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politics

KUZMINSKI: Populism As American As Apple Pie

Column by Adrian Kuzminski, September 7, 2018

THE GOAL: ECONOMIC, POLITICAL FREEDOM

Populism As American As Apple Pie

Ever since the last presidential election the words “populist” and “populism” have been widely bandied about, mostly as pejorative terms.
A populist politician, we often hear, is a demagogue who wins votes by inflaming the resentments and emotions of ordinary people at the expense of rational thought. Those who fall prey to populism are no more to be trusted, critics suggest, than the politicians said to manipulate them.
It’s a curious feature of populism that it defies the normal left-right political spectrum. These days we have left-wing and right-wing populists.
In the last election, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump were both called populists. And historically, we’ve had left-wing populists like

Huey Long
George Wallace

Huey Long, and right-wing populists like George Wallace.
It is the corrupt elites, populists argue, who are to blame for the insecurities and troubles of the middle-class. If you’ve lost your job, are over your head in debt, can’t pay your bills, don’t have adequate health care, lack a decent pension and feel that your values are being undermined, populists say, it’s because of them.
The elitist agenda, they say, is what drives inequality, including the outsourcing of jobs, corporate globalization, union-busting, deregulation and the machinations of the deep state. All this, in their view, represents the tyranny of the one percent, not the welfare of the 99 percent.
It doesn’t require a demagogue to convince people that these are real problems, not paranoid fears. The trouble with modern left- and right-wing demagogues is their unwillingness or inability to get at the root of the problems which they try to leverage for votes.
It’s telling that politicians accused of populism today don’t call themselves populists, as well they shouldn’t. They’re faux-populists who

stop short of challenging the status quo of continuing inequality.
Some history might be useful here. It’s largely forgotten that there was a vibrant populist movement in 19th century America. It was represented first by the Farmers Alliance after the Civil War, and then by the People’s party in the 1890s.
The People’s Party candidate for president in 1892, James B. Weaver, got over a million votes and carried four states. Over 40 populists were elected to Congress in the 1890s, including six United States senators, along with numerous governors and mayors.
Today such a populist wave would be totally shocking, which is a measure of how narrow our political options have become.
The classic 19th century American populists were the last serious political movement in this country to defy the duopoly of the two major parties and lock-step left-right thinking.
Their defeat in the 1890s by their better-funded and organized opponents ensured that the issues they tried to raise would henceforth be excluded from national political debate – as indeed they have been down to the present day.
What were those issues? Classic populists – unlike their modern faux-populist successors – rejected the two options that even then defined American political discourse: corporate capitalism and state socialism.
Corporate capitalism consolidates economic and political power into giant top-down structures controlled by a handful of rich investors and executives. State socialism consolidates economic and political power into giant top-down structures controlled by a handful of politicians and bureaucrats. You see the similarity.
Classic populists rejected both socialism and capitalism as tyrannical absolutist ideologies. Instead they tried to balance the need for collective action with individual freedom.
They sought to maximize equality by making sure that private property was widely distributed, and that concentrations of economic power were highly regulated, if not eliminated.
They were advocates of small, independent producers: farmers, artisans, fabricators and generally owners of moderate-scale, local, independent enterprises.
They aimed to relocalize democratic government in the decentralized Jeffersonian tradition of home rule. You can have genuine free markets and real democracy, they argued, only when citizens enjoy individual economic security as independent owners of productive property, and can practice meaningful local democracy.
Classical populists weren’t led by demagogues – who flourish in modern, impersonal, mass politics – but by a variety of grassroots activists (as we would say today) who focused on the issues then crucial to economic and political independence, especially the regulation and decentralization of corporate power (especially in government, finance, transportation, and communications).
They advocated public banking as a way of redistributing capital to individuals and small businesses by allowing easy public access to credit at low interest rates.
(More about populism can be found in my book, “Fixing the System: A History of Populism Ancient & Modern,”available at amazon.com.)
The politicians who try to exploit populist concerns today aren’t really populists. They’re usually left-wing state socialists (Bernie Sanders) or right-wing corporate capitalists (Donald Trump).
They advocate more big socialism or more big capitalism to solve our problems. But neither socialism nor capitalism is likely to produce the kind of individual economic and political freedom the original populists envisioned.
The problems they raised are with us more than ever. Maybe it’s time to take their solutions seriously.

Adrian Kuzminski, retired Hartwick College philosophy professor and Sustainable Otsego moderator, lives in Fly Creek.

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For Now, Only Choice In Sheriff’s Race Is For Due Process

Editorial for September 7, 2018

For Now, Only

Choice In Sheriff’s

Race Is For Due Process

A letter to the editor the other week drew on the Biblical injunction, “The son shall not suffer for the sins of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquities of the son.” And surely that’s as it should be.
That said, it’s legitimate for open-minded citizens to question how county Sheriff Richard J. Devlin Jr. has handled the situation involving his son, Ros, a correctional officer in the jail his father administers since it surfaced in January 2017. At the least, the situation is an awkward one; at worst, a dangerous one.
In effect, according
to a court decision on a
related matter made public on March 31, 2017, Ros Devlin told a fellow C-O he was thinking of committing suicide in front of his disciplining supervisor at the county jail, after first creating a diversion by shooting up an Oneonta or Milford school. (To read the decision for yourself, type “devlin judge’s order” in the search line at www.AllOTSEGO.com)
From the beginning, the sheriff has stood steadfastly by his son, who was suspended for more than a year – albeit, with pay; since March, without pay – by the Otsego County Board of Representatives.
The sheriff claimed a “witchhunt” was in progress; that his downfall was intended, not his son’s.

