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May 6, 2006

A weblog about the politics and affairs of the old and glorious City of Albany, New York, USA. Articles written and disseminated from Albany's beautiful and historic South End by Daniel Van Riper. If you wish to make a response, have anything to add or would like to make an empty threat, please contact me.

May 6 , 2006

Bulldozers Attack The Pine Bush Preserve

Jennings goes too far in pursuit of his dump

First thing Thursday morning, May 4th, The Wife found an anonymous tip on her answering machine. “Have you taken a walk around the landfill lately?” said Anonymous. “They bulldozed the land.” End of message.

She practically had, she informs me, a heart attack.

By the time she had descended the stairs in our house she looked quite healthy, as she informed me that she was blowing off work for the day and was headed out to the Pine Bush. Understand that The Wife has her priorities. Saving the City of Albany from itself is more important than fixing a bunch of malfunctioning computers for several hand-wringing desperate clients. Besides, it was a gorgeous spring day. She was all business, but she sure looked happy.

Next thing, she and fellow Save the Pine Bush (SPB) board member Sandra Camp were out at the “Discovery Center” on Route 155. Many folks will remember that this building, built in defiance of court order, used to be the SEFCU Credit Union. Thanks to an SPB lawsuit, the building could not be sold or rented to tenants.

So, a few years ago, the managers of the Credit Union, sweating profusely, got out from under this financial and public relations liability by donating the building and the land around it to the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission, the quasi state agency that oversees the Pine Bush. The Commission does things like maintain trails, conduct controlled burns and educate the public.

Thanks to Save the Pine Bush, the fine folks of the Commission now use the building as their comfortable offices, and they are planning to open an educational “discovery” museum about the Pine Bush.

The Wife and Sandra hiked from the parking lot of the Discovery Center into the Pine Bush and promptly got lost. It’s hard to imagine how they managed to do this, perhaps it was a classic example of the blind leading the befuddled. Personally, I can’t imagine how it is possible to wander around in back of the Discovery Center and NOT stumble into the City Dump, that ever expanding horror, that massive monument to the excesses of hell-bound wasteful consumerism.

After bumbling around for some forty five minutes, Sandra noticed that they had found the site of the Fox Run Trailer Park, which is jammed smack up along the east side of The Dump. Having oriented themselves, they found the reported vandalism of the Pine Bush, deep inside the previously undisturbed dedicated Pine Bush land extending west from The Dump.

City of Albany bulldozers, operated by Landfill employees and directed by City consultants Clough Harbor, had torn brand new swaths of destruction through the trees and sand dunes. The wife and Sandra found two swaths, but reportedly there was a third corridor reamed through the formerly pristine land. What was formerly beautiful and intact had suddenly been raped and left for dead.

The culprit? Who else but Jerry Jennings, the increasingly desperate Mayor of Albany. Clough Harbor and the guys who work at The Dump were just following orders. There’s nobody else who can give those kind of orders, or is likely to do so.

The Pine Bush Preserve is dedicated parkland. This means that the land is protected from any and all kinds of encroachment, including marauding bulldozers. The only way to undedicate parkland is to pass a bill in both houses of the New York State Legislature and have it signed into law by the governor.

Last we checked, the State had done nothing of the sort. Indeed, no bill has yet been introduced calling for this. Legally, the land is inviolable.

Jerry Jennings does not believe in the laws that protect dedicated parkland. His mind and his attitude appears to be emulating the evil old ghost of Erastus Corning, who was the dictatorial Mayor of Albany from sometime before the Civil War until he died in office in 1983. Corning shuffled around dedicated parkland with impunity, and no one dared oppose him. The City is still saddled with his questionable land uses, legal titles ready to explode anytime.

As much as he’d like to be, Jennings is nowhere near as powerful as Corning was. (For this we should be thankful. Corning almost destroyed Albany.) But, whenever he can, he acts as if he is. Like another well-known unitary executive who is currently infesting the White House, Jennings believes that he is above the law which does not apply to him.

So what could happen to Jennings for his criminal act? Recently, Albany City Court Judge Tom Keefe presided over the case of two young gentlemen who were caught dirt biking in the Pine Bush Preserve. I understand that Tom had to do a little research about penalties, and I'm told that this is what he found in Title 40 of the State Environmental conservation laws:

Section 71-4001. General criminal penalty.
Except as otherwise specifically provided elsewhere in the
environmental conservation law, (a) a person who violates any
provision of the environmental conservation law, or any rule,
regulation or order promulgated pursuant thereto, or the terms or
conditions of any permit issued thereunder, shall be guilty of a
violation; (b) each day on which such violation occurs shall
constitute a separate violation; and (c) for each such violation the
person shall be subject upon conviction to imprisonment for not more than fifteen days or to a fine of not more than two hundred fifty dollars, or to both such imprisonment and such fine.

