Saturday, October 25, 2008

Parks closes Schodack Island State Park with no public notice. Will Saratoga be next?

Park closure spurs forum

SCHODACK--A meeting to discuss the closure of the Schodack Island State Park and to brainstorm ideas on how to keep the park open this winter, will be held Thursday, October 30 at 7 p.m. at the town hall, 265 Schuurman Road.

Supervisor Beth Secor and Assemblyman Tim Gordon (I-108th District) called for the forum and the State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation (OPRHP), agreed to meet with local residents and elected officials.
The park closed after business hours on Monday, October 13.
"The residents of Schodack and the surrounding areas utilize this wonderful resource throughout the winter," said Mr. Gordon. "It's sudden closing without public knowledge and input is a real blow to the community. It is essential that OPRHP hear what the people have to say."
Residents were rankled when they learned of the park's closing, only days before it happened, and strongly objected to the action being taken without considering the needs and desires of the people who use the park.
Close to 700 people have signed petitions against the parks closure, an effort spearheaded by resident Elizabeth Peters, who brought the issue to the attention of The Independent.
"We're glad parks and recreation have agreed to this meeting," said Mrs. Peters. "We want to keep it a positive one though and not just a forum for people to complain, but to come up with ideas on how to keep the park open, even if on a part-time basis."
Mrs. Secor said the meeting may help all parties discover a way to keep the park open.
"The town has resources that may be used to help address some of the needs for services over the winter," she said. "Communicating with us prior to the closing may have led to a different outcome."
According to Elaine Chinnian, regional director for the Saratoga/Capital District Region, every year since the park opened the usage has increased.
"The Department of Parks and Recreation should listen to the people and take into consideration the impact the closing will have on their quality of life," Mr. Gordon said. "They must work with the residents and local officials to arrive at a solution that will both save the state money in these difficult times and allow residents access to this unique recreational resource on the Hudson River."
Mrs. Secor hopes to get the word out to as many residents as possible before next Thursday.
"This was not the best way to go about this; to make a unilateral decision," she told The Independent. "Input from residents and officials was needed before action was taken."
Mrs. Secor said she expects OPRHP representatives will explain their budget and why Schodack's park was selected as the one to close.
"I'd like to see real numbers and also what is being done to save money at other state parks," she said.
She noted that the state paid $2 million to have the road leading into the park constructed.
"They have a tremendous investment here," she said.
The park here is the only to close down, but other parks throughout the state are operating with reduced hours and less staff, according to Ms. Chinnian.
Rensselaer County Legislators Martin Reid and Alex Shannon are calling on New York State and Governor David Paterson to allow for a public hearing and public comment on the closure of the Schodack Island State Park.
"Residents are still very upset that the Schodack Island State Park was closed and they are also angry with the abrupt manner the park was closed. The residents who use this park or are affected by the closing deserve a chance to be heard," said Mr. Reid (R-District 4).
"We are certain that if state officials allow a public hearing that they will hear loud and clear that the people want the park reopened. A public hearing on the park closing would be good and open government," added Mr. Shannon.
The two lawmakers said they will send a letter to the New York State Office of Parks and Recreation requesting the public hearing. Mr. Reid and Mr. Shannon are also considering a resolution at the November 12 legislative meeting urging the scheduling of a public hearing.
The park is just below the Village of Castleton on Route 9J. Open year-round, the park features boating, hiking, great views of the Hudson River and during the winter months, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
Mr. Shannon, chairman of the Legislature's Environmental Committee, said the turnout at the park was strong during the final weekend. During an hour-long period at the park entrance, Mr. Shannon said he counted more than 30 cars and trucks entering the park.
The decision by the Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation was made after Governor Paterson called for a 7% reduction in the Parks and Recreation overall budget. The park is expected to reopen in April or May.
Ms. Chinnian said the gate will be closed, as will all of the parks buildings and there will be no staff on site. People can, however, enter at their own risk.
Supervisor Secor and Mr. Gordon met with Deputy Parks Commissioner Andy Beers, in Albany, Friday, October 10 and delivered petitions with more than 400 signatures opposing the parks closure.
According to Eileen Larabee, parks director of communication, it is estimated the state will save $83,000 by having the park closed for six months. People argue, however, that reopening the park in the spring will be more expensive than usual because the park and its trails will not have been maintained during that time frame.
People are also worried about the possible danger to people who access the park, if hunters are on the land without supervision.
At its meeting October 9, the Town Board unanimously adopted a resolution asking the office of parks and recreation to reconsider it's decision. The legislature adopted similar legislation Tuesday, October 14.
Resident Ken Stokem is concerned that this seasonal closing is just the beginning of the end for the park.
"Much of the year, the park does not charge for visits, so they have no real idea how much we use it," he said. "I wonder how saving less than $12,000 a month going to help the state in resolving its fiscal concerns.
"If they don't maintain it, it will cost them much more to reopen and repair it for each summer season, than they may save by closing it," he added "Unplowed and un-patrolled there is substantial opportunity for damage, vandalism, poaching, and other mayhem to occur. Just clearing and reopening it trails will entail a lot of time and expense. This decision makes little real sense and is unfair to the public."
To file a complaint call 584-2000 or log onto

