Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Saratoga Spa State Park first in the state to create a master plan.

Future of state park to be plotted
Capital projects will be identifi ed
BY LEE COLEMAN Gazette Reporter The Saratoga Spa State Park has been chosen to be the first of the state’s 178 parks to create a new comprehensive master plan. “Where should the park be in five, 10, 20 years out?” asked Robert Kuhn, assistant regional director of the Saratoga-Capital District Region of the state park system. “Do we want camping here?” Kuhn said, giving an example of the kind of thing the master plan will answer. Kuhn said the Spa State Park staff is thrilled to be the first in the state to do a new master plan. “It’s wonderful for us, but a huge challenge,” Kuhn said at a recent meeting of the Saratoga-Capital District Region park commission. The master plan — including detailed environmental and economic studies — will identify future capital investments at the 2,800-acre park needed to rehabilitate and upgrade the park’s many recreational and cultural venues. Many of the Saratoga Spa State Park’s historic buildings were constructed during the Great Depression. Most of them opened in 1935 and are in need of regular repair and renovation. “The master plan is an important document,” said Eileen Larrabee, a spokeswoman for the state Offi ce of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. She said on Monday a comprehensive master plan requires comments and suggestions from the local community on the future development of the park. “Over the past decade very few master plans have been done,” Larrabee said. This is why state parks Commissioner Carol Ash is asking that 50 parks in the state complete a new master plan within the next fi ve years. “Spa State Park is slated to be the first,” Larrabee said. The last master plan for the Spa State Park was done more than a decade ago, she said. Kuhn said Spa State Park is lucky to have Michael Greenslade as its new director. The master plan will be done “in-house” by park staff. Most recently, Greenslade was director of the Moreau Lake State Park. He helped that park finalize a master plan after it acquired 3,200 acres in Saratoga and Warren counties from the Open Space Institute and Niagara Mohawk Power Corp. Greenslade will be in charge of coordinating the new Spa State Park master plan process. Larrabee said the Moreau Lake State Park master plan was one of the few completed in New York state in recent years. “The process requires that we open it up to the public, to the local municipality,” Kuhn said about the master plan. Heather Mabee, president of the Saratoga-Capital District Region’s park commission, said the master plan “will be a living document.” “It will be something anybody can read, it will be user-friendly,” Mabee said. Mabee said the Spa State Park’s master plan should be completed as early as the end of 2008. “It will be a lot of work,” she said at a recent commission meeting. “We will need all the help we can get,” Greenslade replied. Ash said this fall that a major problem facing the state park system is the lack of adequate funding in recent state budgets. “Over the past 15 years, the size of our system expanded from 184 sites — including historic sites and state parks — in 1992 to 213 today, an increase of 29 new facilities,” Ash said in testimony before a fi scal year 2008-09 parks capital funding hearing in Albany. “But over this same period, our capital budget was cut,” she said. “Our actual expenditures in 1992 were $60 million. This year, our capital expenditures from all sources will be $40 million.” “Adjusted for inflation, our capital budget today buys 50 percent less than it did in 1992,” she testifi ed. Ash said there is a backlog of $650 million in “urgent capital needs” in parks across the state. The Saratoga-Capital District Region, which includes the Spa State Park along with nine other state parks and seven historic sites, needs $43 million for “urgent” capital projects, Kuhn said. “We won’t get it in one year,” Kuhn said. He said the money for the region will be phased in during coming budget years. “Everything looks positive to get the funding, starting in next year’s budget,” Kuhn said.
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Saturday, December 22, 2007

A lovely poem for this or any season

Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Robert Frost, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy EveningUS poet (1874 - 1963)

"The woods are snowy, dark and deep and we have promises to keep." Robert Frost

downtown Saratoga is magic in every season

Joy to all even on the first day of winter, 12/22/07

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

water=kaching kaching!

Let the city have lake water
Published: Friday, December 14, 2007
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Now the members of the Saratoga Lake Association, having gotten pummeled in court, are going to drag out for another round their selfish quest to keep anyone from sharing their water.Saratoga Lake is big enough and clean enough to take care of the water needs of Saratoga Springs with ease. Expert studies have shown that.But heaven forbid, the lakesiders are saying, that anyone sip from "their" water.It's better, they say, for workers to rip a ditch down the length of the county, right through Moreau State Park, and toss a pipe in it.
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The lakesiders like to act as if the county pipe plan, which would draw water out of the Hudson River, is a fait accompli.Work has started on the pipeline, but with all the problems besetting the project -- a shortage of paying customers being, perhaps, the biggest -- the pipe plan may yet prove to be a pipe dream.Even if the county manages to get its pipe into the ground, Saratoga Springs doesn't have to tap into it.The city is lucky enough to have an ample supply of water just waiting to be tapped.Other communities draw water out of big lakes like Saratoga Lake.And other communities allow recreation on the lakes from which they draw water.
You don't have to look far for examples. The village of Lake Placid has drawn all its water from Lake Placid for more than a century.Lake Placid holds a volume of water similar to Saratoga Lake's and, although Lake Placid is smaller than Saratoga Springs, it attracts tourists by the hundreds of thousands, not just in summer but in every season.Lake Placid has never had a problem with its water supply.And recreation on Lake Placid, where hundreds of motorboats cruise in the summertime, has never been restricted.And the Saratoga Lake homeowners have never drawn a convincing distinction between Saratoga Lake and Lake Placid.
If the environment were their concern, they would have rallied against cutting a trench many miles long through the county's forests and fields.If water quality were their concern, they'd have welcomed a city tap, because drinking water must be monitored and kept to a high standard.Their concern is keeping the lake to themselves, and it always has been.Unfortunately, their selfishness has found powerful allies among the county's Republican supervisors, who themselves have a shameful record when it comes to public works.In the late 1990s, the county's Republican supervisors rammed through a plan to build a $10 million landfill in Northumberland that local farmers and many other people told them was unnecessary. That landfill has never been used.
Let me repeat that: $10 million.Never been used.The water pipe could turn into a similar boondoggle. But even if water eventually flows through this pipe, it's better for the city to have its own.Will Doolittle is projects editor of The Post-Star. He may be reached at will@poststar.com.
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Urgent needs for NYS Parks, 12/17/07

News from New York State Office of Parks & Recreation
For more information contact: Eileen Larrabee or Cathy Jimenez, 518-486-1868
State Council of Parks Issues Report Highlighting Needs and Accomplishments of State Parks and Historic Sites
Report, First in 35 years, Highlights Capital Backlog Throughout New York State
ALBANY, NY (12/17/2007; 1419)(readMedia)-- The New York State Council of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation today released its 2007 Annual Report to Governor Eliot Spitzer highlighting achievements over the past year and setting forth recommendations for improving the (1) infrastructure and management and (2) stewardship of New York’s 213 State Parks and Historic Sites. The report details the growing backlog of urgent capital needs at state parks and historic sites and identifies priorities of the State Council for 2008.
“The New York State Parks system is an irreplaceable public asset that provides unparalleled recreation opportunities, enhances the health of citizens, supports the state’s economic vitality and quality of life, and harbors irreplaceable ecosystems and natural resources. The Annual Report outlines a major effort to return New York’s parks to preeminence as the best state parks system in the nation and calls for a renewed investment in our public facilities throughout the state,” said State Council Chair Dr. Lucy Waletzky.
“I want to thank the members of the State Council of Parks for their commitment to preserving and protecting the valuable natural resources within our parks and historic sites and for their efforts in advancing the annual report. This document is an important step in focusing attention on the many challenges facing our state parks and historic sites after years of underinvestment and offers valuable insight and suggestions to develop and expand successful stewardship and land initiatives across New York,” said State Parks Commissioner Carol Ash.
Ash noted that despite statutory requirements for the issuance of an annual report, this document is the first formal submission in 35 years provided to the Governor.
An ongoing comprehensive assessment of State Parks’ capital investment needs has identified critical capital projects with a total cost exceeding $650 million. The following are State Parks’ capital needs broken down into four categories:
Remediation of existing facilities (65 percent of capital need). Projects include maintenance and rehabilitation of existing infrastructure in the parks and historic sites.
Health and safety (15 percent of capital need). Projects include upgrades to electrical systems and drinking water supply systems, repairs to dams and bridges flagged as potential hazards, and attention to inactive landfills that were not properly closed.
New facilities development (15 percent of capital need). Projects include capital investments are needed to develop new facilities that have been acquired over the past decade in order to create contact stations, parking areas, restrooms, picnic grounds and swimming areas.
Natural resources (5 percent of capital need). State Parks’ natural resources are threatened by pollution, invasive species, soil erosion and global warming. Specific projects to restore habitats and ecosystems within State Parks facilities have been identified to ensure the protection of natural resources.
Despite the unmet capital funding needs, State Parks achieved a number of accomplishments and successes over the past year including opening of new parks and facilities, restoration of several historic buildings, construction of vacation rentals; major rehabilitation projects; electrical upgrades and playground improvements; and increased interpretive programming and educational opportunities.
In 2008, the State Council will focus on significantly increasing State Parks’ capital budget to address the rehabilitation and reconstruction of aging infrastructure; cultivating and encouraging support for state parks and historic sites with elected officials, community leaders, and parks and historic preservation organizations; working to strengthen friends groups and increasing volunteer efforts; and participating in private fundraising efforts to advance high priority capital projects.
The Annual Report was adopted by members of the Council of Parks at an October 16, 2007, meeting. The State Council consists of the Chairs of the eleven regional park commissions; Carol Ash, Commissioner of State Parks; Pete Grannis, Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation, and Robert MacKay, Chair of the State Board of Historic Preservation. The function of the council is to advise, make recommendations and report on the progress of all matters affecting state parks, recreation and historic preservation.
In January 2007, Governor Spitzer appointed Dr. Lucy R. Waletzky to serve as chair of the State Council of Parks. The following individuals serve as chair for each of the New York State Parks regions: Dalton Burgett (Allegany); Edward Audi (Central); Linda Jackson (Finger Lakes); Peter Humphrey (Genesee); Herbert Balin (Long Island); Edward Cox (New York City); Jean Knox (Niagara); Samuel Pryor (Palisades); Heather Mabee (Saratoga-Capital District); Lucy Waletzky (Taconic); and Harold Johnson, II (Thousand Islands).
For more information on New York State parks and historic sites, please call 518-474-0456 or visit www.nysparks.com. For a copy of the New York State Council of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation 2007 Annual Report, visit www.nysparks.state.ny.us/council/docs/Annual_Report.pdf.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Gideon Putnam Hotel poised for Delaware North transition

