Global Trade Deals, Water and You

tpp

By Arthur Zaczkiewicz, MSW

WHAT YOU CAN DO:  A version of the trade “fast track” goes to the senate. Contact our senator NOW. 

WATCH Robert Reich on the Trans Pacific Partnership.

There’s been a lot of chatter on social media sites, in blogs and – more recently – mainstream news sites about “TPP” and “fast tracking.” It has something to do with jobs and it could help or hurt the economy (depending upon who you ask). President Barack Obama is involved, and Democrats and Republicans are gnashing teeth over the darn thing. Ring a bell?

But what exactly is TPP and why should we care?

Without boring you to death, here’s a quick rundown of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal:

  • TPP involves the U.S. working with 11 other countries (Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam) to reduce trade barriers.
  • The U.S. Trade Representative states that the “TPP is the cornerstone of the Obama Administration’s economic policy in the Asia Pacific. The large and growing markets of the Asia-Pacific already are key destinations for U.S. manufactured goods, agricultural products, and services suppliers, and the TPP will further deepen this trade and investment.”
  • And further, the USTR says as a group, “the TPP countries are the largest goods and services export market of the United States. U.S. goods exports to TPP countries totaled $698 billion in 2013, representing 44 percent of total U.S. goods exports. U.S. exports of agricultural products to TPP countries totaled $58.8 billion in 2013, 85 percent of total U.S. agricultural exports.”
  • President Obama has worked on TPP for the past six years – but mostly in private with about 600 business leaders and policymakers.
  • Recently, steps to make TPP a reality have been taken up in Congress, and lawmakers have struggled with a variety of proceedual aspects, including the so-called “fast track” policy that gives the President the power to negotiate trade deals (including TPP) on his own authority.

At first glance, TPP sounds like a great idea. It will bring down trade barriers that make it hard for U.S. to export goods to other countries. U.S. companies that would benefit from this include large manufacturers, multinational chemical companies, meat and processed food producers, drug makers and retailers.

Retailers in particular are interested in seeing this pass because TPP would lower the costs of goods they sell, which would boost their profits. And that’s good because two-thirds of our economy is fueled by spending on retail goods and services. And the retail industry is the largest private-sector employer in the U.S. with 42 million Americans working at retail, and in related services.

One key reason retailers are supporting TPP is that consumer spending and behavior is shifting. When the so-called “Great Recession” struck, consumers were essentially traumatized into earning less and spending less. Overtime, as economic conditions improved, shoppers remained cautious. And the consistent, year-over-year sales gains that retailers experienced was suddenly in flux. Consumers are more wary of where and how much they spend, and they are increasingly spending their money on “experiences” instead of on “things.”

And we see the ramifications of this locally. At the local mall, J.C. Penney shuttered its doors (and 75 jobs) due to a softer retail sales market. And Office Depot closed as its competitor, Staples, acquired it and closed stores.

So, who again would want to jeopardize this shaky industry – one that employs so many people? Well, taking down trade barriers is a two-way street. As noted above, the trade deal would help many businesses. But it would also harm many others as well. Such as smaller manufacturers and farmers, which is why Congressman Chris Gibson is cautious on TPP. In a letter to constituents last week, he wrote:

“Last week, I finally had the opportunity to read the TPP. I am opposed to this agreement as it is written currently. I have many concerns surrounding agriculture, small business, workers, the environment, our personal privacy, and national sovereignty. Specifically, I believe the TPP could do the kind of harm to agriculture that NAFTA did to manufacturing in our country, undermining the ability of our farmers to compete with our global competitors. I am confident that if we got a fair trade agreement that put our farmers, small business owners, and workers on a level playing field with our global competitors, we would do very well. The proposed TPP draft would not achieve that goal.”

One example of who would be harmed is local dairy farmers and milk producers, like Boices Dairy. If TPP was passed, the market could be flooded with cheap milk from overseas and our local producers would not be able to compete. Apple farmers would also be threatened. Ulster County is the largest apple producer in the state, which is the second largest supplier in the U.S.

On the manufacturing side, TPP presents more problems than it solves. Last month, Kevin L. Kearns, president of the U.S. Business & Industry Council, said in a letter to council members that since 2000, “the U.S. has lost more than five million manufacturing jobs and 57,000 manufacturing establishments. This lost manufacturing has come at a real cost for America’s middle class. What should be paramount on the minds of our elected officials is how to rebuild this lost industrial capacity. The TPP is emphatically not the answer. Instead, it’s simply the latest in a long line of trade deals (like NAFTA, China, CAFTA, South Korea, etc.) that have opened the door to predatory trade with countries that have only their own interests at heart.”

Kearns is angry, and rightfully so. Economists repeatedly urge for policy that encourages bolstering manufacturing and related infrastructure. Why? Because these types of jobs pay the best and without it, the middle class can’t exist, and our economy would tank, which is what is slowly happening, according to economists from the Pew Research Center who say the middle class is evaporating.

Ok…so aside from harming dairy and apple farmers, how else is TPP a questionable policy? Well, according to drafts of the TPP released by Wikileaks and media outlets such as The New York Times, there’s a policy in TPP that would allow multinational companies to overturn local laws that impede their path to profitability via appealing to an international tribunal. But what would that look like? And why would that be bad?

Consider this possible scenario:

A major drug maker such as Pfizer – under the TPP policy – could say that certain laws in the U.S. (or any of the member countries) are limiting its ability to make profits. This could be laws that prevent the drug maker from releasing products without testing its safety on humans first. Pfizer could appeal to the tribunal and overturn these laws.

Or it could be a food company that says certain laws that prevent food additives thwarts its sales and profitability, and could appeal to the international tribunal to overturn these laws.

Another example would be Monsanto saying that local laws that ban pesticide use is reducing its sales and profits. It too could appeal to the international tribunal and have those laws overturned.

And the examples go on and on, which is why many environmental groups are against TPP. And they are joined by some strange bedfellows: Tea Party activists who see this as a threat to U.S. sovereignty. The biggest threat, though, is to environmental and consumer protection laws.

Last year the Sierra Club inked a position letter on the chapter in the TPP that allows for the tribunal review. Read it HERE

The Sierra Club said in a separate statement “a joint analysis by Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) reveals that the current TPP environment chapter…could lead to increased stress on natural resources and species including trees, fish, and wildlife.”

