Birthdays : Turning, Marking and Saving Pages


(My  house’s grey water outlet has been frozen for several days so this birthday morning,  as I ran a smidge of water for my coffee,  I stared  at the pans catching the overflow from the  dishwasher.   Some part  of  the day’s celebration  would include  ladling water into a bucket and dumping it outside.  I looked at the clock.  Dumping would have to wait  till  after work.

Outside the kitchen window, an  expanse of white and brambles disappears  into the woods behind the house.  A lace coverlet dotted with tracks.  Hints of  nocturnal secrets.  What a perfect day to just…

Turn on the faucet.  Open the basement door.  Listen for leaks.  Eye the  water  in the catch-pans and check under the sink.

Oh Dear Fates,  the drain thawed in the middle of the night!   And within a half hour of that sweet gift,  my day’s employment was canceled.   Financially sound or no,  I’ve been handed a whole day to labor and laze  as I please.  And if that isn’t gift  enough,  my son has pledged  to wash  the pile of pots, pans and dishes  that grew  like a new continent  in just a few frozen days.)

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Staring at my naked self in the mirror is a  once a year odyssey.  My head turns side to side.  Surprised.  Quizzical.  Wry.  “Where?   How?  When?”   Ineluctably, the mind’s eye launches a survey  of  changes, causes and effects:

  • Sags and bags
    • Children,  always beside me.  Kind, robust  men and a sweet,  rollicking woman.
    • Work.  Hard. Laborious. Satisfying.  And  save for the sounds of stone on stone,  steel on wood, flesh and bone,  often silent.
    • Love.  Hard. Laborious. A balloon  capable of  heady inflations,  aimless drifts,  hissing collapses  and soul-rocking explosions
    • Losses and gains
  • Wrinkles and creases.
    • (See  “Sags and bags”)
    • Sun, glorious & punishing
    • A Cornucopia of  Indulgences
    • Oceans, deserts, rivers,  mountains, cities and farms
    • Vegetables,  dirt  and skin dyed by fresh-picked fruit and the hungry I’ve known
    • Sawdust, diapers, worry, love, anger and  fear.  The stuff of life.
    • Laughter.  Uproarious, unbidden.
    • The melting away of the fat that pads our dermis and longings.

No matter how surprising  is the image I see each year,  my shoulders shrug of their own volition and both thumbs  “go way up”  in salutation.  “All mine,”  I chortle  involuntarily.

But wait.   If birthday wishes  require no special effort,  then perhaps  a tad less or more here or there?  A  tuck of the temper?  A  nip of the tongue?  Cosmetics,  darlin’s.  Flimflam.  The real reason for my special  fireworks is:

  • This is the day on which all my progeny depend.  (True, Narcissus, of  nearly all the flora and fauna  in  the  world.  Get over yourself.)

Hmmm.  Then,

  • This is the day  that changed my little part of the world.  (Puh-leeze!  A speck in time and space.  A busy little speck; but a speck nonetheless.)

Sigh:

  • Without this day,  the rest of my life would be moot.

Or, as my mother liked  to say,  “If my legs were longer, I’d be taller.”

But the time has come to turn from the reflection.  No matter how enthralling the navel may be,  its revelations can be circular.

On this day, I might:

  • Take a walk along the river.  To preserve my sense of time and place.  To rescue my sense of humor.  (A four hundred million year old river —  that’s eight zeros while most of us settle for  one  — and a primordial ice floe  inching  past  my very eyes); or
  • Take a cigarette break on the front porch in my pajamas and with one eye closed, squint through the trees till I see the  slivers of ice and water below;
  • Eat a healthy, grainy  breakfast to celebrate the bounties of life and the gifts bestowed on me;  or
  • Fill a big bowl with  the “Columbian Coffee” and “Rocky Road”  ice creams I bought myself yesterday;
  • Edit and structure this ditty of a column; or
  • Fling it into the ethernet without  fuss and fumes;
  • Read hundreds of emails from a zillion worthy causes;  or
  • Settle in with “The Gods Must Be Crazy” and  “Harry Potter.”
  • Get to work on a freebie website promised to a not-for-profit; or
  • Be astonished by the abundance of  people, places, events and things  that have twirled and stomped through my doors these fifty eight years.  And,  like any other day,  pray my grip holds when the ride starts to spin.

To all the well-wishers and well-beloveds in my  lucky life,  many, many thanks.

WJFF’s Management : Policies, Procedures Questioned


More than a year ago,  I published Breathing’s  first article about a storm brewing at our local public  radio station, WJFF. Since then,  mostly inchoate  rumblings of discontent have leaked  from behind the station’s doors.  The rumblings became decidedly more focused,  however  when WJFF’s  Programming Committee released its proposed changes to the current weekend program schedule.  According to one volunteer,  “…it’s relevant to know that the shows that moved to prime or repeat time slots are all shows  —  exception of one — hosted by Board of Trustees [BOT]  members, spouses of BOT members, PC  [Programming Committee] members or station staff.  This schedule was sent to the [WJFF Volunteer]  listserv as a “done deal,” then came an outcry [and]  PC chairman Brinton said there would be a comment period and the schedule is [now] on hold.”

(January 18th,    Breathing  emailed  Mr. Clark and Mr. Van Benschoten a list of questions and requests, appended at the end of this column.  As of   January 20th, I’ve had no response.  However,  included below  is a forwarded email  I received this evening from the Programming Committee.  It outlines their plan for proceeding.)

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Following the Programming Committee’s (PC) release of its proposed new weekend schedule for WJFF,  some of  the station’s volunteers began organizing in earnest.  Among them are those who believe the new schedule was created  to reward “management-friendly” volunteers and to punish those who’ve spoken against management practices.  At the January 17, 2011 Programming Committee meeting,  John Webber displayed graphics which substantiated volunteers’ worries that the Programming Committee used a system of rewards and reprisals to create the new weekend lineup.   Indeed,  when Mr. Webber and other volunteers compared the proposed schedule to the current one,   one volunteer whose program was shortened and moved to a later slot  stated,  “Your graphic’s clear and represents questionable relationships between management and volunteers.”

Volunteer  Jason Dole  asked,  “Why change the programming?”  and other members of the audience echoed him,  “On the basis of what data,  what survey results,  what information did you decide changes should be made?  And what those  changes should be?”

Brinton Baker,  Chair of the PC attempted to clarify his committee’s thinking and procedures,  “We decided to be proactive  and start with the weekend schedule.  We attended some webinars and believed we could improve our lineup.  The webinars with Ginny Berson of  the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB)  underscored three guiding principles:  (1)  the business of public radio is programming; (2)  programming exists to serve the community;  and (3)  programming creates audiences and audience size begins with programming choices.”

PC member Julia Greenberg added,  “The schedule has to be dynamic which means no single  on-air volunteer owns a time slot. Generally, a consensus was reached that  the weekend programming could be better, more dynamic.”

“But,”  asked several audience members,  “how did you decide which shows would be lengthened, which shortened,  which moved to different time slots and which  canceled altogether?”

“We sent out 200 surveys,”  said  Chairperson Baker,  “and received back 100.”

“Who received the surveys?”  asked the audience.

Baker replied,  “We sent surveys to WJFF members who’d donated to the station at least twenty times.”

When the audience was polled,  at least half raised their hands to indicate they’d donated the requisite twenty  times.  Of that number, however,  only three people actually received the survey.   Two  –– of whom one   is a member of WJFF’s Board of Trustees — represented a single household. The third recipient,  Martin Springetti,  is  a new member of  the station’s Community Advisory Board (CAB). As Mr. Springetti  looked around the room,  he  said, “I wish we would survey anyone who’s donated  forty dollars or more.”

A need for clarification was on Padma Dyvine’s mind.  After studying the proposed changes, she said, “It sounds like you’re making  changes to the schedule for the sake of making changes and because you think some volunteers have had shows too long.  On what basis did you decide?”

Although no coherent answer  was forthcoming from the PC members,  Mr. Webber,  who’d compiled the comparative graphics of the old schedule and the proposed changes,  said,  “It looks like favoritism.”

Programming Committee member,  Julia Greenberg,  responded,  “We can’t ignore John’s statistics.  Some structural changes are needed.   We must address potential conflict issues   between on-air volunteers and our committee.”

“How much  influence did the station’s management wield in the process?” asked long-time volunteer and station supporter,  Jonathan Mernit.

“It was a group process,”  responded  Mr. Baker.  “I chaired the meetings and led the discussions.   [Station Manager] Winston Clark and [President of the Board of Trustees (BOT)],  Steve Van Benschoten were present.  And we were aware of the survey results.”

