One of the worst winter economies in years continues to
hammer the area this week. On Martin Luther King weekend,
long considered the season’s biggest cash influx
for the food and lodging industry, mild temperatures and
rain kept visitors away in droves.
While the area is usually taken over by hordes of skiers
eager to enjoy the long weekend, reports are that this
time those visitors and their cash were scarce.
“Yeah, it was down this year,” said Mike Ricciardella,
who owns a trio of eateries in Phoenicia.
Other members of the industry, like the Weyside Inn in
Big Indian, report dismal news. The Inn was empty, according
to operator Skip Malley. In fact, the entire membership
of the local food and lodging industry have come together
to try and find ways to rescue themselves.
Malley, who is President of the Belleayre region Lodging
and Tourism Association, said a popular program that has
worked in past, a ski free/stay free for ages 17 and under,
has now been extended through the entire rest of ski season.
This effort comes right before the areas big Winter Festival
Week, slated for January 22 though 26, which also includes
the popular “Taste of the Town” evening on
the 22nd at Belleayre, where area restaurants come together
to offer their very best, as well as the annual “Snowball”
fundraiser for the summertime Belleayre Conservancy series
Malley reports that his business has a pretty good number
of reservations for the festival week, but that at this
point such revenue would serve just to help keep things
going. He also said he is unaware of any of the Association’s
membership closing altogether for the season, but noted
that some lodging owners did close up at least temporarily.
Malley, like many in his industry, remains optimistic.
He notes the sudden shift to winter weather this week
and expects that it is here to stay. His research also
indicates a higher than normal likelihood of winter storms
through February and March, which would be needed to turn
the economy around.
“If it snows, people will come here,” he said.
Don Myers, longtime spokesman for the Association, agreed,
saying that usually downstaters think skiing even if there
is no snow on the ground in the metropolitan area. But
this year, with temperatures in the mid 60’s, it
may be just too much of a stretch for the imagination.
“Kids down there are out playing soccer in that
kind of weather,” he said.
It’s Big, Alright…
Rising metaphorically from the ashes of its namesake,
which burned mysteriously in April 2005, the new Emerson
Inn and Spa on Route 28 in Mt. Pleasant is, according
to its website, “over 40,000 square feet of new
construction.” At that size however, it’s
also more than twice as big as the building for which
a permit was issued by the Town of Shandaken or approved
by the County Planning Board. In fact according to records
provided by those agencies as well as NYC DEP, the state’s
DEC, and the County’s Industrial Development Agency,
it’s only the last of those five agencies that even
now seems to know how big it’s actually turned out
The new Emerson that Shandaken’s planning board
signed off on in November, 2005 was an 18,000 square foot
building project with a projected $2 million construction
cost. Based on that figure, its owners - listed both as
Kaatskill Development Holdings and as Spotted Dog Ventures
- paid Shandaken a fee of $6,100. According to its application
to town planners, the project was to result in “175-200
jobs retained.” A few days earlier, County planners
also signed off on an 18,000 square foot project, although
they appear never to have been actually provided with
detailed building plans, only a site plan sketch.
Just nine days after Shandaken’s approval the Ulster
County Industrial Development Agency, which technically
owns the building under a 10-year leaseback and financing
agreement, was informed that the project had grown to
24,000 square feet and its construction costs had risen
from $2million to $5million. According to that submission,
the project would produce 38 full-time and 10 part-time
In March 2006 however, the IDA was informed another 14,900
square feet was being added, bringing the final construction
size to 38,900 square feet, more than twice the size applied
for or approved in its building permit. That addition,
five to eight times the size of a typical home, generated
no change in the project’s estimated construction
costs as provided to IDA or to the town.
Four months later in July 2006, DEP was provided plans
for only 24,000 square feet of new construction. That’s
not a problem, says DEP, since the septic discharge plan
they approved is based on the structure’s usage
which hasn’t changed, instead of its size, which
has. So although the 24 luxury suites under construction
have grown from 550 to 950 square feet each and over 12,000
square feet of additional new construction has been added,
everything’s OK with the City agency.