Here’s another example of how this could be harmful. Consider this scenario – one that strikes close to the hearts of Kingstonians:

Let’s say Niagara Bottling (or another company like Nestle) decided to reconsider its business strategy. So they decide to go ahead and build a distribution center for their fleet of vehicles that serve the Northeast at Tech City. There will be no bottling at the plant – at least initially.

And then one day they decide to start drawing water, filtering it and then bottling it to augment their product supply. It could just be drawn from the current supply at Tech City and it could be a very small amount, say 40,000 gallons a day.

After a year, they could document that local laws in Kingston that regulate corporate or commercial use of large quantities of water via the Town of Ulster or directly with the Kingston Water Department is impeding their path to better profits – noting that their strategic plan is to expand water bottling in the Northeast region.

In that scenario, they too – under TPP – would be allowed to have an international tribunal review and overturn any local Kingston City law that thwarts their path to profits.

Earlier today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed one of the steps that would allow TPP to happen.

The National Retail Federation, which represents the retail industry, immediately sent out a press release applauding the move. As mentioned above, retailers have a lot riding on passage of TPP; remember that their profits and long-term outlook depends upon it.

“Today’s vote on trade promotion authority will grant Congress new powers and responsibilities to craft and monitor our 21st century trade policy, and aid our trade representatives as they work to negotiate pending and future trade agreements, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership,” the NRF statement said.

Up next is a senate version of the bill. They could include language that allows for Congress to give input on the component policies within trade agreements, including TPP. That might help protect consumer and local environmental laws. We’ll have to keep an eye on how things progress in D.C.

WHAT YOU CAN DO:  A version of the trade “fast track” goes to the senate. Contact our senator NOW. 

WATCH Robert Reich on the Trans Pacific Partnership.

Get informed about TPP by checking out the USTR website HERE

And the Sierra Club SITE

And here is the TPP draft pages from WIKILEAKS

###

Arthur Zaczkiewicz, MSW, is an editor and writer with over 20 years of journalism experience. He is also a social worker and a community educator and organizer, and a Desert Storm combat veteran.

VIDEO: Kingston Water Department. An Easement From 1884 to Allow Free Water?

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By Rebecca Martin

Yesterday afternoon, the Kingston Water Board had their monthly meeting. Attached is the agenda. Town of Ulster Supervisor James Quigley was not in attendance, and the discussion as noted on the agenda did not occur (unless it was done in Executive session).

One item for the public to take note of here that was a surprise to us  is the “Request for water at 160 Esopus Ave as per Easement”.   The parcel is in the Town of Ulster with water rights from the City of Kingston.

(STARTS 7:05 – 19:47 on the Video below. Watch in its entirety).

“In 1884, the Kingston Water Company obtained easements for the “old” 20-inch transmission main from Binnewater to the City line. The easements provided to the owner of the 26 acre parcel in the vicinity of 160 Esopus Ave provides for the owner to have water for farm purposes (although the Kingston Water Department Superintendent Judith Hansen describes this in the video as “loosey goosey”)  in perpetuity and at no cost to the owner.

The property owner would like to enter into a lease/purchase agreement with a commercial organic farm operation.  The Kingston Water Department has met with the two or three principals of the farm operation and they have expressed an interest in re-activating the water rights associated with the easement.”

Superintendent Hansen has asked for their water use projections.

When a Water Board Commissioner asked “how much water are we talking about here?”  Cloonan, the Water Board’s attorney responded “A lot.”

Free water for a 26 acre farm operation in today’s climate?

At this point in time in our area, everyone is aware of the need for revenue from water sales given Kingston’s infrastructure and operational requirements.  The owner of the property is local. Might he reconsider the easement and renegotiate the terms with the Kingston Water Board? If not, what other options might there be?    A new organic farming business is a great addition to the area,  but to not pay for a drop of the water that it uses to then turn a profit from crops seems unfair at best.

Could the Water Department purchase the land in order to resolve the easement? By doing so, it would not only protect our water supply it could also sell the property and create water revenue that the Kingston Water Department needs.  If possible, then at this early phase in information gathering, we support the Kingston Water Department to pursue this option (which is also discussed in the video).

First Reading of Water Powers Charter Amendment for Referendum

By Rebecca Martin

Last night, after many terrific citizen public speakers (see 1:44 – 15:35 in the video above), the Common Council did the first reading (at 44:15 – 45:00) of a charter amendment for Water Powers outside of Kingston’s Corporate boundaries.

Alderman-at-Large James Noble explains (at 15:48 – 16:26)  stating that “the original resolution has been changed to another resolution. #134 is going to be a local law change, because it’s stronger legislation.  This evening we will do the first reading without discussion. Next month, we will do the second reading and vote.”

After which, Mayor Shayne Gallo will have 10 days to organize a public hearing before signing off on the legislation. It would then be prepared and sent to the Board of Election to include on the November ballot.

All summer long, KingstonCitizens.org will focus its energies to inspire and to energize our community to vote like it has never done before.  Which way that you do  is a private matter – but to vote is a right that was hard earned. If this referendum is placed on the ballot – so was it. A lot of blood, sweat and tears. Please be responsible and do your part and vote.  Place November 3rd (Election Day) on your calendar today.

 REGISTER TO VOTE IN ULSTER COUNTY

UPDATE: Council Caucus “Water Powers” Referendum Discussion Shows Full Council Support. Mayor Gallo Agrees to Sign off on Local Law Amendment for Referendum if Passes.

By Rebecca Martin

At last night’s Common Council Caucus, Council members discussed Resolution #134 to “Amend Charter to Authorize Public Referendum re: Water Powers”. Alderman-at-Large James Noble and Corporation Council Andrew Zweben were in attendance.

It appears to have been determined that the Charter amendment of Water Powers would be a local law change, which would require two readings and a public hearing to be set by the Mayor within 10 days after the first reading. The first reading would take place tomorrow night if the Council votes to approve the referendum.  A public hearing would occur sometime in or around June 12th. The second reading would then be read at the July 7th Common Council meeting with a full council vote to follow to pass (or not) the referendum through to the November ballot.

