Saturday, December 22, 2007
Thursday, November 15, 2007
My bill is effectively doubled by LIPA's "power supply charges" — which the utility used to call "fuel surcharges" before it decided on the new euphemism.
Our cost-per-kilowatt-hour is just about doubled by LIPA's power supply charges. No matter what LIPA calls it, it's a RATE INCREASE, plain and simple. Yet this rate increase has been imposed by LIPA without review and approval by the (so-called) Public Service Commission.
Newsday business reporter Mark Harrington has an excellent article in today's edition: LIPA overestimates cost of fuel, overcharges customers.
In 2006, LIPA over-collected these bogus fuel surcharges by $197 MILLION.
LIPA has been refunding the 2006 excess revenue in 2007. But at the same time, LIPA is continuing to over-collect fuel surcharges to the tune of another $118 MILLION as of September.
LIPA is intentionally collecting more in fuel surcharges than it needs as a hedge against the "volatile" energy market. The result is the near doubling of its "cash, cash equivalents and investments" at the end of its operating year, from $413 million at the end of 2004 to $710 million at the end of 2006.
And last year, Harrington reports, LIPA "voted itself the right to overcollect more than three times the amount it previously could to hold in reserve."
LIPA operates without sufficient oversight. With a complicit PSC, it raises our de facto rates, changes its tariff to increase allowable "reserves" and manages a huge slush fund collected from us ratepayers -- who are struggling to pay our electric bills. Even as LIPA is jacking up our rates and padding its bank accounts to protect us against "volatility" it is shutting off customers who can't afford to pay their LIPA bills. "At last count," Harrington writes, "217,105 residential and commercial customers -- roughly one in five -- were late making payments, and LIPA's practice of shutting off electricity for non-payers spiked last year."
Why do we sit back silently and allow this to continue? This is our money. LIPA rates are effectively a tax. There are few realistic options for most of us but to buy electricity from this monopoly. The PSC was created to regulate utility monopolies and protect the public from abuse. It isn't doing its job. What will it take to get people to stand up and say, "ENOUGH! We demand change!" We have a governor who prides himself on being a crusader for consumer rights. When will we see that brought to bear on the PSC and LIPA? LIPA ratepayers are being shafted. And LIPA is allowed to do whatever it wants with our money with very little oversight. Meanwhile, we just keep footing the bill without a peep.
Friday, November 09, 2007
November 8, 2007
Think your utility bills are killing you now? Well, get ready to dig even deeper into your pockets this winter, if the state Public Service Commission staff has its way.
The PSC staff is recommending that National Grid, which bought out KeySpan in August, be allowed to recover from ratepayers 100 percent of the cost of cleaning up the 83 contaminated manufactured gas production sites it got from KeySpan. Estimated price tag for the cleanup: over $1 billion. (See Times/Review story by North Shore Sun reporter Anna Gustafson, "Rate payers to foot the bill?") This could raise our utility rates — including the already sky-high cost of electricity — as much as 30 percent, according to local lawmakers. Even if you're not a primary natural gas customer, you're still going to pay. LIPA buys natural gas from National Grid to generate the electricity it sells you. LIPA passes its fuel cost increases directly to ratepayers by way of fuel surcharges, recently renamed "power supply charges," that have effectively doubled your electric costs by adding almost 10 cents per kilowatt to your bill — on top of per-kilowatt-hour charges that are already among the highest in the nation.
Legislators, including First District Assemblyman Marc Alessi, warned us this might happen when the National Grid deal was before the PSC for approval this summer. They implored the PSC to address the cleanup costs in the buyout agreement. Once again, the PSC proved itself more interested in preserving the utilities' profitability than in protecting ratepayers. It ignored the legislators' demands and approved a buyout agreement that was mum on the MPG remediation cost. The ink was barely dry on the deal when National Grid asked PSC for permission to pass the remediation cost on to us, and PSC now appears poised to give the giant utility exactly what it wants.
We urge the commissioners to put the public interest before special interests for a change. Don't make ratepayers pay for the utility's neglect or malfeasance. With crude oil prices hitting $100 a barrel this winter, driving heating and electric costs even higher, Long Island ratepayers simply can't bear this additional spike in utility charges, especially in an economic climate of grave uncertainty. The reverberation effect of this increase could shatter the local economy.
With history as our guide, it's clear the remediation cost pass-through is probably as good as done. National Grid, whose lobbyist is the former chairman of the PSC, has more sway with the commission than does the public whose interest it's supposed to serve. No surprise there. The real question is whether our state Legislature has the independence (from the utility/energy lobbies) and principle to enact meaningful legislative reform, putting the public interest in the forefront of utility regulation, where it belongs. Time will tell. Meanwhile, turn off the lights, bundle up and open your wallet. It's going to be a long, cold, costly winter.
Copyright 2007 Times/Review Newspapers Corp.
It was the fall of 1972. Richard Nixon was about to hand George McGovern a historic defeat.
I was a high school sophomore, not quite 15, but very tuned in to current events and national politics.
We all were. It was a tumultuous time: Vietnam, the anti-war movement, the civil rights movement, the women's rights movement. The events of the day were not abstract concepts; they affected us directly. Older siblings were drafted into the service and sent to Southeast Asia. Too many came home in coffins. The streets of the nation's cities were teeming with protests, some of which turned violent. Young versus old, black versus white, women versus men, peacenik versus hawk. And it was all on the nightly news, from the jungles in Vietnam to urban riots and campus demonstrations.
In 1972, for the first time ever, 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds would be allowed to vote in a presidential election, thanks to the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution ratified the year before. That was big. Huge, in my almost-15-year-old eyes. It meant I'd be voting in the next presidential contest, in 1976. And I was convinced that young people would turn the tide in American politics. (Wrong.)
I remember sitting around the lunch table one day discussing politics. (Yes, we really did have discussions like that in the cafeteria. And, no, we were not geeks.) I faithfully wore my McGovern button on my blue uniform blazer every day that fall. My leanings got me into arguments with pro-Nixon classmates, who far outnumbered us McGovernites at my small Catholic high school.
Passionate and outspoken, I found myself engaged in heated debates during lunch more often than not. On this day, following just such a discussion, a couple of friends told me they expected me to be the first woman elected president of the United States. My immediate reaction, after calculating that I wouldn't be eligible to run until 1994 (you have to be 35 — ancient! — to run for president): No way! We'll definitely elect a woman president long before then.
Truly, I have been wrong about so many things along life's winding path. But the spectacularly wrong belief I professed with such certainty that afternoon in 1972 must rank among my all-time worst prognostications. I was so sure. It seemed so clear. But, boy, was it wrong.
So wrong that I still remember it vividly, 35 years later — when, not only haven't we elected a woman president, but this is the first time in U.S. history a woman has a real shot at the presidential nomination by one of the major parties.
And we're still discussing the fact that she's a woman. At least we've gotten beyond talking about what she wears or how she styles her hair.
How ironic that in this race, when a woman is finally on the presidential short list, a black man is also a serious contender in the race, also for the first time in history. Now, I'm not sure I'm ready to vote for Barack Obama for president — but not because of his race. It's just that I don't know if I'm ready to vote for a presidential candidate who's younger than I am.
We're careening toward an inevitable, historic clash of the long-overdue deliverance on unfulfilled promises in America: gender versus race. As the 2008 race heats up — albeit prematurely, even before we can digest the results of the 2007 local elections — Hillary and Barack will beat each other up, neutralizing each other and guaranteeing the status quo.
This is a practical joke of cosmic proportions, and probably proof that God is a wealthy, white, male Republican after all.
But, hey, I could be wrong. After all, I've been wrong before.
Friday, November 02, 2007
This wasn't easy. We hated not endorsing a candidate in the supervisor's race. Our reasoning is explained in the endorsement. Personally, I'm still not sure which lever I'm going to pull in that race.
Some people have expressed surprise about our endorsement of Ed Densieski for Highway Superintendent. That wasn't easy either. Certainly, Ed showed lack of judgment as an elected official two years ago in starting a business with Calverton sandminer/trucker Mike Cholowsky, a convicted felon. But he says he has dissolved the partnership and, while Densieski Fuel is still listed as an active corporation in N.Y., that doesn't mean the partnership with Cholowsky is still active. And there was never, at any time, any indication that Ed did anything illegal or unethical as a result of that business association.
Ed came across during the candidate interview we conducted as the better candidate, plain and simple. Gio is a heck of a nice guy. But he didn't seem to possess the vigor and verve the job is going to demand to make the changes the department desperately needs. The only reason to withhold the endorsement from Ed would have been because of his previous business partnership — and a very short-lived one, at that — with someone who has a criminal conviction in his past. That simply didn't seem fair to us.
Thursday, November 01, 2007
The town budget process is typically tedious but very important.
What question is more fundamental than how our elected officials spend our tax dollars — except maybe how much of our hard-earned dollars government will take for taxes? The answers to both lie in the budget.
