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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, December 7, 2006

A big stink!

By Jarrett Carroll

MCKOWNVILLE — Smells from Albany’s landfill have caused vomiting, forced children at day care to stay inside, and sent local workers home early.

Officials who run the Rapp Road landfill say they’re making improvements but local residents say they’ve heard that for years.

Residents of the village of Colonie, the town of Guilderland, and the city of Albany have all complained about an awful smell that comes from the Rapp Road landfill in Albany, bordering the Pine Bush Preserve.

The landfill is a major revenue source for Albany, which collects a large portion of its annual budget from the local municipalities and private contractors who dump there. The landfill sits on the border of three municipalities and is surrounded by both residential and commercial areas, including Crossgates Commons.

The smell, which some have described as a "fog" that rolls through the neighborhood on chilly evenings and damp humid days, usually comes around dinner time.

"My grown children and their friends say they always know they are at the correct Thruway exit because they recognize the awful smell," said Martha Harausz, a McKownville resident. "The smell from it is awful and for a long time I didn’t know who to contact about it."

City officials say the reason why the landfill smells so bad has nothing to with methane gas, which is odorless or with the tower off of the Thruway burning that gas. City officials also say the smell is not due to worker incompetence. Both health experts and the Albany city officials agree there is no health risk to the communities surrounding the city’s landfill as long as it is properly maintained.

However, the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation is levying a hefty fine because of the odors and stated that the landfill did not "effectively control odors so that they do not constitute a nuisance or hazard to health, safety, or property," and that blown litter was observed on the ground and trees surrounding the landfill.

Albany was fined $100,000 but only has to pay half that if it complies with requirements.

In the order of consent to fine the Rapp Road landfill, the DEC named complainants from the village of Colonie and the city of Albany, travelers and toll booth workers on the Thruway, and businesses along Washington Avenue Extension. Guilderland residents were not named.

"The complaints range from people being offended, roused from their sleep, one person vomiting, workers being sent home from local businesses, and children at a day care center not being allowed to go outside," said the complaint filed by the DEC.

If a DEC fine is not paid, the case could wind up in the state attorney general’s office, said Rick Georgeson, spokesman for Region IV of the DEC, but added that Albany was in good standing and had been making its monthly $10,000 payments.

Why does the dump smell so bad"

Because of all of the rotting garbage — literally tons of it.

Over a thousand tons of trash a day get buried at the Rapp Road landfill, according to Albany’s Department of General Services Commissioner William Bruce, who told The Enterprise that the smell will get better.

Weather is also a culprit with wind direction dictating which town or village is affected the most by the odor, he said.

Bruce blamed the recent smells to mandated renovations and new maintenance and because of "poor coordination." Two-and-a-half years ago, when the smells from the landfill became particularly unbearable, the city’s corporate counsel blamed the problem on improvements to gas-line systems being installed at the time.

Bruce said that the DEC has required new gas wells and infrastructure improvements.

However, some McKownville residents aren’t convinced. A town councilman has spoken out on the issue and so has the neighborhood association president.

Residents who live in the area say they are sick of the stink they endure year in and year out.

"On certain nights, it smells like there’s garbage rotting right in your own backyard," said Donald Reeb, president of the McKownville Neighborhood Improvement Association. "It’s kind of like a fog that comes into the neighborhood"I think it gets worse around dinner time or evening."

Reeb said he is looking to hire an expert to run air quality tests in the area and that the state’s Department of Health may do the same.

He also said that his association has been routinely stonewalled by both the mayor’s office in Albany and the landfill’s management.

The smell is clearly present inside of vehicles as they enter and leave the Thruway’s Exit 24 ramp where a tower is also visible that "flares" off surplus methane gas from the landfill. The obnoxious odor is highly acrid with a sulfuric content that is instantly noticeable whether in a car, a backyard, or near an open window of a home.

Neighbors put up a stink

"I’ve heard some pretty animated conversations about the smell at neighborhood association meetings," said Guilderland town councilman, David Bosworth. "I think it’s gotten worse in the last couple of years"It just kind of creeps into the neighborhood."