Thursday, October 23, 2008

"Tip of the Iceberg"

print story
Shuttering parks for winter is just the tip of iceberg

First published: Wednesday, October 22, 2008

As a sign of the long, cold winter ahead in more ways than one, the notice from the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation did not move the planets out of alignment.
But it was an ominous sign all the same.

Because of budget constraints, the relatively new state park on Schodack Island will be closed for the winter. So will another small park in the central part of the state, some boat launches and a few winter programs

As a practical matter, Schodack Island doesn't get a lot of use in the winter anyway. Unlike, say, Thacher up in the Helderbergs or Grafton in Rensselaer County, both of which offer very popular and varied winter sports and activities.

Closing Schodack Island for the winter will only save the state about $83,000, a spokesman said, The roads won't be plowed, the parking lot will be chained closed and there will no bathroom facilities.

But because 83 percent of the agency's budget goes toward operating parks and their programs, there's not much wiggle room when mandated cuts are imposed on the existing budget, as they have been. Twice this year already.

At the Department of Environmental Conservation, which runs other state parks and recreation programs — don't ask — planned cutbacks for the same reason are so far equally modest. One tow rope at the beginner slope and one lift will be closed at Belleayre, about 10 percent of the operation. Elsewhere, a couple of maintenance offices will be consolidated.

But don't fool yourself for a second. These are only the smallest of hints of things to come.

Not a one among the state's wisest fiscal prognosticaters can tell us yet how bad it's going to get, but that it most certainly will be bad remains a safe bet.

The bottom line of what we will witness between the Legislature's Nov. 18 special session and and the end of the next budget cycle, around April 1, is a profound downsizing of what we can reasonably expect our state government to do for us. Closing or tightly restricting the use of other state parks and recreational facilities is the least of it.

The really big ticket items for the state budget, Medicaid and education funding, will have to take major hits. The only question is how much.

New York's platinum Medicaid benefits have to be scaled back, and that's all there is to it. We can't afford it anymore.

On the education side, tell Washington to stick No Child Left Behind in its ear. Many other states have done so already, because it is a largely ineffective, mostly unfunded mandate driving up the cost of local school budgets.

Some of my conservative friends, I'm sure are saying, ah-men to much of that.

Those same folks, though, who tend to be Republican, have to be blanching at the promises Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos is making concerning no cuts ahead in education spending. Those assurances are mindboggling given the state's catastrophic revenue stream.

There is such a thing as going too far with political opportunism. Skelos has slipped into irresponsible by promising the New York State United Teachers union that his house won't entertain education budget cuts.

Given that we don't know where we're going in terms of state finances, those are promises that can't be made. Or worse, they guarantee gridlock in upcoming delicate negotiations for the downsizing of our government, which is bound to be ahead of us.

Education cuts have to on the table.

Now, I do not fault the teachers unions for backing whoever they think will give them what they want. The union represents a special interest. No doubt, we'll be hearing from the health care industy and related unions along the same lines.

How can the Republican Senate feverishly vote for tax caps, and at the same time hold the line against education cuts when we have drastically reduced revenues? Those are absolute opposites in terms of effect on the taxpayer.

