Thursday, December 6, 2012

Poll results show fracking support differs by region

Posted By on Thu, Dec 6, 2012 at 2:09 PM

The majority of respondents to a recent Siena Research Institute poll say they support fracking. But there’s a catch.

The poll results, which were released yesterday, say that 42 percent of the 822 registered voters polled support fracking and 36 percent oppose it; the numbers were the same in October, the last time Siena asked respondents about fracking. But a press release on the poll says that much of the support is coming from downstate and New York City. Of the Upstate respondents, 45 percent oppose fracking and 39 percent support it.

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Public needs to weigh in on Vargas's schools modernization plan

Posted By on Thu, Dec 6, 2012 at 11:45 AM

There has been almost no serious public reaction to Rochester schools Superintendent Bolgen Vargas’s proposal for the second phase of modernizing city schools. Vargas has held several public meetings to present the plan, which calls for closing five schools and spending about $625 million on modernizing buildings over the next 10 years.

The school board will hold its first public hearing on the proposal at 6:30 p.m., tonight (Thursday, December 6,) at the district’s central office, 131 West Broad Street. Vargas will present the plan, which is also on the district’s website at, and a public comment period will follow.

Major problems with School 16 — an old heating system and sewer odors from the boys bathroom, to name a few — prompted Vargas to abruptly close the school in the fall. A subsequent inventory of all of the district’s buildings served as the foundation of Vargas’s new proposal.

Vargas has repeatedly stressed that his proposal is only a draft. Still, there are questions that should be addressed in his future presentations. For starters, what is the status of the first phase of the modernization plan, and how has the $325 million for that portion of the project been spent? And is the project coming in on budget?

Phase one of the project called for modernizing 12 schools. Vargas’s new proposal includes some of those same schools, such as East High. A total of $80 million would be spent on East between the two phases — a huge expense. What is Vargas recommending that costs so much?

The district has gotten itself in a difficult position because of past decisions regarding school choice. Residents and parents frequently say they want a neighborhood school, but according to the district’s data, only 14 percent of city students attend their home or neighborhood school, 45 percent don’t attend their neighborhood school within their zone, and 26 percent live in a different zone from their neighborhood school.

And there are additional yearly expenses linked to the choice program, such as transportation. So which direction does the new proposal recommend: returning to neighborhood schools or continuing with a choice program?

And how does the plan for modernizing city schools fit with the city’s plan for revitalizing neighborhoods? Though the plan does make some recommendations for replacing some older city schools and consolidating space, it’s not clear how this relates to what the city plans for neighborhood revitalization. And this is supposed to be a joint project.

Vargas deserves credit for his communication efforts. He’s been actively promoting his plan since mid November. And there’s no question that some of Rochester’s school buildings are too old for 21st century learning without major reconstruction.

School board members have been oddly quiet about the new proposal. But they had no input into its development, and they don't have a lot of control over the schools modernization project. But before spending $625 million, more explanation is needed. And parents and residents need to clarify what they want, since they’re picking up the tab.

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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Japanese artist's take on the bomb

Posted By on Wed, Dec 5, 2012 at 5:30 PM

The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Friday, December 7, 1941, which drew the US into World War II. As everyone knows, this led to the first use of nuclear weapons. Japanese artist Isao Hashimoto has created a time-lapse video of nuclear detonations between 1945 and 1998. Though it takes a few minutes for the video to really start moving, it’s worth watching.

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Congress dumps ballast water provision

Posted By on Wed, Dec 5, 2012 at 12:28 PM

The Senate and House of Representatives have rejected a provision that would have weakened an important anti-invasive species regulation in New York state.

Representative Louise Slaughter, who co-chairs the Congressional Great Lakes Task Force, announced today that the Senate and House each passed a Coast Guard re-authorization bill. But the bill did not include language requiring a national ballast water discharge standard for ocean-going ships. (Earlier this year, the Coast Guard finalized a different ballast water regulation that allows states to set their own standards, Slaughter said in a press release.)

