Monday, March 2, 2009

A Possible Adirondack Congressional District


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With the approach of the 2010 federal census and the ensuing remapping of representative districts for the state legislature and US Congress, New York’s legislative and executive leaders have a rare opportunity to repair the fractured battlefields of our district maps: the result of decades of partisan turf wars.

If lawmakers are looking for a place to start this process, they might consider the case of the Adirondack Park and the north country.

At present the Adirondack Park’s Blue Line passes through four congressional districts:
The 23rd represented by Republican John McHugh; the open-seated 20th; The 24th represented by Democrat Michael Arcuri; and the 21st (holding just a sliver of parkland in northern Fulton County) represented by Democrat Paul Tonko. Combined, these districts stretch over half the state and contain more than two-and-a-half million residents. Easy enough to see how the interests of the park might become diluted.

The map above advances an alternative: a single congressional district encompassing the entire Adirondack Park plus the balance of St. Lawrence, Franklin, Clinton and Warren Counties, and some parts of Saratoga and Washington Counties beyond the Blue Line. Using numbers from the 2000 census this boundary contains close to the 654,361 New York residents that were required to constitute a district nine years ago. With New York slated to lose one representative in the upcoming reapportionment, and with expected population increases, that 654,361 average will undoubtedly increase for the 2010 redistricting process. As it does, the district can absorb more constituents in Saratoga and Washington Counties (making all efforts to avoid Saratoga Springs, as it would be a pity to deprive Albany’s congressional district of the race track).

There are numerous arguments in favor of a congressional district with the unified park at it’s core. Perhaps the strongest is the intent of federal lawmakers as expressed in the 1965 Federal Voting Rights Act. The law sets out explicit directives that state legislatures create compact and contiguous congressional districts and that they respect natural and artificial boundaries.

This map is merely a starting point. We welcome your comments and any alternative congressional district map you may wish to submit.


Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Most Expensive Seat in the Park: NY’s 20th CD

The first debate for New York’s 20th Congressional District will take place in Saratoga Springs this Tuesday, four weeks before the March 31st vote. Before the media turn their focus exclusively upon the candidates, their war chests and attack ads, let’s take a moment to contemplate the peculiar 10-county district itself. And — more broadly — the process by which such a tortured political boundary is created.

With $12.5 million in campaign disbursements, the 20th CD became notorious last year as one of the country’s most expensive house races. While it held the number one position in November, by the time the last campaign finance reports were in, it had slipped to second place behind California’s 4th CD, which lumbered in at $16 million plus.

The high cost of the once stable Republican district owes to the perception among state and national GOP leaders that the defeat two years earlier of John Sweeney by Kirsten Gillibrand was an aberration. Grim prospects for Republican victories elsewhere made the 20th — with a 67,456 active voter advantage in party registration — appear to be as good a GOP redoubt as any. Throw in a wealthy, self-financing Republican candidate and a district that encompasses at least four media markets and you practically guarantee a broken spending record.

In a state that has become infamous for gerrymandered congressional districts, the 20th — stretching from Saranac Lake in the north to Millbrook and Hyde Park in the south, to the Southern Tier town of Sidney in the west — might best be viewed as three panhandles in search of a pan.

A slight detour here for those who have forgotten high school civics class: congressional district boundaries shift every decade following the decennial census and reapportionment by congress of the 435 house seats among the 50 states. The process of drawing boundaries to encompass equal numbers of constituents is left to the legislatures of individual states, a smooth enough drill if your legislature is, well, functional.

In Albany, however, the last three redistricting cycles have coincided with legislatures divided by party and geography. In the case of the last redistricting in 2000-2002, deeply divided. Consequently, a map of New York which naturally breaks down into neat, logical regions has been jig-sawed into a puzzle of pseudo-fractals and jagged rorschach blots.

All of this is about to change. With both houses of New York’s legislature and the executive branch held by the same political party for the first time since the 1970s, the redistricting machinery is about to run a lot faster, and might just result in a long-overdue return to cohesive districts in the wake of next year’s census.

