Briefs February 16, 2006)
Supervisors and mayors from Ulster County communities affected
by flooding along the Esopus Creek have organized themselves
as the Esopus Creek Coalition of Supervisors (ECCOS) in an
attempt to open discussions with New York City and the federal
government to implement flood control projects to prevent
the deluges that now seem to reach crisis proportions every
time there is an inch or two of rain. The cause appears to
be overflow from the city’s Ashokan Reservoir, which
discharges into the lower Esopus Creek. Class action lawsuits
have already been launched against New York City in Delaware
and Sullivan counties as a result of flooding conditions there.
The group was organized by Hurley’s Michael Shultis
and held its first meeting at his office at the Hurley town
hall on Monday, January 30. The fact that all of the officials
involved – supervisors Vincent Martello of Marbletown,
Berndt Leifield of Olive, Robert Cross of Shandaken, Nick
Woerner of Ulster, Greg Helsmoortel of Saugerties, and mayor
Bob Yerick of the village of Saugerties - were present on
such short notice gives some indication of how they view the
situation’s gravity. Mayor James Sottile of the City
of Kingston was unable to attend but told Shultis he wants
to be included and plans to participate in future meetings,
according to the Hurley supervisor.
“I don’t think a lawsuit is the way to go,”
said Shultis. “I think we should sit down at the table
with them and create a dialogue.”
New York City is currently releasing 540 million gallons of
water daily to its Ashokan Reservoir system from the Schoharie
Reservoir via the Shandaken portal in order to draw down the
water level there and make repairs to the Gilboa Dam that
has been deemed unstable.
Heavy rains and snow melt have made it difficult for the city
to lower the Schoharie’s level, however, despite the
maximum possible discharges through the Shandaken tunnel that
takes the water into the Esopus near Phoenicia. It then runs
downstream and collects in the Ashokan, which has been atypically
full in recent months. The New York City Department of Environmental
Protection (DEP) would normally be drawing down the Ashokan’s
western basin at this time of year in anticipation of snow
run-off during the next month or two, but that is currently
impossible because of the immediate need to stabilize the
Gilboa Dam, according to DEP spokesperson Ian Michaels.
The ECCOS supervisors want the city to retrofit the Ashokan
to permit drawdowns that will prevent flooding. The group
also wants the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers brought in to
clean debris from the Esopus that has collected from years
of inundations that now regularly cause the stream to back
up and spill over its banks.
The DEP is in discussions with SUNY New Paltz to flood a waste
channel that runs through the university’s Ashokan Field
Campus as a temporary flood control measure. Use of the channel
that was built as part of the reservoir system in the early
1900s would involve flooding part of the field campus, but
the Esopus must be below flood stage, and heavy rains this
year and the Schoharie releases linked to the Gilboa project
have kept the Esopus at the top of its banks.
Meanwhile, the state Assembly recently held a public hearing
at Schenectady Community College to examine public concerns
over dam safety in New York state.
Testimony was provided by representatives of state and local
government, environmental organizations, public safety agencies
and other interest groups. Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, D-Kingston,
specifically asked Ulster County Legislator Michael Berardi,
D-Ulster, to testify on behalf of Ulster County residents.
Assemblyman Thomas DiNapoli, chairman of the Environmental
Conservation Committee, and Assemblywoman RoAnn Destito, who
chairs the Governmental Operations Committee, scheduled the
forum to focus on 383 dams (of 5,564 statewide) that are considered
“high hazard” dams, whose potential failure could
inflict significant loss of life and widespread property damage.
There are five New York City owned reservoirs and dams in
New York City’s Catskill/Delaware watershed region.
At least one dam, the Gilboa on the Schoharie Reservoir, is
now undergoing emergency repairs, and two others, the Neversink
and the Merriman, are under scrutiny after it was revealed
that inspection reports had been routinely photocopied from
week to week.
The toddler on her knee, she said while sitting in the Olive
Library, could imitate the bridge which crosses the Esopus
on Route 28A. How does a child imitate a bridge? By going
“boom-boom, boom-boom, boom...” to give her small
world impression of the sound of tires hitting the ruts across
Ms. H, who doesn’t want to be further identified, had
arrived at the library with a copy of a letter from Senator
Bonacic to NYC DEP Deputy Commissioner Michael Principe, dated
February 6, 2006, requesting an update on the condition of
the bridges on 28A and Reservoir Road. She held the letter
as a slim sign of progress in her campaign to properly assess
the safety of the bridges; a campaign which had included gathering
about 500 signatures on a petition, last year, which she forwarded
to Bonacic and other local representatives.