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On May 28th, the Water Department Board of Commission Chair Joe DeCicco issued a press release cautioning the public to ‘think carefully before you agree to change the governance (of water sales outside the city of Kingston)’   The press release was issued on Kingston Water Department letterhead, that included all the names of the Water Board of Commissioners,  Superintendent Judith Hansen and Mayor Shayne Gallo.

At last evening’s meeting, Corporation Council Andy Zweben clarified that “The press release that was issued by the Water Department was not authorized by the Mayor, or the other members of the Water Department to the best of his knowledge and does not represent how he feels on this issue.”  Andy Zweeben also relayed that speaking to the Mayor today, he stated that “…if the local law is passed, he will sign it.  They’ll be a referendum and the voters will decide.”

Zweeben also expressed his discomfort with “the speed in which the referendum was moving” (* Please see below). But the Public Safety/General Government Committee has been working on this since March of this year where his office has been in attendance. That’s three months of discussion and it being on the Corporation Council’s radar.   Regardless, we appreciate Corporation Council’s efforts here. Whether willingly or not, they provided the council with the information that they needed to move this ahead.

In order now for the referendum to be placed on the ballot, the council will need to pass through the resolution for referendum tomorrow, and a public process as described above must take place. All of which needs to be accomplished by the end of August in order for it to be submitted to the Board of Elections.

* Clarification:   Watching for many months in this case, we have seen the Water Powers change go from a local law change, to a referendum to a combination of the two. As citizens, we depend on the good advice of our elected and appointed officials to understand the proper process. 

We received a communication from Corporation Council Andrew Zweeben who said that we had misrepresented what he said at the last Public Safety/General Government committee meeting (see above and below).  On the subject of the speed of the referendum,  what he was referring to was that it was quick to draft an amended local law in just one week (5 days) which is true and he would have preferred more time to do so.  Given the tight deadline to get this passed and onto the ballot in November, it is the case. We apologize for the misunderstanding. 

 

You can view video from last evening’s meeting:
11:16 – 17:08   Resolution 134
“Amend charter to authorize public referendum re: Water Powers”

Tonight (June 2nd),  the Common Council will vote on whether or not to pass a resolution for a referendum. If it does, the first reading of the proposed amendment will take place for the clock to start ticking.

Citizens are encouraged to speak tonight to support (or not) of a referendum for the November ballot.  Public Comment will begin tonight at 7:30pm. Please arrive 10 minutes early to secure a seat and to sign-up.  This event will be filmed thanks to Kingston News.

Kingston City Hall
Council Chambers
420 Broadway
Kingston, NY

WHAT TO EXPECT: Kingston Common Council Caucus (6/1) and Kingston Common Council Meeting (6/2)

 

Monday, June 1st, 2015
Kingston Common Council Caucus
7:00pm
Conference Room #1
Kingston City Hall
420 Broadway, Kingston

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2015
Kingston Common Council
7:30pm
Council Chambers
Kingston City Hall
420 Broadway, Kingston

Both meetings will be filmed. 

 

By Rebecca Martin

At last week’s Public Safety/General Government Committee meeting, a resolution for a referendum to be placed on the ballot in November passed unanimously through to the Common Council. The referendum, if approved by a full Council vote, would give the public the opportunity to vote on whether or not to amend the charter to include the Common Council for “Water Supply Outside of City”.

In Section C11-5C (Water Supply Outside of City), it says: (C) Such sales or sales must be approved by the New York State Water Power and Control Commission” (the NYS Water Power and Control Commission today is the Department of Environmental Conservation aka DEC).  The referendum would ask the public to approve or not the inclusion of the Common Council,  “and the common council.”   That simple amendment would give the public a say as to water sales outside of Kingston’s city limits.  Additionally, Kingston would automatically be an “Involved” agency in SEQR in the case one were ever triggered again.

In the meantime, the public’s water would have a layer of protection that would allow for thoughtful policy to be developed for sustainable growth and economic development using this precious public resource.

This is one of many steps that need to be taken in order to help protect Cooper Lake and our watershed as a whole.  But by assuring that the sale of water outside of our small, local municipality includes our Common Council – it is a significant one.

WHAT TO EXPECT: June 1st 

Caucus (Monday, 6/1), which is a public meeting of supporters and members of a specific political party (in Kingston, our nine alderpersons are made up of eight democrats and one republican), occurs each month the evening before the full Common Council meetings. Much discussion is generally had on all agenda items, as well as often, conclusions as to which way council members will cast their vote the following evening. There isn’t a sign-up for public comment during Caucus, however you may contact Matt Dunn, the Council Majority Leader (see email address below), if you wish to be added to the agenda. For those who can attend caucus,  it is always enlightening and in this case, and if added to the agenda, will help you to better understand the dynamics that surround this issue.

 

WHAT TO EXPECT: June 2nd

It is very important that the public plan to attend the Kingston Common Council meeting on Tuesday, June 2nd to speak in support of the public referendum as described above if you are in favor of it.  Please consider to thank the Public Safety/General Government Committee for their leadership role here and on passing the resolution for referendum through to Council. Request that the City take any necessary steps to make a referendum possible for the November, 2015 ballot.  A public comment period begins shortly after 7:30pm. Please arrive 10 minutes early to sign-up to speak.   Keep your comments succinct, respectful and no longer than 3 minutes in length.

If you cannot be in attendance next week but wish to share your thoughts with city officials regarding this matter, with “REFERENDUM:  Water Supply Powers” in the subject.

 

Mayor Shayne Gallo
sgallo@kingston-ny.gov
(845) 334-3902

Alderman-at-Large James Noble
jnoble39@aol.com
(845) 331-4696

Matt Dunn, Ward 1 and Majority Leader
ward1@kingston-ny.gov
(845) 541-8880

Brian Seche, Ward 2 
brian@seche.net
(845) 335-5971

Brad Will, Ward 3
bbieber693@gmail.com
(845) 616-8664

Nina Dawson, Ward 4
ward4@kingston-ny.gov
(845) 616-8592

Bill Carey,  Ward 5 
kingstoncarey5@yahoo.com
(845) 339-1361

Elisa Ball, Ward 6
ward6@kingston-ny.gov
(845) 430-8521

Maryann Mills, Ward 7
mmills1299@aol.com
(845) 331-7682

Steven Shabot, Ward 8
ward8@kingston-ny.gov
(845) 338-5060

Deb Brown, Ward 9 and Minority Leader
djbrown72@hotmail.com
(845) 338-0763

Additional Reading from KingstonCitizens.org:

Resolution for Referendum Passes Unanimously Through Kingston Public Safety Committee

Moving Towards a Referendum

Powers for Sale of Water Outside of Kingston Put to Referendum? We Say Yes!

