The Downside of Handmade for the Holidays


Needleworkers are a tortured lot.  Don’t be deceived when you come across one in the post office and s/he answers your question, “How’s it going?” with a sublime smile and glazed eyes.  Do not be taken in when the worst of us clasp our hands to our breasts  before launching into descriptions of our latest projects or newfangled yarns.

Each and every one of us is possessed of demons though our aspirations are pure. We begin with hope that our gifts will make the shadows recede just a tinge. We are Wiccans by nature no matter our denominations.

But never doubt that the Needleworker in the post office or on the church pew beside you is a Zombie;  an innocent in the grips of an undeniable compulsion.

Like any Creator – Poet, Painter,  Inventor, Metalworker or Potter  —  a Needleworker begins at the vortex of two competing and unforgiving forces: (1)  materials that call like Sirens through all fogs and  (2) an incessant, prickling Idea.  Walk through a potter’s shed.  Its shelves lined and splotched with jugs of slip and watery clay will  leave you in a state of hunger.  Hestia’s command to  “make something of use”  will thrum in your belly and a dream of beauty will whistle through your bones.  There is no escape.

A yarn stash is no different.  The play of colors and textures – fugues whispering in baskets in every room of the house.  Left-behind yarns.  Bits and pieces.  Loose ends.  Enough for a singleton sock or glove, a quarter-afghan or half a hat.

A few Needleworkers — inspired by the likes of Opie’s Aunt Bee or just loopy by nature – begin organizing for the next holiday season, birthday or Ground Hog Day  months before time.

But most of us – those who also huddle miserably on April 14th with our taxes —   surrender to the agony of making  holiday presents when the clocks are turned back in November.   “Holy shit,”  we say, models of holiday joy staring into the early night, “it’s upon me.”

Thus begins the frantic search for yarns to satisfy a yammering Idea or, as the days expire, an Inspiration to match the stash.  Throughout Thomas Kincaid’s Holidayland,  the piping tunes of happy elves drift from lemony windows and over marshmallow snow:

“Oh why oh why didn’t I wind this mess into balls?”

“Where the hell is that three foot piece of lime green!  I know I saved it for accent…”

“How could I have thought that ball was big enough for two freaking socks?”

“What if I made  four two-foot scarves and sewed them together in a kind of mosaic…?”

“Can I really knit a patchwork blanket in 33 days…?”

And on it goes, the mad scrabbling through baskets, pulling at ends that have wound and bound themselves like nettles.

To drink coffee at this stage is to explode into a billion pieces.

If you’re lucky, when all the skeins, threads and scraps have been arranged by texture, color or gauge, Inspiration will begin to surface.

You will  be impelled toward the brink of either Grace or Fire and the same inexorable Spring of Hope and Curiosity that doomed Pandora (and  most domestic cats)  will burn in you.  It’s heady.  It’s crack.  It’s the call of Eos, the eternal dawn.

At this point, I usually switch gears.  I go all Zen and surrender myself to the yarn.  I will eschew  preconceptions and  expectations,  I will  let the yarn speak; feel it flow through me. I will let it become  its true nature.  I will be a conduit for the Cosmos.  I will…

None of the effing gauges match.  I don’t have five  double-pointed size “1” needles.  I do have 3 size “0s” and two size “1s”  but I’ve tried that before and none of the fingers fit a human hand.

Ah hah!  Circular needles!  Two gloves at a time on circulars!  I know I’ve got that pattern somewhere and circulars galore….

Had Dante known about circular needles, he would have created a separate hell for their inventor.  A knitter can make anything on circular needles.  Refrigerator covers, snowmobile boots, and probably trees if you can get the threads of DNA to work just right.  The nightmare is in the limitless variety of circulars because each project requires just the right length and gauge:   42” for afghan panels and 6” for socks; and gauges from 14 mm for bulky sweaters to 0 mm for infant wear.  Obviously, since this is the Dark Edge of Creation,  we  – the Children of Ancient Handmaidens, Nurses and Conjurers  – will never have the elusive Ideal in stock.  As Ahab  or unsated Tantalus should have known,  if we are to survive the Giving Season, we must accept the limitations of our Hell and adapt.

So this year,  beloveds,  you are getting ornaments for your trees and multi-colored mittens.  Each will be a unique blend of textures and hues.

Whether or not they look or even fit right is hardly the point. Remember the year you got a dog sweater and the sleeves forced the poor animal’s legs up and out like the wings on a biplane? Remember the pooch’s worried frown and the hysterical laughter that sent tears flowing down our cheeks?  Of course you do.

 

Sussman: Sullivan County Retaliated Against David Sager


On May 15, 2013, Dr. David Sager was terminated from his position as the Deputy Commissioner of Sullivan County’s Department of Family Services (DFS).  He was given no warning or explanation — just a letter from Commissioner Randy Parker telling him to collect his belongings and leave.

In the month since the firing,

  • a public outcry and allegations of dereliction of duty and cover-ups have  surfaced against senior officials at DFS.
  • on June 6th, Sullivan County’s  NAACP and  a union rep for Teamsters Local 445 stunned a crowded meeting room with questions about 4 million dollars  worth of services that went missing in the Foster Care Program and  about child abuse cases that were never investigated.   Those questions nearly drowned out two others:  (1)  why were so few cases of fraud investigated by the DFS legal team during the past seven years; and (2)  why are so many  of our current investigations being conducted on  old complaints?
  • an online petition  (that remains open and was initiated by the writer of this article)  has gathered 472 signatures demanding that Dr. Sager be reinstated as Deputy Commissioner of DFS and that the County Legislature conduct an immediate investigation into the circumstances surrounding his termination.  (Several signators have appended comments that allege personal knowledge of wrongdoing in DFS.)

The overflow public turnout at the Health & Family Services Committee meeting on June 6th forced a change of venue to the large Legislative chamber where several speakers stepped to the podium.