Bosworth, who lives behind Stuyvesant Plaza off of Fuller Road, said that the landfill had recently hired a new operator, but that "the new operator didn’t fix the problem."

He also said that he heard some residents talking about relocating because the smell had become so bad in recent years.

"It’s pretty disgusting," Reeb told The Enterprise. "It’s bad, there’s no question about it"It does stink."

Reeb said that he has called Albany Mayor Gerald Jennings and administrators at the landfill, but has gotten very little response.

"It’s been pretty much one of those one-sided conversations," Reeb said. "Actually, it’s not really like a conversation as much as it’s like talking to an answering machine."

Martha Harausz said for years she did not know who to call about the problem until she got the phone numbers at the landfill from members of the McKownville neighborhood association. But without a cellular telephone, she said, she is unable to call when the smell is bad because she is usually out and tends to forget the incident by the time she gets home.

Towns response

Guilderland Supervisor Kenneth Runion said that he has not received any complaints about landfill smells recently, but that it has been a consistent problems during the last few years.

"I had received a couple of complainants and that’s when I made the telephone call to Mayor Jennings," said Runion. "We were advised of a malfunction at the landfill."

The town can regulate odors from area businesses and transfer stations, but is unable to legally challenge the city over the Rapp Road landfill because it is located outside of the town’s borders and owned by another municipality, according to Runion.

"We don’t have the jurisdiction or civil authority to do anything about it," he said. "It would have to be handled by a state agency."

Runion said the bulk of the odors drift over to the residents in the village of Colonie because of the wind direction, but that, when there is a wind shift, the odor can be noticeable in Guilderland communities.

Colonie Supervisor Mary Brizzell said, "We have periodically gotten complaints about the smell." But she added that the mayor of the village is more directly affected in the Route 155 area.

"I’m very familiar with the mayor [of Albany]," said Brizzell. "We’ve had a number of dialogues in the past about it, but nothing recently."

The mayor of Colonie could not be reached for comment but has been very vocal in the past in complaining about the bad odors coming from the Rapp Road landfill.

Guilderland’s director of economic development, who is also a McKownville resident, thinks the landfill stinks, too.

"As an affected resident, I find this objectionable. I have a small but pleasant and quiet backyard, and I never know if it’s ‘safe’ to eat dinner on the back patio on any given summer evening," said Donald Csaposs. "I never know if it’s going to stink out there."

Csaposs said he is also unhappy that Mayor Jennings made a deal with a national waste management company to dump more garbage at Rapp Road with a discounted tipping fee. All of the surrounding municipalities and local garbage haulers pay about $18 more per ton than the discounted price.

"I find it objectionable when the city of Albany uses landfill revenue to Band-Aid a multimillion-dollar structural deficit in its operating budget," said Csaposs. "I am particularly incensed by the fact that most of the trash being processed at Rapp Road comes from out-of-area sources that are paying less than the town of Guilderland and other area communities are to process their trash."

Csaposs said there are plenty of technological remedies to the dump’s odor problem, citing the Seneca Meadows landfill near the Finger Lakes, which is the largest in New York State. Csaposs said there is no trash blowing around at Senecca Meadows as it is covered everyday and that that landfill uses "state-of-the-art technology to keep smells down."

He added that Albany needs to break the "money Jones" that the city has enslaved itself to.

Reeb agrees with Csaposs.

"The city of Albany is getting an enormous amount of money from that dump," Reeb said. "You would think they would use some of that money on some of the neighboring areas affected, even if they are only mildly affected."

Reeb also said that the excess methane being burned off should be used as an energy resource.

"I think Mayor Jennings is aware of it," said Reeb. "I don’t think there’s any dispute that the stink is there and that the stink has to be dealt with."

Runion told The Enterprise earlier that Guilderland’s tipping fees, around $52 a ton, are "pretty good" compared to the average around the state and he did not have a problem paying them. He did say, however, that he has been mulling over the idea of sending Guilderland’s trash elsewhere, even before he heard about the contractor price disparity.

Last summer, Guilderland was the only municipality out of 11, including Albany, in the Solid Waste Planning Unit to oppose expanding the landfill into the Pine Bush Preserve.