Redistricting is a quintessentially political process and there are basically three rules for a single political party remapping congressional districts:

Rule #1: Keep your party’s incumbents safe. If reapportionment robs your state of one member of its delegation (as will happen to New York in 2010), make sure the seat is pulled out from under someone from the other side of the aisle.

Rule #2: Divide and conquer. If a geographically unified base of support for the opposing political party can be distributed among separate districts with larger safe populations of your own party, get out your meat cleavers.

Rule #3: If that hostile voting block is too large to be safely subsumed by friendly districts, then isolate and ignore it.

How these rules will affect the future of New York’s 20th Congressional District will largely depend on the outcome of the balloting on March 31st. One thing is certain in any case. With the special election this year, and an immediate reelection campaign in 2010 followed by a brand new race for a potentially radically redrawn district in 2012, this contested terrain will continue to be very expensive property for the incumbent.

Come back tomorrow for the Almanack’s modest proposal for a redrawn congressional district that neatly encompasses the entire Adirondack Park.


Saturday, February 28, 2009

Conference on the Adirondacks Community Sustainability

The Adirondack Research Consortium (ARC) invites research papers to be presented at the 16th Annual Conference on the Adirondacks on May 20-21, 2009, at High Peaks Resort in Lake Placid. The conference program will explore the latest information and research on such topics as community development and infrastructure, forest management, trends in private land development, findings of the Adirondack Assessment Project, GIS collaborations, green farming, energy technologies, the impacts of climate change, and opportunities to reduce our carbon footprint. The ARC invites and welcomes research on these and other topics including natural sciences, social sciences, and the arts and humanities relevant to the future of the Adirondack region.

To be considered, complete the 2009 Abstract Submission Form, which is available on the ARC webpage at adkresearch.org. An ARC conference committee will review all submissions to determine acceptance for presentation at the conference. The ARC expects that all presenters will register for the conference.

The ARC Invites Paper Presentations and Posters

Paper Presentations: Papers will be presented in panel discussions of two or three participants that run throughout the conference. Talks must be limited to 20 minutes for the presentation and question/answer period. Your audience may have lay persons who, although they might have a keen interest in your research and results, may not be fully conversant with the jargon of your science. We encourage you to use plain language. Slide, overhead, and digital projectors will be available in all meeting rooms.

Poster Presentations: Posters will be prominently displayed throughout the conference. Posters must be mounted on a rigid backing. The ARC will accept them at a designated time at the beginning of the conference. Conference staff will aid in affixing and removing the poster in the display area. An opportunity for conference attendees to meet the poster presenters will be formally scheduled during the conference.
Note: Students must submit name of faculty sponsor for presentations.

For more information, contact the Adirondack Research Consortium at 518-564-2020 or by e-mail at info@adkresearch.org. The submission deadline is April 1, 2009. The ARC will make its final decisions by April 15, 2009 and notify all applicants shortly thereafter.


Friday, February 27, 2009

This Week’s Top Adirondack News Stories


Friday, February 27, 2009

Adirondack Blogging Round-Up


Thursday, February 26, 2009

An Ill Wind

It seems every morning nowadays newspapers bring another ominous story on the poor health of, well, newspapers. Last week the publisher of the Post-Star in Glens Falls wrote to assure nervous readers and advertisers that the demise of the paper’s corporate owner, Lee Enterprises of Davenport, IA had been exaggerated. Good to know, but doesn’t it make you nervous just to have to be reassured? Last weekend the Journal Register Company of Yardley, PA–owner of The Saratogian and Troy Record–filed for bankruptcy. The Adirondack Daily Enterprise, privately owned by Ogden Newspapers, Inc. of Wheeling, WV, has recently jettisoned a locally syndicated column, instituted a hiring freeze and eliminated their freelance budget. Even the parent company of the Albany Times-Union, Hearst Corp. has announced intentions to sell or fold newspapers out west.

This constant drumbeat is not good news for anyone who loves newspapers. More importantly, and to paraphrase a 56 year-old misquote, what’s bad for newspapers is bad for democracy.


