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Columns

MIKE ZAGATA: New York Not So Great Lately, Either

Column by Mike Zagata, September 28, 2018

New York Not So

Great Lately, Either

Mike Zagata

‘America was never that great.”
That’s an amazing quote from a man who’s had nothing but opportunity his entire life. Yes, he’s made the most of it, but that’s not the point. The point is that, because America was great, he had the opportunity to succeed.
Before moving to the point of this article, I thought it might be useful to look at the media via a historical perspective. Thus, I offer the following quote:
“Do not fear the enemy, for your enemy can only take your life. It is far better that you fear the media, for they will steal your HONOR. That awful power, the public opinion of a nation, is created in America by a horde of ignorant, self-complacent simpletons who failed at ditching and shoemaking and fetched up in journalism on their way to the poorhouse.”
Any idea who wrote it? No, not President Donald Trump. It was one of the most revered of our early writers – Mark Twain. If you’re following the path of the current nominee to the Supreme Court, it should ring true.

According to that same media, Governor Cuomo is concerned that the recent revisions to the federal tax code will unfairly cost New Yorkers $16 billion in lost deductions. Another way to interpret that concern is that the federal tax code revisions put the spotlight on the “Blue” states – states governed by Democrats – by pointing out that that we are paying too much in taxes. In our case too much is about $16 billion.
According to the governor: “We have high local property taxes and a relatively high income tax.” Is that news to any of us reading this article? About a million folks have figured this out since he became governor and left.
Each time someone leaves New York due to its high taxes, what impact does that have on those of us who remain? By definition, if we expect the same level of government “services,” our taxes must go up.
It’s interesting, the governor chose to lay part of the burden for high taxes off on the local governments by mentioning high property taxes. However, what he neglected to mention is that the county’s obligation for half of the state’s portion of Medicaid drives up local taxes.

Turning Point USA, a conservative campus group, posted this graphic on its website after the governor’s remark.


If I remember correctly the county’s bill for Medicaid was about $11 million. That amount is roughly equal to the money collected from county tax payers. We are being forced to run county government on sales tax revenue and state aid. Our local property taxes go to pay for Medicaid. New York is the only one of the 50 states that does this.
If the government continues to give out money as “candy,” our taxes must go up even more. Some would argue that money leads to local economic growth – I would argue that we need to be certain that it does. Getting a $10 million grant and then using much of it to pay the consultants who oversee it is not a suitable return on investment.
When we read, “Oneonta just received a $250,000 grant and it didn’t cost us anything”, do we take a moment to stop and think about that?
Where does government get its money – from us in the form of taxes, fees and licenses.
This particular project may not have been funded with money from taxes collected from Oneonta residents, but a grant to some other New York community very likely was funded by tax dollars from Oneonta residents – the money all goes into the same “pool.”

However, what’s even more troubling is that a governor, who took an oath to uphold the law, has come up with a scheme to circumvent the law (an attempt to get out of that spotlight). His scheme would have enabled taxpayers to contribute to tax-deductible charitable funds set up by the various local governments which would then provide tax credits to the donors equal to 95 percent of the donations value.
As one might expect, the IRS said “no”. Beyond the scam aspect, think about the impact this could have had on the state’s charitable organizations by diverting funds that might have gone to them to local government as disguised taxes instead.
Even more troubling is the mindset that says, “If I don’t like it, I’m not going to abide by it.” Today, it’s all about “me” and how I can scam the system to improve my lot at the expense of others.

That has to change if we’re going to make America “GREAT” again. To me, what made America great was having pride in our country and being willing to work hard to make it, and thus our lives and the lives of others, better.