At the Olive town board meeting in February, a resolution
supporting Bonacic’s four Senate bills and four like
bills echoed in the Assembly under the sponsorship of Middletown
Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, passed by a 4-0 vote (with councilman
Henry Rank absent). Ms. H searched out the wording of the
bills on the Senate’s website and, noting that they
each seemed responsive to last month’s flap about the
falsification of dam inspection reports, wondered why bridge
inspections were not included among the items of concern.
One bill addresses the lowering of reservoir levels in anticipation
of overflows while a second bill sets the terms for an annual
DEC review of the condition of dams in the counties of Delaware,
Greene, Orange, Schoharie, Sullivan, and Ulster. The third
bill would require a DEC review of DEP maintenance procedures
in those same counties and the fourth mandates the provision
of the DEP’s dam safety reports to the CEO of the DEC.
Olive’s resolution notes that the inspection reports
have been withheld from public review without cause and that
“Public officials must be given the information the
New York State and New York City Governments possess about
the safety of the dams in our region in order to determine
if public safety needs are being met.” The resolution
terms efforts by public officials or agencies to deny acces
to such information “reprehensible.”
Ms. H, who lives downstream from the Ashokan Reservoir in
Olivebridge, says that she has purchased lifejackets since
learning of the faked inspection reports, including one for
the dog, but would like to stress that the legislation should
recognize that the structural integrity of the local bridges
is also a life-threatening issue.
The New York City Department of Environmental Protection announced
this week that it has reached with State University officials
and will start working to reopen a long-dormant runoff channel
from its Ashokan Reservoir through the Ashokan Field Campus
of SUNY New Paltz, located in the Brown’s Station area
of Olive, to help divert up to 600 million gallons of water
a day being pumped through the open Shandaken Portal during
mandated repairs on the Gilboa Dam in Schoharie County. The
idea is to help ease flooding conditions along the Esopus
Creek below the Ashokan that resulted in much damage in Ulster,
Kingston and Saugerties last April. The channel, last used
in 1992, will be operated when the lower Esopus is below flood
stage, creating a void in the Ashokan to capture the release
from the Schoharie Reservoir and the spring thaw runoff.
Water from the waste channel will flow into the Beaver Kill
and the Old Esopus Creek on its way to the Esopus Creek, but
it is expected that part of the campus will be flooded.
“Water levels in the Ashokan will remain above normal
through the spring, even with the waste channel in use,”
DEP commissioner Emily Lloyd said in a press release. “But
we need to do all we can so that people on the lower Esopus
don’t suffer because of work going on at the Gilboa
SUNY New Paltz environmental classes usually held at the Olive
campus have been moved to a Christian camp located in Ulster
Park for the semester and NYC has agreed to pay SUNY for moving
expenses and lost revenues, and including possible property
damage to the campus, which has been slated for closure and
possible sale in recent months.
Ian Michaels, spokesman for the Department of Environmental
Protection, said some work is needed before the waste channel
“The problem that we have now is that it’s a stream
bed where there have been trees, there has been growth. Those
things have to be removed,” he said, adding that repairs
on the Gilboa Dam started in December are now scheduled for
completion by July, with “non-critical stabilization
work” continuing through November.
Supporters of a plan to reintroduce elk to the Catskills,
and eventually other parts of the state, say now is the time
to do it and have stepped up lobbying efforts in Albany this
year. Chronic wasting disease, which has decimated deer in
the Midwest, appears not to be taking hold in New York, they
note. And reintroducing these animals to New York, they add,
would expand the state’s biological diversity and eventually
provide a new venue for big game hunters. The state, they
say, could bring these animals back — if it is willing
to spend the time and money.
Opponents, including farmers and anti-hunting groups, though,
say not so fast. The former fear elk would devour crops. Animal
rights groups say elk pose a road hazard that makes colliding
with deer look like hitting a pothole by comparison. And more
people are worrying that the central Catskills is becoming
too gentrified for such hunting purposes.
Furthermore, state officials aren’t convinced the danger
from chronic wasting disease has passed.
Either way, there is at least one bill that would allow elk
to be reintroduced, offered by Assemblywoman Francine DelMonte,
D-Niagara Falls, and Sen. Dale Volker, R-Depew. Previously,
Assemblyman Dan Hooker, R-Catskill, offered similar legislation.
Elk were wiped out in New York by the mid-19th century, when
they were hunted for their meat, hide and teeth.
The bill might not become law this session, but proponents
say they are working to shepherd such a bill through the process
during the next few years.
“We’re gearing back up to talk about a restoration
of elk in the state,” said Wally John, a retired counsel
for the Assembly, based in West Shokan, who is leading the
charge to bring back elk and is working with a national group,
the Montana-based Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and, with
researchers from Cornell University, which has studied the
feasibility of bringing these animals back to selected areas.