No health risks in ambient air

One area expert said there are no health risks involved with the Rapp Road landfill as long as it is properly managed. But timing, weather, the amount of garbage, and how workers bury the garbage may contribute to the smell, he said.

Robert Rynk, associate professor in the agricultural engineering department at the State University of New York College of Agriculture and Technology at Cobleskill, has ruled out methane or other gases as the culprit of the bad smell.

Rynk used to write for Bio Cycle, a national magazine on recycling technology and bio energies, and he will be teaching his first class on waste management in the spring at Cobleskill.

"Methane is completely odorless," he said. "Certainly the methane is not causing the odor."

As for other gases, Rynk said, "It’s pretty much a mixture of a lot of gases, some of which has sulfur material." The gas mixtures that are not being used for energy are flared off, including any sulfur gases mixed in with the methane.

"The presence of odor does not mean there is a presence of methane," said Rynk. "Odor rarely has a health risk in of itself. I can’t think of any compound at any concentration where it could harm you just from the smell.

"When you mix trash together, there is a mixture of different smells. More than likely, it has something to do with the weather conditions," Rynk said. "They cover the material immediately with soil, that usually does the trick," he said of typical landfill practices.

If the trash is not properly covered by soil or is improperly covered, it could lead to increased smells, he said.

The only health risk from methane is when it is present in an enclosed area, not outdoors, said Rynk.

"The risk of methane is that a concentration gets so high it displaces oxygen and could cause suffocation," Rynk said. "You wouldn’t get that in ambient air."

Rynk used the example of being in a manhole and added that methane’s explosive characteristic in high concentrations also make it dangerous.

Methane is, however, environmentally dangerous as a greenhouse gas, he said.

"Methane is a major greenhouse gas along with carbon dioxide," said Rynk.

He added that methane is 20 times stronger in its capability to trap heat than carbon dioxide, making it a more harmful gas when it comes to global warming.

"That’s why they’re flaring it off," he said. "When methane is burned off, it turns into carbon dioxide"There’s no hazards associated with this."

Rynk did say there could be a problem if a liner at the landfill were to break, but Georgeson, DEC spokesman, said the liner is inspected regularly for leaks as is any leachate water runoff from the landfill.

Rynk conceded that it is possible that methane could seep out of the cover, along with other pollutants.

"How good are landfills at controlling escaping gases"" Rynk asked rhetorically. "I think it’s a big unknown."

What’s next"

Bruce told The Enterprise that the landfill is complying with all of the DEC regulations pursuant to the landfill’s permit with that agency. He said the city is working on making the smell go away for good.

"We just installed a few new wells," Bruce said, "but coordination was not as good as it could have been."

The wells are dug directly down into the "waste bed," creating vertical walls and are used for extracting gases which contain roughly half methane.

There is currently an electrical generating station at the landfill which is run by NEO-Minnesota Methane, a company involved in legal battles with the city in the past over operating problems and disputes over profits.

Bruce said some of the problems with the odor stemmed from Minnesota Methane.

"The company’s parent corporation went bankrupt a few years ago," Bruce said. "They stopped investing money to properly upkeep their facilities. We actually started an eviction process against them."

Now, after a dispute restitution was decided in court, Minnesota Methane has the power plant up and operating after a shaky past and the excess methane is being flared off.

The flared-off methane will soon be used to power converted trucks for the Siemens corporation, a $100 billion electronics company, if everything goes as planned, according to Bruce. The deal is still in the works, but, if it goes through, a facility will be built in 2007 to turn the methane into compressed gas to power trucks at the landfill.

Bruce said residents should call the landfill at 869-3651 if they continue to smell bad odor.

"We encourage people to call so we know there’s a problem and can fix them as soon as possible," he said.

Reeb said he isn’t so sure.

"We keep hearing, ‘Well, we’re trying,’ but that only works for the first two or three years," Reeb responded through The Enterprise. "You must not be trying very hard," he concluded.

Consultant tells school district
Health-care costs well-managed, gives Rx

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Being part of a health-insurance consortium has had "a positive financial result" for the Guilderland School District, according to UHY Advisors, consultants hired by the district to review its health-insurance programs, focusing on financial efficiency.

