‘Fracking’ and tree cutting also prompt questions
By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
Editor’s note (Oct. 23): Scroll to bottom of page for full video of event.
Often agreeing about the seriousness of the issues but not necessarily on ways to address them, Putnam County Legislature District 1 candidates Barbara Scuccimarra and Steve Rosario debated sales-tax sharing, the Butterfield redevelopment, and Snake Hill Road conditions at a forum Monday night (Oct. 15).
Questions about “fracking,” or hydraulic fracturing, a controversial method of extracting fuel from underground rocks, and tree-cutting also came up as the audience entered the discussion, held in the Haldane School music room and sponsored by Philipstown.info, whose publisher, Gordon Stewart, moderated. The approximately 80-minute event drew about 60 attendees.
In the Nov. 6 election, Scuccimarra, a Republican, and Rosario, a Democrat, are vying to succeed Vincent Tamagna as the representative in Carmel for District 1, which covers Philipstown and part of Putnam Valley. Both have served on the Philipstown Town Board, Rosario from 1994-1998 and Scuccimarra from 2008 to January 2012.
Reasons for running
The candidates began by explaining their reasons and qualifications for running. Going first, Scuccimarra described herself as someone with “a quiet strength” who gets along “with all sides,” citing her role on the Democrat-dominated Town Board in helping achieve consensus.
Despite political party differences, all Town Board members cooperated “to find solutions,” she said. “We must all work together. I realize it should always be people before politics.” And because of her background and extensive involvement in Philipstown affairs, “I understand the issues. I’m in a position to hit the ground running,” she said. Originally from Putnam Valley, Scuccimarra moved to Garrison, raising a family there and working on Main Street in Cold Spring as a florist and entrepreneur.
Rosario, an attorney and senior northeast regional director for the American Chemistry Council, a trade association, earlier served in the administration of New York City Mayor Ed Koch. “I do know the ins and outs of government” although “I’m not a career politician,” he said. “I can bring my skills” to the legislative office. A member of the Garrison Volunteer Fire Company, he noted that 22 years ago he and his wife moved to Philipstown, the “place we wanted to set our roots.”
He, too, endorsed bipartisan approaches. As a Democrat, a minority in county government, “I’ll have to do what is best for Philipstown, Putnam Valley, and Putnam County,” he said. He promised to strive “to raise the level of recognition” of western Putnam County at Carmel, the county seat, and to “be a voice that has not existed” for years. “One person and one voice can make a difference.”
Contrasts between the candidates quickly appeared in regard to Putnam County’s refusal to share revenue from sales tax with the villages and towns in which it is collected. “The sales taxes and property taxes should come back in some form to the various towns, especially the sales tax,” Rosario said. “The county takes the money and does not want to share it. There is absolutely no reason why Putnam County cannot do it” when nearly every other county in the state gives back a portion of locally-collected sales tax, he said.
“Yes,” the problems associated with sales tax are real, Scuccimarra agreed. But she proposed that the solution lies not in repatriating some sales-tax revenue to municipalities but in cutting consumer taxes, like that on gasoline. “When you share sales tax, who are you sharing it with?” she asked. “Does it go to the village? How does that get to the people struggling every day?” She described watching a woman with children fill up an SUV for a hefty $75 at a Philipstown gas station. “My first priority, when I get over to Carmel, is to reduce the tax on gasoline,” she said.
Butterfield Hospital redevelopment
Both candidates backed use of the Butterfield Hospital property for county offices, a component of developer Paul Guillaro’s plans, which have sparked conflict among members of the various Cold Spring village panels with decision-making roles.
“Butterfield has been vacant 20 years. It’s an eyesore,” said Scuccimarra. “Let’s not miss this opportunity. This is a prime place to put services” and Putnam County is willing to do so, she said. “This is a community issue. It affects all of us.” Among other things, “we need a new municipal building” given the inadequacies at Town Hall, built in 1867, as well as a senior-citizen center, she said. “It’s imperative we do this” for aging residents. “This is a tax-positive project” that Guillaro proposes, she added. “I think we’re getting bogged down by all the boards and committees” at the village level, she said. “Just build it. We need it.”