Sandra Shaddock,  Vice President, International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 445 asked the Legislators to account for  a $4 million discrepancy in the County’s funding of its Foster Care Program.

Elaine Williams and Sandra Cuellar Oxford (NAACP)  issued a Freedom of Information request “to obtain all Child Protective Services/DFS Legal abuse and neglect petitions filed in the past year in Sullivan County Family Court.”   By way of explanation,  the NAACP stated, “We believe that current efforts on the part of an overworked and understaffed CPS staff are simply not sufficient. The protections we expect and deserve for our children and families have been short-circuited by what can only be described as a cavalier and disengaged DFS Legal Department. In short, more than ever, our most at-risk children are at even greater risk…. Based on what we have seen to date of Commissioner Parker’s leadership, we are very concerned it appears that Mr. Parker’s aggressive behavior and reckless policies will go unchecked without the benefit of Dr. Sager’s sound reasoning as part of the management team at the Department of Family Services.”

When YNN’s Eva McKend asked Commissioner Parker for his response after the Health & Family Services Committee meeting, he said,  “No comment.”  However, later in the day — and for (again)  unexplained reasons —  Parker provided an interview  to The Times-Herald Record in which he accused Dr. Sager of  being a political appointee who’d been forced down Parker’s throat and who was incompetent to perform his duties.  Characteristically, the interview provided no explanation for why it took Parker seven months to fire his  “inexperienced”  Deputy,  why he praised Sager’s work in at least one staff meeting and why the Commissioner spoke with Sager about expanding the Deputy’s sphere of  responsibility.

For his part,  Dr. Sager wrote at his Facebook page on May 23, 2013,

“I performed my duties as Deputy Commissioner of the Sullivan County Department of Family Services competently and professionally. Because Commissioner Parker has offered no reason to me or anyone else for my abrupt termination, I can only conclude I was let go as an act of retaliation for expressing to Mr. Parker my serious concerns about both past and present failures on the part of DFS relating to individual cases and the inability of certain employees to conduct their work competently and in accordance with the law. DFS employees in my office have come forward to say I was a caring, productive, and hard-working colleague. Though Commissioner Parker and I occasionally disagreed on a course of action privately, I was always a supportive and deferential deputy. Recently Mr. Parker praised my work at a departmental meeting in front of the entire staff. In fact, leading up to the day of my firing, he and I were seriously discussing adding additional responsibilities to my portfolio.”

Ignorance seems to be the Defense of the Day:  

  • Most Legislators claim that when Commissioner Parker came to the Executive Committee meeting on May 16, 2013,  they had no clue he was planning to fire Dr. Sager the next day.  (Although, when asked directly by Ellen Neumann on June 6th,  Jonathan Rouis remained mum.)
  • Several Legislators who attended the Executive Committee meeting reported  that, “Parker asked if we would support his actions as Commissioner.”  Some  have even expressed  “outrage” that neither Parker nor Yasgur clued them in about the termination letter.  One Legislator told me that when Parker was asked  why he wanted Legislators’ “support,”   the Commissioner provided no answer.  (BIP Note:  Are the Legislators “outraged”  that they didn’t ask more questions or that Parker refused to answer the few they did ask?  Or, as some of the Legislators have wondered,  “Why didn’t our County Attorney tell us he’d  drafted a termination letter for Parker to use?”  (FYI:  Attorney Yasgur is an “at-will employee”  who serves at the pleasure of the Sullivan County Legislature.1)
  • At the Labor Sub-committee meeting on May 21st,  Legislator Kitty Vetter declared that she’d never heard there were “problems at DFS.”  Sandy Shaddock begged to differ and went on to  enumerate several instances when  she had personally reported  her own and employees’ concerns about DFS.
  • After the June 6th  Health & Family Services Committee meeting, County Attorney, Sam Yasgur told me that he’d  “drafted” Sager’s termination letter  for Commissioner Parker but didn’t inform the Legislators.  “In large part,” he said, “my job is to protect them [the Legislators].”
  • County Attorney Yasgur  offered to provide me with  a copy of the County’s “Whistleblower Policy” but when we went to his office to retrieve it, he couldn’t find it.
  • When I asked  him about the rumor that the County has an “exit interview” policy,  he explained it was used for  employees who leave County service of their own volition.  I explained he was in a position to offer a different policy for the Legislators to consider.  (He shrugged but couldn’t find a copy of the exit interview form, either.)
  • Despite contrary  information  provided by this writer on at least two occasions, Legislator Cindy Geiger continued to assert on June 6th that “at-will employees”  can be terminated without recourse.   “There’s nothing in County law to protect them,”  she added.   (When she was informed that the  protections exist in Federal and State law,  Mrs. Geiger had no response.)

On Wednesday June 12, 2013,  Dr. David Sager and  his attorney, Michael H. Sussman,  appeared at a press conference to announce David’s  plan for the immediate future:

