News of Otsego County

Serving Otsego County, NY, through the combined reporting of Cooperstown's Freeman's Journal and the Hometown Oneonta newspapers.
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D&H Railyards

‘Citizens’ Due For Reprise At Oneonta Council

‘Citizens’ Due

For Reprise At

Oneonta Council

Objecters Ignored In Final GEIS,

Email Says. But Mayor Disagrees

At the crowded public hearing in March, Hartwick College undergrad Will May urged Common Council to follow AOC’s “Green New Deal” in planning the city’s future. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)

By JENNIFER HILL • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

ONEONTA – Unhappy Concerned Citizens of Oneonta are expected back at tomorrow’s 7 p.m. Common Council meeting.

Common Council is expected to act on the GEIS – generic environmental impact statement – on the D&H railyards redevelopment, and Citizens’ email sent out Sunday says it “dismisses every single comment brought by the public.

“No changes were made at all.  And the city is now trying to plow ahead,” it states.

Oneonta Projects Dominate Debate At County Board

Oneonta Projects

Dominate Debate

At County Board

Mayor Defends GEIS On Railyards;

Rep Lapin Takes On RSS Housing

Mayor Gary Herzig, left, and Otsego Now President Jody Zakrevsky brief the county board today on the redevelopment of the D&H yards, which is being criticized by Otsego 2000. County Board Chair David Bliss is seated behind Zakrevsky.  In the foreground are county Reps. Danny Lapin, D-Oneonta, left, and Ed Frazier, R-Unadilla. In the background is Jenna Utter, the board’s deputy clerk.   (Jennifer Hill/AllOTSEGO.com)

By JENNIFER HILL • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

Common Council candidate Seth Clark declared, “Oneonta is not the toilet of the county.”

COOPERSTOWN – Oneonta issues – development plans for the former D&H Railyards and the 65-unit RSS housing project in the Sixth Ward – dominated today’s April meeting of the Otsego County Board of Representatives.

Mayor Gary Herzig told the county reps that the GEIS – the generic environmental impact statement on the railyards that has generated opposition from Otsego 2000 – is simply a preliminary overview. GEIS lets future developers know “what’s in that property and know the challenges,” such as lack of energy sources and protected wetlands  on the site.

Elephant In The Room Undergirds Discourse

Elephant In The Room

Undergirds Discourse

Dismiss Smokescreen Hype

About Dubious New Jobs

In last week’s editorial in this newspaper, Oneonta Mayor Herzig is quoted as saying: “We should not let those who are economically secure, by comparison, tell those who need jobs they can’t have them.”

The mayor was reacting to the March 5 hearing he moderated at the Foothills in Oneonta, where a long series of speakers pushed back almost unanimously against the gas-expansion project proposed by the city and Otsego Now to develop the D&H railyards.

The mayor’s insinuation of class warfare is totally out of line. No one at the hearing told anyone they can’t have a job. On the contrary, the point was repeatedly made – by many people distinctly not “economically secure” – that the development of renewable energy and retrofitting buildings to be more energy efficient was far more likely to produce jobs than the proposed railyards project.

Otsego 2000 Is Challenging DGEIS Brownfield Findings
from Nicole Dillingham

Otsego 2000 Is Challenging

DGEIS Brownfield Findings

To the Editor:

The flood of editorials trying to divide our community regarding heavy industrial development in Oneonta are discouraging.

They may help sell newspapers, but they lack integrity. This is not a choice between jobs or no jobs. It is not even a choice between development or no development. It is purely a choice about what kind of jobs and what kind of development is suitable.

To answer this question, state law (known as SEQRA) requires the owner/developer, Otsego Now, to inform the City of Oneonta and the public of its plans; the city as lead agency is required to analyze its environmental impacts. The city hired Delaware Engineering to conduct the required environmental review.

Its review resulted in a flawed draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement (“DGEIS”). It is a “ghost.” It is 113 pages of headings and charts, but entirely lacking in substance.  The city paid as much as $200,000 for this empty vessel. It did not get their its worth.

After Delaware Engineering was hired and scoping required by SEQRA was completed, Otsego Now disclosed for the first time in a grant application submitted July 26, 2018, that it planned to construct a gas decompressor station in the Town of Oneonta, fueled by high volumes of compressed natural gas transported from Pennsylvania by tractor-trailer, to deliver gas to the railyards.

Otsego Now’s plans also called for expansion of the DeRuyter pipeline and construction of miles of new pipelines to bring gas to the site. Mayor Herzig confirmed by letter, dated Oct. 15, 2018, that he was “completely unaware” of these plans when environmental review began.

As a result, the plans to construct gas infrastructure to supply gas to the railyards were not disclosed to the public as part of the SEQRA process. The DGEIS completely ignored these new plans, although by the time the Common Council voted in January 2019 to accept the DGEIS, both Mayor Herzig and Delaware Engineering were fully aware of these facts.