In 1996, Guilderland joined the Capital Area Schools Health Insurance Consortium (known as CASHIC), which currently has 15 members.

"Participation has given you economy of scale," John DePalma of UHY Advisors told the Guilderland School Board last Tuesday.

"The risk is spread through all the members," he went on. "Guilderland is rated on its own claims experience".On your own, your rate increase would be higher."

DePalma also outlined a series of recommendations for change — both for the consortium and for Guilderland.

Last year — with health-care benefits for district employees costing $8.2 million, or nearly 11 percent of the district’s $76 million budget — some board members, led by Peter Golden, questioned spending. One proposal was to move to a single insurer, in order to save the district money. Golden now heads the district’s business practices committee, which worked with UHY Advisors on the current evaluation.

Guilderland, unlike most districts, does not negotiate health benefits during the collective-bargaining process with labor unions, but, rather, has a district health-insurance committee, which includes representatives from each of its 12 bargaining units.

The district offers four different health-insurance plans, covering medical, dental, and prescription drug costs.

Recommendations for the consortium

DePalma outlined five recommendations, which Guilderland will present to the consortium:

— To establish a prescription drug pooling point: With the development of biotech and specialty drugs for conditions like hemophilia, cancer, and multiple sclerosis, the cost of drugs can be several hundred thousand dollars per person, said DePalma.

A pooling point is a specific stop loss. For example, if the pooling point were $100,000, and an individual used $400,000 worth of drugs in a year, $300,000 would be the responsibility of the insurance company. Raising the pooling point can lower the premium, said DePalma;

— To re-evaluate Blue Shield’s retrospective funding terms: The consortium uses an 80/20 funding arrangement for the Blue Shield program, which is expensive, DePalma said; Guilderland is charged 3 percent of all premiums or about $90,000 annually. The consortium should allow districts to end this arrangement, DePalma said;

— To raise medical pooling points: The consortium’s current medical pooling point level is $100,000; any claim over that is not charged to Guilderland. Because of the size of the consortium, which serves about 5,600 people, a study should be conducted on raising the pooling point to a higher level, DePalma said. If the pooling point were increased to various levels, he said, "You’d be taking on more risk," but Guilderland could save between $22,000 and $44,000 annually;

— To enhance claims-reporting capabilities: It is hard to do detailed analysis, said DePalma, integrating Guilderland’s medical and pharmacy claims data. "In an era when technology gives us the ability to attain knowledge," said DePalma, "data needs to be analyzed." It could contain costs, he said, if, for example, blood pressures were taken regularly or workers were tested for diabetes;

— To phase out the Par Plus indemnity plans: While DePalma termed these "wonderful programs," he also said they are "extremely expensive" and named a number of insurance companies that no longer offer them. Under Par Plus, he said, "You go to any doctor you want" and there is no issue with managed care. Guilderland doesn’t offer Par Plus now and DePalma called it "a smart move to eliminate that."

Offering Par Plus plans inhibits the consortium’s member districts from considering other insurance companies that may not offer such programs, UHY said.

Recommendations for Guilderland

The UHY Advisors also made four recommendations for the Guilderland School District:

— To increase use of mail-order drugs: Guilderland workers under-use mail-order drugs, said DePalma; for the past four years, use has ranged between 9 and 10 percent, he said. This costs Guilderland additional funds for its prescription plans. If mail-order use were increased, DePalma said, Guilderland’s annual pharmacy costs could be cut between $100,000 and $400,000.

UHY Advisors recommends educating Guilderland employees about mail-order drugs being less costly, making mail-order mandatory for all maintenance drugs, and reducing co-pays for mail orders;

— To adopt drug step therapy programs: Step therapy dispenses drugs in the most efficient way to "maximize outcomes at the appropriate cost," says UHY.

