Unbecoming conduct...

...in Tompkins County, NY. Are you tired of this yet?

     On October 19, the Dryden Town Board admitted that a fraudulent document was submitted to the Town Clerk in July 2013.  The document, created by the Town planner, was approved and co-signed by Town Supervisor Mary Ann Sumner (D-Dryden).  It was discovered because the Town Clerk’s office spotted its unusual character; there was no Board vote approving it and it was pre-dated 2012.  The Town Planner’s employment was ended, the Board voting in public session, 4-1 (Supervisor Sumner alone voting no, against termination).  No action was taken regarding Supervisor Sumner’s own involvement in the fraud.  At an October 17 public meeting, questioned about this, Sumner dismissed her role as minor.  She never explained why she signed a pre-dated document that did not show Board approval.  Sumner refuses to take responsibility for the fraudulent document she approved and co-signed and now seeks another term.
     During 2011, the Town Board of Newfield, discovered that Newfield’s employee withholding taxes had not been paid for months; $30,000 was missing; workers’ compensation premiums were double paid, costing Newfield about $12,000; and Supervisor Richard Driscoll (D-Newfield) by his own admission received unemployment benefits, while drawing a Town salary (legally disqualifying).  The Board requested a New York State audit with both Democrat board members voting against seeking the audit.  Driscoll took no responsibility, claiming that the problems were due to bookkeeping.  The $30,000 was never found.  For Driscoll’s failure to timely pay IRS and NY employees’ withholding taxes, the Town was subjected to $14,867 in interest and penalties.  Driscoll also used Town credit cards for personal bills, repaying the Town only when caught.  Yet, the Democrats re-nominated Driscoll for another term.
      In 2012, Tompkins County Legislator Martha Robertson (D-Dryden) was not elected to the position of Legislative Chair until January 17.  But, Robertson accepted Chairperson’s pay from January 1 to January 17, a period when another legislator performed Chairperson duties.  Only when confronted did Robertson consider repayment.  Even if repaid, this would not excuse taking pay not earned.  In 2012, Robertson redirected $17,000 taxpayer dollars to paint the shoulders of Ellis Hollow Road green to calm traffic (ineffectively) in front of her own home.  In 2013, Robertson, without evidence, falsely accused Congressman Tom Reed (R-Corning) of having Republican operatives hack her website, to induce campaign contributions, raising a federal wire fraud issue.  Robertson, running for another four year legislative term in 2013, has already begun campaigning for Reed’s seat in Congress in 2014.
      Do these problems go beyond these Democrat office holders? Are these incidents a pattern of incompetence, untrustworthiness, and disdain for the voters by Democrat officeholders throughout Tompkins County?  In the November 5 election, voters should turn out of office people who have been shown untrustworthy, incompetent and who refuse to take responsibility for their own actions.  As President Harry Truman (D) said, “the buck stops here”.  It is time to end whitewashes and cover ups and to elect competent people who will honor the people with honesty in office, providing open and transparent government.
                                        James Drader
                                        Chairman, Tompkins County Republican Committee

Protection racket

Painting of Dryden, NY:

Well, some people consider Dryden the Garden of Eden.  This guest viewpoint appeared in the Ithaca Journal recently:

