The Albany Times-Union is reporting that TCI of NY, whose PCB-processing facility in Ghent was incinerated in a calamitous fire last August, has “set up temporary shop at the Port of Coeymans.”
Billing itself as “environmentally friendly” (mainly on the basis that barges are less polluting than trucks), the 12-year-old port is roughly 10 miles south of Albany, and directly across the Hudson River from Schodack Landing. As the aerial photograph shows, the Port is also near the Thruway, and located not far from some densely-populated neighborhoods. And it’s barely a half-mile from the Lafarge cement plant in Ravena.
The company told the T-U that they are operating “on a temporary basis in Coeymans while we continue to evaluate our long-term opportunities. A permanent facility in the Port of Coeymans is among the opportunities we are considering, and we have submitted a site plan to the Coeymans Planning Board for its review.” They refused, however, to explain how their operation would compare to their now-scorched Ghent business.
The article lists other sites still on the company’s radar in counties including Saratoga, Washington and Rensselaer (including East Greenbush , Rensselaer and Schodack), and states that returning to Ghent is still a possibility.
Prior to the Ghent fire, accidents at TCI included a worker’s onsite death from freon exposure; a failed incenerator proposal; a transformer explosion at their temporary home in Greenport; and another major fire at their Newburgh plant. At one point between their stints in Newburgh and Greenport, the company tried to move to Athens, but opposition from firefighters and residents squelched that plan.
The Coeymans Planning Board meets next on July 1st at 7 pm at 18 Russell Avenue, according to the Town’s website.
Gregory Dean of Hopewell Junction had faced charges for having nine bullets in his .40-caliber pistol, two more than the new legal limit of seven. Published reports gave no indication of any objection from Town Justice Jessica Byrne-York to Czajka’s exercise of prosecutorial discretion.
Meanwhile, less than an hour to the north, an Albany judge took a very different view of another exercise of such discretion. Assistant District Attorney David Rossi declined to call witnesses against members of the Occupy movement who had camped last summer in a local park.
But the judge in that case, William Carter, did not look so impassively on Rossi’s decision as Byrne-York did on Czajka’s. Instead, Judge Carter warned the Assistant D.A. that he could be charged with contempt of court. (Note that Rossi was understood to be carrying out the wishes of his boss, the progressive Albany County D.A. David Soares, who has refused to prosecute other trespassing cases against Occupy.)
Why the difference in handling? No doubt some legal expert can find some way in which the two situations are “distinguishable,” and don’t present a contradiction. But to a layperson, the principle in play appears to be the same: Does a prosecutor have the right not to press a case following an arrest—whether for ideological, budgetary or other reasons?
In these two cases, it looks a lot like the difference in judicial approach has less to do with differing interpretations of the law, and more to do with either politics or control, or both.
In the gun case, one suspects that the New Lebanon Town Justice shared Czajka’s position on the SAFE Act, and thus did not view the D.A.’s exercise of discretion through a hostile lens. (Byrne-York was in the news early last year after recusing herself from the case of 28 teenagers found drinking at the home of Republican Town Supervisor Michael Benson.) In the Albany case, there is no obvious evidence of any hostility to the Occupy movement from Carter. But the Judge may view the repeat declinations by the D.A.’s office as a threat to his authority.
For Czajka, the issue of prosecutorial discretion is also not a new one. In December, Judge Jonathan Nichols (another Republican, though one generally considered moderate) sided with the Columbia D.A. in his dispute with Kinderhook Justice David Dellehunt, ruling (per The Columbia Paper) that “unfettered discretion to determine whether or not to prosecute an individual and the Courts may not and should not interfere with that discretion.”
UPDATE: A reader points to this editorial a couple days ago in The Albsny Times-Union, which raises the same disconnect between the two cases, and posits another explanation. The paper alleges that Judge Carter has a close affiliation with a candidate that was beaten out by Soares for the D.A. slot, and who still bears him some animosity.
Honoring the service of local firefighters ought to include taking every possible step to protect the lives that first responders put on the line every time they respond to a fire.
Unfortunately, in the case of the inferno last August at TCI of NY in Ghent, newly-uncovered evidence suggests that key officials may have ignored a direct warning which came well in advance of the company’s catastrophic August 2012 fire.
