t move forward without local support
for the casinos. State Senate hearings on the casino plan have
been scheduled for Feb. 28 in Albany and March 3 in Monticello.
Hudson Valley Building Trades Council President Todd Diorio
said the Catskill Casino Coalition, a group made up largely
of construction-related trade groups and unions, is ready to
muster its forces and go to Albany.
Bruno said he wants to wrap up the review process swiftly. The
Senate’s move follows an announcement by Assembly Speaker
Sheldon Silver that his chamber will hold hearings on the legislation.
The Assembly has not scheduled the hearings yet, but Silver
said he wants a thorough review of all aspects of the bill,
including Pataki’s limited success in settling sales tax
issues with the tribes.
Meanwhile, town board members in the Route 209 corridor town
of Rochester are considering whether a resolution should be
written that would reflect concern about the impact proposed
casinos would have in the community. Gambling opponents have
reported rumors of proposed casino locations near Kingston,
Ellenville, New Paltz and even Highmount should concern Town
And Pataki’s plan is also bumping into problems in Washington
and would be prohibited altogether under a bill being drafted
by Sen. John McCain, the new chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs
Committee, who has just called for hearings on all aspects of
Indian gaming. Rep. Richard Pombo is simultaneously expected
to introduce legislation this month that would ban out-of-state
tribes from gaining land in another state for gambling operations.
Proving a connection to the Catskills would be difficult
for several of the tribes planning casinos there.
Pataki’s bill includes five tribes seeking to end claims
tied to New York’s improper taking of Indian reservation
land 200 years ago. The tribes would build large casinos that
would share slot machine revenue with the state. The Pataki
measure, which must be passed in Congress and by the state Legislature,
would end land claims with the Mohawks, the Oneida, the Stockbridge-Munsee
Band of Mohicans, the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma and the
Cayuga Nation of New York.
All are simultaneously fighting among themselves, and with outside-the-state
tribes, over the governor’s controversial plans.
“The City of New York’s not going anywhere and neither
are the watershed towns so you better work together.”
That’s what Lynette Stark, acting commissioner of the
State Department of Environmental Conservation, told leaders
of the Coalition of Watershed Towns and top brass from the New
York City Department of Environmental Protection on Friday at
a summit conference in Newburgh. The meeting was called at the
request of the Coalition to iron out differences between the
According to Alan Rosa, a complete briefing on the summit will
happen on Monday February 21st at 6PM in the headquarters of
the Catskill Watershed Corporation on Main Street in Margaretville.
Rosa, the executive Director of the CWC, attended the summit
and said that while no conclusions were reached, “we now
have a good framework to work from.”
That was not the case two months ago when Coalition officials
demanded the sit down because they said the City refused to
“Things went fairly well,” Rosa said.
Rosa was pleased that acting DEP commish David Tweedy seemed
sincerely interested in hearing what the coalition had to say,
and was also glad that Stark, who has been around watershed
affairs since the get go in the 1990’s, was at the helm.
“She knows what’s going on,” Rosa said.
Ulster County’s rental market is being hurt by a combination
of high prices and scarce availability, according to officials
at the Rural Ulster Preservation Co., which is currently proposing
several affordable housing projects around the county to help
change the climate. The average rent for non-subsidized studio
apartments in the county was $491 in 2003, with one-bedroom
apartments bringing an average rent of $675, two-bedroom units
bringing $810 on average, and three-bedroom units averaging
$941, according to the survey. In 2004, the average rent for
studio apartments climbed to $512, one-bedroom units brought
$700, two-bedrooms units, $838, and three-bedroom units, $994.
RUPCO closed its waiting list for subsidized housing in October
2003, with 1,900 families in need of affordable housing.
Despite pledges to speed construction at Ulster County’s
new law enforcement center, there is still such disarray on
the project that the roofing crew did not even show up on a
warm workday last week that was ideal for their task. Their
absenteeism can be seen as symbolic of the troubled project,
which, it now appears, is beginning to publicly pit Ulster County
against its project manager, Bovis Lend Lease. And the threat
of legal action may now join the cost overruns and long delays
on the list of impediments plaguing the largest capital project
ever undertaken by Ulster County.