Although there was a general hue and cry that   Community Voices,  Classics for Voice and the station’s  monthly  Open Houseall locally-produced shows —  were missing from the proposed schedule, according  to statements by audience members and letters received from the community-at-large,  the two most contentious changes involved moving   Angela Page’s “Folk Plus” and Jesse Ballew’s  “Jambalaya” from their earlier slots on Saturdays to later and shorter  Sunday times.  Despite their recognition of  Ms. Page’s  stature in the world of Folk music, several representatives of  the entertainment industry expressed worry that the  changes would harm both the shows and their businesses. They referenced  the fact that  Angela and Jesse frequently shine spotlights on musicians scheduled to play  locally.  They believe  a Sunday spotlight  wouldn’t help  our local Saturday evening music  scene.   “Plus,”  said Ms. Page,  “I was told all shows would be reduced to one hour.  That’s not what you’re proposing in the new schedule.  Even though you did cut Folk Plus by fifty percent.”

Leaving the controversy  surrounding her own program behind, Ms. Page stated the PC’s process was deeply flawed.   In a seeming endorsement of  Maureen Neville’s comment that,  “This is a public radio station.  You’ve made the most programming changes in twenty years and the public wasn’t even informed,”  Ms.  Page offered her own concerns about the station’s decision-making  processes:

    • The public is not properly informed of meetings and upcoming policy changes.  “I asked three times that a Public Service Announcement be made about this meeting and there was none!”
    • “Ginny Berson said in her Webinar  that stations,  ‘Must know their target audience.  Must find out who’s listening,’  but your research was poor  and you still haven’t identified a target audience.  You still don’t  know who’s listening.  I gave you  great research sites and you didn’t follow through.”

When Breathing Is Political asked for a list of media where WJFF meetings are advertised,  I was told,  “On-air at WJFF and on our website.”   In September 2010 and again at the January 17, 2011 PC meeting,  Breathing and others suggested  that meeting notices   be sent to all local media.   Chairperson Baker admitted he was at a loss as to how to distribute such notices and Ms.  Greenberg said,  “We’re media!  We can do it!”  (Public Service Announcements  are free and can be submitted online.  ( WJFF Bylaws)

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting  — which  provides much-needed funding to our  small station —  has addressed the gnarly issue of Open Meetings by citing to  Section 396(k)(4) of the Federal Communications Act:

“Funds may not be distributed pursuant to this subsection to the Public Broadcasting Service or National Public Radio (or any successor organization), or to the licensee or permittee of any public broadcast station, unless the governing body of any such organization, any committee of such governing body, or any advisory body of any such organization, holds open meetings preceded by reasonable notice to the public.

In its summary of  what “reasonable compliance” entails, the CPB  requires that the public be apprised of meeting particulars  “at least one week (7 days) in advance of the scheduled date of an open meeting”   and  further  requires that:

1. Notice is placed in the “Legal Notices” or the radio and television schedules section of a local newspaper in general circulation in the station’s coverage area; or, notice is available through a recorded announcement that is accessible on the station’s phone system; or, notice is available through an announcement that is accessible on the station’s Web page; and

2. Notice is communicated by letter, e-mail, fax, phone, or in person to any individuals who have specifically requested to be notified; and

3. The station makes on-air announcements on at least three consecutive days once during each calendar quarter that explain the station’s open meeting policy and provide information about how the public can obtain information regarding specific dates, times, and locations.

According to the CPB,  the rules governing public notice  and access  pertain to all manner of  public meetings whether they be telephonic, via the internet or in-person:  “However, these alternative meeting formats must still meet the other statutory requirements such as providing reasonable notice and allowing the public to attend, which in the case of an alternative meeting format would mean the ability to listen, observe, or participate.”

In a prepared statement, Martin Springetti,  a new member of the Community Advisory Board (CAB),  addressed what some  of WJFF’s volunteers have come to believe is the silencing of the  Advisory Board.  (“Winston”  refers to  Winston Clark,  WJFF’s Station Manager and   “Steve refers to  Steve Van Benschoten,  President of WJFF’s governing body, the  Board of Trustees) :

“One of the great strengths of WJFF is our live locally produced programming. Midmorning on Saturday is prime listening time for many of our supporters. It makes sense to have live locally produced programming at that time rather than syndicated programs that are readily available on other public radio stations.

I am a current member of the all new Community Advisory Board. Last October 5th we had our first and only meeting. The agenda was set by Winston and Steve, the meeting was run by them. The proposed programming changes were never mentioned. I think the station missed a great opportunity to get input from the community before the changes were announced.

Last summer this survey was circulated among some select supporters. It reads: WJFF WEEKEND PROGRAMMING SURVEY.  This shows that programming changes were being considered way before the October CAB meeting. The Community Advisory Board has been left out of the loop. If you were to embrace and engage the CAB instead of trying to marginalize us, you might find that we could be a great asset to the station.

I joined the Community Advisory Board because I want to help and support our station, not to get into arguments about whether we are meeting minimum requirements of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

My question is: Why was the Community Advisory Board not asked for input or in anyway involved in the proposed programming changes?

Although the Programming Committee  said it “regretted”   its exclusion of the CAB from its programming deliberations,  according to  Article IV   of the WJFF Bylaws:

1. The Community Advisory Board (CAB) will implement the requirements for a CAB set out in the relevant CPB  [Corporation for Public Broadcasting]  and FCC  [Federal Communications Commission]regulations. In particular, the primary purpose of the CAB is to advise the BoT [Board of Trustees] on how the corporation serves the educational and cultural needs of its coverage area.

3. The CAB consists of members representing, as far as possible, the diverse needs and interests of the communities served.

And also according to WJFF’s By-Laws (Article V, p. 10),

The [Program]  Committee’s responsibilities include all matters relating to on-air and online programming, including maintaining the quality of existing shows; assessing and overseeing the development of on-air skills of volunteers; assessing and approving new  shows (local and syndicated); scheduling programs; and identifying areas where programming needs strengthening and working to fulfil these needs.

A logical inference can be drawn from the By-Laws  that  the Board of Trustees is  dependent on the Community Advisory Board for advice in meeting  “the educational and cultural needs of its coverage area.”   Equally,  the  PC requires the Advisory Board’s  input  when  “identifying areas where programming needs strengthening and working to fulfil these needs.”

But what  does  the Corporation for Public Broadcasting  (CPB) say concerning the presence, importance and function of  a CAB?   CPB  has listed its compliance standards for public radio stations to follow and warned that CPB  “may not distribute any of its funds to any community-licensed public broadcasting station that does not have an advisory board which meets the requirements of the law.”

In essence, the CPB requires each  public radio station to establish a “community advisory board  that will:

    • be independent of the radio station’s  governing body“;
    • meet at regular intervals;
    • “be reasonably representative of the diverse needs and interests of the communities served by the station;
    • establish and follow its own schedule and agenda, within the scope of the community advisory board’s statutory or delegated authority;
    • review the programming goals established by the station;
    • review the community service provided by the stations;
    • review the impact on the community of the significant policy decisions rendered by the station;  and
    • advise the governing board of the station whether the programming and other significant policies of the station are meeting the specialized educational and cultural needs of the communities served by the station.   The advisory board may make recommendations to the governing board to meet those specialized needs.”

When a couple of audience members supported the PC’s request that  comments  be restricted  to issues of programming,  Barbara Gref addressed the PC,  “Since the CAB was not part of your deliberations,  I suggest you put any decision on hold till you’ve had a chance to meet with the CAB and make sure the CAB is involved.  I hear your regret that they weren’t included but I’d like to see you make it happen.”

When another audience member  said,  “The CAB needs to take responsibility, too,”  a former CAB member retorted,  “The CAB wasn’t even notified of proposed changes.  How could they ask for information they couldn’t possibly know about?”

 


Sonja Hedlund, host of Ballads and Banjos, told the Programming Committee,  “At the first meeting,  you asked if we had ideas for changes and I said then that two hours is too long for a show.  And I disagree with the advice you got from the Webinar.  I do my  program to organize this community!  I think  you  should be asking,  ‘What shows are we missing?’  instead of  sitting back  and waiting for someone to  come forward with ideas.  By reducing the two hour shows,  you can make more room for new programs.  More youth programs.  We’ve heard over and over again that we need more local news and it’s not on the schedule.”

An underwriter in the audience  said,  “I’m upset that hosts weren’t given the consideration they deserve.”  And an eighteen-year supporter of the station chimed in,  “The car I donated to the station?  I wouldn’t have done it if I’d known this was going on.  When I complained to someone  about things happening at the station  — I won’t mention the person’s name —   I was told,  ‘You’ll learn to love the changes.’  I  felt dismissed after eighteen years of donating!”