So, all we can do is lock up Jerry Jennings for 15 days and make him pay $250.00. But the State, or anyone else for that matter, can bring a civil suit:

Section 71-4003. General civil penalty.
Except as otherwise specifically provided elsewhere in the environmental conservation law, a person who violates any provision of the environmental conservation law, or any rule, regulation or order promulgated pursuant thereto, or the terms or conditions of any permit issued thereunder, shall be liable to a civil penalty of not more than five hundred dollars, and an additional civil penalty of not more than five hundred dollars for each day during which each such violation continues.

Now, that’s more like it! $500.00 dollars a day until Jennings exhausts his leftover campaign treasury and cashes in all his assets. After he goes broke, he can apply for Section 8 and live as a guest of Steve Longo at the Lincoln Square Apartments on lower Morton Avenue.

I’m not exactly sure what happened to the two dirt bikers, but I heard that they got community service, cleaning up in the Pine Bush. Maybe that would be the best sentence for Jennings. Make him personally with his own two hands restore the sand dunes and replant the vegetation that he destroyed. That’ll teach him to respect dedicated parkland.

Meanwhile, The Wife, with Sandra in tow, found her way back to the Discovery Center and marched into the Pine Bush Commission offices demanding to see Chris Hawver, the executive director. It seems that Mr. Hawver was off somewhere getting an award, and The Wife was told that nobody could tell her nothing about anything concerning the bulldozing.

“Okay,” she said, “then if you can’t tell me anything about the bulldozing then I’ll have to go to the media.”

Terror and panic swept through the Commission offices like a wave. Through the magic of cell phones, the executive director was interrupted in the middle of his award. He asked The Wife to wait right there and don’t do anything rash.

An hour or so later, Sandra had to split just as Chris Hawver pulled into the parking lot. It seems that he travelled from the Crowne Plaza in downtown Albany in fifteen minutes, some serious driving in the middle of the day.

Chris Hawver is a guy who believes in the Pine Bush, in what he’s doing. The Wife got the distinct impression that when he found out about the bulldozing a week earlier, he was definitely less than pleased.

We can safely conclude that Mr. Hawver had long conversations with several environmental organizations that are concerned with the integrity of the Pine Bush. He didn't tell Save the Pine Bush about the bulldozing. But it sure looks like he told The Nature Conservancy.

The Nature Conservancy fired off this angry letter, demanding that the City stop what it was doing and fix what it broke immediately. As can be seen, it is addressed first to Commissioner Sheehan of the State Department of Environmental Conservation. Then it is addressed to State Attorney General Elliot Spitzer. Lastly, it is addressed to Mayor Jennings.

But why didn’t Mr. Hawver tell the media? The wife must have asked him why at least ten times but got no answers. Was he afraid? Was he threatened?

Probably not. Chris is in a delicate position. He has to move very cautiously in these turf battles. More likely he wanted to hold the information back until it could be released with maximum impact. The man is not a politician, but sometimes he is forced to act like one.

According to The Wife, it was the letter from the Nature Conservancy that made the media sit up and take notice. Letter in hand, she traipsed into our house around suppertime all hopped up and started making phone calls.

The next morning she headed back out to the Discovery Center and made two more trips into the underbrush, first with a photographer and then with a TV camera crew. This time she did not get lost. Then she sat in her car in the parking lot and talked to more reporters on her cell phone until late afternoon.

She found out a funny thing. Cell phones don’t work very well in the Pine Bush. For example, standing under the mountain of garbage, she could hear Jill Bryce from the Daily Gazette but could not talk understandably back. Keep that in mind, all you intrepid explorers. If you get lost in the Pine Bush like The Wife and Sandra did, don’t depend on your devices to get rescued. Best you sniff the breeze and head for The Dump.

Saturday morning, there was a picture of The Wife’s backside on the front page of the Hearst-owned Times Union, wearing a straw hat and surveying the City's vandalism. Studying the picture, all I could think of was how hard Jerry Jennings was grinding his teeth as he looked at her sweet rump.

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