Thursday, February 26, 2009

Enrollment Down at Paul Smith’s, Up at NCCC


The slowdown in the economy is affecting the Adirondack Park’s two colleges in different ways.

At least twenty students have left Paul Smith’s College this year for financial reasons, president John Mills told The New York Times this week. “Their parents are losing their jobs, or they’re afraid of taking on any debt, even student loans,” Mills said to the Times. “It’s a fear of the unknown.”

Enrollment at the private two- and four-year college is 834 right now, low for a spring semester, college spokesman Kenneth Aaron explained Wednesday. Faculty and staff have taken a voluntary pay cut (from 1 to 2.5 percent) to help make ends meet, he added.

The story is different at North Country Community College (NCCC), which has campuses in Saranac Lake, Ticonderoga and Malone. While hard times are hurting four-year colleges across the United States, they are boosting enrollment at career-oriented community colleges.

NCCC numbers are up 8 percent (103 students) over last spring, reported Ed Trathen, vice president for enrollment and student services. Some 2,200 students attend NCCC, more than double the number 10 years ago.

“For us, it definitely has to do with people departing voluntarily or involuntarily from the workforce and looking to retrain themselves,” Trathen said. The college focuses on programs that can lead to local jobs; for example, nursing, radiologic technology, massage therapy, sports events management, and business for sole proprietors. NCCC also established a 2-year pre-teaching program that’s transferrable to SUNY Potsdam and Plattsburgh.

Affordability is another factor. Tuition at NCCC, which has no student housing, is $3,490 a year. At Paul Smith’s it’s $18,460, plus $8,350 for room and board.

Nurses are in demand, and NCCC received 350 applications this year for the 70 slots in its Registered Nursing program, Trathen said. In 2007 Paul Smith’s College explored launching a nursing curriculum, but no action has been taken.

Kenneth Aaron said Paul Smith’s endowment is down, just like all investment portfolios. “The silver lining is we’re not as reliant on our endowment as other institutions,” he added.

Paul Smith’s is under a hiring freeze, and NCCC is bracing for a reduction in state aid (some funding also comes from Essex and Franklin Counties). Both institutions are trying to cut costs without having to lay off faculty or trim education programs, Aaron and Trathen said.

Photograph of Paul Smiths College in the 1950s courtesy of campawful.com


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Road Salt, Moose and Other Reasons to Drive Slower

The Adirondack Council this week issued a report on drinking-water contamination and environmental damage caused by road salt throughout New York State. The advocacy group offered six steps that could curtail the pollution, such as better coordination between state and local plowing crews, preemptive deicing, and development of salt alternatives.

At the bottom of a bulleted list of recommendations was the simplest: Slow Down.

“New York should adopt an aggressive approach to encourage safer winter driving, which can include lower winter speed limits, well-placed variable message boards, and greater enforcement of safe speed limits during winter storms,” the Council said.

There are other good reasons to ease up on the gas. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Another Victory Over Adirondack Mercury Pollution

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an attempt by the Bush administration and the utility industry to reinstate a mercury-control regulation that would have allowed increased mercury pollution in the Adirondacks. According to the ADK’s Neil Woodworth, this is the “final nail in the coffin of this ill-advised regulation, which left the Adirondacks and Catskills vulnerable to continued mercury contamination.”

In January 2007, ADK filed a brief with the Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia asserting that Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Air Mercury Rule (CAMR) was an illegal attempt to weaken the strict mercury emission controls set forth in the Clean Air Act. Here is a little history of the legal battle over mercury pollution from the Adirondack Mountain Club:

In February 2008, the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) won a major victory when the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia threw out the CAMR, a cap-and-trade program that allowed polluters to buy pollution credits and emit mercury without pollution controls. CAMR resulted in regional mercury “hot spots,” and two recent studies have linked coal-fired power plants to mercury hot spots in the Adirondacks and Catskills. The appeals court ruled that the EPA mercury plan conflicted with the clear language of the federal Clean Air Act, which requires each power plant to install the best technology available to reduce mercury emissions by as much as 90 percent.

