Seven Days: Trust us, we are taking this seriously
by Geoff Kelly & Buck Quigley
Follow the frack fluid, part 4:
If we’d known this would turn into a weekly feature, we’d have come up with a better title for it. Ah well.
For the past month, you’ve been reading in this column that the Buffalo Sewer Authority has been accepting wastewater generated at drill sites operated by US Energy, a Getzville company. Like most gas well drillers, US Energy uses a technique called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to break up shale deposits and free pockets of gas. The fluid used in fracking comprises a long list of toxic chemicals, and some of the additives are proprietary blends—which is to say, one does not know exactly what they contain or in what quantity. This complicates testing and treating the wastewater that returns to the surface after a well is fracked.
When we first learned that Buffalo Sewer Authority might be accepting this waste, through US Energy’s filings with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, we were assured by Buffalo Sewer Authority Commissioner David Comerford that the authority had never accepted frack fluid. And the DEC told us that the Buffalo Sewer Authority had never acknowledged receiving nor sought a permit to receive frack fluid.
Then, a few days later, Comerford allowed that the authority had accepted frack fluid but had been told by Waste Technology Services, the Lewiston firm that US Energy contracts as a hauler, that it was “just water” and “runoff.”
Now we’ve learned that just last week Comerford canceled two discharge permits held by Waste Technology Services that allowed the company to truck and dump frack fluid here. As it turns out, they had a contract.
In a letter dated February 1 to James J. Weber of Waste Technology Services, Comerford explained that BSA “has a policy of not accepting hydrofracting fluid.” Because US Energy recently had acknowledged that some of the wastewater the company ships to BSA is frack fluid, Comerford wrote, the authority could no longer accept it.
Comerford certainly should not have needed Artvoice’s reporting or recent communications with US Energy to know that BSA was accepting frack fluid. The contract he signed with Waste Technology Services on February 17, 2010, specifically says that the discharge permit is for “treated ground water/pit water from gas well drilling.” In other words, frack fluid. The permits allowed the discharge of up to 40,000 gallons per day and covered wastewater generated at 157 well sites throughout Western New York. (The number of well sites comes from a 2009 email from Weber to the Buffalo Sewer Authority’s Leslie Sedita, who also told Artvoice that the authority did not accept wastewater from gas drilling sites.)
So why did Comerford and Sedita tell us that their agency had never accepted frack fluid when clearly it had done so? And why did the authority accept the waste if, as Comerford writes in his letter, it has a policy that specifically forbids it from doing so?
Lovejoy Councilman Rich Fontana hopes to get answers to those questions soon. Fontana submitted a resolution this week that would prohibit the Buffalo Sewer Authority from receiving waste generated by gas well drilling. He’s also asking Comerford to appear before the Council to answer questions about the issue.
On Tuesday, Buffalo’s Common Council also passed a ban on drilling for natural gas within city limits, in response to concerns about the environmental consequences of fracking. The vote was unanimous, and earned a round of applause from the 25 or so anti-fracking activists who attended the session. (They applauded again later in the session when the Council passed a resolution sponsored by North District Councilman Joe Golombek calling for consolidation of the authorities that run the region’s border crossings; Council President Dave Franczyk banged his gavel and said, smiling, “You get one round of applause per meeting.”) Buffalo is the first city in the state and only the second in the country to ban fracking. The ban is essentially symbolic: Though there have been gas wells drilled in the city, none are active, according to a DEC database. And no drilling companies are contemplating hydrofracked gas fields in Buffalo. But activists hope that other municipalities, especially those in rural areas that are rich in shale gas, will follow suit.
There’s also the issue of frack fluid and its disposal, which is an issue that should concern all Great Lake communities. Fontana says that he’s traveling to Cleveland to make a presentation to that city’s legislators about Buffalo’s ban. (gk)
Welcome to the new Marine Drime
The Marine Drive Apartments are under new management, and the waterfront apartment complex’s tenants association couldn’t be less happy.
For the past week, residents have been flooding the new management with complaints about garbage overflowing the trash totes and maintenance men smoking in the corridors, among other concerns.
On February 1, management of the complex shifted from Erie Regional Housing Development Corporation to the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority. BMHA owns Marine Drive and contracted with Erie Regional, which succeeded another outside contractor, HKMDA, in 2007. HKMDA’s tenure was disastrous and corrupt, and a substantial faction of tenants seem to believe Erie Regional did only a marginally better job. When Erie Regional announced it would relinquish the contract, the tenants began lobbying—and suing in court—for the right to manage the apartment complex themselves, as they did for decades. They are demanding that the management contract at least be put out to bid, so that the tenants association can make their case for running the complex.
This week, Common Council President Dave Franczyk submitted a resolution asking BMHA officials to appear before the Council to answer questions about Marine Drive and its management.
Meanwhile, the tenants’ attorney, Joe Makowski, is due to return to Judge Patrick NeMoyer’s court on March 7. Next Wednesday, the tenants will protest BMHA’s takeover at Mayor Byron Brown’s annual State of the City speech.