On a cold and sunny day, I enjoy the peace winter seems to bring. The glistening of sunlight on the new-fallen snow is a welcome sight. As I walk out to feed the goats, I chuckle at the cat as she backtracks to the barn in the same prints she left as she trotted out to meet me. I gaze around at the blue sky, breathe the clean air and exhale a sigh of relief.
My town is abundantly blessed and ever thankful for our ban on fracking. A ban means I will be able to keep good health, finish the home I began building and resume investing in my community. Without a ban, the effects of fracking would have forced me to move. My American dream will remain intact. I won’t be forced to give up my gas rights by compulsory integration, or forced out by eminent domain.
I conducted thousands of hours of independent study and traveled the country to investigate the far-reaching effects of fracking. A process of extreme extractive mining is eating up rural America’s food producing farmlands like Pac-Man. In New York, enormous scale is planned, conquering entire regions of peaceful rural neighborhoods filled with unsuspecting residents, unaware of industrial takeover. Knowing neighboring wells will likely ruin the farm I was raised on leaves me sleepless.
Each phase of extreme extraction brings a certainty of pollution, damage and a measure of high-risk chemical exposure.
I grew up in Greene, in the so-called “sacrifice zone.” Industry cannot restrain toxic air nor confine the damages to only the drill pad. Neighboring dairies and croplands will be exposed to lethal venting causing air pollution. My hometown remains a target without a protective ban and can suffer from drilling upstream, beyond its borders. My friend, biologist Sandra Steingraber, teaches that the known effects of environmental illnesses and cancers produced by fracking pads are unacceptable.
Cornell engineer Tony Ingraffea states that 6 percent of all horizontal gas wells leak initially; all eventually fail. Fracking produces billions of gallons of chemical and radioactive waste stored in injection wells. No monetary fine can cover the incalculable collective toll to health, air, water and farming that fracking produces.
The Marcellus shale is not a viable source of fuel according to the evidence provided by scientists to New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation detailing costs. The DEC’s mission is to ensure a healthy environment and also to exploit natural resources, an inherent conflict.
Americans from Wyoming, Texas, Colorado and Pennsylvania are sharing their experiences; New Yorkers are acting. A tenacious Ron Gulla shouted at EPA, “Is Pennsylvania worth fighting for? Yes! Worth dying for? Hell, yes! But not from a glass of water!”
The Community Environmental Defense Counsel of Ithaca helps towns protect their schools, parks and cemeteries from fracking. The people of Greene are unprotected. Coming together can save a town; silence results industry takeover. Action by a small group of residents to proclaim their community be protected by law from industrial takeover is now critical to keep Greene clean. The Trojans should mount up.

But not everyone wants another's world view imposed on them in the guise of protection from threat, real or imagined.  For Henry Kramer, freedom trumps "protection":
In her February 15 guest column, DRAC member Joanne Cipolla-Dennis recites the most extreme claims made by energy development opponents as facts, rather than opinions.  This is the “big lie technique,” if you repeat allegations often enough as fact people believe them.
Regarding the “big lie” see Mein Kampf, “In the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily ….  They would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.”
Cipolla-Dennis lauds the Town of Dryden for “protecting Dryden” and enforcing the type of town and life style Cipolla-Dennis loves.  But not all of us want or need to be “protected,” nor do we share Cipolla-Dennis’ pessimistic view of development and change.  We prefer to have freedom of choice of action on what we do and how we live, without being “protected” and stripped of our freedoms via Dryden enacting Cipolla-Dennis’ world view into law.
Cipolla-Dennis overlooks individual freedom and individual rights to choose how to live and how to husband one’s own property.  Anti-frackers say they favor “home rule,” yet stop the principle of home rule at the town board level.  Why should a town board make decisions for all residents and landowners?  What special expertise do town boards have?  Why shouldn’t each home owner be free to make individual decisions on issues on which the public in our state is about evenly divided?
Sadly, many of the people who would ban energy development, keep it out of their own back yard, and deplore everything about it, still use its products.  Until they abandon the use of all fossil fuels, including gasoline, and live off the grid, they are morally bound to bear their share of the risks of production.
The Dryden Safe Energy Coalition supports energy development with careful safeguards.  Development is not risk free.  But, development offers a chance for high paying jobs, capital for land rich but cash poor farmers, new tax base to support and improve our schools, and perhaps most critically energy independence for our nation, freeing us from potential wars and being beholden to other countries. Why is it that anti-frackers rarely consider or admit there can be any positives from development?  We at DSEC thinks risks can be safely managed, but DRAC seems to admit no positive values in development.  A sense of balance is needed.
It should not take five years to determine the safety of fracking.  Fracking at vertical wells has been done in NY for decades and at horizontal wells in other states for years.  It is not for more information we delay, but to kill development.  Meanwhile NY residents, among the highest taxed in the nation, lack new sources of revenue to pay for our safety nets.

Freedom is precious.  “Protecting Dryden” is a code phrase covering another transfer of power to government.  Choose freedom over “protection.”