Firm putting $6.5M into hotel
Company ready to take over Gideon Putnam, baths
BY LEE COLEMAN Gazette Reporter The Buffalo-based company preparing to take over operation of the Gideon Putnam Hotel will spend $6.5 million over the next five years to upgrade the hotel and related facilities, a state parks official said Thursday. Delaware North Companies, which currently runs Saratoga Gaming and Raceway in Saratoga Springs, will start operating the historic Gideon Putnam Hotel and Conference Center and Roosevelt Baths in the Saratoga Spa State Park on Dec. 31. Final contract negotiations between the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and Delaware North have been completed, said Robert Kuhn, assistant regional director of the state parks’ Saratoga-Capital District Region. “The transition is moving quickly and nicely,” Kuhn said at a park commission meeting on Thursday. A transition team from Delaware North has rented offices in the Spa State Park’s administration building and is busy interviewing people, Kuhn said. Xanterra Parks & Resorts Inc. has operated the hotel and baths for the past 20 years but its bid for another 20 years was rejected by the state, which awarded Delaware North the 20-year franchise. The company has agreed to spend more than $19 million over the next 20 years, upgrading the 1935-era hotel and nearby mineral baths and spa, Kuhn said. “They will revitalize and improve the hotel,” Kuhn said. “Delaware North has so many great ideas.” The 132 guest rooms in the hotel will be renovated, along with the hotel’s restaurant and bar and kitchen, he said. Delaware North has also agreed to spend $450,000 renovating and improving the Roosevelt Bathhouse, including using all mineral water in the soothing baths rather than the current mixture of mineral water and hot tap water. For more than 20 years, the bathhouses in the Spa State Park have mixed cold mineral water with hot city tap water to reach a desired bathing temperature. Before the mid-1980s, the mineral water was heated and used undiluted in the therapeutic baths. Several years ago Xanterra completely renovated the Roosevelt Baths and added spa amenities. Kuhn said Delaware North will remodel the baths as well as add new features, including a tea and lunch service. “The contract will be in place within the next two weeks,” Kuhn said. “Both state parks and Delaware North feel the transition is on track and going well.” He said the contract is being reviewed by the state Comptroller’s Office, as required by state regulations. “There are no hitches,” he said. Heather Mabee, chairwoman of the park commission, said she was pleased that the operation of the Gideon was awarded to a company headquartered in New York state. Xanterra, which operates hotels and resorts in some national parks, is located out of state. When state parks Commissioner Carol Ash announced that Delaware North had won the bidding war to operate the Gideon Putnam, she noted the company has operated other state parks, resorts and concessions, including Jones Beach, Robert Moses state park and the Niagara Falls state park.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Saratoga Racetrack needs some holiday cheer to save it.