Devlin
Fernandez

If Ezekiel was right
about sons and fathers, his declaration should be equally valid for wives
and husbands.
That said, it’s legitimate for open-minded citizens to question the role of Kathy Clark, R-Otego, former county board chair – and a tough-minded and determined one – in engineering her husband, Bob Fernandez’s, challenge to Devlin after Fernandez’s retirement from the state police.
In New York State, the sheriff’s position – as with county clerk – is a constitutional office, filled by election, not appointment by a county board. There’s good reason for ensuring a sheriff’s independence: to keep law enforcement and politics separate.
Clark championing of her husband sought to breach that sensible divide.
Further problematic was the engineering of Fernandez’s Democratic endorsement. It grew out of a longtime personal friendship between Kathy Clark and Oneonta’s former Democratic mayor, Kim Muller, who for the time being is county Democratic chair. (She expects to step down when the county committee meets in early October.)
There’s no secret. Both acknowledge close ties between their families going back decades, when their children played in the same soccer league. Still, as you can imagine, the Fernandez endorsement has caused a rift among the Democratic rank and file.

For his part, Devlin has argued he didn’t trust the county board, under Kathy Clark’s chairmanship, to fairly investigate his son.
To his credit, when David Bliss, R-Cooperstown/Middlefield, succeeded Clark this past Jan. 3, Devlin then reached out to Bliss, and in March agreed to recuse himself, allowing the board chair to order a medical examination of the son to determine if he is fit to continue as a jail guard.
The good news is: A process is in place. In interview this week, Bliss said the medical examination by a downstate physician who specializes in matters involving law-enforcement personnel is expected by mid-month.
Once the report is submitted, Bliss, in consultation with the county’s personnel lawyers and County Attorney Ellen Coccoma will decide on an appropriate course of action. He said he will keep county reps advised of developments and welcome inputs.
If the decision is made to discipline Ros Devlin, “the officer still has rights,” the board chair said. The younger Devlin could challenge any decision in court. Meanwhile, he will remain off the job without pay.
The bad news, from the perspective if the electorate, it’s unlikely the situation will be resolved before the Nov. 6 general election, Bliss said.

All this matters right now because the first match-up between Devlin and Fernandez comes Thursday, Sept. 13, in a local Republican primary. (That’s Thursday, not Tuesday, which is 9/11 and Rosh Hashanah.) The polls will be open from noon to 9 p.m. across Otsego County for registered Republicans.
The vote will not necessarily settle anything. If Devlin, endorsed by the Republican county committee last March, wins, Fernandez has the Democratic county committee endorsement; he will appear on the Nov. 6 general election ballot anyhow.
If Fernandez were to win the Republican primary, Devlin would still appear on three lines – Conservative, Independent and Reform – on the November ballot.

The world is an imperfect place, as we know from our lives and experiences. We often have to choose between imperfect options, and this is one of those cases.
Yet, on the one hand, there is due process, independent of Sheriff Devlin’s control, that we can hope will resolve thinking people’s concerns – either clearing Ros Devlin, or removing him from his position permanently.
On the other hand, there is no due process, only cronyism and the potential that an alliance between husband and wife will inject politics into law enforcement.
For now, the only option is to vote for due process. For the time being, that option is Richard J. Devlin Jr.

 

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ZAGATA: Rising To The Fly On Natural Gas

Column by Mike Zagata, August 31, 2018

Rising To The Fly

On Natural Gas

Mike Zagata

One of the main reasons that local brook trout don’t get very big is that they tend to rise to and take the first dry fly that is drifted over them.
During my professional career, I have avoided “rising to the fly,” but my fellow columnist, Adrian Kuzminski, in his Aug. 23-24, 2018 article, floated one that was just too tempting. He was commenting on my article the week before, where I stated, “To date, we don’t know if those green plants, found on land and in fresh and marine waters, aren’t able to process the carbon dioxide that is being produced. If there was more of it, could green plants produce more oxygen and sugar, or if there was more than they could process would it affect the climate? Answering those questions will take some good minds and pretty heavy-duty computers.”
He twisted that to read, “Zagata admits as much by worrying if plant growth will absorb the extra CO2”.
So it’s time, once again, to look at the science.

Natural gas is the cleanest burning fuel. It produces CO2 (carbon dioxide) and H2O (water) when it is burned. That is exactly what animals, including us, do during the process of respiration. We take in food, digest it, and, in the presence of O2 (oxygen), burn it in our cells to produce energy needed to sustain us and CO2 and H2O are the waste products. Our blood carries the dissolved CO2 to our lungs and we exhale it and also inhale new Oxygen. Some of the dissolved water also gets exhaled and some gets filtered out by our kidneys and leaves our body as urine.
That means that each of us are polluters – we emit the same gases that are produced when we burn natural gas. We also pollute when we create mulch piles or manure piles or eat beans, as they give off methane as a byproduct of decomposition.