It's the logic of desperation politics, I suppose.

Certainly the infusion of scads of NYSUT lobbying money and the union's phone banks promoting endorsed Republican candidates might help the GOP keep their Senate majority.

Although the promises necessary for NYSUT's support could fuel a backlash against them just as easily. Not to mention pose quite a dilemma when the time comes to actually make good on those promises.

Fred LeBrun can be reached at 454-5453 or by e-mail at

Sunday, October 12, 2008

SPAC facade delayed until 2010----43 yrs. and counting

SPAC façade won't be in place until 2010
By PAUL POST , The Saratogian

The present exterior view of SPAC. ERICA MILLER/The Saratogian
SARATOGA SPRINGS - Saratoga Performing Arts Center visitors will see noticeable improvements next year, but a new façade won't be in place until 2010, officials said Friday.

In May, SPAC unveiled a controversial new exterior design that critics quickly dubbed "The Stack," because of its likeness to a stack of pancakes.

That work - along with newly designed exterior ramps, lighting and sound - is part of a $2.5 million project, the third and final phase of a multi-year effort to upgrade the 42-year-old venue.

Work on the entire Phase III project was originally scheduled to begin this fall. Instead, only the ramps, lighting, sound and new restrooms will be done.


"That type of work can go on in the winter, so there's no squeeze and there should be plenty of time in the spring," SPAC Chairman William Dake said.

The façade, however, is taking longer because of the time involved with creating and getting an alternate design approved.

"We're looking at new designs and new estimates of those designs," said Alane Ball-Chinian, regional director of the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. SPAC's property is owned by the state.

By next year, familiar globe lights on exterior ramps will be removed and replaced with more of a subdued type of lighting. The old sound system will be improved, too.

"They've just gotten more effective at projecting sound," Dake said.

The first two phases of SPAC work brought various infrastructure upgrades such as roof repairs, rehearsal room renovations and improvements to heating and ventilation systems. New drainage was also installed and old seats were replaced with more than 5,000 new padded models.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Governor Picks Delaware North already running Gideon Putnam Hotel and Racino for Aqueduct Race Track slots

Racino contract awarded
By PAUL POST , The Saratogian

SARATOGA SPRINGS - Gov. David Paterson has chosen Delaware North Companies and its partner - Saratoga Harness Racing Inc., which owns Saratoga Gaming & Raceway - to open and run a racino at Aqueduct Race Track.


It's a long-awaited decision that will mean millions to Saratoga Race Course, because the summertime thoroughbred track is slated to receive a cut of the money generated by the downstate racino.

However, one of the people whose approval is required - Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, R-Rockville Center - isn't happy with the choice, saying it doesn't address economic development and job creation surrounding Aqueduct. So the selection may not be a done deal.

"It is shocking that Sen. Skelos, who claims to understand the importance of this revenue stream and who has repeatedly and publicly called on the governor to award this contract, has now decided to stall a significant economic development project," Paterson spokeswoman Rita Heller said in a press statement. "Delaware North presents the strongest financial proposal with an upfront payment of $370 million."

Delaware North's New York roots apparently weighed heavily with Paterson. The Buffalo-based firm runs Saratoga Gaming & Raceway's video lottery terminals and manages the Gideon Putnam Hotel at the Saratoga Spa State Park in Saratoga Springs. In addition, it owns and runs Finger Lakes Race Track, a thoroughbred venue near Rochester, and operates Fairgounds Gaming at Buffalo Raceway.

"They have a proven successful track record in New York state," said Sisa Moyo, a spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, the other person whose approval is required. "The governor selected them and we're comfortable with that decision."

Delaware North/Saratoga Harness is one of three entities that bid for the contract to run a 4,500-machine VLT facility at Aqueduct.

Construction is expected to take 15 to 18 months, meaning it would likely start up in early or mid-2010, generating a projected $450 million per year that would boost purses at each of the state's three main thoroughbred tracks - Saratoga Race Course, Aqueduct Race Track and Belmont Park.

Delaware North President William Bissett issued a one-paragraph statement Friday saying the company looks forward to bringing "a new and exciting Aqueduct to the Queens community and much needed economic stimulus to the state of New York."

