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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, August 4, 2005

Kershaw’s job in jeopardy

By Nicole Fay Barr

GUILDERLAND — The Guilderland Town Board is having a special meeting, on Aug. 11 at 7:30 p.m., to discuss David Kershaw’s employment. The board will meet in closed executive session.

Kershaw, an equipment operator at the town’s transfer station, has violated the town’s drug policy, said Supervisor Kenneth Runion.

Pursuant to Section 75 of the Civil Service Law, the town board will discuss how to discipline Kershaw, Runion said.

Since Kershaw drives town vehicles, including a tractor trailer from Guilderland to the Albany County landfill, he is subject to random drug testing, Runion said.

A test was given to him recently, Runion said.

"Our policy says we can’t release random drug test records or reveal the drug in question," Runion said. "When there is a hearing and charges against the individual, we are required to release that it’s a violation of our drug policy," he said, noting the policy was drafted in the mid-1990’s.

Since Runion took office six years ago, only one other town employee has been in the same situation, he said. The employee refused a drug test, so the town considered that a positive result for drugs, Runion said. After meeting in executive session, the town board decided to fire that worker, Runion said.

Kershaw may also be fired, Runion said, or he could be suspended or sent to a drug-rehabilitation program.

Asked what he would recommend, Runion said, "Mr. Kershaw is in a very safety-sensitive position. Let’s leave it at that."

Kershaw, who could not be reached for comment, was suspended without pay pending the results of the hearing, Runion said.

No other town business will be discussed at the Aug. 11 meeting, Runion said.

Debates in the offing

By Nicole Fay Barr
and Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — The two Republican candidates for town board have challenged the Democratic candidates to debate.

In a letter to the Enterprise editor this week, Ed Glenning and Mike Donegan, the challengers, write that they would like three debates — one in McKownville, one at Town Hall, and one in Altamont.

"The debates will shed light on the qualifications and policies of those running and give voters meaningful opportunities to judge who will best meet their needs and aspirations," the candidates write.

They are challenging an incumbent on an all-Democrat town board. The incumbent supervisor, Kenneth Runion, also a Democrat, is running unopposed.

"I think, in the history of the town, there’s always been debates," Runion said Wednesday. "I think it’s a positive thing for the public and the voters."

He favors debate, he said, "as long as the rules are fair to both sides and there’s impartial party monitoring and sponsoring of the debates."

Of the Democratic town board candidates, incumbent Patricia Slavick and planning board attorney Paul Pastore, Runion said, "I could see no reason why they wouldn’t want a debate."

He added, "If I had an opponent, I’d encourage a debate."

"The American way"

Donegan told The Enterprise this week, "We felt there should be a way to get the issues out to the voters. It’s the American way....It opens the process. Several of us are newcomers to the political arena and not well known."

The Republicans suggested the three venues in different areas of town, Donegan said, because, "We wanted to spread it around so people would come out to hear."

He said the GOP would be open to the League of Women Voters or any other "neutral party" running the debates. He envisions the debates talking place in September or October. As far as details on scheduling and running the debates, Donegan said, "We’ll hash that out with our opponents."

He concluded, "The debates will be good for Guilderland. People will see where we stand."

Currently, the town supervisor, all four council members, the receiver of taxes, and the clerk are Democrats. This is the fifth year that the town has been dominated by Democrats. For nearly 200 years, it was Republicans who controlled town government.

About a third of Guilderland voters are enrolled as Democrats, about a third as Republicans, and about a third are enrolled in small parties or not in any party.

For town justice, long-time Republican incumbent Steven J. Simon is being challenged by assistant town attorney Denise Randall, a Democrat.

The Republicans have no candidates for town supervisor, clerk, and receiver of taxes. Democratic incumbents Runion, Clerk Rosemary Centi, and Tax Collector Jean Cataldo are running unopposed.

Debate disagreement

In the 2003 town election, a debate disagreement arose between Runion and his opponent, Republican Anthony Esposito. A week before the election, Esposito sent a letter to The Enterprise, Runion, and 450 Guilderland residents demanding a debate.

Runion responded that there was a debate in McKownville the week before, but Esposito didn’t show up. Tony Cortes, the Republican party chair, was there, along with every town Republican candidate, Runion said at the time, except for Esposito.

