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

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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.

Become a Water Board Commissioner for Kingston’s Water Department.

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By Rebecca Martin

To be considered as a Commissioner of the Kingston Water Board:

  1. Please submit your resume/CV (Curriculum Vitae) to Carly Williams, City of Kingston Clerk: cwilliams@kingston-ny.gov by April 30th, 2015 (because we were not given a date by the Mayor’s office, this date is arbitrary. However, we presume that it gives the city time to collect interest and make a decision).
  2. The term is five years.
  3. You must be a city resident or business person.
  4. Please let us know that you have applied by contacting KingstonCitizens.org at Rebecca@kingstoncitizens.org

On May 31st 2015, Water Board Commissioner Al Radel’s term will expire. Radel has served as a Commissioner on the Water Board now for 15 years, which is three terms. We appreciate his service.

That means, that a spot is opening up – and we are hoping that citizens who are interested in serving will step up.

The Mayor of Kingston appoints citizens (and business persons) to most Commissions/Boards/Councils in Kingston. Recently, we reached out to the Mayor’s office to find out what the process was. You know how fast we move around here, and after the second request without getting information, we decided to lay out our questions in a PETITION to give the public a chance to weigh in. That petition is live now, so have a look, consider signing it and leave a comment.

The questions were simple.

KingstonCitizens.org requests that Mayor Shayne Gallo require Water Department Superintendent Judith Hansen to:

  1. Make both the description of the Board of Water Commissioner’s role and length of term visible and public on the City of Kingston’s Water Department web page.
  2. Make all of the current members of the Board of Water Commissioners biographies and length of service to date visible and public on the City of Kingston’s Water Department web page.

Furthermore, that:

  1. The City of Kingston’s Mayor, who appoints Board of Water Commissioners, publish a public notice in a timely fashion announcing its search for new candidates for the upcoming term. This announcement should include a description of the Board of Water Commissioner’s expected role; preferred experience / qualifications for candidates; contact info and deadline for submissions; and the term length.

Yesterday, we heard from Water Department Superintendent Judith Hansen who responded:

“The Mayor asked that I contact you to let you know that appointments to the Board of Water Commissioners are made by the Mayor and that if you have anyone that would like to be considered for the position, they should submit their CV to him via the City Clerk’s Office.  Neither the Board nor any employee of the Water Department, including the Superintendent has any role in or input into the selection process.”

Not much in the way of answering our questions. Then later, we heard directly from Mayor Gallo’s office:

“This is in reply to your inquiry about how vacancies and/or appointments are made to the Board of Water Commissioners or any other City board or Commission. Be advised the following process has been used since the City Charter has been adopted: Any interested City resident and/or business person may apply for consideration to any City Board and/or Commission by providing a letter of interest with a resume and background information and/or curriculum vitae of said individual. The interested party should submit the above to the City Clerk’s Office.  Upon receipt, the letter of interest shall will forwarded to my office for review and consideration.   If you know of an interested City resident who would like to be considered for appointment to the Board of Water Commissioners and/or other City boards and commissions, please share the above information with them. Thank you for your interest.”

The points unanswered at least expose something critical.  We have some information on the process, but nothing that we didn’t already know.

So why can’t the City of Kingston provide a description of a Water Board Commissioner? Or nail down their term? Or share their biographies and experience so that we know who is at the helm of our water supply? Or put out a notice in the papers to residents with a deadline for their response?

As we are entering into an election cycle, we will take these things up again at an appropriate time.  We intend to advocate for Kingston to overhaul it’s city charter at a future date.

Until then:

To be considered as a new Commissioner of the Kingston Water Board:

  1. Please submit your resume/CV (Curriculum Vitae) to Carly Williams, City of Kingston Clerk: cwilliams@kingston-ny.gov by April 3oth, 2015 (because we were not given a date by the Mayor’s office, this date is arbitrary. However, we presume that it gives the city time to collect interest and make a decision).
  2. The term is five years.
  3. You must be a city resident or business person.
  4. Please let us know that you have applied by contacting KingstonCitizens.org at Rebecca@kingstoncitizens.org

TAKE THE SURVEY! KingstonCitizens.org Creates Timeline of the Withdrawn Niagara Bottling Company Proposal.

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TAKE THE SURVEY

KingstonCitizens.org creates timeline of the withdrawn Niagara Bottling Company proposal.  The group has created a survey to capture the impressions of their partners and citizens to make a historical document.

Kingston, NY – KingstonCitizens.org is working on a timeline about the Niagara Bottling Project and wants to hear from the public.