Thelma and Louise discuss the fiscal cliff

No, wait...it's Dora and Peregrina in an earnest tête-à-tête whilst simultaneously having coffee and their hair done (bet you didn't know you could do that at the Queen Diner—don't let the health department in on it.).  

Are you frustrated by the all the fiscal cliff talk?  So's Dora.  As always, the old gal makes a lot of sense.

Going Over the Cliff
“Are you happy with the direction the Republican Party is taking on the fiscal cliff?” my friend Peregrina asked me as we had coffee at the Queen Diner in Dryden. I had to admit I am not.
We agreed that a status quo election in which the popular vote split almost in the middle and which gave continued control of the House to the Republicans by a large margin was no mandate for the President’s radical income redistribution or grow government schemes.  Contrary to media claims, the Republican Party is not dead or even moribund.  About two-thirds of the states have Republican governors.  Even residents of the City of Ithaca have a Republican representative-elect now.  Yet, the Republican Party is suffering from a kind of sickness in which many Republicans neither speak out proudly for our basic principles nor vote on election day.
Now I’ve been a registered Republican since I turned 21, 67 years ago, and was eligible to vote (yes, they made you wait until 21 back then).  The main thing I like about the Party is its fiscal conservatism though that has been much lacking among some Republicans of late.
Ronald Reagan, bless his soul, said that he had not left the Democrat Party, it had left him.  I’m now beginning to feel the same way about the Grand Old Party (GOP).  In Washington, numerous “Republican” office holders have been talking compromise on basic fiscal principles.  Compromise works when the other side is genuinely interested in reaching a viable solution, but you can’t negotiate with people like the President who think it must be their way “or the highway.” Merely kicking the problem down the road or supplying our ever growing government with more funds just won’t work nor can we keep borrowing forty cents of every dollar we spend.
You can’t solve an overspending habit by borrowing, you have to do it by tightening your belt, Peregrina agreed.  Imagine a family, she suggested, that makes $60,000 a year but spends $100,000 every year.  How?  By borrowing money from banks, maxing out credit cards, and using friends and relatives year after year.  Sooner or later, the house foreclosed, bankruptcy filed, overspending must stop.
So, I’ve voted for Republicans only to see that when they get to Washington they get infected with “going along to get along” and to see them abandon the basic Republican principles of smaller government and lower taxes.  Sadly, they no longer feel willing to stand up and speak out for fiscal sanity.  They become “me too” Democrats, always wanting to spend more and to solve all problems with government “solutions.”
There is no such thing as a free lunch.  Common sense says that whatever we spend must be paid for by someone.  The taxing the rich mantra espoused locally by such voices as Barbara Lifton just cannot work.  Why not?  Because the rich just aren’t rich enough.  The tax increases sought by the President from successful people would only bring in about forty billion dollars a year, enough to run the government for little more than a week. Presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan lowered taxes and found lower taxes actually mean higher government revenues and prosperity for the American people.  Franklin Roosevelt raised taxes during a depression and got a longer depression. Yet the class warfare advocates continue to assault success and make it more difficult though the revenue that can be raised is merely politically symbolic and not meaningful.  They ignore the facts and follow a false dream.
But the problem isn’t revenues, it is spending.  Government is simply too big.  Some Republicans go to Washington to cut its size and end up increasing it.  That won’t do.
So, what must happen?  Statist Republicans and taxing Republicans must be given fiscally conservative and committed primary opponents.  We must confront our Republican office holders and let them know they will have internal party opposition if they persist.  We must get them to adhere to principle.  Or, we Republicans must turn to and work with the more committed Tea Party folks in trying to take back the Republican Party.
UPDATE:  I guess great minds really do think alike  wink

The Cassandra Problem

There's a local prophet(ess)—that's a portrait of her tearing her hair out over there on the right—who wrote the following regarding zoning in Dryden in 2010.  It was based on the (then) Amended Zoning Law, revised draft, of September, 2009:

The scope and control the Town would assume over private property owners goes far beyond health and safety and well into social engineering...

