According to two sources close to the paper (one inside, another outside), Register-Star publisher Roger Coleman died unexpectedly of a heart attack today. Reportedly he left recently for a holiday vacation at his home in Kentucky.
Coleman took over the publisher’s role in 2004-2005, after the demotion and later firing of his predecessor Jules Molenda, which coincided with the demise of the St. Lawrence Cement project. The paper remained very similar on the news side, but Coleman mostly avoided Molenda’s habit of publishing fire-breathing editorials on most every major and minor controversy, preferring to stick to more popular and boosterish material.
While this site has tangled with Coleman over various issues over the years, this news comes as a very sad shock. Sincere condolences go out to the Coleman family and Reg-Star staff.
With relatively few residents scattered across a large area, Columbia County denizens have struggled for years to obtain even basic internet connectivity. Just retrieving email and watching YouTube, let alone streaming an HD movie at a decent resolution, can be deeply frustrating—and also costly.
The population density in Columbia is just 99 people per square mile. As you head southward, that number climbs steadily, with 371 per square mile in Dutchess, 431 in Putnam, and 2,193 in Westchester. This low density means that many fall into the dreaded “last mile” category, in which houses at the far end of a road or more than three miles from a telephone switching stationcan get neither cable modems nor DSL service.
But that is finally changing, though in baby steps that leave this area far behind metropolitan regions.
For the layperson, 3 Mbps is the bare minimum necessary to stream a movie in any decent resolution, without it looking all blurry and blocky—pixillated, designers would say. If you have a big TV or a projector, or have multiple people online in your household (whether on a smartphone, a tablet, a Roku, or just surfing the web) you probably need twice that just to cover normal usage. A power user or large household may want 10-15 Mbps or better.
Several new options have emerged of late for rural broadband customers that bring parts of the County into that territory, at least on paper:
(1) FAIRPOINT. Though it’s not yet reflected on their website, Fairpoint Communications says it has bumped up its top download speeds for both business and residential accounts from 3 Mbps (megabytes per second) to 15 Mbps. A web designer in Chatham reports that she recently upgraded her business account with Fairpoint, and is now getting just over 15 Mbps. The price structure, according to a rep I spoke with, remains the same as before, but with far higher download speeds. Fairpoint services mainly customers in central, northern and eastern parts of the County.
(2) HUGHESNET. For those out of range of cable and DSL, satellite internet provider HughesNet is now advertising its Gen4 service, promising download speeds comparable to Fairpoint’s, up to 15 Mbps. However, since this is delivered via satellite, service can be intermittent. But far more troubling than weather outages is HughesNet’s continued insistence on a “cap” on how much bandwidth customers use to prevent overloading their satellites.
Such caps can greatly diminish the value of higher speeds. HughesNet’s most expensive “power” plan costs $99 per month, and promises a monthly total of 40 GB (gigabytes) of data. If you exceed that limit, your download speeds will be slowed to a crawl, unless you buy expensive “restore tokens.”
Worse, the fine print shows that the 40 GB number is misleading, as half of that allowance can only be used between 2 am and 8 am. So unless you spend most of your time on the internet during the wee hours of the night or early morning, you are really only getting 20 GB. If 20 GB still sounds like a lot, consider that may mean at most 4-8 hours of video streaming at a high resolution per month, setting aside some bandwidth for your other internet usage.
Unless you are a weekender who would only be using the web for a small portion of each month, or someone who only uses the internet for basic news and email, that cap makes the new 15 Mbps Hughes offering pretty useless; it just means you’re going to burn through your small allowance that much more quickly.
I was a HughesNet satellite customer for more than 5 years, and found the service maddening. The data caps (then daily, instead of monthly) often made it difficult to do more than rudimentary stuff online. And their customer service was truly atrocious: ignorance, incompetence and outright dishonesty characterized the typical dealings with Hughes reps. Unless there has been some major change in the culture of this company, I would exercise extreme caution before signing up for these Gen4 services, as promising as they initially sound.
NOTE: The satellite provider WildBlue is basically a repackaging of the same services as Hughes, just with slightly different pricing and bandwidth offerings. The same caveats apply, though I don’t have the same direct (bad) experience with their customer service.
(3) HOTSPOTS. Wireless companies like AT&T, Sprint and Verizon are now aggressively marketing mobile hotspots (with goofy names like “Mi-Fi”) which can provide broadband-like internet to homes over cellular networks. Some of these deliver fairly decent download speeds, depending on your location; the Verizon Jetpack 4G LTE promises downloads in the 5-12 Mbps range.
Various friends in places like Claverack report being satisfied with these services, with the caveat that they are not much into internet video. And currently, there are few places in the County were you can get better than 3G coverage. Depending on the model and plan purchased, you may be able to carry that service around with you if you commute or travel a lot, which is an added bonus.
However, as with satellite internet providers, the devil is in the details. These services can be pricey, and typically have strict bandwidth limits. The highest-level Verizon plan, for example, costs $110 per month with a limit of 20GB of usage. After that, you have to start buying gigabytes of data à la carte at exorbitant rates, or wait until your next billing cycle rolls around. Cell-based services seem to be advancing more rapidly than cable and DSL due to the huge number of people with smartphones; so in a couple of years, the idea of being tethered to a line for internet may seem ridiculous. For now, however, this option requires many compromises.