In 2011, Congress took up a Coast Guard re-authorization bill that included a provision requiring a national ballast water standard. It would have mirrored the International Maritime Organization's guidelines and would have prohibited states from implementing stricter standards. New York, however, had already approved much stricter ballast water standards for ocean-going ships entering its waters.

State officials wanted to protect the Great Lakes ecosystem from new invasive species. Ocean-going ships enter the Great Lakes through the St. Lawrence Seaway and Lake Ontario, and many invasive species have been introduced to the lake through ballast discharges.

State officials have pushed the Environmental Protection Agency to implement a national standard that mirrors New York's regulations.

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[UPDATED] Yes, Rochester really would let RBTL go to Irondequoit

Posted By on Wed, Dec 5, 2012 at 12:23 PM

Tom Richards. - FILE PHOTO

UPDATE: In a voice mail earlier today, RBTL board chair Arnie Rothschild said that the league has never attempted to raise money for a new theater, because city officials have never come out and said they want the theater. RBTL wouldn't fund raise, he said, until the city made the theater project a priority.

Rothschild also corrected a mistake in the original version of this blog. The new theater would have 3,000 seats, not 2,400.

Don’t expect the City of Rochester to swoop in with a sweet offer to convince RBTL to build its new theater in Rochester. If RBTL is serious about going to Irondequoit, Mayor Tom Richards says, it’ll go with his blessing.

“I’m trying to be consistent with respect to what I think the civic responsibility is to this project,” he says. “It would be nice if [the theater] was downtown. It would be nice it if was in Midtown. But not at any price. Because while it’s important, it’s not necessarily the most important thing.”

Developer Scott Congel has agreed to build a 3,000-seat theater for RBTL as part of his massive Medley Centre project. Congel would also pay off the debt on the Auditorium Theatre, which RBTL owns, and pay for renovations to the Aud. RBTL would continue to own the Aud, which would be used for smaller performances.

RBTL needs to raise money to show that the theater project is credible, Richards says, but has not done so. For a $70 million to $80 million theater, the RBTL would need to come up with approximately $10 million or $20 million in private funds, Richards says. RBTL would also have to find a way to cover any operating deficits the theater incurs, he says.

And the city shouldn’t be the only one on the hook, Richards says, even though the Aud is in the city. No one — politicians, Monroe County, state government, Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council — is stepping up with money or offers of support for RBTL’s new theater, he says.

“We could never swing this by ourselves, no matter what,” Richards says. “It would have to be something that the community comes together on and does.”

“I’m not going to get into a stampede, where somebody says, ‘Oh my gosh, it might go out to Irondequoit. You’ve got to come up with $80 million,’” he says. “If they can get some guy to pay for the whole thing and subsidize them, I guess that’s where they’re going to go.”

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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A power-sharing pact in Albany

Posted By on Tue, Dec 4, 2012 at 4:29 PM

A group of breakaway State Senate Democrats have an agreement with Republican leaders to share control of the State Senate.

The Independent Democratic Conference had four members until today, when former Senate leader Malcom Smith joined the group. The other members are Jeff Klein, Diane Savino, David Valesky, and David Carlucci. None of the members represent the Rochester area.

Under the agreement, Klein will lead the IDC and Republican Senator Dean Skelos, currently the Senate president and majority leader, will lead the GOP conference. They'll share in a variety of duties, from setting the agenda to appointing people to boards. (For more details, see the press release here.)

Klein and Skelos will take turns as the Senate's temporary president. They'll alternate the job every two weeks.

A sixth Democrat, Simcha Felder, has said he'll caucus with Republicans.

Republicans currently have a slim majority in the Senate. But as a result of this year's elections they appeared poised to lose it. Two still undecided races certainly would have factored in. The power-sharing agreement sidesteps that issue, at least for now.