A report from February 2012 clearly demonstrates that the use of highly-explosive sodium metal at TCI (a processor of PCBs) was made known to multiple officials at least five months beforehand in a State Homeland Security report obtained by Patti Matheney of GhentCANN.
In the post-mortem discussions of the August disaster, it has been widely noted that scores of firefighters narrowly cheated death, withdrawing from the scene only moments before more than a dozen explosions rocked the Ghent night sky.
“We were only minutes away from bagpipes and flag-draped coffins,” Churchtown Fire Company 1st Lieutenant Nathan Chess wrote in a brave open letter to the community:
It is only based on sheer luck that a serious loss of life was avoided. It was only based on basic “off the cuff” comment by the company’s “keyholder” that the responding units were advised that there was a substantial amount of solid sodium stored in the plant. ... When exposed it creates an exothermic reaction and produces hydrogen gas (i.e.: Kaboom!).
Similarly, West Ghent Fire Chief Jim Cesternino praised TCI employee Tim Coons as a “guardian angel” and “hero” for rushing to alerting firefighters on the scene to the presence of sodium:
Coons was on scene and was able to provide us with information about some of the building contents. Providing that information to us saved firefighters lives.
However, neither luck nor guardian angels should have been needed that night, as the presence of sodium (and the danger it posed when doused with water) had already been reported to top County and West Ghent emergency managers earlier in the year. Nevertheless, documents show that water was sprayed into the building near this sodium, immediately touching off explosions.
Documents disclosed by The New York State Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Services now show that several key officials were alerted to the use of sodium metal by TCI subcontractor Power Station Subservices (PSS). Moreover, the explosion risk posed by sodium was described specifically.
On February 29th, 2012, Investigations Branch Deputy Chief Randi Shadic forwarded a report on TCI’s previous fire in several trailers outside the building in January. That earlier fire caused some $300,000 in damages and led to an extensive investigation of its cause. Page 7 of this widely-circulated February report said that in the wake of the January fire,
TCI staff provided Material Safety Data Sheets ... to the fire investigation team. The MSDS Sheets are for the products routinely handled, stored, produced and disposed of by both TCI and PSS. One of the products used by PSS identified as “40% Sodium Dispersion in Transformer Oil” is identified as being capable of “spontaneous combustion in moist air”. The same product is identified as “reacting violently with water.”
Copies of this report were sent by Homeland Security to West Ghent’s Cesternino, Columbia County Fire Coordinator James VanDeusen (now retired), and New York State Police Investigator William Mulren working out of the Livingston barracks on Route 9.
Again, this warning came five months prior to the much more dangerous and disastrous one in August.
Still, NYS Homeland Security’s interviews suggest that on the night of the second fire in August, the presence and danger posed by sodium at TCI came as news to leadership on the scene.
In an interview with investigators, Cesternino notes that Coons alerted him to the sodium sometime shortly after 10 pm at the scene of the fire -- and that he asked for “more information” about it, and asked for another company’s foam truck to be called in.
Nevertheless, the West Ghent chief’s interview and those of rank-and-file firefighters from the many companies responding indicates that teams were told to “drown” the fire via the roof.
This led, in the narrative of one Stockport firefighter, to an almost immediate reaction:
“Once we got a truck we used a deck gun and were spraying it through the overhead door at the rear. Initially we had the stream pointed to the right. I had them move it to the left or west and when we did the building started to rumble. It sounded like a hundred people pounding on the metal building and the fire really took off. Then we heard what sounded like a propane tank exploding. We had to pull back and hide behind the roll off dumpsters
Despite the “news” from Coons that sodium was in the building, and the request for a foam truck, Cesternino reports that
The plan was to surround and drownd [sic] the fire. Claverack was able to spray water through the top of the overhead door of the loading dock.... As soon as they started spraying water things started reacting inside the building. I was out front and a big blast of smoke came out the front. I could see what looked like camera flashes going off inside. The crews in the back were reporting explosions on the radio and saying they had to get out. I ordered an evacuation...
It is thus doubly perplexing and troubling to read that in spite of the warning from Homeland Security five months before, plus the warning from Coons just after the fire was discovered, firefighters were sent to douse parts of the building with water. It is of course possible that the sodium might have started exploding anyway, had any wet materials in the building come into contact with it as the fire progressed .