As to the permit fees paid to Shandaken, Emerson spokesman
Paul Rakov said on Tuesday that “the original payment
to the town was based on our building permit plans submitted
for the foundation and framing of the new Emerson. If,
or when, the town comes to us with its invoiced request
for additional payment, we will gladly pay it as we always
Based on the difference between a $2 million and a $5
million project, that amount would appear to be $9,000.
An IDA official, asking not to be quoted as they weren't
familiar with submissions made to other agencies, expressed
no surprise at the rise in costs from initial estimates,
but did however, express the general expectation that
any developer would bring to local planning and zoning
officials a full picture of what they're proposing.
Why More Cops?
The Ulster County Sheriff, a former Shandaken resident,
has announced that he has beefed up Police coverage in
Paul VanBlarcum, who was elected last November, described
the action as one of his top goals for 2007.
A former Shandaken Town Board member, VanBlarcum said
the Sheriff’s Department presence in the town hall,
where it has an office, had dwindled over the years to
only one deputy, and that deputy happens to live in town
so most of his time was simply being on call at his residence.
The Shandaken substation, however, serves the towns of
Shandaken, Denning, Hardenburgh, Olive and Woodstock.
The idea, VanBlarcum said, is to cut Sheriff’s Department
response to calls in the further reaches of the county
and provide late night coverage when towns have less police
New At DEC…
Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner
Denise Sheehan sent a letter to all 3,400 DEC staff members
on Friday, January 12, saying her last day would be the
following Wednesday, January 17, after which she plans
to pursue a career in local government. She had been at
the agency’s helm for about two years and while
she wasn‘t criticized for her time at the job, the
DEC itself became something of a campaign issue from those
calling for it to be ramped up, instead of down.
Carl Johnson, acting executive deputy commissioner for
the DEC and the man who recently issued a decision on
an appeals process from Belleayre Resort developers Crossroads
Ventures, will serve during the interim until a new commissioner
comes on board. He took on a similar role two years ago
when former DEC Commissioner Erin Crotty left the position
for private employment.
Names mentioned as Governor Spitzer’s new DEC Commissioner
have included his top environmental advisor while Attorney
General, former NYPIRG officer Judith Enck, Open Space
Institute executive director Joe Martens, both of whom
have deep knowledge of Catskills and Hudson Valley issues,
along with two Manhattan-based men.
It was not only expected, as of press time, that someone
with non-Downstate ties be named for the job, but that
a decision be announced on Thursday, January 11.
To date, Spitzer has announced all his administrative
appointees on Thursdays…
Why The Flood?
The Ashokan Reservoir did not contribute to the sudden
rise that caused the Esopus Creek banks to overflow on
April 3, 2005, leading to widespread flooding that displaced
some 300 families in Ulster County, according to a study
just released by the U.S. Geological Survey that will
be looked at by FEMA to determine whether new flood insurance
rate maps are needed for the region. The report noted
that snow melt combined with rainfall was the culprit
in the Esopus Creek flood.
Average daily measures for water flowing into the Ashokan
Reservoir are 5,595 gallons per second; in Mount Marion,
along the Lower Esopus, it is 3,517.5 gallons per second,
according to the Geological Survey. The creek flows another
five miles through Saugerties before reaching the Hudson
River. During the April 2005 flood, flows reached a peak
of 419,000 gallons per second going into the reservoir
and 228,750 gallons per second at Mount Marion. Studies
show water levels peaked at about 1 a.m. April 3 going
into the Ashokan but it was not until 9 p.m. that the
creek reached its crest at the monitoring station at Mount
Marion. The report points out that the lower Esopus would
have already risen when the reservoir overflowed.
The Kingston Hospital and Benedictine Hospital have announced
approval of a Memorandum of Agreement that represents
the first major step of advancing the goal of creating
a corporate affiliation between the two hospitals. The
purpose of the MOA is to confirm the mutually agreed elements
of an alignment between the two hospitals under a common
corporate “parent” and to establish a mutually
acceptable process and timetable for finalizing the alignment.