Checks and Balances. Amend Charter to Include Kingston Common Council in Certain Water Sales.

Niagara Bottling Proposal Timeline: 116 Events

 

Resolution for Referendum Passes Unanimously Through Kingston Public Safety Committee.

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By Rebecca Martin

“We forget that the water cycle and the life cycle are one.” – Jacques Cousteau

Tonight, Kingston’s Public Safety/General Government Committee passed a resolution unanimously for a referendum that would include the Kingston Common Council for any water sales outside of Kingston’s City Limits.

WATCH VIDEO OF LAST NIGHT’S REFERENDUM DISCUSSION

Why is this important?

First,  a referendum would allow the City of Kingston residents to vote on whether or not it should have a voice in water sales outside of our community. Cooper Lake, our reservoir that resides in the Town of Woodstock, is Kingston’s responsibility to manage for its residents and our neighboring communities.

As we learned with the Niagara Bottling proposal, the water department that was organized in 1895 designed to keep politics out of water couldn’t have imagined the politics that would emerge through the interpretation of their original intention. Or climate change. Or water bottling companies. Or fracking. Or any other large extractions of water that would bring great profits to some while potentially decimating the locals ability to grow and to prosper.

Today, we are living in a very different time with the opportunity to reform the way our natural resources are managed. We owe it not only to ourselves, but to municipalities who are also impacted by our decisions and counting on Kingston to be good stewards as we proceed into the future.

Second, throughout the Niagara Bottling proposal, we were told that the City of Kingston hadn’t a seat at the table in the SEQR process because of the Charter. The Town of Ulster, who was hoping to attract Niagara to their community, relied on Kingston’s water in order for them to do so. It took many months of hard work to make the SEQR process a public one and even then, the city of Kingston had no right to be an ‘Involved’ agency.

We will support our Common Council to correct that in November and are pleased to speak more on the subject here all summer long to help the public to make an informed decision.

While we are all at it – the Kingston Water Department needs to do an up-to-date safe yield using climate change modeling.  Simply put, a safe or dependable yield projection is the amount that you can safely remove from a reservoir that can be naturally replenished within a certain amount of time.   6.1 million GPD (gallons per day) was what it was over 50 years ago. We are using close to 4.5 million GPD now.  It’s a ‘come to Jesus’ moment and time to apply modern strategies to our knowing.

A big thanks to Common Council members Bill Carey, Deb Brown, Matt Dunn, Brad Will, Steve Schabot and Brian Seche for three months of discussion. Your support tonight as a result is greatly appreciated.

Thanks, too, the Kingston’s Corporation Council for their support in helping us find a way to move this referendum through to the next step.

What’s next? This evening’s vote will result in a public referendum in November provided that the full Common Council votes in favor of the amendment in June, and the Mayor signs the legislation.

Please stay tuned and involved. There is more work to do.

 

RECOMMENDED READING:

Water Follies by Robert Glennon  (thanks Candace!)

 

Moving Towards a Referendum.

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CITIZEN ACTION: Attend the Kingston Public Safety/General Government Committee Meeting TUESDAY, MAY 26th at 6:30pm at Kingston City Hall (Conference Room #1) where a Public Referendum will be discussed on Including the Common Council in Municipal Water Sales Outside of Kingston’s City Limits. VIEW FACEBOOK INVITATION and please share.

By Rebecca Martin

In the news now for a couple of months, it has been reported that members of the Common Council led by the Public Safety/General Government Committee that is chaired by Alderman Bill Carey of Ward 5, wish to explore options to include the Common Council in sales of municipal water outside of Kingston’s boundaries.

In this week’s Kingston Times, our own Mayor is called a ‘formidable opponent’ against the work of creating a referendum.

“…the charter change would need approval from State Lawmakers, since they passed the enabling legislation to create the water department. Such approval is unlikely to be granted.” Said Gallo.

He also shares the concerns of the water department’s founders about political interference with a vital resource. 

“They may be well-intended,” said Gallo. “But it would do nothing but politicize the issue, which is what the state legislature was trying to avoid when the created a separate system.”

Kingston Times READ ARTICLE.

What the Mayor is referring to, is how the Water Department was set up in 1895 to protect the public. 120 years ago – and long before water bottling and other enormous water uses that may or may not benefit the people was in their purview.

We’re not asking that a referendum be placed on the ballot to change the organization of the Water Department/Water Board of Commissioners. We are requesting that a referendum be moved forth that simply includes the Kingston Common Council in sales of the PEOPLE OF KINGSTON’S PUBLIC WATER SUPPLY outside of the City of Kingston.  In essence, to allow the residents of Kingston to have a say in how its municipal water is used outside of the community. Reform that would protect the public, in line with adhering to what those long ago intended.

By implementing better checks and balances in this way, that we have all learned are necessary thanks to the Niagara Bottling proposal (a project that wanted to set up in the Town of Ulster using Kingston’s municipal water source from its reservoir located in the Town of Woodstock to bottle and to sell in the NE), the public would have an important seat at the table.

As to politicizing the issue,  do some of our elected officials not trust the public to choose what is right for their community?  We don’t agree with the Mayor’s take here. His opinion is but one, and although it is important, it should not trump all else. Lets get the language right, and let the people decide. That is democratic.

It is disingenuous for the Mayor to suggest that the process isn’t already political. What about appointees to the Water Board of Commissioners? Did you know that the Mayor has the sole discretion to appoint members without any oversight? Not only could the Mayor’s appointments be considered political, without full fair and open discussions about the appointments with the public, the lack of transparency and direct Democratic accountability could also be viewed as unethical.

Please see the Niagara Bottling TIMELINE for a refresher on exactly how politics in this case were used to work against the public good in our opinion.  Thankfully, we learned our rights and implemented them.   We will do the very same thing in this case.