  • A Summons and Complaint  has been filed on behalf of Dr. David Sager against the County of Sullivan, NY.  (The full document can be viewed at The Sullivan County Democrat’s  Facebook page  or a print copy can be obtained from the Sullivan County Clerk’s office at the Government Center,  300 North Street,  Monticello, NY.)
  • Citing to  Section 75B of New York State’s Civil Service Law,1  the Summons and Complaint alleges the following:
    •  “…Parker has claimed that plaintiff lacked the experience to discharge the duties and responsibilities assigned to him.”;
    • “This reason is  sheer pretext in that in the weeks before terminating plaintiff and  before plaintiff’s disclosures, Parker stated that he intended to expand plaintiff’s duties and responsibilities and at the most recent full staff meeting held in April 2013, Parker praised plaintiff’s job performance.”;
    • “In fact, defendant terminated plaintiff because he was reporting fraud and illegal activities which were transpiring within the Department of Family Services, specifically on the part of legal staff, CPS staff and  temporary assistance staff.”;
    • “ Commissioner Parker  engaged in illegal activity when he terminated Dr. David Sager.”;
    • “…plaintiff reported that a serious case of sexual abuse known to [Child Protective Services] CPS staff had not been, and then was not being, properly or timely investigated
    • “…that neglect and incompetence on the part of DSS’  legal staff was causing the failure to conduct a timely and proper investigation.”;
    • “Plaintiff made clear that he believed that CPS’ failure to timely investigate this serious claim of sexual abuse constituted an improper governmental action, was contrary to departmental rules and regulations which required the prompt and thorough investigation of such matters and imperiled the health/safety of the child adversely affected by such conduct.”;
    • “While Parker privately agreed with plaintiff that DSS’ legal staff was not competently performing their functions, he took no remedial action.”;
    • “Indeed, Parker’s political association with one of the DSS counsel caused him to wish to conceal the evidence plaintiff had revealed of her incompetence and professional misconduct and, instead, animated him to terminate plaintiff.”;  (Underscoring added for emphasis.)
    • “But for plaintiff’s disclosure of the incompetence and professional misconduct of this agency attorney and her engagement in improper governmental action, Parker, acting on behalf of the County of Sullivan, would not have dismissed  the plaintiff.”

(The salient portion of  the law cited  by Attorney Sussman  can be read here.)

According to Sussman’s statement at the  June 12th press conference,  “…dereliction of duty and  the improper handling of  long-standing cases  by DSS employees resulted in the endangerment of children.  When David raised the questions to Dr. Parker,  he was doing what he was responsible to do.  Parker’s  adverse action was illegal.”

Mr. Sussman also commented on rumors that  “documents and files are being shredded and destroyed” at the Department of Family Services.  “We have heard the rumors but I have not yet substantiated them.”  However,  he called on DFS employees to “not be a party to any destruction  of files.  If you are being directed to destroy ‘stale files,’  document the direction you were given and  the person who gave you the direction.  Report it.  Those  ‘stale files’  are now evidence.”

***************

(BIP Note 1)   For those who’ve asked, “Who’s OZ?  Who would have had the power to pull Commissioner Parker’s strings,” I offer this information from the Sullivan County Government website::

  • The person in charge of prosecuting DFS cases is Colleen Cunningham;
  • At the link to the SC website, Attorney Cunningham describes, in part,  her duties and responsibilities, “The Legal Department represents the Department of Family Services in legal matters before County, Family, Justice and Supreme Courts.”

Additionally,  Ms. Cunningham  is the sister of Chris Cunningham who was a Legislator and former- Commissioner of Health & Family Services.

 

(BIP Note 2)  Comments are being written at The Sullivan Post Facebook page by individuals who claim to have worked with or knew Randy Parker in Richland  County,  Ohio prior to his employment by Sullivan County, NY.  One comment reads,

“You need to check into Richland County Children Services in Mansfield, Ohio. The people of Richland Country tried to warn you about Randy. I believe there are still lawsuits pending against him and he had contempt charges and other legal issues as well. His contract was terminated and he walked away with pay. There was a tremendous amount of turnover while he was the director. The man surrounded himself with lawyers. He is despised here. It wouldn’t take much to find out about his reign of terror. Good luck ridding yourselves of that mongrel.”

A retired peace officer says,

“his reign of terror is just beginning! HISTORY is a good reflection of what the future holds. Whoever did his background check should be checked for dereliction.”  And “ I cringe at the number of “awesome” social workers that i worked with that were made to leave “DISGRUNTLED”. we could tell success stories of providing safety and protection for children. all the good things these workers did without any support from the agency they represented. several times i recall these workers coming in to my office and crying over the things we had to deal with and see, let alone not having any support from their “leader”. Social workers see atrocities involving children every day and to not support them in their jobs is absolutely disgusting.”

Although many other comments have been left by Richland County folks,  BIP’s last offering is this one:

 “I can’t believe that the Sullivan County officials hired Randy Parker if they did any research at all on his background. All you have to do is google his name and you will be amazed! He created an extremely hostile work environment in Richland County, OH. Mr. Parker would belittle employees, use fowl language, cussed at employees in front of their peers, at meetings, etc. Not only did he not get along with employees, he had major problems with other agency leaders, including the Juvenile Court Judge. He has several law suits pending with folks in Richland County. All I can say, is I feel very sorry for the folks that are currently working under him. Shame on you Sullivan County officials, if you continue to allow your employees to endure abusive behavior by this man.”

 

1 Duties of the Sullivan  County Attorney:

 [Amended 1-23-2003 by L.L. No. 3-2003; 4-26-2007 by L.L. No. 2-2007]

There shall be a County Attorney who shall be appointed and qualified, and restricted, and have the powers as set forth in §§ C4.00, C4.01 and C4.02 of the Charter of Sullivan County. When the interests of the County Legislature, the County and/or the County Manager are inconsistent with the interests of a County officer or employee, the County Attorney shall represent the County, the County Legislature or the County Manager, as the case may be. When the interests of the County and/or the County Legislature are in conflict with the County Manager, the County Attorney shall represent the County or the County Legislature, as the case may be. The County Attorney works through the Management and Budget and Personnel Committees in budget and personnel matters respectively.   http://ecode360.com/13910345

2 In part, Section 75B of New York State’s Civil Service Law states:

  2.  (a) A public employer shall not dismiss or take other disciplinary
  or other adverse personnel action against a  public  employee  regarding
  the   employee's   employment   because  the  employee  discloses  to  a
  governmental body information: (i) regarding a violation of a law,  rule
  or  regulation  which  violation  creates and presents a substantial and
  specific danger to the public  health  or  safety;  or  (ii)  which  the
  employee   reasonably  believes  to  be  true  and  reasonably  believes
  constitutes an  improper  governmental  action.  "Improper  governmental
  action"  shall  mean  any action by a public employer or employee, or an
  agent  of  such  employer  or  employee,  which  is  undertaken  in  the
  performance  of such agent's official duties, whether or not such action
  is within the scope of his employment, and which is in violation of  any
  federal, state or local law, rule or regulation.