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

KUZMINSKI: Let’s Build On Sustainable Assets, Not Unsustainable Liabilities

Column by Adrian Kuzminski,

Friday, September 21, 2018

Let’s Build On

Sustainable Assets,

Not Unsustainable Liabilities

Adrian Kuzminski

Otsego County needs a new direction for energy and economic development. An important step to that end was taken last week when the county board’s Intergovernmental Affairs Committee endorsed the idea of setting up an energy and economic development task force.
Kudos to them! A county-wide task force would give us two things we don’t have now: long-term economic planning and a wide range of interests and expertise systematically participating in local decision-making.
We’re increasingly recognizing how vulnerable we are. We depend on long supply lines for food, energy and necessities. As climate change accelerates, those supply lines become less reliable.
We read, almost daily, of one disaster after another regionally, nationally, and internationally: mega-hurricanes, severe droughts, enormous wildfires, melting polar ice, mass extinctions, etc.
No place is immune from climate change, not even Otsego County. Nonetheless, our quiet corner of the planet looks more and more like a refuge compared to many in other places, and that may be our greatest asset.
In fact, climate change may have some advantages for us: milder winters, a longer growing season, plenty of water.
We may be more resilient as well – thanks to a lower population density – than overdeveloped areas, including coastal cities in the South and drought-prone regions in the West, which now bear much of the brunt of climate change.
We need an economic plan that builds on sustainable assets, not on unsustainable liabilities.

Parker Fish/The Freeman’s Journal – Flanked by Otsego 2000 President Nicole Dillingham, left, and county Rep., Liz Shannon, D-Oneonta, Irene Weiser reported on the Tompkins County Energy & Economic Development Task Force to the county board’s Intergovermental Affairs Committee Tuesday, Sept. 11.

Our sustainable assets include, above all, an uncrowded, serene, clean, safe, attractive and relatively stable environment – something increasingly rare in a world of accelerating climate change.
We have an underutilized rural base, including agriculture, forestry and the potential of value-added products. Farming has not recovered from the death-blow to the dairy industry, it’s true, but if local boutique and organic farmers had more financial support and better distribution systems, they could be more competitive and develop new local products.
We have a high-quality health care system, and we often forget it is our major industry. Even so, it has yet to realize its full potential as a magnet for medical and nursing care.
Bassett Healthcare, as an integrated medical system, provides a superior level of care that could be coupled with additional facilities for assisted living. An aging population will demand it, and we could supply it.
We have, in Oneonta, institutions of higher learning that could be further developed and better folded into the community. Curriculum innovation and more partnerships between the colleges and local institutions and businesses – after the model of the Hartwick College nursing program – could make it possible for more students to stay on in our communities after graduation, as we see in other college and university towns.
Tourism has become the main interface between Otsego county and the world. Our cultural attractions – events, concerts, festivals, galleries, and museums – could be expanded even further. But tourism works only insofar as the powerful symbiosis between our cultural assets and the historical aura and natural beauty of the area is maintained.
Tourism needs to be kept proportional and diversified, so as not to overwhelm the fabric of local life.
And, perhaps most important of all, we have a steady in-migration of people looking for second homes, or retirement living, or the opportunity to conduct internet-related businesses and raise families in a new setting, away from the urban madness.
These new immigrants are attracted by the natural assets they find here, as well as good schools, good healthcare, a lively cultural scene, and a vibrant civic life worth being a part of.
They want sustainability, which we can offer, in contrast to the increasingly unsustainable systems they’re looking to escape.
If I were to make an optimistic prediction about the future of our communities in response to the growing ecological and economic crises, I would look to a synthesis of high-tech internet with a rural, family-oriented lifestyle.
Such a synthesis would realize participation in the global economy with the virtues of small town and country living.
If this is to be our future, if these are the people we want to attract, then we need universal broadband to sustain the economy, as well as renewable energy to preserve a clean and beautiful local environment.
That’s where our investments ought to be going.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

KUZMINSKI: Natural Gas, No! Renewables, Yes!… AND COUNTY CAN TAKE LEAD

Column by Adrian Kuzminski for August 10, 2018

… AND COUNTY CAN TAKE LEAD

Natural Gas, No!

Renewables, Yes!

Adrian Kuzminski

It’s recently been reported that Otsego Now, the economic development arm of Otsego county, is proposing a natural gas decompression station in Oneonta to help alleviate energy shortages that have plagued some businesses and institutions in the city.
Otsego Now is applying for a $3 million grant to help facilitate the project, which is estimated to cost $17 million.
Currently, SUNY Oneonta, Fox hospital, and Lutz Feeds suffer interrupted gas service during winter cold snaps when demand exceeds supply. Gas service is maintained for residential customers only by having these institutions inconveniently switch over to more expensive oil.
There has been talk of enlarging the existing NYSEG DeRuyter gas pipeline from Norwich to Oneonta. But Otsego Now Executive Director Jody Zakrevsky is quoted as saying that the estimated cost has ballooned to $100 million and may take a decade.
Zakrevsky estimates that the gas needed could be delivered to the proposed decompression station by two or three trucks a day for a couple of weeks a year.
This story leaves me scratching my head. Zakrevsky reports that natural gas is not only cheaper than oil, but that oil “pollutes more.” This ignores compelling evidence, first developed by Cornell University researchers, that natural gas is as much a polluting greenhouse gas as any other fossil fuel.
The pollution comes from cumulative seepage of methane during the life-cycle of natural gas production, from drilling to end-use. By the time the gas would get delivered to Oneonta – in what some call “bomb trucks” – the polluting damage would already have been done, starting back at the well-heads in Pennsylvania.
So why are we looking at the local energy scene solely through the lens of natural gas?
Why is there no serious consideration of non-fossil fuel alternatives?