Brown, who controls BMHA through appointments to its board of commissioners, shouldn’t complain. In order to stage their protest, the tenants are buying a table at the event: $1,000 payable to Mayor Brown’s Fund to Advance Buffalo. (gk)
The latest SUNY hoax:
Last Thursday (February 3), the Buffalo News ran a story with the improbable headline, “SUNY Students Support Tuition Increases.”
Here’s the lede: “A student delegation representing the state’s 465,000 public college students is attacking Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s proposed budget, not because he’s raising tuition, but because he isn’t.”
And later in the story: “Members of the SUNY Assembly, which represents all 64 SUNY campuses, used an online survey to gather feedback from students across the state, then went on record recently in favor of what they call a rational tuition policy, proposed as recently as two weeks ago by Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher.”
Unfortunately, our daily paper was the victim of a hoax.
According to Kyle J. Hill, Interim Director of Communications for the SUNY Student Assembly, here’s how this comprehensive statewide survey went down: “It’s pretty basic. We don’t have a lot of resources. We just used Survey Monkey. We sent it out to all the student government presidents, and from there they sent it to their students.”
How many replies did they get back, total? Four hundred eighty-nine, according to Hill. And they weren’t all in favor of jacking up tuition—but let’s just say they were. That would represent one-tenth of one percent of the 465,000 public college students in New York.
“We were hoping more people would take the survey, but the timing when we sent it out wasn’t most convenient for most students. But we’re in regular contact with student government presidents,” Hill said.
“We also had a lengthy discussion at our conference in Binghamton—which included all the schools. Or, at least all the schools were invited. But it was most of the schools. And there we discussed the rational tuition plan. Our organization has been in favor of the rational tuition plan since October 2008. And we re-endorsed that plan three weeks ago in Rochester at our executive committee meeting. So it wasn’t just the survey.”
In the News article, Julie Gondar, president of the SUNY Student Assembly, says this: “We feel keeping tuition at the current level is simply not sustainable, and does not support access and affordability in the long term.”
Gondar’s presidential post also makes her the sole student representative on the SUNY Board of Trustees. She was elected to her position in a process that involves a couple hundred voting members of the various student governments from the 64 campuses in the system.
The SUNY Trustees created the SUNY Student Assembly to provide “a forum for consultation and the exchange of information between State University students, the chancellor, and the State University of New York Board of Trustees on matters of a university-wide nature which affect student concerns; a procedure for electing the student member of the State University of New York Board of Trustees; and a communications network for campus student government leaders.”
Clearly, the SUNY Trustees need to tweak their creation, before the Student Assembly comes to be viewed as a lapdog group that provides bogus representation for students—unless it’s already too late. A graduate student group at UB is contemplating running a counter-survey, asking undergrads if they were even aware of the fraudulent Student Assembly poll. (bq)
Could City Hall have been caught more flat-footed by Comptroller Andy SanFilippo’s announcement that he was resigning in March to take a job with New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli? It felt as if all that building’s secret political machinery and alliance-building engines, already strained by months of heavy politicking, groaned, shifted, and stalled for a moment.
Then cranked right back to life. Among those interested in succeeding SanFilippo is Lovejoy Councilman Rich Fontana. Mayor Byron Brown would love to see Fontana get the job, because his political advisors are sure they can control who will succeed Fontana in the Lovejoy District. (Rumor says that former at-large councilman Charley Fisher would like Fontana’s job.) That would hand the Council majority to a Brown friendly coalition. So the current majority, which frequently clashes with the mayor, is trying to persuade Fontana to stay put.
If they can’t persuade him, they could vote against him, though the would be loath to turn against one of their own. The Council gets to choose SanFilippo’s immediate successor; this fall, on election day, the voters get their say.
North District Councilman Joe Golombek has been mentioned as a comptroller candidate in the past, and he enjoys good relations with the mayor—which is why he’ll never have the mayor’s support. If Golombek vacates his seat, there’s a good chance that his successor will be a candidate allied with Brown’s critics, thus giving the current majority a powerful sixth vote—sufficient to overturn mayoral vetoes. So while the mayor would love to see Fontana put his seat up for grabs, he won’t risk Golombek relinquishing his.
There are some other names floating around—Erie County Legislator Maria Whyte, Parking Commissioner Kevin Helfer—that are unlikely to pan out. Though certainly neither of those candidates is as taxing to the imagination as former state senator Antoine Thompson, who told the Buffalo News, “I’m not saying I’m not, and I’m not saying I am.” Thompson is raising campaign funds again, but our money says he hopes to take back the seat he lost in November to Democrat-turned-Republican Mark Grisanti. (Said one City Hall wit, “Thompson for comptroller? He can’t even count votes.”) Our money also says that the upcoming redistricting will make that seat difficult for an East Sider like Thompson to win, though Grisanti will remain vulnerable to a Democrat that shares his North Buffalo base.
As for the comptroller vacancy, we’re betting that Common Council will abide by SanFilippo’s wishes and allow his deputy, Darby Fishkin, to finish out his term and allow the chips fall where they may come November. Fishkin is well qualified, and by choosing her the Common Council majority sidesteps the political uncertainties that attend the shuffling of sitting elected officials. (gk)
—geoff kelly & buck quigleyblog comments powered by Disqus
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