The Coalition of Watershed Towns and a number of state
officials and local governments have decided to try fighting
the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s decision
to grant New York City a 10-year extension of a variance
that allows it to avoid filtering its water supply, even
though there deadline for such complaints is May 31..
Republican representatives from the Catskills watershed
area, including State Senators John Bonacic and James
Seward, as well as Assemblymen Clifford Crouch and Peter
Lopez, have joined the Coalition and the Delaware County
Board of Supervisors to blast the federal agency’s
proposal, which has generally received support from state,
city and other county and towns’ support. The legislators
cited, in particular, issues relating to recreational
access to city-owned lands as problematic as well as the
city’s reluctance to create adequate “voids”
in their reservoirs.
A resolution drafted by the four lawmakers is circulating
throughout the vast watershed region and was okayed Monday
in Shandaken. It states that all local governments that
pass the resolution unequivocally oppose the EPA’s
proposed 10-year filtration avoidance determination and
demands the agency reduce the term not to exceed five
years, even though not all towns have, or will, vote on
the measure. It also calls for several changes in the
avoidance package, including: the incorporation of late
comments made by municipalities within the watershed,
the holding of more hearings on flooding within the watershed
and in adjoining areas, requiring that New York City open
its lands within the watershed for recreational purposes
on par with state-owned lands, except for land that should
be protected due to legitimate security and public safety
concerns. requiring New York City to create voids within
its reservoirs to take into account the effects of rain
and melting snow, and requiring that New York City fund
the Coalition of Watershed Towns in an amount adequate
for the coalition to establish an ombudsman program to
advocate for municipal needs… and avoid going bankrupt.
Last week, the executive board of the Coalition of Watershed
Towns held a closed session to discuss possible legal
action against the Environmental Protection Agency’s
proposal. Talk from Coalition attorney Kevin Young and
others this past week has suggested that there is currently
a scramble to file necessary legal paperwork within the
coming two weeks.
Ulster County lawmakers are voting this week to impose
a county mortgage tax and to hike the hotel/motel tax
from two percent to four percent. County Legislature Ways
and Means Committee Chairman Alan Lomita said both taxes
are seen as viable alternatives to hiking the property
“The sales and hotel/motel tax should bring in some
$4 million per year” he said. “The biggest
issue on the minds of our residents is the high property
tax. The mortgage tax increase, the hotel/motel tax increase,
will lighten that load on the residents of Ulster County.”
Right now, Ulster County receives nothing from mortgage
tax filings. Towns and the state receive a tax. The new
plan would give the county 25 cents on each $100 of a
Meanwhile, County Treasurer Lewis C. Kirschner recently
announced that the 2006 Annual Financial Report for the
County of Ulster has been completed and filed with the
State Comptroller on April 30, 2007. He noted that in
2006, the Unreserved/Unappropriated General Fund Balance
is $17.8 million. In 2005, the Unreserved/Unappropriated
General Fund Balance was $11.9 million. This represents
an increase in the County’s Unreserved/Unappropriated
General Fund Balance of $5.9 million compared with 2005.
“The factors that have influenced this increase
are cost containment initiatives, cost cutting measures
and an increase in tax revenues,” Kirschner said.
“As a result, the County was able to continue to
work towards stabilizing its financial position.”
It is recommended by the State Comptroller’s Office
that municipalities should maintain an unreserved/unappropriated
fund balance of between 5% and 10% of their total general
fund budget. The $17.8 million represents approximately
6.9% of the County’s general fund budget.
The CWC Board…
At its annual meeting on April 24, the Catskill Watershed
Corporation Board of Directors said farewell to Ward Todd,
a long time colleague, as it welcomed newcomer Michael
Shultis, town supervisor of Hurley, to its ranks. Georgianna
Lepke of Sullivan County and Michael Flaherty of Greene
County were returned to five-year seats without opposition.
Todd, of Shandaken, had been one of two Ulster County
representatives on the 15-member CWC Board since 1997,
shortly after the establishment of the non-profit organization.
As a member of the Ulster County Legislature, he was eligible
for service on the CWC Board, which requires its members
to be locally elected officials. Mr. Todd subsequently
relinquished his elected post to become Executive Director
of the Ulster County Chamber of Commerce, and so stepped
down from the CWC Board when his term expired.
