The Columbia Paper editorialized last week that TCI of NY has “a good environmental track record.” Was the writer actually referring to the same company whose plant burned to the ground last summer?
Over the past 30 years, all three of TCI’s PCB-handling facilities in the region have suffered fires, explosions or both:
TCI left Newburgh in 1985 after a major blaze caused the local fire chief to condemn the building and cite the company for code violations. That shut-down was preceded by many written complaints from neighbors about smoke and emissions.
Moving briefly to the Industrial Tract in Greenport, TCI’s 1987 transformer explosion “rocked an area within a half-mile.”
And as everyone knows, TCI had not one but two major fires in Ghent last year—the second of them truly disastrous. The building’s contents were incinerated in a colossal, uncontrolled, two-day burn.
Try that in your backyard, and see if you’re still considered a good neighbor.
Multiple explosions endangered the lives of firefighters, generated a massive plume, showered neighbors’ properties with oily pellets, and led to most Columbia County residents being told to spend the next day indoors.
And while the editorial calls TCI a “loyal employer,” the above series of calamities and dubious management have put company workers at risk:
According to Newburgh news reports, the Attorney General found the company “violated the toxic substances law by not training the employees to handle [PCBs].”
The aforementioned blast in Greenport tossed a worker 20 feet, sending him to the hospital with injuries.
Most tragically, a young man needlessly asphyxiated to death while cleaning a tank with freon at TCI in Ghent.
Compounding such problems is TCI’s apparent habit of keeping host communities in the dark about its intentions and operations:
In Newburgh, DEC “charged the firm with transporting regulated wastes without a permit.”
TCI’s failed 1988 plan to add an incinerator initially bypassed Ghent officials, leading to a costly legal wrangle with the Town of Ghent and neighbors, which dragged on for years.
TCI quietly filed another expansion plan with DEC and EPA last year, without notifying the Town of its intent to expand operations.
TCI likewise did not notify the Town that it had invited in a second company, PSS, to treat PCBs in a manner not covered by its Ghent permits, leading to the 2012 inferno.
TCI sued the Town to prevent it from exercising ordinary zoning and planning review. (A homeowner putting in a pool could expect more enforcement than TCI seems to tolerate.)
Meanwhile, though the Columbia Paper writes of “lost tax revenue” from TCI’s possible departure, the editorialist may not realize that this multimillion-dollar company paid less than $5,000 in Town, County and fire taxes in 2012.
A local fire company had to request a $10,000 budgetary increase to help cover expenses from responding to the TCI fire, making their presence a net loss for Ghent.
One gets the sense that the editorialist was striving so hard to appear balanced, that common sense fell off the beam. If TCI’s corporate history constituted a “good” track record, what would be a bad one?
NOTE: The above was submitted as a letter-to-the-editor this past weekend... Let’s see if The Columbia Paper prints it.
My preview of Fish & Game, Zak Pelaccio’s new Hudson restaurant which officially opened this week, went live at The New York Observer (not to be confused with The Hill Country Observer) on Thursday—link here. Below are some bonus pictures by Laetitia Hussain:
Chef Zak Pelaccio, builder Peggy Anderson, Jason Wyckoff, jewelery designer Shana Lee
Architect/designer Michael Davis, headhunter Kevin Delahanty, bassist Melissa Auf der Maur
Bartender Kat Dunn serves producer (and Fish & Game backer) Patrick Milling Smith and filmmaker Tony Stone of Basilica Industria
Peter Heilman, who built Fish & Game’s tables, bar, carts, stools et al., dining with his wife at last Friday’s preview dinner
View of the dining room, second fireplace, and carnage.
View toward the lounge, showing the old walls maintained as a ruin, Red Light District wallpaper, and staircase to an upstairs private room.
Over at The Gossips of Rivertown, Carole Osterink reports that the debate about whether Standard Oil occupied a key parcel in the City of Hudson has been settled—with skeptical citizens fully vindicated.
The City’s title searcher has belatedly conceded to Giff Whitbeck (who strove mightily to prop up his law partner Cheryl Roberts’ untenable claims) what resident researchers such as Tim O’Connor and Cheryl Stuart already knew. Namely, that the oil company most certainly did have a presence on the acreage in question.