The new county jail is a combination 402-bed jail and administrative
headquarters for the county sheriff. Eighteen months behind
schedule, it is now projected to cost more than $91 million
to complete. County legislative leaders who approved the project
say they will recoup some of those costs after legal action
that could take years.
While the new law enforcement center is still officially slated
for completion in late August, county officials now say they
would have “to pay a premium” to meet that completion
date, pushing the costs even higher. Construction mangers, county
legislators and contractors privately say the actual date will
be between October and December of this year, barring further
problems. The original date for completing the jail was April
Democrats in the county legislature will try to pass a resolution
to create a national search committee to find a replacement
to Harvey Sleight, the commissioner of the Ulster County department
of buildings and grounds for the last fifteen years. Sleight,
68, was not reappointed to his position at the end of 2004,
and has not officially been reappointed to his post since December
The county legislature is divided 17-16, with Republicans holding
a one-vote edge. Majority leader Michael Stock said that despite
the fact Sleight did not have enough support to get a permanent
reappointment, he does not believe Republicans will support
creation of a search committee to find his replacement. “I
don’t think it will have any support on the Republican
side of the aisle or a lot of support on the Democratic side
of the aisle.”
Democratic leader David Donaldson said he does not know if there
is enough support to pass the resolution. “But it’s
time to move on. Let the Republicans say he’s doing the
job he’s supposed to do and vote put him back in that
position [commissioner] permanently. To have a commissioner
of buildings and grounds working month to month is absurd. Either
appoint him or don’t. So this pushes the issue.”
A weak El Nino and human-made greenhouse gases could make 2005
the warmest year since records started being kept in the late
1800s, NASA scientists recently said. While climate events like
El Nino — when warm water spreads over much of the tropical
Pacific Ocean — affect global temperatures, the increasing
role of human-made pollutants plays a big part.
The warmest year on record was 1998, with 2002 and 2003 coming
in second and third, respectively. Last year was the fourth-warmest
recorded, with a global mean temperature of 57 degrees Fahrenheit
(14 C), which was about 1.5 degrees warmer than the middle of
the century, NASA scientist Drew Shindell said in an interview.
Average temperatures taken from land and surfaces of the oceans
showed 2004 was 0.86 degrees Fahrenheit (0.48 C) above the average
temperature from 1951 to 1980, according to Hansen.
Meanwhile, 200 of the world’s leading climate scientists,
meeting in England, recently issued the most urgent warning
to date that dangerous climate change is taking place, and that
time is running out. The biggest-ever study of climate change,
based at Oxford University, reported that it could prove to
be twice as catastrophic as the previous worst predictions…
And an international task force concluded that we could reach
“the point of no return” in a decade. Finally, the
British head of the Shell Oil Company warned that unless governments
take urgent action there “will be a disaster”. Professor
Mike Schlesinger, of the University of Illinois, reported that
the shutdown of the Gulf Stream, once seen as a “low probability
event”, was now 45 per cent likely this century, and 70
per cent probable by 2200.
In accordance with the NYS Ag & Markets Law Section 303-b,
Ulster County will accept requests from March 1st to March 30th
from landowners desiring to have their predominately viable
agricultural lands to be included within a certified agricultural
district. Landowners seeking inclusion into a certified ag district
must submit a completed Ag District Review Worksheet, along
with the tax map identification number, relevant portion of
the tax map, and a description of the land within this thirty-day
period to Lydia Reidy, Chair, Ulster County Agricultural Farmland
Protection Board, 10 Westbrook Lane, Kingston, NY 12401. The
Ag District Review Worksheet and a free brochure explaining
ag districts are available through Cornell Cooperative Extension
of Ulster County. To receive a worksheet, a brochure or more
information about the review process, please contact Teresa
Rusinek, Horticulture/Ag Issue Educator, 845-340-3990.