But the direct cause-and-effect described in these interviews—pops, reactions and explosions resulting from water sprays—leads to the hard conclusion that the risk may not have been adequately communicated to those putting their lives on the line for the community.
Also of note from these documents: The Columbia County Fire Coordinator’s office had requested Shadic’s unit’s assistance with determining the “origin and cause“ of the earlier January fire in part because it occurred “in the general vicinity of what had been a series of suspicious or incendiary fire[s],” Shadic stated in a January 27th email.
Winner of the 2010 Crystal Apple Award from the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce just months after opening, Local Ocean recently lost its sweet PILOT (Payment In Lieu of Tax) deal with Columbia County.
Welcomed with great fanfare and largesse by local development agencies, and much-celebrated in the regional press, Local Ocean has been bedeviled by two patent lawsuits—and laggard in making payments to the County.
Local Ocean’s meteoric rise and fall from official favor is not a unique path. The tight-knit and often insular County development elite has a history of patting itself on the back, awarding its own most favored projects before they even get off the ground.
Beaten out by Local Ocean, another 2010 Crystal Apple nominee was the rebranded and renovated Historic Blue Stores Restaurant and Bar—reopened under new management just prior to their nomination, then went under again. (Today, it is back open under yet another set of managers, Darren and Tara Buffa, and appears likely to survive.) Passed over that year were the Columbia-Greene Dialysis Center, Catamount Adventure Park, Taconic Farms, and the BeLo3rd business coalition.
A longer look at the Crystal Apple award-winners over its history is instructive.
Among all award winners listed on the Chamber’s site from 1992-2013, more than one in five (20.5%) are out of business or have retrenched locally. For example, Kaz, Inc. won the award in 2002 and shared the award with Stageworks again in 2005. Dunn Builders, the Crystal Apple winner in 2004, closed its downtown Hudson location after a rash of employee thefts, then had its huge Greenport operation swallowed up by Herrington’s. The Old Chatham Sheepherding Inn (1996) closed, though farm operations continue.
A little less than another one in five (18%) have become mired in controversy, fallen out of favor with officialdom, or just fallen into disrepair—such as the once-vibrant St. Charles Hotel, which won the 1997 Crystal Apple but after several management changes no longer features a public restaurant or bar. Its private meeting room and large public event space, once highly-popular gathering spots, today are seldom used.
That renders nearly 40% of the 1992-2013 award winners either defunct, disappeared, or discredited.
This year’s award-winner, the Columbia Land Conservancy, tarnished its image last year by its coy, behind-the-scenes enabling of the City of Hudson’s heavyhanded seizure of the century-old Furgary Boat Club—using a black-suited SWAT team toting machine guns to subdue three older, sleeping men in their ancestral cabins.
Meanwhile, roughly two-in-five awards (38%) have been given to large, established companies and businesses which are closely embedded in the County development establishment, such as Herrington’s, Kaz or Columbia Memorial Hospital. The Chamber’s Board includes Paul Colarusso, whose company A. Colarusso & Sons was the 2009 winner. Other awardees have had seats or representatives over the years on many of the same boards (HDC, CEDC, local and County IDAs, the Chamber itself) which arrange corporate tax breaks, grants and other incentives. Such coziness—bordering on conflict-of-interest—makes the awarding of the Crystal Apple that much less prestigious.
Most laughable and conflicted of all, though, is the original Crystal Apple, awarded to The Columbia County Board of Supervisors for its “development” of Commerce Park. Considered a boondoggle from its very inception, Commerce Park took years to find tenants, and two decades later still is sparsely populated. With the Chamber of that era almost entirely controlled by political interests, today’s equivalent of the ’92 Crystal Apple Award would be like this site awarding itself a blue ribbon for Best Columbia County news source.
Smaller local businesses—such as the Kline’s multigenerational, family-owned Traditions, or the longest-running merchant on Warren Street, Arenskjold Antiques, here since the 1980s, or the rock-solid folks at Jimmy’s Auto Body in Livingston—rarely seem get invited to the Crystal ball.