Cuomo Fracks New York State with Irony and Disassociative Policy Disease


 

(BREAKING NEWS:  With so many promising initiatives outlined by the Governor in his State of the State Address,  it may seem like base cavilling to focus on a single issue like “fracking,” but my underlying assumption is that high-volume, high-pressure hydraulic fracturing is not the “problem.”   It is a symptom of the problem and it serves quite nicely to illustrate a corollary:  “If you partner with industry (especially the gas extraction industry) you will be forced to engage in tortured reasoning,  mad dashes left and right and a convoluted persecution of the laws that govern public Agencies.  (The  State Administrative Procedures Act ((SAPA), for instance,  figures heavily in an intent to sue notice prepared by David and Helen Slottje,  founding attorneys at Community Environmental Defense Council, Inc.  Last night, as this Breathing article was getting final edits,  the Slottjes wrote,  “…we will turn a version of this  [notice] into a formal petition to the State detailing why the regs and the draft SGEIS are illegal, demanding that the regs and the draft SGEIS be withdrawn, and placing the State on notice that suit will be brought if the demand is not honored.”)

********************************************

First, whether you are a pro-fracking or pro-Moratorium New Yorker,  when you searched the text of Governor Cuomo’s  State of the State Address for some variation of “frac,”  “fractured,”  “frack,”  or “frackturing,”  you were immediately rewarded with several instances of  “FRAC.”   Armed with a fresh cup of coffee or some sedative,  you prepared to delve into the convoluted shoals that are Cuomo’s  gas extraction policy.

And that’s where you encountered the first multi-layered irony.  During the past month, activists sent New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC)  more than 200,000 comments about the Agency’s  regs,   draft SGEIS,  its review process and lack of adherence to State law.  Many of those comments were submitted “under protest” and came on the heels of more than 60,000 submitted during the last round of dSGEIS comments.  But the “FRAC” in the Governor’s speech didn’t refer to gas, extraction or hydraulics.  It’s the Food Research and Action Center which studies accessibility to “affordable fresh fruits and vegetables” and the impact of that accessibility on health.  It is a notable initiative but kind of moot if New York’s  fertile foodsheds are fracked.

You settled in a little deeper and began to review the State of the State Address category-by-category.

Under the broad heading of “Economic Development,” Governor Cuomo  touted Tax-Free Hot Spots, Academics and Unemployment Insurance.  He announced, “The Adirondack Challenge, a national rafting and paddling competition…[that] will  focus the world’s attention on the unparalleled natural beauty and recreational opportunities of the Adirondacks to attract tourists to Upstate New York.”

That’s lovely for the Adirondack and Catskill Parks which are protected from fracking by the NYS Constitution, but how will tourists reach those oases if not via a scenic gas drilling byway?   Additionally, as Cuomo  plots to protect some areas of New York State as more worthy of conservation than others, the Adirondack Mountain Club has reminded him, “It is clear from Article XIV, section (3)(1) of the Constitution that the state cannot enter into a lease with any private corporation for the extraction of natural gas from any state forest or reforestation area located in the counties of Greene, Ulster, Sullivan, or Delaware counties.”

Uh oh.

The Governor spoke to the Economy of Tomorrow and laid out a plan to Make New York the Leader in the Clean Tech Economy. He pledged himself to the creation of a workforce capable of meeting the new demands of his 21st century model.

And he drew a special bead on Upstate Economic Development.  He connected the dots between poverty, food deprivation and a failure to thrive. He outlined a plan to bolster our farms and families by strengthening Farm to School Programs. (This is of especial importance to Sullivan County, NY which a recent Robert Woods Johnson Foundation report placed next to last for health factors of all New York State counties.)

The particular attention Cuomo paid to Upstate Economic Development may have set some heads to shaking. On one hand, he lauded the value of Upstate water and  soil resources – citing to them and our foodsheds as indispensable pieces of NY’s economic engine — while,  on the other,  his  SGEIS proposes to protect the NYC and Syracuse watersheds  and leave the Upper Delaware River Basin (and its organic farmers) to the mercy of inadequate setbacks. (Sec.  7.1.5:  Revised Draft SGEIS 2011,  page 7-55.)

For instance,

… as stated in sub-section 7.1.3, the Department proposes that for at least two years the surface disturbance associated with high-volume hydraulic fracturing, including well pad and associated road construction and operation, be prohibited within 500 feet of primary aquifers.

And,

… uncovered pits or open surface impoundments that could contain flowback water … are subject to a 300-foot separation distance from water wells under Appendix 5-B of the State Sanitary Code.  Flowback water tanks and additive containers … which require a 100-foot setback from water wells.  Handling and mixing of hydraulic fracturing additives onsite…requires a 150-foot distance from water wells.  The Department proposes that it will not issue well permits for high-volume hydraulic fracturing within 500 feet of a private water well or domestic-supply spring, unless waived by the landowner.

If those  “set-back mitigations” strike you as inadequate, then add this nugget to the sludge on your plate:  gas wells in New York State will be permitted within 150 feet of schools.

That’s right.  As Cuomo  outlined a broad range of education improvements with optimistic headings like,  more learning time,  full-time pre-k programs for highest needs students, better teachers, principals and evaluation systems — all excellent proposals —  his SGEIS will allow gas wells to be drilled within 150 feet of those excellent teachers, students, playgrounds, programs and classrooms.

No doubt,  Disassociative Policy Disorder strikes again.

Fighting Hunger in New York

Governor Cuomo has good reasons for envisioning a future-New York where our families are well-nourished by the bounty of our own organic farms. (New York farmers regularly lead the nation in produce donated to food banks and food pantries.  Just sayin’.)