The New York Racing Association (NYRA) franchise expires on December 31, leaving the future of racing in this state teetering on several issues. Since 1955 NYRA has held the franchise governing race track operations at New York’s three major Thoroughbred racetracks. It was then that the State Racing Commission authorized them to acquire the assets from four separate racing organizations operating under the auspices of The Greater New York Association, Inc., who then operated Belmont, Jamaica, Saratoga and Aqueduct racetracks. NYRA paid $20 million for the properties. In 1959 NYRA closed Jamaica and sold that property.
There have been several extensions of the franchise since ’55; the latest, a 7-year extension installed during the Pataki administration. It is that legislation which is expiring on December 31.
New York legislators do not appear to have mapped out a future for racing or defined its marriage with gaming. No one seems informed of what is in the works and without a contract New York racing will shut down. This would have devastating effects to the racing industry and all of its ancillary businesses. This is an emergency situation.
Today, with Video Lottery Terminals shining brightly on the horizon, other management entities are champing at the bit to displace a financially troubled NYRA and pull milk from this new breed. The new players profess they will steward racing, but you have to wonder if they truly recognize the budget left for racing, after the pie is sliced.
Every informed person knows there are some blemishes on the underbelly of racing. It is impossible to believe that multi-billions of dollars could pass through any gambling environment without occasional circumstances enabling some of it to stick in wrong places.
It would be an act of futility to hold today’s NYRA responsible for things that occurred through earlier management regimes. It is the right time to correct the problems which have paved the road to NYRA’s bankrupt condition. A revamping of the distribution of monies derived from gambling is in order. NYRA’s operating expenses and administrative costs should be closely scrutinized and necessary adjustments made. Precious time is slipping away.
On November 28th, The U.S. Bankruptcy Court approved NYRA’s disclosure statement, detailing its bankruptcy reorganization plan. On December 21st NYRA’s creditors will have the opportunity to vote on this plan and on December 27th a confirmation hearing will take place in which the Court may approve NYRA’s reorganization and thus end its bankruptcy. At best, this leaves us with a crippled NYRA and we would at this point be 4 days from shutting down racing.
Meanwhile House Majority Leader, Joseph L. Bruno wants to see the creation of a public entity called the New York State Racing, Gaming and Equine Sports Development Corp. He is recommending an 11-person board, named by the state legislators to select operators to run racing, gaming, marketing, and real estate development as separate entities. Bruno wants VLT’s implemented at Belmont which is not a proposal popularly received within the racing industry. Bruno has a vision of Excelsior Racing Associates, Empire Racing Associates, and Capital Play, Inc competing with NYRA for different facets of the franchise. This all looks good for Joe Bruno and company but it promises little to the future of racing.
Capital Play, Inc. is running a mud-slinging campaign; airing ads in Saratoga Springs, Albany and New York City. Their attacks on NYRA are scathing, and as Charles Hayward, President and CEO of NYRA retorted: "It’s so inflammatory and incorrect, it doesn’t merit a response". It is distasteful and unnecessary for them to stoop to such tactics.
Excelsior Racing Association and Empire Racing Association are both start up organizations headed by leaders from other facets of racing. It would be a real stretch to think there is a safe bet among the NYRA competitors, and even if the three firms challenging to replace NYRA were experienced and well-intentioned; it would remain a very risky bet that they could grasp the intricacies of this mammoth operation quickly enough to keep it running smoothly.
NYRA has approximately 300 million in debts. It owes the state 125 million, is behind 95 million in its pension funds and owes private creditors about 75 million. Governor Eliot Spitzer has proposed keeping NYRA in place for 30 more years, forgive them their debt, and have a separate firm run Aqueduct’s proposed racino. In turn NYRA would relinquish its ownership claim for the racetracks, which are valued at more than a billion.
This purports to be a solution unfavorable in the long term of both racing and for the well-being of the areas surrounding the tracks. An ardent effort should be put toward a less egregious solution.
NYRA’s accumulated tax indebtedness is very possibly a result from many years worth of unfair take-out and miscalculations of taxable earning by the IRS. The IRS is charging NYRA with taxes on its gross income, which equates to 1.6 billion in back taxes. This is absurd. If they don’t balk here, we may all be destined to being led into bankruptcy by the forelock. Government has to play by rules too.
It is a difficult puzzle to solve and before attempting to move any of the pieces an overview of the history of NYRA and the future of racing needs to be considered.
In ’71, Off-Track Betting was installed to destroy "ugly bookmakers". NYRA fumbled that contract by poorly handicapping OTB’s ability to steal away patronage. Thirty-six years later, that fumble looms larger than ever. Attendance at live-racing has steadily decreased and the accumulated damage OTB brought to the bottom line is incalculable. During this period added competition has come from phone and Internet wagering.
The race tracks are guilty of driving away patrons through their lack of hospitality. They have attempted to reduce the sting of lower attendance by charging those that come more. Parking fees have steadily increased and the punishment keeps on, right through the admissions gates, to the price of a program, a seat and a hot dog. A trainer’s wife or jockey’s wife cannot go to the races in New York without paying admission. It’s amazing that they have not raised the price of a $2 wager. No wonder the casual fan or a guy just wanting to buy a daily-double ticket stops by OTB. Fan development has to part of the formula.
But whoa, now Mayor Bloomberg wants New York City to sever ties with OTB. This action could force 73 New York City OTB outlets to close. These betting parlors are unattractive to the Mayor and he is unwilling to give them the help they will require to stay in business. "I have always had reservations about city government being involved in gambling" says the Mayor.
NYRA’s contract with The Off-Track Betting Corp. is flawed, but nonetheless, it does pay revenue to the organization. The long-lost patrons are not likely to return through the gates at the tracks; their habits have changed and there is ever-increasing competition for the gambling dollar. New York City OTB’s paid the racing industry approximately $98 million last year of which NYRA received 54 million. Anyone operating the franchise would be ill-equipped to make do without this revenue.
NYRA has delivered block-buster after block-buster to Saratoga, worthy performances at Belmont and at Aqueduct they nourish the supporting cast. They have proven what new recruits have not, that they are capable of putting on the show. With racing across the nation struggling to be profitable it would be risky to displace management possessing this ability.
The pie is only so big and can only serve so many. Self-preservation is our most basic instinct and Charles Hayward has selected to keep NYRA alive at the expense of paying taxes and satisfying all of its creditors. Their debt reflects the dire need to restructure New York racing and the immediate necessity of properly incorporating VLT’s into downstate racing.
Presently, Senator Bruno is gently stroking the forehead of this nervous industry, assuring its participants that racing’s bugle will be heard into the future. It’s a pretty good bet that he is right. There is too much money involved to think that racing should be interrupted, but the political strife between Governor Spitzer and Bruno is creating obstacles. They are making political hay while one of New York’s most important industries is at peril.
An unjustly treated industry cannot continue to feed government coffers anymore than a lame horse can be repeatedly led to the post. NYRA has paid more than $3.069 billion in direct tax revenue since its 1955 inception and not a nickel of this has resulted from VLT’s. Municipalities will be adversely affected if real estate deals cause shifts in the tax base. We could be in for an ugly break-down.
Any interruption or reduction in New York racing will adversely impact the quality of life, even for those people who will never own, bet on a racehorse, or frankly "give a damn" about horseracing. The foot-print of racing feeds thousands outside the industry in ways that may be veiled but are nonetheless real. For those in the industry, it truly is a run for their life situation.
The horsemen at Aqueduct are acutely worried and rightly so. Aqueduct has never been a "Saratoga" and to think trainers may be stuck there without racing is a real nightmare.
Finally, when global warming has made racing in the northeast tolerable the environment for racing at Aqueduct is so uncertain that many trainers have fled south.
There were a record number of requests for stall space at The Fairgrounds in New Orleans, Philadelphia Park is maxed out and there are no stalls available at Delaware Park, even though that racing season has ended. Laurel is full, as are the stables at Pimlico and Bowie. There are no barns available at the Fair Hill Training Center.
In the past year, the climate in New York racing has prompted as many as 1000 broodmares to ship to states where brighter forecasts are on the horizon. Be prepared for more adverse consequences if racing continues to be ridden into the ground.
The future of 400 breeding farms in New York, and that of numerous ancillary industries are in a quaking mode. The racing industry provides 40,000 jobs across the state. Horses provide opportunities to connect with nature. They require acres to run and develop, and to retire to when their racing careers are over. Race tracks, training tracks and their stabling areas preserve open-space in some of our most densely populated areas. Growing hay, grain and bedding is a green industry itself, and even horse manure serves an end purpose. With racing or even the amount of racing at risk, valuable real estate becomes in danger of being developed and more open-space could disappear. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg!
VLT’s are easier to handle than horses; their return per square-foot of real estate is higher than is that from racing, and their ability to be calibrated to insure profit is very enticing. But, they have a flaw; they are not horse enough to pull the burden of New York State’s tax appetite alone.
It is good to know that horses are not obsolete and that the wonderful tradition of horseracing does have a place in a world dominated by technology, but poorly executed strategies could allow for VLT’s to gain undesirable advantages. Like lost patrons, horses once relocated are not likely to return.
Racing is a tax revenue producing machine, but it requires expansive real estate to stage it. Aqueduct Race Course occupies 192 acres in South Ozone Park, Queens. Belmont Park is made up of 430 acres in Elmont, NY and Saratoga Race Course with its additional Oklahoma track sits on 350 acres in the heart of Saratoga Springs. Knowing the value of real estate and the immediate return its sale could generate causes concern for Bruno’s plan of creating an entity exclusive to real estate development. The silence of political planning is deafening.
It has to be considered that legislators may use management issues as decoys to lure our attention from their real agenda. The ownership and control of the real estate looms a larger issue than who writes the races or who operates the VLT’s. It has become a no holds barred wrestling match and just because we are not seeing the moves does not mean they are not taking place.
The NYRA/OTB/VLT trifecta is a multi billion dollar bet. If we are so naïve as to think that the only dogs on the scent have only the stewardship of lovely Saratoga or the preservation of the great history and tradition of horseracing on their minds; we could be in for a rude awakening.
Spurs need to be put to Governor Eliot Spitzer, state Assembly Speaker, Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno. It is time for them to put political agendas aside, pick up the reins and place this industry in position to win. They need to address the VLT issue and place it appropriately. We bet on them to lead us, but it was not on the ballot that we should be forced to follow them if they jump the rails.
It is post time for the public to make their collective voice heard or we can prepare to say "Dubai" to the best racing in the world.

Marilyn Lane, a free-lance writer has a lifelong association with horses. Her experience includes more than 20 years as an owner, trainer and breeder o fThoroughbreds. She was an assistant trainer for Hall of Fame trainer, Jack Van Berg during Alysheba’s racing career.

