Sunday, April 30, 2006

Highway Cleanup Day

Saturday was a great day for a walk. Ten members of the Dryden Democratic Committee met for spring cleanup of our section of Route 366 - from the FH Fox bridge to Route 13 near NYSEG. I like this project. It involves an hour or two of chatting with a colleague while walking along picking up trash with a little pointy stick. As the bags fill we can set them alongside the road. Is it the highway department or the trash collectors who pick them up the next day? I'm guessing that, at Teamster wages, picking up the litter would be an expensive job for the highway department. So, while I'm glad we don't have to be responsible for potholes and snow removal, I'm glad we can do this.

On the way home I stopped at the recently re-opened B&B Farms Market. Vegetable seedlings and bedding plants are available, as well as quite an array of landscape trees, shrubs and perennials. The market also carries local products such as cheese and maple syrup, as well as these very comfy Adirondack style chairs from central New York Amish craftsmen.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Les Roberts in Dryden

Les Roberts, Democratic candidate for the House of Representatives, spoke with about twenty people at the Dryden Democratic Committee meeting tonight. With the Centers for Disease Control, Roberts has worked in over 30 countries, including eight during times of war. He has testified before Congress, and he has briefed the National Security Council, the Department of State and other federal agencies on many occasions. But it was his outrage at the Federal response to Hurricane Katrina that pulled him into the political sphere.

Roberts concerns center around the high cost of health care and the high cost of energy and the impact of those costs on the country and the economy. He acknowledges widespread agreement that, "We need to end up at a single payer plan. Full stop." The problem is how to get there quickest. Roberts goes on to advocate conservation and alternative energy technologies, particularly geothermal, to address energy costs.

In addition, Roberts stresses the importance of balancing the Federal budget and the urgency of withdrawing from Iraq. His experience as an environmental engineer and a health scientist make him highly qualified to "Stand up, speak out and get results."

Saturday, April 22, 2006

National Youth Service Day in Etna

Rain didn't dampen the spirits of volunteers and kids at 4-H acres today. Led by Cornell student and former Etna resident, Jessica Houle, dozens of volunteers and kids built a willow hut. They began by digging this circular trench. Then raised willow branches which will be woven together. In a few weeks, the willow will take root in the trench and continue to grow to form a shelter.

Kids taking a break from the rain are inside making "All About Me" books. I tried it. The template included birthdate, favorite food, favorite color and best subject in school. But it got harder with open ended questions like "I hope...." and "In ten years I'll be...."

This isn't just a one day activity. In 2005 when Jessica Houle started thinking about community service opportunities, she focused on Conger's Mobil Home Park where she grew up. On National Youth Service Day last year, fifty people celebrated the beginning of OURS (Opportunity, Understanding, Respect, Success), a program that "brings free opportunities to youth in Conger's Mobil Home Park." Last fall Cornell students formed YOURS (Youth Outreach: Undergraduates Reshaping Success) Now kids from the park and their Cornell student mentors meet every Friday to work on personal goals. Jon Song leads Hip Hop dance sessions and earlier in April Dave Hall taught wilderness survival skills. Last week Jessica received the Cornell Public Service Robinson-Appel Humanitarian Award. Its $1,500 cash prize will fund a program to teach kids to budget and manage money.

Houle is inspired by the growth she observes in individual kids and she's laying a solid foundation for the organization continue when she plans to spend a semester abroad next spring. Though a lot of her adult help now comes from Cornell students, Jessica's making every effort to make this a Dryden community project. It would be easier if they had a meeting place closer to where the kids live in Etna. Or if they had reliable transportation to 4-H acres where they meet now. But Jessica and her friends aren't look for easy. They're focused on kids and what they need.

Jessica and Sarah, Rachel, Mary, Meredith, Taylor, Madison and all the kids, big and small, that I met today: I couldn't possibly be prouder of you.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

April Town Board Meeting

It was a page and a half long agenda - 50% longer than last month (current agenda will remain posted 'til the May agenda goes up about May 4th). I guess I should be glad we finished around midnight. The Ithaca Journal managed to cover a few topics from the meeting with, as Simon at Living in Dryden points out, the most misleading headline I can imagine:
"Dryden considers solar panels, ice skating rink, sewer district"

Yes, solar panels were discussed, but the larger issue in the draft Renewable Energy Ordinance is residential wind energy. Yes, the ice skating park was mentioned, but the emphasis in the Recreation Department report was on the skateboard park. Yes, the Town/Village agreement over the Cortland Road Sewer Contract was listed on the agenda, but the Engineering department introduced an extensive discussion over a proposal for an Ellis Hollow Road water and sewer district and to a lesser degree, a Pinckney Road district.

I have trouble picking out one or two items I think the public may be interested in. Unlike a grumpy commenter here a few weeks ago, I think all the items are important and interesting in their own ways. I guess that's why I'm on the Board and the commenter isn't. So, I'm going to try to describe two or three items every few days 'til I've mentioned them all or 'til the May meeting, whichever comes first.