The Bush administration and the utility industry appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Although the Obama administration withdrew the federal government’s appeal, the industry continued to pursue the case. Today, the Supreme Court dismissed the industry’s writ of certiorari, thus upholding the appeals court’s decision in the case.

The decision means that EPA must now promulgate regulations requiring each power plant to install the most advanced pollution controls to reduce its mercury emissions. Here is more from an ADK press release:

In enacting the Clean Air Act, Congress provided for strict limits on mercury emissions through the installation of maximum achievable control technology, which Congress made applicable to all coal-burning power plants. By contrast, the EPA administrative rule challenged in this lawsuit would have delayed for two decades the elimination of airborne mercury emissions as a source of mercury toxins in the Northeast.

Furthermore, the contested rule would have allowed many of the worst polluters to buy “pollution rights,” continue to release mercury up their smokestacks and perpetuate mercury hot spots in New York and the Northeast.

The Adirondacks and Catskills are downwind of numerous coal-burning power plants, whose mercury emissions contribute significantly to mercury pollution in these regions. A 2007 independent study by the Charles Driscoll and the Hubbard Brook Research Foundation estimated that mercury emissions from U.S. coal-fired power plants are responsible for 40 percent to 65 percent of mercury deposition in the Northeast.

Current levels of mercury deposition in the Northeast are four to six times higher than the levels recorded in 1900. Ninety-six percent of the lakes in the Adirondack region and 40 percent of the lakes in New Hampshire and Vermont exceed the recommended EPA action level for methyl mercury in fish.

Because of high mercury levels in fish from six reservoirs in the Catskills, state health officials have warned that infants, children under 15 and women of childbearing age should not eat any fish from these reservoirs. Mercury is also present in two-thirds of Adirondack loons at levels that negatively impact their reproductive capacity, posing a significant risk to their survival.

New York State recommends that no one eat more than one meal per week of fish taken from any lake, river, stream or pond in New York State. There is a complete (and disturbing) list and map of the Adirondack fish advisories from the New York State Department of Health located here. It lists 55 Adirondack lakes from which “children less than 15 years old and women who are pregnant or who might one day become pregnant should not eat any fish.”


Monday, February 23, 2009

Adirondack Almanack Adds Contributors

Big news here at Adirondack Almanack. Next month marks the fourth year of the blog and there are changes in the works, including a little redesign and two new contributors. Both are well-known folks for Adirondackers: freelance writer and editor Mary Thill and local cartoonist and commentator Mark Wilson.

Mary has worked in the Adirondacks since 1990, writing for the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, Lake Placid News, Plattsburgh Press-Republican, Adirondack Explorer and Adirondack Life, where she was also an editor from 2001 to 2008.

Mark’s editorial cartoons – under the pen name MARQUIL – appear in newspapers and online across New York State. He also provides editorial illustrations and occasional commentary pieces for The Sunday Gazette of Schenectady.

Mary and Mark live in Saranac Lake. Please join me in welcoming them to the Almanack.


Monday, February 23, 2009

Opinion: Our Local Media is Killing Our Democracy

The election for the 20th Congressional District is about 40 days away. Three candidates have announced. Our local news is ignoring one of them – it’s as simple as that – and now they’ve been so brazen as to tell us why.

NCPR’s political reporter Brian Mann ran a story entitled “Lightning-fast 20th race pits experienced Republican against a fresh-faced Democrat” – no mention of the other candidate, or links to his website, although the other two are linked. Then he told us on his blog:

My job is to reflect reality in my stories. So I will be covering Mr. Sundwall, though I’ll generally treat him as an “issue” or a “protest” candidate. How much coverage he receives will depend on a) how interesting, thoughtful and compelling he turns out to be; and b) the degree to which his ideas influence the campaign debate. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, February 22, 2009

Frozen River, the Oscars, North Country Realism

Frozen River is nominated in two categories of tonight’s Academy Awards: best actress (the very deserving Melissa Leo) and best screenplay (by the equally deserving Courtney Hunt, who is also the film’s director).

If there were awards for North Country realism, Frozen River would run away with the all-time top honor.