...Part of the "character of Dryden" has been that its town government was "minimalist," and apart from providing basic town services, left its residents alone. That is part of the "character" that has made Dryden attractive.  That part of character would be lost as the Town moves into comprehensive socially driven zoning, recreation, and other activities that enlarge Town government...

...this level of planning is unnecessary, adds to New York's passion to overregulate, and will be costly to administer, hence demanding even higher taxes...

...It appears government would like to shape and control how Dryden develops to make its tasks easier and to fit the social mode some residents prefer.  But government is supposed to serve public needs, not direct them...

So, while a lot of time in the last year has been spent arguing back and forth over nitty-gritty details of the new zoning law, the real problem was that the Town's entire approach was—dare we say it so baldly?—just plain wrong.

And, as it's turned out, none of the recent suggested changes that might have made the new law at least somewhat less of an overreach were adopted in the final version that was passed by the town board last week.

Not really surprising.  At this point, we'll don our preferred chapeau

and remind you of where the kind of thinking demonstrated by the Town originates. Watch the PowerPoint presentation—it's still news to many people in Central New York, but will sound distressingly familiar to many others.

Beware, other towns and municipalities...don't say Cassandra didn't warn you:

Hold yer water

We just received the Redneck Mansion water & sewer bill for the quarter.  Down towards the bottom of the bill is a statement: "Your neighbors in the town average 11,900 gallons /quarter."

Well, we're breaking our arms patting ourselves on tha back since we don't use nearly that much water because, as everyone knows, rednecks don't shower, shave, brush their teeth, or flush the commode.

But that's neither here nor there.

It did remind us, though, of a recent Freakonomics podcast entitled, "Riding the herd mentality."  You can listen to the podcast here, but the gist is that it's about "how peer pressure – and good, old-fashioned shame – can push people to do the right thing."

Of course, another method of pushing the great unwashed to do the right thing is the proper kind of zoning, as Alice discovered in Zoningland a while ago...but we digress.

The problem with relying on peer pressure and shame is that people can be exceptionally creative when it comes to avoiding doing the right thing.

To wit:

...in west Texas...a severe drought forced people to cut down on their water use. At least they were supposed to cut down — but those lush green lawns that some Texans were used to don’t just get green on their own...
Local talk-show host Robert Hallmark remarks on the invocation of the Slip 'n Slide Rule:
HALLMARK: The Slip ‘n Slide Rule was that you could operate a Slip ‘n Slide in your front yard for the kids anytime you wanted to. Now you know as well as I do a Slip ‘n Slide is nothing but a water hose with holes in it. It is just pouring water out onto the lawn. So we determined how much it would cost to hire kids to stand in your yard in a bathing suit just so you could water your yard.
Somehow all that good old-fashioned American ingenuity, though, has to get stoppered up or people will just keep on not doing the right thing, dag nabbit!
Enter John Roberts, Esq., and the concept of mandating behavior whilst seeming not to mandate behavior, and all by the fiendishly simple (not to mention revenue-producing) technique of imposing a tax—you know, just to get people to do "the right thing."
Shades of BF Skinner?

Home Sweet Home

 Home Rule Should Mean Home Rule

While having coffee with my friend Peregrina at the Dunkin Donuts in Dryden, we began discussing “home rule.”  As many Dryden residents know, the Town has invoked “home rule” as the basis for its recent ban on hydraulic fracturing, a claim that is still under review in the courts.
The discussion soon turned to what is the appropriate level of government or geographical grouping to exercise “home rule.”  Why would the best level be the Town or the County?  Then we realized that town and county boundaries are fairly arbitrary, set by geographical accident or the state legislature a long time ago.  As we learned with redistricting, the grouping of people can be changed and which group people are placed in will have a lot to do with how “home rule” really works.  People tend to favor “home rule” when their party rules, sometimes not realizing that power can shift and “home rule” can become very unattractive to them when it does. Take for example people who enjoyed being represented by very liberal Maurice Hinchey who now find themselves in a district with an incumbent Republican Congressman, Tom Reed, which has a thirty thousand registration advantage for Republicans.
Then it occurred to us that “home rule” should best be vested in what it says, the home.  That is, the individual homeowner, each allowed “home rule” by making her or his own choice.  But, as Peregrina pointed out, with the current ban, “home rule” is moved to the entire town level, as exercised by some elected officials, so is not “home rule” at all, but rather “rule over the homes.”
If the principle being served with “home rule” is to bring the decisions to the lowest and best possible level, why not the homeowner level?  What is sacred about the town level?  If it is not the home, could this not be the County, the region, or even the entire state?  If the level is to be the “best level,” why isn’t it the one with the best expertise and the time and money to analyze the problem?  If individual freedom is the goal, then the individual homeowner would seem the best level.  But, the town would seem to be neither the lowest or best level.
Before we broke up our coffee meeting, we decided that we too favor “home rule,” but not “home rule” for government, rather “home rule” for individuals, making decisions for themselves.  That is true “home rule.”