BREATHING’S OPINION

WJFF’s management,  on-air volunteers,  PC and CAB members (both former and current) are at odds over  some pretty hefty fundaments  of democracy:

    • The right to broach lawful opinions without fear of retaliation
    • A fair, open and inclusive decision-making process
    • A community’s participation in the workings of its public media
    • Equal access to programming opportunities by  the diverse communities within the station’s coverage area

But as the January 17th meeting wore on, I began to wonder about something not nearly so highfalutin’:  incompetence.

    • How is it that Programming Committee members weren’t aware that meetings must be properly announced?
    • How is it that the PC didn’t know how to distribute Public Service Announcements of their meetings?
    • How is it  that the PC didn’t know that the Advisory Board must be permitted to advise?
    • How is that the listener comment line was “dis-established?”
    • How is it that no coherent response was on offer when the PC was asked,  “Why did you inaugurate these  programming changes?  On what research did you base your decisions?”
    • How is that only three audience members at the January 17th meeting  received the bungled survey?
    • How is it  that neither the Board of Trustees nor the Programming Committee anticipated that their un-researched proposals  would cause a brouhaha? (Especially in light of  Committee Member  Greenberg’s  agreement  that  the schedule should be reviewed for  conflicts of interests?)
    • And how is it that neither the BoT nor the Programming Committee identified the station’s target audience before proposing program  changes?

There are reports  from current and former volunteers that an uneasy  —  some say hostile  — atmosphere is growing at the station.  Rumors abound of volunteers being told by management,  “You need the station more than we need you,”  and  “Don’t talk about our dirty laundry on the listserv.”  Many of our longest-serving volunteers have said in an open meeting that favoritism and retaliation were at the root of the new scheduling proposal.  There have been managerial decisions  that resulted in  apparent breaches of  law.  Is there  potential for  those actions  to  jeopardize the station’s CPB funding?  Only the CPB can say for certain,   but managerial decisions  vis a vis the  CPB-mandated CAB have raised serious questions of community representation and inclusiveness.

I’ve emailed  Steve Van Benschoten (President of the Board of Trustees) and   Station Manager, Winston Clark asking for,  among other things,   manuals used by  the station to train its volunteers and board members.  I’ve also asked how many volunteers and/or employees have left the station  in the past two years and in the previous five.   And of those who’ve left,  I’ve asked  how many complained about or cited  to  either   management or the atmosphere at the station.  I’ve also asked  who received the 200 surveys and how recipients were chosen.

My original article about WJFF provided some history of the station and a very partial record of  its troubles a year ago.   I talked about  the enormous  community effort that gave birth twenty-plus years ago to,  “The Best Little Radio Station by a Dam Site!”  Crucial to that endeavor  were community  leaders like Chuck and Andrea Henley-Heyn.  For me, the most surreal moment during the Programming Committee meeting came when Andrea suggested ideas for improving station structures and processes and the Chair of the Programming Committee asked her who she was.

Answer, Mr.  Baker:  “Andrea is the  volunteer who has continued over the years  since Maris’ passing  to create a loving home for her  Calendar at WJFF.  And according to your own  WJFF website, ‘…has been a member of WJFF since before it went on air…'”

And finally,  the on-air fund drives  aren’t fun anymore;  just a few well-scripted voices with all the juice squeezed out.  (Even as  controlling as WAMC’s Alan Shartock is rumored to be,  his fund drives are frequently  exercises in giddy chaos.)   Until this moment,  I haven’t  referred to an elephant in the room:  one of our most successful Station Managers,  Christine Ahern.  She and  fund drives were chocolate sauce on ice cream.  How many times did we listen, mouths agape  during a gaff-filled morning late in the fund drive?  And the laughter!  It was like listening to children play.   Nevertheless, I was often  reminded that she knew every inch and corner of the station and the rules that regulated it.  But more, she was a deft manager of people and knew not only the communities in WJFF’s coverage area but much of their history.  Under her ten years of leadership,  the station grew in range, volunteerism  and loyal listeners.  Perhaps she spoiled us.  She was on a mission to make WJFF and its community a watchword in Public Radio.   Perhaps it’s foolish to expect one person to do what Christine did.  Perhaps the fair thing would be to divide the position of Station Manager into its parts.

Perhaps We, The Public should be regular attendees at Board of Trustee and Committee meetings.

At the very least,  the sense of fun, family,  and service to the community-at-large must be restored.

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Emailed to WJFF’s President of the Board of Trustees  and  its Station Manager:

Dear Steve,  Winston and John:

In preparing to publish an editorial about recent events at WJFF,  these questions sprang to mind:

1. How many volunteers and/or employees have left the station in the past 2 years?  Of those, how many complained about or cited to  either management or the atmosphere at the station?

2. How many volunteers and/or employees  left the station in the previous 5 years?  Of those,

how many complained about or cited to  either  management or the atmosphere at the station?

3. Does WJFF have a training manual for new volunteers?

4. Does WJFF have  a training manual for new board members?  (All and any of the boards)

5. What training is provided to new board members?

6. Does  training of new board members include FCC, CPB and station rules and regulations concerning the new members’  functions on the board?  Does it include information concerning Open Meeting legislation?

7.   Does WJFF maintain a  record of complaints made by volunteers against WJFF management.

8. Does WJFF maintain a record of  its  response to any such complaints by volunteers or employees.

9. Does WJFF have a written policy concerning the advertisement/announcement of its  public meetings?

10. When was the last time WJFF sent announcements of  its  public meetings to media venues other than WJFF?

11. On what bases were  the former members of the CAB not asked to continue their service to the station?

12. On what bases were the former  members of the CAB replaced by new members?

13. Who participated in the “disbanding” of the former CAB and its replacement by new members?

14. How was the public notified that a new CAB was being engendered?

15. Through what means was the public asked for its input in establishing the new CAB?

I plan to publish the editorial in the next few days and am asking you to make available:

digital copies of any such training manuals and your  volunteer training schedule.

a copy of the survey that was reportedly sent to members who’ve donated at least 20 times.

a record substantiating that 200 surveys were sent

substantiation that WJFF has a record of members who’ve donated 20 times.

WJFF’s policy on informing the public of upcoming & public meetings

As a member of your WJFF signal area,  I have lots of question concerning recent events at the station.  I am asking these questions in order to write as balanced an editorial as possible.   As always,  once  the editorial is published, I will send you the link and you will have every opportunity to comment or even write an opposing & unedited piece.

Thanks much,

Liz Bucar

Town of Delaware Board; Home Rule; Conflict of Interests; Public’s Right to Know

NY Court of Appeals case law interprets provisions of the ECL [Environmental Conservation Law] to conclude that a town’s zoning. ordinance does not “relate to the regulation” of the industry, as prohibited by subdivision 2 of S 23-0303 of the environmental conservation law, but rather serves to regulate the location, construction and use of buildings and land within the town, as delegated to local government by Article IX of the State Constitution.


Dear Readers,  After three weeks  without my laptop,  I’m  b-a-a-ck.  As always, I’ve provided Town of Delaware meeting notes according to  how the meeting unfolded.  Although  Town Clerk McBeath’s  notes are generally excellent (as was commented by an audience member this past meeting)  Breathing has the wherewithal to provide more context for a more  (hopefully!) complete understanding of the issues discussed.   If you’re a Reality TV fan,  come on down  to the Delaware Town Hall on the third Wednesday of each month at 7:00 PM. The meetings have been packed recently and…lively!   Despite the sometimes contentious nature of  discussions,  it’s  important to note how many fine people are contributing productively to the life of our Town.  Take especial note of  the grants being written and improvements being planned.

NEW  &  OLD  BUSINESS

According to a spokesperson for Mr. James “Jimmy”  Hughson (Jeff Sanitation and J. Hughson Excavating companies),  New York State’s Department of  Environmental Conservation (NY-DEC) has informed the garbage hauler he must move his collection facility indoors as part of  a required upgrade.   The upgrade of  Mr. Hughson’s proposed  “private transfer station”  (located east of Jeffersonville on the  East Branch of the Callicoon Creek)  is being considered by the Town’s Planning Board as a Special Non-conforming Use under  the Town’s  ZoningLaw.  Mr. Hughson’s spokesperson said the proposal will provide more storage capacity, will not increase the amount of garbage accepted at the site and will  reduce the number of truck trips.    “Mr. Hughson will collect the trash and sort it at his facility.”

When Town Assessor, Linda Schwartz,  commented to Mr. Hughson that she didn’t understand why he  would undertake the project because it sounded as if   his costs would increase  due to the upgrade while his profits would decrease due to his hauled-tonnage remaining  the same,   Mr. Hughson shrugged.