The failure to discuss the plans for construction of gas infrastructure in the DGEIS is a serious error.  SEQRA requires that all related projects be considered as part of a coordinated environmental review. This clearly did not occur.

Due to this omission, the DGEIS must now be supplemented and the public given full notice of all plans for construction of infrastructure to supply energy to the site.

A revised GEIS must also consider alternatives to heavy industrial development, such as an Eco-Park, constructed to the highest energy conservation standards and powered by renewable solar and/or geothermal energy.

It is significant that Mayor Herzig, the new Downtown Revitalization Initiative, and the new City of Oneonta Comprehensive Plan, all call for green and renewable energy to be used where possible. Why not at the railyards? This question should be answered, before this option is rejected.

There are additional questions which must be answered. It is common knowledge that the railyards is contaminated from prior industrial use. When soil is disturbed during excavation and construction it can release harmful particles, causing health risks for people breathing the air. How will this brownfield contamination be remediated and at what cost?

Also, the DGEIS calls for building directly on delineated wetlands that drain into the Susquehanna River and serve a crucial role in retaining flood waters. If this site is paved over, how will wetland mitigation and stormwater control be handled and paid for?

Further, the DGEIS calls for extensive road work in the city and the town. What costs and impacts will this have on residents?

Finally, the DGEIS must disclose the true costs of the proposed development to ratepayers and taxpayers. The gas supply cost is estimated as $17.5 million for the decompressor alone, and $50-100 million for expansion of the DeRuyter pipeline. Additional millions will be spent for miles of pipelines to bring the gas to the Railyards. Otsego Now is also considering an electric power plant at the site.  What will the total costs be for these developments?

Otsego Now has a terrible track record for cost control. State comptroller records show that Otsego Now has spent as much as $76,000 per job created, much more than similar agencies in neighboring counties. This includes tax exemptions granted of $43,000 per job, and expenses of $33,483 per job gained. How many jobs will the Railyards development create? Can we afford these costs for construction of a heavy industrial park in Oneonta? We must insist on rational development based on facts, not false choices.

Just this month, Oneonta proudly issued a Downtown Revitalization Initiative and a proposed new Comprehensive Plan, celebrating its environmental assets and boasting of its two universities and advanced medical facilities.

For its part, the county has appointed an Energy Task Force, with representation from the city, to investigate energy needs and supply in the region. Shouldn’t Oneonta await the results of this work before shackling Oneonta to a future out of sync with its own planning documents, burdening the City for decades to come with infrastructure costs it cannot afford? Hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent on planning at the City and County level. The plans produced must not be merely shelved and then ignored.

For more information please see the Otsego 2000 comments on the DGEIS which can be found on our website at www.Otsego2000.org.

NICOLE DILLINGHAM

Board President

Otsego 2000

Cooperstown

Uncreative? With Full Plate, That Might Be Just The Thing

Editorial for October 12, 2018

Uncreative? With Full Plate,
That Might Be Just The Thing

‘I’m not creative,” Otsego Now CEO Jody Zakrevsky told the Otsego County Board of Representatives at its October meeting on the 3rd, as he began to deliver an “economic update” on the economic-development organization’s 2018 accomplishments.
While lacking creativity, Zakrevsky continued, he said he has the capacity to embrace someone else’s ideas and carry them to fruition.
Credit Zakrevsky with self-awareness and frankness, both virtues. Thinking about it further: The ability to carry great ideas forward may be just what’s needed right now in the local economic-development realm.
Zakrevsky’s predecessor, Sandy Mathes, was eminently creative; many of his initiatives are moving. Slow and steady implementation now might indeed win this race.

Among other things, Zakrevsky shared this very good news with the county board: Otsego Now has issued $11 million in bonds to Corning to expand its Life Sciences Plant in Oneonta; in return, the nation’s foremost glassmaker has committed to keeping 175 quality jobs in the city for at least 15 years.

The Freeman’s Journal – Saying “I’m not creative,” Otsego Now President Jody Zakrevsky planted himself in the Otsego County Board of Representives’ chambers last week and made a convincing case that slow and steady can win some economic- development races. Visible, from left, are county Reps. Stammel, Shannon and Clark; Clerk of the Board McGovern, Board chair Bliss and county Rep. Frazier.

Several other initiatives Zakrevsky shared with the county reps are important to pursue, such as a $750,000 grant sought toward Custom Electronics’ $2.2 million production line of futuristic self-recharging batteries. That’s 50 prospective jobs.
The batteries are used at disaster scenes, but also at movie shoots, to allow crew
to easily move sets when on location.
Of course, better batteries – in effect,
power storage – are essential as we shift
to renewables.