You can also view a video from early in the Niagara effort where the Town of Ulster Supervisor James Quigley gives an Oscar winning performance.  (No politics at work here)

 VIDEO  / TRANSCRIPT

In ‘Revising City Charters in NYS’ it lays out the requirements for ‘Charter Revision by Initiative and Referendum’.   You can read the document by clicking on this LINK.

On Tuesday, May 26th at 7:00pm (Kingston City Hall, Conference Room #1) the Public Safety/General Government Committee will meet to discuss such a referendum. Members of the council have requested our Corporation Council to be prepared with information on the steps the Council must take.

This is another one of those moments where we are asking the public to attend and witness.  Committee meetings do not have a public comment period like the council meeting does. Your presence next Tuesday will be meaningful in support of our council members as they work to move the referendum out of committee and on to the next step.

 

ADDITIONAL READING FROM KINGSTONCITIZENS.ORG

Powers for Sale of Water Outside of Kingston Put to Referendum? We Say Yes.

Checks and Balances: Amend Charter to Include Kingston Common Council in Certain Water Sales.

 

 

 

Powers for Sale of Water Outside of Kingston Put to Referendum? We Say Yes!

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By Rebecca Martin

During the Niagara Bottling proposal, Kingston citizens and the Kingston Common Council came up close and personal to a glaring problem that it had not ever contemplated.

The Town of Ulster, a neighboring municipality,  wanted to bring a national bottling company to set up shop in Ulster using Start-Up NY tax abatements to bottle and sell municipal water that was not theirs ironically.

Cooper Lake – the water body in the midst of the debate – is a reservoir owned by the City of Kingston located in the Town of Woodstock. The proposal didn’t just involve the forementioned,  but a hand full of other municipalities due to proposed wastewater discharges from the site into the Esopus Creek.

Speaking for Kingston, outside of the Kingston Water Department (KWD), the residents – whose water and infrastructure it was – were not an ‘Involved’ agency in the SEQR process due to the KWD being independent and the charter being worded as it currently is.  It took months of hard work to simply be included as ‘Interested’ agency which in the end, gave us all little to no say at all (particularly in determining  ‘Lead Agency’ where you must be ‘Involved’ to be included). A battle ensued, and the public prevailed.

Recently, we created a post called CHECKS AND BALANCES: AMEND CHARTER TO INCLUDE KINGSTON COMMON COUNCIL IN CERTAIN WATER SALES.  Since that time, we have learned that an amendment to the charter would require a referendum. If the council and citizens can swing it, by the fall of this year.

In Section C11-5C (Water Supply Outside of City), it says: (C) Such sales or sales must be approved by the New York State Water Power and Control Commission.” (that today is the DEC).  What may be proposed in a referendum are to include four simple words to this section:  “and the common council.”  That right there, would give the public a say as to its water supply outside of Kingston’s city limits.  Additionally, Kingston would be an “Involved” agency in SEQR in the case one were triggered. In the meantime, the public’s water would have a layer of protection that would allow for thoughtful policy to be developed for sustainable growth and economic development using this precious public resource.

Here are the steps as we know them today. Please  CONTACT YOUR ALDERMAN and encourage them to be proactive this year on a referendum in November 2015.

  1. DETERMINATION: The city would need to confirm whether or not to make this change would require a referendum. Based on Kingston’s Assistant Corporation Council Dan Gartenstein saying so at the last Public Safety meeting (which we have an audio recording of), we know that it would. Next, we would need to clarify whether or not this could be included in the general election, or would require a special election process.  We believe a referendum on the ballot in November would suffice. No special election would be required – but it’s good to confirm.
  1. PETITION TEXT:  Council committee (Public Safety/General Government) could put out a request to the council to vote on there being a petition process for referendum.   If approved, the Corporation Council would draft language for the petition.
  1. PUBLIC HEARING:  A public hearing is required for a referendum, probably prior to the petition going out to the public for signatures.
  1. PETITION SIGNATURES:  The determination this year for an item to go to referendum is 5% of Kingston residents who voted in the Governors race. In 2014, 5% equals approximately 320 signatures which would be necessary for this to move through.
  1. SUBMISSIONS:  The political calendar is not yet available from the Board of Elections (BOE), however – a safe date for the referendum to be submitted to the BOE to be placed on the ballot is August 31st.
  1. FEES: There are not fees charged by the BOE for adding referendums to the ballot.

 

Better Late Than Never. Niagara Bottling CFA Application

Click on the image to review the Niagara Bottling CFA Application.

Click on the image to review the Niagara Bottling CFA Application.

By Rebecca Martin

On November 26th, 2014, KingstonCitizens.org FOILED the Empire State Development office requesting a copy of Niagara Bottling’s Consolidated Funding Application for review. Month after month, we were contacted and told that the request was being worked on and that we would receive it shortly.

According to NYS Committee on Open Government, it states that “when an agency receives a request, the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) states that it has five business days to grant or deny access in whole or in part, or if more time is needed, to acknowledge the receipt of the request in writing and indicate an approximate date by which the agency will respond to the request, usually not more than 20 additional business days.

The Empire State Development website however vaguely lists exclusions including grants it appears. Perhaps the language provides a loop hole in this case.

At any rate, we finally received the application on April 2nd, 2015. In their letter, they relayed that “Pursuant to section 87, subsection 2, subdivision (d) of FOIL, we have redacted portions of the Consolidated Funding Application that “are trade secrets or are submitted to an agency by a commercial enterprise and which if disclosed would cause substantial injury to the competitive position of the subject enterprise.

In other words, all of the potential jobs and their salaries promised to the Town of Ulster site were blackened out. To this day, we still can’t get information on what those positions and salaries were to be as you can see in the application. 

In addition, we requested the minutes of all meetings of the Mid-Hudson Regional Economic Development Council at which the Niagara Bottling proposal was discussed.

They wrote that “pursuant to section 87, subsection2, subdivision (g) FOIL, we are withholding the non-public meeting minutes of the Mid-Hudson Regional Development Counsel that discussed Niagara Bottling’s proposal as they are “inter-agency or intra agency materials which are not (i) statistical or factual tabulations or date; (ii) instructions to staff that affect the public; (iii) final agency policy or determination; (iv) external audits, including but not limited to audits performed by the comptroller of the federal government.