Monday, November 19, 2007

State parks chief will press for more funds
By LAURA INCALCATERRATHE JOURNAL NEWS(Original Publication: November 18, 2007)
N.Y. park facts
Number: 178 parks; 35 historic sitesAnnual visitors: 55 millionSize: 325,000 acres of land and waterBuildings: 5,000Camp sites: 8,355Miles of trails: 1,350Cabins: 817Bridges: 640Dams: 106Beaches: 76Swimming pools: 53Boat launch sites: 40Golf courses: 29Marinas: 27Nature centers: 18Most popular: Niagara Reservation - 7.8 million visitors annually, about as many as the Grand Canyon and Yosemite combined.Others with more than 1 million visitors yearly:- Jones Beach (6 million)- Rockland Lake (1.9)- Riverbank, NYC (1.7)- Allegany (1.4)- Sunken Meadow (1.3)- Harriman (1.3)- Bear Mountain (1.1)Sources: state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation; Parks and Trails New York. If this were your house, you'd probably try to sell it.
Instead, state Parks Commissioner Carol Ash is asking Gov. Eliot Spitzer and the Legislature to support increased funding so "critical" infrastructure improvements can be made to parks throughout New York.
Ash said she began a review of state park facilities in February, and had identified more than 750 "urgent critical" capital projects that will cost $600 million to $650 million to complete.
Among the problems she cited were outdated drinking water systems and sewer treatment plants, failing electrical systems, inactive landfills that had not been closed to state standards, and dams and bridges flagged as potential hazards.
Highlighting the problems during her appearance before representatives of the state Department of Budget Oct. 30, Ash said the problems also included nonworking bathrooms and showers, crumbling parking lots, and leaking roofs and swimming pools.
"Over the past 15 years, the state parks system expanded by 27 percent, including 29 new parks, and yet our capital budget, adjusted for inflation, has been reduced by half," Ash said. "The impact on the ground is obvious. We have underinvested in our state parks and historic sites, and they are showing it."
In 1992, there were 184 parks and historic sites, and the parks department's capital expenditures were $60 million, Ash said.
There are now 213 parks and historic sites, and 2007 capital spending will amount to $40 million. Ash said that when adjusted for inflation, today's capital budget bought 50 percent less than it did in 1992.
The need for significant funding increases for capital improvements is well known to Robin Dropkin, executive director of Parks and Trails New York, a citizens group of park advocates.
About a year ago, the organization issued a report on the state of New York's parks, highlighting some of the problems that Ash has focused on.
The organization visited 36 parks, including Bear Mountain, Harriman, Rockland Lake and Tallman Mountain, which are among the most visited in New York annually. The report cited an outright lack or an inadequate number of bathrooms, along with a lack of public information, including educational programs and basic interpretive signs, among the problems at the four parks.
Dropkin said time and use, coupled with a lack of infrastructure attention, were the main causes of the problems.
"The system is aging," Dropkin said. "A lot of the buildings were built in the 1930s ...There's only a certain amount of life to them."
Investing in the parks is important because they offer important value to the state, with 60 million people visiting annually, she said.
"That's a lot of people and a lot of quality of life enhancement," Dropkin said.
She said if the state thought it was important enough to make the investment to create the parks, it should think it important enough to preserve that investment by bringing them up to modern standards.
Spitzer and the Legislature provided some relief for 2007 by supporting funding to pay for 52 of the 250 jobs previously cut under the Pataki Administration.
Funding for capital projects was increased by $5 million, to $40 million, parks department spokeswoman Eileen Larrabee said Friday.
A spokesman for Sen. Thomas Morahan, R-New City, said Friday that the budget was put together by the governor, but that it made sense for legislators to be receptive to the idea of increased parks funding.
"If it helps the constituents in the senator's district, he's going to be responsive," the spokesman, Ron Levine, said.
Morahan would need to conduct a fact-finding review and receive input from various stakeholders before committing to any increased spending, Levine said.
Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, D-Greenburgh, said Friday that he visited state parks and was aware of their condition.
Ash needs to take action if she hopes to see a funding increase, he said.
"I'm assuming the commissioner will get to the governor and persuade the governor to increase funding," Brodsky said. "If he does so, I think there would be broad support for it."
One sign that Spitzer supports increased funding was seen when Judith Enck, whom he appointed deputy secretary for the environment, addressed the Budget Department prior to Ash.
Enck described increased infrastructure funding as "investing," and said it would aid the state's goals of revitalizing upstate communities and improving economic development through tourism and construction jobs.
Enck said state parks protected open space, especially in the rapidly developing Hudson Valley and on Long Island; provided recreational opportunities to lower-income residents, and encouraged people to become and stay physically active.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Election results for Saratoga Springs 2007, Glad to have it over at last!

www.capitalnews9.comSaratogians react to election resultsUpdated: 11/7/2007 2:50:05 PMBy: Erin Billups

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. -- It's clear in the headlines that Election Day resulted in huge upsets for the City of Saratoga Springs. A lot of change is in store and residents are looking forward to the future.
"Change, I voted against everybody that was in office because I didn't care for what they did," said Bob Eckhart of Saratoga Springs.
The biggest shocker - DPW Commissioner Tom McTygue is out, unseated after 32 years in office. Residents suggest years of alleged corruption may have caught up with him.
"DEC cleanup on the west side, illegal dumping over at the compost pile, just financially he runs the DPW ridiculous," said Chris Bennett of Saratoga Springs.
"You can't judge a book by its cover, and the cover was Saratoga Springs and the beautification and the awards and everything else that he wanted you to see. But he actually didn't want you to see what was happening in the inner works of the department," said DPW laborer and Saratoga Springs resident Frank Barone.
McTygue will be replaced by Republican Skip Scirocco. The upset comes hours after allegations that the McTygue camp was involved in an election day sign stealing fiasco.
"I guess he didn't pick up enough signs," said Eckhart.
Scirocco never pressed charges, and the case is closed. But on election night, McTygue knew the end was near.
"I didn't know when to cut and run, and I had to go out this way. It's unfortunate, but we've been very successful in this community. You know, it's like a true thoroughbred. Eventually if they put enough weight on your shoulders, you're going to lose the race," said McTygue.
The other surprise was Spa City Mayor Valerie Keehn's loss to Republican candidate Scott Johnson. It was a three-way race with Gordon Boyd running on the Independent ticket. Keehn supporters said Boyd spilt the vote. Others say it's another example of change.
"I guess she couldn't make a decision, somebody's got to make decisions down there," said Saratoga Springs resident John Anderson.
"Skip Sirocco came in, kicks out McTygue which is really important to the city, but unfortunately Keehn doesn't get two years to do what she really needs to do," said Bennett.
So now city council has two new Republicans and the majority. Residents are hopeful it all adds up to progress.
"Well I know both of them. I think they're gonna do well," said Anderson.
"I think they have the right team, that they'll listen to each other and they'll work for the city," said Barone.Copyright © 2007 TWEAN d.b.a. Capital News 9

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Outrageous and sad report by NYS Parks Commissioner Carol Ash on state of our Parks

Comments by Commissioner Carol Ash
FY2008-09 Parks Capital Funding Budget Hearing:New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation
October 30, 2007

