Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Progress Along the Hudson

Good Morning Gina,

I am guessing recent news coverage does not fall into the "I don't care what they say as long as they spell my name right" adage category.  We can agree that the growing interest in clean water is a very good thing.  As we would agree that it is really too bad that awareness is sparked by crises rather than careful planning and good public health policy.

But, to our not-so-little piece of these matters, there is good news to share and celebrate!

We inherited what we have.  We have excellent values and lofty goals.  These we temper with realism, acknowledgement of our constraints.  We celebrate progress and press ahead.

Progress Along the Hudson!
Recalling last week's message, where I told you about our plans to host members of the EPA/GE Community Action Group at our farm prior to the quarterly CAG meeting in nearby Schuylerville, well the event was a hit.

Our only frustration was that the invite only went out to "CAG representatives" and did not include "CAG liaisons," so reps from EPA, GE, NOAA, DEC were excluded.  

We had a great time which would have been richer and more fun if some from the Committee of the Whole had attended.  Will definitely do that next go-round.

PURELY LOCAL: Lunch courtesy of 9 Miles East farm and JUST Water
Beth and I loved welcoming a houseful of diverse pro-good-Earth advocates. Riverkeeper, Scenic Hudson, Cleaner Hudson, Clearwater, the Sierra Club, Saratoga PLAN, the Hudson River Fisherman's Association, the Consensus Building Institute, a spouse, a six-month-old, riverside community reps, and our local NYS Assemblywoman gathered for almost 90 minutes to enjoy local farm-to-table food and "pre-Hudson" spring water.

JUST and 9 Miles East, two local operations positively disrupting for health and community
Folks spread out around the house and spilled out into the yard where we arranged umbrella tables.

The chat was wide-ranging.  A legal intern had the opportunity to speak with Carrie Woerner (our Assembly rep).  Gil from the Fisherman's Association debated higher education withe Dave (from Citizens Along the River's Edge and Sport Boating association) and me.  A cross-section also debated the future of the Superfund Program given the state of politics and economy.  It was like a mix of summer light lunch and a college seminar.

Mixing Business with Pleasure
We gathered in our "great room" for a wrap-up.  As I was getting ready to thank everyone, I saw Gil -- a pure photo-op Santa lookalike -- reach out and tickle the bare foot of baby Lillian and say "we want to make this river clean for you and your children!" Everyone laughed -- everyone agreed -- and that really summed it up.  Before Carrie reaffirmed her intent to continue to help shepherd good policy through the Assembly, I did take a moment to say the obvious, that we don't corner the market on good values but what this group does particularly well is make advocacy and education the highest priority...because many don't have time or knowledge to be as effective.

As I said at the top of the message Gina, it is advocacy and education that will prevent PFOA and PCB issues from getting to the crisis point going forward.

We have lots of clean-up and remediation to do now, but prevention is so much terms of dollars and health.

After the group decamped to Schuylerville Town Hall we had a very good CAG meeting.  Particular highlights were an impressive presentation by your Marc Greenberg on "fish as a litmus test," showing slow-but-sure progress.  Then Mike Cheplowitz, also from your team, introduced planning for floodplain and "sideline" remediation, which I look forward to helping with.  Eric and Patrick from the Consensus group did their usual great job assuring that tricky combo of "air time" and agenda flow worked in time allotted.

At "CAG": pressing for a cleaner Hudson, from Lake Tear to the Atlantic!
We inherited what we have.  We have excellent values and lofty goals.  These we temper with realism, acknowledgement of our constraints.  We celebrate progress and press ahead.  

What else can we do, for Lillian's sake?

Celebrating a Cleaner Hudson: Keep Up the Good Work!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

One Thing We All STILL Agree on....

Good Morning Gina,

And it is a grand and glorious morning along the Upper Hudson!

As you may know I've become involved in your Community Action Group, as a self-appointed back bencher.  Attending these meetings is a fascinating educational experience that goes far beyond the nuts-and-bolts of the Hudson River PCB effort.

Science, politics, psychology, economics, law, rhetoric, theater, emotion, ambition... truly a proseminar of the interdisciplinary. As the CAG website states its purpose is to:
  • Promote broad, balanced representation of communities and stakeholders along the entire site, in this case the Hudson River;
  • Encourage more routine and consistent communications and coordination between EPA and the community;
  • Solicit ongoing recommendations about ways to enhance community involvement;
  • Provide an avenue for the community to voice its needs and concerns;
  • Provide for a consistent source of dialogue for EPA to gauge interests and needs.
Were I asked to grade the CAG on these terms, I would give it a solid A. 