Skelos and the competing bidders were quick to denounce the governor's choice.

"It appears that Gov. Paterson is supporting a bid that only includes plans for a racino and does not include any proposal to generate needed economic development," Skelos said. "It appears that in an effort to close the budget deficit, Gov. Paterson has made a choice that may not be in the best longterm interests of the state or for the communities that surround Aqueduct. It is our belief that unless we made Aqueduct a true destination venue, this project will not generate the largest possible benefit."

Skelos, however, isn't saying which firm he prefers.

Aqueduct is bordered by John F. Kennedy International Airport - one of the world's busiest airports - a New York subway line, residential neighborhoods and Rockaway Boulevard, a heavily-traveled commercial strip.

The best proposal would provide for job creation in that area, which Delaware North hasn't, said Skelos spokesman Mark Hansen. But he didn't specify the type of development Skelos envisions.

Delaware North/Saratoga Harness offered the state the largest upfront payment - $370 million. Competitor SL Green/Hard Rock Entertainment offered $250 million, and Capital Play/Mohegan Sun offered $100 million. Both of the latter proposals included plans for large-scale entertainment-retail complexes beyond the VLTs.

Mohegan Sun's proposal includes a hotel. President and CEO Mitchell Etess said his firm would generate $6 billion more than other entities over the life of the 30-year contract.

"This would be a very bad mistake," he said of the governor's selection. "Our longterm revenue far exceeds any of the competitors. If the state is willing to accept far less money in the long run, there's nothing we can do about it. It's very shortsighted."

The gaming selection process was decided by the governor, Senate and Assembly leaders earlier this year, a political insider said. There are no clear-cut rules as to whether the state's top three leaders just need to agree, or whether the decision requires a full legislative vote, he said.

Robert Bellafiore, a spokesman for SL Green, said, "The governor can't give this contract out. The governor's office makes a recommendation."

The New York Racing Association has been anxious for Aqueduct's gaming to get started because of the added revenue it will produce. President and CEO Charles Hayward said he felt confident that any of the three bidders would run a "first-class racino."

"We're going to be motivated to work with these guys, to make them a bigger success, because we get 7 percent of the net win - 4 percent for capital expenses, 3 percent for operating expenses," he said. "I've seen Delaware North in action at Finger Lakes and Saratoga so we're very comfortable with them."

NYRA has no official voice in the selection, but has made its wishes known to the state. Previously, Hayward said he didn't want Capital Play (Mohegan Sun), which challenged NYRA for the latest racing contract. This year NYRA was granted a |25-year contract to continue as operator of Saratoga Race Course, Belmont Park and Aqueduct Race Track.

Mohegan Sun runs what is generally considered the Northeast's most successful casino, in Connecticut, which left some doubting how actively it would market Aqueduct.

Etess, however, said, "We had planned to turn Aqueduct into a premier destination."

Mohegan Sun has an extensive customer database, and Etess said it planned to promote Aqueduct much more heavily than Connecticut to the New York City market.

Etess said he's unsure why Paterson made the choice he did. "I would not want to speculate," he said. "I'm sure he'll have to explain it to the people."

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Seasonal employees only cuts at Saratoga Spa State Park so far.....

Tree nursery, parks feeling state budget cuts
By: PAUL POST , The Saratogian

David Lee, supervisor at the state Department of Environmental Conservation's Saratoga Tree Nursery on Route 50, examines 3-year-old red oak trees grown from acorns at the site. (ED BURKE/The Saratogian)

SARATOGA SPRINGS - The head of state-owned Saratoga Tree Nursery is concerned that his facility could fall victim to the budget chopping block.

With 10 full-time and nearly two dozen seasonal workers, the nursery distributes 1.5 million seedlings per year to private land owners for use in valuable projects such as erosion control, reforestation, wildlife habitat restoration and buffering agricultural lands from nearby water sources.

Founded in 1911, the 200-acre site is the last remaining state-owned operation of its kind, down from the half-dozen or so that previously served various parts of New York. Recently, the cash-strapped state cut the nursery's non-personnel budget by 14 percent ($30,000) that will make it difficult to collect seeds needed for growing new trees and shrubs.