Esposito countered that this was not a formal debate; it was simply a meet-the-candidates event organized by the McKownville Improvement Association.

Esposito said at the time that he knew it was too late in the race for a debate, but he sent the letter just to inform the public that he wanted one.

Debates were held in 2001, when Esposito also ran and lost against Runion for supervisor.

The people behind the depot cleanup

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Kevin Reilly, with the Defense National Stockpile Center, said he’s heard from people convinced the mounds of ore at stockpile centers cover missile silos.

"They’ll separate and a warhead will come out," he said, shaking his head with the mild disbelief of someone who has heard it all.

While the locked gates and impenetrable fences at stockpile centers may inspire such speculation, the reality behind those fences can be just as daunting.

As the nation phases out its stockpiles, the centers’ administrators are faced with not just disposal of materials but also with cleanup of contaminants.

The three long-time Defense National Stockpile Center staffers who recently took The Enterprise on a tour of the depot now closing in Guilderland all see themselves as environmental stewards.

Reilly described himself as an "industrial hygienist."

A New Jersey native, he studied chemistry and biology at Ramapo College before working with the Safety and Health Administration in New Jersey.

He’s been with the Defense National Stockpile Center for 20 years.

"I was here when they were bringing things in," Reilly said.

The goal then was to prevent contamination.

He stamped on a concrete pad at the local stockpile center in Guilderland and said, "This is good; it forms a barrier."

"Now we get the cleanup," said Reilly, the national center’s director of environmental management and safety.

"So much cleanup is attributed to past practices; people were working within the rules and regulations established at the time. We have to be adaptable," said Dennis Wesolowski, the distribution facilities manager, based in Scotia.

Wesolowski grew up in Guilderland and graduated from the University at Albany.

He worked for the state’s Office of General Services for a decade in quality control before coming to work for the Stockpile Center in 1977.

He’s been at it ever since.

"It’s certainly not humdrum," he said. "Every day is different."

Wesolowski was Lori Davidson’s first boss at the Defense National Stockpile Center.

After earning a master’s degree in geology at the University of Texas at Austin, Davidson worked "in the petroleum industry," she said until taking the job with the DNSC.

"I put everything I owned in a Penske truck," Davidson said, "and I’ve been here 20 years."

She described herself as living a stone’s throw from a depot in Binghamton.

She said to Enterprise questions on cleanup, "If I lived here, I’d ask the same questions."

Contaminants remain and future use is unclear

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — The federal government is closing down what is left of the Army depot — all materials are slated to be removed by the end of the summer — but the future of the 35 acres on Depot Road remains unclear.

While cleanup plans described by federal officials last December led some local leaders to suggest the land might be used as a park, current descriptions of the rocky land as a "tough site" make such future use seem less likely.

The depot, built in the 1940’s, once covered 650 acres in Guilderland and New Scotland; most of the rest has been sold to the Northeastern Industrial Park. The 35.5 acres on Route 201 have been used to store strategic defense materials such as aluminum, copper, lead, and zinc, which have contaminated the soil. The site has been designated an "Area of Concern," meaning it poses a threat to human health.

Thursday, three federal officials took The Enterprise on an hour-and-a-half tour of the national stockpile center, an area that is surrounded by a fence and is usually locked.

The closing of the local center reflects a change in national defense strategy, they said.

Nation-wide, there are currently six staffed depots and 42 storage depots, said Dennis Wesolowski, distribution facilities manager with the Department of Defense. There used to be 100 locations, he said. In 1993, an aggressive sales program began, he said.

So far, over $5 billion in materials have been sold nation-wide, said Kevin Reilly, director of environmental management and safety for the Defense National Stockpile Center, based in Virginia.

"Since the Cold War is over," said Reilly, "we’re using the world market to meet our needs." Ores, minerals, and metals are no longer being stockpiled; the goal is to phase out all of the centers, he said.

"We’re working ourselves out of a job," said Reilly.

"We lower the flag in 2007," said Lori Davidson, an environmentalist with the Defense National Stockpile Center who is based in Binghamton.

"The Defense National Stockpile Center will cease to exist," said Wesolowski.

The dismantling of the system requires a delicate balance, the trio said.