Ag districts were created by an act of the New York State Legislature
in 1971 to protect and promote the availability of land for
farming purposes. They are intended to counteract the impact
that non-farm development has upon the continuation of farm
businesses by providing a framework limiting unreasonable local
regulation on farm practices. Ulster County has four certified
agricultural districts containing over 72,000 acres of farmland.
Officials of six towns and villages in the Rondout Valley/Route
209 corridor area have formed a cooperative partnership to better
attract tourism and new business. The new Rondout Valley Corridor
Coalition, which includes the towns of Wawarsing, Marbletown,
Hurley, Rosendale and Rochester, and the village of Ellenville,
will facilitate cooperation between the communities on a range
of issues, problems, and opportunities and has met six times
since its formation in September, and has already put in a request
to the state Department of Transportation and the Ulster County
Transportation Council to do a transportation and land use study
of a 30-mile stretch of Route 209 from Hurley to the Ulster
County border south of Ellenville. Another project under consideration
is to bring together local historians and representatives of
the various historic resources in the valley to explore ways
collaboration may be beneficial to the area.
Meanwhile, a recent report from the Hudson River Valley Greenway
is expected to help groups promoting state “scenic byways”
designations in the region, and has listed over 50 possible
roads for such designation in the region. The project is being
funded by a federal transportation enhancement grant eith approximately
$150,000 available to assist groups wanting to achieve Scenic
As defined by New York state, a scenic byway is a road corridor
that is of regionally outstanding scenic, natural, cultural,
historic or archaeological significance. A scenic byway corridor
is actively managed to protect its outstanding character, and
to encourage economic development through tourism and recreation.
Through the state Department of Transportation’s Scenic
Byways Program, more than 2,000 miles of roads have been designated
as scenic byways in the state.
The Shawangunk Mountain Scenic Byway, which will likely be the
first local effort to gain funding and recognition, will encompass
some 82 miles of roads, cover 100,000 acres, and pass through
10 communities in Ulster and northern Orange Counties, in and
around the Shawangunk Ridge as well in the Wallkill River and
The Hudson River Valley Scenic Byways Public Outreach Summary
Report is on the Web at www.hudsongreenway.state.ny.us.
American ginseng, sister of the Asian wonder herb and a seasonal
cash crop in the Catskills, as well as the entire Appalachian
mountain chain, has two obstacles to long-term survival in the
United States: man and deer. According to a new report in the
journal Science, scientists now believe that natural, slow-growing
ginseng could be extinct within 100 years if deer keep grazing
continues at current rates. Scientists have further suggested
reintroduce mountain lions, wolves or other natural predators
as a means of aiding the medicinal plant’s survival.
Ginseng is protected under the Convention on International Trade
in Endangered Species, which calls for the federal government
to certify each year that harvesting the root will not threaten
its existence. The wild plant takes 18 months to germinate,
then eight to 15 years to mature.
Commercial demand is huge for ginseng, touted as a cure-all
for everything from headaches and insomnia to sexual dysfunction.
Even beer and soda makers are now adding it to their drinks.
Veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts are now showing
up in the nation’s homeless shelters. While the numbers
are still small, they’re steadily rising, and raising
alarms in both the homeless and veterans’ communities.
The concern is that these returning veterans - some of whom
can’t find jobs after leaving the military, others of
whom are still struggling psychologically with the war - may
be just the beginning of an influx of new veterans in need.
Currently, there are 150,000 troops in Iraq and 16,000 in Afghanistan.
More than 130,000 have already served and returned home.
Part of the reason for these new veterans’ struggles is
that housing costs have skyrocketed at the same time real wages
have remained relatively stable, often putting rental prices
out of reach. And for many, there is a gap of months, sometimes
years, between when military benefits end and veterans benefits
begin. Both the Veterans Administration and private veterans
service organizations are already stretched, providing services
for veterans of previous conflicts. For instance, while an estimated
500,000 veterans were homeless at some time during 2004, the
VA had the resources to tend to only 100,000 of them.