Town Clerk, Tess McBeath,  who sits on the County’s  Solid Waste Task Force,  explained that the County has proposed simplifying management of the solid waste stream by instituting  “single stream recycling.”  (Instead of  individual  households separating plastics, glass, metals, etc.,  as is done currently,   a  “sorting” company would do the separating and also transport the recyclables out of state.)  “The County isn’t looking to put haulers  out of business,”  Ms. McBeath continued.  “…it’s  asked for  $6.5 million  to build a transfer station….”

In 2009, according to the Times Herald Record,  Mr. Hughson was charged by the DEC for illegal dumping at the site.  In 1988,  the DEC ordered Mr. Hughson to cap and close  a landfill (near the current site)  which was owned and operated by him.*

The Town Board unanimously agreed to write a letter of recommendation in favor of Mr. Hughson’s  proposal.

Local businessman, Robert DeCristofaro, reported  what he believes are several discrepancies in his sewer assessment and the Board agreed to review the Town’s  billing.

While making her Town Clerk’s report,  Ms. McBeath  said,  “Many older, disabled folks come into my office.  I’ve asked several times that the Town Highway Department install handicapped parking signs that it already has so  those folks don’t have to walk so far.”   She then asked the Town Board to help her get the additional signs erected.

Highway Superintendent William Eschenberg interrupted Ms. McBeath.  “You stop.  You just stop right now.  I don’t work for you. You don’t like me and I don’t like you. There’s a sign out there.  If  they can’t read one sign they won’t be able to read three.”

To which Ms. McBeath responded,  “You forget who pays your salary.  This isn’t about me; this isn’t personal,”  and asked several times to be permitted to continue with her report.

While the back-and-forth between the two Town officials continued for several minutes — and the Board sat mum —   audience members called for Mr. Eschenberg to allow the Clerk’s report to resume.  When a local resident said,  “I don’t understand what’s happening here,” and told Mr. Eschenberg he was “being rude,”  the Highway Superintendent replied,  “I know you don’t understand” and asked the audience member to go outside with him so the matter could be explained.

Finally,  Ms. McBeath said to Supervisor Scheutzow,  “I need direction, Jim,”  and  Mr. Scheutzow replied,  “I’ll deal with it.”

Ms. McBeath also reported that the Town collected $2,580 in building fees during the month of May 2010.  (According to data obtained by Breathing with a  Freedom of Information Request,  eight fewer permits have been issued to-date this year than during the same period in 2009.    However,  as of 6/18/10,  fees  have totaled, apparently,  $13,519  an approximate $6,000 increase over the first six months of 2009.)

Mr. Eschenberg asked for, and received,  permission to  put the Town’s heating oil purchase out to bid.

The Building Inspector,  Mr. Howard Fuchs,  was not in attendance and so no report was made.

Tax Assessor, Linda Schwartz, reported  the Town’s  equalization and assessment rates  have increased to 57%.  (That means   Town property holders  will be paying taxes on  57%  of their  property’s value — a larger percent than last year.)

As reported by  the Town’s  Grants Coordinator, Ms. Kara McElroy,  The Town has received six proposals for  its  sewer project and must decide by  June 30, 2010 who will receive the bid.  In addition,  the Town of Delaware and three other River Towns are applying for a share in  a Scenic Byway Grant which will total $25,000.

Mr. Michael Chojnicki  reported that the hamlets of Callicoon, Narrowsburg and Barryville have applied for a $750,000  Community Development Block Grant.  Each Hamlet  would receive $250,000 and Callicoon  would use the funds for lights,  parking lot re-pavement (in the Klimchok lot),  shoring up the retaining wall near the same location, improved parking in front of the movie theater,  sidewalks and nicer connections between Upper and Lower Main Streets.

The Town Board awarded a municipal trash removal contract to Thompson Sanitation but when audience member Jim Hughson pointed out that  Thompson’s bid was significantly higher than Sullivan First’s,  the Board unanimously  rescinded  its decision.  New bids will be accepted and subsequently opened on  July 21, 2010 at 6:55 PM.

PUBLIC COMMENT


Mr. Roy Tedoff  read an excerpt of NYS Assembly Bill  A10633 which states, in part,

“Currently, local government officials are confused  about whether  their  local  zoning  ordinances are preempted by state law and regulation in relation to the oil, gas, and solution mining industries.  NY Court of Appeals  case  law  interprets  provisions  of  the  ECL  [Environmental Conservation Law] to conclude  that  a town’s zoning. ordinance does not “relate to the regulation” of the industry, as prohibited by subdivision 2 of S 23-0303  of the  environmental  conservation  law, but rather serves to regulate the location, construction and use of buildings and land within the town, as delegated to local government by Article IX of the State Constitution. This legislation clarifies that current  local  zoning  law,  and  local zoning  laws  enacted  in  the  future, will dictate where oil, gas, and solution mining is a permissible use, even with a regulatory program  at the state level.”

Mr. Tedoff  then said,  “Since the Town Board can use its zoning power,  you should.  It’s a no-brainer….We  voters  have a right to know where the Town stands on the drilling issue.”

Mr. Tedoff then asked  members of the Town Board to reveal  any interest in drilling either they,  their associates or family members have.

Mr. Scheutzow replied,  “Whose business is it to know?  Next, you’ll want to know what my bank  statement is.”

(According to Section 808 and Section 811 of New York State’s General Municipal Law,  Mr. Scheutzow, council members  and other public officials in the Town of Delaware are subject to annual financial disclosure requirements.)  Also according to Section 808,  the Town can appoint a Board of Ethics to review possible ethics violations and  to be the repository of  Town officials’  financial disclosures.  Section 808,  also allows that  if such a Town Board of Ethics is not established,  the County Ethics Board can be appealed to for an opinion.  (Breathing has found no evidence that  the Town of Delaware  established a Board of Ethics but has asked for clarification with  a Freedom of Information request.)

Breathing has  already provided some information on  the issue of conflicts of interest and public officialsSection 809 of the General Municipal Law also requires disclosures by public officials and Section 812 details the information officials are required to disclose  (Financial Disclosure Form NYS GML).  In fact,  according to the Town of Delaware’s own  Code of Ethics,

The rules of ethical conduct of this Resolution as adopted, shall not conflict with, but shall be in addition to any prohibition of Article 18 of the General Municipal Law or any other general or special law relating to ethical conduct and interest in contracts of municipal officers and employees.

(e) Disclosure of interest in legislation. To the extent that he/she knows thereof, a member of the Town Board and any officer or employee of the Town of Delaware, whether paid or unpaid, who participates in the discussion or gives official opinion to the Town Board on any legislation before the town Board, shall publicly disclose on the official record the nature and extent of any direct or indirect financial or other private interest he/she has in such legislation.

(f) Investments in conflict with official duties. He/she shall not invest or hold any investment directly or indirectly in any financial, business, commercial or other private transaction, which creates a conflict with his official duties.

Section 5. Distribution of Code of Ethics. The Supervisor of the Town of Delaware shall cause a copy of this Code of Ethics to be distributed to every officer and employee of the Town within thirty (30) days after the effective date of this Resolution. Each officer and employee elected or appointed thereafter shall be furnished a copy before entering upon the duties of his/her office or employment.

Section 6. Penalties. In addition to any penalty contained in any other provision of law, any person who shall knowingly and intentionally violate any of the provisions of this code may be fined, suspended or removed from office or employment, as the case may be, in the manner provided by law.

(The Franklin County District Attorney has said about an ethics investigation in his  countyOur investigation has revealed several contracts, easements, lease option agreements, cooperation memoranda and other types of documents which disclose relationships existing between elected officials and certain third parties in Franklin County (as well as other elected officials in other Counties) which, when allegedly coupled with certain decision making and board action, may be in violation of General Municipal Law (GML) 805-a(1)(c) and (1)(d). If such violations have occurred, these public officials may also be in violation of Penal Law Section 195.00, Official Misconduct and/or Penal Law Section 200….”)In  response to Mr. Tedoff’s  request that the Town Board  adopt a resolution in support of  The Home Rule Bill ( NYS Assembly Bill  A10633),  Mr. Roeder said,  “Why would we support legislation that’s  a plan to burden the towns to do things they shouldn’t be involved with?”

As a matter of clarification,  Breathing offered,     “A10633 is  the so-called, ‘Home Rule”  bill.’   It’s an effort by our  Assemblymember, Aileen Gunther — and other co-sponsors —  to clarify what the Town’s zoning jurisdiction is and  to restore local control over  zoning districts to local governments.  You have the right to zone heavy industry out of  a ‘rural residential district.’  I’d think you’d want local control back.”