He said he envisions bringing in 100 of the animals and setting
them loose in the high peaks of the Catskills, which biologists
say has the best combination of isolated mountain terrain,
grass and forest cover for the elusive animals.
Other potential habitat could be found in the Southern Tier
near Pennsylvania, and in the western Adirondacks.
“Hitting a 150-pound deer does considerable damage.
Can you imagine hitting an 800-pound object? It’s much
worse,” said New Paltz-based Peter Muller, vice president
of the Committee to Abolish Sport Hunting.
There are already several elk farms in the Catskills as well
as private hunting preserves where people can pay up to $8,000
to hunt the animals.
As leaders of the world’s 57 Muslim nations gathered
for a summit meeting in Mecca in December, issues like religious
extremism dominated the official agenda. But much of the talk
in the hallways was of a wholly different issue: Danish cartoons
satirizing the Prophet Muhammad. The summit’s closing
communiqué took note of the issue when it expressed
“concern at rising hatred against Islam and Muslims
and condemned the recent incident of desecration of the image
of the Holy Prophet Muhammad in the media of certain countries”
as well as over “using the freedom of expression as
a pretext to defame religions.”
The meeting in Mecca, a Saudi city from which non-Muslims
are barred, drew minimal international press coverage even
though such leaders as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran
were in attendance. But on the road from quiet outrage in
a small Muslim community in northern Europe to a set of international
brush fires, the summit meeting of the Organization of the
Islamic Conference — and the role its member governments
played in the outrage — has turned out to be something
of a turning point.
After that meeting, anger at the Danish caricatures, especially
at an official government level, became more public. In some
countries, like Syria and Iran, that meant heavy press coverage
in official news media and virtual government approval of
demonstrations that ended with Danish embassies in flames.
In recent days, some governments in Muslim countries have
tried to calm the rage, worried by the increasing level of
violence and deaths in some cases, even though the protests
allowed governments to outflank a growing challenge from Islamic
opposition movements by defending Islam.
Bad Cash Flow
On February 16, the Ulster County Legislature will hold a
special meeting where they will seek to identify specific
reasons why the county’s projected cash flow has significantly
diminished. The meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. at the Ulster
County Office Building on Fair Street.
Ulster County could see a $1.31 million deficit in its year-end
cash balance without a reduction in spending or an increase
in revenue this year, the county’s Deputy Treasurer
Michael Hein has said, noting that the county’s $6.88
million cash balance at the beginning of January could shrink
by $8.19 million, leaving a deficit, if no budget changes
are made. He added that the deficit could increase daily if
the new county Law Enforcement Center is not opened by April,
the target date set by budget planners that was tossed in
recent weeks, with six months mnore now being predicted befor
the white elephant is completed.
Hein said measures taken last year to reduce the deficit,
such as a hiring freeze and committee review of unplanned
purchases of more than $500 or more, are already in place
and will not affect current budget forecasts. He added that
the deficit will far exceed state recommendations that the
county have a fund balance of between $12 million and $20
million as part of its $293.11 million budget. The fund balance
is now projected to decline for the third consecutive year.
Confusion over the new federal Medicare Part D program that
took effect in January, and requires most people to sign up
by May 15, have left people confused throughout the county,
according to Ulster County Office for the Aging director Kathryn
Puglisi, who has dubbed the new federal program “the
dreaded Medicare Part D” plan.
Blanche Duffy, the office’s Health Insurance Information
Counseling Assistance Program coordinator, said some people
are saying the “D” stands for “disaster,”
adding that many seniors haqve come in for help with its complexities
At local pharmacies, including Phoenicia and Nekos, meanwhile,
business owners have worked hard to keep their customers covered
while the federal plan’s details get worked out.
The biggest problem, everyone is saying, is the number of
plans that consumers must choose from - 47 in Ulster County
alone - and the fact that not all plans provide prescription
coverage for all medications.
Spy Vs. Spy
The US government is developing a massive computer system
that can collect huge amounts of data and, by linking far-flung
information from blogs and e-mail to government records and
intelligence reports, search for patterns of terrorist activity.
The system - parts of which are operational, parts of which
are still under development - is the federal government’s
latest attempt to use broad data-collection and powerful analysis
in the fight against terrorism. But by delving deeply into
the digital minutiae of American life, the program is also
raising concerns that the government is intruding too deeply
into citizens’ privacy.