DePalma gave the example of a patient with heartburn. Rather than immediately being prescribed "the little purple pill," which DePalma said had been well sold and well marketed, the patient would first be advised to take Rolaids. "If it doesn’t work, then prescribe something that does work," said DePalma;

— To conduct risk analysis: Guilderland should do a risk analysis of its Blue Shield and ExpressScripts programs "to gain greater understanding of the health needs of their population and design programs to meet the needs of its population," says UHY. DePalma called this "converting data into usable knowledge" and said, "You need to develop programs that meet the population’s health concerns"; and

— To continue to explore alternatives: Guilderland’s" "health-insurance committee structure provides the ability to make annual recommendations for change that affect all members, which is not possible under the typical collective bargaining model," says UHY.

Wellness programs, DePalma told the school board, help keep health-care costs down.

District response

Superintendent Gregory Aidala asked DePalma what would be a reasonable goal to target for mail-order drugs at Guilderland next year. DePalma responded that lots of companies have achieved 20 to 25 percent, compared to Guilderland’s 9 or 10 percent.

Denise Eisele, a school board member and a nurse, asked how the drug step therapy would be implemented. She said it would almost be "getting into a physician’s practice," and asked how to encourage it "without stepping on physicians’ toes""

"That’s the classic battle," DePalma responded. He said that physicians are aware of the protocols that insurance companies want followed.

"You’ll have conflicts from time to time, where the doctors push back," said DePalma.

He said his biggest concern was about the biotech specialty drugs and gave the example of a hemophiliac who used $400,000 worth of drugs in one year.

Golden made the point that the district is paying 15 percent on money from Blue Shield that it could borrow for 4-percent interest.

Golden also made the point that, since Guilderland employees shoulder 20 percent of their health-insurance costs, when the district’s costs go up, the workers’ cost also rise.

Golden also cited figures from compliance plans used in corporate America where companies had saved up to 15 percent, he said, by making certain requirements of employees.

"There are programs out there now," said DePalma, stressing wellness and prevention. "Our preference is people go for an annual physical"Incentives will become more commonplace," he said.

Golden recommended adding that to the list of topics to discuss with CASHIC.

On another topic, Neil Sanders, the assistant superintendent for business, said that, right now all 15 school districts in the consortium are treated the same. "We’re going to have to see if some schools can be under one funding arrangement and others under another"It will certainly be a discussion."

Board President Richard Weisz asked if bigger would be better for the consortium.

Increasing the size would give more leverage, said DePalma, but he added, "The CASHIC consortium is well run"It has good equilibrium and good stability."

Weisz then asked what he called an "out of the box" question: "Does it make sense for the state to take over"if bigger is better""

"In theory, yes," replied DePalma. But one of the issues with large plans, he said, is sometimes they fall victim to politics.

Weisz concluded the session by telling DePalma, "Your report says we’re basically doing a responsible job managing health-care costs."

"You are," responded DePalma.

Farnsworth kids form club to help animals, listen raptly to "Bird Lady" with raptors

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Raptors have gotten a bad rap.

Sarah Unger wants to set the record straight on birds of prey.

"If we get to the kids when they’re young," she said after a presentation Tuesday at Farnsworth Middle School, "they’ll know they are not a bad thing."

Unger, who lives in Fulton County, started breeding parrots when she was 12 and has spent the past 18 years enraptured with birds. Most recently, she works as a volunteer with North Country Wild Care, a network of wildlife rehabilitators based in the Adirondacks.

Mary Whipple introduced her to the Farnsworth students as "the bird lady."

Three dozen students — many of them literally on the edge of their seats — listened raptly to Unger as, one by one, she coaxed three different raptors from their towel-draped cages.

The students had stayed after school for the talk. They are members of the Guilderland Animal Protection Society, a club they named themselves.

"I like animals a lot," said sixth-grader Leigha Hall when asked why she joined GAPS. "My mom helps out with feral cats where we live, taking them in and giving them homes."

Club members are selling dog biscuits, cat treats, and bird food to raise funds for their projects.

Katrina Kiersey, also in sixth grade, joined because she, too, likes animals. "Sometimes I watch Animal Planet....It shows how people abuse animals," she said. "I want to help animals."

All about Bobbin

The first bird that Unger displayed on her gloved hand was small and sleek. After several guesses, the GAPS members correctly named it as a kestrel, the smallest North American falcon.