(4) GTEL. Gtel based in Germantown promises DSL speeds up to 10 Mbps for qualifying business customers, but with lots of asterisks and caveats attached.
(5) MHCABLE. Lastly, Mid-Hudson Cable now claims it can offer business customers speeds as high as a truly whopping 50 Mbps, while their advertised residential cable modem plan top out at an unremarkable 5 Mbps. However, Mid-Hudson still does not reach many parts of the County, primarily servicing the 12534 zip code on this side of the river.
This site was first to report back in 2011 the head-scratching news that MHCable had sent back a much-hyped multimillion-dollar Federal grant to help provide broadband services to “last mile” customers in rural areas of Columbia County.
This meant that customers in less-accessible areas were quoted up-front prices of $1,000-$3,000 for the privilege of then paying MHC for monthly service. Among the reasons cited by Mid-Hudson president James Reynolds for sending back the money for which his company had applied was the belated recognition that it would require MHC to pay its workers prevailing wage on any Federally-funded work.
Others complain that MHC services do not necessarily deliver promised speeds. Mark Orton of Hudson, for example, ran extensive speed tests back when he was still an MHC customer, eventually switching to DSL in order to gain more stable, reliable service that could handle his videoconferencing and other needs.
Considering that Columbia County is now home to many people used to far better internet connectivity, and also an unusual number of so-called telecommuters and self-employed people who work at home, one would think that local leadership would make internet access more of a priority. The County will propose to spend $1 million primarily to benefit a single company operating the Ghent airport, even as many residents can’t get a decent signal through their Apple Airport.
And while it seems that rural broadband conferences are held on a regular basis (and with a lot of press hoopla for any politicians who pay lip service to the idea), progress remains slow. Greene County political blogger Thomas Pletcher called the last such symposium there “a sham.”
In many towns in the area, cable and internet contracts are renewed with little or know actual negotiation or haggling, with the widespread perception in certain municipalities that the well-connected management of such companies have more clout than local taxpayers.
UPDATE: Several people have emailed with questions about NYAir, another relative newcomer here (though basically an arm of Mid-Hudson Cable). I wrote about NYAir back in March at this link. This is not really a broadband service at this point, as you can’t reliable get more than 2 Mbps down, and speeds tend to hover closer to 1 Mbps.
One of their techs told me last summer that the company was planning to upgrade from a 900MHz broadcaster to a faster WiMax system sometime “in the next year,” which could mean closer to true broadband speeds, depending on what they install and how far one is from a tower. Note that NYAir is “backhauling” from these towers (such as the one on Blue Hill in Livingston) to MHCable, which seems to result in major slowdowns in service during primetime hours as thousands of their cable and internet customers tune in.
Today’s Register-Star report sheds little new light on what was already known about the dismissal of charges against former Hudson alderman Quintin Cross and Jamont McClendon, but manages to repeatedly misspell Cross’s first name as “Quentin.”
A Columbia Paper article published late last night reports that a second grand jury convened to consider City Hall burglary charges brought by District Attorney Paul Czajka against former Alderman Quintin Cross and resident Jamont McClendon has declined to issue an indictment.
According to one legal expert, that would imply that the judge assigned to the case agreed to dismiss the original grand jury indictment, while allowing the D.A. to take a second shot at a new grand jury. Such a step likely would have be taken by the County prosecutor in order to correct issues that arose with the Hudson Police Department not providing both his office and the defense with a complete set of evidence—including a reported videotape from City Hall from the night of the March 19th break-in.
However, if judge Jonathan Nichols had issued such a ruling, it had not become public knowledge despite the intense publicity that the case had attracted. A trial had been expected this Fall, prior to the evidence SNAFU, which gave his attorney Susan Tipograph grounds to get her client released pending trial.
The pair’s saga has attracted widespreadnews coverage both locally and in the region after the HPD issued a bulletin that they were seeking Cross and McClendon for questioning in relation to the break-in. The two then disappeared, with the latter apprehended in Hudson on April 3rd, and the former turning himself on April 30th, nearly six weeks after the police bulletin. It is still unknown where Cross was staying during that period.
According to a Register-Star report in August, the missing evidence included “a DVD of the Hudson Police’s interview of Cross, a CD of more than 100 photos from the crime scene and stills from the City Hall surveillance camera showing two suspects entering the building.” Judge Nichols “summoned” HPD chief Ellis Richardson and Detective John Funk to deliver the missing materials, considered at the time crucial to the case.
Nichols was also assigned to a prior case against Cross involving some $16,000 in City credit card charges. According to the Register, Cross was “arrested in January 2007 by the New York State Police and charged with seven felonies and four misdemeanors including forgery, identity theft, grand larceny and falsifying business records for using credits cards in the names of then-Hudson Mayor Richard Tracy, Hudson Police Chief Ellis Richardson and the city of Hudson.”