Nothing.

Perhaps it is truly in their purview not to share the information that we requested. Hard to know. You’d need to a lawyer to confirm that.

It shouldn’t be so difficult to request full transparency when allocating public funding, but apparently it is.  In the end, following the process as we have all along the way, we hope to shed some light and even improve how future funding is allocated.

On Niagara Jobs:

Niagara Bottling Plant a Modern Marvel
Filling, labeling, capping, packaging and loading are done with minimal human involvement.”

 

 

Checks and Balances: Amend Charter To Include Kingston Common Council in Certain Water Sales.

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By Rebecca Martin

In yesterday’s Daily Freeman, there was a report on the desire of Council members to have ‘Authority over City of Kingston’s Water Supply” that could be subject to public vote.

At a recent Public Safety/General Government committee meeting, Ward 5 Alderman and chair of the committee Bill Carey introduced a resolution to amend the City Charter.  But City of Kingston Assistant Corporation Council Dan Gartenstein told the Committee that “they could not make the change through a resolution. He said the state’s Municipal Home Rule Law would require a public referendum be held because the council essentially would be expanding its powers.” Currently, the only public official who has any authority in the matter is the mayor, who sits on the city’s Board of Water Commissioners.

What we have learned over the past decade is that Government is more efficient when proper checks and balances are in place. In Kingston, one of the hardships of the Niagara Bottling project was the council not having a voice in the sale of an enormous amount of the community’s municipal water, leaving many questions in the way of science and modeling, climate change, safe yields, economic development and other critical aspects nearly impossible to challenge.

The Public Safety/General Government Committee was looking to explore an avenue that would include the Common Council in future certain sales of water.  Given the time it would take to update the charter in its entirety (which we would advocate for) a simple amendment as we understand it would give the council – and in turn the citizens – a seat at the table as Involved for any large sales of water outside the City of Kingston.

The Steps

1. All that appears to be required that is most minimal, targeted and yet comprehensive would be to adopt a local law to amend Section C11-5C (Water Supply Outside of City) of the Charter in the following way (and only adding four words that are underlined below):

“C:   Such sale or sales must be approved by the New York State Water Power and Control Commission (today is known as the DEC) and the Common Council.”

2. We found that based on Section 23 of the Municipal Home Rule Law (that list local laws requiring referendum) that it doesn’t appear that a local law passed by the Common Council to amend the Charter to provide for some form of Council approval of certain sales of water would be subject to a mandatory referendum. Section 23 of the Municipal Home Rule Law has the list of local laws requiring referendum, and we didn’t find anything close.

3. If this is correct, the Public Safety/General Government Committee could request that the Council adopt a local law that would amend the section. Once moved out of Committee, the Council would read the amended local law at their next meeting and vote the following month, giving the public 30 days in between for a chance to weigh in.

VIEW: Laws of 1896 and 1895:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kingston Alderman Questions Demolition of Potential Historic Properties in Kingston.

 

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By Rebecca Martin

Today, Ward 3 Alderman Brad Will issued a communication to the Common Council regarding his concern of the potential demolition of what are  potentially significant historic properties in Kingston. The public is invited to attend the next Common Council meeting on Tuesday, May 5th to voice in on the following information. To view KingstonCitizens.org’s Facebook invite on the upcoming meeting, please visit our FACEBOOK page.

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Having reached out to residents who are experts in the field of historic preservation, please note the following:

Attached find two reports prepared by an ACRA-Accredited archaeologist for the NYS DOT in 2002, and two current real estate market estimates.  There is some discrepancy of physical address between tax roll, Ulster GIS, and the reports, but none regarding the historical significance of both properties – constructed ca. 1810-1830.  Note on page two of each report that the subject property “meets eligibility criteria” for inclusion on both State and National Historic Registers, and that each “embodies the distinct characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction; or represents a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction.”

These two structures should be saved – along with others that we will be asked to appropriate funds for destruction.  They are two hundred year old structuresthat speak to Kingston’s history – they should and can be preserved.  Properties should be re-marketed to eligible buyers (individuals or organizations) for reasonable asking prices that facilitate and encourage their preservation.  Clear and attractive identifying signage should be placed at the properties that state they are City-owned and for sale.  Absent these steps, Kingston risks losing much credibility of the marketing message stating that “Historic Is Just Our Beginning.”

Equally important will be the City developing comprehensive and public-accessible criteria to evaluate not only the structural integrity – but also the historic value and status – of any property that is being considered for demolition.  This means the City has to do its homework with SHPO, DOT, the County, Heritage Area Commission, Friends of Historic Kingston, and any other entity that may offer valuable information regarding a given property’s status.

Thanks,

Brad Will
Alderman, City of Kingston

 

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FROM THE CITY OF KINGSTON TOURISM WEB PAGE:

Tourism

“The City of Kingston is nestled in the heart of Ulster County, New York. It is 91 miles north of New York City and 59 miles south of Albany. Kingston was New York’s first capital in 1777, and was burned by the British on October 16, 1777, after the Battles of Saratoga. In the 19th century, the city became an important transport hub after the discovery of natural cement in the region, and had both railroad and canal connections. Passenger rail service has since ceased, and many of the older buildings are part of three historic districts, such as the Uptown Stockade District, the Midtown Neighborhood Broadway Corridor, and the Downtown Rondout-West Strand Historic District.”

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UPSTATER ARTICLE, EXCERPT – DECEMBER 8, 2014:

Historic is Just Our Beginning – But We’re Not Just Getting Started

“Here in Kingston we say, “Historic is just our beginning,” but when it comes to historic preservation, we aren’t just getting started. We know that when people are looking to move to a city like Kingston, back to a place where population has declined over the years as factories closed or the shift took place toward the suburbs, they look for historic areas first.

“We have historic districts in Uptown where the original Stockade was established — along West Chestnut Street with grand views of the Rondout and the Hudson — and in the Rondout near the waterfront. But now we are taking steps and taking stock in our historic assets so we can plan for the future and expose our past.” – Gregg Swanzey, Director of Economic Development & Strategic Partnerships, City of Kingston

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On Municipal Policy.

content_Kingston_City_Hall_2

By Rebecca Martin

Lately, and historically in fact, Kingston Government has had a conflict with department behavior and the public’s expectation. Without clear policy in place, we rely on common sense behavior – and that can be quite subjective when things go astray.