"Selling to the world market is subject to market conditions and to how much Congress will let us sell at a pace not to disrupt the world market," said Wesolowski.

"Between November of 2003 and May of 2005, my staff relocated 1,150 truckloads to the Scotia depot and concurrently we’re also selling materials," he said.

"That’s all that’s left," concluded Wesolowski on Thursday as he pointed to a mountain of alloy, glistening in the afternoon sun.

The Guilderland site still has several thousand tons of ferrochrome, an alloy forged of chromium and iron, used in making stainless steel.

Reilly held out a chunk — a dense alloy, it felt heavier than it looked.

"If it’s not sold by the end of the summer, we’ll move it to Scotia," said Wesolowski, referring to the nearby facility.

"Tough site"

The cleanup of the vacant Guilderland site will be more problematic.

"This is a tough site," said Reilly.

When the Army closed the depot in 1969, only 35 acres were retained by the federal government. Those 35 acres belong to the federal General Services Administration.

"It’s like they’re my landlord," Reilly said earlier of the General Services Administration. "I just rented the place for the last 50 years. Now I have to make sure it’s cleaned up before I leave."

Since the 35 acres is still in active use by the federal government, it is out of the jurisdiction of the Army Corps of Engineers, which is responsible for cleanup at the rest of the former depot property. The Army identified nine Areas of Concern altogether on the one-time depot land.

The stockpile site has a circular roadway. Wesolowski and Reilly said that materials had been stored inside the circular loop. Outside of the roadway — an area that Wesolowski estimated was 15 to 20 percent of the 35 acres — no materials had been stored, he said.

Retention ponds were built in the outlying areas three years ago to control stormwater runoff, which could potentially contain contaminated soils, Reilly said.

He described how the retention ponds work. "The heavy particles fall out and basically clean water goes out the sluice," he said. That water flows to the Black Creek, which feeds into the Watervliet Reservoir, Guilderland’s major source of drinking water.

"These ponds have done a great service to the Black Creek," Reilly said, "because water coming on to the site is far dirtier than what’s going off."

Such pollutants as salt from the road flow onto the site, he said.

Radioactive waste is not a problem on the site, Reilly said.

From 1988 to 1990, low-level radioactive materials (columbium/tantalum) were stored in drums at the site. At that time, the agency had a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for the storage, but has not since 1994.

Davidson said that uranium and thorium — radioactive components — were dug up in the ore.

"The material was inside 55-gallon drums," said Reilly. "They were sold. There were no problems with radioactivity."

Wesolowski agreed: "A close-out survey was done under the Nuclear Regulatory Commission," he said.

Peter Sneed, a senior asset manager in the General Services Administration, told The Enterprise earlier, "There had been low-level radiation material stored there. There were no leakages. It wasn’t a problem."

Remediating contaminants

A report show prepared several years ago by Parsons Engineering Science Inc. shows soils at all test locations at the stockpile site exceeded state soil criteria.

Thirty of the 95 cases where soil contamination exceeded more than twice background range were clustered in the northern half of the property, which is the side closer to Guilderland Center.

Reilly said the site has "elevated levels of lead, copper, zinc, and chromium," but he also said, "We have to do what’s sensible and cost effective...The numbers I see in the soil are not devastatingly high...Twice background doesn’t necessarily make it bad."

Reilly, Wesolowski, and Davidson all said the cleanup will take place under the supervision of the state’s departments of health and environmental conservation.

Reilly had told The Enterprise last December that cleanup would involve removing the surface soils. The top six to eight inches of soil would be removed, he said.

He also said in December that mud from the retention ponds would be dried out and shipped to a landfill.

Thursday, however, Reilly said there were "no solid answers yet" on how cleanup would proceed. Discussions will be set up, he said, with the state’s departments of health and environmental conservation.

"I don’t know what the remediation plan is at this point," he said. "If it stays within the industrial setting, they could blacktop it."

Asked about the original plan to remove the top layer of soil, Reilly said, "To remove the top six inches, the federal government would have a conniption fit."

Asked the approximate cost, Reilly replied, "It would be a phenomenal number."

He could not give a firm answer, either, on the length of time remediation would take; Reilly said it would depend on the type of remediation and on his budget, set by Congress.