On February 13, 2015, Niagara withdrew its plans to occupy the proposed site in the Town of Ulster. The proposed project would have included the purchase of 1.75 million gallons of water from the Kingston Water Department from our reservoir (Cooper Lake) located in the Town of Woodstock.

The group wishes to document citizens’ impressions of the events that occurred over the past six months. The group is working to create a historical document noting each critical event that can also offer insight, information and inspiration to other communities facing similar concerns that this proposal has brought to light.

TAKE THE SURVEY or visit www.KingstonCitizens.org for more information.  Survey responses are due Monday, March 2, 2015.

For questions or more information, contact Debra Bresnan at debra@kingstoncitizens.org

Don’t Drink the Kool-Aid. Three Suggestions That Could Improve Kingston’s Water Infrastructure.

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By Rebecca Martin

I received an ARTICLE from a Syracuse paper that’s been forwarded around locally this week where Governor Cuomo was reported to say to Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner that the State has “no plans to send millions of dollars to Syracuse or other upstate cities to fix leaky aging water systems” among other things that were not so pleasant.

Given that one of those responsible for sharing the article was Town of Ulster Supervisor James Quigley – who appears to believe that there isn’t any other possible alternative to our water infrastructure woes other than to privatize them by handing over a portion of the repair work to a company like Niagara Bottling – I had to investigate.

Upon a little research, I have learned that Syracuse Mayor Miner and Governor Cuomo have a longstanding strained relationship. Minor was once appointed to the State’s Democratic Party as a co-chair by Cuomo in May of 2012 only to resign shortly after in April of 2014.   “The relationship between Cuomo and Miner has been strained at times, with the two butting heads on several issues including State aid to cities. Minor also authored an article in the New York Times (on February 13th, 2013) criticizing Cuomo’s proposal to let municipalities borrow money to off-set pension costs.”

Also of note, is that their relationship goes way back as Miner having worked for Cuomo’s father when he was Governor.

Why is this important?

The Daily Freeman did a piece on the article recently.  When asked my reaction to it, my first response was to say that the public should better understand the context in what they were reading.  Cuomo’s reported quotes seemed specific to the Mayor and Syracuse. Was there a conflict between the two elected officials or was this really a statement on policy regarding state funding for water infrastructure in communities like ours?

My initial observation appeared to be correct from what I learned about Governor Cuomo and Mayor Minor. There was more to this then what met the eye.

My choice of action? To place aside what appears to be a bullying attempt by the local proponents of the Niagara Bottling proposal – which is of no use to the public – and instead, continue my efforts to become better educated on the needs and solutions in Kingston and our region.

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Here are three suggestions worth time and consideration in Kingston.

1. The City of Kingston’s Water Department creates Capitol Improvement Plans (CIP) of only 4-5 years in length.

Those in favor of the Niagara Bottling proposal are hoping that they might be able to save us when Niagara PAYS ONLY SOME of a five year capitol improvement plan that totals an approximate $18 million dollars of Kingston’s water infrastructure costs (a jump of $2 million dollars since September of 2014).

But how about the rest?

Be reminded that the current improvements listed recently include some that are mandated by the DEC.  Niagara’s incremental influx over at least ten years (I am using a 10 year time period based on the number of years they would receive tax abatements if they were to be approved into the StartUp NY program) wouldn’t include improvements to the Cooper Lake Dam which is a part of this figure. A fix that our Water Department has known about since 2009 as I understand it. We are only addressing that now? How come?

What about long term planning? What exactly are we looking at here – and is there a  10, 20, 30 year plan (or whatever is the professional standard to have a long view) that allows us to look at our water infrastructure needs as an entire system?  It seems only logical that we would need a long range plan so that we can not only bite off small pieces along the way, but to also be in line for any future local, state and federal funding that becomes available.

After potentially selling 25% of our water resources to Niagara Bottling, what are we planning to sell to keep water prices low for users yet cover future infrastructure costs?  It appears to me that our elected and appointed officials are placing us in the precarious position to turn to privatization and that’s not acceptable.

2. Conservation pricing. The Kingston Water Department does the opposite and charges users more who use less and less who use more

Kingston’s current water rates are organized using an antiquated model by charging those who use the least the most and those who use the most the least. In this day and age, where water is scarce in many parts of the country, we should be applying something called ‘Conservation Pricing’ here at home. Not only are we encouraging users to not conserve today, we are also most probably missing out on large revenues over time that could be used to fix ailing water infrastructure. 

People like throwing around that we are ‘water rich’ in NYS.  But that doesn’t mean that we will always be, or that the 1% of water (which is the percentage that we can actually drink worldwide) will always be clean for us here.