Thank you for inviting me here today to discuss the challenges and opportunitiesfacing New York’s State Parks.I am joined this morning by Andy Beers, our Executive Deputy Commissioner, PeteFinn, our Deputy Commissioner for Finance and Administration, and other members of ourExecutive Team.
The State Park system – is made up of 178 Parks and 35 Historic Sites. Our system of325,000 acres of lands and waters – is widely recognized as one of the best in the nation. Ourfacilities host more than 55 million visitors annually. Among the fifty states, we rank first inthe number of operating facilities, and, when campgrounds operated by DEC are includedwith ours, first in the total number of campsites. We are fifth in total acreage and third in totalannual visitation.Niagara Falls State Park’s annual attendance of 7.8 million visitors is greater than thatof Grand Canyon and Yosemite National Parks combined. And more than six million peoplevisit Jones Beach each year—twice the number that visit Yellowstone. Niagara Falls,established in 1885, is the oldest state park in the nation, and Washington’s Headquarters,established in 1850, is the first publicly-owned state historic site. The Bethpage Black wasthe first publicly-owned golf course to host the U.S. Open Golf Championship in 2002. The109th United States Open Championship will return there in 2009.New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic PreservationNelson A. Rockefeller Empire State PlazaAgency Building 1Albany, NY 12238518 474-0443
2New York’s State Parks huge inventory of public recreational facilities include 5,000buildings, 29 golf courses, 53 swimming pools, 76 beaches, 27 marinas, 40 boat launchingsites, 18 nature centers, 817 cabins, 8,355 campsites, more than 1,350 miles of trails, 106dams, 640 bridges, hundreds of miles of roads, and dozens of historic structures listed on theState and National Registers of Historic Places. Over the last twelve years, the State Parkssystem expanded by more than 25%, adding 66,000 acres and 26 new parks.Since my confirmation as Commissioner in May, I’ve toured all eleven park regions,visiting more than 100 of our Parks and Historic Sites. A major theme has emerged fromthese visits: our State Parks face huge capital investment needs. Simply stated, the StateParks system is suffering from decades of underinvestment, with the result that ourrecreational facilities and infrastructure are in dire need of rehabilitation and replacement.Many parks have significant health and safety concerns that require immediate attention. Ourpark buildings and infrastructure are aging and deteriorating, diminishing the outdoorexperience for those 55 million people who come to our parks every year. Furthermore, manyof the agency’s newest acquisitions lack basic amenities and recreational facilities that wouldallow the public to enjoy these new parks.Last fall, a statewide parks advocacy group, Parks and Trails New York, issued anindependent report entitled “Parks at a Turning Point: Restoring and Enhancing New York’sState Park System.” This report recognized New York’s magnificent parks and historic sites,but highlighted urgent funding needs for the agency, both on the capital side and theoperational side. The Parks and Trails report made several recommendations, most notablycalling for a major new capital investment initiative. Since the release of that report,Newsday, the Albany Times Union, the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, the SchenectadyGazette, the Watertown Times, and other publications have joined in calling for therevitalization of the State Parks.As the new Parks Commissioner, my first priority has been to gain a comprehensiveunderstanding of the size and scope of the agency’s capital needs. Last February, I initiated a3statewide review, gathering detailed information on the most pressing capital improvementneeds across our 213 State Parks and Historic Sites. To date this assessment has identifiedmore than 750 urgent critical capital projects with a total cost in the range of $600 to$650 million. OPRHP’s capital needs fall into four categories:1. Health and Safety Projects. The State Parks face a number of health and safetyissues. We have outdated drinking water systems that need to be replaced. We haveaging sewage treatment systems that have exceeded their useful life. We have damson the state’s “high hazard” list that do not meet modern dam safety standards, andbridges that have been flagged as potential hazards. We have failing electricalsystems and underground petroleum storage tanks that must be removed. And wehave landfills that, although inactive for many years, were never closed to DECstandards.2. Rehabilitation of Existing Facilities. This category is by far the largest, comprisingapproximately 65% of OPHRP’s total identified capital needs. It encompasses capitalrehabilitation of existing infrastructure in the Parks and Historic Sites – replacingfacilities that have long exceeded their practical and operational effectiveness and arein various stages of disrepair, including roofs, heating and plumbing systems, contactstations, campgrounds, boat launches, picnic shelters, recreation fields, pools,swimming areas, visitor centers, bathrooms, roads, parking areas, hiking trails, andmaintenance centers. It also includes a significant backlog of repair and maintenanceneeds for historic buildings and structures at our Historic Sites, as well as energyefficiencyinvestments in aging buildings.3. New Facilities Development. This category captures capital investments needed todevelop new facilities – primarily public use amenities at the 26 new State Parks.Many of these new parks consist of a sign, a car pull-off, and little else. Investmentsare needed to create entrance areas, parking areas, restrooms, trail systems, and picnicand swimming areas, to make these new acquisitions available to the public.44. Natural Resource Stewardship. The State Parks’ natural resources – plants, wildlife,and ecosystems – face varied threats, such as pollution of lakes and rivers, impairedwetlands, invasive species, soil erosion, global warming, and sea level rise. We haveidentified a number of park-specific projects to restore habitats and ecosystems neededto assure that natural resources in the State Parks remain “unimpaired for futuregenerations.”In addition, two separate areas in which we are involved require significant capitalinvestments. One is the need to continue the development of the major waterfront parks inNew York City. These projects, which are partnerships between New York State and the Cityof New York, include the Hudson River Park, the Brooklyn Bridge Park, and Governor’sIsland. Secondly, the capital needs described above do not include investments needed tomaintain state campgrounds and recreational facilities in the Adirondack and Catskill Parks,which are under the jurisdiction of our sister agency, the Department of EnvironmentalConservation led by Commissioner Pete Grannis.Certainly, over the past decade some capital improvements have been made in some ofour parks and historic sites. New visitor centers have been built, bathhouses have beenrehabilitated, utilities have been upgraded, water systems have been replaced. But clearly theagency has not had sufficient resources to meet the need.In my travels across the state, I’ve seen many sobering things. I’ve seen bathroomsthat don’t work and shower buildings I’d be embarrassed to take my family to. I’ve seenleaking roofs, crumbling foundations, and worn out facilities. I’ve seen a 52-year oldswimming pool that we had to close and demolish because it was leaking 30,000 gallons ofpotable water a day. I’ve seen basketball courts made unusable by cracked asphalt, rustedbackboards, and bent rims. I’ve seen water spigots in our campgrounds marked with signsreading “do not drink this water or use it to wash dishes.” I’ve seen badly eroded hiking trailsand woodlands and marshes choked with invasive plants. I’ve seen asbestos tiles andinsulation that must be removed from public spaces. I’ve seen the remains of historicallysignificantbuildings that were demolished due to a lack of maintenance funds. I’ve seen5paved parking lots that have deteriorated to the point where we actually have to mow them, toprevent grass and weeds from igniting visitors’ cars into flame. And I’ve seen cabins, that wecharge the public a fee to use, that are literally held together with duct tape and spray-foamfrom a can.Let me emphasize that these findings are not a criticism of State Parks staff. To thecontrary, we are fortunate to have a highly dedicated, hard-working staff of 2,240 men andwomen – many of whom have dedicated their careers to the State Parks system. Within theresources provided to the agency, staff has done an admirable job of keeping our facilitiesopen and available to the public. Our State Parks and Historic Sites remain beautiful places –accessible and affordable to all New Yorkers who want to enjoy nature, take a hike, pitch atent, have a picnic, throw around a baseball, or learn about our history and environment.But while the challenges facing the State Parks and Historic Sites systems have grown,our capital budget has not. Over the past 15 years, the size of our system expanded from 184sites in 1992, to 213 today – an increase of 29 new facilities. The lands and waters under ourstewardship went from 257,000 acres in 1992 to 326,000 acres today – an increase of 27%.But over this same period, our capital budget was cut. Our actual capital expendituresin 1992 were $60 million. This year, our capital expenditures from all sources will be $40million. Adjusted for inflation, our capital budget today buys 50% less than it did in 1992.Let me reiterate this. Over the past 15 years the State Parks system expanded by 27%,including 29 new parks, and yet our capital budget, adjusted for inflation, has been reduced byhalf. The impact on the ground is obvious– we have underinvested in our State Parks andHistoric Sites, and they are showing it.Fortunately, OPRHP’s current year budget, proposed last April by Governor Spitzerand enacted by the Legislature, was an important first step in reversing this trend. The budgetrestored 52 of the 250 staff positions lost for facility maintenance, park operations, and6natural resource stewardship, and increased the agency’s capital budget by approximately $5million. These increases are greatly appreciated.However, even with this year’s increase, the agency’s total available capital fundingthis year – including state funds, federal support, mitigation funds, and private contributions –is approximately $40 million. Measured against the size of the need – a backlog of some$650 million in urgent capital needs – $40 million cannot begin to reverse the decline facingour State Parks and Historic Sites. Therefore, I intend to work with the Governor, ExecutiveChamber staff, the Division of Budget, and the Legislature to develop a comprehensive planto revitalize New York’s State Parks and Historic Sites. Key elements should include:• A multi-year plan is needed to address the large backlog of capital projects facing ourparks. This problem developed over several decades. It will require a sustained effortto solve, with a multi-year, dependable commitment of funds.• The federal government must be a partner in this effort. Federal funding for StateParks projects has all but disappeared. This year, New York State’s allocation fromthe primary source of federal parks funding – the Land & Water Conservation Fund –is only $2 million. We must work closely with our Congressional delegation toincrease funds allocated to New York from the LWCF and other federal programs.• While New York State will be the primary source of capital funds, we should alsoincrease our efforts to raise private contributions – from private individuals,foundations, Friends Groups, and the corporate world. New York’s State Parks andHistoric Sites have benefitted from more than a century of private philanthropicsupport. We need to continue this legacy.I am fully aware of the difficult financial climate facing New York State.Nonetheless, I believe a major initiative to restore our Parks is a sound economic investmentfor New York State. Parks can and do make a major contribution to the Governor’s efforts torevitalize local communities across the state. Numerous studies have shown that quality of7life and livable communities are a major driver in attracting and retaining businesses, largeand small.In addition, recreational and heritage tourism is a major component of our state’seconomy, particularly throughout upstate New York. In fact a survey undertaken this pastsummer indicates that nearly eighty percent of park visitors participate in dining, shoppingand recreational activities outside the park during a park visit.And, finally, investment in parks capital projects will create engineering andconstruction-related jobs across the state, many involving small businesses.In closing, I want to underscore that New York has a magnificent State Parks system.The majesty of Niagara Falls, the dramatic cliffs of Bear Mountain, the windswept oceanshoreline at Jones Beach, the deep woods of Allegany State Park, the historic charm ofSaratoga Spa, the sweeping vistas in Letchworth State Park – these are New York’s defininglandscapes.But the fact remains that we haven’t invested sufficient funds to maintain our parks.New Yorkers deserve more – they deserve nothing less than a commitment to return our StateParks to pre-eminence as the finest park system in the nation.Thank you, and I’d be happy to answer any questions you may have.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Alert! Every concerned citizen should email the "3 men in a room" to save horse racing in Saratoga and New York State right now.