A recent study published by the New England Journal of Medicine
found that 15 to 17 percent of Iraq vets meet “the screening
criteria for major depression, generalized anxiety, or PTSD.”
Of those, only 23 to 40 percent are seeking help - in part because
so many others fear the stigma of having a mental disorder.
Your New ID
Immigration legislation passed by the House would allow the
federal government to force states to make sure they’re
not granting driver’s licenses to illegal aliens, giving
them three years to comply with the new federal standards dictating
what features driver’s licenses must have. They could
still issue special driving permits to illegal aliens, but those
permits would not be recognized as identities for boarding airlines
or allowing entry to federal buildings. Ten states now don’t
require license applicants to prove they are citizens or legal
residents: Hawaii, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, New Mexico,
North Carolina, Oregon, Washington, Wisconsin and Utah. Tennessee
issues driving certificates to people who cannot prove they
are legal residents.
Governors, state legislatures and motor vehicle departments
have protested the bill, calling it a costly mandate that forces
states to take on the role of immigration officers. The Congressional
Budget Office estimated the bill would cost local, state and
tribal governments $120 million over the next five years. A
similar measure was rejected by Congress and the White House
in December when it was part of a bill reorganizing intelligence
agencies. It won the Bush administration’s support recently
but still faces stiff opposition in the Senate.
Researchers in Boston have pinpointed a primary trigger for
the most common form of diabetes and have uncovered evidence
that simple, inexpensive aspirin-like drugs could keep the disease
that affects millions in check. The researchers discovered a
genetic ‘’master switch” in the liver that
is turned on when people become obese. Obesity has long been
linked to diabetes, but the reason, until now, has been unknown.
Researchers found that once on, this switch produces low-level
inflammation, which disrupts the body’s ability to process
insulin, causing type 2 diabetes. But the researchers took the
finding one step further. Reasoning that aspirin-like drugs
are used to quell inflammation, they successfully used the drugs,
called salicylates, to eliminate the symptoms of type 2 diabetes
in mice. Human tests are already underway in Boston, though
no results have been published.
‘’No one should go out and take these drugs,”
said the report, though, noting it was better to lose weight,
exercise, and eat healthy.
About 18 million Americans have diabetes, and most have type
2 diabetes. In type 2 diabetes, the body’s cells become
resistant to insulin, which transports sugar from the bloodstream
into cells, giving cells energy to function. In diabetes, this
feeding is blocked, causing sugar to build up in blood. Those
afflicted grow excessively thirsty, exhausted, and confused
if the condition goes untreated, and are at high risk for heart
disease, stroke, blindness, and amputations. About three-quarters
of sufferers are obese or overweight.
Abstinence-only programs like those promoted by the Bush administration
don’t seem to be working on teenagers in the president’s
home state, according to a state-sponsored study by Texas A&M
University researchers. The ongoing study, the first evaluation
of the abstinence programs across the state, found that students
in almost all high school grades were more sexually active after
undergoing abstinence education.
Researchers don’t believe the programs encouraged teenagers
to have sex, only that the abstinence messages did not interfere
with customary trends among adolescents.
The federal government will spend $131 million this year on
various abstinence-only education programs - $30 million more
than was spent in 2004. But many public health experts are concerned
that no one really knows what the government is buying.
Among the findings in the Texas study: About 23 percent of the
ninth-grade girls in the study already had sexual intercourse
before they received any abstinence education, a figure below
the national average. After taking an abstinence course, the
number among those same girls rose to 28 percent, a level closer
to that of their peers across the state. Among ninth-grade boys,
the percentage who reported sexual intercourse before and after
abstinence education remained relatively unchanged. In 10th
grade, the percentage of boys who had ever had sexual intercourse
jumped from 24 percent to 39 percent after participating in
an abstinence program.