Dora Dogood on Dryden, zoning, and freedom

Although, "Dryden, zoning, and freedom" may be a contradiction in terms.

By the way, the public hearing on the proposed changes to the Dryden zoning ordinance is Wednesday, June 27th, at 7:30pm in the town hall. The draft zoning amendments may be viewed here. The draft subdivision law is here. The zoning map is here.


A few days ago, I read that the Town of Dryden is having a public hearing on its expanded zoning ordinance proposal in a few weeks.  Yesterday, I was having coffee at the Dryden Hotel with my friend Molly who was visiting from the Village of Massapequa Park, Long Island.  On June 11, her village board unanimously enacted a plan to fine homeowners up to $10,000 --- for letting their property get shabby.  Molly said home and business owners now face up to five-figure fines and fifteen days in jail for such maintenance issues as overgrown lawns, broken windows and graffiti.  Other local governments, including the nearby Town of Brookhaven, are considering similar measures.  Mount Pleasant, S.C. and the Birmingham, Alabama suburb of Pelham also enforce local ordinances pertaining to unfavorable appearances at buildings or establishments.
Molly quoted from the Massapequa law, “The Village finds that the presence of blight upon properties … is detrimental to the health, safety and welfare of the Village.   It is the intent, therefore, of the Village that blight be identified, abated and eliminated …. ”  Owners have ten days to comply with a village order to rectify conditions at their premises before fines are imposed.  First-time offenders for violations like broken outdoor lighting fixtures or fallen trees can lead to fines of up to $1,000, and subsequent offenses can lead to fines as high as $10,000 and up to fifteen days in jail.   What I do know is that one person’s blight can be another person’s beauty.  Who decides what is blight?
I was wondering if this could really happen, so when I got home I did some research.  I found that at least two people this year have spent time behind bars for failure to maintain their properties.  In January, a woman in Mount Pleasant, S.C., was sentenced to ten days in jail after failing to pay a $480 fine for a having a messy yard.  A Florida man was reportedly sentenced to a year and one day in jail after he failed to remove junk from his front yard.
So, how does all this relate to Dryden and its expanded zoning code?  Ordinances like the one in Massapequa are the end product of where zoning may lead.  Can it happen here?  Maybe in won’t, but sure, it can.  I don’t much like properties without curb appeal, with grass that’s somewhat too long, or which don’t get painted.  But, I don’t put my neighbors in jail for these things.  What about the person on a limited fixed income who can’t afford to paint or is physically unable to mow?
But mostly, I asked myself what right do the neighbors or the town have to tell other people how to live?  And, just what is “shabby”?  Years ago, I was a renter for a time.  The landlord demanded certain things.  When I became a homeowner it was to get away from having others tell me what I must do.
Certainly, the good people on the Dryden Town Board will tell me not to worry, they won’t abuse their zoning powers to the same extent as Massapequa.  Perhaps they won’t, but the citizens of Dryden should not be dependent on their good will.  When you give up rights, you eventually learn that you have lost your freedoms.  The new Dryden zoning plan and the vast areas slated to be in “Critical” Environmental Areas are cause for concern.
What Massapequa teaches us is that we must go to the public hearings and let our office holders know we don’t want government taking over control of more and more of our lives.  I’m 88 years old and I worry for our children and grandchildren.  Will they live in a world where the prior generations have eroded their freedoms because they thought things like zoning were “little things?”  Inch by inch, foot by foot, our freedoms erode if we don’t fight for them.