The immediate impact of this tardy and grudging acknowledgement should be for the City to stop dodging a full environmental assessment of the land they want to acquire. But don’t hold your breath on that due diligence. Given Roberts’ monomaniacal obsession with securing State approval for her deeply-flawed waterfront plan at any cost, it would hardly be surprising if some new rationale for ignoring potential contamination emerges.
There ought to be another, more lasting impact of this sorry episode: Hudson elected officials finally may be forced to doubt the integrity of their counsel’s advice.
A review the recent reporting on how this matter was handled does not redound to the City’s credit, to put it mildly. There’s no getting around the stark fact that the claims and retorts emanating from the official side of the table in response to sincere, well-researched citizen input have been egregiously (and even offensively) mistaken. Officials took their experts’ vague assurances as gospel, while undercutting every piece of citizen research, at their own peril.
Start with the howlers contained in The Register-Star’s April 21st, 2013 article:
Common Council President Don Moore in response to a well-researched memorandum about the land transfer from Citizens In Defense of Hudson, lectured Stuart “to be careful with her accusations.”
Attorney Roberts was even more condescending in her response, thundering at Stuart: “You are so completely wrong in your legal assessment of that document, I don’t even know where to start.”
Roberts also told the Council that “The Standard Oil piece is north of the port.”
“At the informal Common Council meeting on April 8, city attorney Cheryl Roberts reported that the title searcher hired by the City had not discovered Standard Oil ownership of any land south of the port.”
“Roberts addressed the issue by saying that there was ‘a serious misunderstanding about what a title search is.’”
“Roberts' placement of the Standard Oil property was confirmed by Alderman Cappy Pierro (Fifth Ward), who said that ‘oil barges pulled up where the Spirit of Hudson docks now.’”
“City attorney Cheryl Roberts questioned whether there were such things as oil tanks in 1888.”
“Assistant city attorney Carl Whitbeck provid[ed] evidence that nothing ever existed on the Hudson waterfront west of the railroad tracks and south of the port.”
It’s now painfully clear that each of these official, lawyerly, patronizing assertions were at best laughably mistaken, at worst nastily misleading:
Despite Moore’s finger-wagging, Stuart’s group proved to be not only “careful,” but also correct;
Roberts, not CIDH, was “completely wrong” in her legal assessment;
Standard Oil was south, not “north of the port” as Roberts claimed;
A sustained barrage of evidence from O’Connor, Gossips and CIDH was required to convince a professional title searcher to admit what a host of amateur sleuths found out on their own;
The only “serious misunderstandings” seem to be those harbored by Roberts, Whitbeck and the City’s title searcher;
Aldermen who claim direct knowledge of activities which ceased at about the same time as the First World War are not reliable narrators.
Hudson has many unique features, among these being a rare species of elected official who, unlike the rest of the human race, lacks a natural distrust of lawyers. Renewing a skepticism which traces its lineage at least as far back as Shakespeare, once again local citizens have witnessed firsthand how possession of a law degree does not in itself guarantee the deliverance of honest, well-informed counsel.
When it comes to professionals in the pay of City Hall, the operating principle seems to be: Don’t trust us. We’re experts.
In response to a recent post calling out The Register-Star for swiping a breaking news story and plagiarizing a sentence from this site, an apology has been received from Executive Editor Theresa Hyland for the “copying of your blog entry contents into our story.”
Writing that she was “upset” by the reporter’s actions, which Hyland said “do not meet our journalistic standards and we cannot tolerate such behavior,” she also noted that “we have let the offending reporter go.”
The intent of the post was to put a stop to the predatory use of local blogs as news-gathering sources without crediting them as sources, not to get anyone fired. Though plagiarism is indeed a cardinal sin of journalism—and this example was flagrant—it’s debatable whether it rose to a firing offense.
The apology was appreciated and appears to be sincere. Not knowing what other factors and history played into the paper’s decision, this site is not in a position to judge the full cause and appropriateness of their employment decision.
(Interestingly enough, the reporter “let go” was himself a replacement for some of the staff lost in the paper’s controversial firing last winter of another Hudson beat reporter, which led to multiple resignations of other news staff.)