This is not to say that the Award committee never finds its mark. 2003 winner FACE Stockholm continues to manufacture and maintain a storefront locally, even as it continues to thrive and expand internationally. Camphill Ghent, the 2012 winner, does spectacular work with its residents. The likeable director David Colby, who was brought over from the Berkshires several years ago, has cleared out cobwebs and freshened up the fusty, good-old-boy atmosphere which once pervaded the Chamber’s offices.
But these are the exceptions that prove the rule. Perhaps the trophy should be recast as a giant wooden acorn, and renamed The Blind Squirrel Award.
With news of a proposed six-figure purchase of additional land for the Columbia County airport, the question arises: How much actual use does the airport get?
Flight data from the FAA suggests at least one answer: Not nearly so much as officials would have us believe.
Take a look at the numbers. A decade ago, the Columbia County Board of Supervisors commissioned a long-range plan for the County airport in Ghent, in part to satisfy FAA safety and other concerns.
That 2003 report included the above chart, indicating that the airport handled some 37,000 flights per year. By 2020, the airport was anticipated to be handling 52,000 flights per year, or 1,000 per week.
Meanwhile, the 2009 Town of Ghent Comprehensive Plan stated as a fact that “at present, the volume is about 50,000.” The Town also projected that the airport could handle volume as high as a whopping 230,000 transits.
So how much use does the airport really get? Other evidence suggests it is nothing even close to 50,000 flights.
Data obtained via the aviation site FlightAware shows that in the full year between December 2011 and December 2012, only 1,586 takeoffs and landings were recorded. FlightAware says it gets these numbers directly from the FAA itself.
Not 50,000. Not even 37,000. Less than 1,600.
A more detailed breakdown follows below.
“My impression is that activity at the airport has gone down significantly since the 2008 recession,” said one experienced pilot who has used the County runways for many years.
Now, not every flight into and out of a County airport gets reported to the FAA. The numbers above do not appear to include many flight school trips, which can involve a lot of repeated takeoffs and landings. Under Visual Flight Rules (“VFRs”), during good weather and high visibility some other flights are not necessarily required to file a flight plan, either.
Yet even if you triple the FlightAware numbers—adding 1,600 training flights and 1,600 VFR flights—you still wind up with total yearly activity of less than 5,000 trips in and out. That’s only about 10% of what is stated in the Ghent Comp Plan and the County’s projected master plan numbers.
In other words, 90% less that the official line.
Indeed, both basic math and interviews with neighbors suggest that there is nothing like 50,000 flights per year out of the County airport. As the comparison chart below shows, 50,000 compute to just under 140 per day... And given that Richmor Aviation made a handshake deal with neighbors about 25 years ago to limit flights to the hours between 7 am–11 pm, that would mean roughly 9 takeoffs or landings per hour, or one every 6-7 minutes.
Anyone who has driven along that section of 9H, or lived in that area, or visited friends there, knows that planes are a rarity, not something which occurs every 6 minutes. Just sit in a car in the Kozel’s parking lot, and you can verify that doesn’t happen. Or, surf over to FlightAware’s live dashboard, and see for yourself how few arrivals and departures are scheduled on a moment-to-moment basis.
Moreover, small airport use tends to be heavier in warmer months, so the average in summertime would likely be more like every 3-4 minutes, if the County and Ghent numbers were in fact real.
Using the same basic math, the projected maximum capacity of 230,000 flights cited in Ghent’s Comp Plan seems as ridiculous as it would be dangerous: 230,000 transits per year would mean almost 20,000 per month, 4,500 per week, over 600 per day, and 25 per hour around the clock including the wee hours of the night. Limiting activity to the 16-hour community noise abatement deal, there would be a plane zipping in or out every 90 seconds or so.
If such official numbers were at all accurate, living near the County airport could begin to resemble life near LaGuardia.
The question of how much the airport is really used becomes all the more relevant now that the County has voted to a approve a $629,000 offer to the owners of Meadowgreens to expand the airport and bring it more into FAA compliance. (Few were there to witness the vote, in part because the local paper of record, The Register-Star, published the wrong date for the meeting.)
Given how out-of-sync the County’s planning numbers appear to be with reality, this could pose a problem with FAA funders. When the County submits this $629,000 expansion plan to the Feds for approval, it will be interesting to see what numbers it claims.