About 6 years ago in the City of Kingston, a city employee filed a sexual harassment suit against the supervisor and a few other employees at the DPW.  Their behavior that was widely publicized was despicable. To add insult to injury, the public learned that the COK didn’t have a Sexual Harassment policy in place, creating more concern. The cost of which felt by city taxpayers. Could the whole thing have been avoided?

Today, we are reading about city workers using their social media accounts in inappropriate ways in the headlines where policy is in place but clearly not adhered to. Conflicts of Interests are more common than not even though Ethics and all that it embodies are written into code.

With only a little bit of research, when we enter in ‘small city municipal policies’ what comes up is the different forms of government that include City Manager. No surprise.  1/3rd of small cities like ours have changed to incorporate it.

But given Kingston’s affinity to ‘strong mayor’ form of government (which is really new. Only 20+ years old) and which can and that we feel should be challenged and potentially changed (to city manager form of government), what we are searching for is what a municipality of our size and given our form of government generally does in the way of policy.

On first glance, Section 3: Village Operations: “Chapter 13: The importance of written policies and procedures” they state that “If your municipality is small or if it operates under a relatively close-knit management (which ours does), policies may be ‘understood’…..relying on ‘understood’ policies, however, may lead to misunderstandings.”

To us, city policies matter.  Could the city of Kingston create a policy manual? According to our initial reading here, and elsewhere a policy manual would be most helpful, as a ‘well written, up-to-date policy manual guides managers and supervisors in making decisions, training and handling employment issues that relate to safety and health. A policy manual also offers other less obvious benefits such as: 1) A basic communication tool; 2) An excellent training resource. 3) A written documentation. 4) Saves time and manages complex operations. 5) Gives employees a right to know’

City Government’s role is infrastructure which is broad. It includes water and sewer pipes, roadways, signage, communication, contracts and all else that makes those living and doing business in Kingston easy.  And that’s really it. I see Kingston government treading on the historic, the arts and other places one might say they haven’t any business and takes away from what it is meant to do.

There is no lack of important details that need attention in Kingston’s City Government. It may be a big effort initially, but it will make things run smoothly and more efficiently in the long run.

Kingston Water Board Meeting 4/9/15

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Kingston Water Board Meeting 4/8/15
Agenda

Cooper Lake Damn Project (1:35 – 55:28)
Alternatives to raise the dam.

00:00 – 15:20 Cooper Lake Dam Project
Alternatives to raise the Dam.

16:00 – 30:53
Phase 1B Filter Renovation Project

31:15 – 35:59
SMLP (Storm Mitigation Loan Program)

36:33 -41:43
Alderman Brad Will, Council Liaison

41:53 – 43:46
CSX Main Relining Project

43:51 – 51:05
Purchase of Printer

51:11 – 55:50
Leak Detection

55:46 -1:04 
Alrighty. Correspondance.

“Would the Water Board consider changing the time of the monthly meetings.” – Brad Will

“We’ll think about it.” Water Board Commissioner Chair

“Down in DC, you put together a report. Did you come away with any sense to remove the tax exemption. How likely is it going to happen?” – Brad Will

“I don’t think it’s going to happen…it was interesting experience to see just how dysfunctional that place really is. ” – Judy Hansen

Majority and Minority Leader ‘State of the City’ Addresses 4/7/15

Great speeches last night.  We appreciate the hard work of our common council.

Now you can watch at your leisure.   Thanks to Kingston News for making this possible and available.

Majority Leader Matt Dunn (Democrat)
“We will give the City of Kingston a voice for the potential sale of our water outside of the City limits.”   (20:30 – 21:42)

 

Minority Leader Deb Brown (Republican)
“(Washington Avenue Sinkhole) We are doing our due diligence and making sure all aspects of this major undertaking is done in the proper sequence. This is not a problem that happened overnight…to coordinate this project with the consultants, funding, grants, government entities, the bidding process, construction companies, easements, regulations, mother nature and unexpected failures is a major undertaking. We all want it to be done right the first time, not having to be looking over our shoulder going into the next decade. We are an old city with old infrastructures.”  (1:00 – 3:40)

Niagara Bottling Proposal Timeline: 116 Events.

 

As a final follow-up of the work, we are pleased to share a timeline of the recent Niagara Bottling Proposal in our area.  For a good solid month, we have worked to encompass each event of significance to not only document, but to also help to further illustrate how incredibly complicated this was.  The people working together with the help of many partners managed to stay on top of every detail and utilize their rights based on policy and the law (there is much room for improvement, too, as we found out in both departments).

What can we learn here to improve decision making  processes in the future? A great deal – and we must never forget it and apply these important lessons to everything from here on out.

If there is an item that has not been recorded that you wish to share, please contact us.

It is our aim to also offer assistance and support to other communities who are in the midst of something similar.  Please be in touch if you’d like by writing Rebecca@KingstonCitizens.org

Special thanks to KingstonCitizens.org’s committee members Debra Bresnan and Rachel Marco-Havens for their assistance. 

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Here are several key items:

PUBLIC FUNDING

An enormous amount of public funding was lined up to attract the Niagara Bottling project. It is hard to say what the tax abatements through Start-Up NY would have provided along with all the tax breaks that a Manufacturer is given in NYS – but over the course of 10 years it’s probably a fair assumption that it would have been upwards to $20-30 million +. That, plus the $10.8 million they would have received through the Consolidated Funding Application grant through the Mid-Hudson Economic Development Council (MHEDC) to go toward their facility build (an estimate $53 million for a new build, and not to reuse any of the buildings at the Tech City site).

A firm number of jobs and salaries were not ever provided to our group so that a cost analysis could be done to compare their worth vs. the amount of public funding that Niagara was looking to secure.  Very few elected and appointed officials involved knew what they were, but had signed confidentiality agreements and would not release that information to the public.

STATE ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY REVIEW ACT (SEQRA): Pos vs. Neg Dec

The public was encouraged to wait for the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) process to take place in order to get the basic information that they were requesting. Those who understood what was taking place worked hard to secure a ‘positive declaration’ in SEQRA in order for there to be a public process and thankfully were successful in doing so. It had been reported in the papers that Niagara was hoping to start their build in February of 2015 alluding to the Town of Ulster as Lead Agency probably counting on a ‘negative declaration’ – meaning no public input – sending the project straight to the planning board for a site plan review.

