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Among the problems she cited were outdated drinking water systems and sewer treatment plants, failing electrical systems, inactive landfills that had not been closed to state standards, and dams and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