Mr. Scheutzow said,  “That’s your opinion.”

Breathing Is Political:  “Perhaps  you could ask your Town Attorney to  contact Assemblymember Gunther  who’s a co-sponsor of the Bill.  Perhaps she or a legal person in her office could  clarify the purpose of the Bill.”

Mr. Scheutzow:   “No matter how many times this Board tries to explain that we only have control over the roads,  some people just don’t get it.”

Breathing Is Political:   “Then perhaps you could ask the Town Attorney to reach out to the State Assembly because obviously,  members of the Assembly disagree with you about the Town’s zoning prerogatives.”

There was no response from the Town Board to the suggestion.  Nor did any members of the Board respond to Mr. Tedoff’s request that they disclose any interests in drilling.**

IN THE PARKING LOT AFTER THE MEETING

In a discussion outside the Town Hall after the meeting had ended,  Craig and Julie Sautner (Dimock residents and plaintiffs in a Federal lawsuit against Cabot Oil) spoke with  Mr. Noel Van Swol (Sullivan-Delaware Property Owners Association).  In response to  the Sautners’ continued assertions that  the hydraulic fracturing process  left their water  undrinkable and contaminated with methane, Mr. Van Swol stated,  “I’ve been told that methane occurs naturally in the water in Dimock and that’s why your water’s contaminated.”

Mr. Craig Sautner replied,  “That’s not true and we can prove it.  The chemical composition of naturally-occurring methane is very different than what’s released into the water by hydraulic fracturing.  And what we’ve got in our wells is not natural. We’ve got the lab tests to prove it.”

When Mr. Van Swol was asked,  “If  700 gas wells are drilled,  would it be acceptable to you if  five families’ water wells were contaminated,”  Mr. Van Swol replied, “Yes.  That would be acceptable.”

“And if your well was contaminated?”  he was asked in a follow-up,  “what would you do?”

“I’d take the company to court,”  he answered.

The Sautners explained to Breathing that at the time of   Robert Kennedy, Jr.’s visit to Dimock,  Cabot Oil was supplying the family with water in “buffalo tanks.”    After his visit and because it appeared to him that the “buffalo” water was contaminated,  the Sautners asked Cabot to provide them with clean well water.  For a while,  the company complied but has subsequently refused to continue the practice.  According to Mr. Sautner, if his family wants  Cabot to  replace the water  the company allegedly destroyed,  they’ll have to settle for the questionable  “buffalo”  brew.

ASTERISKS

*DISCLOSURE:  Liz Bucar was a member of   Citizens for a Clean Callicoon Creek which lobbied for closure of  Mr. Hughson’s  Landfill in 1988  because, in part,  the landfill was located in close proximity to the East Branch of the  Creek and  over an aquifer.

**Breathing was  informed recently by a confidential source that  Councilmember,  Harold Roeder — who is also Chair of the Upper Delaware Council — had admitted privately to having signed a gas lease.  In a follow-up phone call from Breathing, Mr. Roeder adamantly denied the allegation,  “That’s an absolute lie!” he said.  “I’ve never spoken with a gas person in my whole life.”

International Workers’ Day; Immigration Reform; Gas Drilling Industrialization


May 1st  was International Workers’ Day.  Some call it   “The Real Labor Day.”

In 1886,  the American Federation of Labor (AFL)  called on workers to strike any business that refused to abide by an 8-hour  workday.   According to Howard Zinn’s  A People’s History of the United States, (1995, p. 264)  on May 1,  1886,

350,000 workers in 11,562 establishments all over the country went out on strike.  In Chicago, 40,000 struck and 45,000 were granted a shorter working day to prevent them from striking.  Every railroad in Chicago stopped running and most of the industries in Chicago were paralyzed.  The stockyards were closed down.”

In 1880,  The United States’ population was approximately 50 million and  Chicago’s   was 500,000. According to the 1880 Census Compendium Part II,  there were   2.8 million  men, women and children working in the nation’s 254,000  manufacturing  facilities.  Using  Zinn’s figures then,  approximately 13% of US workers  went out on strike  May 1, 1886.

Imagine if,  in 2009,  13% of  the US’  140 million “documented”  workers had struck for  universal health care  and a living wage.   Go ahead.  Imagine  18 million  workers thronging the  streets, hand-in-hand, to advocate  for themselves, their children and the future of this nation.

In 1983,  the year my oldest son was born, we were in the middle of another “economic downturn.”  A gallon of gas cost $1.25,  a Dodge Ram truck cost $5700 and the average monthly rent was  $335.  Cleaning toilets and pushing a lawnmower earned me $10 an hour.  (When I saved enough to buy my father’s old riding mower, I was able to ask $15 an hour for larger properties.)

Seventeen years later, after the boom times of the 1990’s,  most of us freelance “domestic workers”  could make  $15-20 an hour.  Around that same time, our counterparts in New York City were  being paid  in the $25-30 range.

In July  2009 — the costs of most everything having doubled since 1983 —   the US  minimum wage was raised to $7.25 per hour.

This past May 1st,  I worked and was glad for it  though I know  Grandma and Grandpa were  rolling in their graves.  (May 1st was the date my family eschewed labor for history;  the day we  remembered  Samuel Gompers,  the AFL  and the perfidy of  police officers who helped  smother labor’s demands for living wages, humane working conditions and  equal pay regardless of  gender and race.)

On May 1, 2010,  I informed a prospective employer  that “I’d have to charge $20 an hour to clean his house”  and cited to the round-trip  travel time, cost of products, gas,  fuel oil, rent, etc.

The weighty pause on the other end of the phone and the aghast rejoinder took me by surprise,  “We won’t pay that.  We don’t pay more than $15 an hour in the City.”

“That’s interesting,”  said I.  “A few years ago,  the going rate for housekeepers in the City was nearer $25-30 an hour.”

“Not anymore,”  came the smug-sounding reply.

There are times when my naivete is unforgivable.

I asked another  “City dweller” — a member of a  white collar union  and gas drilling opponent —   what the going rate for domestic services  is in her neighborhood.  “Ten dollars an hour,”  she answered.  “But that’s because we have so many ‘illegals.'”

“‘Illegals?  You mean ‘undocumented workers?'”

She shrugged.

So for those of you who oppose gas drilling and own homes  in the City as well as in our rural Pennsylvania and New York communities, remember this simple action + action = results equation:

When you pay less than subsistence wages to  the “undocumented human”  who has to buy groceries and pay rent  in Manhattan,  Brooklyn or Long Island,

YOU  DRIVE DOWN  the wages of the person struggling  beside you in Callicoon, Milanville and Honesdale and

YOU ENSURE MORE WORKERS  WILL SIGN LEASES IN HOPES OF WINNING THE  GAS LOTTERY.

When I raised this issue of wage depression with friends who live both rurally and in the City,  I was told their  ability to share the wealth is constrained  by their loss of retirement funds;  that their “disposable” income has been drastically reduced  by cutbacks in their businesses and occupations.

I understand.  My bank account plunged right beside yours and Sullivan County’s  real unemployment figure is nearer 20% than the officially cited  10.9%

So given that we’re all in  greatly reduced circumstances,  here’s my deal:  I’ll reduce my housekeeping charges by $5  to $15 an hour if you’ll promise to increase my counterpart’s  wage in the City to a  $15 cash rate.

If you can still afford to hire domestic help, for your own sake,  pay them a living wage.  Otherwise, whose disposable income will  keep you in business?

I saved money during the 1983 downturn.  I paid the hospital and obstetrician  cash for their services.

The son born to me in 1983  was admitted to the New York State Bar last week.  If he was born today,  I doubt he’d ever see the inside of a law school.

Breathing is Political because our personal political, economic and social decisions influence the growth of a child in our neighbor’s womb.  A child’s life depends, in large part,  on the health of the mother and on  the parents’  ability to provide nutritious meals, books, ideas, a secure home and a realistic dream for the future.

For all workers, the breadth of that dream and its attainability  depend on you and me  caring about equitable treatment for all.  It does NOT depend on any one of us short-changing another simply because we can.

As for union workers who de-value the work and lives  of others’,  as I write this,  America’s teachers’ unions are the new target of labor reforms.  If the rest of us are busy scrabbling for each spare nickle,  when will we have leisure to come to your defense?

Sullivan County Legislator David Sager vs. “Goliath” John Bonacic?


Before   Sullivan County Legislator,  Dr. David Sager,  (District 1)  took the podium  at his press conference this afternoon,  he arranged a pair of yellow and blue campaign signs on either side of the podium.  The signs proclaimed,  “Sager  for State Senate. No nonsense. Honest Leadership.”