In fact, if the governing body of the EU functioned as well -- especially at facilitating understanding and appreciation (if not agreement on process) -- as this CAG, there would have been no "Brexit." Promoting education while acknowledging varying points-of-view -- from GE, to local residents, to environmental organizations that touch on tourism, health, economy, and quality of life -- "the machine works." Props, as they say, the Consensus Building Institute and EPA's own Gary Klawinski, a master of organization, content, processing, and presentation.

At this point you are probably wondering "where are the photos? where is the nature angle?"

Thank you: here is the obligatory Nature Shot, taken from the house out to the edge of the bog and woods a couple days ago.

A doe and her fawn appear to be in residence in the scrub-woods between our pastures.  Man our big rescue dog Bosco takes off like a NASCAR when they come out for a nibble of clover!

I am sharing this because, as I learned in an excellent short video, there is strong hard scientific evidence strongly suggesting a strong link between health and proximity to a PCB-laden Hudson.  So even if these deer stay away from the river, they are in more danger than their relatives in Saratoga Springs, say.

Back to CAG.

The group is meeting next week in nearby Schuylerville, about five miles south of our farm.

Beth is the one who introduced me to CAG (through a reference in the newspaper) and she shares my interest in "all things Hudson." Additionally she's a great cook and fabulous hostess.  So we hatched the idea of a pre- or post-CAG meeting "social" at the farm, a light time-out along the river.

Somewhat characteristically, I got a bit ahead of myself and envisioned a lawn party with this incredibly diverse group -- the GE rep playing bocce with local fishermen, Riverkeeper taking Gary for a canoe ride where the clam-shell dredging occurred -- I even toyed with inviting you and Jeff Immelt (we crossed paths a lifetime ago in grad school). 

Ok, ok. A bit over-the-top. But a good idea at its core.

Just because we are doing something serious does not mean that we have to be deadly serious all the time!

I shared our invitation with Larisa Romanski, of your Community Relations group, and she passed it to the CAG Steering Committee who graciously accepted and played the "e-vite" role, to which we received a nice, if smallish, response. 

So we have reached out to two local visionary operations: JUST Water (upriver in Glens Falls) and 9 Miles East Farm right near us. These folks "do core mission" and so much more. Every one tactic accomplishes multiple goals. They are marvels of quality product, market sensitivity, environmental stewardship, and they really, really "get" communication engagement!  They see and do win-win, and are rewarded for it.

So we are looking forward to welcoming a nice sub-set of CAGers over to share some good food and drink while getting to know each other a little bit better.  Win-win, a theme we embrace.

Why does CAG work so well?  Clear structure and protocols, excellent leadership, and committed membership,  But that's not all.  Not by a long shot.  For all of the group's disagreements there are core commitments that trump differences in angle-of-approach: everyone wants a cleaner, better environment.

With shared purpose, open and respectful communication, a plan, execution, review, adjustment... repeat, we see progress.  Perfection? No. Progress? Yes.

We must hang in and work together.  That's something else we can all agree on.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Belief in the Power of Best Intentions Through Environmental Progress

Good Morning Gina,

I have a mixed bag for you this morning, starting with that mouthful of a title.

Honestly, some days it is hard for me to find fresh ways to present urgent messages in hearable, human ways.

I believe in your values and can imagine the competing -- conflicting -- pressures that are part of your daily life.

I believe that you show up for work to do the best job anyone can of navigating through those pressures toward the betterment of our environment.  Too many people who I respect testify to your commitment.

So my self-appointed role is to be one of those little "pings" attempting to assist your navigation.

Let's start with business and wrap up with a great feel-good sketch?

The Albany Times Union is running a special series entitled "Toxic Risks."  It is very thorough and educational.  A link is right here.