Todd, who was first vice-president of the board, chaired
the Education Committee. He also served on the Finance,
Septic and Economic Development Committees, as well as
the Temporary Committee on Tourism and Regional Marketing.
Shultis was elected Hurley’s Supervisor in 2005.
He serves full-time in that capacity. Born in Kingston,
he has lived most of his life in Hurley, where he served
for 15 years on the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals.
The owner of Shultis Forest Products, he has been a timber
harvester since 1976. He and his wife Marie, our advertising
director, have five children ranging in age from 11 to
26 and one grandchild.
Officers of the CWC Board who were named at the Annual
Meeting April 24 include President Perry Shelton, First
Vice President Michael Flaherty, Second Vice President
Berndt Leifeld, Secretary Charles Buck, and Treasurer
The CWC’s Tenth Annual Report was also issued at
the CWC’s Annual Meeting of Member Towns, touting
the organization’s history and accomplishments,
including the replacement of 2,380 failed residential
septic systems in the region, the building of 39 sand
and salt storage sheds, reimbural of $2.3 million for
41 stormwater control projects associated with new construction,
the awarding of nearly $10 million in grants for some
70 municipal projects to correct or improve existing stormwater
controls, assess infrastructure networks and plan repairs
and upgrades, the completion of Community Septic Systems
and Community Wastewater Management Projects in five more
hamlets, for a total capital commitment of approximately
$26 million, the awarding of grants totaling $392,000
to ten municipalities for community planning initiatives
under the Local Technical Assistance Program, the distribution
of 132 low-interest loans valued at more than $27 million
to start-up businesses and to firms planning building
or inventory expansions, facility improvements or other
projects resulting in the creation or retention of more
than 1,000 jobs, the provision of 122 grants to non-profit
organizations and others planning community improvement,
cultural enhancement and business development projects,
support for a number of tourism promotion efforts, and
the current development of a regional tourism and marketing
web site with mapping capabilities, the awarding of more
than $1.2 million in Watershed Education grants to schools
and non-profit organizations serving thousands of students
in New York City and in the Catskill-Delaware Watershed,
the coordination of five Watershed Stream Clean-ups involving
hundreds of volunteers, sponsorship of Catskills Local
Government Days, and more.
For more information on CWC programs and activities, and
to read the 2006 Annual Report, go to www.cwconline.org.
Hard copies of the report can be obtained by calling Diane
Galusha at 845-586-1400, ext. 29; email@example.com.
US Senator Charles Schumer and Congressman John Hall have
announced their support for legislation that would seek
to protect old dams by requiring the FEMA director to
establish a program to provide grants to states to rehabilitate
publicly-owned dams that fail to meet minimum safety standards
and pose an unacceptable risk to the public. The other
measure would require the Secretary of the Army to maintain
and update information on a dam inventory.
“In many cases, these dams are literally falling
apart. If we don’t act fast we could have a real
mess on our hands that could involve a loss of live or
a loss of property,” Schumer said. Hall, who is
a major supporter of renewable energy, added that the
government should look into the possibility of establishing
low-head hydro-electric plants on dams as well.
“You can harvest greater than 1,200 megawatts of
power just by putting turbine generators where the water
is already falling,” he said. “You are not
importing anything, you are not paying for the fuel and
there’s no pollution caused by it.”
Schumer said there are 384 dams in the state classified
as “high hazard” and there are over 5,000
in New York with only eight full-time employees assigned
to the dam safety program as of 2005.
The state DEC said the “high hazard” classification
does not mean they are unsafe.
U.S. hospitals are charging uninsured patients about two-and-a-half
times more than those with health insurance, a mark-up
that has been steadily rising despite pressure to level
prices, a new study has found. In 2004, the most recent
year for which data was available, hospital patients without
health insurance and others who pay for medical care out
of their own pockets were charged an average 2.57 times
more than those with health insurance, according to the
study published in the May-June issue of the journal Health
Affairs. That number has been rising steadily since 1984,
but has jumped more quickly since 2000, the analysis of
government data said.