Literally, the  announcement may  change the face of  NYS Senate District 42.

Not only did Sager  announced his intention to  challenge long-time incumbent Republican John Bonacic, but   he will do it as a Democrat.

Sullivan County Democratic Chair, Steve Wilkinson,   introduced Dr. Sager and welcomed   Delaware County’s  Democratic  Chairwoman Cindy Lockrow-Schimmerling and various other Democratic Party notables.

“I’d like to address the large elephant in the room,”  Mr. Wilkinson began.  “David  is changing his  political affiliation from Republican to Democrat.  This is not an opportunistic change but a a philosophical change,”  Mr. Wilkinson  continued to loud applause.   “To borrow from Winston Churchill,  ‘There’s nothing  wrong with change as long as it’s in the right direction.’  Democrats wholeheartedly welcome David to the Democratic Party. For too long  the New York State Senate has been the log jam to realizing change in New York. It has been mired in its own personal politics.”

Obviously, it  was not just any elephant Mr. Wilkinson was talking about.  Dr. Sager has held his  Sullivan County Legislative seat as a Republican.  In order for him to face Bonacic as a Democrat  in a  General Election,  he must get the nod from the  Democratic Chairs of the four  counties  which  comprise District 42:  Sullivan,  Ulster, Delaware and  a piece of Orange.

Ulster  County Legislator, Susan Zimet  (D, District 10)  campaigned against John Bonacic in 2006.  Although her effort fell short by roughly 12,000 votes,  it was a strong showing against the then-16-year incumbent. (Bonacic first became a member of the New York State Assembly in  1990 and has served in the NYS Senate since 1998.)  Zimet’s  2006 campaign website is still  up and available for viewing here.

Dr. Sager’s opening remarks  perhaps signaled  the tone he hopes to strike during the upcoming campaign.  “During the course of my service on the Sullivan County Legislature,  I have been honest and passionate. I have not been afraid of issues that were unpopular or complex.  If you liked me as a Republican, you will like me even more as a Democrat.  I will contuinue to champion fair and just causes and it won’t  matter to me if an idea is Republican or Democratic as long as it’s a good idea.  After  years of consideration,  I have changed my party enrollment and  have done so in good conscience.   I still stand  for fiscally  responsible and accountable government but my social views have evolved and are more in concert with core Democratic Party values.”

Taking on some who have criticized him  for  verbal  gaffs,  Sager said,  smiling at  The Times-Herald Record’s reporter,   “I have a reputation for having a  salty tongue — per The Times-Herald Record.  I will continue to be candid and fight for what’s  right. I will put the people first. Our state government is broken…and our current State  Senator is a long-time part of the problem. Unfunded state mandates have crippled  local governments and placed the burden on local taxpayers.”

“State Senator Bonacic  advocates for unfettered gas drilling.  I want a society and  government that asks at what price do we support industrial development that is potentially lethal to us  all.    At what point do we say no to large corporations who put their profits  first?   Gas drilling must be safe, legal, economically beneficial to all and subject  to local controls. We must take a hard look at a comprehensive  Environmental Protection Agency  study of gas drilling.  We must  support the Englebright bill which will institute a drilling moratorium in New York State until 120 days after the EPA releases the results of its study.   It’s a simple, sensible bill.  We can  wait for the science. We have a responsibility to provide safe drinking water to our children and families…. Safe drinking water is a right not a privilege.  Senator Bonacic  has been misguided [about gas drilling] while  I have been demanding a rational approach.  There must be a return to  local control. ‘Drill,  baby,  drill’  is a slogan not a policy.”

At a recent County Legislature meeting, Dr. Sager said  that the drilling issue  should not pit  farmers against non-farmers.  “It’s not an agricultural issue.  It’s about the industrialization of New York.”

“We must ask,  ‘Will the growth we advocate be sustainable?  How will  New York State and  District 42 grow?’  The 42nd District is in the process of becoming an important economic link to New York City  —  an important link to  a  sustainable lifestyle —  industrially, personally and agriculturally.”

On other topics, Dr. Sager  reminded the audience,  “I have sponsored sweeping and meaningful ethics reform for Sullivan County and  I will be at the head of it in New York State.”

“I will champion property tax reform and will be joining  Sullivan County Treasurer, Ira Cohen,  in  continuing to  review  tax exempt policies.  Large tracts of land and living complexes end up off  the tax rolls.  People cannot continue to vacation in the 42nd district for free.”

“I will fight for our schools, teachers and students so students can afford the college education they need and I’m determined to ensure our region has  the  infrastructure it will need  to benefit small businesses.”

“I’m going to need your help.  We need people who passionately support our cause. We need volunteers who will go door-to-door.  Please contact us at:  sagerforsenator@gmail.com until we get our website up and running which will be very soon.”

After his prepared remarks, Breathing asked Dr.  Sager  what he had to  say about local drilling issues and ethics reform.

“The county is in the  process, because of  my fierce prodding, of completely re-doing  our ethics policy.   As to drilling, I have not taken an anti  approach but there has been a general and blind pursuit of drilling without a necessary analysis of the science.  DEC’s  [NYS Department of Environmental Conservation] employees have  said the draft Supplemental Generic Impact Study is seriously flawed and no local official should be questioning that statement.”

Dr. Sager was also asked  how changing his  political party affiliation will affect his status with the Sullivan County Legislature.   “I’ve got a great working relationship with Jonathan [Rouis] and Woody [Elwin Wood]. I intend to caucus as a Democrat.”

A member of the  public  asked,  “Are you going to support green technology that  will help us avoid dependence on  Middle East  oil?”  and Dr. Sager reiterated,  “I want to turn the 42nd District into an area that promotes green technology. It’s how we’re going to grow our area.”

When Breathing asked a Sager supporter about  the candidate’s “salty tongue” remark,  the long-time patient of   “Dr. Dave”  said,  “Does he step in it sometimes?  Yeah.  He’s a passionate guy.  He’s not always smooth but that’s why I like him.  He does his homework and doesn’t have a lot of patience for  political games.”

For information on the amounts of money  NYS Senator Bonacic has raised in the past,  comprehensive postings have been made available  FROM PROJECT VOTE SMART and FROM THE DAILY KOS. Dr. Sager should hold on to his hat because both sites have published campaign war chest  figures for the Senator  in the $700,000 range.

Seismic Testing, Damascus Town Board, Weight Limits on Bridges, Public Response


According to attendees, there was a standing-room-only crowd last night at the Damascus Town Board meeting.  The public was  there to hear what representatives of Newfield Exploration could tell them about seismic thumping.  Many residents have expressed a variety of concerns regarding the seismic testing which   drilling companies perform in order to   predict the quality of  sub-surface gas reserves they’ll find before they hydraulically fracture.

Dawson Geophysical is the seismic testing company which will be providing the substrata seismic  data to Newfield.

On April 20, 2010,  Breathing published an eyewitness account of  seismic thumping.

In response,  several comments were left by readers expressing their personal concerns about the activity and two are re-posted here:

Another homeowner wrote the local community network and stated that he lives 150 feet back from the dirt road, and his whole house was shaking from it.

Comment by Jim Barth — April 20, 2010

Our property was last tested with thumper trucks and vibroseis on Thanksgiving Day, 2009. The vibrating and shaking went on all day and until we finished dinner…. A month or so ago, we found out that seismic testing can shut off springs and contaminate well water. Were we warned? Of course not….”

Comment by Pat Farnelli — April 20, 2010

Pro-drilling advocate Marian Schweighofer of the Northern Wayne Property Owners Alliance (NWPOA) asserted in a recent River Reporter article,  ““We’ve been hearing from township officials who say they’re getting panicky calls from residents about the damage the Dawson survey work supposedly will do,” Schweighofer said. “There’s absolutely no truth to it.”

After Breathing published  the eyewitness account and news that seismic trucks were on their way to gather data on the River Road between Milanville and Route 652,  residents began calling and emailing Breathing to say the trucks were pulling up their testing equipment and vacating the road.  Reports had also surfaced that individual landholders had confronted  Dawson’s representatives with “No Trespassing” signs and demands that  Dawson cease testing near their properties.

Breathing spoke with representatives of Dawson and Newfield who confirmed they’d  removed their seismic equipment without testing the entire road.   One Vice President of Newfield  asserted that testing of the entire road was unnecessary because they’d gathered  all the data they needed in that particular area.

In a later development,  another  landowner and taxpayer reported, “Good news today. 1 mile of the Callicoon-Lookout Road will not be thumped.   Yesterday I called Dawson’s point man and requested they skip this portion of the road. It was cordial but I did mention that I would be pursuing legal means if necessary to protect my property from proprietary theft.  This morning they removed their flags, wires, and equipment.”