Reilly did say, "Soil removal sounds unattainable." He explained that, in addition to the cost of removing the soil, since the land would then be lower, new soil to cover acres would have to be trucked in to replace it.

Stone was brought in to stack materials on, said Reilly. He also said that rocks are not contaminated.

"This soil is very hard," said Davidson. "There’s two or three inches of topsoil — tops. It’s mostly shale or rock."

She suggested an "alternative remediation process" may be used.

One such process, Reilly said, would be "soil stabilization" where elements are added "to join with the metal, just keeping it there," said Reilly.

Davidson said it is important to "look at the big picture." Taking off the top layer of contaminated soil is "not good environmentally," she said.

"It’s moving crap from one place to another," said Reilly.

"This is a hard one," conceded Davidson of the rocky site.

Wesolowski said another process is "phyto-remediation," which involves growing plants on a contaminated site that pull the contaminants from the soil.

Davidson pointed out this method wouldn’t work for the Guilderland stockpile site since there is not enough topsoil to grow plants.

Davidson also talked about performing "a risk analysis" to "establish what kind of receptors exist for human beings or animals."

She went on, "You establish how they’d get the contaminants — ingest them, breathe them...Then suggest a way to remediate."

"We need to break the pathway," said Reilly.

"You could put cement over it; you could bind it; there are a million ways to break the pathway," said Davidson.

"Shoot for the stars"

Davidson described the Defense National Stockpile Center as being "proactive with environmental stewardship."

Reilly agreed, saying, "My little group is certified with the International Standards Organization Worldwide 14001."

The ISO, a non-governmental organization headquartered in Switzerland, is a network of national standards institutes for 153 countries that bridges the public and private sectors. The ISO’s 14000 standards help organizations meet environmental challenges and are concerned primarily with environmental management, meant to minimize harmful effects.

"It’s a management system going beyond compliance," said Davidson. "It means you’re looking at the environment as a whole....That’s where the federal government is going now. Ford Motor Company does it..."

"It’s a continual improvement thing," said Reilly.

"I think everyone wants to be a good environmental steward but it’s difficult to measure," said Davidson. "That’s what a management system does."

There are 35 states with depots, said Reilly. "New York is pretty strict," he said. "They don’t break things down." Other states typically define a certain level of remediation if the land is to be used for industry and another level for residential use, he said.

"New York has one," said Reilly.

Gabrielle Done, a spokesperson with the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation, told The Enterprise this week that the standard to which the site is cleaned will depend on its future use.

"In most cases," she said, "a former defense site needs state clearance before ownership can be transferred." This applies if it is being transferred to state or municipal government or to a private owner.

"It can, however, be transferred to another federal agency without the investigation and remediation but, in this case," said Done, "the site would need to be properly remediated before it can be redeveloped."

Renée Mischione, a spokesperson for the General Services Administration, which owns the land, told The Enterprise earlier that, while the Guilderland stockpile site may be "under preparation," it has "not officially been announced" as part of the disposal process.

She described, though, what typically happens in the disposal of federal property.

"There is a screening process," Mischione said. The government screens to see if there is "need, use, or interest," she said, in public use of the property before it goes to auction.

State clearance, Done said, comes through the DEC, which has "performed some environmental investigation to determine the nature and extent of contamination."

Soils at the site have been contaminated with copper, chromium, lead, and zinc, she said. "Groundwater off-site does not appear to have been impacted," Done said.

She said of the DEC, "We’ll work to insure remediation is completely protective of human health and the environment."

Asked if this would involve removing the contaminated soil, Done said, "There needs to be more investigation. The final cleanup will depend on the end use."

Last December, Thadeus Ausfeld, co-chair of the Army Corps’ Restoration Advisory Board, had been enthusiastic about making the 35-acre site into a park.

Ausfeld maintained that industrial development on the site would disturb the soil; the town, he said, would be in a better position to prevent any danger to residents if it acquired the land from the federal government and made it into a park.

Guilderland Supervisor Kenneth Runion, at the time, was supportive of the idea, too.

"It would be more in conformance with our comprehensive plan than industrial use," Runion told The Enterprise in December. He said he would like the town to secure the land to develop for recreational use, which he said is important for the quality of life in a community.