An official report on the catastrophic fire last summer TCI in Ghent reveals that despite an estimated $23,000,000 in damages, the PCB processor did not have smoke alarms, sprinklers or standpipes installed in the building.
The $23 million estimated loss is doubly surprising given that the property was only assessed at less than 2.5% of that amount. According to Ghent’s final 2012 assessment roll, TCI’s assessment was just $564,259, resulting in less than $5,000 in Town and County property taxes.
The report’s existence only came to light due to a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request and subsequent article by John Mason for The Register-Star on January 26th.
Chief investigator Randi Shadic of the NYS Office of Fire Prevention and Control forwarded the results to the County Fire Coordinator, West Ghent Fire Chief, and State Police Investigator in charge, but requested that they “not release the report or related documents unless it’s pursuant to a subpoena or Freedom of Information Law request.”
Among other things, the report reveals that:
Endnotes: Ghent resident Patti Matheney spoke with a representative of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, who expressed surprise that PSS was handling PCBs of a concentration indicated in the report, and who requested to see a copy of it.
Neither the Feds, State, County or Town of Ghent are known to have imposed any fines or cited the facility for any permit, fire or other code violations related to the disaster last summer. The Town has, however, indicated that the West Ghent fire company will need to increase its budget by 10% as a result of costs incurred for fighting the fire.
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.
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.
Each of these events involved political figures who were plainly favored by Register-Star management in their endorsements and/or coverage.
Yet none of these occurrences got reported in the local paper at the time. (Two of them were, however, captured in the PBS documentary film about Hudson, Two Square Miles.) Some of the above predate the current management’s tenure; but the patently biased mindset persists.
This short trip down recent local history lane is prompted, of course, by the fevered-but-belated defense offered by Reg-Star management for its recent firing of reporter Tom Casey. Central to their rearguard action is the notion that if something unusual occurs at a meeting, it should be covered.
“Did it happen? Yes? Then go write it up,” wrote publisher Roger Coleman and executive editor Theresa Hyland in a joint statement released last Friday. Sounds sensible at first glance.
But when it has suited the paper’s interest not to make an issue of something, it is often kept it out of the Register’s pages. In this current case, because 3rd Ward alderman John Friedman is not an automatic vote for the status quo, it is hard to escape the impression that someone high up there wanted the alderman’s inobtrusive action in print.
Similarly, when certain factions—particularly that of Rick Scalera and Don Moore—have wanted Aldermen whom they consider disloyal shamed on the front page, the Register-Star has been all too happy to oblige. Some aldermen, for example Friedman’s 3rd Ward colleague Chris Wagoner, can hardly sneeze without the paper portraying his sternutation as rude and disruptive.
The crux of the paper’s dispute with Casey was not really whether real news should be reported, but whether a quiet action taken by an alderman—one which aroused no public outcry—was newsworthy at all... And secondarily, whether the reporter present would follow his bosses’ orders.
Rather than compromising like adults about a simple difference of opinion—by publishing the additional paragraphs coerced from Casey under duress, while respecting his wish to keep his byline off the story—Coleman and Hyland went nuclear and fired him. Then, the pair evidently took such a hard line with those who quite calmly and reasonably protested the firing, that three of Casey’s colleagues felt compelled to resign.
Former city editor Francesca Olsen says in a statement provided to prominent media watchdog Jim Romenesko:
When I got into work Wednesday afternoon I was called into a conference room meeting with Coleman and Hyland. Coleman had a copy of the letter and asked me what my name was doing on it. I told him I stood with my staff and said Tom’s firing was an outrageous decision.
I didn’t get a lot of opportunity for discussion. Coleman asked me repeatedly if I was resigning, and when I said I stood with my staff he asked if that meant I stood against him and Hyland. I said it wasn’t really that simple. After it became clear we weren’t going to have a reasoned and even-toned discussion about this I said I would resign.
This leaves a strong impression that ego—the desire to send a message to other reporters that they had better not disagree with management—not journalistic standards—was the key motivator here.
And even if one accepted the Register-Star management’s dubious assessment of this being newsworthy, that leaves two major questions: Why was the difference of opinion with a reporter in good standing worthy of firing? And, why doesn’t the paper actually apply its newly-expressed standard consistently across various political factions?