In 2006,  NYS was home to “580 certified organic farms  with 68,864 acres in production.  In addition, there were more than 100 organic processors doing business in the State…”

Only two years later, the US Department of Agriculture reported that  NYS had grown to  827 organic farms and was ranked fourth in the nation as a result.   More,   NYS was second in the country with  319  organic dairy farms;  second to Wisconsin with 99 organic beef farms  and fifth for organic vegetable and melon farms with 190.  (Our $60.2 million dollars in organic milk sales for 2008 placed us fifth in the nation.)

The Governor even cited to  Bay Shore’s Farm to School Project, “Edible EastEnd, an innovative collaboration between Long Island’s Bay Shore Union Free School District, the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets and Office of General Services, and Long Island potato farmers to increase service of Long Island potatoes in Long Island Schools)…”

And he pledged to create a Statewide Anti-Hunger Task Force with one goal being to increase “the use of New York farm products and healthy foods in anti-hunger programs.”

Yes, while painting a rosy picture of New York State’s schoolchildren being educated for the 21st century in a state fueled by sustainable industries and locally-grown food,  Cuomo’s SGEIS has determined that  many New York  schools and much of our vast foodshed will be left vulnerable to the dangers of crazily inadequate setbacks.

Worse, even if the setbacks seem a dandy solution to you, consider that you and the Governor have overlooked another threat to foodsheds in Upstate New York and the Upper Delaware River Basin:  migrating air pollution from the Hancock compressor,  the Millennium Pipeline and other components of the extraction industry.

Fingers crossed that if airborne contaminants endanger the Organic status of local Upstate NY farms, Vermont won’t charge much to  stock NY’s  school lunch programs.

Human Health

In addition to educating our children and feeding them more and healthier local food,  the Gov is determined that New York will Set the “Gold Standard” for Patient Care.

  • “The best way to improve the health of New Yorkers and to lower health care cost is to avoid preventable illness and the health care interventions they require,” he said.

He even devoted 7.5 typewritten pages to sepsis, “An overwhelming immune and inflammatory response to infection.”  He laid out an entire plan of attack to improve preventative care and to combat nosocomial infections. He was inventive and passionate.

He skipped over the fact that his SGEIS has been roundly decried by doctors, medical societies, nurses and epidemiologists for ignoring the cumulative impacts of gas extraction on human health.

He forgot to mention the plethora of reports coming in from the frontlines of Gasland about endocrine disruptions, immune system dysfunction and leukemia.

He ignored that gas extraction and production companies are exempt from revealing the toxins they use in their processes and that doctors are prohibited from telling injured patients the nature of the gas production toxins that have harmed them.

However, our governor made it clear that he intends to be a juggernaut when it comes to ensuring a fair Public Safety Policy that will open like a protective umbrella over all our heads.  He spoke about gun violence and ended with this,  “Some weapons are so dangerous and some ammunition devices so lethal that we simply cannot afford to continue selling them in our state.”

Yes, Governor Cuomo,  but perhaps there are industries and devices “so lethal that we simply cannot afford”  to welcome them into our communities, either.

I won’t belabor the Governor’s insistence that New York State must improve its reputation for cloaked dealings with lobbyists because one sentence drove all his remonstrations from my head,  “A public database will provide the fullest disclosure of lobbyist and other meetings with state officials in the country.”

Then why, oh why,  Governor Cuomo, did activists have to labor so hard to expose the fact that  Independent Oil and Gas Association  (industry lobbyist) worked hand-in-hand with  NY’s Department of Environmental Conservation to write our State’s gas extraction regulations?

The Governor also outlined a number of new Public Safety initiatives in response to the devastation wrought in New York State by Hurricane Sandy.  He described the NYS 2100 Commission and the importance of building “resiliency” into our “planning, protection and development approaches…”  He vowed to “reduce the emissions that contribute to our changing climate,”  to “increase alternative local renewable power sources,”  and to “provide assistance to property owners to mitigate or sell properties in vulnerable areas.”

Although the Gov is referring to homes damaged or obliterated by Hurricane Sandy,  the door he opens is intriguing.  Will those whose properties are damaged or destroyed by their neighbors’ fracking also be considered “vulnerable?”  Will those property owners also be helped to relocate?  Will they be helped to find a new and better quality of life? Will our organic farmers be rewarded with new  sources of clean water and soil?

And when Cuomo says that,  “Much of New York’s infrastructure is aging and susceptible to damage from extreme weather events or seismic threats,”  is he planning to replace bridges,  roads, and neighborhoods impacted by frack-created earthquakes?

Or when he admits that, “there are miles of aging [ gas] pipeline[s] that are prone to leakage and vulnerable to storm damage (and ground movement) [in New York State],”   does he intend to hire hundreds of new DEC field agents to police, test and enforce remediation of those leaks?  Or will citizens be detailed to stand on either side of the pipes to hold them in place as they rock to the beat of seismic drums?

And when he says we need to “strengthen our wastewater infrastructure” because, “Flooding and storm surges from Lee, Irene, and Sandy resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars of damage to waste water treatment plants and the release of hundreds of millions of gallons of raw and undertreated sewage,”  is he considering just how toxic the stew would be with Marcellus Shale’s radioactive materials added to the mix?

Or does he believe that his newly-minted  World-Class Emergency Response Network —  like All the King’s Horses and All the King’s Men —   will simply put New York  back together again after the extraction industry has bedded, fracked us, and moved on?

 

**********************

 

Additional Links, Resources and Citations:

“Ecosystem resilience is the capacity of an ecosystem to tolerate disturbance without collapsing into a qualitatively different state that is controlled by a different set of processes. A resilient ecosystem can withstand shocks and rebuild itself when necessary. Resilience in social systems has the added capacity of humans to anticipate and plan for the future. Humans are part of the natural world. We depend on ecological systems for our survival and we continuously impact the ecosystems in which we live from the local to global scale. Resilience is a property of these linked social-ecological systems (SES). “Resilience” as applied to ecosystems, or to integrated systems of people and the natural environment, has three defining characteristics:

• The amount of change the system can undergo and still retain the same controls on function and structure
• The degree to which the system is capable of self-organization
• The ability to build and increase the capacity for learning and adaptation”

Source: The Resilience Alliance Website

 

As part of  Governor Cuomo’s  plan to “Harden Our Utilities,”  he wants the following NYS Public Service Commission (PSC) recommendations adopted as soon as possible.  It sounds dandy, actually.  Too bad  these initiatives don’t extend to the Department of Environmental Conservation or the gas extractors that Agency is mandated  to regulate.

