Hank Gross

Hudson Valley Correspondent
Hank Gross

The three county executives on the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council announced on Thursday their intention to vote yes at the next session to include the new Tappan Zee Bridge project in the region’s long-range plan.

A unanimous vote qualifies the project for federal funds.

Westchester Executive Robert Astorino, Rockland Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef and Putnam Executive Mary Ellen Odell committed to signing off on the plan.  Astorino said that decision was reached after talks with Governor Cuomo.

Hank Gross

Joseph J. Lhota, the new leader of the MTA told Mid-Hudson business people on Wednesday that the transportation agency is negotiating the possibility to bring Metro-North's Hudson and New Haven branch trains to Penn Station, part of a reciprocal agreement which would allow LIRR service to Grand Central. That’s where Metro-North’s service terminates.

A lot of “complicated” details must be worked out with the Long Island Railroad, which uses Penn Station, Lhota said.

Hank Gross

Union workers held a rally outside the Dutchess County Office Building Wednesday afternoon, criticizing IBM for taking public tax incentives while they say Big Blue created no new jobs.

The event culminated with a mock “Hall of Shame” award presented to the corporation, formerly one of the largest local employers.

In continued downsizing, IBM recently laid off 25 custodial staff at its East Fishkill facility.

A fictional character, dressed up like the millionaire from the board game Monopoly, accepted the medal on behalf of IBM, while mocking taxpayers.

Hank Gross

After over a year of negotiations, Ulster County and its 1,300 member CSEA have reached a tentative agreement on a new four year contract. 

The contract includes no pay raise in the first two years, a 1.75 percent raise in the third year, 2013, and a two percent raise in the fourth year, 2014.  The pact dates back to January 1, 2011 and extends to December 31, 2014.

The Westchester County Public Service Department’s electronic booking information system will be made available to other counties in the region.

The Public Safety and Security Committee of the Westchester County Board of Legislators gave its approval for the program which will allow for inter-municipal agreements with municipalities in the counties of Putnam, Rockland and Dutchess to access its electronic fingerprinting and digital booking photographs.

Public Safety Chief Inspector Martin McGlynn briefed the committee that identifications can go beyond facial recognition.

The Fiscal Accountability and Strategy Team (FAST) put in place by Dutchess County Executive Marcus Molinaro is projected to save the county hundreds of thousands of dollars. The effort is designed to work with fiscal staff in county departments to find cost savings and efficiencies in the government within the limited resources available.

Molinaro launched the FAST team as part of his effort to close a $40 million budget gap going into 2013.

It is projected that development of a whitewater park on the Delaware River at Port Jervis could begin next year provided sufficient funding is secured.

The City of Port Jervis is seeking $200,000 to $250,000 from the state to draft design plans and gain the various approvals that would be needed.  Then, the job of securing the real money to build the park – estimated at about $1.5 million – would begin and city Economic Development Director Kathleen Hendrickson said they will seek grants and private money.

The park would be a city facility.

FEMA has decided to grant Orange County over $3.6 million for hurricane damage to the county government center in Goshen. County Executive Edward Diana had originally sought about $7.5 million,
Diana and the State Office of Emergency Management have both endorsed the funding.

The award is a far cry from the $505,290 FEMA first offered the county. It upped that to $534,980, but Diana now said it is because of the perseverance of his administration to challenge the numbers that convinced FEMA to increase them dramatically. 

One of two soldiers killed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan on August 8 was a West Point resident.

The Defense Department identified the men as Maj. Thomas Kennedy, 35, of West Point and Command Sgt. Maj. Kevin Griffin, 45, of Laramie, WY.

Officials said the men died in Sarkowi in Kunar province of wounds suffered when they encountered an insurgent who detonated a suicide vest.

The soldiers were assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Carson, CO.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has voted to wait before approving new licenses for Indian Point and other nuclear plants until it addressed the question of how to deal with safety and potential environmental threats from long term on-site storage of nuclear waste.

The NRC’s decision came after a Washington, DC Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling involving the NRC’s Waste Confidence Decision update.

Doug Kerr

The financial situations in the County of Rockland and City of Newburgh are in such precarious shape that Governor Andrew Cuomo and State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli are considering proposals to create a super control board to take over their finances.

Such a board would review the finances of all counties, cities and towns on the verge of bankruptcy.

Newburgh Mayor Judy Kennedy said while her city has made significant strides in recent months to reduce its deficit and cut spending, there is still much more to be done.

VALHALLA – The Civil Service Employees Association, which represents some 900 workers at Westchester Medical Center criticized the hospital administration for its latest round of job cuts.

The hospital maintains it must tighten its fiscal belt like all other businesses and has also outsourced some of the jobs.

Westchester CSEA President John Staino said on Tuesday, subcontracting workers for lower wages could lower the quality of healthcare.

Tuition at Westchester County Community College will increase by $130 in the new academic year as the County Board of Legislators Monday approved a $27.8 million budget.  Tuition will go up to $4,280.

The vote was unanimous, although Legislator Lyndon Williams expressed concern about the rise in tuition, saying it could place a hardship on those with limited incomes.

Doug Kerr

The Cuomo administration rolled out three former Westchester County executives to support construction of a new Tappan Zee Bridge and downplay the talk of a $14 toll.

Secretary to the Governor, Lawrence Schwartz, opened the dialogue on Sunday by saying there are three options, but only one choice, and that is to tear down the current bridge and build a new one. That will mean higher tolls, but he emphasized that would not happen overnight.

Ulster County Legislature

The dispute among Ulster County officials concerning the procedure to redistrict the county legislature may be resolved. County lawmakers and administration met in a marathon session Thursday evening.