Dora Dogood strikes again!

Haven't heard from the old battleaxe dear in a while. Turns out she's been taking a few turns in her Sopwith Camel.  

In this essay, Dora makes Hallmark's Maxine


look like



A few days ago, I was sitting in Dryden’s Queen Diner having coffee, reading my copy of the ever shrinking Ithaca Journal.  There, I learned that not only was our county legislature about to vote on the minimum wage but that it was also considering a vote on an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to withdraw person status from corporations.  This last item led me to almost choke on my coffee.  It should have been in the comics section.
Indeed, it would be humorous, if it was not so sad, to see a local government body concerning itself with an amendment of that type.  I hope we all learned in social studies classes what it takes to pass a constitutional amendment, a two-thirds vote of each house of Congress and ratification by three-quarters of the states.  This process is so rigorous that while many amendments have been introduced, very few have been adopted.  That’s for good reason, tampering with our constitution for any but the most serious reasons is at best unwise, at worst likely to be foolish.  As a practical matter, such voting by our county legislature is a total waste of time and resources, a blatant political statement, that will be dead on arrival wherever it is sent. And, we’re actually paying them to pretend to work on our behalf.
Thinking back to the last election of county board members about three years ago, I cannot remember anyone questioning candidates on their views about the American constitution or anyone voting to give them the power to speak for county residents on constitutional law.  Perhaps my memory has lapsed now that I’ve reached age 88, but I think not.
Have Albany and Washington been abolished?  Are we unrepresented there?  Have Jim Seward, Richard Hanna, Tom O’Mara, and Mike Nazzolio gone home?  A quick check on my iPhone said they are still in office.  But what do we need them for when we have Martha Robertson and her dwarfs to vote on these issues?
If a corporation wasn’t a person, who could we sue if wronged?  What would happen to the investments that support our pensions, including a lot of stock?  Who would risk their money by putting it into a non-entity?  It would be nice if occasionally people who come up with schemes like corporate non-personhood would think about where their proposals would take us.  Perhaps I’m expecting too much when asking people to think.
Local power grabs... For most of my long lifetime, local governments including our Dryden and county governments stuck to what local governments do best, mostly roads and a bit of public safety.  They checked on septic systems and made sure they met public health needs.  But, they did not vote on banning activities they didn’t like, far reaching zoning and environmental controls, minimum wages, or constitutional amendments.  Now, we have “home rule,” which means local officials erode our rights, take away our choices, and enact local laws about matters they haven’t the first clue about. Government of the uninformed, by the uninformed, and for the uniformed, where the loudest voice gets served and fears rather than information rule.

I’ll inevitably be “checking out” before too many more years.  What will happen to my children, grandchildren and beyond, I dread, particularly if they choose to live in this area.  Enough said, I’m off to do some flying.  Aerobatics, if mishandled, are a good way to realize how short life can be.
Town of Dryden

Cows in Time Square

No, not like this:

Like this:

Dryden Dairy Day is once again offering the opportunity for the community to show it’s support of dairy farming and agriculture by decorating a cow.  Dryden Dairy Day will be held in Mongtomery Park on June 9th, and the beautiful bovines will be on display in Time Square and around town during the week leading up to the event.  
If you are one of the lucky owners of a cow from past years, touch her up and put her on display starting June 1.  Let the theme, “Dairy Around The World” guide your creative energy!  New cows will be available for $20.  A limited number (first come, first served) can be picked up at Back To Basics after May 1.  You can contact Kim Schenck, 844-4143, 423-9694, schenckk@gjrmail.com to reserve a cow.  
Limited space will be available in Time Square.  If you would like to display your cow at this location, drop her off on June 1 between 4:00 and 6:00 p.m.  Members of the committee will be on hand to help set her up so she looks her best.  You may also display your cow at a location of your choice around town.  Please pick up or take down your cow, at the location of the display, on June 11.  Cows displayed on private property may remain up at the discretion of the owner.
These beautiful bovines are a great way to increase visibility for your group, organization or business. The Dairy Day committee requests that all cows are decorated in a style to support the theme of the event, and/or portrays a positive image of agriculture.