Many homes in our area heat with propane – a heavier version of methane that also yields CO2 and H2O when burned – and it is transported to our homes by truck.
We drive to our meetings in cars fueled by gasoline, a fossil fuel, to plan on how to best protest against the next attempt to bring energy into our area – and these protests are not limited to just fossil fuels. We have protested against renewable energy sources as well, including wind turbines and biomass.
It is likely that, once we realize just how visually unattractive solar farms are and how much they adversely impact farmland, forests and wildlife habitat, we will protest against them as well.
It will be easy to do, because solar energy doesn’t totally replace the need for energy derived from fossil fuels – the sun doesn’t shine at night, so when the temperatures drop below zero during periods of darkness, the “grid” that supplies our energy relies on energy from fossil fuels like coal.
And what about those hazardous wastes in the solar panels that must be disposed at the end of their useful life?

Why is it that it’s still OK to pull up to the gas tanks and fill our cars with gasoline, a non-renewable fossil fuel, that, when burned, yields some nasty air pollutants like NOX (Nitrous Oxides) and SO2 (Sulfur Dioxide) but it’s not OK to burn natural gas – and gasoline is delivered by trucks?
Even if you’re the most rabid anti-gas person, that can’t make sense to you.
Why is it still OK to heat our homes with fuel oil, a non-renewable fossil fuel that emits far more air pollutants than methane or natural gas, when burned? And, it’s delivered by trucks.
Why is it still OK to use propane to heat our homes or fuel our barbecue grills? It’s a non-renewable fossil fuel and, because it’s heavier than air and thus stays close to the ground when leaked, may lead to a potentially explosive situation. And, it’s delivered by trucks.
Shucks, why not just vote like the County Board and ban all trucks transporting any kind of energy. It doesn’t take long to figure that one out now does it?

The other issue that those against natural
gas like to wave like a red flag in front of a bull is that of fugitive emissions – the natural gas that allegedly leaks from pipes, wells, etc.
If you were a company that produced (drilled for) or transported (pipeline) natural gas, would you knowingly allow it to leak? The company that produces the gas and the company that transports that gas make their money by selling the gas to customers. Does it make sense to you that they would knowingly allow gas to escape and thus not be available to be sold?
If you were a shareholder in a company that did that, would you be happy about it? If the paper allowed me more space, the story about the “studies” that claimed gas was leaking would be fascinating to debunk.

All of us are tempted, like the young brook trout, to rise to the fly and devour it. In the future, before rising, please take the time to reflect on what is being said and ask yourself, in light of what you know about the topic, does it really make good sense?

Mike Zagata, a DEC commissioner in the Pataki Administration and former environmental executive for Fortune 500 companies, lives in Davenport.

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KUZMINSKI: Let’s Take Control Of Our Energy Future

Column by Adrian Kuzminski, August 24, 2018

Let’s Take Control

Of Our Energy Future

Adrian Kuzminski

Recently, nearly 100 people crowded the Oneonta Town Hall to respond to a report by Otsego Now head, Jody Zakrevsky, about the controversial gas decompression station proposed for Oneonta.
The backlash was overwhelming. A long series of speakers unanimously condemned the project and demanded instead a full-scale effort to transition to renewables as soon as possible.
As the speakers pointed out, a myriad of solutions exist to the problem of inadequate natural-gas supply affecting some institutions and businesses in Oneonta. We heard about retrofitting buildings for energy efficiency, replacing gas and oil furnaces with heat exchange systems, and developing local renewable energy sources, including solar and wind.
This isn’t pie in the sky. The Otsego County Conservation Association, for instance, is currently supporting a NYSERDA-funded program, Heat Smart Otsego, to promote the financial and environmental benefits of currently available non-fossil fuel technologies. Check it out.
The speakers also made clear the gravity of this issue.
We’re not just talking about inconvenience, higher costs, or limits to local economic development. We’re talking about a global crisis increasingly affecting us all.
The inability of our local community to do its part in getting us off fossil fuels is symptomatic of a larger political failure which is dangerous to our future. We have mostly relied on someone else to deal with this problem, usually in Albany or Washington.
They haven’t done the job, and it doesn’t look like they’re going to, at least not unless they’re prodded from below.
Yes, our community continues to be divided over energy policy. The editorial in last week’s edition of this paper characterized speakers at the town of Oneonta meeting as “anti-gas true believers.”
There were a couple of strident speakers, as with any large group, but nearly all were thoughtful people pointing out the very real and harmful consequences of using more gas.
Mike Zagata in last week’s paper also misinforms the public by talking about “clean-burning natural gas,” when in fact there’s no such thing. The combustion of natural gas unavoidably produces CO2, a polluting greenhouse gas. Zagata admits as much by worrying if plant growth will absorb the extra CO2.
Even worse, he ignores the seepage of methane from wells, pipes and compressors, which adds another, more potent greenhouse gas to the mix, making natural gas as bad as any other fossil fuel.
By contrast, Zakrevsky, to his credit, bemoaned his fate at the Town of Oneonta meeting, confessing to the crowd his own confusion and lack of expertise. He was hired to promote local economic development, he noted, not to make energy policy. He’s exactly right. He and Otsego Now are not qualified to make energy policy and should not be tasked with that burden.
What was painfully obvious at the meeting was the lack of coordination among capable parties interested in developing a local energy plan. Currently we have groups too often confined to their respective silos – elected officials, economic development people, the local business community, the colleges, the hospitals, the environmentalists, etc.