When you have ample amounts of anything, you should not only be saving it but also mindful in setting a good example for our young community leaders who will one day be running our city to be thinking in these terms.

There is so much good reading out there on Conservation Water Pricing and I encourage you to do a little research to read up on it. We can do a longer piece on that at another time, too, if that would be helpful.

READ: EPA Water Sustainable Infrastructure Pricing Structures
READ: Conservation Pricing for Residential Water Supply (Florida)

3. Make the Water Department a part of City Government.

In 1895 when the Kingston Water Department was created it was made independent to keep politics out of water.

When the Kingston Water Board of Commissioners feels as though they have the exclusive right to sell our water and infrastructure to a company like Niagara Bottling – paid for by users and the public for over 100 years – how does that serve the publics interest today or for the future?

Additionally, our Mayor has the sole discretion to appoint members to the Water Board Commission. If the potential for politics doesn’t exist there,  I don’t know what does. Furthermore, our council has the authority to approve any water infrastructure improvements needed. Once more, the potential for politics.

In the Kingston City Charter, Water Commissioner terms are five years in length and it looks to be at a maximum. We haven’t been able to find any information in the Charter or in Water Department By-Laws (which apparently don’t exist) that allow for an extension of that five years and yet, the chair of the Water Board of Commissioners has served since 1981.  Furthermore, there isn’t a Water board Commissioner that has served for less then one term already.

What KingstonCitizens.org is going to explore this spring are steps to create a referendum in November 2015 that would bring an opportunity for the public to vote on whether or not it wants to keep the Water Department independent.  

If we have nothing really to gain for our Water Department to be independent outside of a decision to keep politics out of water from 135 year ago – long before there was bottled water companies and discussions to privatize water infrastructure – then we suggest it’s time for a change.

Insist on better municipal water management and a comprehensive study of Kingston’s water infrastructure needs. Don’t turn over 100 + years of a public investment over to private interests.  We insist on finding creative solutions to solve decades of deferred maintenance.

 

Further Reading:

Christie Signs Law Greenlighting Fast Track Sale of New Jersey Water Systems

Privatization of Public Water, Sewer Systems Could be Fast Tracked Under N.J. Bill

Response to SUNY Ulster President Donald Katt: “…we resolve in this New Year to continue asking our leaders to be role models of citizenship.”

“As John Adams said, we are “a government of laws, and not of men.”  This is the ethic we hope to preserve through our work at Kingston Citizens, and we resolve – in this New Year – to continue to ask our leaders to be role models of citizenship.”  – KingstonCitizens.org

On December 29th, 2014  SUNY Ulster President Donald Katt RESPONDED to the hundreds of letters generated by KingstonCitizens.org from concerned citizens regarding the possible acceptance of the Niagara Bottling Company into the Start-Up NY program.

The long awaited ANNOUNCEMENT from Governor Cuomo was issued on that same day with two of the five proposals submitted to Start-Up NY by SUNY Ulster selected. Neither of them were Niagara Bottling Company.  Good work everyone!

However, Start-Up NY is a new program, and we’ve seen multiple announcements made over the last 6 months at participating campuses. Until we hear otherwise, SUNY Ulster’s three other proposed businesses at Ulster (that includes Niagara) could be ON THE TABLE AT A LATER DATE.

We are committed to seeing this through to the very end with you.

Please READ KingstonCitizens.org’s Policy and Planning Advisor Jennifer Schwartz Berky’s response to President Donald Katt below.

Happy New Year to you all.

– Rebecca Martin

 

kc

Thank you for your LETTER dated December 29, 2014 in response to Kingston Citizens regarding Start-Up New York. We are dedicated to promoting transparency in government through civic engagement and public education. While we are interested in understanding the decisions that led to your support of the Niagara Bottling Company for Start-Up New York at SUNY Ulster, our focus is broader. For the past decade, we have engaged the community and our leaders in meaningful dialogue about governance and community development. We believe that the public has the right and the obligation to understand how decisions are made in the public interest.

In your letter, you suggest that Ulster County citizens and groups are engaged in a ‘robust debate’ regarding the Niagara Bottling Company proposal. However, so much of the information about the proposal has not been made available to the public. While we recognize the importance of confidentiality in certain aspects of business, the basis for decisions in the public interest must be clear. The public cannot engage in an open, fact-based debate where the decision-making criteria and process are not transparent.

As John Adams said, we are “a government of laws, and not of men.”  This is the ethic we hope to preserve through our work at Kingston Citizens, and we resolve – in this New Year – to continue to ask our leaders to be role models of citizenship. It is in this spirit that we invite you to meet with representatives of the SUNY Ulster Environmental Club and Kingston Citizens in the next two weeks to share  information regarding the Niagara Bottling Company proposal and to engage in – as you called it – “an important and welcome part of that discussion.”