"I have a concern that they might take a look at the program and decide that we are no longer needed, which would be a loss to New York residents as far as having a source to obtain low-cost seedlings," Supervising Forester David Lee said.

Autumn is normally a time for collecting and sewing some plant and tree seeds in the ground. Nursery employees collect seeds on their own, but also rely on a statewide network of people who, in the past, have been reimbursed for turning in seed-bearing cones and fruit.

"We've been forced to cut back due to budget cuts," Lee said. "Some species (red pine, red oak) we might have to eliminate if we're not able to obtain the needed amount of seed ourselves. The amount we're going to be able to plant is going to be a lot less."

In addition to providing seedlings to residents at cost, the nursery also has an extensive school program.

Classroom groups are allowed to get 50 free seedlings that may be planted on school grounds or used in some other type of educational program determined by their teacher.

State forest rangers, whose headquarters are at the tree nursery, are also feeling budget cut impacts. No staff reductions are anticipated, but equipment and supply purchases are being kept to a minimum. "We are cutting back on training, meetings, conferences, which will translate into less overtime being used and a savings in mileage," said Lori O'Connell, a state Department of Environmental Conservation spokesman.

Elsewhere, the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation has sent seasonal workers home early and is cutting back on some facilities and services.

"We had to cut the season short for several of our employees who would normally work till the end of November, office staff and grounds people," Saratoga Spa State Park Manager Mike Greenslade said.

Saratoga-Capital Region Director Alane Chinian said that seasonal layoffs have occurred across the board, throughout the area. Also, the state has imposed a hiring freeze meaning that retiring employees aren't being replaced.

Chinian said that her region has been directed to reduce spending $250,000 before the start of the state's next fiscal year on April 1. Some equipment purchases have been delayed to help meet that goal.

However, Chinian said she's extremely concerned about the cost of this winter's heating costs, even though the park took a number of energy conservation measures, installing new boilers.

The parks department has already decided not to keep Schodack Island State Park in Castleton open this winter. The gate will be closed and an access road won't be plowed, meaning that hunters and cross-country skiers will have to park elsewhere and hike in.

Two campgrounds in Rensselaer and Schoharie counties have closed early, too.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

State Parks take hits from budget cuts, times union,10/7/08

Schodack Island access curtailed
State budget cuts close Rensselaer County park until April

By KENNETH C. CROWE II, Staff writer
Last updated: 7:26 a.m., Tuesday, October 7, 2008

SCHODACK — Schodack Island State Park will close next week for six months as part of a 10 percent cut in the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation budget.

"The gate will be locked. The buildings will be closed,'' Bob Kuehn, assistant regional director of the Saratoga-Capital District Park Region, said Monday. He said the action is in response to Gov. David Paterson's directive to make buget cuts

Schodack Island State Park will shut after the upcoming Columbus Day holiday weekend. It is not expected to reopen until after April 1, which is the start of the state's next fiscal year.

It's the only Capital Region park that is closing completely and one of three statewide. The other parks shutting down are Woodlawn and Silver Lake in the western park of the state.

Rensselaer County Legislators Martin Reid, R-Sand Lake, and Alex Shannon, R-Schodack, said closing Schodack Island is unfair to Capital Region residents.

"In our view, Schodack Island State Park offers residents important access points to the river and is operated at a relatively small cost when compared to other parks,'' said County Legislator Martin Reid, R-Sand Lake. The park is in both Reid's and Shannon's districts.

"We believe the state could have gone about this in a different manner and found solutions to keep the park open,'' Reid continued.

Decisions on where to make budget cuts were left up to the parks department's 11 regions. Of $9 million cut from the parks department budget, $4 million was directly related to park operations and the rest from delaying equipment purchases and projects plus not filling vacancies, said Eileen Larrabee, a department spokeswoman. The Saratoga-Capital District Region cut $225,000 in park services.

"We're trying to minimize the impact on the public. ... There are realities we have to deal with,'' Larrabee said.

Kuehn said the campgrounds at Cherry Plain State Park in Berlin and Max V. Shaul State Park in Schoharie County were closed early and the hours at the state boat ramp on Saratoga Lake, part of Saratoga Spa State Park, were reduced to weekends after Labor Day.