The Commission on Health Care Facilities in the 21st Century,
known as the Berger Commission, has mandated the two hospitals
create an affiliation and has given the two hospitals
until December 31, 2007 to create a plan under which a
new corporation would be created to oversee the two facilities.
The plan assures that Benedictine Hospital remains a Catholic
hospital and adheres to the ethical and religious directive
and that The Kingston Hospital remains a non-sectarian
hospital. The new parent company will be a New York not-for-profit
corporation under New York State Public Health Law.
Ulster County lawmakers are considering forming a committee
to investigate where the overdue and over-budget Ulster
County Law Enforcement Center went wrong, looking into
what caused the new jail to fall almost three years behind
schedule and more than $30 million over initial budget
estimates. The initial estimate for the project was $53
million, but bids came in at $71.8 million. To date, $87,160,030
has been set aside for the project, according to County
Administrator Michael Hein. And the county still is negotiating
several outstanding claims from contractors that could
push the total cost to more than $100 million.
When Democrats took control of the Legislature in 2006,
in large part because of voter dissatisfaction with the
jail project, they vowed to get to the bottom of what
caused the problem. But action on that promise has stalled.
But now Ulster County Legislature Chairman David Donaldson
has said the time is right to investigate the situation
because the project is almost complete and contractors
basically are off the job. Donaldson said the creation
of the committee is not a political move but a true effort
to get to the bottom of the problem in open session, not
in court papers. Legislature Minority Leader Glenn Noonan
balked at that argument, saying the Democrats’ current
call for a committee stems from a Jan. 6 Kingston Freeman
editorial on the project. He added that the best course
of action would be to remove the matter from the Legislature
completely and put it in the hands of an independent commission.
If even one legislator is on the commission, the report
it eventually issues will be biased and partisan, he said.
Newly sworn-in Ulster County Sheriff Paul Van Blarcum,
a Democrat, also said he would prefer an independent commission
to look into the project, but said he is glad that it’s
Now the big trick is to figure out what to do with the
(hopefully) soon-to-be-vacated old jail.
In Cold Blood?
The trial has begun for Ben Odierno, the former Pine Hill
resident that is accussed of murdering his wife in their
New York City residence two years ago.
Odierno was arrested on April 24, 2005 at the couple’s
home on the upper east side of Manhattan after allegedly
stabbing his wife to death with a kitchen knife during
an argument about their divorce.
The New York Times reported last week that prosecutors
say Odierno, 72, killed his wife, who was 57, three days
after she gave him divorce papers. She reportedly handed
those papers over in a public place, they say, because
she was afraid of him. Prosecutors also say she was a
long-suffering victim of domestic abuse that was always
When the police arrived at the crime scene, prosecutor
Kerry O’Connell claimed that Ms. Odierno was able
to draw enough breath to say, ‘My husband did this.
My husband stabbed me in the heart.’ ”
The defense lawyer agreed that Mr. Odierno killed his
wife. But he said that it was in self-defense, and that
it was she who had been tormenting him, forcing him to
see a psychiatrist.
The Attorney said that Mr. Odierno reacted instinctively
to save his own life after she stabbed him.
Mr. Odierno, a landlord and owner of the Pine Hill Water
Company until selling the company to developer Dean Gitter
several years ago, had traumatic amnesia that prevented
him from recalling the details of the night his wife died,
his Attorney said.
The police, responding to a 911 call reporting a woman’s
screams, said that when they arrived they found Mr. Odierno
stabbing himself in the abdomen.
The Ulster County Planning Department has received a $15,000
matching grant from the Hudson River Valley Greenway to
begin working with towns, villages and the city of Kingston
to form a countywide Greenway compact to provide economic
development which considers environmental issues, transportation
and cultural elements in its decision-making. To date,
the towns of Ulster, Hardenburgh and Shandaken are the
only communities within Ulster County that have not joined
the Greenway… largely on home rule issues; while
Olive and Woodstock are eying the system for fundraising
purposes for a host of projects over the coming years.