In what follows, I respond to the points in your letter (showing your text in bold italics) with the hope that we can continue a fact-based dialogue in our proposed meeting:

Thank you for copying me on the email you sent to the Commissioner of Economic Development and the Chancellor of the State University of New York. New York has a history of robust debate when it comes to environmental and economic development issues and input from concerned citizens and groups is an important and welcome part of that discussion. […] Reviewing the process and the credentials that were considered in the case of Niagara Bottling, I cannot imagine an outcome other than that which we reached given the defined role that the College performs.

We welcome “robust debate.” Your letter states that you cannot imagine another outcome than the one reached by the College. However, debate and discussion are dependent upon a shared review of all available information. We would like to learn more about the scientific, economic and educational aspects of your decision making process. The Start-Up New York regulations require the college to describe, in its application, how the proposed businesses would generate positive community and economic benefits, including:

 diversification of the local economy,

 environmental sustainability, and

 opportunities as a magnet for economic and social growth.

These required criteria are not discussed in the proposal. We are concerned about how or whether the Niagara Bottling plant can meet these and the other criteria of the Start Up New York program.

I want to clarify the role of SUNY Ulster within the context of the Start-Up NY program with which we, along with many other components of SUNY have chosen to become actively engaged. The steps defined by the SUNY Chancellor’s office are clear and concise and include filing a plan for participation, which we did, being one of the first few in the state to receive approval.

As a part of that defined process, we named a committee to meet with and review proposed projects to determine if the prospective company was eligible to complete a proposal to be forwarded to New York’s Empire State Development Corporation (ESD) for consideration. At that point, if recommended, the campus president forwards the project to ESD.

Given the great need for economic development in our area and the importance of environmental sustainability – a responsibility we all bear, but which should be of particular importance to an educational institution that sets an example for its students and community – we ask that you share more information about the decision making process that led to the approval of Niagara Bottling Company’s application to participate in Start Up New York. The environmental ramifications, local, regional and beyond, are important in any enterprise. As such, opening questions for our dialogue with you and the Start-Up New York committee would include:

 What was the analysis that led to your decision to support the Niagara Bottling plant project?

 Was there a cost/benefit analysis as part of your evaluation? What were the results?

 What were the environmental considerations reviewed by the committee?

 As for the jobs and links to the educational mission of SUNY Ulster, what were the criteria used to determine whether these would provide meaningful educational opportunities for the students and link to SUNY Ulster’s mission?

 In addition, did the committee evaluate the proposed wages in connection with the living wage standards in Ulster County?

 What other proposals received by SUNY Ulster (you mention that about 20 businesses applied) and how were they evaluated? Is this evaluation ongoing?

We understand that the Start-Up New York application review process requires the college to provide certification of its notification of and any written responses to the proposal by the municipality or municipalities surrounding the proposed off-campus site, as well as responses by the college faculty senate, union representatives and the campus student government.  We appreciate the college’s esteemed tradition in the environmental management field and your awareness of this issue. Therefore, since the source of water from Kingston’s reservoir is in Woodstock, we question why these two municipalities were not participants in the notification process and why this documentation was omitted from the 39 PAGE AMENDED PLAN DATED AUGUST 29th, 2014 FROM SUNY ULSTER.

It is now up to other agencies with different clearly defined processes to analyze and make determinations about the viability and value of the project. Being an educator and one with a strong belief in informed decision-making based upon factual information, I look forward to the process unfolding. However, I am not a party to, nor a decision maker within those systems.

As the leader of SUNY Ulster, you are the key participant in this process. Although the final decisions are made in Albany, the Start-Up New York Regulations make you “a party to,” and “a decision maker” for our community. In addition, the PROGRAM REGULATIONS and STATUTE do not exclude SUNY Ulster Board of Trustees from the process. Given the size, complexity, and potentially regional impacts of the Niagara Bottling plant proposal, the planning process that you oversaw is nothing less than a critical step in the decision making process. If the SUNY Ulster President’s Office has been entrusted with the responsibility of recommending a project with so many implications for our community, we believe that you have an equal responsibility to help the public understand how and why you assessed the whole of this Niagara project as worthy of funding. Furthermore, as the SUNY Ulster Trustees have a fiduciary responsibility to the college, we believe that their role, even if voluntary according to Start-Up New York’s guidelines, is crucial in the decision making process. They are important leaders in Ulster County with deep ties in our community.