However, budgets are easy to manipulate to the political advantage of the person controlling the budget process, the town supervisor. Every two years, you can bet the sitting supervisor, whoever he may be, presents a budget that produces the lowest possible tax rate. There's even a name for it: "election year budget," a document that uses every gimmick imaginable to keep the tax rate increase low to please voters. Often election year budgets are unrealistic. Sometimes they are downright irresponsible. Supervisors have been known to prepare budgets that purposefully underestimate known expenses, leaving it to the Town Board to restore necessary funding on crucial line items. Then the supervisor can tell potentially angry taxpayers (voters): "My budget held the line on taxes. The Town Board hiked spending and taxes." It's an unconscionable practice — and violates the supervisor's duty as budget officer — but it's the oldest "election year budget" trick in the books and one very frequently employed by sitting supervisors of all political stripes.
That's why the budget process has typically been long and, often, contentious.
Phil Cardinale prides himself on what he calls transparency in government. He's got the TV cameras rolling in every work session and regular meeting of the Town Board. That's great.
But if business is being transacted outside those televised meetings, the rolling cameras are meaningless.
I'm afraid that's the case when it comes to the fundamental question of how our town government is spending our tax dollars. The budget process Mr. Cardinale has implemented has effectively foreclosed public discussion and scrutiny of the supervisor's tentative budget. He has not held a single budget meeting with the Town Board. One is scheduled to take place, finally, at today's work session — but only because the three Republican members of the board demanded it this week. My question is: What took them so long?
Mr. Cardinale told me on Friday he had council members meet "two by two" with the town's financial administrator to discuss changes they wanted to make to the supervisor's proposed budget. (If three board members are in a meeting, it must be open to the public, you see.)
Former Supervisor Jim Stark, Mr. Cardinale's challenger in this year's election, in last week's paper accused him of "cooking the books" — overestimating revenues and underestimating expenses.
Are Mr. Stark's accusations valid, or simply political grandstanding? Who knows? Thanks to masterful manipulation of the agenda and budget process by Mr. Cardinale and a readily manipulated Town Board, which has given the supervisor a pass on this, a public vetting of the supervisor's tentative budget didn't happen in time to be meaningful for voters. And it's coming too late for the weekly press to even inform the public of the content of the preliminary budget on which the board will hold a public hearing next week (assuming the board makes changes to the supervisor's tentative plan). Please remember to check our Web site (riverheadnewsreview.com) for a story on today's meeting.
Maybe the supervisor's budget is perfect and in need of no revision. Maybe Mr. Stark is all wet when he says if the Cardinale budget is corrected we're looking at a 30 percent tax hike. (I certainly hope so.) But the supervisor was slippery and the Town Board fell flat on its face. Board members should have insisted on public scrutiny of the tentative budget right from the beginning — and not waited until the 11th hour to ask that the budget be put on a work session agenda.
Surrounding towns have opened up their budget processes as the law requires. Riverhead — ironically, under the administration of a man who claims open government as his hallmark — has gone in the opposite direction.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
How about neither?
The whole EPCAL site should be reserved for industrial development. The town should put in improvements, such as roads, and subdivide it so that it’s selling industrial lots and not 700-plus acre tracts. There’s no need to unload the land there all at once. They’re not making any more land, you know. Why have a fire sale? The land is money in the bank for the next generation.
When the town sells huge chunks of undeveloped land at EPCAL to private developers, it puts the fate of its economic development zone into the hands of private businesses that only have their own financial interests at heart. Look what happened with the sale of the so-called industrial core to a private developer. He flipped title to the buildings to eager purchasers before the ink on his deed from the town was dry, before he even had an approved subdivision. He did little to improve the site. And so it remains, dubbed “the Wild West,” a truly unappealing excuse for an industrial park.
The town should revisit the reuse plan developed for the site in 1997. It’s obsolete and unworkable and so is the zoning adopted to implement it. Call me a conspiracy theorist, but I think it was devised in a back room specifically to make sure nothing ever happened there. It’s been one of the most effective preservation plans ever adopted.
Eliminate the recreational zoning at EPCAL and develop the former Grumman site as the cohesive, high tech, light industrial center it should be. That’s what will fulfill the purpose behind the transfer of the property to the town: to reclaim the jobs and property taxes we lost when Grumman left. No theme park or hotel or race track or any of the other silly uses will do that.
The planned recreational district, if you look at the events of the past decade, is the source of most of the EPCAL fiascos that have made Riverhead the laughingstock of Long Island — and beyond. Over the years we’ve seen every cockamamie scheme for the site imaginable. The film studio plans. The failed Field Day rock concert, which resulted in Riverhead becoming a synonym for stupidity around the world. The air show “fundraiser” that had traffic backed up on Route 25 and William Floyd Parkway from EPCAL to Exit 68 on the LIE. The phony amusement park proposed by a group of NYC accountants who submitted a hokey business plan consisting of a three-ring binder filled with pictures of rides downloaded from the Internet and a phony letter of financial backing from a German investment company where one of the principals had formerly been employed? The Indian casino, courtesy of the Shinnecock tribe. And the water ski park on a man-made lake — where excavators, in their zeal to remove valuable sand, accidently struck ground water. Oops. The plan by Ken Wilpon to build a hotel/convention center and hundreds of homes there — which fizzled just after the last election. And along the way, proposals for sand mines disguised as golf courses, and even a zoo.
You could fill a book with the things that never happened at EPCAL. I’m sure I’m forgetting a few, including at least one or two car racing complexes.
So when word came of a Scotsman proposing to build a 350-foot-tall indoor ski mountain at EPCAL, I shook my head, laughed and thought, “Yeah, sure, what’s next?” A lot of people had the same reaction. We’ve learned to take this stuff with a grain of salt. For good reason.
Will Riverhead Resorts ever really happen? If history is any guide, the answer is no. On the other hand, indoor ski trails are in operation and under construction all around the globe. They’re not as far out as you might think. But then, this is Riverhead. And Riverhead is just ... different.
Already there’s some confusion about exactly what Riverhead Resorts is planning — for real. Supervisor Phil Cardinale says the ski mountain isn’t critical to Riverhead Resports’ plan; it will go forward with its complex of multiple themed resorts with or without the artificial mountain. But the developer told L.I. Business News last week that the mountain is critical to its plan — as an “anchor” attraction. So which is it? In an interview with News-Review editor John Stefans this week, the developer’s rep tried to backpeddle, claiming he wasn’t correctly quoted in the other newspaper. The quote was “taken out of context” he told us.
But — whatever. The notion of eight theme parks at EPCAL — with or without a manmade mountain — is, to my mind, one of the more preposterous things I’ve heard proposed for the site. And that’s no small feat. How are all the people going to get there? The site has no suitable access. You think traffic on surrounding roads is bad now? Just wait. On a recent Sunday afternoon, traffic on Edwards Avenue was bumper to bumper from Route 25 to Calverton Links — nearly to the LIE! And that was just the pumpkin picking crowd.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
And it’s been brutal this year. For reasons I can’t quite fathom, this has been a particularly rough year for dealing with political ads in The Suffolk Times newsroom. Each “side” came into the campaign convinced that this newspaper was solidly in the other camp. When the Democrats think you favor the Republicans and the Republicans think you’re carrying water for the Democrats, you must be doing something right, I figure. We’ve been screamed at, threatened with a lawsuit and accused of taking sides — both sides — and that was just in the past week. The person on our staff whose job includes booking political ads is totally stressed out. One horrible encounter with a campaign representative had our managing editor questioning the sanity of anyone involved in politics. And I found myself exchanging harsh words with candidates on the sidewalk outside Poquatuck Hall in Orient Saturday afternoon.
We can’t wait for this to end.
The weird thing is, this is the unlikeliest group of men to be involved in such a down-and-dirty slugfest, if you ask me. Intelligent, well-spoken, and well-bred country gentlemen battling over who’s “most rural,” they’ve proved they can sling mud with the best of city street-fighters. To be fair, not every candidate went down this path. Some stayed above the fray. But the undercurrent has been nasty this campaign.
Much of this has gone down behind the scenes. But the mostly genteel exterior of this year’s campaign was going to be cracked wide open this week, though, with a couple of nasty ads submitted for publication that, in the end, won’t see the light of day — at least not in the pages of The Suffolk Times. We have the League of Women Voters to thank for that, at least indirectly. Here’s why:
A representative of the League is moderating the candidates debate we’re sponsoring tonight at Peconic Landing. (It’s free, open to the public and runs from 7:30 to 9 p.m., so come on down.) She suggested we ask the candidates to sign the League’s “fair campaign pledge.” It’s a straightforward statement by the candidate promising that he’ll conduct his campaign honestly and fairly; that he’ll discuss the issues and not engage in or condone defamatory attacks upon his opponent’s character; that he won’t misrepresent or distort facts about his opponent; and that he’ll publicly repudiate support from any person or group whose activities violate the pledge. When the candidates came to our office on Oct. 12 for endorsement interviews — we get the candidates for each post in the room together to answer questions and discuss the issues — we asked them to review and sign the pledge. They all complied — eventually. Some took a while — like a week or more. I guess it was a lot to mull over, all this honesty and fairness stuff. The ink was barely dry on the signature line when one candidate immediately submitted an ad that, without question, violated his pledge. If he hadn’t finally agreed to pull it in favor of an ad that wasn’t in violation, I’d be outing him right here and now. But he agreed to keep his word, albeit somewhat reluctantly.
