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News briefs 10.15.03 

The bright side of the tracks

On the rear side of a long commercial building at 176 Anderson Avenue, in a parking lot facing the train tracks, kids are creating vivid masterpieces.

            Paul Knoblauch, a metal artist who works out of the building, has met some of the graffiti artists. He thinks that part of the canvas' appeal is its visibility from the train.

            The other draw? The artists --- mostly white teenagers from the suburbs --- have permission to paint there from the building's owner, Gary Stern.

            Stern's son and business partner, Mitch Stern, says kids can paint the wall of the building that faces the tracks, as long as they don't paint over windows or business entrances. He guesses his father gave permission to an artist years ago and "word kind of spread that it's cool to do it here."

            The brick is completely covered in layers of paint. Names and pictures seep over the edges of the walls and onto the ground. Haunting portraits, cultural icons, and artists' stylish tags all appear in sleek colors and clean lines. Phrases --- some slogans, some messages from one artist to another --- snake around the images.

            Knoblauch points out tags that he recognizes --- two artists that go by APE and Skeem --- and also some art that had been added overnight. A freshly painted skull tells him that a teenage girl he knows was there the night before.

            He also points out some art that has been partially covered over. "Some of it is respected," he says, "and they won't paint over it for a while." The new trend, he says, is stencils and stickers. One stencil, done in white, shows a smiling child holding a small, upside-down American flag.

            But the prolific season is over. School has started, and these artists have to be in class.

--- Erica Curtis

March for peace

As the "Q word" (quagmire) and the "I word" (imperialism) crowd the collective imagination again, some Rochester-area peacemakers are gearing up for a March on Washington, Saturday, October 25.

Co-sponsored by two national formations, the International ANSWER Coalition and United for Peace and Justice, the march has a simple demand: "End the Occupation and Bring the Troops Home!"

            A flier for the march makes the demand interrogative: "$87 billion on top of the $79 billion already spent? Who is paying for this war? Three-hundred-sixteen US soldiers and 6,000-8,000 Iraqi civilians. [The numbers grow daily.] And jobs? And health care? Civil liberties? Veterans benefits?"

            Genesee Valley Citizens for Peace, a Geneseo-based group, is spearheading the local organizing. Buses are being lined up for taking participants to the rally; the cost per person is $40 from Geneseo and $45 from Rochester. Some bus fare "scholarships" may be available. (Donations to a national scholarship fund may be sent to: United for Peace and Justice, c/o Yvonne, PO Box 607, Times Square Station, New York, NY 10108; see for more details.)

            For bus reservations and local information, contact: Hank Stone, 624-3673, in Ionia; Arnold Matlin,, in Geneseo; or Vicki Lewin Ryder, 244-6759, in Rochester.

Stateside notes

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation just released a report on commercial pesticide application in 2001.

            The report establishes Monroe County as one of New York's most well-applied counties, with more than 68,000 gallons plus nearly 1.4 million pounds of pesticides spread. (Totals are given in gallons or pounds according to medium of application; to get the true total, the gallons and pounds must be lumped together.) Our total gallons went way down from last year, but our total pounds went up substantially.

Suffolk and Westchester counties were ahead of us in total applications, but we whipped Erie and Onondaga counties hands down. Even Wayne County, with all those fruit orchards and farm fields, came in well below Monroe County's total.

            The statewide totals run to 2.3 million gallons and 16.9 million pounds. That's a bit down from last year.

Cleaning up our act

For a long time, it's seemed New York State's slogan should be changed to "Brownfields Forever." Years and years went by, and competing interests inside and outside Albany failed to reach agreement on legislation to clean up toxic sites all over the map, or to dig up the necessary money.

But now both houses of the State Legislature have passed, and Governor George Pataki has signed, a new Superfund-Brownfield law that will make clean-ups more likely --- and cleaner, too. The law will refinance the state Superfund and related programs with up to $135 million in annual funds from bonds, fees, the state's general fund, and other sources, according to the governor's office. The measure also provides for a "State Brownfields Clean-up Program" to jump-start private investment. And there are some upgrades to the state's Municipal Environmental Restoration Program.

            An environmental coalition --- the Citizens Environmental Coalition, the New York Public Interest Research Group, and the Sierra Club --- is hailing the new law. The groups are happy that money will flow at long last, and that the law, in one activist's words, "maintains the Superfund program's stringent clean-up goals."

Yet the groups understand there are "loopholes," most prominently, one about "use-based clean-up standards." This could allow some contamination to be left on certain sites slated for industrial re-use.

            But on the bright side, the new law keeps in place "the historic 50/50 split between industry fees and public funds," as the environmental coalition's statement says. Lots of New Yorkers were worried that Albany might retreat from the "polluter pays" principle and leave the taxpayer holding the whole bag. Fortunately, that was headed off at the pass.


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