We have had about 20 inquiries, from a variety of companies. Companies seek us out, we do not recruit companies. To this date we have submitted three applications to ESD for final approval into StartUp. All three are manufacturing-related. I support Start-Up NY, because it is a new program that looks to address the need for jobs in upstate NY. I also support it, because it allows unique learning experiences for students with participating partners. It is my hope that residents of Ulster County understand that I pursued the Niagara/StartUp only for the benefit of our students and the improvement of our local economy.

We do not see economic development and environmental protection as an “either/or” scenario. We believe that there are better alternatives to the Niagara Bottling plant proposal. In our presentation to the SUNY Trustees, we outlined reasons for concern on both fronts. In 2007, Ulster County adopted a sustainable economic development plan, “Ulster Tomorrow,” that identified core competencies that would generate innovative clusters to build our economy. The plan was completed and approved with the help of a renowned economic consultant and input from scores of leaders in every sector in our county, including Trustees and members of the SUNY Ulster community. Although we do not have the details of the two companies that have been approved for Start-Up New York at SUNY Ulster, their business models appear to be more in keeping with the concepts of sustainable development. As you noted, there were about 20 inquiries for the program. We are interested in their proposals and the potential they offer for innovation and clusters that may truly lead to job growth in our area.

A water bottling plant is not a sustainable business. So far, 90 colleges in the United States have officially banned bottled water and your students are now proposing that you make a similar commitment to sustainability in college management and curriculum. Also, as we noted in our presentation, this particular industry does not align with the well-accepted principles of clustering and sustainable development adopted in the County and the Mid-Hudson Regional Economic Development Council’s (MHREDC) plans. It is an economically isolated activity that will rely on plastics manufacturing, an industry widely acknowledged to generate major pollutants in its extraction, production, and disposal processes. The use of a publically-financed infrastructure and our municipal water supply, a natural resource with finite possibilities, to support further economic development and growth in our area is inconsistent with the goals set forth in “Ulster Tomorrow,” the MHREDC plans, and the Regional “Cleaner, Greener” Sustainability Plan supported by Governor Cuomo. Finally, this proposal is inconsistent with the “Public Trust Doctrine,” which maintains that water and other natural resources belong to the public and it is the government’s obligation to preserve them for public use.

As participants in Ulster County’s diverse, educated workforce, the constituents of Kingston Citizens support SUNY Ulster and its mission: “SUNY Ulster is a vibrant community of learners distinguished by academic excellence, collaboration, innovation, service, and responsible use of resources.” We respect SUNY Ulster’s tradition of excellence in environmental and economic fields of endeavor. Your mission, including “responsible use of resources,” must be aligned with regional goals that have been defined, collaboratively, with other thought leaders who are likewise committed to define, preserve and develop our assets. Our regional assets are intertwined: our valuable natural resources have a shared and equal impact upon our quality of life as humans and on our potential for future economic development. The goals of benefitting SUNY Ulster students and improving our local economy must live in harmony with our region, its valuable natural and human resources, and its economic future.

We therefore ask you to have an open and productive dialogue with us, the college community, and our leaders in economic development and environmental resource management. Given the potentially imminent decisions regarding Start Up New York, we request you meet with us as soon as possible.

Respectfully,

Jennifer Schwartz Berky
Planning & Policy Advisor
KingstonCitizens.org

SUNY Ulster President Donald Katt: Please Share Documents To Show Niagara Jobs and Salaries.

SUNY Ulster President Donald Katt, who stands in support of the Niagara Bottling Company receiving 10 years of tax abatements.  Katt retires in the summer of 2015.

SUNY Ulster President Donald Katt, who stands in support of the Niagara Bottling Company receiving 10 years of tax abatements.
Katt retires in the summer of 2015.

By Rebecca Martin

“There’s really been some misrepresentation,” said Katt. “These are well-paying jobs.” say President Donald Katt.

READ  the article in the Kingston Times

If Katt has information on the jobs and salaries offered by Niagara that the public does not, then make it available to us. Only at which time can we place this information next to what Niagara stands to gain in tax abatements for the approximately 40 – 120 jobs that they promise to provide. 

We believe that Katt, like Supervisor Jim Quigley, have signed confidentiality agreements with Niagara. When it comes to our tax dollars being used to finance large corporations such as Niagara Bottling it is our right to know. Particularly before any decision is made regarding Niagara and Start-UY NY and the IDA.

 

SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT

1. Recently, the Niagara Bottling Company put in a Consolidated Funding Application for a reported 10.8 million dollars to help them to build their facility.  The promise for the first five years is 40 jobs. Niagara would have essentially received $270,000 per job in this case.

2. 10 years of tax abatements are really tough to qualify, but lets try by giving an example.