Ian Austin/HOMETOWN ONEONTA & The Freeman’s Journal – Otsego Now President Jody Zakrevsky details decompressor-station plans to the Oneonta Town Board and 100 audience members Aug. 9.

Each of them is working on their piece of the elephant. What’s lacking is an effective mechanism for combining their resources and talents to develop a plan for all of us.
In my last column I mentioned the Tompkins County Energy Roadmap (Google it!) as a precedent for what should happen here. That initiative began in 2010 as part of a Tompkins County Energy Strategy for 2020. It was first developed as a project by Cornell graduate students.
In 2014, a steering committee was formed composed of individuals “who represent the breadth of experience, interest and perspectives within the community regarding our energy future.” The draft Energy Roadmap was then presented to numerous community groups and has since become the focus of Tompkins county energy policy.
This Energy Roadmap doesn’t rely on hiring expensive outside consultants, who are often ignorant of local circumstances; nor does it narrow options by handing authority to a single, unprepared agency. Instead it utilizes the expertise already found in a variety of existing organizations and individuals.
We may not have Cornell University, but we have SUNY Oneonta and Hartwick College. We have Otsego 2000, OCCA, Citizen Voices, chambers of commerce, the Land Trust, Farm Bureau and Sustainable Otsego, and others. We have individual engineers and scientists and retired executives who’ve worked for multi-national corporations. We have the talent.
Let me suggest, again, that the Otsego County Board of Representatives, in a bi-partisan spirit, is the logical authority to establish an Otsego Energy Task Force. A large, diverse umbrella group is far more likely to develop a comprehensive, viable energy strategy that gets it right, and to do justice to the needs of the community as a whole.
The point is to get key people in the same room and tackle the problem. It’s up to the County Board to make this happen. The time is NOW.

Adrian Kuzminski, a retired Hartwick philosophy professor and Sustainable Otsego moderator, lives in Fly Creek.

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Sensible Plan Surfaces To Ensure Energy For Industry

Editorial For August 17, 2018

Sensible Plan Surfaces To

Ensure Energy For Industry

When Otsego Now Executive Director Jody Zakrevsky was Schoharie County economic developer, a Canadian firm was a half-step away from buying long-vacant Guilford Mills, that rambling complex to the right of I-88 as you drive to Albany.
All that was lacking was a letter from the mayor, assuring the company would be guaranteed sufficient power to conduct business.
Such a letter was forthcoming, but the last line read, “except in case of flood.”
As you can imagine, the president of the Canadian company saw that and the deal was dead. Who would want to invest millions in a complex where, “in case of flood,” production could come to a standstill?

Parker Fish/The Freeman’s Journal – Binghamton area activitist Bill Huston videotapes the Oneonta Town Board meeting Aug. 8, surrounded by 100 or so natural-gas opponents.

Oh, poor Otsego County.
Our poverty rate (16.3 percent) is a couple of points higher than the state (14.7) and national (14), per http:/datausa.io, interesting site.
Our median household income ($49,609) is substantially lower than the state ($62,908) and nation ($57,617).
Our population is declining (0.68 percent), almost three times as fast as the state’s (0.26). Nationally, population is rising (0.53).
And it’s been proved we lack the energy – in particular, natural gas – needed to attract economic development here.
In fact, a team put together by Otsego Now – it includes Lou Allstadt, no natural-gas groupie (quite the opposite) – has been meeting with NYSEG President Taylor over the past few months on this very issue.

Today, the county gets natural gas through a pipeline from DuRuyter, near Cortland, but the line is old and too narrow. NYSEG pledged to expand it, and obtained a rate increase to finance it – the pricetag is an astonishing $100 million – but is backing away.

Then, the energy cavalry arrives, in the form of a sensible idea!
Instead of waiting for NYSEG to act (or not), why not install a gas decompression station, perhaps in the former Pony Farm (the Oneonta Commerce Park, right off Interstate 88’s Exit 13)?
Otsego Now thought so, and has applied for a $3 million CFA grant to help pay for the cost, perhaps $17 million (maybe somewhat less).
Prudently, Jody Zakrevsky asked to brief the Oneonta Town Board at its regular meeting last week, to make sure it was in the loop. When he arrived, 100 of our region’s anti-gas true believers were there to grill him and paint nightmare scenarios.
We’ve seen this drill before. But we shouldn’t take it to mean there’s widespread local opposition to the idea.
Sustainable Otsego and similar environmental groups have powerful social-media tools that can summon the troops at short notice. If anything, 100 is a paltry number, given the 300+ brought to those 2015 hearings on the Constitution Pipeline.
According to Oneonta Town Supervisor Bob Wood, about half the crowd was local, but some came from as far away as Ithaca, 75 miles. Another, quoted on www.AllOTSEGO.com, was from Oxford, 45 miles and a county away.
Town board members didn’t have to make any decision that night, but Wood estimates they are split, 2-2. If funding comes through, the plant will probably need a Zoning Board of Appeals vote; this was just a prelude.