“We don’t realize that, as we live our lives and
make little choices, like buying groceries, buying on Amazon,
Googling, we’re leaving traces everywhere,” says
Lee Tien, a staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
“We have an attitude that no one will connect all those
dots. But these programs are about connecting those dots -
analyzing and aggregating them - in a way that we haven’t
thought about. It’s one of the underlying fundamental
issues we have yet to come to grips with.”
The core of this effort is a little-known system called Analysis,
Dissemination, Visualization, Insight, and Semantic Enhancement
(ADVISE). Only a few public documents mention it. ADVISE is
a research and development program within the Department of
Homeland Security (DHS), part of its three-year-old “Threat
and Vulnerability, Testing and Assessment” portfolio.
The TVTA received nearly $50 million in federal funding this
DHS officials are circumspect when talking about ADVISE. “I’ve
heard of it,” says Peter Sand, director of privacy technology.
“I don’t know the actual status right now. But
if it’s a system that’s been discussed, then it’s
something we’re involved in at some level.”
Privacy concerns have torpedoed federal data-mining efforts
in the past. In 2002, news reports revealed that the Defense
Department was working on Total Information Awareness, a project
aimed at collecting and sifting vast amounts of personal and
government data for clues to terrorism. An uproar caused Congress
to cancel the TIA program a year later.
Twice in the past four years, a top Justice Department lawyer
warned the presiding judge of a secret surveillance court
that information overheard in President Bush’s eavesdropping
program may have been improperly used to obtain wiretap warrants
in the court, according to two sources with knowledge of those
The revelations infuriated U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly
— who, like her predecessor, Royce C. Lamberth, had
expressed serious doubts about whether the warrantless monitoring
of phone calls and e-mails ordered by Bush was legal. Both
judges had insisted that no information obtained this way
be used to gain warrants from their court, according to government
sources, and both had been assured by administration officials
it would never happen.
The two heads of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court
were the only judges in the country briefed by the administration
on Bush’s program. The president’s secret order,
issued sometime after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, allows
the National Security Agency to monitor telephone calls and
e-mails between people in the United States and contacts overseas.
James A. Baker, the counsel for intelligence policy in the
Justice Department’s Office of Intelligence Policy and
Review, discovered in 2004 that the government’s failure
to share information about its spying program had rendered
useless a federal screening system that the judges had insisted
upon to shield the court from tainted information. He alerted
Kollar-Kotelly, who complained to Justice, prompting a temporary
suspension of the NSA spying program, the sources said.
Yet another problem in a 2005 warrant application prompted
Kollar-Kotelly to issue a stern order to government lawyers
to create a better firewall or face more difficulty obtaining
The two judges’ discomfort with the NSA spying program
was previously known. But this new account reveals the depth
of their doubts about its legality and their behind-the-scenes
efforts to protect the court from what they considered potentially
tainted evidence. The new accounts also show the degree to
which Baker, a top intelligence expert at Justice, shared
their reservations and aided the judges.
Both judges expressed concern to senior officials that the
president’s program, if ever made public and challenged
in court, ran a significant risk of being declared unconstitutional,
according to sources familiar with their actions. Yet the
judges believed they did not have the authority to rule on
the president’s power to order the eavesdropping, government
sources said, and focused instead on protecting the integrity
of the FISA process.
As New York rushes to comply with the Help America Vote Act
under a threatened US Justice Department lawsuit, many voters
continue to raise concerns. On Sunday, Feb 26, four civic
organizations will cosponsor an educational, non-partisan
public meeting to hear from voters about proposed changes
to NY’s election system and replacement of mechanical
lever voting machines.
The free meeting will be held at 2 PM in the Common Council
Chamber of historic Kingston City Hall, 420 Broadway, between
W. O’Reilly and Foxhall Ave. An expert panel including
Rachel Leon, Executive Director of Common Cause New York,
and Aimee Allaud of New York State League of Women Voters,
will be present to discuss issues and answer voter’s
The nonpartisan educational meeting is cosponsored by Ulster
County Democratic Women (UCDW), NY Citizens for Clean Elections
(NYCCE), the American Association of University Women Kingston
Branch (AAUW), and the Mid-Hudson Region of the NY League
of Women Voters (LWV).
Local journalist and young adult author Dakota Lane’s
work-in-progress, The Secret Life of It Girls, due out next
spring from Simon and Schuster, deals not with starlets but
with ordinary adolescents whose attractiveness, style, and
social savvy have landed them in popular cliques. Lane has
begun interviewing teens and finds them eager to talk about
the details of their lives—”what nastiness and
gossip goes on, the power element, what does it take to make
a popular girl, how does she maintain her social status, and
at what cost?” She describes her book as “Studs
Terkel meets MTV”, a compilation of real-life interviews
with only names and details changed to protect anonymity,
along with photos of teens that capture both the vibrancy
and poignancy of life as an It girl.