Another big challenge, of course, is moving forward redevelopment of Oneonta’s former D&H railyards; six site plans have been developed over the past few months. Also new, Otsego Now has gotten the state to designate a big chunk of the railyards as a new type of “opportunity zone,” providing tax breaks to prospective employers.
Also, Zakrevsky said, he is working with an unnamed “existing manufacturing company” on a 40,000-square-foot plant in the Oneonta Business Park (formerly Pony Farm) that promises to create 300 new jobs, with construction due to begin next year. He pointed out that 10 buildings in the park (only one owned by Otsego Now) are occupied, and only three available lots remain.
The Route 205 corridor through the Town of Oneonta is underway, necessary before the state DOT can upgrade that sometimes-congested stretch. And an airport study – Zakrevsky said consultants have promised its completion by Dec. 23 – may pave the way for county participation, as is proper, in what’s been a City of Oneonta facility.
There’s a lot more, including comprehensive master plan updates in Cooperstown, Richfield Springs and lately Schenevus.

Zakrevsky also heralded the creation, finally, of a one-stop shop for economic development in Otsego Now headquarters on the fifth floor of 189 Main, Oneonta.
Michelle Catan of the state Small Business Development Center has been joined in recent months by the Otsego County chamber; Southern Tier 8, the regional planning agency, and CADE, the Center for Agriculture, Development & Entrepreneurism.
If you remember, the keynoter at the second “Seward Summit” in November 2013, Dick Sheehy, manager/site selection, for CMH2Mhill, an international industrial recruiter, said a one-stop shop is an essential prerequisite to economic development.
Of course, putting loosely related entities on the same floor doesn’t, in itself, mean a one-stop shop exists. But at least proximity makes a tight, broad, comprehensive economic-development recruitment effort possible. Be still, beating hearts.
As we’re now all aware, if we’ve been paying attention, our county, from Greater Oneonta to Cooperstown, lacks sufficient natural gas and electricity even to meet current needs, much less recruit new employers, and Zakrevsky has become the lightning rod for that undertaking.
Otsego Now is seeking $3.5 million toward a natural gas decompression plant in Pony Farm, and its president has taken the brunt of criticism – and legal threats – from anti-gas adherents. He has to be unapologetically tough to keep that moving forward, and his board members need to get behind him publicly in a united front.
Regrettably, Sandy Mathes left too soon. But we have to move forward regardless.
From the railyards to Oneonta’s $14 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative (the state’s DRI) to the potential 300-job distribution center at Schenevus, another Mathes initiative, Mathes left Zakrevsky plenty to do.
To the degree that slow and steady wins the race, Zakrevsky, who is reaching retirement age within a few months, can do a lot. His report to the county Board of Representatives was, simply, promising. Amid fears economic-development had been set back a generation, there’s reason to believe our economic-development challenges can, to some degree, be met.
Let’s go for it!

Study To Find Use For 200-Acre Site

Study To Find Use For 200-Acre Site

By JIM KEVLIN • HOMETOWN ONEONTA

Edition of Friday, Dec. 19, 2014

 

Santa Cuomo didn’t have everything the Otsego County IDA wanted in his sack of state economic-development funding this year, but he has handed out $47,500 for a marketing study for Oneonta’s long-vacant 200-acre D&H Rail Yards.

“We’re eager to get the process started,” said Sandy Mathes, CEO of the county IDA, after the governor announced this year’s awards Thursday, Dec. 11.

The county IDA – the Industrial Development Authority – plans to move forward on a proposal from Clark Patterson Lee, a consulting firm with offices in Albany and Rochester, to prepare an ec-dev plan for the rail yards, Mathes said.
The governor’s announcement underwrote three other IDA “consolidated funding applications” (CFAs) for state ec-dev funding:

• $400,000 for Springbrook to renovate 10 group homes throughout the region where the school’s special-needs students live.

• $200,000 for a county Agricultural Microenterprise Program, which, in collaboration with CADE (the Center for Agricultural Development & Entrepreneurship, on Elm Street), will train 10 farmers to market products to the New York metropolitan area.

• $58,000 for Cooperstown’s update of its comprehensive master plan and a strategy for development, led by Elan

Planning, which was involved in the revival of Saratoga Springs and other Upstate communities.
This is in addition to $2 million in CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) money the governor awarded to the county on Dec. 4, including $200,000 to train 80 people at the IDA’s new Susquehanna Regional Center for Growth on the fifth floor of 189 Main.

While the D&H funding was appreciated, Mathes expressed disappointment that other IDA projects – the Upper Susquehanna Regional Ag Center at Chestnut and Market and a commerce park in Richfield Springs, in particular – weren’t chosen as well.

“We’re going to advance both those projects on our own with IDA funding,” said Mathes, who was brought aboard last January to lead a three-year, $3 million IDA effort to improve the county’s economy.

By “working harder, strengthening our projects,” he said, the IDA hopes to have better success next year.

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