To be safe, lets say that 100 jobs are created and pay $46,000.00 (a stretch indeed).  Remember, that when a company such as Niagara is a part of the Start-Up NY program, they don’t pay any taxes (including employee) for 10 years.

Using a base salary of $46,000 of which 35% would be taxed (totaling $16,100).  An estimated 15% of this amount (or $6,900) would go to NYS.   Multipy $6,900 x 100 employees not required to pay NYS taxes.  That is $690,000.00 per year or $6.9 million over 10 years and that’s just the beginning. 

The worker’s salaries are still beholden to Federal Taxes as we understand it ($9,200 per year if calculated as 35% of their salary).  Based on national figures on what is considered a living wage in America, that is barely above the threshold (with the amount not calculating health care benefit costs. Would the Niagara positions all offer health care packages?) is$36,800.  It occurs to us, too – what happens to the workers quality of life after 10 years of not paying such a tax?  Take away NYS taxes and you’re down to $29,900.00.  We must reiterate, 100 jobs at $46,000 is a stretch. Based on what we have seen, the jobs typically offered to locals by Niagara pay  $12 – $14 per hour, do not include benefits and are mainly assembly line positions.  

All of which are just estimates to a thought process. But it is this kind of calculation for jobs, for the sale of water, pollution – the entire scope of the project – that needs to be done and shared with the public.  

Given that such important decisions are being made prior to our SEQR process, it is unfair for our elected and appointed officials not to make the information widely available

 

DID YOU KNOW? On Water.

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By Rebecca Martin

Did you know? A few important facts as we understand them.

1. That the City of Kingston allowed the sale of 1 million gallons per day (GPD) to IBM in the late 1950’s until their demise although they hardly ever used the full amount allocated to them?  Based on what we currently know, IBM had to purchase that amount whether they used it or not.

2. That the Town of Ulster currently purchases 700,000 GPD, but really only uses 500,000 GPD? The additional 200,000 GPD is held for their community and if used, would be charged  a higher water rate?

3. That the Town of Ulster’s water is ‘hard’ and that some of the City of Kingston’s water that is purchased is used to mix and improve water quality saving money on water treatment?

4. As the current water rates are structured in Kingston, those who use the most water are charged less and those who use the least pay more?

Feel free to clarify if necessary

…and get to know your water source.

Happy Holidays from Kingston Citizens

Click on the image to view the original "The Giving Tree" narrated by Shel Silverstein himself.

Click on the image to view the original “The Giving Tree” narrated by Shel Silverstein himself.

By Rebecca Martin

What a fall into winter it has been. I was nearly out of the game after a decade of community work in Kingston – happily moving back into music making without interruption – when news broke that a national water bottling company was planning to move into our area as early as April of 2015.  With hardly any time to respond, what became clear was that a whole host of items had been neatly placed in line to make it possible for the Niagara Bottling Company to come and to purchase up to 1.75 million gallons of water per day  (and probably ultimately more) of Kingston’s municipal water. All of which had been orchestrated without the public and many elected officials knowledge.

After months of organizing on our own we have successfully brought a host of troubling circumstances to light,  and have helped to create a strong group of citizens, elected officials  and organizations that will one day build a water coalition to protect what is a finite resource.

Although we’ve been framed as the ‘opposition’ or a ‘watchdog group’  in the Niagara Water Bottling project, what KingstonCitizens.org is – and has always been – is a platform that encourages the public to participate thoughtfully by providing important information to contemplate alongside educational opportunities.  This site has been up since 2007. Please go back and have a look at the wealth of information here to see for yourself.

We are beholden to no one other than the public having never solicited or accepted a dime to do this work. Our group has always been a volunteer effort motivated by the desire to be useful within our community – and we are here to stay.

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In the New Year, the public will have the opportunity to voice in on the proposed Niagara Water Bottling project after working hard to secure a Formal Public Scoping process and Positive Declaration in SEQR. Our collective community will need to patiently stay the course.  We must remind ourselves and together, one another.

Whatever the outcome for Niagara, with our new and growing awareness there is much that we can do to improve our city with the help of our elected officials. Charter reform, long range planning for infrastructure, creating new sustainable water rates and more.

But for today, we take nothing for granted and appreciate our old and new friends and colleagues along with our challenges and challengers, too.

May you all enjoy the holiday season.

 

KingstonCitizens.org Hosts Public Educational Forum “Bottled Water: Bad for People and the Environment” with Food & Water Watch.