  • The PSC will be statutorily authorized to levy administrative penalties against each utility for violations of PSC orders and regulations or upon a finding that such utility has failed to provide safe and adequate service under a “reasonable business” standard (comparable to the prudence standard). The size of the potential penalties will be increased, and provisions will be adopted to ensure that the penalties are paid out of shareholder capital and not passed on to ratepayers.
  • The PSC will be authorized to issue an order that directs a utility to comply with recommendations made pursuant to management and operations audits.
  • The PSC will recommence operational audits at least every five years as currently required under the Public Service Law.
  • To implement the strengthened auditing functions of the PSC, consideration will be given to having a dedicated auditing unit to help ensure that the PSC is well-situated to fully exercise its statutory authority and perform both management and operational audits.
  • Consideration will also be given to creating a dedicated unit for investigating and enforcing utility compliance with PSC orders and recommendations and with utility tariffs.
  • Statutory changes should be considered to explicitly authorize the PSC to formally review the performance of each of the Investor-Owned Utilities to provide safe and adequate service, and order appropriate relief including divestiture of some or all of a utility’s assets, subject to both due process standards and the need for continuity of service. To ensure compliance with the recommendations put forth by the PSC after a review, the Commission also recommends the clear establishment of the PSC’s authority to revoke the Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity.
  • DPS staffing and budgetary levels will be reviewed to ensure they are sufficient to carry out the newly-designed core functions of the PSC, and procedures should be reviewed to ensure cross-training of the existing workforce, implementation of performance management standards and technology upgrades. Given the substantial retirements at DPS in recent years, the agency currently is not staffed to the level authorized in the FY 2012-13 budget of 524 full-time employees (FTE). Based upon the additional mandates that the Commission recommends, the DPS staffing authorization will be maintained in the FY 2013-14 budget and DPS will recruit and hire up to the 524 FTE allotment to assist in implementation and enforcement of the new mandates.
  • Similar to Sarbanes Oxley where CEOs need to certify the validity of their financial statements, consideration will be given to requiring senior officers of each utility to annually certify to the PSC that the utility is acting in compliance with all applicable State laws, rules, regulations, orders, and procedures, including the statutory requirement to provide safe and adequate service.
  • All appointees to the PSC will have demonstrated competence in some aspect of utility regulation as well as a concern for the public well-being.

Bethel, NY’s Hydraulic Fracturing Ban; Public Comments


(Breathing Is Political left the Bethel Town Board’s March 15, 2012 Hearing on Town Law No. 1 of 2012 about twenty minutes before its finish. At that point, thirty members of the public had spoken in favor of the proposed law which would ban high-volume hydraulic fracturing as a high-impact activity in the Town and four members had spoken against the law and in favor of permitting H-VHF activities. According to Larysa Dyrszka, supporters of the legislative ban collected more than 500 petition signatures and at least 100 letters.  

Unfortunately,  the Town of Bethel’s website appears to be “down,”  but  the proposed legislation is scheduled for a vote at one of the April  Town Board meetings which regularly occur on the 2nd and 4th Wednesdays of each month at 7:30 pm.  If interested,  the Town’s phone number is:   845-583-4350.)

**********************

On March 15, 2012, the Bethel, NY Town Board heard from the public concerning the Town’s proposed Local Law No. 1 of 2012. (For more information, “findings of fact,” and an explanation of the proposed legislation, please see Appendix A and the Town of Bethel’s Land Use Analysis: Hazardous or Natural Gas and/or Petroleum Acivities and Industrial Uses.)

In introductory remarks, Bethel Town Attorney Robert McEwan described the proposed legislative changes as “explicitly prohibiting certain uses Town-wide” and as “amending Zoning Board procedures.”

According to a February 28, 2012 River Reporter article, Mr. McEwan said, “…that the amendment would not only ban gas drilling, but also a number of processes related to gas drilling, as well as high impact uses.” In the same article, Attorney McEwan clarified that, “High-impact uses are the kinds of industries that put out large amounts of pollution….” (BIP Note: The North American Industry Classification System mentioned in the article categorizes industries and assigns them “classification numbers” which can be researched here. The NAICS “is frequently used for various administrative, regulatory, contracting, taxation, and other-non statistical purposes.”

The provisions of Bethel’s Local Law No. 1 of 2012 most-addressed by speakers at the Hearing are these:

  • (6) Land Use Control. This Local Law is intended to act as and is hereby declared to exercise the permissive “incidental control” by the Town of its police power applied to the area of land use planning and the physical use of land and property within the Town, including the physical externalities associated with certain land uses, such as negative impacts on air and water quality, roadways and traffic congestion and other deleterious impacts on a community. This Law is not intended to regulate the operational processes of any business. This Local Law is a law of general applicability and is intended to promote the interests of the community as a whole; and
  • Sections 345-38 which explicitly prohibit injection wells, natural gas and/or petroleum exploration activities; natural gas and/or petroleum extraction activities, natural gas and/or petroleum extraction, exploration or production waste disposal/storage facilities, natural gas processing facilities, underground injection, high-impact uses and other specified activities.