At base, the decompression station is a sensible, low-impact way to overcome the key obstacle to economic development.
Lacking a pipeline like the Constitution, gas is being compressed so, as a liquid, it can be transported in tanker trucks to a decompression station, then turned back into gas and delivered to customers through existing gas lines.
Many sensible people object to too-big XNG gas trucks traversing two-lane Routes 205 and 80, and they’re right. Two rigs so far have toppled over due to soft shoulders. But this plan would allow gas trucks to stay on I-88 except for a quick left and a second quick left into Pony Farm. Just what most people want.
Zakrevsky estimates two, maybe three trucks a winter would be required so that Oneonta’s major institutions – the colleges, Fox Hospital and the like – would no longer be on an “interruptible” regimen. Right now, whenever there’s a cold snap – a couple of weeks a winter – they have to shift to more-expensive and more-polluting fuel oil.
Even better, the decompression station would assure a dependable energy source to anyone seeking to locate at the D&H yards, which has everything else – space, rail, proximity to an Interstate and airport.
Let’s not be Cobleskill. Let’s not declare, “except in case of flood.” The numbers, and what we see around us, prove it: We need more and better jobs.
Let’s not be diverted. When an opportunity arises, let’s declare, “Otsego County: Open for Business,” and mean it.

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ZAGATA: Exotic? Natural Gas As Common As … Manure

Column by Mike Zagata for August 17, 2018

Exotic? Natural Gas As

Common As … Manure

Mike Zagata

It’s amazing that the natural gas opponents all talk about wanting to protect the environment by moving from natural gas to “renewables.” Is it that they are misinformed or have an agenda?
It’s difficult to tell, but here’s what the science tells us. Natural gas, or methane, is naturally occurring. It is emitted from volcanoes, manure piles and humans. It is the cleanest burning fuel yielding carbon dioxide and water.
If we remember our high school biology, it is carbon dioxide and water that green plants use in the process of photosynthesis to produce oxygen and sugar – two very important products for humankind and all animals that breathe oxygen and consume green plants containing sugar for food.
To date, we don’t know if those green plants, found on land and in fresh and marine waters, aren’t able to process the carbon dioxide that is being produced. If there was more of it, could green plants produce more oxygen and sugar, or if there was more than they could process would it affect the climate?
Answering those questions will take some good minds and pretty heavy-duty computers.

Because the proposed Constitution Pipeline has not been built and there is an increasing demand for clean-burning natural gas, companies are looking for ways to serve customers.
One of those ways involves compressing the natural gas to reduce its volume and then transporting it in specially developed canisters. That approach is being used in our area and some people are concerned about it.
Here’s what we know. There have been accidents with trucks carrying this gas and there haven’t been any releases – the safety mechanisms built into the trucks and containers have worked as expected. That is a good thing.
Is the same true for the fuel oil, propane and gasoline trucks that have traveled our highways for decades? There have been accidents and spills, but not the outcry facing the current use of trucks to transport natural gas. Why is that?

Institutions and businesses in Oneonta are facing curtailment during periods of unusual cold and heat.
What that means is that there isn’t enough gas being delivered by NYSEG to meet current needs – no less to support any new demand that might arise if a business that could provide jobs wanted to locate here. As it stands right now, they won’t locate here because there isn’t enough natural gas or three-phase power.
Some say Otsego Now should be condemned for trying to remedy that situation. Instead, they would like to form a committee to study it and dilute the momentum – the oldest trick in the book. If you want to delay something, form a committee of folks with widely different opinions and interests.
The anti-fossil fuel crowd will tell us renewables are the environmental panacea – they are without issues. Really, now?
It takes about 20 acres of solar panels to produce enough electricity for about 1,000 households – and we still need fossil fuels to produce the electricity needed to heat or cool our homes at night and to recharge our electric vehicles as off-peak power is cheaper.
New York’s population is about 20 million. If we multiply 20 acres by 20 million and then divide by 1,000 we get 400,000 – the number of acres that would be covered by the solar panels needed to produce enough daytime only electricity for New Yorkers.
That’s 400,000 acres that used to be forests, farmland and wildlife habitat. And what about having to dispose of the hazardous wastes in the solar panels that once produced electricity?
We could use hydro-power, but that means building dams that impede the progress of fish trying to move upstream to spawn.
We could use wind power, but that means using windmills that kill migrating birds.
We could use woody biomass, but that, along with the other “renewable” energy projects that have been brought forward for this area, was shot down by those who oppose anything that might lead to prosperity for our area.
All of a sudden, it isn’t so simple – in fact it’s downright complicated and might take some time to get it right. In the meantime, we have an abundant supply of gas – natural gas or methane – to serve as a bridge to get us where we all want to be – warm or cool depending on the time of year and pollution free.

Mike Zagata, a DEC commissioner in the Pataki Administration and environmental executive for Fortune 500 companies, lives in West Davenport.

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The Arithmetic Is Inexorable: 2/3rds City, 1/3rd Town Fire District. Make The Deal

Editorial, August 10, 2018

The Arithmetic Is Inexorable:

2/3rds City, 1/3rd Town Fire District.

