Michael McLaughlin, Director of Research for Albany County Executive Dan McCoy Speaks to SPB

By Tom Ellis

ALBANY, NY: Michael McLaughlin, the Director of Research for Albany County Executive Dan McCoy, was the SPB dinner speaker on May 21, filling in for McCoy who was attending the convention of the NYS Democratic Party.  He said he is involved in many of McCoy’s policies.

Mr. McLaughlin said the Polystyrene ban signed by McCoy in December is a flawed law, the county executive is taking steps to strengthen it, McCoy wishes to extend it to all restaurants, the intent of the law is good, and the cafeteria in the county office building still uses Styrofoam.

Regarding the more than one billion gallons of oil passing through the Port of Albany each year, he said a catastrophe in downtown Albany would be much worse than in Quebec (where 47 were killed last summer) in terms of lives lost.   He said the county is removing asbestos when renovating county buildings and systems, the Times Union Center now has a new more fuel-efficient roof, and the sewer district has many new “green” initiatives including that dry sludge now runs through the cogen station.  He said solar now provides 35 percent of the energy used in the hockey facility.

Regarding land conservation in Albany County, he said two parcels will be incorporated into the Pine Bush Preserve. He said the CSX rail line connecting Albany and Voorheesville is being converted to a trail but several bridges need considerable work or replacement.

He provided a few details about McCoy’s efforts to advance solid waste planning in the county.   He said a meeting would be held the next day of a committee selected from the participating local governments within the county.

During the Q&A, in response to Lynne Jackson, he said the county has no role in solid waste except sewage and “Let’s make improvements toward ‘Pie in the Sky’ zero waste.”  Lou Ismay urged people to use the word “discarded” instead of “waste.”   Speaking about the city of Albany’s solid waste efforts a few years ago when then-Mayor Jennings established a steering committee, Tim Truscott said the city strongly favored establishment of a solid waste authority and so did DEC.  Tim said it is outrageous and unacceptable for DEC to favor solid waste authorities when so many other viable and democratic political structures exist.  Mr. McLaughlin said he is very familiar with reasons not to have an authority and there has been no decision made by the county executive to have or not have an authority.  Tim said Tompkins County operates the best solid waste management system in NYS with an inter-municipal agreement and no authority.

Grace Nichols said old sewer lines run through the Tivoli park,  a Zero Waste conference was held locally several years ago, and we need open processes to hear from everyone.  She said it is absurd to expect everyone to drop off their household hazardous waste at a facility, as currently required by the city of Albany.   She said the Patroon Creek has considerable untreated waste and bacteria in it.

In response to my question about the proposal to reduce the size of the Albany County Legislature from 39 to 25 members, McLaughlin said McCoy has taken no position on it and “It is not his place to do so.”

Mark Schaeffer commented on climate change.  He said the recent climate change assessment report predicts an increase in major rain events and said we must prepare for it.  He said San Francisco achieves a 75  percent recycling rate and we should look there, and urged the county to hold a major sustainability conference in 2015. 

John Wolcott discussed the county land bank.  He urged responsibility for it be removed from the Habitat For Humanity and Historic Albany Foundation in favor of the Community Loan Fund of the Capital Region.   McLaughlin responded saying the county executive has no involvement in the land bank; “It is a legislature creation.”  He agreed with John that the land bank director should not favor building demolitions en masse.  He said taking down buildings is a last resort when buildings are compromised and the purpose of a land bank is to preserve property.

Sue DuBois asked about the proposed Pilgrim Pipeline that would be built along the NYS Thruway from Albany to the NYC metro region.  McLaughlin said the county has not been approached about it.  He said in NY, counties are primarily human services providers.  He said the county government is looking at installing solar on the roofs of many large flat buildings the county owns. 

A man said the rail cars arriving in Albany have oil in the bottom of the cars and volatiles in the top of the cars because the volatiles are not removed prior to pumping oil into the cars.  He said in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, the volatiles are first removed.  He said the county and municipalities possess sufficient police powers to require detailed information about the contents of all incoming rail cars.

Grace Nichols urged the county to plant native flora along the sides of roads; she said doing so would also provide jobs for hard-to-employ people.



Published in August/September, 2014 Save the Pine Bush Newsletter