Industry fears for horse racing’s future
Thoroughbred owners call for action in Albany
BY LEE COLEMAN Gazette Reporter Thoroughbred horse trainers, breeders and owners believe something needs to be done immediately about the future of racing in New York State. What will happen at the Saratoga, Aqueduct and Belmont race tracks after January 1 is currently very uncertain, a panel of experts from the horse racing industry said Thursday. The New York Racing Association’s franchise to operate the three tracks ends Dec. 31. But no decision from Albany on who will operate the three major tracks in 2008 seems likely any time soon, the experts said. “No one knows right now,” said thoroughbred trainer H. James Bond, who operates his large training center at NYRA’s Oklahoma Training Track in Saratoga Springs. “It’s a scary situation for everyone,” Bond said during a public forum on the future of racing in New York State held at the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame on Union Avenue. The program was attended by approximately 200 people. They came to hear what horse trainers, horse breeders and a county economic planner have to say about what will happen when NYRA’s franchise ends. “I’m very concerned as a trainer, I’m concerned for the [horse] owners, I’m concerned for the town itself and for my people,” Bond said. The horsemen are worried that if Aqueduct doesn’t hold its annual winter racing meet, more than 2,000 thoroughbred horses will be transported to other states for racing and training. Later in the year, if the Saratoga Race Course on Union Avenue doesn’t hold its annual summer racing meet, the Saratoga County economy would be severely impacted, said Lawrence Benton, coordinator of a Saratoga County study on the economic impact of racing to the county. But all was not doom and gloom. “I’m confident something will happen,” said Richard Violette, a horse trainer and president of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association. Violette said he has been spending time in Albany in recent weeks, talking to key legislators and representatives of the governor. “The politicians understand there is urgency,” Violette said. “If the doors [at Aqueduct] didn’t open January 1, there would be a couple thousand horses with no place to train and race,” Violette said. His recommendation: Lock state Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, Gov. Eliot Spitzer, and state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver in a room. Nobody gets out until decision is made about who operates the three thoroughbred race tracks in 2008, Violette joked. Chris Dragone, executive director of the New York State Thoroughbred Breeders Inc., said the more than 1,000 horse breeders in his organization are also very concerned. “The clock is ticking, so to speak,” Dragone said. “We are at a crossroads.” He said that since 2004 some 1,000 breeding mares have been transported from New York to other states. “Horse racing has to come first and foremost and not politics,” Dragone said. Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito was connected to the panel by a telephone speaker hookup. “I believe Saratoga is a gift from God,” Zito said. “The politicians should understand that.” Zito, like the others, said the time has passed for discussion. The time has come for action in Albany. Benton said 53 of the 400 horse farms in New York State are in Saratoga County. He said the hotels being built at several locations in Saratoga Springs are built on the concept that July and August, when the track is running, will make their year. “We are all worried about where racing is going,” said Michael Veitch, a local racing journalist and panel moderator. “We are all worried about Jan. 1.” “We are talking about those people working in this game,” he said. “It’s a pretty urgent thing we are dealing with.” Members of the audience asked what they could do. The panelists suggested writing, phoning, and e-mailing legislators such as Sen. Bruno, urging him to resolve the situation so New York State horse racing has a bright future.

Senator Joseph Bruno
Governor Spitzer

Speaker Sheldon Silver

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Saratoga Spa State Park&Moreau being torn up for pipes for Politics& "chips" ?

Water quarrel at a boil
By ALYSON MARTIN,amartin@poststar.com
Published: Tuesday, October 23, 2007
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MOREAU -- As work on the Saratoga County water line continues, questions have been raised about the legality of laying pipeline in Moreau Lake State Park and the Saratoga Spa State Park.Both of the parks have experienced disruption during the construction of a 28-mile water pipeline planned to stretch throughout northern Saratoga County.About 5.3 miles of piping has already been installed, and work is now in progress on property in both parks, according to Eric Sievers, project engineer.The pipeline is part of a project to bring a water source from the Hudson River in Moreau to the Luther Forest Technology Campus in Malta, all in anticipation of a spike in population when the Advanced Micro Device's microchip plant arrives in the area, said Moreau Town Supervisor Harry Gutheil.
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Alec Mackay, president of Saratoga Water Services in Malta and the Luther Forest Corporation -- both privately owned companies -- has filed two lawsuits against the county.His lawyer, John Caffry of Glens Falls, said Mackay thinks the project is unnecessary and could cause a negative environmental impact.While Mackay says he supports the Luther Forest Technology Campus, he believes there were better options to pursue to bring water to the area."They have no customers. They have only two customers for very small amounts of money. The main customer they seem to be counting on is the potential (microchip) plant," Caffry said.One of Mackay's lawsuits is challenging the water permit issued by the Department of Environmental Conservation.According to Caffry, the DEC must first determine a clear need for a water supply when issuing a water-supply permit.

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With so few customers, there is no need, Caffry said.There was no demonstrated need for the pipeline and the county misled the DEC when various towns said they wanted some of the water, but later backed out, Mackay said.That case is pending in Albany, Caffry said.The DEC is reviewing Mackay's claims to see if the use of the pipeline is consistent with environmental conservation law, said Maureen Wren, spokeswoman for the DEC.The application did meet the DEC's standards for issuance, Wren said.

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"Each application is reviewed based on the specifics of the proposal," Wren said.Bill Simcoe, executive director of the Saratoga County Water Authority, said Wilton, Ballston and the Luther Forest Technology Campus are all customers, and the pipeline will likely pay for itself within five years."Of course, having this type of thing, it doesn't pay for itself at first. It relies on the growth," Simcoe said. "It's putting new infrastructure in place so you can attract new business to the county. Each of the areas we're running through, they're growing areas, and they need more water."Mackay also filed a lawsuit over what he considered violations of state Environmental Conservation Law.A portion of the law, Article XIV, section 1, reads, "The lands of the state, now owned or hereafter acquired, constituting the forest preserve as now fixed by law, shall be forever kept as wild forest lands. They shall not be leased, sold or exchanged, or be taken by any corporation, public or private, nor shall the timber thereon be sold, removed or destroyed."
Mackay argues that the parks constitute state forest preserves and therefore may not be changed in any way.The case involving environmental impact has been dismissed for lack of standing, Caffry said.However, according to Eileen Larrabee, director of communications for the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, state environmental conservation law applies to the land of neither park in this particular example."It was never part of the forest preserve. It was obtained by the state for recreational purposes," Larrabee said.Nonetheless, Mackay is firm on his stance, Caffry said.
Mackay expressed his concerns in letters to several state agencies, including the state office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and the Department of Environmental Conservation.In one letter to Carol Ash, commissioner of the State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Caffry wrote on behalf of Mackay: "The project appears to be being driven by political and development interest, not by actual current demand for the water. State parks should not be unnecessarily damaged and the areas around them should not be sacrificed to suburban sprawl, when there is no public need for the project."The 36-inch piping will carry about 14 million gallons per day. The increase in water supply in Saratoga County will inevitably lead to development throughout the county, Mackay said."... it appears that the principal purpose of the Water Project is to subsidize suburban sprawl along the Northway Corridor in Saratoga County," the letter read.The pipeline will travel through both Saratoga Spa State Park and Moreau Lake State Park. About two miles of piping will be installed in Saratoga Spa State Park, about one mile in Moreau Lake State Park, Larrabee said.
The state parks office will receive $300,000 from the Saratoga Water Authority for both parks, to cover some brush loss and to compensate for a building that will be erected at the site of the water intake from the Hudson River, Larrabee said.When the original drawings were shown, the office expressed concerns over the removal of some trees, Larrabee said."We were able to work with them to save some trees, and we received some mitigation funds for any kind of impact the project might have on the parks from the water authority. That money will be used at the parks," Larrabee said. "Where there will be impact, we work to minimize impact."According to Sievers, portions of the the golf course at Saratoga Spa State Park will be disrupted within the next three to four weeks. Next year's golf season should not be affected, he said.Work on the pipeline is scheduled to end in the summer of 2008. Work on the water plant will continue until 2009, Sievers said.
Some contractors are choosing to work throughout the winter, while others will stop for colder months and resume in the spring, Sievers said.While the pipeline continues to be laid, he said, residents can expect to see the work and hear some noise, but they will not notice the pipes once the project is finished.» Subscribe to The Post-Star and save! Click here to find out how » Subscribe to email and cell phone alerts and breaking news
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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Attendance up at Saratoga Region State Parks 128%