SamPratt.com, Friday morning around 9:30 am, breaking the news that Lieutenant Richard Paolino is stepping down from the HPD:
“This comes on the heels of the recent retirement of Hudson Police chief Ellis Richardson, and appointment of Ed Moore as the new Chief.”
The Register-Star on Friday evening at 11:55 pm:
“Paolino’s retirement comes on the heels of the recent retirement of former Police Chief Ellis Richardson, the appointment of new Police Chief Edward Moore and ...”
Now, the Register routinely cribs breaking news tips from blogs such as my site and Carole Osterink’s without acknowledging the source. For example, when this site broke the story that Mid-Hudson Cable had returned a much-ballyhooed multimillion-dollar rural broadband grant to the Feds, the Register then reported the story without noting how it had come to light.
Rarely, however, does the Hudson paper so flagrantly copy the specific phrasing of our items... At least try to paraphrase, y’all, when you’re mining other people’s sites to do the legwork of digging up breaking news.
In response to CBS6’s story about Hudson firefighters being dragged behind cars during last weekend’s blizzard, the City’s fire chief has responded to the station—still known to those of us who grew up with it as WRGB. The station says:
On Monday morning, CBS6 sent a link of the video to the Mayor of Hudson. He didn't offer a comment, but the Fire Chief did release a statement. He told CBS 6: that's a sight that will never be seen again on warren street and that they are dealing with it internally.
That hasn’t seemed to tamp down the online flame wars between those who think videographer Lance Wheeler should have suppressed the footage, and those who point out that the “sledding” was dangerous, illegal and a bad example.
CBS6’s original post on Facebook (scroll down from this link to the item) now has a whopping 667 comments, and has been shared 197 times. Many comments defending the sledders are punctuated by ALL CAPS SHOUTING and multiple exclamation points, such as:
give me a break !!!! they are just having some fun!!!
seriously.... this is news???? LET THEM HAVE FUN!! THEY RISK THEIR LIVES RUNNING INTO BURNING BUILDINGS WHILE EVERYONE ELSE IS RUNNING OUT!
Why was this even filmed??
Meanwhile, on the other hand:
They are breaking the law hands down.. everyday citizens would be ticketed for doing the same thing...what's the difference?
They should absolutely be punished. They are wearing their bunker gear, representing their department, and are out dicking around. They're doing things that people get hurt or killed doing, and wearing $5,000 worth of equipment.
I think that they should get punished for this. The turnout gear he is wearing costs around $1500-2000 and is not designed to dragged down the road. He could easily have ruined this equipment, or even worse got seriously hurt. If this happened in my fire department I hope the guy would get punished. Now if he wasn't wearing his turnout gear I would just say that he is pretty stupid for doing this.
I guess the question is - what reaction would someone who is not a volunteer get doing this? Just because this person is a volunteer firefighter (as I am) - it does not make these stupid acts "ok". Think about how much that turnout gear costs that they are using while performing these dumb acts. Should the chief or administration 'punish' them ? Maybe - maybe not.... BUT they should definitely be ashamed of it.
Jerry, a commenter on a different Facebook thread, who comes from a true “old Hudson” family, simply posted the code demonstrating that clinging to vehicles is indeed illegal. This touched off a vicious argument, leading to what he felt were thinly-veiled suggestions that maybe certain homes shouldn’t be protected from fire. He writes of the exchange:
When “opinion” turns to the threat of retaliation on my family in Hudson, it becomes a personal attack. My statements are fact based and not biased because of a personal relationship with the Firemen or Fire Company. I listed the VAT law violated to educate those that may not have realized a law was broken.
The commenter provided the following screenshots from Facebook for publication, from which last names have been redacted. This exchange includes a Hudson fire chief, a former mayor (who agrees with Jerry), and what appears to be one young firefighter who says to Jerry that the next time there is a fire in his house, he should put it out himself:
Some comments on Facebook and on CBS6’s website blast Wheeler for posting the video, as if it were intended to make the firefighters look bad. “Butt out and mind yer own,” writes one Canojoharie commenter. “What the hell was Lance thinking by submitting this?” writes another. Others say that the firefighters’ well-appreciated sacrifices on our behalf entitles them to a little fun.