The county legislature wanted to provide input in the process; the county charter review commission didn’t want lawmakers involved.

The tentative agreement Thursday centered on asking the state for a home rule measure that would allow the public to call for a permissive referendum on redistricting after the committee comes up with a map.

Local officials in the Town of Fishkill have asked federal representatives in Washington to seek a delay in flood insurance requirements.

Town Supervisor Robert LaColla said the issue was brought to light by local residents.

“Several constituents had come to us to ask about what can be done about their banks requiring flood plain insurance,” LaColla said. “Many of these people have never had an issue, they never put in a claim, they’ve never had water in the building, yet they were being asked to buy insurance at a cost of $300 to $3,000.”

The Final Environmental Impact Statement for construction of a new Tappan Zee Bridge was released Wednesday and the massive document looks at potential issues relating to construction and plans to mitigate them.

The national aviation radar system will be converted in the future from ground based radar to a global positioning system (GPS) and the Stewart Airport Commission went on record on Tuesday asking the US Department of Transportation and the FAA to consider locating the so-called NextGen operation at the Newburgh area airport.

Commission Chairman James Wright said it would mean lots of jobs and making Stewart a central point for the new radar system.

Mid Hudson News

The Mid-Hudson Sustainability Planning Consortium unveiled its strategy to the public for a regional growth project, called the Regional Sustainability Plan, at SUNY Orange in Newburgh on Monday evening.

Funded by about $10 million from NYSERDA and part of the Cleaner, Greener Communities program put into action by Governor Cuomo last year, the consortium has until Christmas of this year to present an economic roadmap for the seven-county region that will promote job growth as well as reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Anti-fracking signs

Thousands of people from across the nation rallied in Washington on Sunday in opposition to hydro-fracturing  to mine natural gas from shale formations.

Members of the Stewart Park and Reserve Coalition, headed by Sandra Kissam of the Town of Newburgh, attended the rally and she described the scene from D.C.

“We are over here in front of the Capitol Building, about 2,000 strong or more, listening to Bill McKibben, who is one of the leading proponents of doing away with fracking and also a leading opponent to the Excel Pipeline,” Kissam said.

A new committee will begin to look at developing a sustainability agenda for the Mid-Hudson Valley.  The seven-county region – Westchester, Rockland, Putnam, Orange, Sullivan, Dutchess and Ulster – will seek input from residents as to what to include in a sustainability plan.

“Green economic development” is how Orange County Planning Commissioner David Church describes it.

Dutchess County plans on getting a dose of reality – on television, that is. Two “reality” based production teams are gearing up for local shoots, according to the Dutchess Economic Development Corporation.

“Tourism has been responding to a number of calls for films, commercials and reality shows,” noted EDC member Andrea Reynolds, in a report made to the board at Thursday's quarterly meeting.

Future science education in Dutchess County will be more integrated, when Vassar College completes its flagship campus complex in 2015.  The proposed academic facility is designed by architects to function as a bridge, allowing ecological study of the stream crossing beneath its archway.

After many years of programming and needs analysis, Vassar College has decided to launch a renovation and construction project for its 12 acre neighborhood of science buildings.

The Ulster County Legislature adopted a local law banning the use of fracking brine on county owned property.  The law passed unanimously Wednesday evening.

County Executive Michael Hein must hold a public hearing before signing it. 

The lawmakers are concerned that the liquid byproduct of hydraulic fracturing to harvest natural gas from shale formations could be offered by drilling companies to the county as a free or low-cost alternative to salting or sanding roads in the winter.

 In his continuing effort to keep county expenses down, Ulster County Executive Michael Hein Wednesday proposed a voluntary separation program for certain county employees as a means of reducing the size of the workforce and lowering payroll and benefits expenses.

Under the program, which would require county legislature approval, the 232 eligible workers could receive a one-time $12,500 separation payment to leave county service no later than December 1.

Health and Personnel Committee Chairman Robert Aiello, a Republican, supports the plan.

As the economy continues its recovery, now is not the time for state lawmakers to vote themselves pay hikes, State Assemblyman Steven Katz (R-Westchester) said Tuesday.

Katz was highly critical of the Democrat-controlled Assembly urged fellow lawmakers to reject any increase in pay.

Congressman Eliot Engel (D-Westchester/Rockland) briefed the new chairwoman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission of his concerns and opposition to the Indian Point nuclear power plants in Buchanan and their applications for license renewal.

Engel’s comments came during a joint hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittees on Energy and Power and the Environment and the Economy on Tuesday.

Wurtsboro Airport will play host to the Wurtsboro Music Festival on two Thursday evenings in August.

Top name pop music entertainment from the 70s will be performing on the lawn at the airfield providing a new music venue for the region, said music festival spokesman William Liblick.

“Everyone often complains that there’s nothing to do in Sullivan County and what we’re trying to do is to make it very affordable and give people a good night of entertainment,” Liblick said.

Courtesy NOAA

Ulster County Executive Michael Hein announced on Monday that he is applying for Community Development Block Grant funding to assist low income homeowners in need of housing improvements with priority given to homeowners needing repairs due to Tropical Storms Irene or Lee.

Rural Ulster Preservation Company will administer the program for the county.  The county and RUPCO will apply for $750,000 with applications from homeowners due on August 7. Funds are expected to be available in the spring 2013.

POUGHKEEPSIE – The Dutchess County Legislature and Criminal Justice Council continue to study the overcrowding at the county jail in Poughkeepsie and identify possible solutions.

Legislature Chairman Robert Rolison said they need to develop programs with best practices and evidence based outcomes.