To be funded as abstinence education, programs cannot provide
instruction in birth control, outside “factual information
about contraceptive methods, such as the failure rates that
are associated with the different methods,” according
to documents from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Among other things, the law also dictates that an abstinence
program must have “as its exclusive purpose, teaching
the social, psychological, and health gains to be realized by
abstaining from sexual activity.”
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has stepped aside from the
Justice Department investigation into the leak of undercover
CIA officer Valerie Plame’s identity. Gonzales had been
involved in the case as White House legal counsel, testifying
before a federal grand jury and giving advice about it to White
Investigators want to find out who leaked the identity of Plame,
whose name was published in July 2003 by syndicated columnist
Robert Novak. The investigation is being run by U.S. Attorney
Patrick Fitzgerald of Chicago, who was appointed special counsel
with broad decision-making latitude and reports to Deputy Attorney
General James Comey.
Plame is married to former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who has
said his wife’s name may have been revealed as retribution
for a newspaper opinion piece he wrote criticizing President
Bush’s claim that Iraq had sought uranium in Niger. Wilson
was asked by the CIA to check out that claim.
Meanwhile, Democrats in Congress are pressing for investigations
into how a Washington reporter who used a pseudonym managed
to gain access to the White House and had access to classified
documents that named Plame. Until resigning in recent weeks,
James Guckert used the name Jeff Gannon and worked for TalonNews.com,
a Web site operated by Robert Eberle, a Texas Republican. Democrats
have asked how someone using a pseudonym was cleared to enter
the White House daily press briefings as well as a presidential
Mr. Guckert resigned from Talon saying he had been “harassed
by liberals” on the Internet. Bloggers grew suspicious
of him after President Bush called on him at the news conference
and the reporter suggested that Democrats had “divorced
themselves from reality.”
The way many high school students see it, government censorship
of newspapers may not be a bad thing, and flag burning is hardly
protected free speech. According to a study of high school attitudes,
more than one in three high school students said the First Amendment
goes “too far” in the rights it guarantees. Only
half of the students said newspapers should be allowed to publish
freely without government approval of stories.
“These results are not only disturbing; they are dangerous,”
said Hodding Carter III, president of the John S. and James
L. Knight Foundation, which sponsored the $1 million study.
“Ignorance about the basics of this free society is a
danger to our nation’s future.”
The students are even more restrictive in their views than their
elders, the study says. When asked whether people should be
allowed to express unpopular views, 97 percent of teachers and
99 percent of school principals said yes. Only 83 percent of
students did. Three in four students said flag burning is illegal.
It’s not. About half the students said the government
can restrict any indecent material on the Internet. It can’t.
The survey, conducted by researchers at the University of Connecticut,
is billed as the largest of its kind. More than 100,000 students,
nearly 8,000 teachers and more than 500 administrators at 544
public and private high schools took part in early 2004.
More than 200 scientists employed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service say they have been directed to alter official findings
to lessen protections for plants and animals, says a new survey
of the agency’s scientific staff of 1,400, which had a
30% response rate and was conducted jointly by the Union of
Concerned Scientists and Public Employees for Environmental
Responsibility. More than half of the biologists and other researchers
who responded to the survey said they knew of cases in which
commercial interests, including timber, grazing, development
and energy companies, had applied political pressure to reverse
scientific conclusions deemed harmful to their business.
The U.S. trade deficit rose 24 percent to a record high of $618
billion last year as Americans indulged their appetite for foreign
goods, from crude oil to computers and cars. And despite a substantially
weaker dollar, which makes U.S. products cheaper overseas, a
deficit emerged for the first time in farm goods after 50 years
of surpluses, according to yesterday’s Commerce Department
trade report. The U.S. edge in advanced technology products
disappeared two years ago, and analysts forecast that at the
current rate, many remaining U.S. strong points in trade —
including banking and legal services — also soon will
be toppled and succumb to the burgeoning deficit.