“I agree that this is a golden opportunity, and these do not come every day,” Rosario stated. “I know it has been very frustrating.” At the same time, he cautioned, “the county should not be stepping in and telling the village what to do.” He acknowledged the declared county intention of putting agencies at Butterfield, but added that talk is cheap. “That’s not enough for me,” Rosario said. “I think there has to be a Plan B.”
Regardless of what happens at Butterfield, he suggested, the county could move satellite offices to Philipstown, utilizing such locations as Philipstown Square (the former Perks Plaza). In this scenario, Putman County could start small immediately, on a short-term basis, and then move the ad hoc offices to Butterfield if the project goes ahead, he said. “I’m convinced that could be done. We should be having that discussion” and adopt “a can-do attitude,” he said.
Snake Hill Road
Continuing problems with Snake Hill Road after the 2011 hurricane likewise claimed the candidates’ attention. Rosario said that a 1996 storm caused damage too and that better efforts then to rebuild would have reduced the scope and expenses involved now.
“This is where forward thinking comes in,” he said. In terms of the current mess, “I don’t think the county was pounding FEMA [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] hard enough” to get the essential funding, he said. “I’ve been very frustrated because I use Snake Hill on a regular basis” and as a firefighter also understand the hazards posed by the lack of repairs. Moreover, if the road looks bad now, “wait till winter sets in,” he predicted.
Scuccimarra said she recently spent an hour reviewing the Snake Hill Road situation with Philipstown Highway Superintendent Roger Chirico and his county counterpart. “They just received the federal funds for this, FEMA funds,” she said. “It has taken a terribly long time to do that and they understand that, but they finally have the funds.”
However, she went on, environmental concerns come into play, too. “Philipse Brook runs right near there and it’s a trout-spawning stream. So you can’t work in it from October to April,” she said. That means that the road “is going to have to remain like it is until this spring.”
Fracking and tree-cutting
The issue of fracking surfaced both in regard to Rosario’s job and in terms of water pollution. When an audience member asked if Rosario lobbies for the fracking industry, he emphatically answered “No!” As a certified association manager, “do I advocate” certain policies to governments? “Yes — just like the Chamber of Commerce advocates, or the state business council advocates, or the teachers’ union advocates, or the nurses advocate,” he said. He said he represents “an industry that employs over 50,000 people in the business of chemistry; about another 50,000 in the plastics industry.”
Giving one example of “why I am proud” to be involved, he cited the industry’s role in providing not merely paychecks but satisfying careers that last employees’ entire work-lives. “I think that is a testament to the fact we are a good industry, despite what some others would say,” he said.
Both candidates said fracking could not occur in Putnam County but expressed concerns about applying a fracking byproduct, potentially hazardous brine, as a treatment on roads. The county could prohibit use of brine right now, Rosario said. “And I’d have no problem voting to ban its use.”
Scuccimarra likewise described use of fracking brine on roads as unsuitable and said “I fear for our aquifers.”
Local tree-activist Joyce Blum inquired about the candidates’ views on tree-trimming, revealing that she had been arrested earlier that day when challenging a chain-saw crew “slicing trees to the bottom of the ground.” (Last summer, she was involved in a similar altercation but avoided arrest.) She claimed she attempted to safeguard a tree on Scuccimarra’s land and that the candidate failed to intervene.
“I’m sorry” about the incident, Scuccimarra told Blum. However, “your perception of what was going on and mine are different.” She said the crew, with legal authority to operate on the utility right-of-way, merely tried to do its job. “They’re trimming the trees so our power does not go out,” she said.
Rosario, too, assured Blum, “I’m very sorry for what happened to you today. In terms of trying to address the issue going forward, what can the county do?” He answered his own question by proposing that the county government, Cornell University arboreal extension service, Town of Philipstown, and Central Hudson confer to devise tree-maintenance practices acceptable to all.