Cleaning the site to a level suitable for park use would be very expensive, Reilly said Thursday. "They’re talking about a child sitting in the sand, eating dirt," he said. "It sets up a worst-case scenario for risk assessment....Think of the money taxpayers would have to pay."

Davidson recalled, though, how Peter Buttner, a scientist and the former chair of the Restoration Advisory Board, had wanted to make the site a park. "It would be nice to make it a park for Pete," she said. "You should always shoot for the stars."

Salerno new top cop for village

By Bill Sherman

ALTAMONT – Completing a three month search, the village board on Tuesday appointed a 19-year Albany Police Department investigator as the commissioner of public safety. However, most village residents may know Anthony Salerno better as the village barber.

Trustee Harvey Vlahos, who coordinated the search, said the village received 14 applications for the position. Vlahos and trustee Kerry Dineen interviewed 12 of the candidates and forwarded three to the full board. The finalists where interviewed in executive session on Monday.

Salerno, who has been cutting hair for more than 20 years, comes to the Altamont Police Department with impressive credentials and strong recommendations from the FBI, the State Police, the Albany chief of police, and several village residents, said Mayor James Gaughan as he nominated Salerno for the $40,500 full-time post.

The new commissioner, his wife, and two children have been village residents for more than 10 years. Village residency was a key criteria set by the board when it established the position description. The trustees also required the candidates to be certified police officers. Acting Commissioner Robert Coleman, who applied late and did not meet the criteria, was not among the three finalists for the position.

When asked how he expects Salerno to split his time between Albany and Altamont, Gaughan said, "I have asked him to be full-time-plus in Altamont. Tony will work for Altamont in the day during the work week and also on weekends." Salerno works the late-night shift in Albany.

Salerno said he has been working as a barber and police investigator for the past seven years and does not expect to have a problem doing police work for both Altamont and Albany. He said he "budgets his time very conservatively" so both jobs should not be a problem.

Salerno’s Guilderland Center Barbershop, located in the Phillips Hardware building at the corner of routes 158 and 146, may continue to operate even without its owner. Salerno said he hopes another barber will take over within the next week or so.

The new commissioner said his interest in the position came from several village residents who asked that he apply. About the residents, Salerno said, "When you’re fair it sets a good example in today’s society and they know that about me."

He continued, "It’s a position I feel I had to take for the community. My top focus is the people in the village." Gaughan said a priority of the new commissioner will be to lead the department through a reorganization process.

This past winter, Gaughan, before he was elected mayor, chaired a citizen police review committee that found several problems with the village’s police department. The committee issued a resident survey which resulted in requests for fewer part-time officers, more community policing, and a police commissioner who is able to make arrests and is present in the village.

Several of the more than 40 residents in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting told The Enterprise they were satisfied with the outcome of the public-safety-commissioner search.

Police review committee member Michael LaMountain said, "I think it’s wonderful the village has finally come to terms with the police survey." LaMountain added, "We were lucky. He’s got impressive credentials."

Beth Shaw, president of Altamont Community Tradition, a citizens’ group, said she was "pleased that the concerns of the community were taken into account." Secor said she is hoping Salerno fosters a sense of community within the police force and takes a serious look at the needs of the small community in Altamont.

Both LaMountain and resident Lois Ginsburg said there were opportunities for change in the department with the new leadership. Ginsburg said, "I’m happy that he lives here in the village, and I’m sure he is aware of the many problems in the village." LaMountain is particularly looking for more control of speeders on the village’s roads.

Gaughan said Salerno would start immediately. He said Salerno has already put together a budget that is "well within the amount budgeted by the village." According to village treasurer Katherine Hasbrouck, the current department budget is $129,000. Hasbrouck said $97,000 of the budget covers staff salaries.

Gaughan said, while Salerno would start his new job on Wednesday, former commissioner Coleman has agreed to a transition period to assist Salerno’s start. There were no details available on how long Coleman would stay active with the department.

Salerno said he plans to complete an "intensive review" of the department before meeting with the mayor and trustees. He said he intends to focus on making the department a completely professional operation.

"I want to keep the family values in Altamont," Salerno said. Of the decision to hire him, Salerno said, "I was very surprised that I was chosen. It completely caught me off-guard."

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