Some taxpayers raise  yet another concern about seismic testing and  gas drilling.  They point to   weight limits  on  local bridges  and the  structural risks posed  by seismic trucks that weigh, according to one report,  25-30 tons  and drilling rigs which, according to  Nockamixon Supervisor, Nancy Janyszeski,  “Don’t usually weigh less than 62 tons.”

One  resident of High Bridge Road in Milanville, PA —  where a test well is  scheduled for drilling  — says  the  small, stone, arch bridge over a creek  that services the High Bridge Road  “has a safety sign that reads   ‘Bridge Restrictions Gross Weight 5 tons.'”

In response,  a pro-drilling advocate posted this comment at the Wayne Independent’s coverage of last night’s Damascus Town Board meeting,  “For all of us, laws are considered guidelines, more or less. The weight limit situation would have been enforced if the truck had destroyed the bridge. That is pretty much what those weight limit signs are for. They shift liability from the government that is in charge of the bridge, to the clown that breaks the bridge. Reality is such that overweight trucks roll down the road every day. Drivers in cars and trucks exceed the speed limit. Guys shoot a few deer and put their wives tags on them. Kids ride 4-wheelers on the roads. You can find a plastic milk crate in many garages. Dog owners don’t get licenses for them, don’t keep them on leases, and do not clean up after them. People burn garbage and papers out back. Some people work for money under the table. Some people even remove the tags from their pillows and mattresses! For God’s sake, JB, this is getting pathetic, pure and simple. This stuff happens all the time, everywhere in the world. You have not uncovered an evil plot. You haven’t even discovered an unscrupulous company. You may have finally discovered reality. Get used to it. Man up. You strive so hard to obstruct that you make a mockery of your own cause. Looking for zero tolerance on all these actions that stretch your interpretation of the law? Youd be tarred and feathered and tossed on the first gas truck headed for Jersey if you even suggested it. It seems that you just dont get it! Maybe rural Wayne County is not the place for you.”

Although  Mothers United for Sustainable Technology (M.U.S.T.) doesn’t address the issue of  weight limits on bridges and consequent structural damage, the group has  posted a video which captures the natural beauty of the area where drilling is proposed.

And just for the heck of it,  Breathing offers this  Biblical quote received from a Damascus Township property owner and taxpayer:  ˜What shall I do, Lord?” I asked. Get up,” the Lord said,and go into Damascus . There you will be told everything you are destined to do. “My companions led me by the hand into Damascus , because the brilliance of the light had blinded me.” (Acts 22)

Sportsman Danchak Comments at Breathing Is Political


When public figures participate in a public debate  about an issue  whose outcome will impact future generations living in the Delaware River Basin, it’s imperative that the  debate be a reasoned dialogue, not an exchange of demagogic slogans.

Mr. Jack  Danchak is  a well-known local columnist, sportsman and businessman respected for his  acumen.  In a recent opinion piece (“Can We Afford to Ignore Natural Gas?”)  he stated,  “We traveled to Dimick, Pa, [sic] recently, where there are several working natural gas wells and after talking to people from this town, we did not hear a single negative factor.”

Breathing responded to a similar statement by  William Eschenberg (The Town of Delaware’s Highway Superintendent):

In contrast,   after a trip to  Dimock during  this past winter,  Breathing reported, “Throughout  Dimock, signs of poverty are  clearly visible and  the state of  dirt roads traveled by heavy drilling trucks was impossible to ignore.  Ruts were so deep and continuous that   humps as high as 8-9″ threatened  the under carriages of low-riding vehicles and, in part,  may have prompted  the Mayor’s question in Callicoon… about the state of our  local roads.”  (Mayor Tillman’s description of the gas industry’s  economic and environmental impacts on his town of DISH, Texas is available here.)

The  Breathing article  describing what we saw in Dimock also included an interview with Patricia Farnelli who is a Dimock lessor and plaintiff in a federal lawsuit against gas extractor, Cabot Oil. In part,  Ms. Farnelli  told Breathing that,  when her children “drank water from the family well,  they’d get a terrible stomach ache and throw up.  They’d just double over….they’d drink water at the school, and they’d be fine but  whenever they drank our home  water,  they’d get sick.”

Ms. Farnelli is a real person with very real concerns  about the health of her children, her water and her future in Dimock, PA.  In fact, her concerns  have been well-enough substantiated that a Federal Court has agreed to hear  her allegations and those of several of her fellow lessors.  But, if  Mr. Danchak doubts Ms. Farnelli,  he can view  these videos from Dimock, PA.  Additionally, PBS’ interview of  Josh Fox has already aired and the  filmmaker’s  documentary,  “Gasland,”  will be  on HBO soon.  All are  available for viewing by anyone interested in more than the industry’s talking points.

At the most recent Town of Delaware Board meeting, Mr. Noel Van Swol stated, “Hydraulic fracturing  has  been around since the 1940s,”  and quoted  Mr. Danchak  as having said,  “…there have been more than one million  wells fracked in the US and not one  serious instance of  trouble.”  (Mr. Van Swol’s  historic facts   about the current gas extraction technology have   been disputed by  a gas industry publication,  The Permian Basin Petroleum Association Magazine,    “…when Devon Energy Corporation acquired Mitchell Energy in 2002, it drilled down vertically to the Barnett Shale, turned the drill bit, and continued drilling horizontally…. The combination of the water fracs and horizontal drilling revolutionized the unconventional shale gas play.”)

So, although Mr. Van Swol’s correct  that “fracking” has been around since the 1940′s, the  new slick water, high pressure,  horizontal hydraulic fracturing  technology proposed for New York (and used in Dimock)  was pioneered,  according to the gas extraction industry,  a bare eight years ago.  Reports of  accidents and contamination in Dimock, Pa.,   DISH, Tx.,  Pavillion, Wy.,  and other areas,  contradict assertions  by Mr. Danchak and Mr. Van Swol  that  “not one serious instance of trouble”  has been caused by the  technology.

Within the last day or so,  Mr. Danchak wrote  at Breathing (#7   following Breathing’s re-cap of the 4/21/10  Town of Delaware Board meeting), “Sullivan County Government owns almost 2,000 acres of land, our county stands to get millions from responsible gas drilling and it couldn’t come at a more appropriate time! Remember this county land is owned by us taxpayers, the people of Sullivan County would benefit not just individual landowners!  What are we waiting for, “Drill Baby Drill”!

Certainly one of  Breathing’s concerns has been  assertions by  pro-drilling interests that gas drilling  will benefit our local economies and especially, our farmers.

What has not been provided by Mr. Danchak and other drilling advocates  is a  review of the potential costs associated with gas extraction and slick water, high-pressure,  horizontal hydraulic fracturing.

Neither have pro-drilling advocates  responded seriously  to claims made by Mayor Calvin Tilman concerning the deleterious economic and health  impacts of the extraction industry on the Mayor’s  small Texas community of DISH.

Nor have they responded  to

What Mr. Van Swol and others have done is cite to protections in their negotiated leases without ever making those leases public.  Unfortunately,  Mr. Van Swol and others have not explained how their alleged lease protections will protect unleased properties or  dairy cattle   poisoned by well pad leakage.   Neither have lessors and their organizations explained how their secret agreements will defend  community  ground water, soil,  aquifers or the deer so many families depend on for food.  (Breathing’s requests to review the leases have been ignored.)

As a successful businessperson, Mr. Danchak knows that  touting the benefits of an investment without a discussion of its potential costs is called a sales pitch.

Serious analyses  of an investment or endeavor  require thorough,  unblinking investigations of the downside of those investments or endeavors.  The analysis cannot rely on   publicity provided by  the salesperson or gas company  trying to sell you a product.

And certainly, our communities deserve more than demagogic slogans such as,  “Drill, Baby, Drill!”

That said, I hope Mr. Danchak will address the issues raised at Breathing with a serious  and well-documented editorial which I will publish in its entirety.

I also hope he will (if he hasn’t yet)  join Breathing and many of  its readers in supporting US Senate bill 1645, the Federal Milk Marketing Improvement Act of 2009. The bill has been endorsed by the Progressive Agriculture Organization, Pennsylvania Farmers Union, The National Family Farm Coalition, National Farmers Organization and their summary of  it can be read here.

Breathing wants to hear from farmers and  farm advocates about  the legislation. Please email   Ljbucar@earthlink.net  or  leave comments below this editorial.

If there are better bills or better suggestions for overcoming  the devastating economic realities confronting our local farmers,  we want to knowWe also want to hear how we can help ensure that   fair, decent and livable price supports are obtained by our local dairy producers.