Such attack on Wheeler makes little sense for at least four reasons:
Wheeler’s track record of covering emergencies locally has earned him a solid reputation among first responders, making it obvious he meant them no disrespect;
If there is nothing wrong with sledding behind a vehicle, then there should not be anything wrong about publishing it;
The first portion of the video makes it obvious that Wheeler did not run out to play “gotcha” with the firefighters, but rather stumbled upon the scene while shooting routine footage (what people in the biz call B-roll) of the storm, and found it funny;
And, since the footage was at minimum entertaining and potentially newsworthy, it’s not a reporter’s job to suppress news just because some might not like it.
The real reason for the hostile and defensive reactions is, in all likelihood, a simple one: because it is plainly illegal. Section §1233 of the New York State Vehicle And Traffic (VAT) laws reads as follows:
Clinging to vehicles
No person riding upon any bicycle,coaster, in-line skates, roller skates, skate board, sled, or toy vehicle shall attach the same or himself or herself to any vehicle being operated upon a roadway.
No person shall ride on or attach himself to the outside of any vehicle being operated upon a roadway.
The provisions of this section shall not apply to: (i) vehicles in an emergency operation as defined in section one hundred fourteen-b of this chapter; and (ii) farm type tractors used exclusively for agricultural purposes or other farm equipment; and (iii) riding on the open, uncovered cargo area of a truck with the permission of the operator of such truck; and (iv) vehicles employed by a municipality for local garbage collection; and (v) vehicles participating in a parade pursuant to a municipal permit.
No vehicle operator shall knowingly permit any person to attach any device or himself to such operator's vehicle in violation of subdivision one or subdivision two of this section.
So why is clinging to vehicles illegal? Because even when it’s all in good fun, it can be really dangerous. As another commenter at CBS6 writes,
We had a kid years ago that thought it was fun to be pulled behind a truck on a tire on a state highway. He died that same night because the tire swung out around the truck into the path a an oncoming car. That oncoming vehicle belonged to a dear friend that had no chance of avoiding the teenager. An image that is never forgotten in a life time. This too was a snow storm. It may seem like fun, but fun can easily turn into tragedy.
The search for (and failed case against) Quintin Cross and Jamont McClendon engaged the local political class to a remarkable degree. Due to the City’s tangled web of rivalries and allegiances, Cross’s career in electoral politics, as well as the inherently political nature of a City Hall burglary, records show that both the defense and the prosecution received help from various political players.
For example, on the day the burglary was discovered, the email pictured above was sent by former Hudson Democratic chair and four-time Mayoral candidate Linda Mussmann to lawyer Susan Tipograph. The New York City-based attorney, a longtime associate of Time & Space Limited, was already representing Cross regarding legal attempts to compel him to pay restitution for his illegal charges on a City credit card. The email alerts Tipograph that, in Mussmann’s words, “Quintin has screwed up big time.” The next day, Mussmann forwarded a Register-Star article to Tipograph regarding the warrants out for Cross and McClendon’s arrest. A printout of this email exchange was provided by Cross in the box of documents made available for this site’ inspection.
Another local player assisting Cross’s team was former School Board candidate and education blogger Lynn Sloneker, who now serves as news director of radio station WGXC. The documents provided by Cross show that Sloneker responded to his request for media research, providing excerpts of articles covering the current and previous case.
The trove of documents also reveals a hand-drafted (but unsigned) agreement between Cross and Taghkanic residents Dan and Mary Udell, in which they agree to post his bond in exchange for weekly meetings with Cross and regular updates from him about the case. The Udells were honored several years ago by the Columbia County Democrats for their videotaping of Hudson City Council and other local meetings.
On the other side of the case, Cross’s records also show that former Mayor Dick Tracy contacted the Hudson Police Department during his six-week disappearance. Tracy passed along a report that a resident of the Crosswinds housing complex was receiving packages on the former alderman’s behalf. When the HPD investigated, the person in question denied both doing so and knowing anything about Cross’s whereabouts. Tracy also passed along a tip that someone familiar with Cross believed he “was somewhere in Texas.”