SEQRA, by the way and simply put, examines a project as it is submitted and relies on such submission to be accurate (and not segmented as this proposal clearly was). Determinations are then based on its accuracy for a proper review of the applicable laws. 

PUBLIC FUNDING AND SEQRA

As it turns out and in this case, it is illegal in NYS for public funds to be awarded to a project before SEQRA takes place. Prior to the public’s awareness, the Niagara project had been selected as a priority project for the MHEDC. Whether shining the light on this fact impacted Niagara ultimately not being selected by the State in December is unknown. Though we suspect so.

START UP NY TAX ABATEMENTS 

Start-Up NY is a new program of NY Governor Andrew Cuomo’s that began in January/February of 2014. Corporations who come in from out of state and partner with a SUNY school may qualify for up to 10 years of tax abatements (tax free including employee, business, property, school and others). It is meant for corporations to move on campus to offer onsite internships for students but in SUNY Ulster’s case (located in Stone Ridge, NY), that wasn’t possible due to program allotment of 200,000 square feet to accommodate businesses under consideration. By utilizing their satellite campus’s however, Tech City located in the Town of Ulster where Niagara wished to locate (and for the most part empty since the early 90’s) could qualify.

Niagara Bottling applied and was selected by a very small number of people (four as we understand it) based on these qualifications as we know them:  1) Will the corporation provide jobs? 2) Does the corporation fit within the mission of the program/University? 3) Does the corporation conflict with any other business similar in nature within a certain radius of the potential new location?

…and that’s it.

The SUNY Ulster Board of Trustees (who have a fiduciary responsibility), students and faculty were not included in the decision making process. Furthermore, Niagara would require water from a municipal source (as well as local springs) that could have tremendous negative impacts to the community that the reservoir services (Kingston/Woodstock). The community-at-large were caught off guard, having not been alerted prior to reports in the papers with the process well underway.

LACK OF GOOD SCIENCE

Thanks to several of our partners (and their donors) that include the Woodstock Land Conservancy, Riverkeeper and SaveCooperLake.org, a number of studies were created to show the potential impacts of the water withdrawal, creation of plastic bottles using PET pellets, traffic and waste water disposal in a nearby impaired water-way known as the Esopus Creek.   As you will see by reading through the timeline, there was little to none modeling to gauge future impacts. These studies helped us to show the potential dangers to our communities prior to SEQRA and in turn, helped us to secure a positive declaration in the process.

INTERESTED VS. INVOLVED AGENCY

In the SEQRA process, those who have a “discretionary decision” to  make have a seat at the table and are listed as an ‘Involved Agency’. In Kingston, because the Water Board is independent – they alone would make the decision regarding the sale of the public’s water (and they alone were listed as an Involved Agency). All together, about nine people without any public oversight (unless you include the Mayor as the public, the only elected official who serves on the Water Board and who appoints all of its members, too).

All of the municipalities impacted directly that include Kingston, Woodstock and Saugerties fought another hard battle to be listed as an ‘Involved’ agency prior to not being listed at all. To be ‘Involved’ gives the group the opportunity to voice in on Lead Agency in SEQR. That is a critical moment in the process and much effort, too, was made to request that the DEC become Lead Agency of the project given its regional impacts.

Instead, each were granted only ‘Interested’ agency status, which in essence is not any more authority in the process than the average citizen.

That, right there, is a real glaring problem for our community and we intend to work with our elected officials in the future to help to provide the public with a larger role in decision making for sales such as these.

A LONGER PUBLIC COMMENT PERIOD AND ADDITIONAL PUBLIC HEARING LOCATIONS IN SEQR

Another item that was important to our group given the complexity of the project was to request a longer public comment period than what is allowed in SEQR (which is 30 days once the scoping document is submitted by the client/consultant (Niagara/Chazen Companies)). Because it is not mandatory to allow for more time, the public was beholden to the Lead Agency/Client to allow for it or not.

In addition, given that the impacts of the projects would have included multiple municipalities, we also asked that Lead Agency offer public hearings outside of the Town of Ulster and in those impacted communities so to increase the number of the public and their opportunity to be heard.

ADDITIONAL MATERIALS

We hope that you will visit this page periodically as we continue to fine tune and add any additional information that is helpful to understand better our experience.

To try to keep the timeline tight, we’re including these other entries here to get a little more insight on the City of Kingston’s Water Board and other municipal decisions that have been made over the past 100 + years.

If you have anything that you wish to correct or to add – or you are a community facing a similar situation and would like to speak to us – you can do so by contacting us at Rebecca@kingstoncitizens.org

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1906:  According to the NYS Archives, “the duties and functions of the Water Supply Commission were assumed by numerous successor agencies, and were ultimately assigned to the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Division of Water in 1970.

1929: NYS DEC Water Power and Control Commission, Water Supply Application No. 493 for the City of Kingston.

1954: NYS DEC Water Power and Commission (today the DEC) application no. 2510 for the City of Kingston.   “Conditions: A) Under this decision and approval the city of Kingston is authorized to furnish a water supply to the new plant of International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) in the Town of Ulster. No authority, however, is given herby to the sale of water to any others from the supply main to be installed to such new plant without the further consent and approval of the Commission.

2007: Ulster County Government demonstrates its commitment to the protection and management of open space and water resources with the adoption of the “Ulster County Open Space Plan,” with the largest section of the plan devoted to water resources.

2009: The City of Kingston demonstrates its commitment to environmental and climate protection by adoption the “Climate Smart and Green Jobs Community Pledge.

2011:  As a condition of the NYS DEC permit for Woodstock Commons to hook up to the Town of Woodstock (ToW) Water District, the ToW was required to develop and submit emergency back-up water treatment and supply plans to NYS DEC using Cooper Lake main on Tinker Street at site of the Town Hall renovation.

2012: City of Kingston, NY creates “Climate Action Plan” formally adopted on October 2, 2012. In it, the city proposes initiatives that include Water Conservation and Efficiency practices. A prioritized list of projects currently underway by the Conservation Advisory Council (CAC).