Lane is seeking girls—and some boys as well—between
the ages of thirteen and eighteen to be interviewed and/or
participate in a photo shoot at Onteora High School on February
17 and 18, with later sessions planned for March.
Teens—both girls and boys—between the ages of
13 and 18 are invited to submit applications to be interviewed
and/or to participate in a photo shoot at Onteora High School
on February 17 and 18, for the purpose of taking pictures
of kids in typical school settings. Only 25 teens will be
chosen for this shoot, but later sessions are planned for
March. Onteora school district students may pick up applications
and releases at the Onteora High School office. Others may
apply by emailing Dakota Lane at email@example.com.
Applications must be filled out and releases signed by a parent
and returned to the high school with a snapshot by email,
with name and phone number.
For interviews, Lane said, “I’m looking for anyone
who has a good story and wants to talk about the experience
of being a teen.”
Yeah… The Jail!
The new Ulster County Law Enforcement Center will likely cost
another $1 million or more and the facility isn’t likely
to open for another five months, according to a new report
that also states that the jail is “98.1 percent”
complete. The “$1 million plus” was requested
in a Jan. 26 letter from project manager Bovis Lend Lease.
The letter added that “about $500,000 to $600,000”
is “needed immediately” to satisfy construction
The jail, which was scheduled to open in April 2004 at a cost
of $71.84 million, had its budget amended last year to $84.39
Other questions about expenses included concerns that the
cost for about 250 feet of water line to the jail had still
not been estimated and an agreement with Kingston city officials
for service had not been reached because of installation problems.
Early estimates noted that a full renovation of the current
jail would have cost $11,956,990.
Forget pretending you are talking to one person or concentrating
on a single point in the audience — having sex is good
way to calm nerves before giving a speech or presentation.
But Stuart Brody, a psychologist at the University of Paisley
in Scotland, said it has to be full sexual intercourse to
get the best results. He studied nearly 50 men and women who
recorded their sexual activities for two weeks and analyzed
its impact on their blood pressure levels when under acute
stress, such as when giving a speech. Brody discovered that
the volunteers who had sexual intercourse were the least stressed
and had blood pressure levels that returned to normal more
quickly than people who engaged in other types of sex. But
people who had abstained from sex had the highest blood pressure
response to stress.
He believes that the release of the so-called “pair
bonding” hormone oxytocin might explain the calming
Noting that the Town of Olive “will have to live with
any mismanagement” of the dam at the Ashokan Reservoir,
Olive Supervisor Bert Leifeld introduced a resolution at February’s
town board meeting
to “join with other affected towns bordering the Esopus
Creek and gain support from Ulster County, the State of New
York and the United States Federal Government to hold the
New York City DEP responsible for their actions” in
the regulation of water flow related to the Ashokan
The resolution cites the DEP’s increase of water flow
to approximately 590 million gallons a day at the facility,
(a factor which, incidentally, would figure strongly in Assemblyman
Cahill’s alternative “income-expense method”
of valuating reservoir or watershed property as proposed in
his A3992 bill before the Assembly), as well as the “severe
damage to agricultural, commercial and residential properties”
along the Esopus Creek. It resolves that NYC’s DEP “should
be held accountable for any damage to the Town’s private
and public property as a
result of the flooding of April 2005 and any future mismanagement
of the Ashokan Reservoir water levels.”
The “Esopus Creek Resolution” was passed, along
with four others, by a 4-0 vote. Other resolutions concerned
tax changes for senior citizens and veterans following this
year’s reval results, support for bills introduced in
the Senate and Assembly concerning the condition and inspection
of area dams and a “Homestead Resolution” which
seeks to establish the Town of Olive as a Certified Assessing
Unit with the New York State Office of Real Property Services.
Although neither Patrick Seely of the town’s Albany
law firm, Hacker & Murphy, who recommended the application
for CAU status, nor Dorothy Martin of Ulster County’s
ORPS office could be reached for elucidation of the advantage
in relation to the complex Article 19 provisions of Homestead
and Non-Homestead taxation regulations, councilman Bruce LaMonda
explained that it involves the town’s ability to distinguish
between the tax classifications of primary home-owners and
local businesses and second-homers. He added that acquiring
the CAU designation did not mean that the town intended to
LaMonda also dismissed the rumors that the DEP’s recent
closing of Monument Road to pedestrian traffic was related
to the recent uproar about fabricated dam inspection reports.
He said that the DEP was installing remote surveillance cameras
and other sensors in the area and closed the road temporarily
as the work progressed for insurance and security reasons.