PUBLIC COMMENTS CONCERNING BETHEL TOWN LAW NO. 1 OF 2012:

Although approximately forty people spoke at the the Hearing, Breathing Is Political offers these excerpted remarks as representative of the statements made:

Margarita Gleyzer referred to the fact that some who support H-VHF have called opponents of the process “fear-mongers.” In response, Ms. Gleyzerr  said, “Fear is an innate quality that keeps us from harm. We are not guaranteed jobs from fracking but we are guaranteed damage to our resources. Fracking is not a small town issue; it’s an international concern.”

Jeffrey Allison referred to many claims made by natural gas extraction companies as “myths:”

  • “We’re told there’s 100 years of shale gas in the Marcellus. At best there’s eleven.” (BIP Note: According to the US Geologic Survey, “The Marcellus Shale contains 84 trillion cubic feet of… technically recoverable natural gas and 3.4 billion barrels of…technically recoverable natural gas liquids…” Using US Energy Information Administration data, the U.S. consumed 24.37 trillion cubic feet in 2011. Accordingly, even if all the natural gas in the Marcellus Shale was actually recovered and not shipped to Norway, Japan, etc., we would gain only an additional 3-5 year supply.)


  • “We’re told that H-VHF will bring thousands of jobs but 77% of jobs are filled by out-of-state workers.” (BIP Note: The Center for Economic and Policy Research begs to differ with industry claims of job creation in Pennsylvania drilling areas: “What the data tell us is that fracking has created very few jobs. In fact, employment in five northeast Pennsylvania counties…with high drilling activity declined by 2.7 percent.” (Even accounting for the recession, CEPR calculates a total of “around 1,350 jobs — [which] includes both direct jobs in the gas industry, indirect jobs in the supply chain and induced jobs from spending by workers and landowners.


  • “We’re told that natural gas is cleaner than coal but scientists disagree.” (BIP note: A study issued out of Cornell University reports that gas extraction’s carbon footprint is likely larger than that of coal production.)

Richard Gebel and many other speakers spoke to the natural beauty of Bethel that might be laid waste by high-volume hydraulic fracturing.

Physicians such as Larysa Dyrszka, James Lomax and Hal Teitelbaum spoke to the human health impacts of H-VHF.  One of their shared concerns is that New York State’s draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement largely ignores those human health impacts. They talked about the dangers of Naturally-Occurring Radioactive Materials (NORMs) and their impacts on water, soil, our foodshed – our human ecology. (BIP Note: Gas Drilling Tech Notes — with which BIP is affiliated — has an extensive library of scientific articles concerning H-VHF, the waste and radioactive materials produced by the industry’s processes and their impacts on natural and human environments.)

Eric London, a physician and researcher remarked that to begin fracking without a health impacts study would be unethical and he commended the Town Board for its efforts to protect the residents of Bethel.

Jennifer Young, a Bethel farmer, thanked the Town Board for taking a proactive stance. “The National Farmer’s Union has called for a moratorium. I raise free-range eggs and I depend on the quality of our land and water resources. We must support our farmers. We’ve seen an 18 percent decline in farms where gas extraction occurs.” (BIP Note: Apparently, Ms. Young was referring to a 2007-10 study conducted by Dr. Timothy Kelsey at Pennsylvania State University’s College of Agricultural Science. In his conclusions, Dr. Kelsey states, “Changes in dairy cow numbers also seem to be associated with the level of Marcellus shale drilling activity. Counties with 150 or more Marcellus shale wells on average experienced an 18.7 percent decrease in dairy cows, compared to only a 1.2 percent average decrease in counties with no Marcellus wells.”)

Kate Kennedy, a local business owner and resident in the Town of Delaware said, “We need our creamery. We need our slaughterhouse. We are poised to be the New York City foodshed. Fracking will endanger that.”

Laura Berger responded to frequent industry claims that New York State’s regulatory structure and oversight are the “toughest” by citing to The Environmental Working Group’s assertions that New York State is ill-equipped to oversee H-VHF and quoted, “New York has just 14 inspectors to oversee 13,000 existing natural gas and oil wells.”

Ronald Turner said, “This is a big moment for the Catskills. It might be the biggest since our towns were flooded to create the reservoirs. Fracking is not conducive to the qualities that draw people here.” He asked what would happen as the underground infrastructure that’s necessary for H-VHF begins to decay. “Who will monitor that decaying infrastructure,” he asked.

Of the speakers who asked the Bethel Town Board to delay passage of legislation that would ban H-VHF within the Town’s borders, Bill desRosiers of Energy In Depth‘s Marcellus affiliate — the public relations arm of the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) — was the first to speak and urged the Town Board and Hearing attendees to visit the website, “Frac Focus.” “You can track every well drilled,” he said. “You can find GPS locations and view the chemicals used.” (BIP Note: As Jill Weiner remarked  in her subsequent rebuttal of Mr. desRosiers’ statements, release of chemical-usage information is voluntary, not mandatory.  Further, the Frac Focus site states, “Because the make-up of each fracturing fluid varies to meet the specific needs of each area…” there is still no way of knowing which chemicals were used at a specific site. Additionally, only non-proprietary chemicals are listed at Frac Focus.)

Mr. desRosiers also referred to the March 15, 2012 press release from the Environmental Protection Agency detailing its findings to date on water samples from Dimock, PA. “EPA’s testing in Dimock failed to show elevated levels of contamination,” he claimed. (BIP Note: A reading of the actual press release shows that contamination was discovered, that the testing is incomplete and that “EPA will continue to provide water” to three of the homes which are currently receiving such deliveries. Relatedly, Water Defense has asked several serious questions concerning EPA Region 3’s handling of the Dimock situation which has diverged significantly from investigations conducted by other EPA regional offices. Following EPA’s March 15th announcement, Dimock-resident Scott Ely drew water from his well and collected it in a plastic jug on March 16, 2012.  Thanks to Michael Lebron for this timely photo.)

In conclusion, Mr. desRosiers asked the Town Board to delay its approval of its proposed Town Law 1-2012, “Appeals will be filed in the Dryden and Middlefield cases. I urge you to await the results of the appeals process.” (BIP Note: Mr. desRosiers reference is to two recent New York State Court decisions which upheld the right of local jurisdictions to restrict certain activities within their boundaries.)