Make The Deal

Judge Coccoma

Judges generally are loath to get involved in situations that should be resolved through the political process. But once in a while their hand is forced.
Such seems to be the case shaping up in the now years-long standoff between Oneonta City Hall and the Town of Oneonta Board of Fire Commissioners over what the town should pay to be covered by professional firefighters in the city’s Oneonta Fire Department.
In December 2016, with the city-Fire District contract expiring, the dispute ended up in state Supreme Court Judge Michael V. Coccoma’s Cooperstown courtroom.
Unable to broker an agreement, Coccoma imposed a two-year contract, with the Town Fire District paying $1.1 million a year for the OFD’s services.
He also instructed both sides to choose a mutually agreeable mediator to propose a fair outcome, and they settled on VFIS (Volunteer Firemen’s Insurance Service), based in York, Pa., the nation’s foremost arbiter of this kind of thing.
The resulting report allocated 64.2 percent of the cost of operating the OFD to city taxpayers, and 35.8 percent to Town Fire District ratepayers, which include the big boxes on Southside Oneonta (in the town).
The outcome, according to city Mayor Gary Herzig, was in the neighborhood of the $1.1 million Coccoma had already decided upon. City Hall accepted the report; the fire commissioners did not.
Since, much has happened, but the bottom line is: No progress.

As he’s said all along, Mayor Herzig says today he is agreeable to a settlement tomorrow.
The traditional formula has been roughly: The city pays two-thirds; the fire district pays one-third.
“We’re comfortable with that formula,” said Herzig, referring to the VFIS numbers. “The outcome is very similar to the formula that’s been used for the past 20 years. (The VFIS formula) is more complicated. The bottom line is not very different.”
Because the fire commissioners’ leadership stopped calling back, he continued, City Hall has stopped trying.
“We’ve said now for months and months, our door is open. We’re willing to sit down and negotiate at any time. The response we get is: ‘We will not negotiate with you. What you’re doing, it’s illegal.’ I have no idea what they mean.”
The new fire commissioners, Al Rubin and Michelle Catan, thought they had found a solution in appealing to state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli to audit the situation and recommend a solution. But it seems that DiNapoli, sensibly, was reluctant to allocate resources to a local situation with no statewide implications.
Rubin believed including OFD’s ambulance service revenues – due to insurance payments, EMS runs at a profit – would open the door to a deal. But Herzig said the revenues are part of the $4 million OFD budget – there’s no secret pot of money to be discovered. If you push in here, it comes out there.
In the end, it’s hard to escape the arithmetic: one-third to the Fire District, two-thirds to City Hall.

Which brings us back to where we started.
The judge directed the parties to bring in a mediator. That was done. A formula was recommended by the foremost experts. Still, the deadlock continues.
At the end of this year, five months from now, Judge Coccoma’s order expires. If he fails to extend it, most of the Town of Oneonta (minus that covered by the West Oneonta volunteers) will be without protection.
At one point, the commissioners said they would start their own department; that seems impractical. Otsego County’s impressive local volunteer departments have built expertise over decades, even generations. You can’t just snap your fingers and duplicate that.
The other option would be to contract with a volunteer department. But volunteers, trained as they may be, are mostly working fulltime jobs, some out of the area. Can they be expected to stand ready, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, for another Christopher’s inferno along Otsego County’s foremost commercial strip?
The VFIS report – you can Google it at www.allotsego.com – reports the Insurance Services Office rated the OFD service are 2/2Y, put it among the top 3 percent best in the nation. Businesses in the Fire District (and city) are seeing low insurance rates as a result.

Judge Coccoma was right to impose a two-year settlement; the alternative was an unacceptable threat to public safety. Not to pre-judge the judge, but what option does he have if the fire commissioners and city officials appear before him again at year’s end?
We’re all adults here. Life is compromises. The fire commissioners have no option but to make the best deal – somewhere in the vicinity of one-third vs. two-thirds – and move on.

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America – And Cooperstown – Fearing Fear Itself

Editorial, August 3, 2018

America – And

Cooperstown – Fearing

Fear Itself

The Freeman’s Journal – Security measures were so successful that there was almost no one in downtown Cooperstown the Friday evening of Induction Weekend. There was parking within steps of the barricades, and plenty of seating in all the restaurants. What if Derek Jeter were inducted and nobody could get in?

One of the many delights in getting older is you realize some things aren’t going to be resolved in your lifetime. If you’re 65-and-holding, you
can relax.
American paranoia and its companion, the National Security State, won’t be dissipated tomorrow, if it can ever. And, year to year, we witness the ever-fuller flowering of these truly abhorrent aspects of modern American life during the Hall of Fame’s Induction Weekend.
In addition to all the other indignities of recent Induction Weekends – metal barricades, legions of police officers and military personnel, armored cars, frowning men in camo watching us from the rooftops – add two more for 2018.
One is drones that buzzed Cooperstown skies
this weekend, even as signs went up: “Drone Use Regulations In Effect” (for the rest of us). The other was no-parking signs that went up within block after block of Cooperstown’s barricaded-off downtown.
Who is buzzing us and what are they looking for? That information isn’t readily available. (Not the Russians, we hope.)
The vastly expanded no-parking zones, Cooperstown Mayor
Ellen Tillapaugh explained, are in the event of an incident at Induction venues – an exploding knapsack, ala Boston Marathon, perhaps: Visitors can be more quickly “evacuated” – yikes.