It’s not merely that events far more outrageous get played down if they do not reflect well on the establishment view—or blown out of proportion if it serves a factional purpose. In addition, anyone who’s attended even a couple Common Council meetings also knows that comments from the audience which contradict the official line often get erased entirely, or minimized by glossing them over in a blunted form.
If six citizens speak against an action being backed by City Hall, the typical Register-Star report will avoid presenting them verbatim, instead either omitting them altogether, or saying something like: “Some in the audience took issue with the Mayor’s position.” The more convincing detail and key substance of independent viewpoints cannot be allowed to reach the ears of more passive readers.
Another corrollary of this predictable media formula is that if a member of the public is the least bit passionate or intense in their manner of speaking, they will frequently be described as “strident,” “vocal,” “angry,” and the like.
Coming a full week after Coleman and Hyland’s firing of Casey drew media scrutiny locally, regionally and nationally, the paper had to say something. The Register-Star could not continue to remain silent, as it needed a document to provide the public and reporters seeking comment, as it did with Chris Churchill of the Times-Union. And as the blue chip Columbia Journalism Review notes in their coverage today:
More than anything, Coleman and Hyland’s statement betrays a deep disdain for their (former) reporters.
That disdain is also for a large portion of their reluctant readers. The arm-waving and sarcastic tone of their explanation, coupled with its obvious double standard, is not merely unconvincing; it is all too typical locally. More generally, as the founder of The Aspen Daily News all the way over in Colorado wrote about the Hudson, New York controversy:
A gnawing discomfort lurks when higher powers at a media outlet try to impose their will on a reporter [...] Differences between reporters and their bosses about stories are a very touchy subject. Publishers, who normally have business backgrounds and are considered inept at concepts such as news judgment, are supposed to stay out of newsrooms. Some often stay away out of intimidation.
Publishers usually don’t write, and are often too cozy with politicians and advertisers who are fond of being able to control them, writers believe. The issue is particularly sensitive when an advertiser threatens to boycott the paper if it doesn’t write what he or she wants — or more to the point — omit what he or she does not.
Vainly attempting to position themselves above the fray, Register-Star management declares that there are two types of people “when it comes to the news business[:] those who will do anything to get something in and those who will do anything to keep it out.”
Unfortunately for readers and residents, the management of their City and County’s only daily newspaper seems to fit both of these categories. It just depends on which side of the political aisle the paper’s ally (or target) happens to stand (or sit).
This site has also now obtained a copy of a resignation latter submitted last night by one of the Register-Star’s reporters, shedding further light into what has transpired at the paper in recent days in the wake of the abrupt firing of reporter Tom Casey. The source states that “part of [management’s] reaction to the letter was to call one staff member at a time into a closed conference room for long talks about the matter.” The resignation letter is reproduced in full below:
Dear Theresa and Roger,
I enjoyed my time at the paper, but don’t feel comfortable reporting here any longer. I feel, from talking with Francesca and a newsroom member who heard yelling in the conference room before she resigned, that Francesca was belittled into doing so. I feel this was due to her involvement with a letter signed by HCN reporters and editors. The letter, addressing our collective point of view regarding a prior matter, was very reasonably written, in my opinion, and did not deserve such a reaction from management.
Part of the irony here is that this is a newspaper, where freedom of speech is supposed to be championed, not quashed out. At Hudson-Catskill Newspapers, the reporters run on their integrity, their love for the job, their pride in seeking the truth and reporting what’s fit to print. It’s why we here accepted such dismal pay. In the end, I personally could not continue working in a newsroom where I might worry over whether I could always hold the freedom to report things I witnessed and saw as truths, without being fired, for what I simply see as doing the job of a journalist.
Not knowing whether I could voice my opinions on news judgments without repercussions in the future is the main reason I am resigning tonight.
As I said in the conference room today, I think it’s perfectly fine to have disagreements over what is news and what is not. The management has final say in those matters. But I feel here that a healthy questioning from the reporters on the front lines of the community and editors closely involved each night in news judgments was swiftly rejected. It’s tough to be submissive to the idea of such an environment, despite (but, ultimately due to) my love for reporting.
I agree with you both that it is unfortunate this situation escalated as it did.
Again, I had fun. It was a hell of a news team while it lasted.
Best of luck.