This schematic of a decompression site is from the website of Algas-SDI, self-identified as “a manufacturer of products and systems for the reliable deployment of clean hydrocarbon fuels worldwide.”

We are facing a climate crisis. Our warm summer days feel good, but Arctic ice is melting, storms are getting more severe, and ecological instability is staring us in the face.
Under these circumstances, as I suggested in an earlier column, any proposal to expand the use of fossil fuels ought, at a minimum, to be accompanied by an equally funded parallel proposal to develop renewable energy.
We don’t have to rely on oil or gas. Efficient, low-cost heat exchange systems, which do not burn fuel, are now widely and cheaply available. The minimal electricity required to run such systems in our area comes from relatively clean hydro-sources.
Otsego Now might do better to forget the decompressor station and apply for a $3 million grant to convert residential and non-industrial systems from natural gas to heat exchange systems, and leave gas to those few situations for which it may be essential.
Somehow, there are always excuses why we can’t do renewables. Zakrevsky tells us that “weather and expensive batteries” are issues. Somehow the weather around here hasn’t stopped other solar projects from going forward.
As for the costs, here is where government subsidies, particularly from New York State, ought to come in. How much solar power is needed to make up for two or three gas trucks a day for a couple of weeks a year? How much solar power capacity can you buy for $17 million? How about a cost-benefit analysis?
For you pro-business people out there leery of borrow-and-spend, remember that’s how the Erie Canal, the railroads, the electrical grid, indeed America itself, mostly got built.
Neither government (socialism) nor business (capitalism) can do it by themselves. Government ought to be giving business the infrastructure it needs so that private enterprise can prosper, and it ought to make sure that the infrastructure we build doesn’t hurt the environment.
These kinds of decisions are too important to be left to a small agency like Otsego Now. What’s needed is comprehensive leadership – perhaps an Otsego County Energy Task Force – drawn from broad sectors of the community.
Other places are already doing it; just Google, for example, the “Tompkins County Energy Roadmap.”
Our Board of Representatives could take the lead in setting up such a Task Force for Otsego County, ideally composed of members from the colleges, businesses, non-profits, and other key sectors.
Once established, the Task Force ought to be empowered to make the decisions now left to Otsego Now. It should prioritize getting renewable energy subsidies, and be prepared to fight for them if they are not available.
Such a Task Force would be crucial in giving Otsego County a voice promoting its energy interests in Albany and beyond – something now sorely lacking.

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

ZAGATA: What Can Be Done About Deer Overpopulation?

Column by Mike Zagata, August 3, 2018

What Can Be Done About

Deer Overpopulation?

Mike Zagata

Most of us enjoy watching and/or hunting deer. They seem harmless enough – that is, until one runs in front of your shiny new car. However, the 650,000 or so forest landowners in the state may have a different perspective.
Each year they pay taxes on forest property with an expectation to recreate there and possibly even harvest some timber to help pay the taxes.
When they visit their woodland and look closely at the understory beneath the forest canopy, they expect to find the seedlings – the next generation, called “regeneration” – of the mature trees that produce mast (acorns, nuts fruits) for wildlife and either sawlogs for lumber or pulp for paper.
What they expect to find isn’t what they
actually find.
Deer are decimating the forest understory. Because we have made it socially unacceptable to cut trees for a long time, about all that is left in the forest is mature trees – the brush and other young forest species that deer browsed are gone.