The Etna Fire Department doesn't have its own website, so the best source for information is Living in Dryden. For two years the town has been dealing with the Etna department's recruiting challenges and sketchy response rate. The Dryden, Freeville and Varna departments have developed a support system to cover while Etna tries to develop recruiting and training programs. But the 2006 contract, budgeted at around $111,000, will depend on some benchmarks in recruiting, training and response rates.

Earlier this month, Supervisor Trumbull sent Etna Chief Lobdell statistics from Dispatch and questions regarding their current membership, training, equipment and budget. Dispatch records show that of 143 calls Etna was unable to respond to 55 of them. Chief Lobdell has not responded to the questions and no one from the department came to the Board meeting. So, although Etna can't receive any payment from the town 'til the contract is settled, discussion has been postponed 'til the May meeting.

Highway Department Superintendent, Jack Bush, submitted a list of roadwork planned for this season and estimated maximum expenditures for each area. Much of the work ( like Scenic Way, Scout Lane, Annee Lane, Oakbrook Drive, Snyder Hill Road and Ellis Hollow Creek Road) is part of Jack's long-range planning and some (like Knollwood Drive, Mineah Road and Hunt Hill) results from drainage and erosion problems. Lansing shares Scofield Road with Dryden and has agreed to do the necessary work and split the cost with Dryden. Jack has negotiated a similar agreement with Town of Ithaca for Sapsucker Woods Road. The total of all the maximum estimates is $459,000. But Jack's asking for, and the Board is approving, a total of $136,000. So I assume each project will cost much less than the maximum estimates and the estimates are only useful as a rough yardstick for what proportion of the total is attributable to each.


Saturday, April 08, 2006

Public Meetings

I've posted the dates of some upcoming meetings. All board meetings are open to the public and they're not as dull as you might think. These are your neighbors making plans for your neighborhood. The agenda for Town Board meetings is posted on the website a week before the meeting. Near the top of the agenda is "Citizens Privilege." This could be called "Open Mike" except that the room is small and there's no need for a mike. Anyone may speak on any topic. It's a chance for everyone to let us know what they're concerned about.

Following Citizens privilege, the Board takes up official agenda items. This month, for example, the agenda includes a report from the highway superintendent on road work planned for this summer, the zoning officer on plans for the new town hall, the recreation coordinator on skateboard park plans and the environmental planner on a proposed alternative energy ordinance.

In light of rising energy costs and environmental concerns there is growing interest in alternative energy sources. In the absence of any zoning regulation of residential wind towers, solar panels and geothermal systems, the Zoning Board has not been able to issue building permits for such projects. The proposed ordinance will establish a procedure for obtaining special use permits including environmental and visual assessment forms. The proposal will also address specific issues related to residential wind conversion systems including:
  • Distance from adjacent property
  • Tower height
  • Noise level limit
  • Lighting limitation
  • Height
  • Visibility of guy lines
  • Fencing
  • Liability insurance
  • Scenic view impact
  • Broadcast interference
  • Wildlife impact
My reading of this very early rough draft is that it will facilitate residents' use of alternative energy sources while protecting the neighborhood and environment.

If you just can't imagine yourself coming to a Town Board meeting, don't forget that minutes of the meeting are posted about a week after the meeting. Take a look and let us know what you think.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Varna Fire Department

Many thanks to Natan Huffman and the twenty members of the Varna Volunteer Fire Department who welcomed me to their meeting last night.

I'm glad I arrived early enough for Natan to show me the equipment and explain it to me. There are five spectacular trucks each with its own specialized role. Natan explained the coding behind the numbering of the trucks (which really helped me understand the discussions in the meeting.) The pride and joy, the newest and biggest truck, is 1901. (19 means it belongs to Varna, 0 means it's a pumper, I think, and 1 means it's Varna's first pumper.) I think I'll go get a photo from my eye level. The thing is HUGE. It carries 1500 gallons of water, as well as equipment to connect to hydrants and to pump from a pond. Natan invited me up to view the control panel from which the operator controls pressure to five color coded lines (they're not called hoses.) I think a pretty cool video game could be designed based on the complexity of the interaction of those pumps. It was all incredible to me: the passenger area with the air packs built into the back of the seats so the firefighters can don them en route to the fire, the radios and flashlights ready for the firefighters to grab, the ladders, the lights, the hand tools.

The meeting included extensive discussion of training members had recently participated in and descriptions of upcoming training opportunities. Several budget constraints were discussed. Each captain reported on the status of his or her truck. The membership chairman described the new, complex incentive system designed to encourage members to participate in training and to express appreciation for their participation. There were some housekeeping details, literally. (When I arrived before the meeting, the chief was collecting and carrying out the trash.)

In short, I couldn't be more proud of this group. I think we need to help them write new recruiting material describing the camaraderie, the skills, the fun. Several people asked me if I was there to join and I really had to restrain myself from asking where to sign up.