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GOP Senator: Boost energy research funding

Posted By on Tue, Dec 4, 2012 at 9:23 AM

A boost in federal spending for energy research and development could do a lot to advance clean energy technology and create jobs. And apparently, it's not just Congressional Democrats who think it's a good idea.

The Hill reports that Republican Senator Lamar Alexander wants Congress to double the Department of Energy's research and development funding. Alexander spoke yesterday at a Washington, D.C., event hosted by Securing America's Future Energy, a group of CEO's and retired military leaders that advocates for electrifying transportation and increasing domestic oil and gas production.

But Alexander proposes paying for the increase by stripping electricity production tax credits from wind farms. He said that wind turbines are a mature technology that the government doesn't need to prop up, reports the Hill. Other technologies need the investment more, he said.

I'm not sure how wise it would be to take away tax credits for wind power generation. The American Wind Energy Association says the credits are important to an industry that's nearing self-sufficiency, the Hill reports. And fossil fuels receive their own government subsidies.

If Alexander wants to remove subsidies from a mature technology in order to foster innovation and economic growth, then he should target the fossil fuel industry. That approach would help level the playing field and it'd help usher in cleaner sources of energy.

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Monday, December 3, 2012

Mayor wants to speed-up projects

Posted By on Mon, Dec 3, 2012 at 1:47 PM

Tom Richards. - FILE PHOTO

Rochester Mayor Tom Richards wants the city to borrow approximately $29 million for major infrastructure and capital projects that were planned for future years. Richards wants to do the borrowing now while the interest rates are so low.

The money would be used for to finish construction on Manhattan Square Park, to repair hazardous sidewalks, to make major road enhancements to Thurston Road and Portland Avenue, to increase the pace of demolition of vacant and deteriorated buildings, and other projects.

City Council should vote on the legislation this month.

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Week ahead: RCSD building plan hearing, County budget, Rochester vs. the crows

Posted By on Mon, Dec 3, 2012 at 9:51 AM

The Rochester school board will hold a public hearing at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, December 6, to gather input from parents, students, and residents on the new school buildings master plan. There will be a public comment period followed by an opportunity to ask Superintendent Bolgen Vargas questions about the proposed plan. The plan recommends closing five city schools and spending $625 million modernizing other schools over the next 10 years.

The meeting is at the district’s central office building, third floor conference room, 131 West Broad Street. Members of the public who would like to comment on the plan should call the board office before noon on Thursday to register: 262-8525. Tim Louis Macaluso

Maggie Brooks. - FILE PHOTO

The Monroe County Legislature will hold a public hearing on County Executive Maggie Brooks’s proposed 2013 budget at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, December 6. The Legislature’s Ways and Means Committee will discuss the budget during its meeting immediately after the hearing. A vote is expected at the December 11 meeting of the full Legislature.

Brooks’s proposal lays out approximately $1.2 billion in spending and keeps the property tax rate at $8.99 per $1,000 assessed value. But it also creates two new chargebacks: fees charged to taxpayers in specific communities for using a service. One would cover $750,000 in indigent burial costs. The other, which would only affect suburban property owners, would cover $5 million in snowplowing costs.

The county already funds its contribution to Monroe Community College through chargebacks. It’s giving the college $500,000 more this year, so the MCC charges will increase accordingly.

Legislature Democrats say that the chargebacks are tax increases in disguise. Jeremy Moule

The City of Rochester is after the crows again. This week, City Council begins discussing proposed legislation to shoo the crows out of Washington Square Park and south along the river trail. A roost near the park was dispersed last year, but is re-establishing itself, Mayor Tom Richards says.

If the legislation is approved, the United States Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Wildlife Services Division will use nonlethal methods to disperse the crows including "distress calls, lasers, pyrotechnics, effigies, and spotlights." Sounds like quite a show.

Council's meeting is at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, December 6, at City Hall, 30 Church Street. Christine Carrie Fien

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