The reporting focuses on these case studies, and uses them as a lens into the effectiveness of various governmental agency and legislative efforts to protect the environment:

• Taxpayers spend millions to clean up and monitor polluted land and water, but hundreds of sites statewide remain contaminated. Thousands more await evaluation.
• The Superfund program is on "life support." More than 80,000 chemicals used in commerce have little or no studies on human health.
• Residents of a tiny Hudson Valley hamlet have lost hope about remedies for their toxic water as officials shift resources to Hoosick Falls.
• GE's Schenectady plant is still contaminated... 29 years after it was declared a Superfund site
• Gloversville tanneries leave questions about health issues from noxious fumes.
• Cancer worries concern some who grew up near "The Varnish Works" in Schenectady.
• A homeowner in Valley Falls bought his house in 1978 with little thought what a commercial laundry left behind.
• Al Tech, riddled with PCBs and heavy-metal contamination in Colonie, is about a mile from million-dollar homes.
• High levels of lead from old wrecking company pollute area near Albany's Westland Hills Park.
• Glenville residents fight for clean water 10 years after spill was discovered.

It offers a depressing record of good intentions gone awry as well as the absence of good intent.

The series could lead one to a sense of defeat or cynicism, which would be a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

There was a good quote from columnist Michael Gerson yesterday:

"Cynicism is more dangerous to democracy than outrage. Cynicism pretends to a kind of sophisticated, insider knowledge of institutional corruption." 

We must coach ourselves to believe in the power of our best instincts and intentions -- and the good work and progress such as we've seen in the Hudson PCB project is good -- but we need more.  We the people need more to counter any sense of institutional corruption, as well as for our health, and the health of our ecosystem.

May I say "your at-bat Gina, smack one outta the park for us!"?

Drum-roll: the feel-good.

Yesterday was a vile, stinking hot and humid day.  Beth promised to take us (me and the dogs) down to the river to cool off).

1, 2, 3: Rescue Dog Makes It!

 You may remember my Monday message about the beaver swimming over to our deck?  Well, it began to look like a replay....
Sammy Swims: NOT a Beaver!

Beth and Bosco: Ready for the Weekend!

Hope you have a good weekend too!

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Pretty or Clean, Why Have to Choose?

Hi Gina,

We need a weather break here.  With a light snow winter, the relative lack of rain is keeping things at foot-level crispy.  And the humidity is wrapping me in a cloak of torpor. Sitting atop more than our share of potable water, we are very lucky but, still, we need the rain!

While out on my morning bike rides I have been watching teams working along the banks of the Upper Hudson, grooming and planting in the marshy shore areas:

I did send you a snapshot of a similar scene in my "Leave It to Beaver the Riverkeeper" message but it may have been lost in my accolades for their instinctive keep-rivers-clean-and-healthy lifestyle.

It makes sense, they live in the water.

Wait.  We need clean water to live.  Why don't we care for our life-source as well?

Just today it was reported that our New York State law-makers are beyond planning not to think about whether to discuss public-health issues and have advanced the clean water cause to the top of a future agenda, reversing themselves for some reason.

What's the rush?
Ok, politicians have all sorts of conflicting constituencies to juggle.  But the EPA has the charge and the authority to take strong pro-environment steps.

We have seen politicians stall.  And we have seen the EPA act.

If the Hudson merits shoreline grooming, it surely merits a better and more complete job of chemical clean-up.

The work began because it is important and the job should move farther forward for exactly the same reason.

We have read your thoughts on the importance of clean water, Gina.  Please help the PCB removal project then we can re-plant greenery along America's Most Beautiful Superfund Site.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

A Smart, Naughty "Riverkeeper"

Good Morning Gina,

A happy "morning after" a glorious Fourth: just when I think we have seen it all, Beth and I discover even more in the region.  Upstate at its best!

We were reading the Sunday paper by the river and this picture is worth a thousand words:

The calm sparkle was beautiful.  I put the paper down and was just staring out toward Thompson Island (little spit of land with the trees in the center-left of the photo).

At first I couldn't tell if it was a breeze or maybe a small bird in the distance, but there seemed to be something out on the water.  I went in for more coffee and brought the binoculars out.

A little hard to tell but not likely a bird.  It was swimming toward us though.

Beth had the binoculars and said "I think that is a beaver, look can you see a flat tail?"

We do have beavers along River Section Two.  I've seen comically-perfect chewed tree stumps and beaver dams in some of the back water sections off the Hudson, like below, upriver from our house.