The icing on the cake this week was one candidate who submitted an ad asking us to run it only if his opponent ran a negative ad. Whoa. We don’t go there, mister. You decide which ad you want to run, and we don’t ever — and I mean ever — let on about the contents of the adversary’s ad. That situation was worked out after much fussing and lots of e-mails and phone calls. You’d think we were brokering a cease-fire in the Middle East.
So much of this is so petty, so juvenile, so… Well, suffice it to say it’s what puts the “silly” in the season.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
The two supervisor candidates, Phil Cardinale and Jim Stark, will face off, on on one.
The four Town Board candidates — George Bartunek, Tim Buckley, Amy Csorny and Jim Wooten — will debate separately.
News-Review editor John Stefans and I will ask the questions. We're taking questions from the audience, too.
If you have any questions you'd like us to ask tonight, post them here today.
Come down to the Vail-Leavitt and watch. It's free!
We're taping it for airing on the public access channel. I will post details about that here when I have them.
PS: The Suffolk Times is hosting a candidates debate for Southold Town supervisor and council candidates next Thursday evening, 7-9 p.m., at Peconic Landing.
Saturday, October 13, 2007
Rose made the switch too. They went to the Board of Elections together on Friday. Rose sounds like she's seriously contemplating another run for office. Will there be a Blass-Sanders ticket on the Independence line in 2009? I think that's a real possibility.
Read my news story about Barbara and Rose joining the Independence Party on the riverheadnewsreview.com Web site. Click here.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
School superintendent Diane Scricca called Coach Shay a man of character. She's right. It takes character to admit you've made a mistake and apologize for it. While covering the cameras may have been a bad example for the kids, owning up to his mistake is a great example for the coach to set. I commend him for it.
In his interview with Bob Liepa, Mr. Shay called the past month the longest month of his life. He missed coaching and teaching so much, and the anxiety of his uncertain position, all made it very difficult.
But it was a big month for him too, in a happy way. I found out yesterday the coach's wife, Christine, gave birth to their second child, a boy, Sept. 24. Congratulations.
And welcome back!
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
So it seems the district's negotiations with the coach have been concluded.
Saturday, October 06, 2007
Updated: 10/6/07 - 10:13 AM
Coach Shay issues an apology
Note posted on school district Web site admits "mistake"
Riverhead High School football coach Leif Shay has issued an apology to the Riverhead school district and the community, according to a message posted by the district on its Web site.
In the message, Mr. Shay, a physical education teacher at the high school, offers his "sincere apology" for covering up security cameras in the high school gymnasium during a class in the first week of school.
"This is not the direction I would want my students or my own
children to follow. I am certainly brave enough to admit when I have made a mistake," the statement says.
Mr. Shay was "reassigned" by the district pending disciplinary proceedings for his actions. His reassignment meant his removal as head coach of the Riverhead Blue Waves varsity football team, which he led in an undefeated season last year, as well as his removal from regular teaching duties.
The coach's reassignment met with strong reaction from football players, parents and fellow teachers, who attended school board meetings to protest the district's response to the incident. The Riverhead Central Faculty Association organized demonstrations outside the high school before the start of the regular school day over the past month, to voice its support for Mr. Shay. Students circulated petitions demanding his reinstatement.
No announcement accompanied the posting of the statement on the district's Web site, and school board president Nancy Gassert could not be reached for comment on the posting Saturday morning. It is unknown at this time whether Mr. Shay has been or is about to be reinstated as head coach.
Mr. Shay did not return a phone call to his home Saturday morning.
The teachers' union filed a grievance in June over security cameras operating in the gymnasium during classes, which the union says violates its collective bargaining agreement. The grievance came after an incident involving longtime wrestling coach Wade Davey in April, when a diabetic student passed out during a gym class. The incident involving Mr. Davey was captured on a security camera and RCFA president Barbara Barosa said that was the first time teachers realized that the security cameras were running during gym classes.
The district installed the security cameras throughout the high school and the high school grounds in late 2005 at a cost of about $200,000, more than half of which was paid by a federal grant. At the time, Riverhead was one of the first districts on Long Island to have such a system, although other districts have since followed suit.
The teachers' contract contains a provision prohibiting the use of electronic surveillance to monitor and evaluate teachers' performance in classrooms, Ms. Barosa told The News-Review.
The note posted on the school district's Web site reads:
To Riverhead Central School District and its Community,
I would like to take this opportunity to issue a sincere apology for my actions
regarding the security cameras in the High School. I should have let the grievance
procedure take its course. This is not the direction I would want my students or my own
children to follow. I am certainly brave enough to admit when I have made a mistake, and
it is my hope that we can all learn from this and move forward in the development of our
I look forward to continuing our tradition of excellence here in the Riverhead
Central School District. Thank you for your consideration in this matter.
Leif ShayCopyright 2007 Times/Review Newspapers Corp.
What does freedom mean to you?
Whoever you are, wherever you're reading this, stop for a moment and think about this. What does freedom mean to you?
Freedom is what it's all about, isn't it? Freedom is what the Founding Fathers (and Mothers) were seeking when they crossed the Atlantic in wooden sailing ships to make a new home in a new world. Freedom is what they fought and died for in the revolt against the crown that began with the shot heard round the world at Lexington in 1775. Freedom for all people, regardless of race, is what divided our country in a bitter, bloody battle that nearly destroyed our nation less than a hundred years after its birth. The goal of protecting our freedom sent the doughboys off to war in Europe during "the war to end all wars" and the G.I.s to Europe and Asia a generation later during World Ware II. "If you love your freedom, thank a Vet."
Freedom is something to covet, to protect, to fight for, to die for.
Freedom is what we're all about here in the U.S. of A, isn't it? It's what we've got, what we've always had, what we've always had so much of that we didn't know what to do with it. So we take it for granted. We hardly give it a second thought. Freedom is woven into the fabric of American society. It is the very essence of America. It's what generation after generation of people from all corners of the earth have come to America to pursue. Freedom to live as you please, in peace, without being bothered. Freedom to think what you want. Freedom to speak your mind. Freedom to move about the country. Freedom to associate with whomever you choose. Freedom to work, to make a buck, to pursue opportunity and make something of yourself, no matter how humble your beginnings. Freedom to worship — Jesus, Allah, Jehovah, Buddha, Satan, the sun, Mother Earth, yourself. Or nothing at all.
Freedom to vote, to choose who will run your government and oversee how they do it. Freedom to know what they're doing, so you can hold them accountable. Freedom to criticize them if they don't do right by you. Freedom to turn them out of office if you see fit. Freedom to ask the government to do what you think is right. Freedom to demonstrate with a group of like-minded people for things you believe in.
Freedom to do nothing. Freedom to sit on your couch every night and watch sitcoms or sports on TV, to never think about freedom. You don't have to. You live in the USA, after all. Your freedom is in the bag. No need to pay attention to what elected officials are doing with your tax dollars. No need to be concerned about government controlling information about how it operates. No need to worry about your rights. You're so certain that all's well, you barely even have to worry about voting. (Fewer than a quarter of eligible voters will participate in next month's general election.)
What's it all about, anyway, this thing called freedom? Does it really matter to us today? Why do some people make such a fuss about these things — especially when we're engaged in a "permanent war" against an "invisible enemy" and some "sacrifice" of individual liberty is "necessary" to secure "freedom" not only for us, but for the rest of the world, to whom we will carry "democracy" (whether they want it or not).
Hey, if you've got nothing to hide, you've got nothing to worry about. Right?
I'm going to dedicate this space to freedom in the coming weeks. Because freedom is, in fact, what it's all about. And freedom is, in fact, in danger. Your freedom. Right here, right now. Your children's freedom, today, next year, 10 years from now. Freedom is under assault in the U.S. — by government at all levels. Even your local school board. But first and foremost, your freedom and your children's freedom are in jeopardy because of complacency, apathy, maybe, even, if the truth be told, a little ignorance — your assumption that it will always be there when you need it.
This newspaper, because we cherish freedom, is participating in the N.Y. Press Association's First Amendment Essay Contest. It's open to students in 11th and 12th grades. Go to our Web site for details at www.northshoresun.com. The grand-prize winner in this statewide contest gets $10,000, with cash prizes for local winners chosen from each school district by the Sun and one overall grand-prize winner who will represent the Sun in the state contest.
Encourage your high school age kids to log on and participate. The future of freedom is in their hands.
Ms. Civiletti's e-mail address is email@example.com.
Thursday, September 06, 2007
1. Keep it short. Letters should be no more than 350 words. Letters longer than this will be returned to you for cutting.
2. Make it accurate. Be prepared to document all statements of fact for the editor. If you can’t back up what you’re stating with documentation, we won’t print it. We don’t have the staff or time to research your facts for you. So “documentation” means more than telling us something was in a recent edition of this paper. At a minimum, give us the edition date and page number. Better yet, provide us with the clipping.
3. Don’t confuse facts with opinions. You’re entitled to your opinion. Letters are often intended as expressions of opinion. That’s fine. But don’t ascribe your opinion of or about something to the person you’re criticizing.
