November SPB Dinner Speakers

Now We’ve Got A Bond Act: Jeff Jones of Environmental Advocates

By Daniel Van Riper

Jeff Jones, of Environmental Advocates, speaking at the November lasagna dinner at !st Presbyterian Church in Albany, had an interesting story about the origins of the Bond Act, which, of course, is now in effect.

Earlier this year, Environmental Advocates (EA), along with several other groups, issued a well documented “report card” on Governor Pataki’s environmental record. As in most areas of his failed administration, his environmental conduct was poor, rating bad in 59 of 78 areas surveyed, and good in only nine. Although the report was relegated to the back pages of the press, it was politically devastating .

In response, Pataki, during one of his rare visits to Albany, called the executive director of EA into his office and threw a tantrum in her presence, yelling at her and making vague threats. He ended this extraordinary scene by insisting that as retaliation he would never speak to any of them ever again.

Six weeks later, in response this report, to intense public criticism, and pressure from Republican Party bosses that he “appear more green,” Pataki presented the state with a hastily drafted Bond Act, and has been forced to consult with EA and other environmental groups. Mr. Jones feels that, in the end, issuing the report was very much worth all of the ruckus it caused. “I learned,” he said, “that you should always tell the truth.”

The Bond Act is supposed to provide a pool of funds to use across the state, including land acquisition in the Pine Bush, and possibly for the Karner Blue Butterfly habitat in Wilton up in Saratoga County. According to Mr. Jones, Pataki has control over 10% of the available money, use of the other 90% must be approved by the legislature. The use of the funding is not nearly as wide-open as most people think. Here is a partial breakdown:

$200 million for cleaning up brown fields, which are usually low-level toxic areas left behind when industries relocate or dissappear.

$200 million for the Long Island Sound Management Plan (naturally L.I. gets the big money).

$125 million to retrofit public schools that are still heated with coal (!).

$25 million for the Hudson River Estuary Management Plan.

$15 million for Lake Champlain.

Mr. Jones feels that members of Save the Pine Bush should educate themselves about what is available under the bond act and take advantage of opportunities. The projects that are most likely to be funded are those that are identified and defined by local advocacy groups, for the simple reason that state officials haven’t a clue where most local environmental needs are.

EA is functioning as a clearing house for environmental information, they can be contacted at 1-800-SAVENYS.

Bethlehem Pickled: Formaldahyde And Corruption

By Daniel Van Riper

Linda Burtis, of the newly formed citizen’s group Bethlehem Citizens for Clean Air, was the second speaker at the November dinner. Ms. Burtis is a veteran instigator of several well-publicized environmental battles in Bethlehem, including the successful fight to stop the garbage burning plant, and the thwarted attempt by leading politicos to make residents start drinking water out of the Hudson River.

She came to tell us of how a corporation called Spurlock wants to build a plant that manufactures formaldahyde. The problem is that formadahyde is a dangerous toxic substance and a carcinogen, but town officials don’t seem to be taking the problems with locating such a plant in a populated area seriously. For example, when a high school student up in Greenwich accidently spilled a gallon of formaldyhyde, the school building had to be evacuated for the rest of the day.

The plant is expected to produce some 270 million lbs. of formaldyhyde per year, and some thirty to fifty trucks per day will be hauling the stuff on back roads. Emissions from the plant will probably affect a radius of more than twelve miles, which means that everyone in Albany and most people in Guilderland and Colonie will be breathing formaldyhyde and other wastes, and this airborne poison will also settle on the Pine Bush.

Bethlehem officials are very accomadating to Spurlock and pointedly ignoring the concerns of residents. At the public hearing required by state law, some 400 residents showed up. Many spoke about problems with the proposal, and were stunned and upset when the project was immediately approved without discussion. Spurlock did not even bother to send a representative to the hearing. Apparently a backroom deal had already stuffed the approval in the bag.

Bethlehem’s IDA (Industrial Development Agency, a form of welfare for corporations) has already given Spurlock $7.5 million in tax exempt bonds. In addition, Spurlock gets ten years worth of school and property tax breaks, thus minimizing the economic benefits to the town. Fifteen or so jobs will be created, but the town is refusing to consider the cost of toxic pollution, and has in effect already given up control over these matters.

Spurlock plans to break ground in January, but they still need a permit from the town. Anyone interested in helping the fight can call 475-7795.

Poor Folks Don’t Mind: A Garbage Dump In North Albany

By Daniel Van Riper

The third speaker at the November dinner, Aaron Mair of the Arbor Hill Neighborhood Association, knows something about demographics. For instance, he told us, if some developers want to find a good location to build a mall, they would look at what nearby people are like. If they have good education, high literacy, and decent incomes then they would be the sort of people to put a mall near.

If the people nearby are poorly educated, have bad literacy rates and low income, then they may get a garbage processing plant in their community, because they are the least able to fight it.

According to Mr. Mair, this “waste transfer station” proposed for the middle of the North Albany neighborhood is no small thing, capable of handling 400 tons of garbage per day. Trucks full of garbage and toxic waste will rumble through the surrounding neighborhoods an average of every three minutes , six days a week twelve hours a day.

Of course there are residences nearby, which are sure to suffer the same putrid fate as the trailer park under the shadow of the Albany Dump in the Pine Bush, also known as Mount Trashmore. This “waste transfer station” is going to be located 100 yards from Livingston Middle School, 250 yards from an elementary school, 300 yards from Whitney Young Hospital, 500 yards from Memorial Hospital, and 800 yards from Tivoli Park.

What exactly is a “waste transfer station?” Mr. Mair calls it “a lunch box for the Green Island burn plant.” The proposed Green Island plant which would create horrible daily tonnages of airborne waste and toxic ash, and would need a constant diet of downstate garbage brought by barge up the Hudson River, has been shelved for the time being. Mr. Mair feels that regional planners, who clearly believe that the Capital District deserves to become the garbage capital of the Northeast, still intend to build the burn plant. If enough of these “lunchboxes” can be located in the area, then the Green Island plant and others like it would become economically feasible.

“We really need letters,” Mr. Mair told us. Write to Mayor Jennings, the Albany Planning Department, and the Albany Board of Zoning Appeals and demand that this travesty be stopped. Write to both Jerry Jennings and the Albany Board of Zoning Appeals at City Hall, Albany, NY 12207.

The Honorable Sara Curry-Cobb, 4th Ward Albany Alderwoman and supporter of Save the Pine Bush, told us by phone that she is totally opposed to the waste transfer station and is doing everything she can to stop the project.

Printed December, 1996,/January, 1997