September 07, 2007
Contact:Eileen LarrabeeCathy Jimenez518.486.1868
Patrons Visiting State Parks for Labor Day Weekend Increase by 72% Over Last YearGreat Fall Activities Await
New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Commissioner Carol Ash said today announced that attendance at state parks and historic sites for the Labor Day weekend was up by 72 percent (690,000 visitors) from last year for a total of 1,653,000 visitors. Visitation also increased during the entire peak summer season (Memorial Day through Labor Day) by 8 percent (2.4 million visitors) over last year.
"Across New York, increasing numbers of families and friends gathered at our parks and historic sites during the warm summer months to enjoy recreational activities and to experience the diverse natural resources throughout the state," said Ash. "As the autumn season approaches and brings cooler weather and vibrant foliage, I encourage New Yorkers to make plans to enjoy great outdoor activities such as hiking, mountain biking and trail running, camping and fishing."
According to Ash, attendance over the Labor Day weekend increased in each of the State Parks eleven regions. The New York City region experienced a dramatic increase of 220 percent over 2006, welcoming more than 143,800 visitors to the parks. The Finger Lakes region had substantial increases as well which resulted in an increase of 56,000 visitors or 123 percent over last year. Parks and historic sites in the Taconic region saw more than 71,800 visitors over the holiday weekend, a 135 percent increase from the previous year.
According to Ash, attendance over the Labor Day weekend increased in each of the State Parks eleven regions. The New York City region experienced a dramatic increase of 220 percent over 2006, welcoming more than 143,800 visitors to the parks. The Finger Lakes region had substantial increases as well which resulted in an increase of 56,000 visitors or 123 percent over last year. Parks and historic sites in the Taconic region saw more than 71,800 visitors over the holiday weekend, a 135 percent increase from the previous year.
Additionally, occupancy at State Parks campgrounds and cabins for the Labor Day weekend totaled 87 percent versus 72 percent last year. According to Ash, over half a million people camped in New York State parks this year, an increase of more 70,000 over last year. The average camping trip lasted four days, and reservations at New York State park campgrounds increased by more than 10,000 this year.
Ash noted that many parks remain open for camping through mid-October, and encourages campers to contact the park for specific hours of operation.
State Parks oversees 67 campgrounds with more than 8,000 campsites, 800 cabins and 41 vacation rentals. Camping reservations are available through ReserveAmerica, which provides online and phone reservations for campsites throughout New York. Reservations are accepted for campsites and cabins from one day to nine months in advance of the planned arrival date by calling toll free 1-800-456-CAMP or online, www.ReserveAmerica.com Campers are reminded not to bring their own firewood and to use only firewood from local sources.
The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation oversees 178 state parks, 35 historic sites, 29 golf courses and 77 developed beaches. For more information on any of these recreation areas, call 518-474-0456 or visit www.nysparks.com.
Labor Day Holiday Weekend: For the three day period Saturday, September 1; Sunday September 2; and Monday, September 3, 2007 vs. Saturday, September 2; Sunday, September 3; and Monday, September 4, 2006
Park Region
Western New York
Central NY / Finger Lakes
Finger Lakes
Thousand Islands
Eastern NY / Hudson Valley
Saratoga/Capital District
New York City / Long Island
New York City
Long Island

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Mayor Debate of October 9, 2007, Saratoga Springs

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(dis)Utopia of Saratoga Springs
Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Debate Info From Tech Valley Times
Each of the League of Women Voters' city of Saratoga Springs debates will be available ONLINE two days after each live-taping. Two of the access points will be WORD OF MOBILE and NANO BURGH.Also, based on our recommendation, the LWV has agreed to also re-broadcast the sessions on Time Warner's local Govt Access channel. Here is that schedule:October 9 Session: Airs Oct 16 & 17 @ 8PMOctober 15 Session: Airs Oct 19 & 23 @ 8PMOctober 17 Session: Airs Oct 24 & 25 @ 8PM

Friday, October 05, 2007

USA Today on Roosevelt Baths, 10/5/07


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Saratoga baths to offer water options following flap
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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. (AP) — People who use the famed "natural mineral water" baths at Saratoga Spa State Park will soon be able to soak in a tub filled entirely with heated mineral water, defusing a flap over what some saw as adulteration of the quintessential Saratoga Springs experience.
Around 14,000 customers come to the baths each year and pay $20 to soak in the bubbly waters.
But there was controversy earlier this year after the New York Post reported the mineral water was being mixed with municipal tap water. The state and the company that operates the Roosevelt baths — Xanterra Parks & Resorts — were combining heated public drinking water with the cold carbonated mineral waters pumped up from below ground.
The state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation said that as of 2008, customers will be able to choose between the blended bath and one solely of heated mineral water.
Earlier this summer, the agency announced that Delaware North Parks & Resorts will assume control of the baths and the Gideon Putnam Hotel and Conference Center as of Jan. 1.
FIND MORE STORIES IN: Resorts Saratoga Spa State Park
Details at http://www.saratogaspastatepark.org/rooseveltbaths.html.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Saratogian, 9/26/07-"It's a beautiful hot day--open the pool!"

Once again it is 86 degrees, the skies are azure blue as it has been on so many days in June and September 2007. The Victoria Pool still surrounded with magnificent flowers sits empty with its crystal clear water and Saratogians must make do with other venues. What a shame that our tax dollars so hard fought and won to rehabilitate the Victoria Pool are being wasted with a closed Pool for only the chipmunks and squirrels to enjoy.

Louise J. Goldstein&Andrew M. Jennings, Co-Founders
Save the Victoria Pool Society

Monday, September 24, 2007

SPAC renovations delayed by legislature

Panel: SPAC's renovation plans face delay
Funding needed quickly if work is to be complete by next summer, board says

By STEVE BARNES, Senior writer Click byline for more stories by writer. First published: Saturday, September 22, 2007
COLONIE -- The next phase of renovations at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, originally planned to be completed by next summer, will have to be postponed if state money promised for the project is not made available within the next few weeks, SPAC's board of directors learned Friday.
"The funding is tied up," John Nigro told fellow board members during the governing body's fall meeting at the Desmond Hotel. At a board meeting earlier this year, Nigro said he was "definitely expecting favorable news" about a state OK on a request of $2.1 million for a complete renovation of the exterior of SPAC's amphitheater. It would complement an interior overhaul unveiled at the beginning of the 2007 season.
Unless the funds are freed up before Oct. 15, Nigro told the board, "the project will not be complete by May of next year."
A six-month impasse has left parts of the state budget unresolved, including capital projects.
In more positive news, SPAC expects a $100,000 surplus for the third straight year, after a decade and a half of running deficits of about $500,000 annually.
"All in all, we're in very good shape," Rick Geary, SPAC's chief financial officer, told the board. He said SPAC shows increases over last year in a variety of financial columns including income, assets and investments; SPAC's endowment is $4.1 million, up $600,000 from a year ago, due mostly to gains from annual returns averaging 14 percent, Geary said.
Attendance and sales revenue for the classical season -- which includes the Philadelphia Orchestra, Freihofer's Jazz Festival, the New York City Ballet and the Saratoga Chamber Music Festival -- increased this summer, with attendance rising 8 percent and income increasing 13 percent over 2006.
The orchestra, jazz festival and chamber seasons showed clear growth. Ballet attendance was marginally up from last year, when there were three fewer performances than in 2007; but it had shrunk by 21 percent when compared to 2005, the most recent year in which the ballet gave a full season of 21 performances.
The ballet and orchestra seasons each lost about $1 million, as has long been the case. City Ballet's residency costs $110,000 per performance to present; the orchestra, which performs less frequently, costs $163,000 per concert night. Ticket sales cover about 50 percent of SPAC's costs, with the remainder made up by fundraising.
Steve Barnes can be reached at 454-5489 or by e-mail at sbarnes@timesunion.com.
All Times Union materials copyright 1996-2007, Capital Newspapers

Friday, September 21, 2007

Roosevelt Baths promised to be bubbly again!

Hot baths lose tap
By JIM KINNEY , The Saratogian
Mineral waters will no longer be diluted SARATOGA SPRINGS - Visitors to the Roosevelt Baths in Saratoga Spa State Park will be able to soak their cares away in piping hot - and undiluted - mineral water by the time tourist season rolls around next year, according to an agreement announced Thursday by the state.Delaware North Companies - the firm that won the right this summer to operate the Gideon Putnam Hotel and Conference Center for 20 years starting in January - has agreed to spend $450,000 on improvements to the New Deal-era bathhouse. That work will include four new water heaters to heat the park's famous mineral water to bath temperatures."That's wonderful news," city Public Works Commissioner Thomas McTygue said. "I know it's something Senator Bruno has been working on."The bathhouse has been using hot city water to warm and dilute the mineral water for about 20 years. The minerals in the spring water at the park fouled water heaters.In March, Fred Dicker of the New York Post wrote about city water being used at the baths, prompting storms of protest. One of the people who voiced displeasure was state Sen. Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, R-Brunswick. He represents Saratoga Springs.After he got involved, the state hired the engineering firm of Malcolm Pirnie to find out if it is even feasible to heat the mineral water consistently. That study resulted in Thursday's agreement, according to a news release.The mineral waters with their health benefits are the whole reason the Spa State Park exists."It makes a difference. I've been talking to some of the old- timers," McTygue said. "It makes a difference in the bubbles and how you float in the bath."Also, it's a simple question of fairness, he said. The current operators of the Roosevelt, Xanterra Resorts, charges $25 for a 40-minute mineral bath. Full spa treatments can run as high as $315."Then to have it mostly be municipal tap water," McTygue said. "I don't think so."Eileen Larrabee, spokeswoman for the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation said the $450,000 in improvements announced Thursday will also include new furniture, window treatments, decorations and a revamped lobby. There will be coffee, tea and lunch service as well as a relaxation/solitude room with a water feature.All told, Delaware North has committed to more than $10 million in improvements throughout the park over 20 years and also $2 million in improvements to the Gideon Putnam specifically.Those numbers are minimums, though, Larrabee said. The state is still working out its agreement with Delaware North. "We should have that agreement in about six weeks," she said. The company already runs Saratoga Gaming and Raceway as well as park and resort properties around the country.
The state will also start work on a full-scale master plan for the park - including golf courses, trails bathhouses etc. - by the end of this year."It's basically a complete assessment," Larrabee said.The master plan would also include public input sessions. It wouldn't be completed until 2008 or 2009. Reach Jim Kinney at jkinney@saratogian.com or call 583-8729 ext.216
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Thursday, September 20, 2007