Let’s say you believe an elected official or candidate has a “hidden agenda” about something. You may say so, as in: “I believe Mr. So-and-so has a hidden agenda to raise taxes,” followed by a statement of why you believe this is true. That’s different from “What is Mr. So-and-so’s hidden agenda to raise taxes?”
4. Be civilized. Don’t use the commentary section of the newspaper for personal attacks on other people, including public officials. People in the public arena (whether elected or appointed, in the public sector or in private industry) are subject to criticism for their activities and points of view. Criticism is not (necessarily) the same as a personal attack.
5. Identify yourself fully and accurately. If you’re a member of a political party committee or working in a candidate’s campaign, identify yourself as such in your letter. We’ll do it for you if we’re aware of it. But even if we’re not, you can be sure other people are. In the end, you’re only fooling yourself.
6. Don’t get mad at the editor for enforcing the rules or for insisting that libelous statements be removed from your letter. He’s doing his job. He’s also got the final word, and, ultimately, he can simply refuse to print a letter if you refuse to have the offensive language deleted. We don’t want to argue with our readers, nor do we have the time, on deadline, to debate the issues you’re writing about.
7. Don’t hog the space. We love how enthusiastic our readers are about voicing their opinions. But give other people a chance and wait a week or two between submissions. It often seems we have more letters than we have space. That’s a wonderful problem to have from a community newspaper’s perspective. But if we published your letter last week, your letter this week is going to the bottom of the pile and may not get run.
8. Use e-mail if at all possible (firstname.lastname@example.org). Attach your letter (Word format) to the e-mail or write it in the e-mail message itself. Include your hamlet of residence (and state if not N.Y.) as well as a daytime phone number where we can reach you to confirm the letter (to make sure you really sent it) and/or discuss any problems.
9. Candidates for office, including incumbents seeking re-election, and their supporters, are entitled to use this forum to voice their opinions about local issues and to respond to articles, editorials, columns and letters printed in this newspaper. An important goal of this forum is to provide a place for civil public discourse. We don’t mind candidates using it to tell us what they think; that can only result in a more informed electorate, which is always a good thing. But candidates’ and supporters’ letters shouldn’t be blatant campaigning. This is going to be the editor’s judgment call. (See rule six.)
10. Keep it short. Refer to rule number one.
One last thing: Please don’t confuse the opinions expressed by letter writers and columnists with the editorial viewpoint of the newspaper . The only place you’ll find this newspaper’s opinion is in the editorial column on page eight. The editorials are a collaborative effort by our editorial board — generally drafted by an editor with input from reporters and approved by yours truly, as co-publisher. Just because we print a letter or a column doesn’t mean we agree with the point of view expressed therein. But since we place great value on free speech, we’re honored to provide a forum for its expression.
Let the campaigns begin. And God bless America.
Ms. Civiletti invites you to join a discussion of this topic at civiletti.blogspot.com. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.
Friday, August 24, 2007
A proposal to build a cross-Sound natural gas pipeline called Islander East, connecting Long Island to a New England natural gas transmission system, has been kicking around for several years. The subsea pipeline would connect an Algonquin pipeline at North Haven, Conn., with KeySpan's transmission system at Shoreham. Last week, a federal district court judge in Connecticut dealt the plan what many are calling a fatal blow.
The court overruled a decision by the U.S. secretary of commerce, who had essentially overruled the Connecticut secretary of state, who was trying to effectively overrule the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
This stuff is so dense it's almost impossible to wade through and make sense of. It takes lots of time, patience and an almost psychotic obsession — which makes me uniquely qualified for the job.
The fate of Broadwater — like the fate of the Islander East Pipeline — will turn on the interpretation and application of a federal law called the Coastal Zone Management Act.
The CZMA is a 35-year-old statute enacted to encourage coastal states to develop comprehensive coastal resource management programs that balance competing uses of and impacts to coastal resources.
When a coastal state joins the national coastal management program and adopts a coastal zone management plan that's approved by the federal coastal zone management agency, the CZMA gives the state the ultimate decision-making authority over its coastal zone. In other words, the state's decisions will trump decisions made by federal agencies concerning management of the coastal zone resources.
Activities that affect coastal resources must be consistent with the state's adopted coastal management plan, even when the activities are pursuant to federal licenses or permits or undertaken using federal funds. Under the CZMA, the state can stop a federally permitted activity if the state determines the activity is inconsistent with its coastal zone management plan. The state determination trumps the federal agency ruling, turning the usual pecking order upside down.
But wait, there is a loophole — and one big enough to pilot a 900-foot-long oceangoing LNG tanker through: an appeal to the U.S. secretary of commerce.
If a state with an approved coastal zone management plan (like New York) raises a consistency objection, arguing that a proposed activity (like Broadwater) for which a federal permit has been approved (like the one FERC is now considering) is not consistent with the state's coastal zone management plan, the applicant (Broadwater) can file an appeal with the U.S. secretary of commerce, asking the secretary of commerce to override the state's objection. The applicant must show that the activity is consistent with the objectives of the CZMA and/or is otherwise necessary in the interest of national security.
OK, make that loophole big enough for two 900-foot-long oceangoing LNG tankers side by side, including their Coast Guard-mandated floating security zones.
All of this must be examined in the context of current global politics and the policies of the Bush administration. We have a national energy policy that favors development of natural gas facilities as a "clean" alternative to oil. We have a federal agency (FERC) whose very mission is to assist energy companies with the development of new gas (and oil) production, storage and transmission facilities. We have a president who has pronounced natural gas to be a preferred way to reduce our dependence on "foreign oil" — which is, in turn, like the development of oil fields in the Gulf of Mexico and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, important to "national security." So would it be reasonable to expect the (Bush-appointed) U.S. secretary of commerce to do anything but override a state's CZMA consistency objection in the interest of national security? Heck, no.
Ah, but God bless America with its system of constitutional law and built-in checks and balances. The secretary of commerce's decision is reviewable on appeal by a federal court. That's good news. But there is, of course, bad news — and that's the standard of review. Like all judicial review of administrative decisions, the standard is a really tough one to meet: the appellant (the state) must establish that the administrative decision was "arbitrary and capricious" without any "reasonable basis" in the record.
Fortunately for the state of Connecticut, which has been battling the Islander East Pipeline for years, the commerce secretary's decision wasn't supported by facts in the record on appeal, and the federal judge found the secretary's decision "arbitrary and capricious."
What does the Islander East case mean for Broadwater? Not much, according to Broadwater, which says New York needs gas from both Islander East and Broadwater.
Vindication and hope, according to Broadwater opponents, who are heartened by a federal court's willingness to take a hard look at the feds' approval of an energy project over a state's CZMA consistency objections.
An interesting aside: The judge, Stefan Underhill, was appointed to the federal bench in 1999 by the Clinton administration, nominated by Democratic senators Dodd and Lieberman. A Rhodes scholar and Yale Law School graduate, he was on the board of directors of Connecticut Legal Services and, according to a press release announcing the appointment, he "has a special interest in his community's underprivileged populations and youth." Not exactly the kind of guy who'll mete out cowboy justice for the Bush gas and oil crowd.
If we're to take away a lesson from Islander East, maybe it's this: We should scrutinize the members of the federal bench for the eastern district of New York sitting in the Alfonse M. D'Amato federal courthouse in Islip. Their backgrounds, scholarship and prior decisions might prove to be the best predictor of whether Broadwater's natural gas storage facility is eventually moored in the middle of the Sound.
Copyright 2007 Times/Review Newspapers Corp.
Friday, August 10, 2007
We'd like nothing better than to report on a good, solid, issues-based campaign for town offices this election year. There are plenty of important issues to debate.
Instead, we're being treated to mudslinging and name-calling. And it's not even Labor Day yet. I shudder to think what might be in store for us in the home stretch of this campaign season, when things traditionally get ugly.
Both sides are guilty of this to some degree. But this is one realm where Brookhaven Republicans will never be outdone, and, true to form, they're proving themselves again this year.
The DiCarlo campaign issued press releases this week. One announced a radio ad campaign and the other blasted Brian Foley for taking a $10,000 corporate donation in violation of state election law, which limits such donations to $5,000.
According to the press release, the radio ads accuse Foley of trying "to use our tax dollars to support illegal aliens." They also blast him for an "outrageous property tax increase" and "out-of-control spending."
"Brian Foley won't fool us anymore," the ad claims.
No, from now on Robert DiCarlo will be fooling us.
For instance, he's asking voters to believe the town can reinstate the John Jay LaValle "tax holiday" that jeopardized Brookhaven's financial standing with the Wall Street bond traders.
He's also taking credit in the ads for being a "proven tax cutter." When asked to back up that claim, his PR guy (a veteran Republican negative campaign "handler") said DiCarlo, as a state senator from Brooklyn, "supported" Gov. George Pataki's budget.
Message to Jesse Garcia, Frank Tassone and Robert DiCarlo: Negative campaigns, devoid of substance, don't work when you've got a candidate of substance on the other side, fellas. It's a lesson you should have learned from the Grucci, Manger and Zanzi campaigns.