The independent movie, filmed in Plattsburgh in 2007 on a budget of less than $1 million, has won 21 prizes, including the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, where Quentin Tarantino called it “one of the most exciting thrillers I am going to see this year.”

The plot centers on two single mothers — one Mohawk, from the Akwesasne Reservation, and one white, living in Massena — on the financial brink. They team up to smuggle illegal immigrants across the St. Lawrence River in the trunk of a car. There is suspense inherent in driving across ice, as a North Country audience knows all too well.

Director Hunt’s husband is from Malone, and her familiarity with local detail is abundant, down to the dirty snowbanks, rez radio, Quebec strip bars, Price Chopper, Yankee One Dollar, purple ties on State Troopers, and WPTZ weatherman Tom Messner giving a perky forecast of 30-below on a Rent-to-Own TV that’s always on inside the trailer of Ray Eddy, the character portrayed by Leo.

The movie also examines the jurisdictional ambiguities of the smuggling economy at Akwesasne, a nation unto itself straddling the U.S.-Canada border.

Other efforts in the bleak-North-Country genre (including an adaptation of Russell Banks’s The Sweet Hereafter, and Vermonter Jay Craven’s Northeast Kingdom movies) seem to sacrifice verisimilitude for art or convenience. Perhaps the truest antecedent for Frozen River is the ice-crossing scene in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, filmed in Port Henry in 1927 (excerpts can be seen here).

Frozen River was released on DVD earlier this month. Trivia/spoiler note: Michael O’Keefe, the actor portraying the State Trooper, played Danny Noonan in Caddyshack 29 years ago.


Saturday, February 21, 2009

DEC Closes Four Adirondack Campgrounds


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According to a Times-Union story, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation will close four campgrounds within the Blue Line. The four campgrounds are:

•Sharp Bridge in North Hudson on the Schroon River;
•Poke-O-Moonshine in Chesterfield;
•Tioga Point on Raquette Lake;
•Point Comfort on Piseco Lake.

The move is a cost-saving measure, targeting low-traffic campgrounds. None of the 38 remaining DEC Adirondack campgrounds will be affected.

ReserveAmerica, the company handling DEC campground reservations, will contact anyone holding reservations at the four campgrounds to offer alternatives.


Friday, February 20, 2009

Ebenezer Emmons


1799-1863. As Chief Geologist for the northern New York State Geological District, Emmons is credited with leading the first recorded ascent up Mount Marcy in 1837. In a paper submitted to the New York State Assembly on this date in 1838, he gave the Adirondacks its name.


Friday, February 20, 2009

Bobsled, Skeleton World Championships Start Today

The Bauhaus FIBT Bobsled and Skeleton World Championships come to Lake Placid February 20-March 1 at the Olympic Sports Complex. The sliders will compete on the famous mile-long track down Mt. Van Hoevenberg with hopes of being crowned a 2009 World Champion.

This is the ninth time that Lake Placid has hosted the Bobsled World Championships, and the second time hosting the Skeleton World Championships, with the last ones being in 2003. The 2009 World Championships features athletes from over 20 countries competing in five disciplines: men’s and women’s skeleton, women’s bobsled, two-man bobsled and four-man bobsled. The competition consists of four runs over two days for each discipline, with the lowest combined time sled being crowned champion. This is the last major sliding event for these athletes leading up to the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, Canada.

The Bauhaus FIBT Bobsled and Skeleton World Championships begin on Friday, Feb. 20 at 8:30 AM with the first two runs of the women’s bobsled competition. Saturday’s action begins with the final two runs of the women’s bobsled event at 8:30 AM, followed by the first two runs of the two-man competition at 1 PM. Sunday morning also starts at 8:30 AM with the last runs of the two-man bobsled. The Team Event wraps up the first week of competition at 1 PM Sunday afternoon.