Dryden: It's spelled H-U-B-R-I-S

We can argue endlessly about what effect low voter turnout rates have on the concept of "majority rule"—is the majority even really a majority the way most people understand the term?—but there's no doubt that one of the driving forces behind the construction of the US Constitution was protecting the rights of the minority from the "tyranny of the 51%".

And the founders viewed the protection of property rights as integral to protecting against tyranny—John Adams wrote, "Property must be secured or liberty cannot exist."

But as time has passed and people have forgotten or just never learned about why we fought a war of independence and composed the Constitution, and as the politics of envy has come to dominate politics in the US, property rights have been under attack.

Dryden is just the rest of the country writ small.  There's a story to tell here, a cautionary tale.

First, some background...

About a dozen years ago, 58 sites within the Town of Dryden, encompassing over 10,000 acres or a little less than 17% of the town, were designated Unique Natural Areas (UNAs).  These were "sites with outstanding environmental qualities, as defined by the Tompkins County Environmental Management Council, that are deserving of special attention for preservation and protection." The original county-wide inventory of UNA sites started out as a master's thesis at Cornell in 1976 and was added to over the years until it became an official county and town designation around 2000. Affected landowners were contacted by the town and the sites visited to make sure that landowners were on board with the process of UNA designation.

Over 30 years ago (about the same time Earth Day was invented and those UNAs were being inventoried for a Cornell master's thesis), NYS DEC created a designation called a Critical Environmental Area or CEA:

To be designated as a CEA, an area must have an exceptional or unique character with respect to one or more of the following:

a benefit or threat to human health;
a natural setting (e.g., fish and wildlife habitat, forest and vegetation, open space and areas of important aesthetic or scenic quality);
agricultural, social, cultural, historic, archaeological, recreational, or educational values; or
an inherent ecological, geological or hydrological sensitivity to change that may be adversely affected by any change.

Pretty vague…almost anything could be designated a CEA.


Following designation, the potential impact of any Type I or Unlisted Action on the environmental characteristics of the CEA is a relevant area of environmental concern and must be evaluated in the determination of significance prepared pursuant to Section 617.7 of SEQR (State Environmental Quality Review).


Type I actions meet or exceed thresholds listed in the statewide or agency SEQR regulations. These are likely to require preparation of an EIS (Environmental Impact Statement). Some examples:

nonresidential projects physically altering 10 or more acres of land
zoning changes affecting 25 or more acres

Type I actions do not always require an EIS.


Unlisted actions do not meet the Type I thresholds but some may still require an EIS. Some examples:

nonresidential projects physically altering less than 10 acres of land
adoption of regulations, ordinances, local laws and resolutions that may affect the environment

Despite the crunchy granola origins of all this back in the 70s and early 80s, when you might have thought that everyone in the state would have been jumping on the CEA bandwagon, CEA designations are actually fairly rare…until Dryden.  

There are 62 counties in NYS; only 28 of those counties have CEAs within their boundaries. Half of those 28 counties, including Tompkins County, have only one CEA currently designated. The big winner (if you can call it that) in the CEA contest is Suffolk County on Long Island with 46, next are Dutchess and Westchester with 34 apiece. The remaining counties have between one and eight CEAs.

The Town of Dryden wants to designate 35 CEAs within town limits (there is only one CEA currently designated in the rest of the county, in the Town of Ithaca), which would encompass about 62% of the surface area of the town. CEA boundaries were presented as being carefully thought out and having some demonstrable reason for being drawn where they were. 

Dryden Town Council, an elected board consisting of the town supervisor and 4 councilpersons, has a few unelected, unpaid advisory boards to assist them, including a Conservation Board and a Planning Board—that's in addition to a paid town Planning Department consisting of a planning director and five additional staff members…this in a 95-square-mile town with a population of 14,400, about 1/4 of whom are children.