Ulster County Planning Director Dennis Doyle said a $60,000
grant to the county from Greenway has been earmarked for
Main Street revitalization planning in 15 of the county’s
smaller communities, including Accord, Boiceville, Wallkill
and Highland. The county has been a member of the Greenway
Same Sex Benefits
The Ulster County Legislature, on a mostly party-line
vote, agreed to provide health insurance benefits to same-sex
domestic partners of county employees. The benefits will
essentially be equal to those currently provided to spouses.
Several employees in the county Social Service department
had joined in a lawsuit, claiming current county policy
violates the state’s Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination
Act. The suit was put on hold pending outcome of the recent
An amendment to delete all references to ‘same-sex’
and expand the measure to cover all domestic partners
did not get a second, although several legislators claimed
they understood the point Kingston Legislator Frank Dart
was trying to make.
Some Republicans questioned the legality of granting the
benefits by resolution, rather than include the proposal
in the next contract negotiations.
The measure passed 19 to 13.
The Ulster County Development Corporation (UCDC) has started
a search to recruit its next President & CEO, having
named a seven-member CEO Search Committee to seek a replacement
for the position which became vacant following the resignation
of Chester J. Straub, Jr. in December. The Committee consists
of private and public sector members from Ulster County:
Patricia Brooks, Brooks & Brooks Land Surveyors; Thomas
Collins, Commercial Associates Real Estate; March Gallagher,
Ulster County Industrial Development Agency; Ron Marquette,
AVR Realty; Hector Rodriguez Ulster County Legislature;
Ward Todd, Chamber of Commerce of Ulster County; and Robert
J. Ryan, Jr., Ryan Insurance, who will lead the Committee.
The new President & CEO will be responsible for implementation
of goals, policies, and initiatives for a countywide economic
development strategy. Recruitment ads have been placed
in regional and national trade and business media, as
well as three internet job sites. Resumes will be accepted
through January 24, 2007. The Board expects the search
to conclude within four months. Details on the scope of
the position and search process are posted at: http://www.ulsterny.com/pages/fullstory.php?newsid=79
Jury selection has started in Greene County Court for
the trial of Thomas Sebald, 30 of New Paltz, a former
bouncer at the Hunter Village Inn charged with felony
criminally negligent homicide in connection with the Feb.
5, 2006 death of a patron,45-year-old Peter Shine of Oakdale.
Sebald was indicted on the felony charge, which carries
a maximum sentence of one and a third to four years in
state prison, last May.
The grand jury that indicted Sebald found that during
the late evening of Feb. 4, 2006, while he was working
as a bouncer at the Hunter Village Inn, Sebald removed
Shine from the business through a rear door. Shine, who
had been a patron, was later seen by another bouncer lying
on the ground in the rain at the bottom of the two steps
outside the bar’s rear door, the release said, adding
that Shine was not breathing and it was determined he
had died. According to a police report, Shine had been
in a disagreement with another patron, which escalated
to the point where Sebald had removed him. Wilhelm had
previously said at the time of Sebald’s arrest that
Shine died from asphyxiation as a result of pressure applied
to his neck. Shine was described by witnesses as “very
intoxicated,” and he also sustained a head injury,
which was determined by an autopsy not to have contributed
to his death, authorities said after Sebald’s arrest.
Sebald, who taught government and economics and coached
football and lacrosse at Monroe-Woodbury High School,
was on paid leave of absence last year, school officials
said at the time of his indictment.
Ulster County Legislator Leonard Distel of Ellenville
has been appointed to chair a new task force to establish
services to allow offenders to transition back into society
as productive individuals once they have been released
from prison. The program is aimed at reducing recidivism.