Voters are not stupid.
Neither are newspaper reporters.
Jesse Garcia told us the GOP financial disclosure on file with the state Board of Elections shows an incorrect bottom line due to technical difficulties with the software. The committee's treasurer was working on resolving it. Nearly a month later, same bottom line. What's up? Garcia told me last week he didn't follow up on it. Right. The state BOE spokesperson told us that agency has no record of any "technical problems" with its software that affected the Brookhaven Republican Committee's filing.
Robert DiCarlo, who is happy to pick apart Brian Foley's campaign disclosure report ("Why is this builder [E.W. Howell Co.] so interested in raising money for Brian Foley?" he asked the Sun), didn't bother to file his own disclosure report with the state, as required by law. (The July periodic disclosure report was due July 16, in electronic format, for filing on the state's Web site, for all to see.) He said he filed a report on paper with both the state and the county BOE. The state agency told us this week it had no record of any such filing. In fact, their spokesman said, the state BOE sent DiCarlo a warning letter about missing the filing deadline.
DiCarlo told the Sun he couldn't file electronically with the state because he was waiting for the state BOE to issue him a new identification number and he couldn't file electronically until a new number was issued. Not true, says the state BOE. And if DiCarlo filed a paper report with the county BOE, it's not scanned and posted on its Web site yet. (The political hacks at the county BOE are too caught up in their respective parties' political shenanigans to be worried about the public interest.)
DiCarlo did provide the Sun with a copy of the paper report he says he filed with both elections boards. We've posted that on our Web site (along with Foley's) so voters can view the reports themselves, as the law intended. Enough with these silly games.
Interesting thing is, DiCarlo, who said he couldn't file electronically with the state because his current campaign committee needed a new state ID number, this week did electronically file a report: his JANUARY periodic report — which was due Jan. 15. And guess what? The committee is using the same ID number.
DiCarlo might not want to make his disclosure forms public because they're a mess: hand-printed, barely legible, missing essential information — including, even, some donors' names. (There's a $1,000 donation from some unnamed individual.) The law requires the report to list names and complete addresses for each contributor.
The DiCarlo disclosures also show "outstanding loans" from the candidate to the campaign committee, for loans he says he made to himself in mid-2006 for "campaign expenses." What campaign was that, we wonder? The report also shows a loan repayment to the candidate of $7,500 for a loan it says was made by the candidate to the committee in 2005. There's no way to verify that, because there are no DiCarlo reports on either the state or county Web sites for 2005 or 2006 prior to period covered by the Jan. 15, 2007, periodic report.
We've learned the hard way that nobody really scrutinizes these campaign disclosure reports. Candidates and elected officials have recently been caught using their campaign funds as personal slush funds — or worse. Some state senators have allegedly invested campaign funds in businesses doing business with the state. That's a matter under investigation by the Albany district attorney. The point is, nobody is really taking a hard look at these. We invite you to do so yourself at www.northshoresun.com.
Of course, it's right to question why certain businesses and the people who own or run them make hefty contributions to candidates for office (particularly incumbents running for re-election.) There's no doubt it's part of the process of "greasing the wheels" for themselves or their clients. And that's part of what's wrong with how our political system functions — and part of the argument some people make for public campaign financing.
In an interview this week following his press release blasting Foley for accepting a $10,000 check from a corporation, in violation of state election law (a check that the Foley campaign returned per a May 29 letter it wrote to the donor), DiCarlo said, "Everybody in this business knows what the rules are." As a veteran politician and former elected official, you know what the rules are too, Mr. DiCarlo. Why don't you follow them?
Copyright 2007 Times/Review Newspapers
Friday, August 03, 2007
Levitan & Associates is an LNG industry consultant. Among other things, it failed to take into account many of the proposed storage facility's costs — both to the environment and to the local economy. The report is a ratepayer-funded $850,000 "justification" for Broadwater prepared by one of the LNG industry's trusted consultants.
Environmentalist Tom Andersen (author of "This Fine Piece of Water: An Environmental History of Long Island Sound") writes in his "Sphere" blog that the 10-year "value" of the Sound, based on data collected by the Long Island Sound Study, is $55 billion. Andersen poses the question: Does it make sense to jeopardize a resource worth $55 billion to the local economy to save $14.8 billion?
Thursday, August 02, 2007
The $14.8 billion figure is not a reduction in current energy costs. It represents our potential 10-year savings compared to what the equivalent natural gas would cost regional consumers without Broadwater's one billion cubic feet per day.
Still, it's nothing to sneeze at.
Heck, $14.8 billion is how much we're going to spend to wage war in Iraq between now and, oh, the beginning of autumn, approximately 56 days from today.
It's twice as much as Royal Dutch Shell, one of Broadwater Energy's owners, earns in one quarter of its fiscal year. (The company posted a second-quarter profit this year of $7.56 billion.)
Still, East End consumers don't know how much of that savings we'll see. According to the Levitan report, LIPA ratepayers will save $2.7 billion in natural gas costs between 2010 and 2020 if Broadwater goes online. LIPA CEO Richie Kessel — the one-time consumer advocate who, as an energy executive, has presided over what some irate ratepayers argue is a huge pricing scam on consumers, namely the imposition, without regulatory review, of "fuel surcharges" that equal or exceed energy use charges — says that 20 percent of Broadwater's savings for Long Island consumers is just not enough. As the host community for this behemoth, Long Island should get more, Richie says. Long Island should get more PILOT payments, and more "community benefits" — something of a code word for hush money. "Community benefits" help a company buy the silence, if not the support, of community segments that would otherwise oppose a proposed project. Community benefits often consist of cold, hard cash for schools, towns, community organizations. It's a euphemism for "community bribes," if you ask me.
But you can bet Richie will fight for benefits for LIPA — if not LIPA's ratepayers, whom he seems quite willing to skewer.
I've just read Levitan's 157-page "technical assessment" of Broadwater. It was interesting reading, even holding my attention into the wee hours of Wednesday morning.
As LIPA communications director Bert Cunningham noted, the report is "a compilation" and summary of documents from a variety of sources: FERC's DEIS, Broadwater's "resource reports" and responses to FERC's information requests, the Coast Guard reports, and LNG safety studies. As such, it's a handy little document.
LIPA engaged Levitan to prepare this report in April 2005. Originally, according to LIPA's April 20, 2005, board meeting minutes, LIPA was going to use the Levitan report, which Kessel said he expected to have by September 2005, to form a recommendation on Broadwater for the governor's office. LIPA has since backed off that idea. On Tuesday, Kessel said he didn't know if LIPA was going to make a recommendation one way or the other.
Levitan knows LNG very well; senior members of the firm specialize in consulting to the LNG industry and the firm has a long track record with the industry. Given the firm's background, resources and expertise as an LNG industry consultant, it's hard to understand why it took Levitan almost two years longer than first expected to complete its assessment. But it's not hard to understand why the energy industry consultant would focus on assessing the benefits rather than the costs — costs to the economy, the environment, and the government, which will have to provide expensive security for the operation.
What will the total of all those costs be? We still don't know, but it's no mystery who will foot the bill, is it? Open your checkbook.
I'm wondering what we've already spent just reviewing the Broadwater proposal to date. The preparation of the EIS, government staff time to review applications, documents and submittals, publication of notices, public hearings held, legal fees to firms retained by the county and towns to fight it, all of that. I wonder if anyone anywhere is keeping a tab.
One cost we know for sure: the $850,000 LIPA blew on the Levitan assessment report it was supposed to have two years ago, which LIPA now may or may not use for anything. This makes it a ratepayer-funded PR boondoggle for Broadwater Energy, resulting in headlines about multibillion dollar "savings" that don't factor in costs which may equal or exceed those "savings."
That's an awful lot of fuel surcharge money, isn't it?
Thursday, July 26, 2007
"I don't think I could stand to read another article about Broadwater," said a newspaper staff member the other day.
It stopped me cold, since lately I've been the person doing the Broadwater reporting in our newsroom. What was she saying? Am I boring her to death? It must be bad, to inspire a staff member to tell her, er, boss that she can't stand reading what said boss is writing.
If newsroom staff feel that way, what about our readers?
What about you? Are you sick of Broadwater?
I hope not, because there's plenty yet to come. There has to be. This issue is the biggest and most important issue we've seen in decades. Broadwater, if built, will have irreversible impacts on what is arguably our region's most unique and precious natural resource: Long Island Sound. We will be living with the consequences of Broadwater for generations to come, and those consequences are not small.
Broadwater will pollute the Sound, a designated estuary of national significance, a fragile ecosystem already under stress (thanks to existing industrial and municipal discharges) into which the federal and state governments have poured tens of millions of dollars for cleanup and restoration. Broadwater will take in sea water, killing marine life caught up in the process, then discharge wastewater treated with a chlorine derivative that's harmful to aquatic life.
It will pollute the air with its smokestacks. Broadwater has asked to be exempt from air-emission standards, arguing that the air at the site is not "ambient air" because the entire area surrounding the facility — 1.5 square miles — will be a designated security zone from which the public is barred. Last I heard, air travels. What will those of us downwind from the facility be breathing in? We are already living with the dirtiest air in the state outside of New York City.
