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Maybe it seems hard for you to imagine how expanding the county's water system could be controversial

Metro ink - 3.08.06 


click to enlarge PHOTO BY KARA DOUGHMAN

To anyone under 30, the idea of using a phone booth may seem foreign. But Writers & Books could change that with its inspired conversion of an old British booth, rigged to offer passersby a free poetry reading.

W&B held a contest that drew 350 submissions, and the 15 winning poets --- ranging from teenagers to experienced writers in their 70's --- recorded a reading of their work. A CD of the collection is transmitted to the booth, and plays continuously.

From Joseph Sotille: I am a shiny, cream-colored '57 Plymouth with two dazzling fins in the back/ I am a child shaking in his sneakers afraid of the wild dog across the street/ I am a maple tree in the distance waiting to catch home runs hit over the cyclone fence.

Offers Gloria Lara: Be my go-go, my disco, my ballroom/ Be my thoughts, my dreams, my interval/ Be my lunk-head, my genius, my math problem/Be my mate, my love, my star-crossed babe.

The bright red booth, weighing 1200 pounds, was salvaged from PittsfordPlaza during last summer's renovations and now stands in front of W&B's building, at 740 University Avenue.

"We wanted to place things on the outside of the building that reflect what is going on inside," says W&B director Joe Flaherty. "We also wanted ARTWalk to have a literary presence. It's gone over so well that we may try to change it with the seasons --- about four times a year. There's a lot we can do with it. We get a kick out of watching people walk up to it, step inside, and have a listen."

Even if this world were no more than a stale, old gumball stuck in some broke-down machine, I'd praise you. --- Alicia Hoffman

Tim Louis Macaluso


It may seem hard to imagine how expanding the county's water system could be controversial.

Hugh Mitchell hopes to change that. Mitchell is the co-chair of the Rochester Regional Group of the Sierra Club and chairs the state Sierra Club's conservation committee. His group is protesting the Monroe County Water Authority's plans to build a new water treatment facility in Webster. The new plant would include a new intake a mile out into LakeOntario (currently all of the county's water comes from an intake at its Shoremont plant in Greece), and it would have a capacity of 50 million gallons a day, nearly as much as the system now uses.

In a Tuesday press conference, the Sierra Club released a paper titled "Watering Sprawl," meant to supplement the group's study of several years ago called "Sprawl Follows the Pipes."

The Sierra Club objects to the new plant mainly on the grounds that it will cause --- or rather jumpstart --- new sprawl in the eastside burbs and the western portion of WayneCounty. The group has long contended that the availability of water and sewer utilities is the main force that drives sprawl.

"The real reason they want it is because they're ambitious to expand," says Mitchell.

He also contends that building the new plant will indirectly contribute to sprawl in the western portion of MonroeCounty and into neighboring Orleans, because it will "free more capacity from Shoremont."

The Sierra Club also worries that this is a ploy to pressure the city into selling its own water system to the county. Sound like a conspiracy theory? Consider the situation: the city now makes a tidy profit of about $5 to 6 million dollars per year from its water system. It shares water with the county under an agreement that expires in 2008.

The county tried --- and failed -- to purchase the city's water works in the spring of 2002. That's mainly because the amount it was offering --- a lump sum of just over $50 million --- was laughable when compared to the continuous sum the city receives each year.

Mitchell worries that with the extra capacity, the county's water authority "will be able to dispense with buying water from the city." Or at least it'll be a in a far stronger position to bargain for a better water-sharing agreement after the current deal expires in 2008.

Either way, Mitchell reasons, the county will be able to leverage that position into the purchase of the city's system at a lower price. That's an outcome that the Sierra Club wants to avoid for two reasons. First is the ecological fate of the city's water sources.

"Sierra Club worries about the upland watershed and open space around Hemlock and CanadiceLakes," says Mitchell. "We want to see it preserved."

The second is the same reason the group is opposed to the Webster plant in the first place: sprawl.

"We don't think the city should sell out its water plant to the county, since the county's record on sprawl is so bad," he says. "They'll make a short-term profit, but in the long term the city will lose. You've got to look at the long term."

--- Krestia DeGeorge


The fast ferry may be dead, but interest in the Charlotte harbor area isn't. After decades of hope and frustration, plans for new development at the port seem to be picking up speed. Sasaki Associates, the Boston-based firm charged with developing those plans, presented several concepts last month, and city Community Development Commissioner Julio Vazquez says the city expects to get the final plan in June.

Following last month's Sasaki presentation, city officials and Sasaki representatives met with four potential developers for the port area.

Also at that meeting: SUNY Brockport representatives hoping to create a Lake Ontario Natural Resource Center at the port.