Sondra Bauernfeind, the former Chair of the Sullivan County Conservative Party, opined that “Zoning reduces property rights” and reiterated Mr. desRosiers’ request that the Town Board delay approval of the proposed law until “higher courts weigh-in” on the Dryden and Middlefield decisions. Further, Ms. Bauernfeind suggested that laws which prohibit a landowner’s exploitation of his/her property’s resources amount to a taking. “Delaware County wants $81 billion from NYC for property takings.(BIP note: Several courts have dealt with this issue of “takings” (or “Inverse Condemnation” as it’s known in the law) and many legal scholars have concluded that such claims will be struck down in the courts. An introduction to the topic can be found in BIP’s article, “Gas Drilling: Inverse Condemnation: Private vs. Public Interests.”

Harold Russell, a former Bethel Town Board member and opponent of the proposed Town Law pointed to foreclosures in Sullivan County and the dearth of employment for young people in our communities. “Use your heads not your politics!” he finished. (BIP Note: For more on property values, mortgages and natural gas extraction, please see “Rush to Drill for Natural Gas Creates Conflicts With Mortgages.”)

******************

In addition to the many Town of Bethel residents who spoke, residents from the Towns of Delaware, Lumberland, Cochecton and Callicoon were also in attendance, due, presumably, to the potential for natural gas exploration, extraction and processing activities being conducted in their Towns.

If you live in a Town where high-volume hydraulic fracturing is being considered, be aware that the process in Bethel has taken, to date, approximately fifteen months.  One resident close to Bethel’s process suggested,  “It makes sense for Towns just looking into zoning protections to consider a moratorium first.  With that in place, they can begin to address potential zoning changes.”

For more information on moratorium efforts, The Community Environmental Defense Council —  David and Helen Slottje —  is the  non-profit public interest law firm based in Ithaca, New York that worked — for free —  with  Bethel and many other Towns in New York. 

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), based in Pennslvania,   “is a non-profit, public interest law firm providing free and affordable legal services to communities facing threats to their local environment, local agriculture, the local economy, and quality of life.  Our mission is to build sustainable communities by assisting people to assert their right to local self-government and the rights of nature.”

 

Walk About Water: Callicoon, NY


(Many thanks to all who organized the Walk About Water community potluck in Callicoon.  It was a wonderful evening.   And especial thanks to Marci MacLean for offering her photos to Breathing.  This is what loving a place and taking joy in it looked like in our River town on April 18, 2011.)

The Walk About Water  website  announced,  “ON APRIL 17TH THROUGH 23,2011, five women will walk 90 miles from the Neversink Reservoir, NY to Salt Springs State Park, PA. We will carry a hand crafted “AMPHORA” of clean water taken from Buttermilk Falls in the Catskill Mountains to a place where water is endangered. WALK ABOUT WATER is a grassroots initiative to raise awareness of the sacredness of our water and our land. We will send this water around the world to other endangered lands, as a simple act of solidarity.”

On  Monday  April 18,   forty or so Upper Delaware River Basin residents met  at the Callicoon Youth Center pavilion for a community potluck dinner and to await the arrival of Bess PathChef Deanna and Chrys Countryman.  The three  Walk About Water women had trekked (see the map!)  from the Neversink River to the Delaware for 10 heartfelt reasons:

1. Six women from NY and PA, grateful to live in a place of abundant clean water
2. We represent Mothers, Grandmothers, Sisters, and Daughters
3. We are moved to action by the threat of contaminated water from the extraction of fossil fuels.
4.Our concern over the harm that will come to our families and future generations
   prevents us from simply living our lives peacefully and gratefully.
5. We demand that public health and quality of life for future generations take priority in  decisions that affect everyone.
6. To illustrate our concerns we are carrying the most precious substance on the planet -water -90 miles on foot.
7. We do this to bring attention to how precious and vulnerable this essential resource truly is.
8 The need for clean water is something everyone has in common.
9. We seek to make this important point by visibly honoring what we love.
10 We  bring good wishes to all water drinkers and bath takers.
Tears of appreciation, smiles of joy and loud applause greeted the women’s arrival.  Tannis Kowalchuk was already dressed and negotiating hugs while on  stilts.  Greg Swartz explained the many ways he, Tannis and Simon ensure that their organic farm, Willow Wisp,  produces  excellent food with the least possible water.   A welcome fire was lit and we all noshed on a smorgasbord of salads, chili, bread, chicken, appetizers and desserts provided by each and every one of us.
Walk About Water Grassroots Event

Tannis Kowalchuk, performer and artistic director of the NACL Theater, prepares to "walk about water" on stilts. Tannis, her husband Greg Swartz and their son Simon also own the organic Willow Wisp Farm which offers great CSA deals.

Walking About Water down Callicoon, NY's Main Street.
         And then we joined the Walk About Water women for a stroll down Callicoon’s Lower Main Street  and across the bridge to Pennsylvania
        where we paused because it felt so good.
Walk About Water Grassroots Event

Forty or so water enthusiasts cross the Delaware River in the rain. They look a bit like May flowers, don't you think? In 2010, American Rivers named the Upper Delaware River, "America's Most Endangered River."

Walk About Water Grassroots Event

Misty rain and smiling faces on the Callicoon bridge to Pennsylvania.

The next day,  we  received this note  of thanks and the tears flowed all over again:
We are staying the night in one of the most beautiful communities of people we have ever seen, they gave us a party, walked with us from ny to pa,
raised money for us and sent us off with such love that we will take with us on our journey..words cannot express how full our hearts are..
THANK YOU CALLICOON NY,DAMASCUS PA WE SHOULD ALL LIVE THE WAY THEY DO

Water Walkers~

Chef Denna,Chrys Countryman, Bess Path

Guardians~Frank and Francena