As we've reported, Broadwater will wreak havoc on the commercial and recreational fishing industries in the Sound. The floating security zones required by the Coast Guard will create a nightmare for commercial and recreational fishermen and boaters from the Race off Orient Point to Port Jefferson.
And unless the Coast Guard rules otherwise, ferry operations out of Orient will be disrupted every time a liquefied natural gas carrier crosses the ferry routes — four to six times a week, at least.
Broadwater's impacts are not limited to the environment. The annual economic value of the Sound to New York State is in excess of $250 billion.
Broadwater creates significant safety risks for our community. According to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement the farthest reach of an ignitable vapor cloud in the event of a carrier accident in the eastern Sound encompasses most of the North Fork, from mid-Southold to Orient Point. That's a vapor cloud that will burn if it comes into contact with any ignition source — any flame or spark. If there's a carrier accident in the eastern Sound, a cloud of liquefied natural gas — which won't yet be "odorized," by the way — can encompass most of the North Fork and, if ignited, scorch everything it comes into contact with.
But, hey, don't worry. This is, we're told, "very unlikely."
How confident can we be that the public and the environment are going to be protected by federal regulators — versus the interests of the rich and powerful multinational corporations proposing Broadwater?
Joseph Kelliher, the chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the federal agency that decides if Broadwater gets approved, was previously a partner in the Washington, D.C. law firm representing Broadwater before FERC: LeBeouf, Lamb, Greene & MacRae. According to the firm's Web site, it's been "intimately involved" in representing clients before FERC for 30 years.
Intimately, indeed. "Many of our specialist attorneys have held leadership positions at the FERC," the LeBeouf site boasts. Yes. For instance, Lawrence Acker, the LeBeouf partner who lists Broadwater among his clients and who "concentrates his practice" on FERC cases. Three other partners in the firm were previously attorneys at FERC — including its former general counsel and an assistant deputy general counsel — where they worked on natural gas projects and regulations.
LeBeouf, Lamb has 11 lawyers who practice regularly, if not exclusively, before FERC. That comes in handy for the firm's clients, since they have to work closely with FERC to get projects like Broadwater approved.
Here's how FERC describes the review process on its Web site: "Prior to a company filing an LNG-related application, company representatives commonly meet ... staff to explain the proposal and solicit advice. These meetings provide prospective applicants the opportunity for staff to offer suggestions related to the environmental, engineering and safety features of the proposal. In this manner, staff learns about future projects which may be filed at the Commission and help direct companies in their application preparation."
This sure sounds pretty cozy — like our "public servants" are serving as consultants to the attorneys they used to work with, who are now representing companies seeking FERC approvals.
These are the folks looking out for the public interest? And if not them, then who?
It's up to us to look out for ourselves on this one.
Which is why there will be plenty more about Broadwater on the pages of this newspaper in the weeks and months to come.
Copyright 2007 Times/Review Newspapers Corp.
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
Broadwater Part 1 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zb1lNak4q48
Broadwater Part 2 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QLikMcmR_No
Pretty comprehensive treatment of the Broadwater topic by veteran journalist Karl Grossman.
Thursday, July 05, 2007
America needs to make a Broadwater-sized investment in renewable energy, Pete said.
A Broadwater-sized investment. The thing itself is huge: 1,200 feet long, 180 feet wide, it will rise 75 to 80 feet above the water, nine miles off the Wading River shore. A behemoth. The floating regasification and storage facility will cost between $700 million and $ 1 billion to construct, according to TransCanada, the Canadian energy company partnered with Shell Oil in the Broadwater Energy venture. Its operation and securing its safety, along with the safety of the international tankers delivering LNG to the facility, will cost millions more annually.
A Broadwater-sized investment. Think big.
This week’s paper also includes stories about the efforts of local residents and businesses to “go green.” It is possible to wean your home and business off nonrenewable energy, to cut or even eliminate your dependence on fossil fuels — oil and gas — to heat and light your home or business. The technology exists to power your house with solar and wind energy — energy sources that are free, clean, won’t run out and won’t require the Coast Guard and a private army to protect them from terrorist attack (like Broadwater). But for the most part, the cost of installing the technology remains out of reach for most families, even with LIPA rebates and state and federal tax credits.
So why are we, as a nation, continuing to spend billions to build and operate facilities like Broadwater’s proposed LNG FRSU? That whopper of an acronym, by the way, stands for liquefied natural gas floating regasification and storage unit, bafflegab for the behemoth described above.
And why are we, as a nation, spending comparatively little on refining renewable energy technologies and making them accessible and affordable to consumers?
For the same reasons we’re spending a projected $1.2 trillion to wage a war about foreign oil. Make no mistake: that’s what’s at the heart of the Iraq war. The control of oil and gas supplies has dictated U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East forever; the Iraq war is the most recent tragic manifestation of it.
For the same reasons dumped billions into the development of nuclear power, the construction of nuclear power plants and nuclear waste “disposal” sites. (The quotation marks are because there is no such thing as nuclear waste “disposal”; that’s a fantasy.)
It’s all about green — not being green, but getting green. Greenbacks, that is. Money. Follow the money.
If the people profiting from the sale of oil, gas, uranium and nuclear technology could have found a way to stake an ownership claim in the sun’s rays or the earth’s breezes, rest assured solar and wind power would be the energy sources of choice today rather than the afterthoughts that they are.
The companies that make billions from our fossil-fuel dependent energy policy have made sure renewable energy resources — and conservation — remain afterthoughts as far as our national energy policy is concerned. It began with the dismantling of the energy policy changes initiated during the Carter administration in the 1970s. It continues till today, with the policies hatched during the secret proceedings of Vice President Cheney’s energy task force.
The costs of our failed national energy policy are humongous. The price of crude oil and gas has risen dramatically, by as much as 143% since 2001. Families are spending record amounts for energy. The amount spent by the average American family on gasoline, home heating, and electricity increased by more than 60% between 2001 and 2006, according to a Congressional report. And the indirect costs of higher energy prices in the form of higher prices for consumer goods and services are costing families an additional $1,400 per year.
America’s dependence on foreign oil has increased from 56% of total oil consumption in 2000 to 65% of total consumption in 2006.
Meanwhile, the energy industry — which has played a central role in shaping U.S. energy policy has benefitted tremendously, earning record profits in 2005 and 2006.
Imagine if the U.S. government got its priorities straight. How much cheaper would it be to install solar or wind power systems in our homes? How much more advanced would these technologies be today if they had not been virtually abandoned by the federal government under President Ronald Reagan? Imagine the result if we reallocated to renewable energy and conservation programs the kind of resources we’re pumping into fossil-fuel dependent, nonrenewable energy sources and technology — which includes Broadwater’s LNG FRSU and the Caithness power plant. Imagine if we’d invested in these technologies to the same extent we’ve flushed out money down the toilet in Iraq, a debacle that’s costing us to the tune of $275 million a day. Would we ever need another barrel of foreign crude? Not likely.
No wonder the vice president’s cronies on his secret energy task force — whose companies are making record profits off our failed energy policy, not to mention the Iraq occupation and “reconstruction” — made sure the energy policy required continued pursuit of a failed foreign policy that has fossil fuel consumption at its center.
Thursday, June 28, 2007
You have to do whatever it takes to get done the things that need doing — including the things you'd never ask anyone on the staff to do, like dealing with that stopped-up toilet. That's what makes running a small business fun, right?
If your business is publishing local newspapers, though, you sometimes have to assume roles that are, on the face of it, seemingly in conflict with one another. We've got a small editorial staff — those are the people who report and write the news content of our newspapers. Though our editorial staff is fairly typical of community weeklies, it's much smaller than the staffs at most dailies. As a result, our editors find themselves doing just about everything from writing obituaries to reporting and writing local news, to editing articles written by their reporters, to writing editorial commentary on local issues, writing headlines and proofreading pages. (Not to mention writing columns like this.)
We are dead serious about maintaining a strict division between our news and advertising departments. Advertisers, no matter how "big," will never dictate the editorial content (by this I mean news coverage and commentary) of our newspapers. It's not that they don't try. But we just don't go there. In fact, we have separate management overseeing advertising and editorial. If you want to pitch a news story, write a letter to the editor, or complain about a story we've written, talk to me. But if you want to buy an ad, I'll introduce you to my co-publisher, Andrew Olsen, who oversees advertising.
There's only one place where ads and news cross paths — we call it "political" advertising. In essence, these are ads whose purpose is to express a point of view rather than sell a product or service. We've got some long-standing policies about political ads.
For starters, we don't print anonymous ads. Every ad must disclose the name of the person, group or committee paying for it. And if the ad is from a group or committee, the ad must disclose the name of an individual officer (chairperson, president, treasurer, etc.).
The statements made in every political ad must be documented. This sometimes drives political party operatives nuts. Some of them want to be able to say whatever they want in their ads, and they resent it when we tell them they have to back up their allegations with facts. When in doubt, we ask for documentation, on paper. No exceptions.
