ELIZABETHTOWN — As the race for New York’s 21st grows increasingly ill-natured, it’s easy to forget that the sprawling district, which encompasses parts of 12 counties and covers some 16,000 square miles, faces real, concrete issues that demand leadership.
We asked Essex County lawmakers about the issues that are important to them and asked the four Congressional hopefuls where they stand on some of the issues.
While lawmakers differed on their preferred candidate, they also appeared to cross party lines and offered a kaleidoscope of non-partisan issues they hoped their future federal representative would address.
Lawmakers Gerald Morrow (Chesterfield) and Dan Connell (Westport), both Democrats, hoped to see an increase in federal funding for the district, like for water and sewer projects, said the former.
William Ferebee (Keene) and Randy Douglas (Jay), leaders of the towns most affected by Hurricane Irene in 2011, hoped for FEMA relief and more funding for infrastructure.
In Keene, Route 73 was washed out and isolated St. Huberts. That stopped all traffic south, the main route from Lake Placid. This put a stranglehold on the merchants in Keene Valley, said Ferebee. “Not only did they receive damage, but it cut-off of their bloodline."
Ferebee said the town was still not getting fully reimbursed from Irene due to a mixture of bureaucracy and sluggish decision-making.
“We have borrowed and paid for the repairs and we had to pay the interest back. This is a cost to the taxpayer and cuts out of other services that we can provide. We’re leery to move forward with other grants because we’re not sure if we’re going to get our money back.”
Douglas said one of the major issues facing Jay was funding infrastructure programs.
“One of the major issues we face is an increase in water and sewer,” said Douglas. “We need more money to help us all out. Bill Owens has been a big help. I hope whoever is elected will hear our local needs and be will be successful. You can’t put the costs of major infrastructure projects on the backs of the taxpayers.”
Tom Scozzafava, the Moriah town supervisor, cited an attentiveness to constituent services; Minerva's Stephen McNally, utilities relief, and Bill Grinnell, the Ticonderoga supervisor, said he hoped for a lessening in government regulation:
“The government as a whole has become such a regulatory nightmare,” he said, citing an alphabet soup of agencies — FEMA, OSHA, EPA — and how they often contradict each other and cancel each other out.
Shaun Gillilland, the Willsboro supervisor who is also a cattle farmer, agreed.
“Over-regulation hampers growth and scares away talent,” he said. “Within the industry of agriculture, we’re trying to get new people into producing food. If anything is more critical to national security, it’s the ability to feed the population successfully.”
Gillilland said the average age of farmers in the United States is 57. Three-quarters of them, he said, do not farm exclusively and need to generate other sources of revenue to pad their income.
“On top of that, now you have the federal government coming in and trying to overregulate the culture of food. You’ve got the FDA coming in and limiting and regulating, and more recently, the overreach of the EPA.”
While the Clean Water Act is “a great thing,” Gillilland said the law was passed by Congress to only include navigable waters.
“But now they’ve decided to widen the interpretation to include adjacent waters to navigable waters,” he said, explaining this opens up innocuous waterways like drainage ditches and ponds, for example, to regulation.
Gillilland said this slams the door on opportunities and discourages young upstarts.
“There are mountains and mountains of administrative paperwork to just obey the regulations.”
He cited another issue that has had lawmakers fuming this year:
“The federal issues most affecting the town that comes to mind almost immediately has to do with the oil trains,” he said, referring to the increase of crude oil moving through the region from the fields in North Dakota to downstate refineries.
“I’ve had conversations with Elise [Stefanik] on the issue. We definitely need more input on regulations and the rails going through Essex County and the Adirondack Park.”
WHERE THEY STAND
“We have seen a significant increase in the transport of crude oil across rail lines, including a recent series of derailments and spills, which could put Northern New York communities at risk,” Elise Stefanik told the Valley News in a written statement.
“As a Member of Congress, I would call on the Department of Transportation to urgently update and implement guidelines for safer transport of hazardous liquids, especially with regard to the DOT-111 rail cars.”
Stefanik noted that local fire departments and EMT resources would not be fully equipped to handle a potential crash.
“As such, I would urge the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Coast Guard to update contingent plans for oil spills in Northern New York and to include local first responders in that process,” she said.
Aaron Woolf, the Democratic candidate, told the Valley News the rail issue has “great resonance” in the district.
“As a congressional representative, it’s my job to do everything I can to protect the safety of the public, and in our district, also the environment. We know how high the stakes are to have safe transport.”
The candidate said Hazmat training needs to be up-to-speed in the event of an accident.
“We’re isolated and rural, which means we need to have on the ground people ready to deal with anything.”
Woolf said the controversial DOT-111 tank cars should be phased out as quickly as possible and should be replaced by the CP-1232 models that regulators say are safer.
“They’re more reliable in crashworthiness and we should be helping to make that transition as quickly as possible,” he said.
Green Party candidate Matt Funciello also chimed in:
“The many derailments in Canada and in the US clearly indicate that [DOT-111s] are outdated and unsafe,” he told the Valley News in an email. “Canada’s Ministry of Transportation announced the immediate removal of 5,000 of these cars this year and phasing them out entirely over the next few years. Wouldn’t it only make sense for us to similarly mandate the production and use of newer and safer cars here in the US? Clearly, the most important (unasked) question about crude oil and it’s safe transport is this:
"Why are we expending any of our precious resources and focus on fossil fuels and not supporting the creation of safe, clean, renewable energies and technologies, instead?”
And on the EMT crisis, the recruiting and staffing of which has had lawmakers across the county reaching for defibrillation paddles in order to save their ailing departments:
“Essex County is a more extreme example of what we’re seeing across rural America,” said Woolf, citing the graying demographics and remote distances.
Woolf referred to the Veteran Emergency Medical Technician Support Act of 2013, a bill that was passed by the House and is currently stalled in the Senate, as a “really smart” piece of bipartisan legislation that he would sponsor as a lawmaker.
“It’s creative legislative thinking that solves many problems at once,” he said. “It gives employment back to veterans when they get back, addresses the EMT crisis and maximizes a return on their investment when they train.”
Funiciello, the Glens Falls-based baker, tied the issue to the overall state of American health care:
“Post 9-11, the (largely volunteer) calling of EMTs has simply become too complicated and resource-draining for the average citizen,” he said. “I believe that, as with most aspects of our very broken healthcare system, a switch to single-payer health care would alleviate this problem entirely.”
Funiciello said trained medical personnel would never be volunteers or employment agency staff, but well-compensated workers with benefits and paid training.
“We can simply enact and support H.R. 676 (Improved Expanded Medicare for All). It would remove the massive profits, dividends, administrative costs and corporate welfare so inherent to our current corporate health care delivery system. We could then utilize those funds to provide medical services for all and we would all have great free health care and a need for more medical personnel who would never be volunteers but would instead be well-compensated professionals.”
The Doheny campaign did not respond for comment by time this story went to press.