The American Hospital Association (AHA), which represents
most of the nation’s 5,000 or so hospitals, said
the report was out-of-date and methodologically flawed.
The group said it is misleading because the study predates
U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid guidance, which
hospitals say they needed before they could give discounts
to uninsured patients.
Hospitals set rates based on a list called the chargemaster,
which is generally believed to inflate prices substantially,
in the belief that prices will come down during a negotiation
process. For-profit hospitals had the highest discrepancy
between costs estimated by Medicare and prices charged,
the study found.
But patients without health insurance, about 45 million
people in the U.S., lack the ability to negotiate. As
it stands, hospitals only collect about 10 cents on the
dollar charged to uninsured patients.
More than 60 class-action lawsuits have been filed against
U.S. hospitals over the issue.
Locally, the American Cancer Society has issued a release
stating that too many of the uninsured and underinsured
are unable to access services vital to surviving cancer,
and urged that health services be made available to all.
Cancer Society officials met in Kingston with representatives
of state lawmakers as well as Ulster County and City of
Kingston officials to probe the topic of the future of
Ulster County lawmakers were set to decide the day we
were going to press, May 9,. whether to endorse an agreement
with the county’s top level managers that will hike
their pay but eliminate a special benefit package. Legislator
Donald Gregorius, chairman of the county’s Labor
Relations and Negotiation Committee, said the agreement
represents a completely new look at resolving old issues,
particularly the issue of “salary compression,”
where growth in managers’ salaries was being outpaced
by that of rank-and-file union employees.
“We balanced it out to give new managers something
and help in the middle range, so we can retain people,”
Gregorius said. “It was an attempt to stop the compression
issue. There were longtime CSEA and other union people
making as much or more than managers because of the high
pay in different steps.”
Highlights of the agreement include a 3.25 percent salary
increase for 2006 and 2007, complete elimination of the
flexible spending plan by 2008 and a 10 percent contribution
to health insurance instead of the flat amount (roughly
$28) that had been paid by managers in the past. The agreement
also caps the number of vacation days that managers can
accumulate at 30 (managers who currently receive more
than 30 days will be held harmless); reduces sick and
vacation time buybacks from 30 to 15 days as of 2008;
and alters the contribution scale for retiree health insurance.
The agreement, which covers the years 2006 and 2007, will
cost the county $593,664. It covers county department
heads, non-union managers, legislative employees and the
Board of Elections.
A recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling, it seems, may put
control of trash flow back into local hands… if
anyone wants it. The Supreme Court ruled this month that
local governments can compel private trash haulers to
use municipal facilities, even if it would cost more to
keep garbage at home than to dispose of it elsewhere.
The ruling upholding local ordinances in upstate New York
protects a stream of money that allows counties, like
other governments that have built recycling centers and
landfills, to help pay off millions of dollars in debt
they incurred to establish such facilities. County leaders
say this can lead to new laws for flow control, which
would be used to direct waste generated in a specific
geographic area to a designated landfill or recycling
facility through laws, regulations or economic incentives.
Stephen J. Wing, counsel to the Ulster County Resource
Recovery Agency, said the ruling may provide the means
for the county to establish a recycling program. In the
past, he said, it was not economically feasible because
the program had to compete with private operations. Now,
with the county’s ability to direct waste to the
program, it might be plausible, he said.
The trash hauling companies had argued that the counties
violated constitutional protections for interstate commerce.
The companies argued that they would pay much less to
send the garbage to out-of-state transfer stations where
it is sorted and baled before being shipped off for permanent
disposal. But the court, in a 6-3 decision, said the Oneida-Herkimer
Solid Waste Management Authority treats “in-state
private business interests exactly the same as out-of-state
ones,” avoiding any constitutional problems.
“It bears mentioning that the most palpable harm
imposed by the ordinances - more expensive trash removal
- is likely to fall upon the very people who voted for
the law,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the
27 Watershed Education grants totaling $125,439 were approved
by the Catskill Watershed Corporation (CWC) Board of Directors
April 24. The grants will go to schools and non-profit
organizations in New York City and its Catskill-Delaware
Watershed, an area encompassing parts of Delaware, Greene,
Schoharie, Sullivan and Ulster Counties. Projects funded
by these grants are intended to increase awareness, understanding
and appreciation of clean water, the City’s vast
water delivery system, and the upstate Watershed which
supplies 90 percent of the water consumed by nine million
Several of the grants will enable upstate and downstate
students to share information and get to know one another.