The second week of the World Championships starts with the women’s skeleton competition at 9 AM Thursday, Feb. 26. The women return to the track Friday morning, Feb. 27, at 8:30 AM with their final two runs. Men’s skeleton kicks off their competition at 1 PM with the first two heats Friday afternoon. The four-man bobsled teams begin their event on Saturday, Feb. 28 at 9 AM, followed by the final two runs in the men’s skeleton competition at 1 PM. The World Championships wrap up on Sunday, March 1, at 9 AM with the final two runs of the event, in four-man bobsled.

There are two Lake Placid World Fest parties slated for Feb. 22 and Feb. 28. The party starts at 3 PM and runs until 6:30 PM at the Mirror Lake Beach. These free community festivals will have live music, food vendors, games, a kids’ area, fireworks and more! Russ Cook and Brad Hurlburt as well as Zip City provide the live music Feb. 22 while Slyde and Raisinhead take to the stage Feb. 28.

Spectators at the Bauhaus FIBT World Champions can visit the Whiteface Zone each Saturday and Sunday during the event, located trackside, and pick up a lift ticket good for Whiteface from March 1 through the end of the season for only $25!

Sandra Kiriasis of Germany won her seventh straight FIBT World Cup title for women’s bobsled. Kiriasis, the five-time defending World Champion and defending Olympic Champion, earned 1679 points to easily with the title. Teammate Cathleen Martini finished the season in second place, with 1599 points, while Shauna Rohbock of the United States took third, with 1440 points. Rohbock won silver at the 2006 Olympics, and has two bronze medals from the World Championships.

Switzerland’s Beat Hefti won his first two-man bobsled World Cup overall title this season as he amassed 1581 total points to win the Joska trophy. Hefti, an Olympic brakeman, is in his rookie season driving on the World Cup. Andre Lange of Germany finished second overall with 1501, followed by teammate Thomas Florschuetz with1453. Lange is the defending World and Olympic champion in both the two-man and four-man bobsled. He has three Olympic gold medals as well as 13 World Championships medals, including eight gold ones. The last time the World Championships were in Lake Placid, in 2003, Lange won both disciplines.

Aleksandr Zubkov of Russia captured both the FIBT World Cup Four-Man and Combined titles. This was his first four-man title since 2004. Zubkov finished in the four-man standings with 1646 total points while Janis Minnis of Latvia finished the season in second place with 1549. Lange ended the season in third with 1251, followed by U.S. driver Steve Holcomb in fourth with 1224 points.

Zubkov won the combined two-man and four-man title with 2967 points while Hefti, the 2008-2009 2-man World Cup champion, was second with 2765, followed by Lange, 2752.

Germany’s Marion Trott won this year’s FIBT Women’s Skeleton World Cup Tour title. Trott won two of the last three races of the season to clinch her first World Cup title with 1572 total points. Great Britain’s Amy Williams barely held off American slider Katie Uhlaender to claim second place overall. Williams finished with 1468 points while Uhlaender was just two points behind with 1466 for third. Uhlaender finished second in last year’s World Championships at Altenberg, Germany, and is hoping to win the gold on her home track. 2008 World Champion Anja Huber of Germany returns to Lake Placid with hopes of retaining her title.

Alexander Tretiakov of Russia completed a sweep in the final races of the season to secure his first FIBT Men’s Skeleton World Cup title. Tretiakov finished the season with 1526 total points. German teammates Florian Grassl and Frank Rommel finished in second and third places, respectively. Grassl ended the season with 1453 points while Rommel had 1436. Rommel won the bronze medal in last year’s World Championships, while Grassl finished fourth. Defending World Champion Kristan Bromley of Great Britain, who finished tenth in the standings is returning to Lake Placid with hopes of winning another World Championship title.

Tickets for the Bauhaus FIBT Bobsled and Skeleton World Championships are on sale now. Single day tickets are $9 for adults and $7 for juniors (ages 7-12) and seniors (65 and over). Guests may purchase a Silver Pass good for all three days for just $19. Tickets may be purchased at the Olympic Center Box Office in person or by phone (518) 523-3330, online, or at any area Price Chopper store. Visit the ORDA Store on Main Street in Lake Placid to pick up FREE tickets, while supplies last. Please visit www.lakeplacid2009.com for all ticket packages and more event information.