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Editorial Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, July 28, 2005


We need more gadflies

"I am a sort of gadfly, given to the state by God; and the state is a great and noble steed who is tardy in his motions owing to his very size, and requires being stirred into life."

— Socrates’ defense as recounted by Plato

"We’re a crisis society," Charles Rielly told us this week. Until Guilderland residents turn on their taps and see dirty water, they won’t respond, he said.

We’d like to prove him wrong.

We were emboldened last week by the news that, after 40 years, Joan Burns may be able to safely walk on her land.

Federal funds of $650,000 are expected for the project to clean her land of toxic wastes, buried decades ago by the Army.

Burns and her late husband bought their dream house in the country with 40 acres on Depot Road in 1963. The dream turned to a nightmare. They had not been told about Army waste buried there and Burns, a nurse, said her family suffered "a lot of health problems" that she believes are associated with the waste.

Her husband died of cancer in 1995. "He was the one out on the land," she said. Her horses died of cancer, too.

We have written reams over the years about the nine areas of concern left behind by the Army when the depot closed; the areas have been identified by the Army Corps of Engineers as a threat to human health.

Four years ago, frustrated with lack of funds for testing, we put on tall rubber boots and rubber gloves, and, under the direction of Peter Buttner, then chair of the Army Corps’ Restoration Advisory Board, we scooped up samples of the bottles that were surfacing throughout the defoliated areas of Burns’s property.

We were back last year at the invitation of the current co-chair of the advisory board, Thadeus Ausfeld. We watched him poke at bright green baseball-sized masses recently uncovered on Burns’s property, and we wrote about her plight yet again.

We were gratified to hear last week, both from Burns and from the Army Corps’ project manager, Gregory Goepfert, that Enterprise editorials and news stories were part of the reason federal funds were secured.

Federal funds for cleanup are limited. The New York District, in which the local depot lies, has an estimated $500 million in clean-up costs, and an annual budget of only $3 million to $5 million.

In detailing these figures last year, Goepfert told us, "We’re woefully underfunded." Those were the very same words we heard three years ago from Senator Hillary Clinton when we asked her about depot cleanup. "We’re woefully underfunded," the Senator said, while noting the deteriorating state of clean water nation-wide.

Those responsible for pollution should clean it up. The United States government created nine dump sites now labeled areas of concern in our backyard and each one of them should be cleaned. If we can spend billions of dollars to try to set aright a country we invaded, we ought to be able to spend millions to clean up the mess the Army left behind in our country decades ago.

If speaking out on one area of concern can get results, so can speaking out on others.

Asked last year if the public’s speaking out would help get funds and hasten the clean-up process, Goepfert said, "The flat answer is yes...When I go to funding sponsors and say, ‘There’s a high level of public interest, that helps, no doubt about it.’"

The industrial public has a chance now to make a difference.

The town of Guilderland to its credit has pressured the Northeastern Industrial Park — situated on the site of the old Army depot — to produce an environmental impact statement. The town is entitled to know what goes on in the park and what its plans are for the future. It has been six years since the town requested a masterplan from the park.

The park encompasses several areas of concern that should be of interest to all Guilderland residents.

The co-chairs of the Restoration Advisory Board — Rielly and Ausfeld, who operates the town’s water plant — have repeatedly warned of dangers to the Black Creek, a tributary to the Watervliet Reservoir, Guilderland's major source of drinking water.

Years ago, Dr. Buttner described how the Black Creek, which supplies about a quarter of the reservoir’s water, had been diverted around the depot for waste disposal. The residents of Guilderland are now drinking the pollutants that settled there and in sites that feed the creek, Buttner told the town board.

The current co-chairs are concerned that the industrial park’s recent statement is based on outdated information, from nearly a decade ago.

"They’re going to discharge more into the Black Creek," said Ausfeld.

We may be a crisis-driven society, as Rielly said, but crises can be averted with planning. Subject to the availability of funds, Goepfert said, plans for next year include feasibility studies for two areas of concern within the industrial park — the Army’s southern landfill and the Black Creek.

We need to do the studies to find and clarify the problems and then we need to secure the funds to clean up the contaminants that could threaten our future.

Over a decade ago, we wrote, in this space, of the need for a publicly-disclosed masterplan for the Northeastern Industrial Park. A first step has been taken. Now citizens need to read the environmental impact statement and make their views known. The Guilderland Town Board will accept comments on the study for several more weeks.

Environmental activists like Peter Buttner and Charles Rielly and Thadeus Ausfeld have done a good job over the years alerting us to pollution in our midst. But citizens need to get involved as well.

"We’re good at bugging," Rielly said at a Restoration Advisory Board meeting last week.

Gadflies are needed to arouse and persuade, to move our government out of lethargy as Socrates did the Athenians.

After all, as citizens in a democracy, we are responsible for what our government does or does not do.

Rielly said that Guilderland is playing Russian roulette with its water supply. Why take the chance that you’ll get the bullet" Speaking out now will make us all safer.

— Melissa Hale-Spencer

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