Unger teased answers from the students, many of whom eagerly waved their hands to respond to her questions. She pointed out three main differences between raptors and songbirds.

"Think B-E-T," said Unger.

B is for beak, which is sharp and curved for eating meat. E is for eyes, which are big to see prey. And T is for talons to dig into prey.

Raptors include hawks, owls, eagles, vultures, and falcons.

"Falcons usually soar," said Unger. "They hunt on the wing...Will it gross you out if I give him a mouse to eat""

"Please do," shouted one boy while other students drew back.

Unger advised them they could look away if they wished as she gingerly offered the kestrel a dead mouse.

"His name is Bobbin," said Unger, explaining that kestrels bob on telephone wires.

"Did you tame him"" asked a girl.

"Yes, I’ve been working with him," replied Unger. A bunch of other falcons had picked on Bobbin, she said "and beat him up," leaving his bottom beak broken and causing nerve damage.

These injuries made it impossible for him to survive in the wild, so Unger uses him "for education."

Falcons, she said, "have long, narrow wings, very aerodynamic, which means they’re fast."

Unger then pointed out the black markings beneath Bobbin’s eyes and asked why they were there. When no answers were forthcoming, she asked, "Why do football players put black stuff under their eyes""

"It keeps out the sun," a boy responded with alacrity.

"Absolutely," said Unger, indicating it was the same for falcons.

She said they can fly as high as airplanes and need the protection from the sun.

Unger said she guessed that Bobbin is five years old and said kestrels can live for 15 to 20 years if they survive their first year, when they have to learn to hunt.

"It would be like your mom saying to you, ‘See ya. Find your own food,’" said Unger.

She pointed out the markings on the back of Bobbin’s head that look like eyes. "It gives the illusion he’s always watching," said Unger.

A boy in the audience compared that to the eyes in a peacock’s feathers or on the wings of a butterfly that keep predators away.

"You guys are smart. You’re teaching me today," said Unger.

Dedication and Fortuna

Next, Unger coaxed a broad-winged hawk named Dedication from its cage.

"She’s missing an eye, which she’d need to hunt food to survive in the wild," said Unger. "She may have been shot."

"Ooooh," came a soft, plaintiff cry from GAPS members on hearing this news.

"It’s very much against the law to shoot a raptor," Unger went on.

Gesturing to the hawk perched on her hand, she continued, "These guys migrate to the south...sometimes as far as South America. They migrate in kettles, tens of thousands of birds all at once."

The final bird to be displayed was the largest and the most popular. It needed some coaxing to leave its cage.

As Unger waited for it to emerge, she said, "Owls are very mischievous."

"What does that mean"" asked a society member.

"It means she gets into trouble," replied Unger.

When the barred owl emerged, looking both grand and gentle, an audible gasp rippled across the room.

Unger explained that owls have "double the vertebrae in their necks that we do" so they can turn their heads around to see what’s behind them.

The barred owl, she said, is the only North American owl with black eyes. Fortuna’s eyes were large, and riveted on Unger.

"Their eyes are so big so they can see at night," she said.

Unger pointed out the stiff feathers that help the owl’s hearing. Unger urged the students to cup their hands behind their ears to see if that helped them hear better — it did. She likened this to the sculpted feathers around Fortuna’s ears.

Unger then pointed out the holes that are ears on either side of Fortuna’s head, set at different levels rather than directly opposite each other as human ears are.

"She has one ear up here and one ear down here," said Unger, pointing to the holes as she explained this helps owls who hunt mostly at dusk or at night and rely on their keen hearing to find their prey.

"She’s being very gentle," said Unger of Fortuna’s grip. Even so, Unger must wear gloves, she said, because an owl’s sharp talons would cause her skin to bleed.

"Great horned owls are double her size and have the power of four full-grown men in their talons," said Unger.

Fortuna is another permanent guest of Unger. "She was hit by a car," Unger explained. "It injured her so she can’t hunt well enough to live out in the wild."

"A great privilege"

Although it is not always possible, a rehabilitator’s prime mission is to re-introduce a hurt, ill, or abandoned animal back into the wild.