Gas Interests Want You To Feel Alone


At comment #9  under  “Update:  Seismic Thumping in Wayne County,” (an article notifying readers that the thumpers had  turned away from The River Road)  “Regret”  wrote,   “But hope has to be based on reason.”

I understand Regret’s pessimism about the state of drilling in Wayne County. I know the history of the US in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, South America, and any other region of the world where humans have built lives above oil fields.

I know how many acres  the Northern Wayne Property Owners say they’ve leased.

I know our own laws and Supreme Court decisions often provide only  apparent protections.

I know we’re in deep trouble and it doesn’t matter much to me whether the threats to our livelihoods, land, food sources and water  come from powerful drilling companies or powerful agribusiness factory farms and our collusive  government that  provides relief and friendly supports to all of them.

But there is hope  in the work of our people!

There’s hope in Pennsylvania.  Cabot was shut down in Pennsylvania because a few families would not stop telling their stories.

There’s hope in large news outlets  beginning to tell the stories of contamination and evacuations caused by drilling.

There’s hope in the large landowners who’ve refused to sign.

There’s hope in the landowners who’ve signed but who pray to their Gods that  a Moratorium will come to Pennsylvania and New York and that the gas companies will lose.

There’s hope in the landowners who, despite being marooned between large leased parcels,  continue to refuse to take the money.

There’s hope in award-winning documentaries like Josh Fox’ Gasland whose national audience is growing at incredible rates.

There’s hope in the work of loved ones in Wayne County who spend every single moment of their waking days thinking and working on ways to stop these takings of our rights to enjoy our properties,  our rights to drink our water, our rights to eat food that isn’t filled with hormones — hormones that are changing the chemical composition of our childrens’ bodies.  And when those loved ones in Wayne County sleep  —  which is a bare few hours a night —  their sleep is invaded by clouds — dark and seemingly impenetrable clouds.

There’s hope in the numbers of people who’ve begun to read and write about the looming drills.

There’s hope when a group of people get together and create The Watershed Post.

I have hope in my  loved ones get up each morning to the nightmare and continue to help organize residents on The River Road.

There’s hope when women stand up alone and say,  “NOT ON MY LAND!”  and the thumper trucks turn away.

I’m going this morning  to a meeting with  incredibly bright, creative and determined people who will not give up.

There’s a party planned this evening for people who  will celebrate that we are all still  together.

There are legal fights still to be fought and  Damascus Citizens has organized an heroic team on that front. DONATE TIME AND MONEY TO THOSE EFFORTS!

There are PA legislators who’ve decided to sacrifice their political careers — who are being joined by others — to slow down this raging locomotive.

There are people who love the river working within the National Park Service to protect the River from this degradation.

There IS hope.

Contact landowners who are resisting the landsmen.  (See Breathing’s coverage of the DRBC –  hearing in Matamoras, PA)

Contact landowners whose leases are due for renewal.

Contact landowners who’ve signed to protect themselves but who support a Moratorium and the FRAC Act.

Write the National Park Service.  Tell them to find the research we need to stop the despoiling of  our Basin.  Let them know they’re not alone!

Tell NY State Senator John Bonacic  his political career will not be saved by the landowners who leased.  Even those in NY who lease for fear of being compulsorily integrated will vote against him.

There’s hope in the NY Assembly thanks to Bills being co-sponsored or supported by Aileen Gunther.  TELL HER YOU SUPPORT HER SO SHE KNOWS SHE’S NOT ALONE!

Organize large public vigils as near the Wayne County test wells as you can get.

As Lula Lovegood told Harry Potter,  “I think he [Voldemort] wants you to believe you’re alone.”

But it isn’t true.

I got almost five hours sleep last night — more than I’ve had in weeks — and   I’m not alone.  I’m ready.

DEC : Different Rules For Watersheds


Dear Readers:   In an astonishing and rapid fire exchange of information,  The NY Times posted an article  about the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) exempting  the NYC Watershed  from oversight  by its   draft generic environmental  review.   The Watershed Post picked it up,  called  Catskill Mountainkeeper, Ramsay Adams and simultaneously notified  other news sources in  New York  so we could get the word out to you.

Go to The Watershed Post for continuing coverage on the announcement, extended comments  from DEC Commissioner Peter Grannis and local  reactions.

Here’s the DEC Announcement and  two  analyses  of the announcement and what it may mean for the rest of  New York State.  The first is provided by The Catskill Mountainkeeper and the second by Bruce Ferguson on behalf of  Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy.


BREAKING NEWS: DEC Attempts End Run Around Natural Gas Drilling Concerns (The Catskill Mountainkeeper )

At first glance it appears as if the State’s announcement today to offer separate reviews of gas drilling in the New York City and Syracuse watersheds is being done to protect the drinking water of New York City and Syracuse.

However, in reading the DEC’s statement closely, it is clear that they are not offering any special protections to these cities but are instead saying that the rules to determine permitting for gas drilling will be different in the New York City and Syracuse watersheds than in the rest of New York State.

The DEC statement said that gas drilling in the watersheds will NOT be regulated by the rules in the GEIS and that each individual well in the watersheds will need to go through an environmental review.

They did not say that drilling is banned in the watershed and they did not say that each individual well permit in the watersheds would need a supplemental impact study. Based on what they did say, the regulations governing permitting for gas drilling using hydrofracking in the watersheds will be different, which means that those regulations could even be less rigorous that those they would cover the rest of New York State.

There is no way to know the motivations or thinking behind the DEC’s statement, however:
It appears as if the DEC is trying to give the impression that there won’t be drilling in the watersheds to remove political pressure from New York City officials.

It also appears as if the DEC decided to exclude the watersheds from their final GEIS so that they won’t have to address the comments from the comprehensive scientific study that was prepared by the New York City DEP as part of their review of the Draft DGEIS.   We would like the DEC to clarify whether or not they will analyze these comments as part of their review process.

Whatever their motives, this announcement does nothing to further protect the people of New York State from health and environmental threats posed by industrial gas drilling.

Ramsay Adams, Executive Director of Catskill Mountainkeeper said, “This is an attempt to take the watershed issue off the table without actually dealing with it, to fast- track drilling for the rest of us. And it’s not even protecting the watersheds. It’s bad on both levels. It’s a really unfortunate turn of events, because it doesn’t address any of the fundamental problems.”

Catskill Mountainkeeper calls on Governor Paterson and DEC Commissioner Grannis to hold up the issuance of any final report until all the scientific evidence (including the results of the recently commissioned report by the EPA) can be thoroughly reviewed and evaluated AND a second draft is issued so the public has the opportunity to review and comment.  The stakes are too high and the potential danger is too great to do otherwise.

Catskill Mountainkeeper
Ramsay Adams
Executive Director
845.482.5400

Is New York City’s Water Supply Safe?  (Not Really.) (Bruce Ferguson on behalf of  Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy)

Today the NYS DEC took the extraordinary step of suddenly announcing that the Supplementary Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS) that has been in the works for almost two years will not apply to the New York City watershed.  The DEC attempted to justify this abrupt policy shift by claiming that unfiltered water supplies have to be treated differently than other parts of the state.  But since the DEC made no attempt to say how or when it would regulate drilling in areas that supply unfiltered drinking water, the announcement effectively blocks drilling in NYC watershed for the immediate future.

This action won’t really protect New York City’s water supply, but it may achieve another end.  It may lull eight million New Yorkers into believing that they don’t have to worry about drinking water contaminated with the hundreds of toxic chemicals used in fracking fluid.

At a recent federal EPA hearing on fracking and drinking water safety, environmental scientist Dr. Duncan Patten reportedly remarked that toxic plumes in aquifers can travel hundreds of miles.  If Dr. Patten is correct, then today’s action by the DEC will do little to protect New York City residents.   Hopefully New Yorkers, their elected officials, and the media won’t be fooled into thinking that city water supplies are safe because drilling won’t be permitted in the watershed right away.

There is only one way to protect New York City residents and all New Yorkers – the state must observe a strict moratorium on all hydraulic fracturing until the EPA has had a chance to complete its ongoing study of fracking and drinking water safety.

If you haven’t done so already, please   Take Action Now!

A bill in the New York State Assembly (A10940) will impose a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing until 120 days after the results of the EPA report are made public.  (Another important bill, A10633, will once again give our towns the power to pass ordinances that apply to gas drilling.

Please take a moment and let your legislators know that you support these two crucial bills.

Enacting legislation takes time, but Governor Paterson can protect our drinking water today. Call on Governor David Paterson to declare a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing until the EPA has had a chance to complete its study.