The widening trade deficit has worried financial markets since
it started accelerating last year to 5.3 percent of U.S. economic
output. Because the deficit must be financed entirely with borrowing
from overseas, financial analysts consider the 5 percent threshold
a danger point — one that few countries have exceeded
without serious consequences to their economies.
More Bad News
Flu shots may be limited again next season to people with the
greatest health risks if efforts to bolster the vaccine supply
fail, U.S. health officials say. The Food and Drug Administration
is working with vaccine maker Chiron to resolve problems that
led to the suspension in October of the company’s license
to make flu shots at its plant in England. That meant Chiron
could not deliver up to 48 million expected doses, precipitating
a vaccine shortage in the USA. After Chiron’s suspension,
only Aventis Pasteur, now Sanofi Pasteur, and MedImmune were
licensed to sell flu vaccine in this country.
That could change by fall. At least two companies, GlaxoSmithKline
and ID Biomedical, hope to be licensed in the next few months
to sell their flu vaccines in the USA. MedImmune wants FDA approval
of manufacturing changes that would allow it to make more doses
of FluMist, a nasal spray flu vaccine; eliminate a requirement
that doctors use a special freeze-box for storage; and permit
the vaccine to be used by people up to age 64. Currently, FluMist
is approved for healthy people ages 5 through 49.
Who Knew What?
It has been revealed that despite attacked on the United Nations
for its oil for food deals with Iraq, the United States knew
about, and even condoned, embargo-breaking oil sales by Saddam
Hussein’s regime, and did so to shore up alliances with
The oil trade with countries such as Turkey and Jordan appears
to have been an open secret inside the U.S. government and the
United Nations for years. This illicit revenue far exceeds the
estimates of what Saddam pocketed through illegal surcharges
on his U.N.-approved oil exports and illegal kickbacks on subsequent
Iraqi purchases of food, medicine, and supplies — $1.7
billion to $4.4 billion — during the maligned seven-year
U.N. oil-for-food program in Iraq. The Government Accountability
Office estimated last July that Iraq earned $5.7 billion from
smuggling oil out of the country, especially to Jordan, Turkey,
and Syria between 1996 and 2002. A CIA-backed Iraq Survey Group
report by former Iraq weapons inspector Charles Duelfer estimated
last October that Saddam acquired $8 billion by smuggling oil
to Jordan, Turkey, Syria, and Egypt through 2003, when oil for
food ended with the toppling of Saddam.
The oil-for-food program is being investigated by U.S. congressional
committees, the Justice Department, the Securities and Exchange
Commission, and a special committee appointed by the United
Nations and led by former Federal Reserve Bank Chairman Paul
Rep. Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat on the House International
Relations Committee, one of five panels probing the oil-for-food
program, told CNN the United States was “complicit in
undermining” the U.N. sanctions on Iraq. “How is
it that you stand on a moral footing to go after the U.N. when
they’re responsible for 15 percent maybe of the ill-gotten
gains, and we were part and complicit of him getting 85 percent
of the money?” Menendez asked.
A growing body of science is linking sweet drinks, natural or
otherwise, to a host of child health concerns, everything from
bulging bellies to tooth decay. Though healthy in moderation,
juice essentially is water and sugar. In fact, a 12-ounce bottle
of grape soda has 159 calories. The same amount of unsweetened
grape juice packs 228 calories. The $10 billion juice industry
maintains that a conclusive link between its products and obesity
has yet to be established, but researchers say sugar is sugar,
and sweet drinks of any kind must be consumed with care.
Overuse of juice is a relatively recent phenomenon. Before the
rise of soda, juice and other sweetened drinks during the latter
half of the 20th century, water and milk were children’s
primary beverages. In a nation where nearly a third of children
are either overweight or at risk of becoming overweight, health
officials now say high-calorie beverages have little place in
a young child’s diet.
In very young children, too much juice cuts the appetite for
nutritionally superior breast milk or formula. In older children,
it often supplements other foods, potentially adding hundreds
of excess calories.