What is left are the species that can grow in the shade of the adult trees and, unfortunately, deer have a preference for the species like oaks that produce mast and sawlogs for lumber and maple and ash that also produce wood products.
Thus, deer over-browse those species and leave less desirable, invasive species.
In other words, deer, like beaver, can alter their own habitat. On average, a deer eats about 8½ pounds of vegetation per day – that’s a lot of twigs being eaten by an estimated statewide population of one million deer.
This isn’t a hypothesis. It is a real, scientifically validated phenomenon. In fact, scientists are concerned that this over-browsing will have a “legacy effect” – there may not be a next generation of the forest as we know it today.
Those of you who live in Oneonta have seen the consequences – deer in the middle of Chestnut Street or Ravine Parkway on their way to eat your shrubs.
The problem is real. The question is what to do about it? Because we have removed the large predators, with the possible exception of the coyote and black bear, that once controlled the number of deer, we rely on hunting to keep their numbers in check.
The number of hunters continues to decrease and the hunting access to private property and local towns and villages is also declining.
Thus hunting, as we practice and regulate it now, may no longer be an effective management tool.
Do we need to re-examine how to more effectively harvest deer? That may be easier said than done. There are animal rights groups that oppose hunting altogether. There are sportsmen’s groups that are pro-hunting and may view any tinkering with the status quo as a threat.

Jim Kevlin/HOMETOWN ONEONTA & The Freeman’s Journal – You may have noticed, deer are bolder and everywhere this summer. These crossed Glen Avenue in Cooperstown in the middle of a Saturday afternoon.

Then there are conservation groups that have an interest in maintaining healthy forests that produce abundant wildlife of all species. The DEC’s Lands & Forests Division is tasked with doing what it takes to protect forest regeneration. Another Division, Fish & Wildlife, may favor keeping the deer population at a “huntable” level.
Like most natural-resource-related issues, this one is complex and efforts to address it are likely to spark controversy. Pennsylvania attempted to address the issue of over-browsing about a decade ago without success as the various interest groups couldn’t agree on a workable solution.
If we care about the next generation of New York’s forests, we can’t afford to let that happen. We must listen to what the science tells us and learn to work together for the common, long-term health of both the forest and the deer.

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

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.

ZAGATA: Face-To-Face Is Better. But If You Communicate Electronically…

Column by Mike Zagata for July 20, 2018

Face-To-Face Is Better.

But If You Communicate Electronically…

Mike Zagata

When thinking about the joys and pitfalls of communicating electronically, I’m reminded of these words from a John Denver song: “She sang to me in silence with her eyes”. How beautiful is that!
Those of us who began communicating before the advent of e-mail and texting with our cell phones understand what’s behind those words. The “millennials” may, through no fault of their own, lack an appreciation for what’s behind John’s words.
I really didn’t think about how easy it is to miscommunicate with e-mail and texts until a close friend sent me a guided missile via a text message. I had inadvertently done something to offend him and he was letting me know it.
Once the incoming missile hand landed, my immediate reaction was to launch one back in his direction. Texting works well when the waters are calm and you’re communication about things where you agree. It does not, however, work very well for resolving differences.
The truth is that trying to resolve differences via texting is a recipe for failure and usually makes matters worse. The same is true for e-mail. Success is much more likely if you meet in person or, at a minimum, have a phone conversation to resolve differences.
What John Denver was saying in those lovely words is that, by being able to see her, he was able to read her expressions, her body language and maybe even the inflections in her voice had she spoken.
Texting and e-mail are sterile in that regard. All we get to “see” are the words and, as we all know, they are subject to interpretation. If things have been going well recently with the author of those words, we are more apt to look at them in a positive light.
If there is tension between the author and the reader, those same words can instill anger. The party on the other end has no way of knowing which way they have been interpreted until he or she receives either a warm response or a guided missile.
While on the topic of cell phones, let’s look at how they have affected the norm for what is courteous and what is rude. If I’m sitting with someone and having a conversation, is it polite to answer my cell phone?
If you say it is, then is it more polite to answer it and tell the person I’ll call them back or engage in a conversation with the caller? What about if it’s a call you’ve been expecting? You may know that, but the person sitting next to you may not. That could lead to one of those incoming missiles
landing in your e-mail or
text box.
The means by which we communicate are rapidly changing and the social mores associated with those means are having difficulty keeping pace. A good rule of thumb might be to consider how you would react and act accordingly.
If you do inadvertently offend someone, all you can do is hope they will take the time when it happens to let you know in person. If not, it is likely to fester and then show up later as an incoming missile as a text or e-mail.
As baby-boomer struggling with these changes, I would like to apologize if I have inadvertently offended you.

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

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