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KingstonCitizens.org to host a public educational forum and discussion called “Bottled Water: Bad for the People and the Environment” on Thursday, December 4th at the Kingston Public Library 55 Franklin Street, in Kingston NY from 6:00pm – 8:00pm Guest panelist will be Alex Beauchamp, Northeast Regional Director of Food and Water Watch (Washington, DC).

Kingston, NY –  In September, the citizens of Kingston became aware of a proposed diversion of up to 1.75 million gallons per day of their municipal water supply to the Town of Ulster. The proposal to sell this water would support the profit-making interests of Niagara Water Bottling Company, a California company that projects in return 100 or so jobs that pay below industry standards. They are also expected to seek the maximum tax exemptions, potentially shifting the burden to residents and local business as part of Start-Up NY and other public funding sources.  Since that time, KingstonCitizens.org has led a concerted effort to understand the details of this proposal that has involved the Kingston community as well as residents in surrounding communities who would also be impacted.

KingstonCitizens.org is pleased to present a public educational forum titled “Bottled Water: Bad for the People and the Environment” on, Thursday, December 4th 2014 from 6:00pm – 8:00pm at the Kingston Public Library located at 55 Franklin Street in Kingston, NY.  All are invited to attend.

Guest panelist will be Alex Beauchamp, Northeast Regional Director of Food and Water Watch (Washington, DC).

The evening will be moderated by KingstonCitizens.org’s Policy and Planning Director Jennifer Schwartz Berky.

This event will be filmed by Clark Richters of Kingston News.

For more information, contact Rebecca Martin at: rebecca@kingstoncitizens.org

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About KingstonCitizens.org: KingstonCitizens.org is a community-based organization committed to improving the quality of life of Kingston residents through accountability and transparency between the people and their local government. By providing citizens with current and important information through better communication, our work is meant to nurture citizen participation and empowerment through projects, education and fun.

About Alex Beauchamp, Food and Water Watch
Alex Beauchamp is the Northeast Region Director at Food & Water Watch. Based in the Brooklyn office, Alex oversees all organizing efforts in New York and the Northeast. Alex has worked on issues related to fracking, factory farms, genetic engineering, and water privatization at Food & Water Watch since 2009. His background is in legislative campaigning, and community and electoral organizing. Before joining Food & Water Watch, Alex worked for Grassroots Campaigns, Inc., where he worked on several campaigns including organizing support for renewable energy in Colorado, fundraising, and running get-out-the-vote operations. Alex graduated from Carleton College with a degree in political science. He can be reached at abeauchamp(at)fwwatch(org).

About Jennifer Schwartz Berky, Planning and Policy Director – KingstonCitizens.org:  Jennifer Schwartz Berky, the evening’s moderator, has over 25 twenty years of experience in the fields of architecture, conservation, economic development, and urban planning in the non-profit, government, academic and private sectors. Prior to launching Hone Strategic, she served as Deputy Director of Ulster County Planning for over seven years, where she was the lead researcher and liaison to the Ulster County Charter Commission. Before moving to Ulster County, she worked in Washington, DC at the World Bank and Urban Institute, at the University of Rome (Italy) and as a project manager of design and construction for New York City’s major cultural institutions. Berky has lived for extended periods in Argentina, Chile, France, Israel, Italy, and Spain. She earned a B.A. in Art History from SUNY Stony Brook and Masters’ degrees in Urban Planning (M.Phil.) and Real Estate Development (M.S.) at Columbia University, where she is also currently completing a Ph.D. in Urban Planning on the subject of environmental economics.

KingstonCitizens.org: Regional Community Accomplishments on the Proposed Niagara Bottling Project

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By Rebecca Martin

Last night was in essence the conclusion of many months of discussion regarding Lead Agency and  the proposed Niagara Bottling project. It has been a deeply intense time period for many hard working people who are dedicated in making this a sound process. Today starts a brand new phase with our collective group of many talented and tenacious citizens, organizations and elected officials.

It’s important that we take a moment to acknowledge and to thank all of those who we have had the good fortune to work and be guided by. In a few short weeks, collectively Riverkeeper, The Woodstock Land Conservancy, the Esopus Creek Conservancy,  Save Cooper Lake, the Kingston Common Council, Town of Woodstock, Food and Water Watch and hundreds of residents of the affected communities have succeeded in placing this proposal under a great deal of public scrutiny.   Thank you.

Much gratitude must also be given to the team that has assembled under the KingstonCitizens.org umbrella.  In essence, it is a dream to see this platform work as it was intended to do and on a most critical issue.  Thank you Kitty McCullough, Debra Bresnan, Karin Wolf, Rachel Marco-Havens and Elizabeth Littleton and Beth Bengston.