“These acts of mass murder,” President George W. Bush told us a few hours after the Twin Towers were felled on 9/11, “were intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat. But they have failed. Our country is strong.
“A great people has been moved to defend a great nation,” he continued. “Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve.”
Of course, that was nonsense. Mohamed Mohamed el-Amir Awad el-Sayed Atta and his Gang of 18 won 9/11. As a people, we’ve been running scared every since, as evidenced yet again this past weekend as America’s Pastime was celebrated under Big Brother’s watchful eye.
(FYI, homeland security spending rose to $635.9 billion in the decade following 9/11, from $69.1 billion, according to the National Priorities Project.)
Ironically, how many visitors remarked to you how lovely Cooperstown reminds them of the good old days, of unlocked doors, kids on bikes, well-tended houses (where, presumably, mom and dad live with a couple of kids), for the time being, tree-lined streets? (What’s that buzzing?)

The Freeman’s Journal – Village Public Works Superintendent Mitch Hotaling examines no-parking signs retrieved from Cooperstown streets after Hall of Fame Induction Weekend.

Still, you can understand the anxiety of the powers-that-be. If everything that might be done isn’t done and something happens, imagine the recriminations – in this space, no doubt, and far beyond. Heads would roll, careers would be lost. There’s a self-propelling momentum from – is it too much to say? – freedom to chains, at least e-chains.
How, as a nation, do we ramp it back? How, as a community, might we be a model? Maybe a place to start would be a community de-briefing in the next few weeks. Or is this none of our business? And more community input next spring as security is planned for Induction 2019.
To ask the question – how do we ramp it back? – is easy. Perhaps the answer will only be found in the march of history-to-come.
The Romans no doubt felt similar paranoia, with a resulting National Security State, archaic by comparison. It was solved when the Visigoths took over. Problem solved – at least that problem. Will paranoia be part of American life until American life is no more?

Meanwhile, what next? Returnees from the U.S. Open golf championship on Long Island on Father’s Day Weekend provide an inkling. All parking, all of it, was at Gabreski Airport, 10 miles from Shinnecock Hills Country Club.
To get to the open, you had to park your car or SUV there, along with 10,000 other vehicles. All attendees went through security screening, including metal detectors, then were put on buses that took them to the golf course and brought them back at day’s end.
Certainly, that model must be under consideration for the prospective Derek Jeter induction in 2020. If so, you read it here first, folks. The difference: Shinnecock is a golf course; Cooperstown – for the time being, anyhow – is a living, breathing community.


Overall, Induction

Weekend A Hit

While ever-tightening security is hard to ignore, Induction Weekend 2018 was also a lot of fun, and plenty of inspiration.
Six inductees – the most since 1971 – promised a lengthy ceremony, but it went by quickly, with Chipper Jones and Jack Morris’ humor, Trevor Hoffman’s food for thought and Jim Thome’s message: Success takes hard work, and he gave details. (Also, his daughter Lila’s rendering of the National Anthem was on it.)
Bob Costas winning the Ford C. Frick Award added a sheen of show biz, the Parade of Legends was bigger and better than ever, and the visitors were happy.
Given the crowd was the second-largest – 52,000 to Ripken-Gwynn’s 83,000 in 2007 – things generally went smoothly, even the traffic.

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Do We Divert XNG Trucks Now – Or After First Fatality?

Editorial, July 27, 2018

Do We Divert XNG

Trucks Now – Or After

First Fatality?

Parker Fish/The Freeman’s Journal –  Just a little beyond where an XNG gas-bearing truck crashed July 11, there’s Schuyler Lake. Goodness, is that an XNG truck heading our way?

On the surface, the
argument makes sense,
(sort of).
Boston-based Xpress Natural Gas’ trucks, carrying fuel from fracking fields in Northeastern Pennsylvania across Otsego County to the Iroquois Pipeline near Little Falls, are legal carriers and should be allow to use
New York State roads just like
any other legal carrier.
After all, what’s next? Should we then ban oil tankers? Suburban Propane delivery trucks? Dump trucks, where pebbles might from time to time slip out from under the tarps? Loud motorcycles? Model Ts and other antiques that don’t operate at
current fuel-efficiency standards?
Oh where, oh where will
it stop?

There’s a certain logic to the argument. But, honestly, XNG trucks have caused four “incidents” – three down-and-out accidents, no doubt about it (Google “XNG” at www.allotsego.com) – since they began crossing the county en masse 18 months ago.
Have there been three oil-tanker crashes? Three Suburban Propane truck crashes? Sure, pebbles have slipped from under tarps, but the results are an occasional cracked windshield; should we ban them completely for that?
Face it, the XNG trucks are different. For one, there are just that many more of them: 80 a day, back and forth, for 160 individual trips. In 500 days, that’s 80,000 trips. The magnitude alone assures there will continue to be “incidents” – and worse.
“Four ‘incidents’ in Otsego County. That tells me these trucks are different from other vehicles,” said Nicole Dillingham, president of Otsego 2000, the Cooperstown-based environmental group that has called for action where local governments have not. “They are too heavy. They’re top heavy. And the drivers are tired.”