Distel, a retired corrections officer, said most prisoners
are not prepared for life outside prison when they are
“It’s a program that is going to make the
attempt to take selective inmates and place them back
into their respective communities providing them with
employment and getting them involved in their local areas,”
he said. There will be professionals in the committee.
Distel said they want to help former inmates “who
are tired of doing it the old way and want to move on
and lead a productive life.”
The Ulster County Assessors Association is urging homeowners
not to wait until the March 1 deadline to file for property
tax exemptions, noting that if one misses the March 1
deadline, chances are they will not receive the exemption.
Residents should check with their town’s assessor
because, although exemptions are governed by state law,
they can vary among local municipalities. Not-for-profit
organizations and agricultural exemptions are the most
common requiring annual renewal, but exemptions like the
Senior Citizen Limited Income Exemption and the enhanced
STAR Exemption also must be filed annually.
A pressing deadline is the one for the STAR rebate check
- Jan. 20 – which must be certified by the municipal
assessor before the information can be sent to the state.
There is nothing local assessors can do if a resident
misses that deadline, the UCAA says.
Any property owner who will be 65 or older by the end
of 2007 can apply for senior exemptions this year.
The number of existing single-family homes sold in the
Hudson Valley and Catskills were down in November 2006
as compared to the same month in 2005.
According to the New York State Association of Realtors,
the only county in the region that saw an increase in
existing homes sales was Columbia County with a more than
12 percent gain.
Home sales fell by 26.7 percent in Dutchess, by 23.5 percent
in Delaware, by 22.9 percent in Rockland, by 22.6 percent
in Putnam County, by 19.4 percent in Ulster County, by
15.5 percent in Westchester County; and by 12.5 percent
in Sullivan County. There was no change reported in Greene
The highest median selling price for an existing single-family
house in the region was in Westchester County, at $595,000.
The lowest was in Delaware County at $127,000. In Greene
County, the median price was $169,750; in Sullivan County,
the median price was $185,000; in Columbia County, the
price was $227,000; Ulster County, the price was $259,500;
in Orange County, $315,500; in Dutchess County, $325,000;
in Putnam County, $415,000; in Rockland County, $482,000.
Statewide, the number of existing single-family homes
fell from November 2005 to November 2006 by 14 percent.
A new formulation of an inhalable flu vaccine that can
be stored refrigerated instead of frozen won federal approval.
The new version of FluMist should allow for expanded use
of the vaccine in places like schools, pharmacies and
grocery stores, where the requirement that the original
version of the vaccine be kept frozen presented difficulties,
according to its manufacturer, MedImmune Inc.
The Food and Drug Administration originally approved FluMist
in 2003. The nasal spray delivers weakened live viruses
FluMist is now approved for healthy people ages 5 to 49,
though the company seeks expanded approval for use in
children as young as 1 as long as they don’t have
a history of wheezing or asthma. MedImmune said the new
formulation should be available in August, in time for
the 2007-2008 flu season.
Meanwhile, after years of flu vaccine shortages, health
officials in Ulster and Dutchess counties report having
a surplus of the vaccine this year with most or all of
their clinics already completed. Curtis Allen, a spokesman
with the Centers for Disease Control, said there simply
is more vaccine available this year than ever before.
Manufacturers, to date, have produced 102 million doses,
Allen said; in previous years, the record was 83 million.
The flu vaccine is recommended for children ages 6 months
to 5 years, people 65 and older, people who give care
to those two groups, and anyone with a chronic illness.
Allen said those recommendations cover more than 200 million
people, but 200 million people have never been vaccinated
in any given year.
Allen said the CDC is in the midst of a public education
campaign to inform people that the vaccine is good until
July and that it’s worth getting it even late in
the season, since 13 of the last 30 flu seasons peaked
in February or later, with one season even peaking in
Ulster County will offer the flu vaccine through January.
Those interested should call (845) 340-3070.
The US Army is to apologize to the families of officers
killed or wounded in action who were sent letters urging
them to return to active duty. The letters were sent to
more than 5,100 Army officers listed as recently having
left the military. But this figure included about 75 officers
killed in action and about 200 wounded in action.