To Jennifer Schwartz Berky who is one of Kingston’s treasures. A very generous soul, a dear friend, a true professional and spectacular partner to have.   To my co-chair, Heather Schwegler  who is savvy, smart and keeps us all in good humor.

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Your involvement has made many positive outcomes possible. Some of them include:

~ The City of Kingston Common Council has been incredibly supportive of the public’s request by voting unanimously in favor of three resolutions requesting that the DEC be Lead Agency of the Niagara Proposal and that the CoK be added as Involved Agency in the SEQR process.

~ The early commissioning of the Carpenter Report thanks to the Woodstock Land Conservancy and Riverkeeper has begun to identify and document a sampling of the numerous potential impacts that must be considered as part of the scoping process. (More on this shortly)

~ The Town of Ulster issued a Positive Declaration on the Niagara Proposal. This was not at all a foregone conclusion in September and October.

~ The Town of Ulster determining to require a full public scoping process of the proposed action ensuring that the public and all interested and affected parties, communities and agencies have the opportunity to contribute to the scope of the EIS.   This is not required to do under SEQRA regs, this is a big win for the public and a direct result of the full-court press by the public, grass-roots community groups, elected officials and affiliated organizations.

~ The applicant amending the proposed action once to include a much wider geographic scope and add additional Interested and Involved Agencies including NYC DEP and the Mink Hollow brook and Beaverkill, as well as the Cooper Lake Reservoir and KWD supply and distribution system.

~ NYS DEC pledging to play a proactive role in the SEQRA process.

~ NYS DEC informing the TOU that it must require the applicant to expand the scope of action to include the Whole Action, and avoid Segmentation per SEQRA, with multiple additional items that must be analyzed.

~ NYC DEP adding specific items that the Town of Ulster must require the applicant to address.

Onward!

 

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: The Future of Kingston’s Water Supply Must Not Be Left in the Hands of the Town of Ulster.

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In September, the citizens of Kingston became aware of a proposed diversion of up to 1.75 million gallons per day of their municipal water supply to the Town of Ulster. The proposal to sell this water would support the profit-making interests of Niagara Water Bottling Company, a California company that projects in return 100 or so jobs that pay below industry standards. They are also expected to seek the maximum tax exemptions, potentially shifting the burden to residents and local business.  Since that time, KingstonCitizens.org has led a concerted effort to understand the details of this proposal that has involved the Kingston community as well as residents in surrounding communities who would also be affected.

Read more…

Recent NY State Water Regulations Not Ready for Prime Time

By David Ganje

In New York state, groundwater rights are based on landownership rights. A property owner can withdraw as much water for use provided the rights of other property owners are not adversely affected. Water systems in the state require Water Supply Permits issued by the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) if they have the capacity to withdraw 100,000 gallons per day or more of ground or surface water and they do not qualify for an exemption under state regulations.

Read more…

ACTION: Request Positive Declaration Determination in SEQR for the Proposed Niagara Bottling Company project.

By Rebecca Martin

ACTIONContact those listed below to alert them that the ACTION in the current Environment Assessment Form (EAF) for SEQR (drafted by Niagara/The Chazen Companies) is too narrow in scope and might jeopardize a positive declaration determination which would allow for a full Environmental Impact Statement  and further public Comment.

Read more…

Town of Ulster Supervisor James Quigley on Initial Reports to Show Fiscal Benefits/Impacts of Niagara, Incremental Infrastructure Costs. “Have we seen anything? No. Because they don’t exist yet.”

By Rebecca Martin

Attached is video from tonight’s Town of Ulster Town Board meeting (11/6/14).  Public comment begins at 29:10 where the board (i.e. Supervisor James Quigley) defensively answers questions regarding the Niagara Bottling Plant proposal. The questions posed include those on infrastructure costs, trailor truck traffic, City of Kingston resolutions, tax implications and a request to learn of any analysis on the fiscal benefits/costs of the Niagara project.  Residents were told that the TOU is awaiting the start of the SEQR process and has done no preliminary research or has any information to share.

Read more…

Insightful Letter to the DEC from Town of Woodstock Supervisor Jeremy Wilber

By Rebecca Martin

The attached letter was written by Town of Woodstock Supervisor Jeremy Wilber who shares solid arguments as to why the DEC should be Lead Agency in SEQR for the proposed Niagara Water Bottling project.  In contrast for me,  it raises more concerns as to Kingston Corporation Council Andy Zweben’s recent letter also to the DEC. Where are his loyalties placed?

Luckily, Kingston’s Common Council are asking the same questions and will vote on a Memoralizing resolution in support of the COK being an ‘Involved Agency’ in SEQR on Tuesday, November 4th.

Read more…