Reporters for this newspaper have covered the crashes. In two cases, the trucks that have fallen over did so on Route 205 north
of Hartwick hamlet, a sparsely populated stretch.
The Wednesday, July 11, crash just shy of Schuyler Lake, was of a different magnitude – or easily could have been. The fully loaded northbound rig came over a very slight rise on a very slight curve and toppled off the road. Just a 10th of a mile
further on – maybe 150 yards; a
football field and a half – was the hamlet itself: homes and people.
Looking at the scene, it would be hard for any sensible person to conclude: a little bit farther, that same rig under very similar circumstances could have had serious – even fatal – results.
No, we’re not being overdramatic. Go see for yourself.
Equally troubling is a circumstance that’s becoming clear: In the three cases, the trailers being pulled by cabs slipped off the pavement for a moment, sank into too-soft shoulders and toppled. On many, many stretches of Route 205 and Route 28, the shoulders are the same and, given 16,000 trips every 100 days, it’s going to happen again and again.

It doesn’t have to be.
Dillingham’s been getting the run-around. She goes to the towns; they say it has to be handled at the state level by the Department of Transportation. She goes to the DOT, it says its hands are tied without a request for a “traffic study” from the towns along the route.
A traffic study might well determine the trucks are simply too heavy for the roads, and order them onto four-lanes – I-88 or I-81 to the New York State Thruway (I-90) and, hence, Little Falls. There’s a ready alternative.
But, according to Oneonta Town Supervisor Bob Wood, chairman of the county Association of Town Supervisors, his colleagues believe a truck
being operated legally should be
allowed on any legal roads. They tell him: What’s next? Are we going to ban Suburban Propane delivery trucks? And there we are.
What are some other options? Maybe a petition by citizens would convince the DOT to act. Maybe a request – firmly worded – from the county Board of Representatives, which next meets Wednesday, Aug. 1, plus vigorous follow-up, would do the trick. Certainly, our state delegation – Senator Seward and Assemblymen Magee, Miller, etc. – could dent DOT’s resolve to do nothing.
Right now, Otsego 2000 is drafting a resolution for town boards to consider passing. And Wood said Dillingham is welcome to talk at one of his association’s monthly meetings. He should invite her to do that soonest.

OK, there have been four “incidents,” three of them crashes. We’ve been lucky it hasn’t happened in a populated hamlet. But it will.
Let’s not wait until an XNG rig plows into someone’s living room or rolls over someone’s mobile home, with perhaps a fatal effect.
Bad things can happen, we can see. Let’s act before they do.

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KUZMINSKI: On Playing The Race Card

Column by Adrian Kuzminski for July 27, 2018

On Playing The Race Card

Adrian Kuzminski

There was a time not so long ago when the ideal on racial issues was to be color-blind, presuming the equality of all.
When that proved not to effectively
address the underlying problem of racism, affirmative action became the order of the day. It played an important role in bringing minorities, especially blacks, out of the ghettos and into prominence in the professions, the media and middle-class life.
But, at the same time, life for most blacks in the inner cities continued to deteriorate in a downward spiral marked by increasing crime, police repression,
drugs and desperation.
This is the world which gave us rap and hip hop.
Antonio Delgado’s early hip-hop recording, “Painfully Free,” has come to dominate the opening stages of the race for the 19th Congressional District.
According to the New York Times, the lyrics of his CD, made in Los Angeles when he was 28, “include frequent use of a racial epithet common among black rappers, and criticize some of the founders as ‘dead presidents’ who ‘believe in white supremacy.’”
His opponent, Congressman Faso, was quick to jump on the issue, claiming, according to the Times, that Delgado’s lyrics are “inconsistent with the
views of the people of the 19th District and America.”
Delgado shot back at once, saying of Faso, according to the Times: “In his dated mind-set, he thinks it’s accurate to suggest that if you’re black or if you’re of a certain race, you can’t be of this community.”
In an earlier interview with his alma mater, Colgate University, reported by Hybrid Magazine, he discussed his CD, saying, “Hip Hop is misunderstood.” “Hip hop is a philosophy to live by … Hip hop is its purest form conveys the plight of the underprivileged.”

The Freeman’s Journal – Antonio Delgado confers with Adrian Kuzminski at last week’s candidates’ forum in Cooperstown, hosted by Sustainable Otsego.

Delgado, a product of a middle-class upbringing in Schenectady, and of Colgate, Harvard Law and Oxford University, hardly grew up a desperate ghetto kid. But
he did give voice to the plight of the underprivileged, as he says, and used their idiom to do so.
The world of inner city ghettos represents a festering wound in America, and its unsettling, provocative language is an unpleasant reminder to the rest of us of a major failure of our society – something we still need to fix.
No matter how uncomfortable it makes us, we should respect not condemn hip hop for the challenge it poses.
The rappers are telling us that racism, far from being something we can ignore, has been built into our culture, and thereby into how we think.
Delgado is saying that we’re not color-blind, that we’re all racists on some level. This is meant not to condemn us, but to invite us to acknowledge a common problem, which is the first step to overcoming it – like an alcoholic admitting he or she’s an alcoholic.
Like an addict in denial, Faso pretends to be color-blind. But he betrays his own prejudices by cynically stooping to play the race card against Delgado.
I’m not a racist, he insists, but Delgado must be
because he has the audacity to remind us of the truth of our tragic history.
By insisting that Delgado’s lyrics are un-American, when they are in fact as American as apple pie, Faso only deepens the racial divide. To exploit racism for votes is despicable demagoguery.
Luckily, the voters will have a choice in November of either giving in to their racism, or beginning to
transcend it.

Adrian Kuzminski, retired Hartwick College philosophy professor and Sustainable Otsego moderator, resides in Fly Creek.

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