More than 3,000 members of the US military have died in
Iraq since the war began. Casualties have also been suffered
in Afghanistan since the US invasion.
“Army personnel officials are contacting those officers’
families now to personally apologize for erroneously sending
the letters,” the army said in a statement, noting
that the database normally used for such correspondence
with former officers had been “thoroughly reviewed”
to remove the names of dead and wounded soldiers.
“But an earlier list was used inadvertently for
the December mailings,” it added.
A partnership is being formed to pool resources and funding
to research and combat the threats of non-native invasive
species to the Catskill region and educate the public
about them. The Catskill Regional Invasive Species Partnership,
or CRISP, was formed to address non-native invasive species.
These species cause damage across the United States and
threaten to destroy Catskill forests and streams that
provide valuable economic, recreational and ecological
benefits, according to a press release from the Nature
Alan White, the Catskill Mountain Program Director for
the Nature Conservancy, said the Catskill region is “already
experiencing negative consequences such as limited stream
access and reduction in species diversity from well-established
plant invaders, like Japanese knotweed.” He said
other invasive species of concern include diseases such
as sudden oak syndrome and insects like the hemlock wooly
adelgid, which kills hemlock.
By forming the partnership, various concerned individuals
and agencies will be able to work together to research
and obtain funding to deal with the invasive species,
White said. He said the key is to have the agencies work
together, rather than compete for funding. White added
that the Catskill Regional Invasive Species Partnership
includes the Nature Conservancy, state Department of Environmental
Conservation, state Department of Transportation and the
New York City Department of Environmental Protection.
Any individuals, organizations or agencies with an interest
in invasive species research, education or management,
or those affected by them, are welcome to join the Catskill
Regional Invasive Species Partnership. To receive the
sign-on letter or additional information, contact White
Certain low- to moderate-income individuals or families
may be eligible for money to construct, repair or improve
household water well systems through 1 percent interest
loans from the Foundation for Affordable Drinking Water.
The Foundation was established through the National Ground
Water Association. Qualified applicants can borrow up
to $8,000 at 1 percent interest for a term not to exceed
20 years. To qualify, households must: Own the home and
use it as the principal residence. Have as the primary
drinking water source an individual household well system
located on the property of the home. Must meet income
eligibility requirements. Be located in a city, town or
unincorporated area with a population of less than 50,000..The
Foundation will not underwrite a loan once a project is
underway or has been completed. Most new home construction
projects are not eligible. Another important aspect of
the loan program is to educate loan recipients on the
importance of regular well maintenance and annual testing
of their well system. Complete information, including
application forms and requirements and income eligibility
limits, can to accessed by going to www.ngwa.org and clicking
on the link for Foundation for Affordable Drinking Water.
Applications and additional information can also be obtained
by contacting the Foundation at 800-551-7379, or going
to www.wellowner.org and clicking on “Financing.”
The White House and the Secret Service quietly signed
an agreement last spring in the midst of the Jack Abramoff
lobbying scandal declaring that records identifying visitors
to the White House are not open to the public. The Bush
administration didn’t reveal the existence of the
memorandum of understanding until last fall. The White
House is using it to deal with a legal problem on a separate
front, a ruling by a federal judge ordering the production
of Secret Service logs identifying visitors to the office
of Vice President Dick Cheney .
In a federal appeals court filing in December, the administration’s
lawyers used the memo in a legal argument aimed at overturning
the judge’s ruling. The five-page document dated
May 17 declares that all entry and exit data on White
House visitors belongs to the White House as presidential
records rather than to the Secret Service as agency records.
Therefore, the agreement states, the material is not subject
to public disclosure under the Freedom of Information
In the past, Secret Service logs have revealed the comings
and goings of various White House visitors, including
Monica Lewinsky and Clinton campaign donor Denise Rich,
the wife of fugitive financier Marc Rich, who received
a pardon in the closing hours of the Clinton administration.