New York City Ballet SAFE for 2008--needs long-term commitment from SPAC

NYC Ballet back in '08
By PAUL POST , The Saratogian
SARATOGA SPRINGS - Saratoga Performing Arts Center is expected to introduce a new marketing director, review financials and discuss upcoming marketing initiatives at Friday's 2 p.m. board meeting, slated for the Desmond-Americana in Colonie.SPAC President Marcia White said the New York City Ballet has made a firm commitment to return for the 2008 season, despite this year's 7 percent decline in average attendance.The ballet drew 45,034 patrons for its three-week summer residency, up from 43,178 in 2006, but this year's program had three more performances, meaning average attendance fell from 2,398 to 2,144, a difference of 254 per show."They will be back at Saratoga for another season, but people need to support the ballet," White said.The ballet and Philadelphia Orchestra have annual losses of about $1 million each in Saratoga. Donations, gifts and SPAC's endowment make up the difference from ticket sale shortfalls.Previously, White has said SPAC's financial future needs to become more stable and secure before long-term deals with NYCB can be worked out. Currently, SPAC continues to work with the ballet on a year-to-year basis."There's nothing bad about that," White said. "That's pretty much the way we have the orchestra as well. You're always looking at costs."In early 2004, SPAC announced it was dropping the ballet for financial reasons, resulting in a firestorm of protests that prompted a state audit of SPAC's business practices and the eventual departure of former President Herb Chesbrough. Despite community outcry and statements from state and local officials about the New York City Ballet's economic importance to the region, attendance continues to decline."There is so much competition in this area for events," White said. "There's just an awful lot of activity."Meanwhile, orchestra attendance rose 10 percent this year, and turnout for the Freihofer's Jazz Festival was at its highest level in five years, 12 percent more than 2006 figures. White said SPAC's recent Wine and Food Festival also had strong support.SPAC has hired a new marketing director, Shane Williams-Ness, to replace Vesna Gjaja who will be leaving at month's end. Williams-Ness comes to SPAC from Sawchuk Brown Associates, one of the Capital District's leading public relations firms.Visitors to SPAC enjoyed a variety of interior amphitheater improvements this year, highlighted by all-new padded seating. Work began last fall, continued throughout the winter and was completed this spring - the second phase of multi-year capital improvement plan.Phase three calls for $2.5 million worth of exterior improvements, such as painting the front facade, installing new lighting and renovating ramps leading to the balcony. Funding would come from the state, but it's unclear if money will be made available for work to be done prior to the 2008 summer season.

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©The Saratogian 2007

Sunday, September 09, 2007

SPAC Board&Saratoga Chamber need to wake up and promote New York City Ballet

print story back
SPAC must make the ballet season pop

By PAUL BRAY First published: Sunday, September 9, 2007
Ballet is dead, long live ballet, or so I thought after reading about Bard College in Monocle magazine.
Bard, located about 50 miles south of Albany, is a "cultural powerhouse" and "ready to pop." Bard President Leon Botstein "believes that classical music is an endangered species," but he still "wants it presented in a way that audiences can relate to."
This summer I despaired at the number of empty seats at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (a 10 percent decrease in attendance from the previous year) for the dazzling performances of the New York City Ballet. Presenters of ballet and other classical arts face challenging times with declining audiences. But as Botstein at Bard demonstrates, challenges can be surmounted. SPAC should and can be a cultural powerhouse. It especially should pop during the three weeks of ballet in July.
The City Ballet is about excellence wrapped in the beauty of artfully choreographed movement and music. SPAC and our region should also be about excellence. For three weeks each year, we and visitors from around the world should fill the theater and lawn for each performance of the finest in ballet.
Here are three ways to make SPAC pop in July: better packaging, better understanding of how to attract an audience; and getting our economic developers to understand that it is all about excellence.
Begin by making the ballet's residency the center piece of the Saratoga Dance Festival to be as world renown as festivals in Edinburgh, Spoleto and Salzburg. The City Ballet is world class. In July, whoever thinks about ballet should think Saratoga.
Potential partners like Skidmore, the Dance Museum and regional performing arts venues should be enlisted to coordinate efforts and offer dance and other related performances to complement the main stage. Some hoopla in the state park and on Broadway in Saratoga Springs could add to the festive atmosphere. Make it festive and Saratoga becomes a New York state showcase and the dance place to be in July.
SPAC's board needs to address the price consciousness of local residents. That price consciousness is part of the local culture and it is not related to how much money there is locally to spend on the ballet. The richest people I've known have been tight wads. They need to know that they are getting value for the money they spend. They like to think they are getting a bargain even when they are not.
It is more important to fill all the seats than to despair that something is being given away too cheaply. Smart venues play price sensitivity like a virtuoso plays a violin with freebies and bargains, building an audience that still ends up paying its share.
Finally, the ballet must be recognized as a symbol of excellence. Excellence is what being a successful player in the high-tech economy is about. Arts and excellence attracts the "creative class" that drives tech economies, but its positive effect is deeper than that. Cities and regions like New York City, Chicago and San Francisco thrive because excellence in sports, arts, food, urban life and architecture is expected.
Having the City Ballet here each summer makes the statement that we value and can attract excellence. A performance in a half empty theater sends the message that we are bush league, that we do not know excellence or are unwilling to support it.
We should ask this question: What are our chambers of commerce and economic growth promoters doing to highlight the ballet and show the world that this region values excellence?
They are not doing as much as they should and could. We need to keep our economic developers feet to the fire when it comes to doing more than just being Tech Valley cheerleaders to attract the businesses they want. They need to lead when it comes to making this region the best it can be in all things. If we are attractive in the arts, environment, urban life and education, tech development will happen.
Ballet as performed by the New York City Ballet is not just for gray heads. Dance has been an element of civilization since civilizations began. Responding to it is very much ingrained in all of us: young, middle age and elderly.
Instead of wringing his hands over a decline in classical arts, Botstein at Bard is taking chances investing in world class architecture and arts, and making things happen. Let us hope the leaders in our region can follow in those foot steps.
Paul M. Bray is founding president of the Albany Roundtable, a civic lunch forum. His e-mail address is Secsunday@aol.com.
All Times Union materials copyright 1996-2007, Capital Newspapers Division of The Hearst Corporation, Albany, N.Y.HOME CONTACT US SUBSCRIBE TO NEWSPAPER HOW TO ADVERTISE PRIVACY RIGHTS COPYRIGHT CLASSROOM ENRICHMENT

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Hall of Springs cherubs back at work at last.

Spa State Park repairs fountains
By JIM KINNEY , The Saratogian
SARATOGA SPRINGS - For more than 30 years, people have just walked past the four fountains at the Hall of Springs in Saratoga Spa State Park without noticing the coral-colored stonework, the carved cornucopias and the stone cherubs, their cheeks puffed out with that distinctive fountain-head look."They were hidden by shrubs and it just sort of blended in with the rest of the building," said Mike Greenslade, park manager for Saratoga Spa State Park. "But that won't happen now, especially once they are all up and running."Maintenance staff at the park have already gotten two of the four fountains, the two on the south side of the building within the Saratoga Performing Arts Center gates, running. Workers have one of the larger fountains on the north side, nearer to the Hall of Springs entrance, almost ready to go. The other north-side fountain is still pulled apart, waiting for workers to install new grout between the stone blocks to make it watertight once again.Greenslade said maintenance workers have squeezed work on the fountains in between other projects all summer."It takes two people three or four days to get one working again," he said.Not that he's taking credit. He didn't know the crews were working on the fountains until a maintenance director took him on a tour a few weeks ago."We are always looking for little projects like this that we can knock off," he said.Work includes new pumps and plumbing.

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©The Saratogian 2007