Monday, June 14, 2010

Assemblywoman Hooper Endorses the Incinerator

As reported yesterday by The Weekly Freeporter, I was contacted by our Mayor Andrew Hardwick, himself. He informed me, unequivocally, "No matter what is posted and said online, I am confirming that there will be no waste to energy facility in the Village of Freeport." Residents rejoiced that the dreaded incinerator thesis was reduced to ash.

And then, as reported and circulated by multiple Facebook groups, a Freeport resident received a letter on official letterhead from Assemblywoman Earlene Hooper. The Weekly Freeporter has obtained her permission to reprint the letter, but as a preface - today is Monday, meaning the letter was sent well before Mr. Hardwick's letter to me was received. What follows are scans of those letters - click on them and they will appear full-size.

Now, as the letter is pretty long, I'm not going to provide a cut-and-paste copy. I will, however, highlight a few key notes before I provide an assessment of the proceedings.

One: The letter is un-dated - a rather unprofessional fact! However, it references the BP oil spill, which began on April 20th. Therefore, this letter clearly does not date back before that. A hand-written note at the end offers an apology for a delay in the letter's dispatching, meaning that there is some room for the information within it to be outdated.

Two: The letter is does not speak on behalf of Andrew Hardwick, although the Assemblywoman makes an effort to tell the recipient that they may call the Mayor at will, and that Channel 18 will provide more information on this issue. She also states that Mayor Hardwick "will" take certain steps to make progress on this issue, but more on that...Now:

Three: Most notably, the Assemblywoman does not mention any concrete steps that have been taken to construct an incinerator thusfar, but -does- mention the ones "will be" taking. "The Mayor will be appointing a community advisory team to assist in the plans, ideas, and suggestions as he moves toward a Request for Proposal (RFP) to assure tax-payer input. He will also include the Board of Trustees in any and all decisions pursuant to this matter."

Why is three the most important segment of this letter? Without attempting to psychoanalyze what Mrs. Hooper expects others to do and what she "really" knows is going on, it states the current progress on this issue - there is, still, no proposal for an incinerator. There has not even been a request for one, and Trustee Kennedy made very clear that without a proposal there is only speculation.

More to the point: With the proposal comes technical documents, and with that comes on-the-record specifications about what a plant will and will not do. This information can be analyzed by independent specialists and laymen alike, including the administration itself and administrations from other political entities (Rockville Center, Merrick, etc). Once analyzed, the health and environmental impacts can be determined far more accurately, and a logical judgment about whether or not this project is "safe" can be made. Until there is a proposal, there is no way to know precisely what will be employed - although it is entirely fair to use other, comparable facilities the world over as a general guideline.

Now, The Weekly Freeporter has no objections to virtually any business coming in and making a proposal. If a chemical corporation wishes to propose a facility in the Industrial area, or if a small-business entrepreneur wishes to build an indoor paintball arena (Hint, hint...), that is perfectly fine with this publication. There is no reason not to propose something, because to say an idea is "off limits" is fundamentally unsound. Who decides what is off limits? Why? What -isn't- off limits? All of these questions and more make it impossible for us to state that nobody should make a proposal.

Here's the rub: With residents clearly opposed to even the thought of a waste-to-energy project in Freeport, why would anyone produce the RFP that Assemblywoman Hooper seems to believe the Mayor will? He has not, as of yet; and, based solely on the face-value of his letter to this publication yesterday, he will not be doing so. The simple answer is that Assemblywoman Hooper has failed to do her research - there are entire civic organizations in Freeport (The "Protecting Freeport Coalition" being only one) opposed to this idea. There are more complicated hypothesis floating around, but speculation about this issue is pointless until there is hard evidence to discuss.

In reality, submitting a RFP would be the worst thing the Mayor could do for a number of reasons, each of which builds into the others...