A Register-Star employee contacted the HPD on March 21st to say that she thought she saw Cross and McClendon at the Cheesecake Factory in Colonie Center. Investigation by the Colonie police did not turn up any evidence they had been there.
Meanwhile, Cross has responded to widespread talk that recently-resigned HPD chief Ellis Richardson somehow influenced the handling of the case. (During his interview with Detective Funk, the policeman leaves for about 20 minutes after saying, “Let’s see what my boss wants.”) Cross wrote in an email last week that:
I am close with the Chief and I know for a fact he wasn't around that day actually he was in Albany and I know that I was indicted by the time he got back.
In a transcript posted yesterday of his own interview, McClendon asks to speak with the Chief, but Detective Funk says that he is there on the Chief’s behalf and that he should talk to him as such.
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:
During the fire, a 20,000 tank of mineral oil “suffered a catastrophic failure which caused the entire tank to become airborne, exit the structure through the roof and land a great distance to the north and east of the structure.”
The structure at 39 Falls Industrial Road “is owned by KMOJ Acquisitions LLC of Kearney, New Jersey and is doing business as TCI of NY LLC.” Note: The 2012 Ghent tax rolls show the property as owned by TCI Realty of NY, LLC.
Yet another company, Power Substation Services (PSS) of West Virginia, “had been operating at the TCI facility for approximately two years.” Note: Extensive records obtained via FOIL by this site from Ghent give no indication that TCI ever notified the Town of the presence there of PSS or KMOJ.
The report says that “PSS is a business that processes transformer oils containing polychlorinate biphenyl (PCB's) at a level higher than that which TCI is allowed to handle.”
Investigators were not able to make their first entry into the structure until September 6th, almost five weeks after the fire. Some materials had already been removed from the site by that time. Concerned about “the possibility of chemical contamination” in the building, they had to wear Level C hazardous materials suits, respirators and other safety gear to do so.
The fire was discovered by a TCI employee who responded to a “motion alarm activation inside the building.” His first call was to a manager, who called the alarm company, who called Columbia County 911. Note: If you ever discover a fire, it’s probably a good idea to call 911 first.
TCI had a burglar alarm system in place, which went off at 9:55 but was assumed by the alarm company to have been triggered by a bird or other animal. It went off again four minutes later at 9:59—at which point the company rep evidently went to see what was happening. The report attributes this motion detection to “the movement of smoke or possibly flames,” not a person. Note: State application materials submitted but apparently withdrawn by TCI earlier in the year appear to indicate that the building was also under video surveillance, but no mention of such records is made in this report.
Firefighters entered the smoke-filled building through the front entrance and also by forced entry through the rear door, eventually spotting flames. Note: It is not indicated what masks or other breathing apparatus or chemical exposure protection were used, if any.
PSS was handling PCBs in “two mobile processing units,” a “process rig” and a “dehydration rig,” with “numerous 55 gallon steel drums stored under and immediately next to the processing trailers.”
“The combustible portions of the trailers were nearly 100% consumed by fire,” with the steel drums also sustaining “extensive fire and heat damage.” Some collapsed, and others had “holes burned through the sides.”
The steel beams, trusses and metal roof panels of the building likewise collapsed, testament to the extreme heat of the fire.
The fire was not believed to have been “at floor level” initially.
The report favors the hypothesis that the fire orginated “in the south/west portion of the warehouse area of the structure near the processing trailer units.” It discounts or rules out numerous other causes, from electrial wiring problems to a lightning strike.
Repairs were made to PSS’s processing trailer on the day of the fire, specifically replacing a heater used to melt the sodium used by PSS to break down PCBs. A higher wattage heater (7,500 instead of 6,000 watts) was installed.
This heater “was left on” overnight on purpose “to resume processing of oil” the next morning.
The report states that the PSS employees reported the “operating temperature of this heater and mixer chest is 250 degrees,” while also noting that “the ignition temperature” of sodium is 239 degrees ... and 250 degrees. That suggests the sodium could have been ignited by the heater, as acknowledged in the report.
Another possible cause cited is “the possibility of a chemical reaction or spontaneous heating of materials combined in [a] trash drum” used to dispose of oil-soaked rags and other materials alongside the trailer.
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.