Perhaps the most innovative project involves six students
from the Harbor School in Manhattan and six from Sidney
Central School who will participate in a Mountaintop to
Tap Trek this summer. The group, accompanied by teachers
and adult guides, will spend three weeks hiking and boating
their way from the High Peaks region of the Catskills
to the Big Apple to spotlight the critical connection
between the mountains and the city. The CWC grant, awarded
to Stroud Water Research Center which is coordinating
the adventure, will fund an exhibition of student photos
and journal entries generated during the trek. The exhibit
will open at South Street Seaport Museum in Manhattan
in October, and will subsequently travel to upstate venues.
CWC grants will also assist projects planned by the following
schools and institutions serving K-12 students and teachers
from the Watershed: Phoenicia and Kerhonkson Elementary
Schools, South Kortright, Hunter-Tannersville, Roxbury,
Gilboa-Conesville, Liberty, Margaretville (two projects)
and Fallsburg Central Schools.
The Ashokan Field Campus of SUNY New Paltz, and the Catskill
Center for Conservation and Development will also offer
teacher training. The Roxbury Arts Group will expand its
environmental offerings to children enrolled in its Nature
and Art for Youth summer program in 2008.
For more information on past Watershed Education Grants
and related programs, consult the Catskill-NYC Watershed
Educators Network web site, www.WatershEducators.org.
Day in and day out, children across the U.S. are riding
to school on aging buses, breathing what some activists
say is a dangerous brew of pollutants up to five times
dirtier than the air outside. It is a situation that Congress
and many states have sought to fix in recent years. In
fact, in 2005 federal lawmakers passed a measure to replace
or retrofit the dirtiest diesel engines across the nation…
But little has been done.
Around the country, state officials are struggling to
find the money to carry out clean school bus initiatives.
And Congress has yet to deliver on the $1 billion it promised
over five years to help states clean up diesel fleets,
including school buses.
Breathing high concentrations of diesel emissions - known
as particulates - can cause minor ailments such as headaches,
wheezing and dizziness. But studies have also found the
contaminants can do more serious damage. Recent studies
by the Environmental Protection Agency and other groups
link the emissions to asthma and lung cancer.
Two types of filters are available to reduce the most
dangerous emissions on older buses. Diesel particulate
filters - which are installed in place of mufflers at
an estimated cost of $700 each - can reduce tailpipe emissions
by at least 85 percent. Closed crankcase filtration systems,
which go under the hood and cost $7,500, can reduce engine
soot by about 90 percent. A bus can be fitted with one
or both filters.
An estimated 390,000 diesel school buses are on the road
in the U.S., according to the EPA. Most newer buses were
manufactured to meet stricter emissions guidelines and
do not need filters. But about one-third of the nation’s
diesel school-bus fleet, or more than 100,000 buses, were
manufactured before 1990 and are big polluters, according
Researchers say older buses also let lots of emissions
enter through doors and windows. The longer the ride,
the more harmful to children, they say, putting students
in rural areas in particularly unhealthy circumstances.
Experts say children are particularly vulnerable because
soot particles can disrupt development of their respiratory
systems. Also, children breathe more quickly than adults
and take in more air per pound.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation has
announced that due to hazardous trial conditions, a number
of trails have been closed in the Greene County area of
the Catskill Park… including several accessible
from the Shandaken area. The heavy snowfall earlier in
the month brought down a large number of limbs and trees
making the trails extremely difficult to follow, increasing
the risk of injury, and increasing the chances of hikers
becoming lost or disoriented.
Among the closed trails closed were one in the Windham
area as well as the upper section of the Spruceton trail
between Deming Notch and Hunter Mountain, as well as between
the summit of Hunter Mountain and the Devils Acre lean-to;
plus the Devils Path trail within the Indian Head-Plateau
Mountain Wilderness behind Mink Hollow.
Signs will be posted at appropriate trailheads alerting
hikers to the hazardous conditions and trail closures.