Saratoga's "bubble" could continue.....AMD is coming!

AMD announces new partnership, plans to build Luther Forest plant
From Staff and wire reports
Updated: Tuesday, October 7, 2008 6:37 AM EDT

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NEW YORK – Advanced Micro Devices announced this morning it is going forward with construction of a new computer chip manufacturing facility in Malta’s Luther Forest technology campus – with a little help from its friends.

The struggling semiconductor firm – the second largest in the world – is partnering with the Advanced Technology Investment Company of Abu Dhabi to create a new company, temporarily called “The Foundry Company,” that will infuse AMD with cash, take on some of the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based firm’s debt and upgrade its manufacturing facilities, according to a prepared statement.

Construction of the Malta plant, expected to employ 1,400 once it comes online, is dependent on whether AMD is successful in transferring state incentives – totaling about $1.2 billion in tax breaks and other perks – to the new company, which will take on operation of AMD’s manufacturing facilities.

Construction could begin on the plant in the middle of 2009, according to the press release.

In return, the Abu Dhabi firm will contribute $2.1 billion to purchase its stake in The Foundry Company, of which $1.4 billion will be invested into The Foundry Company, while the rest will be given to AMD in return for an ownership stake in the tech firm.

ATIC has committed additional equity funding to The Foundry Company of a minimum of $3.6 billion and up to $6.0 billion over the next five years to fund the expansion of The Foundry Company’s chip-making capacity beyond the manufacturing facilities initially contributed by AMD.

These funds will be used by The Foundry Company to begin construction of the Malta facility. The New York facility is expected to create more than 1,400 direct jobs, and, through its operation, to generate an additional 5,000 jobs in the region, AMD has said.

Once operational, the New York facility will be the only independently-managed, leading-edge semiconductor manufacturing foundry in the United States.

The Board of Directors of The Foundry Company will be equally divided between representatives of AMD and ATIC. AMD will own 44.4 percent and ATIC will own 55.6 percent of The Foundry Company’s fully-converted common stock upon its formation.

Doug Grose will relinquish his current role as AMD’s senior vice president of manufacturing operations to become chief executive officer of The Foundry Company. Hector Ruiz will relinquish his current role as AMD’s executive chairman and chairman of the board to become chairman of The Foundry Company. To augment its announced leadership, the new company plans an aggressive recruitment strategy to round out a world-class semiconductor manufacturing leadership team.

ATIC is an investment company formed by the government of Abu Dhabi to invest in advanced technology opportunities.

“Today is a landmark day for AMD, creating a financially stronger company with a tightened focus,” said Dirk Meyer, president and chief executive officer of AMD. “With The Foundry Company, AMD has developed an innovative way to focus our efforts on design while maintaining access to the leading-edge manufacturing technologies that our business needs without the required capital-intensive investments of semiconductor manufacturing.

“I particularly want to congratulate our Chairman Hector Ruiz, whose vision and leadership of our Asset Smart strategy is fulfilled today.”

Upon closing of the transaction, The Foundry Company will commence operations with approximately 3,000 employees who will transition into the new company from AMD facilities in Silicon Valley, New York, Dresden, and Austin. The new company’s principal headquarters will be in Silicon Valley and its research and development and manufacturing leadership teams and ecosystems will be based in New York, Dresden, and Austin.

After the upgrade and expansion in Dresden and the build-out of the New York facility, The Foundry Company envisions expanding its global manufacturing footprint over time, if commercially justified, to also include new fabrication facilities in Abu Dhabi.

The transaction is expected to close at the beginning of 2009, following satisfaction of conditions such as approvals from regulators, transfer of previously-confirmed New York incentives to The Foundry Company, and stockholder approval for the issuance of common stock and warrants to the Abu Dhabi company.

The Post-Star will update this story throughout the day today. Read more in Wednesday’s edition.

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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

bravo to the Friends of Saratoga State Park staff and Friends.

Congratulations to the terrific engineering staff and Friends of Saratoga Spa State Park for redoing Hawthorne #3 Pavillion. Hawthorne #3 is a great treasure and one of the historic springs that brought our beautiful Saratoga Springs into existence.