The 30,000 square-foot center --- which would include classrooms, a conference room, and a small aquarium --- would likely cost at least $7 million. The city hasn't formally committed to the project or to its proposed location, a few hundred yards from the port's terminal building. That's within the area being studied by Sasaki, and the research center wasn't included in any of the Sasaki options.

The research center "sounds like an excellent idea," says Vazquez. "I like the idea, but obviously the mayor has to make the decision." The city, he adds, is also considering housing the center inside the terminal building.

City Councilmember Bob Stevenson, whose district includes Charlotte, suggests yet another option: nearby city-owned properties in Charlotte. "We do have another site south of this port site along River Street, where we've taken two full blocks of buildings down there, and it's been declared an urban renewal site," he says.

Joe Makarewicz, a professor of environmental science and biology at Brockport and the research center's main proponent, says he had not heard about the possibility of locating the center on River Street. But he says he believes the city is committed to the project. "We've just changed administrations," he says, "and you've got to give the new administration some time to get its feet on the ground."

And Julio Vazquez stresses that the Sasaki plans are still conceptual. "There's room for everything," he says.

--- Sujata Gupta


Many of the region's non-profit agencies depend heavily on the United Way to help fund everything from children's health care to neighborhood revitalization. This year's fund-raising begins in mid-March, but officials already know there won't be enough to go around. And that probably means some agencies the United Way has supported for years won't get any money this year.

Last year the United Way of Greater Rochester (which serves seven counties) raised $35.5 million. Some of that went to the Red Cross. Some went to specific organizations designated by United Way donors. Only $19.5 million was left to be distributed among organizations such as Baden Street Settlement, the YMCA, and the Hillside Children's Center.

The number of applications for money is outpacing what the United Way can raise, a trend that began in the mid-90's. In 1995, for example, the United Way funded 219 programs. In 2005, that number had dropped to 138. This year, there've been 156 requests to fund $28.1 million in programs. But like last year, United Way officials expect to have only $19.5 million available.

The change in Rochester's economy has influenced donors, says William McCullough, United Way's vice president of corporate affairs. While individual donors are giving more money, fewer people are giving at all. That trend "poses serious problems," says McCullough. "It means the overall number of programs we can sustain will continue to decrease."

In the 60's, when Rochester was a powerhouse of manufacturing and white-collar jobs, United Way could rely on big employers to help not only with their own donations but by providing administrative support for the fund drive. Today's leaner companies can't do that, says McCullough.

The funding reduction has forced consolidation among some service providers and has caused many of them to step up their own fundraising efforts. "We've been encouraging a re-engineering of programs and pooling of resources to discourage overlap," says McCullough, "but frankly, we've reached a point where there are no more inefficiencies." United Way will need to reevaluate who it funds, and that includes looking hard at some agencies it has helped for years.

The United Way has focused on programs that drive long-term community improvements, says McCullough, especially those that enhance health and education for the city's children. Thirty-nine percent of those under 5 live in poverty, the United Way says, and that percentage is increasing.

"There are many areas of need, so many that it is hard to single out one that is greater than another," says McCullough. "But I think most people would agree that the needs of children in this city are severe. There are not only the health issues, but we've got to help our children stay in school and graduate. Let's be honest: a high-school diploma means almost nothing today. So when these kids drop out and don't go on to college, they create a life-long problem for themselves and the community."

--- Tim Louis Macaluso

Left rail

click to enlarge bushy---03.08.jpg

Some go to India for the samosas, others for a dose of extreme culture, others for a peek at Bollywood. But for politicians, the coolest thing to do in the land of sacred cows and math geniuses, is to eschew violence. Joining the ranks of Ariel Sharon and Burmese dictator Than Shwe, President George W. Bush made a trip to Rajghat, India, last week to pay tribute to the Father of India: Mahatma Gandhi, the civil rights activist renowned for his commitment to non-violence.

Then, just hours later --- shielded from thousands of anti-war protesters --- Bush ironed out a landmark nuclear cooperation deal between America and India. Thus was ushered in the age of nonviolent nuclearization. Whatever that is.

And you thought Phil Hoffman was our only claim to fame:Channel 13 has localized ABC's weirdly popular reality show "Dancing with the Stars" this winter, wrapping it into its morning news program. On the national show, celebrities like Tatum O'Neal, Drew Lachey, Tia Carrere, and George Hamilton tried to learn how to samba, tango, and foxtrot, paired with professional ballroom dancers, with judges and viewers voting off the worst of them, one by one. And what "stars" did Channel 13 pick to pair with local ballroom experts? The news staff of Channel 13 (some of them obviously pained by the experience) and community celebrities like the Eastman House's PR manager, Dresden Engle. (Our vote? Bring back Darren.)

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