When a political ad is taken by one of our sales representatives, an editor must approve it before publication. Among other things, it's the editor's responsibility to ensure that statements made in the ad are accurate and that they're documented. If an ad passes these tests, we'll print it. But publishing an ad doesn't mean we agree with the point of view expressed in it.
A newspaper is a unique business, because, even though it's a private business, it's a business that provides an important public forum. We have a duty to preserve that forum as an open forum, accessible to all. The forum extends beyond the letters pages, to the pages where paid advertising appears. As long as it's from an accountable source, and as long as it's accurate, and not libelous, we'll print it.
Last week, Broadwater Energy, whose proposal to site a huge floating liquefied natural gas facility in the Long Island Sound is something we've editorialized against more than once, took a full-page ad in our newspapers to promote its project. That we took Broadwater's ad will affect neither our coverage of the Broadwater plan nor our opinion of its merits. But Broadwater is entitled to access the public forum provided by the pages of our newspapers, just as anyone else is.
Before agreeing to run the ad, I asked for — and got — documentation of every statement Broadwater alleged in its ad. Some of the facts and figures they cite are, in my opinion, subject to interpretation and debate. But it's not my role to debate them in this context — any more than it's my role to engage in a debate when I'm reporting a story. I have to remember which hat I'm wearing, keep my opinions to myself — and save my opinions for the commentary pages.
Since this is an opinion column, I'm free to opine. I think Broadwater is a very bad idea. It doesn't belong in the Long Island Sound. That seems patently obvious. It also seems pretty obvious that the Bush administration, under which the natural gas industry has enjoyed favored son status since before the first inauguration (remember the vice president's "secret" energy policy committee?), is determined to foist this thing on us, like it or not. I for one don't like it, and I won't hesitate to say so — in the appropriate forum. But we also won't hesitate to provide full access to this forum to others with contrary opinions, no matter how fervently we disagree with them.
Thursday, June 14, 2007
Route 58 is a mess. Not only is it inconvenient, it's a safety hazard. It's the route to our community hospital.
Traffic levels have outgrown the capacity of this two-lane "Old Country Road." It was built as a by-pass for people traveling to points on the North Fork, so they wouldn't get snagged in traffic on Main Street in what was then a bustling regional commercial hub: downtown Riverhead.
The town has allowed intense commercial development along Route 58. The existing road can't handle the volume of vehicles using it.
Rt. 58 must be widened. It can't be widened with the existing traffic circle in place. The obvious thing to do is remove the circle. The county has been recommending these changes for 20 years. The county would have started the work (Rt. 58 is a county road) many years ago (at a fraction of the cost of what it's going to cost today). But the town wouldn't agree to remove the circle. (Rt. 58 intersects with a town road, Roanoke Avenue, where the circle is,so the town must agree.) We've been having these same discussions for 20 years.
The traffic engineers who prepared the "traffic element" of the town's master plan several years ago recommended that Rt. 58 be widened and the circle be removed.
Residents and some town officials went bonkers (as usual) at the idea of removing the circle.
So the traffic engineers changed their recommendation. They then proposed the circle be expanded to a two-lane circle. Lots of luck with that. (My prediction: same bottleneck, more motorist confusion, more accidents.) But that wasn't the traffic consultants' original advice.
County and town officials recently met (again) to discuss (again) what to do about Rt. 58. The county public works people said (again) Rt. 58 should be widened to four lanes in each direction. They also said (again) the circle must go. Riverhead officials (again) objected. DPW said let's agree we'll go with the recommendations of traffic engineers (again). Town officials argued the engineers already recommended a two-lane circle. But that's not quite true. That was the engineers' fall-back position after the town rejected (again) the idea of removing the circle.
That circle is part of our heritage, says Councilman Ed Densieski, who is leaving his council seat to run for highway superintendent. Like many Riverheaders, he is emotionally attached to that circle. I guess it's nostalgia; it reminds them of a simpler, quieter time in our little town, the good ol' days.
It's fitting that our government leaders see a circle as something emblematic of Riverhead. Riverhead government is pretty good at going in circles, after all.
You know, I have a funny feeling. I could swear I've written this column before...
I guess it's just deja vu all over again.
Wednesday, June 06, 2007
Finally taking some time to dig in the dirt of my garden this weekend, I felt reconnected with earth, always a good first step to connecting with the spiritual side of life. How can you observe all the amazing things of the natural world without feeling a connection to something so much bigger than yourself?
Then on Sunday, I met a man who seems to spend a great deal of his time in the spiritual plane. More work for me, though. I went to a press conference on the Sound in Wading River, held by a man who was starting a 35 day vigil to protest Broadwater. Well, protest isn't exactly the right word. His vigil is held to "invoke the spirit of nature," the spirit of the Sound, to stop Broadwater.
Now, protests I can relate to. Vigils to invoke the spirit of a body of water to rise up and stop a development project... Well, that's not something I understand very well.
I expected the guy to be a crackpot, if you want to know the truth. What I found when I met Pete Maniscalco at Wading River Creek Sunday afternoon was something else entirely. Sure, what he's doing is really sort of "out there" — but he is intelligent and thoughtful and a delight to speak with. (And quite a good interview.) He exudes an inner peace. I found myself wondering what it would be like to camp out on the Sound for more than a month, to spend all that time meditating, praying, communing with Mother Earth and the spirit of nature. I have a hard time sitting still and being quiet (without reading or writing) for more than five minutes.
So I asked him to blog about his experience for our papers. After explaining to him that a blog is sort of an online journal, he readily agreed to do it. He'd planned to keep a journal anyway, he said. So every day at around 5 p.m. for the next month, Pete is going to phone in his blog entry to me, and I am going to type what he dictates and post it on a blog I've created for him, which I called Pete's Broadwater Vigil.
To learn more about Pete and his vigil, read one of Times/Review's papers this week. And please do check out his blog, and post your own comments about what he's doing, feeling and thinking about. I think this could be a very interesting community dialogue about an extremely important subject.
Monday, June 04, 2007
Three hundred seventy-eight homes, 175,000 square feet of retail space, and an 18-hole golf course set on 320 acres. High density but “smart” development, at least according to proponents who say the overall environmental and economic impacts of the 283 single-family homes the developer could build as-of-right under current zoning. A Hobsian choice.
Small wonder many Shoreham residents were clamoring for the government to buy the land for preservation, and why Shoreham Councilman Kevin McCarrick tried to maneuver a moratorium to give the preservation effort time to bear fruit.
Is preservation the right thing for Tallgrass? I’m not so sure. Public funds for preservation are scarce and must be spent according to a well-thought-out plan that prioritizes properties according to objective criteria — which, in the best of all worlds, shouldn’t include “not in my backyard.”
When it comes to development, we’ve gotten a lot wrong on Long Island. We’ve carved this place up into large lots and built big homes surrounded by a lot of lawn, kept green and pretty by high doses of fertilizer and pesticides. We’ve shunned public transportation, and made being a pedestrian a life-threatening endeavor. We’ve constructed “The American Dream” on this fragile spit of barrier beach, and we’re learning that the dream is, in some ways, more of a nightmare.
Astronomical property taxes stalk us in our nightmare. Taxes have driven businesses and people off Long Island. They’ve made it hard to hire qualified employees from other places. I speak from hard experience in this. I lost a great editor because he got fed up with his $12,000 annual property tax bill. In his new home in the Midwest, he’s got a bigger house and his property taxes are around $2,000. I lost the opportunity to hire, over the past couple of years, two great editors — one from Virginia and one from Missouri — because of Long Island’s property taxes. Both were flabbergasted by the amounts we have to shell out every month to pay property taxes around here. Their tax bills now, they told me, are under $2,000 a year, an amount that would at least triple if they came to work for me here on Long Island. As an employer, I’m struggling to be able to pay employees enough to afford to live here. And it hurts.
Taxes, taxes, taxes. They were the talk of the town at the Republican convention last week. The Republicans, who arrived at the convention in cars bearing “Hi-Tax Foley” bumper stickers, would have us believe that property taxes were invented by Brookhaven Democrats. But there isn’t a thoughtful person alive on Long Island who would buy into that oversimplified poppycock. (Advice to Brookhaven Republicans: Don’t insult the voters’ intelligence.)
Property taxes — along with electric rates — are indeed killing us. Most of the property tax burden (around two-thirds) is the tab for education. Developers, in recognition of this fact, have crafted proposals to limit impacts on our schools, and, therefore, on our tax bills. These are often ultra-high-density projects like Tallgrass, but the pitch — now a familiar refrain — is that the project won’t bring a lot of children into our schools, either because ownership is limited to the over-55 set or because the housing units contain fewer than three bedrooms. So a plan with 378 homes developed with (theoretically) child-limiting housing stock is “better” than one with fewer, bigger homes, a large retail development and a golf course.
I find this all very sad. For one thing, children are not one of the seven plagues (though as the mother of teenagers, sometimes I wonder). And housing developments that don’t “add” children to the schools are not, by definition, automatically wonderful. Senior citizen housing comes with its own burdens — ask hospital administrators and our volunteer ambulance squads about that. Besides all that, the health of our local economy depends, in large part, on young workers who need to be able to buy houses and raise families.