The department anticipates that the trails will be re-opened
by Memorial Day weekend.
On the tail of the recent pet food debacle, federal officials
have placed a hold on 20 million chickens raised for market
in several states because their feed was mixed with pet
food they are saying contained an “industrial chemical.”
Three government agencies - the Agriculture Department,
the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental
Protection Agency - are overseeing a risk assessment to
determine whether the chickens would pose a threat to
human health if eaten. They add that the 20 million chickens
represent a tiny fraction of the 9 billion chickens raised
each year in the United States.
Which states have chicken producers affected by the hold
will be announced later, the government said. State agriculture
officials as well as chicken manufacturers were being
contacted as the agencies determine the extent of the
problem, adding that many farms in several states probably
Investigators found last week that about 5 percent of
feed used at some smaller chicken production operations
came from pet food tainted with the chemical melamine.
Larger manufacturers, because they usually use special
feed for the chickens they raise or contract for raising,
are unlikely to have exposed their animals to large amounts
of the tainted pet products.
Since March 16, more than 100 brands of pet food have
been recalled because they were “contaminated with
melamine.” An unknown number of dogs and cats have
been sickened or died after eating pet food tainted with
Federal investigators have been trying to determine how
much of the tainted pet food had been used in feed for
hogs and chickens. Hog farms in at least six states may
have received tainted pet food for use in feed. Those
animals also have been barred from market.
The Bush administration is helping multinationals buy
US municipal water systems, according to new reports,
“putting our most important resource in the hands
of corporations with no public accountability.”
Documentary filmmakers Alan Snitow and Deborah Kaufman
recently teamed up with author Michael Fox to write “Thirst:
Fighting the Corporate Theft of Our Water” (Wiley,
2007). The three followed water privatization battles
across the United States - from California to Massachusetts
and from Georgia to Wisconsin, documenting the rise of
public opposition to corporate control of water resources.
They found that the issue of privatization ran deep.
“We came to see that the conflicts over water are
really about fundamental questions of democracy itself:
Who will make the decisions that affect our future, and
who will be excluded?” they wrote in the book’s
preface. “And if citizens no longer control their
most basic resource, their water, do they really control
anything at all?”
Currently, water systems are controlled publicly in 90
percent of communities across the world and 85 percent
in the United States, but that number is changing rapidly.
In 1990, 50 million people worldwide got their water services
from private companies, but by 2002 it was 300 million
“Globally, corporations are promoting water privatization
under the guise of efficiency, but the fact is that they
are not paying the full cost of public infrastructure,
environmental damage, or healthcare for those they hurt,”
said Ashley Schaeffer of Corporate Accountability International.
“Water is a human right and not a privilege.”
It turns out the United States is an attractive place
for multinationals looking to make inroads in the water
business. The three main players are the French companies
Suez and Veolia (formerly Vivendi), and the German group
RWE. The companies first pushed water privatization in
developing nations. The companies that already controlled
the small percentage of U.S. water held privately were
bought by the big three: Veolia picked up U.S Filter,
Suez got United Water and RWE took over American Water
In Felton, CA, for instance, a small regional utility
ran the water system until it was purchased in 2001 by
California American Water, a subsidiary of American Water,
which is a subsidiary of Thames Water in London, which
has also become a subsidiary of German giant RWE. Residents
have since seen their rates skyrocket.
Death To All?
The bulk of Americans and a slim majority in Mexico want
Osama bin Laden executed if caught, but most people in
seven other countries would rather he spend life or many
years in prison, a recent AP-Ipsos poll has found. In
all nine nations surveyed, markedly more people would
choose the death penalty for the al-Qaida leader than
for run-of-the-mill murderers, even in nations with little
taste for capital punishment. But Americans also still
prefer execution over prison for murderers by greater
margins than people in the other countries. Of the nine
countries polled, only the U.S. and South Korea have the
The poll underscores stark differences between the U.S.
and many of its allies over the death penalty at a time
when U.S. treatment of terror-war detainees - some of
whom may face execution - has been a major irritant in
Given a choice of capital punishment for bin Laden or
imprisonment, 62 percent in the U.S. supported executing
him, while 36 percent chose prison. More than one-third
of those preferring life imprisonment for convicted murderers
said they would support bin Laden’s execution. Only
in Mexico, where people chose the death penalty over prison
for bin Laden by 54 percent to 35 percent, did sentiment
run close to that in the United States. Opinion ran strongly
toward prison in Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy,
South Korea and Spain - in some cases by more than two-to-one
Women were likelier than men to favor life imprisonment
over the death penalty for murderers in all countries
surveyed except Canada, Mexico and Germany, where the
genders were about even. Support for capital punishment
also ran lower for people who are better educated, have
higher incomes, are young or - in the U.S. - are Democrats.