First: Assuming Trustee Kennedy's opinion (stated April 7th) about any company producing such a proposal is followed through upon, he would (paraphrasing) not provide any companies with a dime - they would spend their money on ecologists to study the impact, engineers to produce plans, and even on the Village's efforts to provide technical (road, waterway) data to them. In short - it should cost these companies a great deal of effort and money even to come up with a proposal. It should never be incumbent upon the Village taxpayer.

Second: Mr. Kennedy also outlined a number of governmental agencies that must approve the plan. Residents fear that patronage will push this bill through, however an open proposal that can be judged by the public will leave that notion vitally vulnerable: If even a whiff of corruption seeps from the incinerator plans, residents will almost certainly have the grounds and resources to sue everyone involved to kingdom come: Company, politician, and governing entity alike. This will bog the process down immensely, costing those involved both years of time (Enough time for my next point to kick in...) and a bucketload of cash.

Third, and finally: Lets assume it gets all the way through to the Trustees. At this point, a great deal of cash has been spent on the project, in accordance with Mr. Kennedy's view on how the proposal process should be treated. The Village has helped guide this proposal through multiple agencies, and has either done so with no legal violations or after some extent of lawsuits about it. Finally, its at the Trustees: They will have to decide if its worth risking their careers over. By this point, if the process has been bogged down at all, the proposing company may not be dealing with the same trustees (or Mayor) at all. The process may even have been set back to square one due to this fact. And it all comes down to a majority vote - The Mayor, Deputy Mayor, and Trustees. Five votes. First to three wins.

Is a company -really- going to risk all of this time and effort just to be told no? Bearing in mind all of the cost, all of the opposition? Having hopefully done their homework and having read this very blog, and having undoubtedly seen that Mayor Hardwick himself has said it will not happen? Especially in light of BP making clear the need for real "green energy," and not "green paint?" All it takes is the screams of "NO!" to the very concept, roared by the irritated populace of the Village all at once, to answer this question.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Final Nail in the Incinerator's Coffin?

First of all, I want to state how pleasantly surprised I am with the overwhelming support I've gotten from the Freeport community for my last article. Lots of people have been talking on Facebook about it, but what isn't as broadly known is that a lot of them have been helping to provide story leads for issues such as these. Today's spawned a new, more interesting development.

As you can see, I received a letter today from the Mayor, himself. And before I go further, thank you for the prompt response! In the event that the tiny print cannot be read, allow me to cut and paste his response:

"Statement of Mayor Andrew Hardwick:

When I was sworn into office in April 2009 I pledged to represent the residents of the Village of Freeport. Over the past few months the residents have told me that they do not want a waste to energy facility within the Village of Freeport. While I looked at various technologies, the residents have spoken in a united voice and I understand, respect, and have and will continue to honor their concerns.

No matter what is posted and said online, I am confirming that there will be no waste to energy facility in the Village of Freeport.

Thank you,
Mayor Andrew Hardwick"

So there you have it. Mr. Hardwick, I am assuming that there is nobody so crass as to impersonate you and issue false statements on your behalf - and, thus, I thank you again for your prompt and pointed response. Folks, you heard it here, first - Mayor Hardwick is on record that this plan is confirmed dead. "There will be no waste to energy facility in the Village of Freeport." His confirmation is given, his word is public.

Presuming this document stands, this day marks the end of a massive struggle between community activists and the perceived lack of acknowledgment provided from the Mayor's office on this issue. It ends not with a bang, nor with a whimper, but simply with a public statement of intent (or the lack thereof) - as it should be. I suspect there shall be some celebration, tonight, as this conflict comes to an end.

Tomorrow's a Monday, however, and there's always more work to be done on Mondays...

Friday, June 11, 2010

New Round of Worries About an Incinerator

As most folks who follow Freeport know, one of the major controversies that has surrounded the Village is the notion that a Waste-To-Energy plant would be constructed. While The Weekly Freeporter is all-but-unconditionally open to seeing business proposals in Freeport, it is not-nearly-unconditionally supportive of those proposals being approved - and an incinerator proposal would, obviously, be subject to vast scrutiny.