We need the right mix of housing; single-family homes, townhouses, condos and rental units are all an important part of the mix. Sometimes it requires biting the bullet on a gargantuan housing project, like Tallgrass or the one being planned for Yaphank. Sometimes it means tacking a TDR component onto an open space bond or transfer tax.
But we also desperately need tax relief, and it can’t come from limiting the child-bearing-age population. It must come, in part, from the frugal administration of governments at all levels, from Albany down to the local school districts. And it must come from a wholesale restructuring of how we fund public education, one that shifts the burden from property taxes to income taxes. Without such a shift, property taxes here have nowhere to go but up; let’s not allow ourselves to be fooled by shallow promises of politicians willing to cook the books to win elections. (Did somebody say “tax holiday?”)
We’re in trouble here, folks. Who has the chutzpah to admit it and the backbone to tackle the crisis head-on? That’s what we need. As County Executive Steve Levy, a scrappy Democrat and self-described fiscal conservative, told the Republican convention when he accepted their cross-endorsement last week, taxes are not a partisan issue. Quality of life is not a partisan issue. These things transcend party politics. They are the stuff of the American Dream, things that are important to all of us, regardless of which box we check off on the voter enrollment form.
“Hi-Tax Foley” may sound good to Republican campaign strategists, just as the refrain of government reform in “Crookhaven” was sweet music for Democratic operatives two years ago. But voters will be looking beyond campaign slogans to the meat-and-potatoes of candidates’ plans to control property taxes and their ability to make the tough decisions that need to be made — to deliver government services efficiently, protect the environment, preserve our quality of life and allow the next generation to pursue its dreams in the place we call home.
Sunday, May 27, 2007
After the proceedings ended, I was chatting casually with the man who's running for tax receiver — I'm sorry but his name escapes me; I didn't write it down — when this other man I'd never met before came over and joined the conversation.
He started telling the tax receiver candidate he should move to Riverhead, like he himself had done. Things are so easy out there, he said. You can really influence elections. It's so small. Etc. He said, you can knock incumbents out so easily, because without the committee designation, there's no way they can win a primary. And then he started bragging about what he did in the last town election in Riverhead.
"I did it to Rose," he boasted. "And I can't wait to do it to Barbara. She's not going to get re-elected. She's not even going to get the nomination," he said with a big smile. "And I'm going to be grinning from here to here." He pointed at his ears with his two forefingers.
All right, then. I wasn't sure how, or whether, to respond to this. Who the heck was this guy? That's what I wanted to know. So I asked. Joe Latini, he told me. I introduced myself, but I'm fairly certain he knew exactly who he was talking to when he came over and said these things about Riverhead politics, Rose Sanders — who got railroaded out of office in a very sleazy campaign in 2005 — and Barbara Blass, who has a target on her back now. (Her party is mad at her for supporting Rose in the 2005 primary, among other things.)
Joe Latini. He lives in Wading River, apparently a recent transplant, because he was the Republican candidate for county legislator in the 5th district in 2003. He ran against Vivian Viloria-Fisher, the deputy presiding officer of the county legislature.
Blass, a Riverhead Republican, and Fisher, an East Setauket Democrat, have one thing in common that I know of (besides gender): the Long Island Environmental Voters Forum wants them both out of office.
I don't recall whether LIEVF took an official position against Sanders in 2003. But LIEVF board member Anthony Coates, who ran Republican Ed Densieski's failed supervisor campaign in 2003, was involved in creating a couple of very nasty anonymous mailers that went out to Republican voters on the eve of the GOP primary. (The Riverhead GOP didn't support their incumbent councilwoman, Sanders, nominating instead John Dunleavy. Sanders ran a primary campaign to try to get the nomination.) One of the anonymous mailers had a picture of Sanders, Blass and Hillary Clinton at an anti-Broadwater rally, organized by the Anti-Broadwater Coalition (of which LIEVF is a member). It didn't mention Broadwater; it just said, "Birds of a feather?" obviously trying to smear Sanders and Blass by associating them with the devil Hillary. Pretty ironic, a LIEVF board member involved in creating a mailing that slammed a candidate with a picture taken at an anti-Broadwater rally sponsored by a coalition LIEVF belongs to.
The News-Review tracked down the name of the owner of the vacant condo whose address was the return addresss on the anonymous mailer: Christopher Carbonne. We also tracked down the name of the mailing house that owned the bulk mail permit used on the mailer, Village Graphics. Anthony Coates admitted to me that he was the one who involved Chris Carbonne, a graphic artist, in the Sanders mailings. Carbonne was a personal acquaintance, he said. But Coates claimed, quite incredibly in my opinion, that he didn't know who had placed the order or who paid for the mailings. Carbonne and Village Graphics both wouldn't say.
LIEVF's campaign finance disclosure statements, posted online at the board of elections Web site, show a $1,725 payment to Christopher Carbonne, Inc. for "graphic design and printing" and a $540 payment to Village Graphics, "mail house" both on Nov. 3, five days before the 2005 general election. I looked at all of LIEVF's disclosures that are posted online. These were the only payments to Carbonne and Village Graphics ever made by LIEVF, at least for the eight reporting periods for which statements are posted online. So, did LIEVF order and pay for the Sanders mailers? Oh, irony of ironies, LIEVF paying for an anonymous mailer slamming a candidate with a picture taken of her at an anti-Broadwater event!
This was a question I had to ask. So I called up LIEVF's treasurer, Richard Amper, and asked him.
No, no, Amper said.
"That was a mailing we did against Viloria-Fisher," he told me.
Villoria-Fisher's opponent in 2005, Joe Michaels, doesn't list any in-kind contributions showing payment for mailings by LIEVF. (He shows one contribution from LIEVF, for $100, on Oct. 28, 2005.) But if it was the same nasty, anonymous mailer — an attack piece on the incumbent rather than a piece soliciting support for Michaels, maybe Michaels wouldn't have to disclose it by law. Or maybe, as Sanders' opponent John Dunleavy claimed in 2005, he knew nothing about it. Funny, if there was a nasty anonymous attack piece against Villoria-Fisher, she doesn't remember it. (I called and asked.) You'd think she would, but, she said, she tries not to dwell on the negative.
I guess we just have to take Dick Amper's word for it that LIEVF didn't pay Carbonne and Village Graphics for the anti-Sanders attack pieces.
It's interesting that Riverhead's got all these Brookhaven "players" involved in its local politics now. And maybe a little scary. Just like Latini said, Riverhead is small. And, yes, it's elections are probably very easy to influence, compared to a town like Brookhaven. But though it's a small town, it's got big issues, and lots of land. There are deals to be cut and there's money to be made. It's very appealing to these "players." The fun has just begun.
Friday, May 25, 2007
Memorial Day. As a kid, war seemed long ago and far away. World War II and Korea were ancient history for me, born in the late 1950s. Then the tumult of Vietnam swept the country. The older brothers of my peers got drafted and sent to the jungles of Southeast Asia. The death and destruction there was distant, detached. And Vietnam, for me and so many young people of that era, was all about resistance. Resisting the draft, resisting the yoke our parents' generation put on us to fight a war that made no sense, resisting "the establishment."
Honoring our war dead at that time did not occur to many people my age. The men who donned a military uniform and went off to fight in Vietnam, the 58,000 of them who were killed there — they deserved pity, perhaps, for being exploited that way. But honor? My generation was too caught up in the frenzy of protest to even consider honoring those men and women who lost their lives in that awful war.
Vietnam so complicated things for young people of the 1970s. Our parents and grandparents fought wars that mattered. Our nation seemed much more clearly on the side of what was right back then. Vietnam, on the other hand, was pointless — fighting to preserve the rule of one horrible dictator versus another, protecting Southeast Asia from the spread of communism, and thereby protecting democracy throughout the world. The threat didn't seem real. The arguments shallow. And our government lied. Repeatedly. Tens of thousands died. For what? The distrust for government bred in my heart during those formative years of my life remains with me to this day.
So I was never one to observe Memorial Day. It seemed somehow a celebration of war. I couldn't separate honoring the soldiers who gave their lives from honoring the war that claimed them. And war, the war I knew (albeit, gratefully, from afar) was no cause for honor.
War is nothing to celebrate. War rarely accomplishes anything. War breeds more hatred, more violence, more war. More destruction and death.
There are loud echoes of Vietnam in Iraq: wars fought under false pretenses, government leaders lying, the true purpose of battle, and its efficacy, justifiably questioned.
But those of us opposed to the present war should not make the same mistakes we made during Vietnam. We must not get the matter of honoring the men and women who sacrificed their lives in this war tangled up in our opposition to it. They answered a call — whether patriotic or economic. They put on a uniform. They went into battle in service to their country, and died. Honoring that sacrifice is not the same as honoring the war that claimed them, or honoring the war's purpose, or its perpetrators.
When I fly the flag on Monday, it won't be an expression of support for the war in Iraq, or solidarity with the administration's purpose or plan for this ill-conceived battle. It will be to remember, acknowledge and respect the lives cut short — all lives — by the insanity of war — all wars. It will be an expression of grief, not glory. It will be flown in the hope that by remembering, truly remembering, the real costs of war, we will diminish the opportunity for war in the future.
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