Joyce Perry who, like Unger, is a volunteer with the North Country Wild Care, told the GAPS members about some of the animals she has helped. "I’ve had foxes, possums, raccoons, coyotes, fishers, weasels," she said.

Kids started asking about other animals, too. Yes, said Perry, Wild Care had nursed a bear cub and a bobcat and had helped many, many fawns.

Rehabilitators study to pass a state test and get licensed, she told the GAPS members. "We will take in any injured or orphaned animal," Perry said.

"We get fawns all the time," she went on. "People don’t realize the mother will leave her fawn alone all day. The fawns have no scent so they are safe from predators. Somebody will see the fawn alone and bring it to us."

The best thing to do, said Perry, is to leave a fawn alone; chances are, it has not been abandoned and it is difficult, once a fawn has been taken, to re-unite it with its mother.

In Call of the Wild, a newsletter published by North Country Wild Care, Perry describes nursing back to health a very sick opossum, which she named Priscilla. When she was rescued in May, after a hotline call from Niskayuna, Priscilla had a pouch full of tiny pink translucent babies. Opossums are the only North American marsupials, Perry explains.

Perry stayed up all through that first night, giving Priscilla fluids and helping her breathe with a nebulizer. Gradually, over several months, with more treatment, Priscilla’s health improved and seven babies were riding on her back.

At the end of August, the opossum family was released to a farm where food, water, and shelter were available.

"Each day with Priscilla was special as I watched with wonder and delight as my little family grew and prospered," concludes Perry. "It was a great privilege to be able to save Priscilla’s life and watch her babies grow until they were all healthy enough to be wild again."

"A working blueprint" for Altamont’s future

By Saranac Hale Spencer

ALTAMONT — A handful of residents filed into the village hall, comprehensive plans in hand, to grill the planning committee on its vision for the village.

"What was said was tremendous," Dean Whalen said yesterday of the public’s feedback. Whalen, a trustee, chairs the comprehensive planning committee. A portion of Tuesday night’s village board meeting served as a public hearing on the plan.

Most residents asked about the process — would the zoning changes suggested in the plan have to go through separate hearings before being adopted" Yes, they were told, if the plan is adopted, any changes that it recommends would have to be approved and implemented individually.

"This is almost like a working blueprint," said trustee and committee member, Harvey Vlahos.

Some parts of the plan might not be possible, Whalen said, when asked how much of the plan he expected would be implemented. He added, " We have to look at at least 50 percent of the things in the next couple of years." Zoning, the business district, and the noise ordinance are things that are important to act on soon, he said.

The gray water pilot project is one item that Whalen identified as probably being cost prohibitive. The idea behind the project is to connect a pipe system to buildings in the village to collect "gray" water — washing water rather than sewage — to be used elsewhere rather than treating it like waste water.

Also listed in the green-initiatives section of the plan is support for geothermal systems in municipal buildings, an idea that Whalen thinks might be more feasible. Geothermal heating and cooling is a method that involves drilling into the earth, to reach a depth that remains a constant 55 degrees, and running water through so that the stable 55 degree temperature is transferred to the water.

In the winter, setting the thermostat at 65 degrees would require only energy enough to heat the water 10 degrees, rather than, like a traditional system, heating air that comes in at 20 degrees to 65, he said as an example, and cooling is almost free.

"All you’re really running is a pump," he said. "The initial kicker usually is 20 percent more than if you were replacing or doing a new system conventionally." He added that the payback can come very rapidly.

In essentially its current form, the 44-page plan with 71 pages of appendices will be given to the board, officially, by Friday, Whalen said. He doesn’t expect to make any substantive changes to it as a result of the hearing. It will be presented to the Albany County Planning Board by Dec. 14, he said, and that board will have 30 days to respond.

There will be a public hearing on Jan. 16 at 8:15 p.m. at the village hall for the proposed comprehensive plan, before the village board votes on the plan.

"It has a lot of broad-stroke references and reminders," said Whalen, adding, "and dreams."