Despite broad support for executions, nearly six in 10
in the U.S. said abolishing the death penalty would probably
not change the number of murders. Analysts say support
for execution goes beyond a belief in deterrence to peoples’
feelings about justice, revenge and keeping criminals
off the streets.
The marijuana being sold across the United States is stronger
than ever, which could explain a growing number of medical
emergencies that involve the drug, government drug experts
are saying. Analysis of seized samples of marijuana and
hashish showed that more of the cannabis on the market
is of the strongest grade, the White House and National
Institute for Drug Abuse said. They cited data from the
University of Mississippi’s Marijuana Potency Project
showing the average levels of THC, the active ingredient
in marijuana , in the products rose from 7 percent in
2003 to 8.5 percent in 2006. The level had risen steadily
from 3.5 percent in 1988.
National Institute on Drug Abuse Director Dr. Nora Volkow
fears the problem is not being taken seriously because
many adults remember the marijuana of their youth as harmless.
According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health
4.1 million Americans, or 1.7 percent of the population,
report they use marijuana .
A Bush administration plan to change rules of the Endangered
Species Act protecting American wildlife drew pointed
questions recently from five U.S. senators, who called
the proposed changes “troubling.” The senators
posed 15 questions to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne,
asking for full responses within one month, with no forward
movement on rule-making until they are answered.
Environmental activists raised alarms about the draft
rules change last month, saying the revisions would weaken
the act so much that about 80 percent of the 1,300 species
now on the endangered list would lose protection. The
activists also said government documents they obtained
indicate revisions were being made as recently as February.
Among other things, the lawmakers asked how the proposed
changes would improve wildlife conservation and recovery
and which industry or commercial groups had “input”
In addition to the Senators, more than three dozen scientists
have signed a letter to protest the Bush administration
interpretation of the Endangered Species Act, saying it
jeopardizes animals such as wolves and grizzly bears.
The new reading of the law proposed by Interior Department
Solicitor David Bernhardt would enable the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service to protect animals and plants only where
they are battling for survival. The agency wouldn’t
have to protect them where they’re in good shape.
The administration accused its critics of exaggerating.
Lakeview Lodge, a 24-room lodging and retreat facility
at Frost Valley YMCA in Claryville, and a newly renovated
Geyer Hall were officially opened at ceremonies on April
21. More than 100 board members, staff and friends of
Frost Valley were on hand for the ribbon cutting performed
by special guest of honor, Helen Geyer. A top model/actress
during the 1940s and ’50s, Mrs. Geyer provided a
$1 million gift that made the Geyer Hall renovations possible.
The renovation was conducted by Frost Valley’s building
and grounds staff.
Best known as the “Red Cross Poster Girl”
during World War II, Mrs. Geyer was a top model for many
years, gracing dozens of magazine covers. Her affiliation
with Frost Valley spans more than four decades when she
became involved with the organization’s girls’
camp. In 1962, she was the first female named to Frost
Valley’s Board of Trustees.
The third phase of the building project will get underway
this spring as Frost Valley begins work on the Guenther
Family Wellness Center. This 16,000-square-foot facility
will include Frost Valley’s renowned dialysis center
and the infirmary utilized for summer camp. There will
also be office space for medical staff, as well as meeting
and training rooms.
Frost Valley YMCA Camp and Conference Center is located
at 2000 Frost Valley Road, Claryville, NY 12725. Established
in 1901 as one of the nation’s first summer camps,
Frost Valley YMCA offers summer camping for children,
environmental education, year-round activities for families
and conference and retreat facilities for groups and businesses.
To learn more, please visit: FrostValley.org.