Because of the agricultural nature of the town, when the town comprehensive plan was being adopted in 2005, it was recommended that one of the advisory boards be an agriculture board.  It has yet to exist, although at a March 2012 town council meeting, names and résumés of members of the ag community willing to serve on such a board were presented to the council.  It was suggested that the new ag board be charged with reviewing CEAs and that nothing final happen on CEAs until the ag board had reviewed them.

So where are we right now?

As understanding spread of what owning property (and I now use that phrase advisedly) within a CEA might entail—SEQRs, EISs, special use permit applications—so did pushback.  After public resistance took various forms including attendance and speaking at town council meetings, the whole CEA document was sent back from the town council to the conservation board (CB) for more work. Unlike UNA designations years ago, CEA boundaries had been drawn up without consultation with the affected landowners; it now sounded as though the CB would be reviewing the CEAs a few at a time, but this time in consultation with the landowners involved, on a CEA-by-CEA basis.

Ummm…not so much.

What has become apparent in correspondence between the planning department and the CB is this:
  • There is no intention of changing the number of CEAs or the amount of acreage in the town that will be designated as CEA property. The idea is simply to strengthen the existing CEA document against well-founded attacks from those with the audacity to question "authority."
  • Changes might be made to some CEAs but the changes would be superficial rather than substantive…just enough to hopefully hoodwink the hoi polloi.
  • Weekly meetings of the CB will occur with CEAs being "reviewed" in clumps of 5, so as to turn over each batch to the town council for rubber-stamping and sending on to DEC before the seating of any agricultural advisory board could take place.
  • In fact, there never was any intention of letting landowners have a say in the completion of this process, a process now intended to be finished within two months.
  • Why the increased sense of urgency on the part of the CB and the town council? A member of the CB said at their March meeting that they could not allow the DEC to issue its final findings on permitting drilling in NYS—thereby possibly thwarting the town's plans—before the Dryden CEA designation process was done.
  • CEA boundary designations are in fact arbitrary and based on what "feels good" to the board rather than based on a process that is well-defined and reproducible from proposed CEA to proposed CEA.
  • In the planner's opinion, all lands bordering a CEA will be considered an automatic buffer zone. Some townspeople had said that they thought the entire town should be designated a CEA. Sounds as though this is a step in that direction.
  • Rather than sitting down with affected landowners to discuss the designation of their property as a CEA, the town will "attempt" to send landowners a notice of a relevant CB meeting or a public hearing.
Even DEC in a sort of bizarre way recognized that the very designation they created was in fact a problem:
14. Can reviews of actions involving CEAs be managed to avoid creating undue hardships?
…A community or agency can help reduce hardships that may be associated with the existence of a CEA if they critically evaluate the size and boundaries of the CEA when it is being drafted.

This isn't about protecting the environment.  It's not about pine trees and salamanders—it's about control.

Renters may find that their landlords are unable to make changes to their property that would in fact benefit them, the tenants. Farmers end up being sharecroppers who have to ask permission of "massa" in order to do perfectly reasonable things that would not have required town involvement before.

Not only have subsurface rights been stolen by a drilling ban, now surface rights are being taken as well.

But—you still have the right to pay taxes.

If you don't think all this is a problem, go read up on "unlisted actions" and "SEQRs" and the like.  The town will say that this is a tempest in a teapot—that if your property is in a CEA and you want to make changes to it, all the CEA designation will do is trigger a SEQR…an invitation, if you will, to DEC to take a closer look.  No big deal…nothing to see here, move along…pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.  


Think of the paperwork, the money, the crazymaking interminable reviews that will be necessary that hadn't been necessary before.  And all so that you can do perfectly reasonable things—maybe, if you're given permission—on what you thought was property that you owned.  

Silly you.  

John Adams also wrote, "The moment the idea is admitted into society that property is not as sacred as the laws of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence. If `Thou shalt not covet' and `Thou shalt not steal' were not commandments of Heaven, they must be made inviolable precepts in every society before it can be civilized or made free."

The arrogance of these people is just stunning.



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