Water granted

The board voted unanimously to provide William and Andrea Gizzi with village water as soon as the village’s new well, on Brandle Road, is connected to the municipal system. Mayor James Gaughan said that the project is on schedule and will likely be completed by mid-February.

The Gizzis, who are building a house on Gun Club Road, just outside the village line, had requested municipal water. Altamont, faced with a limited water supply, has a moratorium on granting water outside the village.

Kate Provencher, a member of the comprehensive planning committee who also serves on the zoning board of appeals, addressed the board before the vote to grant water to the Gizzis came up. "It’s not a good idea to keep giving water when we have no supply," she said. "You have to set a precedent in the policy."

Access to village water was third on a list of three requirements given by the county’s Department of Health in order for it to grant the Gizzis a temporary certificate of occupancy for their new house at 6396 Gun Club Road. The couple drilled a well in May that has been contaminated by coliform despite repeated attempts to clean it. The Gizzis will use bottled water until they are hooked into the municipal system.

"There seems to have been a bureaucratic hiccup," said Vlahos of how the Gizzis had gotten a building permit without having a suitable water source. He concluded, "It’s not going to leave the village open to a flood of these requests."

No vote on voting machines

The village board tabled, until next month, its recommendation to the county on voting machines.

"You all remember the fiasco in Florida," said Vlahos as he introduced his prepared recommendation to the board. He was referring to the 2000 presidential race, which led Congress to pass the Help America Vote Act. New York is the last state in the union to comply with new voting machines; the deadlocked state legislature left the decision up to individual counties. (See Enterprise coverage from August 2005 and June 2006 at www.altamontenterprise.com)

Vlahos recommended paper ballot optical scan voting machines over direct recording electronic machines. "The ability to be comfortable with the fact that every vote has been counted is fundamental to American democracy," he said, referring to the paper trail left by optical scan machines and the absence of such evidence with DREs.

In his resolution, Vlahos wrote, "PBOS voting machines are more accurate, are half as expensive, last twice to three times as long, take up much less space, require less special handling, and are user friendly compared to DRE touch screen voting machines."

Trustee William Aylward said that he had invited some county legislators to the next village board meeting and Trustee Kerry Dineen said that, since she was busy with the Victorian Holiday celebration this weekend, she had not had time to properly look over the information from Vlahos. Dineen said that she would like to "hear the other side" of the debate.

"I would like to look at the full picture," said Gaughan. The board then agreed to table the vote until January.

Other business

In other business, the board:

— Heard from Norman Bauman that the neighborhood watch group has recruited "13 or 14 block captains." The next meeting for the group will be at 11 a.m. on Dec. 16 at the police station, he said;

— Voted unanimously to appoint Stewart Linendoll to the zoning board of appeals to fill the remainder of Claude Moyse’s term, which ends in 2008. Linendoll had been serving as an alternate; he will be replaced by Danny J. Ramirez, also until that term ends in 2008;

— Voted unanimously to hold a public hearing on Jan. 16 at 8 p.m. at the village hall to consider renewing Time Warner Cable’s franchise in the village for 10 years. The company pays the village over $20,000 a year, from a portion of the subscriber fees paid by residents, Gaughan told The Enterprise. He would be open to other cable options for the village, he said, but "there is no other option available right now";

— Voted unanimously to contract Barton & Loguidice, P.C. to evaluate the village water system following the recent lead and copper action level exceedance, at a cost of $5,500.

"The safety of the water is fine," said Tim McIntyre, superintendent of public works. The reason for those levels, he said, is because of the old, corroded pipes in the village’s water system, a problem that is addressed in the proposed comprehensive plan;

— Voted unanimously to hire Michael Smith as a full-time laborer, for 40 hours per week, to be paid $12.65 an hour beginning Dec. 6;

— Voted unanimously to enter into a shared services agreement with the town of Guilderland, starting on the first of the year, for $3,000 a year "for staff services of 4 hours per week to design, coordinate, and promote special summer events and programs at Orsini and Bozenkill Park, weekly farmers’ market, and administering senior grants’ activities and programs"; and

— Voted unanimously to approve up to $45,000 for payment to National Grid for power service to the new well site.

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