That case eventually resulted in a larceny plea deal, with various community figures pleading for leniency. But parole violations caused Cross to spend two years in jail, rather than just than his initial six months’ time served. Judge Nichols rejected his attempt to void the sentence on procedural grounds.
Questions also arose (for example, on CBS6) about the Hudson Police interviewing Cross voluntarily on the morning after the burglary was discoverd, but then deciding not to hold him shortly before his disappearance and the issuance of the bulletin.
At last night’s meeting of the Ghent Planning Board, it emerged that TCI of NY is behind in payments to the Town of Ghent to cover engineering expenses related to cleanup of its Falls Industrial Road site, according to firsthand reports from attendees.
And until such payments are brought up to date, and until the company also puts $10,000 more in escrow for review, the Ghent planners do not intend to take up an application from the company to rebuild and resume operations.
TCI’s Brian Hemlock arrived with his attorney, Bill Better, as well as an engineer from Crawford & Associates and a representative of architect Dennis Wedlick, in an attempt to present an application—but ran into the stumbling block of past due bills and future escrow requirements. The application materials were dropped off, but not considered.
GhentCANN’s Patti Matheney reports: “It seems they have used up all of the escrow for the Town engineer to oversee the clean-up of the site and there are outstanding bills. The Board and [attorney] Ted Guterman were adamant they will not look at the new plans or ask the town engineer to review them until they put 10K into a new escrow account.”
Matheney also noted that a TCI representative “specifically stated that only non-regulated PCB's were dismantled at the plant and they do not handle any regulated PCB equipment. He made no mention of the DEC permit request from June of this year.”
However, that 2012 application indicated TCI’s plans “to store and consolidate regulated PCB wastes,” preparing them “for shipment to EPA approved and alternate disposition facilities,” an apparent contradiction.
Hemlock also circulated a heavily-massaged p.r. statement [ page 1 | page 2 ]. TCI worked with a public relations firm, Blass Communications, in the wake of August’s catastrophic inferno—its second fire of 2012—but it isn’t clear if they are still in the picture.
Lastly, Matheney writes that Planning Board chairman “Jonathan Walters asked the Board to "do their homework" over the next month and come back to the Jan. meeting with questions for TCI.
Audio of the meeting recorded by another resident is expected to be posted online later today.
Seeking to signficantly expand its operations, TCI of NY quietly filed hundreds of pages of applications in the past year with State and Federal authorities—without ever applying to agencies of the Town of Ghent to comply with local zoning.
Buried in a 440-page document, revelations of these planned changes by TCI in the year before their catastrophic August fire emerged after a long wait for a response to a Freedom of Information Law request to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
DEC finally coughed up the 440-page document three months after this site placed multiple reminder calls and emails. (FOIL requests are normally dealt with within 5-to-20 days.) The State application, which includes materials submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, was finally produced only once this site notified the DEC public relations office that a press release detailing the agency’s non-responsiveness was in the works.
The document obtained is eye-opening to say the least. TCI’s application materials reveal, among other things, that the company sought permission to begin:
• Handling regulated PCB waste of a much higher concentration than non-PCB or unregulated PCB waste;
• Installing a new 8,000-gallon PCB storage tank;
• Storing 280,000 pounds of untested, undrained electrical equipment which are assumed to have under 499 ppm of PCBs;
• Storing 70,000 pounds of undrained PCB-contaminated electrical equipment;
• Storing 60 drums of PCB-contaminated fluid; and
• Storing 40,000 pounds of PCB transformers.
Minutes of the Ghent Planning Board do not indicate that such major changes to the TCI facility were ever brought before them for review and approval.
At an August 1st Planning Board meeting held just hours before the massive fire was discovered, TCI’s representatives from Crawford & Associates presented minor amendments to a site plan for a 650-square-foot office addition, stating that “nothing new will be going on at the plant, only existing work.”
A request by one member to review any DEC permitting was noted in the minutes, but the request was “withdrawn” f0llowing these assurances by TCI as well as from the Planning Board Chair that everything was in order.
Legally, an applicant must seek permission from local authorities for activities covered by local zoning codes, even if they are permitted by other agencies. Indeed, that is just what scuttled TCI’s attempt to build a PCB incinerator in Ghent in the late 1980s; even though NYS DEC casually greenlighted the project, the Town (and neighbors) objected and stopped it from happening based on local rules.
Moreover, under the Ghent Zoning Code new activities and changes in use must be brought before the appropriate board(s) when their scope exceeds their original permit, and/or when changes are proposed after the date of changes to the Code.
The 440-page application submitted to the State and Feds also includes many eyebrow-raising statements. For example, a review of working conditions and worker qualifications concedes that while some employees would be working with materials such as explosives and toxic chemicals, it then goes on to say that these workers will not need any prior experience or training. A young employee died at TCI after exposure to freon gas in 1989.
The Ghent Planning Board meets again tonight at 7 pm at Town Hall, and TCI once again may be on the agenda, seeking to rebuild its facility, which also had a fire in January. NOTE CORRECTED MEETING TIME
A copy of the 440-page application (which is a very large file) is available upon request via email.