And herein lies the rub: Residents have for a long time complained that the Hardwick Administration has made an accurate assessment of the situation all but impossible.

As early as February, rumors began to circulate that the Village may construct an incinerator. On April 7th, a meeting was held wherein Trustee Robert Kennedy outlined the facts: No proposal had been submitted, it would have to be approved by a myriad of governmental agencies including the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers, and would be subject to a final vote by the Board of Trustees assuming said proposal - which was yet to be made - satisfied these agencies' criteria for a safely operating facility.

According to this article from The Business Council of Westchester by Laura Rivera, "Deputy Assembly Speaker Earlene Hooper (D-Hempstead) had agreed to supply the $60,000" spent by the administration on trips to China and Germany, home to Zhong-De Waste Technology. The disbursement of these funds have become a thorn in the side of Freeport residents who feel this money has now been wasted; but, there is a level of responsibility placed upon those who promised the money, one that could be argued to justify the expenditure. Its easy to say, "hey, I was told the money was coming - blame them." And "they" would rightly take the lions' share of the blame. And this was an article written in April about problems dating back to the previous September.

Next, however, is this LI Herald article by Scott Brinton on the Incinerator's status, dated May 13th. In spite of multiple denials of such a proposal existing or a project being under consideration, nobody who Mr. Brinton spoke to could confirm that the idea of an incinerator was completely trashed, to use a small pun. Still, there was little proof of any goings-on; just that the Mayor insisted it wouldn't happen.

And then there's this: Today, while looking into a likely-unrelated issue, I discovered an un-dated, un-titled clip from an interview between New York State Assemblywoman Earlene Hooper and Mayor Hardwick. The clip in question is the second one down. What was the topic? The incinerator. Upon previous examinations of Ms. Hooper's page, no such video was found - this indicates that the video is relatively recent.

For reference, this is the same Earlene Hooper who sponsored New York State Bill A10034, referring to the hiring of police officers, and who has just sponsored legislation that would sell the New York State Armory at 63 Babylon Turnpike to the Village of Freeport for one dollar, Bill AA11379. The stated purpose of this purchase is for the Police Athletic League to provide athletic and educational opportunities to the village's children - and that is a noble endeavor!

However, there are rumors circulating that the Department of Public Works (DPW) could be relocated to this area, and that the immediate fall-out would be the opening of more Village land to ZhongDe's planners. This rumor is at best a theory, but reports have surfaced of ZhongDe planners visiting Power Plant Number Two, the DPW's current base of operations and presumed home of any unproposed incinerator. Additional reports place the Mayor at the armory itself - and being shooed out by Armory officials - just before the bill came to light. Will the mayor be purchasing an abandoned building to use for childrens' athletics, or will he be deceiving residents and using it as a dumping zone for a department in order to start taking in trash.

In truth, its impossible to say. The Mayor and Assemblywoman Hooper have, at best, a record of serious misunderstandings of where and how to acquire state resources, but there have been no corruption charges filed, let alone concretely proven. It is easy to assume the worst of people with a spotty record, but I'd rather hear it from the Village itself - as would the residents of Freeport who are concerned about this lingering inconsistency. There are two issues that The Weekly Freeporter would like to see answered:

The first is this new video we've discovered where our mayor is quite plainly discussing the logistics of a "new business" - in transporting and disposing of waste.

The second is the acquisition of a possibly (or possibly not) abandoned building for a tremendously low sum of one dollar (if its really one dollar), to be used to fund an important childrens' program (that residents are under the impression you've cut funding to (and have you cut funding to it?)). In short, what -exactly- is going on with this armory, now?

There is much for you to explain to your fellow residents, but rest assured that we want to hear your side of the story. We at The Weekly Freeporter are perfectly willing to accept, answer, and publish (un-edited, I might add) any letter of clarification provided to us by the Hardwick Administration. You may contact us at, either to send a written clarification or to arrange for an interview to address both this and other issues facing the Village. We hope very much to hear from you, so that you can balance out the record.