The memo last spring was signed by the White House and
Secret Service the day after a Washington-based group
asked a federal judge to impose sanctions on the Secret
Service in a dispute over White House visitor logs for
The White House and the Secret Service declined to comment.
A new publication, Catskill Streams and You, Living Streamside
in the Catskill Region, is now available for homeowners
in the New York City Watershed, encouraging residents
to get involved in community and watershed stewardship
programs and activities, from stream cleanups to tree
planting. One particularly active group – the Broadstreet
Hollow Landowners Association in the Town of Shandaken,
Ulster County — is profiled in the brochure.
Property owners who live along the main stem of basins
where stream management plans have been adopted or are
being developed will receive Catskill Streams in the mail.
These basins include the West and East Branches of the
Delaware River, and the Batavia Kill, Stony Clove, West
Kill, Broadstreet Hollow and Esopus Creeks. The publication
will also be available at public events where the Catskill
Watershed Corporation (CWC) and other co-sponsoring organizations
offer information on their programs. Copies may also be
ordered by emailing Jenn Grieser, DEP Stream Management
Project Manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Catskill Streams was a joint production of the CWC, the
NYC Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the
Watershed Agricultural Council, the Catskill Center for
Conservation and Development, Cornell Cooperative Extension
(CCE) of Ulster and Greene Counties and the Soil and Water
Conservation Districts (SWCD) of Delaware and Greene Counties.
A new partnership website, http://www.catskillstreams.org/
is due to go online this spring. It will provide complementary
information on stream processes, preventing erosion and
contamination of waterways, and hazard mitigation in floodplains.
The website will include a calendar of stream-related
activities and events, as well as a library of stream
management plans and other documents. There will be separate
pages with descriptions, maps and other information specific
to major stream basins in the Catskills (East and West
Branches of the Delaware River, the Schoharie, Esopus
and Rondout Creeks, and the Neversink River.)
A little-noticed change in federal law packs an important
change in who is in charge the next time a state is devastated
by a disaster such as Hurricane Katrina. To the dismay
of the nation’s governors, the White House now will
be empowered to go over a governor’s head and call
up National Guard troops to aid a state in time of natural
disasters or other public emergencies. Up to now, governors
were the sole commanders in chief of citizen soldiers
in local Guard units during emergencies within the state.
Over objections from all 50 governors, Congress in October
tweaked the 200-year-old Insurrection Act to empower the
hand of the president in future stateside emergencies.
In a letter to Congress, the governors called the change
“a dramatic expansion of federal authority during
natural disasters that could cause confusion in the command-and-control
of the National Guard and interfere with states’
ability to respond to natural disasters within their borders.”
The change adds to tensions between governors and the
White House after more than four years of heavy federal
deployment of state-based Guard forces to fight in Iraq
and Afghanistan. Since the 2001 terrorist attacks, four
out of five guardsmen have been sent overseas in the largest
deployment of the National Guard since World War II. Shortage
of the Guard’s military equipment - such as helicopters
to drop hay to snow-stranded cattle in Colorado - also
is a nagging issue as much of units’ heavy equipment
is left overseas and unavailable in case of a natural
disaster at home.
The Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 forbids U.S. troops from
being deployed on American soil for law enforcement. The
one exception is provided by the Insurrection Act of 1807,
which lets the president use the military only for the
purpose of putting down rebellions or enforcing constitutional
rights if state authorities fail to do so. Under that
law, the president can declare an insurrection and call
in the armed forces. The act has been invoked only a handful
of times in the past 50 years, including in 1957 to desegregate
schools and in 1992 during riots in south central Los
Angeles after the acquittal of police accused of beating
Congress changed the Insurrection Act to list “natural
disaster, epidemic, or other serious public health emergency,
terrorist attack or incident” as conditions under
which the president can deploy U.S. armed forces and federalize
state Guard troops if he determines that “authorities
of the state or possession are incapable of maintaining