The orange vests say "GE HR," human resources or Hudson River?
The day was waiting and soon we were off.  The next morning we were on the front porch, facing the river, having our morning routine and Eagle Eye Beth saw something in the tall grass by the river deck:
"Peek-a-boo": Cleaver the Beaver comes for a visit.
With her encouragement -- "it doesn't seem afraid" -- I went and got a camera and took this picture.  It was very cool to imagine a beaver swimming across the river and coming up our hill (we are probably about 20 feet above the actual river)!

To be sure what we had, Beth was "internetting" beaver info.  A lot of surprising and nice info popped up. click here

"Beavers are more than intriguing animals with flat tails and lustrous fur. American Indians called the beaver the 'sacred center' of the land because this species creates such rich, watery habitat for other mammals, fish, turtles, frogs, birds and ducks. We now know that beaver damming provides essential natural services for people too.

"Beavers prefer to dam streams in shallow valleys, where the flooded area becomes productive wetlands.These cradles of life support biodiversity that rivals tropical rain forests. Almost half of endangered and threatened species in North America rely upon wetlands. Freshwater wetlands have been rated as the world's most valuable land-based ecosystem.
Helpful and naughty!

"Beavers reliably and economically maintain wetlands that sponge up floodwaters, alleviate droughts and floods (because their dams keep water on the land longer), lesson erosion, raise the water table and act as the 'earth's kidneys' to purify water. The latter occurs because several feet of silt collect upstream of older beaver dams, and toxics, such as pesticides, are broken down by microbes in the wetlands that beavers create. Thus, water downstream of dams is cleaner and requires less treatment for human use."

Wow!  All that without a graduate degree from Cornell!

And Dr. Donald Griffin, the father of animal cognition, has said, "When we think of the kinds of animal behavior that suggest conscious thinking, the beaver comes naturally to mind."

We even learned that beavers are seen as "gentle, reasoning beings who enjoy playing practical jokes. An [American] Indian word for 'beaver-like' also means "affable.'"

So, as a part of our celebration of the Fourth of July, Beth and I added Beaver Appreciation.  Apparently -- on a per-pound basis -- castor canadensis is doing more than its share to clean up our Hudson River!

America the Beautiful, pretty "great" after all these years.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Walkway Across the Hudson: Flow River, Flow

Good Morning Gina,

Yesterday Beth and I drove to the Mid-Hudson region to visit the FDR Library and the Walkway Over the Hudson.  A great trip: a fun day together, good exploring, and very educational!

After spending the afternoon at the FDR Museum we both agreed on the importance of knowing history and understanding context as we shape our judgments and opinions.

The Walkway experience was a wonderful combination of "adaptive reuse" (of an old railroad bridge, now used for education and recreation), industrial archaeology, and environmental insights.

We are game!
Walking way above water!
The Walkway is 1.2 miles across the Hudson just north of Poughkeepsie.  There are "info-tainment" placards placed at regular intervals along the railing, including celebratory "River Reborn" images:

Do not eat any of this!
No one is a bigger booster of River Power than me but, jeeze, come on, we are far from being able to declare the "river reborn," as these posters state.

In fact, I found these facts on the EPA website.

We all agree this is an important clean-up project.  The very fact so much has been done is a testimony to that.

The goal cannot be 100% PCB-free.  

That is unrealistic.  

But -- if we know that hundreds of thousands of pounds of PCBs remain in the Hudson we must know where they are -- we can and must do better.


Flow River, Flow: our "front yard" in Northumberland last night

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Drivers 1, Drinkers 0: Ask a Millennial

A big news morning, Gina:

Why is Sally smiling?
Wow.  I guess those clever "riggers" over in Wolfsburg are smarting these days.  Doing the right thing sometimes has win-win positives. 

What a smart, good move on the part of Perdue chickens.  Betting Millennials will pay a little more for pampered chicken meat, the company is making life (and death) a lot nicer for chicks.

Chicken playground?

Now, flipping mental channels, we can return to Upstate New York:

"I'll 'buy' GE any day over VW," duh!

tick, tock; tick, tock....
Again and again we are reminded of the PR-politics of restitution and remediation.

VW owners get $5,100 to $10,000 and Hoosick Falls gets...?

Drivers 1, Drinkers 0
...and the Mighty Hudson flows on.  Let's "do a Perdue": get the job done right.  That's mission-fulfillment, promotes health, and feels good.

Just ask a Millennial.