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Roadside ditches in Owasco Lake watershed need work

AUBURN — The Owasco Lake Watershed Inspection Program assessed more than 100 town and county roadside ditches in the watershed totaling just under 10 miles. More than five miles, the program determined, are high priority to be stabilized.

Ditches, especially when not properly maintained, are one of the culprits for transporting sediment and nutrients into water bodies. Kathryn Vellone, an assistant watershed inspector, spent most of June and early July to conduct the survey of 110 sites in the towns of Fleming, Scipio, Venice, Sennett, Owasco, Niles, Moravia, Sempronius, Locke and Skaneateles. State roads were not included, and roads outside the Owasco Lake watershed were not included.

Vellone and Watershed Specialist Andrew Snell presented the program's findings to the Owasco Lake Watershed Management Council Tuesday morning.

The estimated cost of materials for fixing the ditches, ranked low, moderate or high priority, totaled $76,725. Some of the town supervisors at the table balked, concerned that budgets had already been passed. Snell clarified that those costs are covered by a grant. 

"It's getting the guys to come out and assist us to do it, that's the difficult part," he said of working with the highway departments. "The labor was supposed to be the in kind towards the grant."

Executive Director of the Cayuga County Soil and Water Conservation District Doug Kierst said highway superintendents have known about the reimbursement process for the grant for the past year. They're reminded, he added, at multiple meetings that the funds are available and the work needs to be done.

Vellone said some of the work the inspection program will recommend for a ditch includes hydroseeding or utilizing a kind of rock armor. To determine the current condition of a ditch, Vellone considered a ranking criteria Snell had used for ditches in the Lake Champlain watershed. Those criteria included the percentage of vegetation in the ditch, its potential for erosion, the slope of the ditch bank and the linear footage of the ditch. 

The town of Moravia had the most number of ditches on the high priority list with seven. Three were alongside town roads, and four alongside county roads. The town of Niles, however, had the longest linear feet of ditch on the high priority list at 12,100 feet, with one under the county's jurisdiction and one under the town's.

The latest report complements a new draft document created by the Cayuga County Water Quality Management Agency for local highway departments to maintain roadside ditches. Those guidelines are expected to be voted on during the agency's November meeting. 

One thing that Snell said local residents and landscaping companies can do to help maintain ditches and the water quality in the lake, is to mulch or compost leaves. Snell has seen multiple instances of people dumping their leaves, which are filled with nutrients, into ditches and even directly into the lake. 

"You see people tossing them everywhere," he said. "Throw the leaves back in your garden. They're wonderful nutrients."

State sets new rules for solitary confinement in local jails

ALBANY — New York is adopting new standards for the treatment of prisoners held in solitary confinement in local jails, including mandated time outside their cell and increased reporting requirements in an effort to prevent prisoner mistreatment.

The changes, issued Tuesday by the state's Commission on Correction, come amid heightened scrutiny of solitary confinement and its psychological effects on inmates.

Under the new rules, inmates held in isolation in local jails must be provided with at least four hours outside of their cells each day. In addition, local jail officials would have to notify the state when a prisoner who is pregnant or under the age of 18 is placed in solitary, or whenever an inmate is held in seclusion for more than a month.

"Amid public reports of misuse and abuse of solitary confinement, these new standards will inject much needed uniformity, accountability and transparency in the process for all local jails," said Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat who pushed for the changes.

New York already is working to reduce the use of solitary in state correctional facilities under a class action settlement in the case of an inmate who alleged he was improperly placed in solitary. The New York Civil Liberties Union also sued to challenge the state's use of isolation. The new standards will only apply to local city and county jails.

The changes are a positive step but don't go far enough, according to Jack Beck of the Correctional Association of New York, an organization that advocates for prisoner welfare. Beck's group supports legislation that would limit solitary confinement in state and local facilities to 15 days unless an inmate is sent to a special rehabilitation unit, where he or she would receive special treatment to address their behavior. The bill, which didn't receive a vote last year, would completely ban the isolation of young, elderly, pregnant and mentally ill inmates.

"We have quite a ways to go," he said.

Estimates are that as many as 100,000 inmates are held in isolation throughout the country. Some 4,000 people are held in solitary confinement at any given time in New York state. Federal numbers from the Bureau of Justice Statistics indicate that nearly 20 percent of state and federal prisoners across the nation have served some time in isolation, and that 4.4 percent of all prison inmates are in solitary on an average day.

States have increasingly taken a second look at the practice, which advocates for prison reform say often amounts to psychological torture, leaving inmates at greater risk of depression, anxiety, paranoia, post-traumatic stress and suicide. They also note the high costs of solitary compared to housing a prisoner in the general population and point to studies showing that isolation increases the chances of an inmate reoffending upon release.

The laws regarding solitary confinement vary throughout the nation. More than a dozen states have enacted restrictions or outright bans on the use of isolation. New York, California and several other states prohibit or limit the placement of juveniles in isolation. Many states also have laws regulating conditions in solitary.

Jeremy Houghtaling, The Citizen 

Cato-Meridian's Logan Carnicelli crosses the finish line first in the Cato-Meridian Invitational Tuesday.

Kolb, Molinaro in talks to form GOP ticket against Cuomo in 2018

Two former colleagues could reunite in an attempt to unseat Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2018.

Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb and Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, both of whom are exploring gubernatorial bids, are in discussions to form a Republican ticket to challenge Cuomo, a Democrat, in next year's election. Kolb, R-Canandaigua, and Molinaro revealed their potential plan during a joint interview with The Citizen Monday.

Molinaro has been traveling around the state for months as he considers a run for governor in 2018. Kolb has been exploring a potential gubernatorial campaign since late August.

The two men have been friends since serving in the state Assembly together. Before Molinaro was elected Dutchess County executive, he was a state assemblyman from 2007 through 2011. Kolb has served in the Assembly since 2000, including the last eight years as the chamber's minority leader.

Kolb and Molinaro speak regularly. It was during one of those conversations over the last two weeks that they discussed the possibility of becoming running mates.

"We're not out to kill each other," Molinaro said. "We're trying to find out what's the right mix of people to send the right message and win."

Kolb added, "We've been talking right along. We talk about issues that affect Dutchess County, whether it's local tax bills or what's going on statewide ... It's not like this is a new dialogue. We've always been in conversation, in discussion and whether it's social or business-wise, we've been doing that for awhile."

They have similar timetables for deciding whether to seek the Republican nomination for governor. Both anticipate making a final decision on the 2018 race within the next month.

Kolb said he's received "very, very positive" feedback at GOP events and from party leaders who he's talked to about a potential gubernatorial campaign. Molinaro said he's also received positive feedback from GOP leaders.

There are several factors under consideration for the would-be challengers. They will need to raise millions of dollars to mount a serious campaign against Cuomo, who has more than $25.6 million in the bank for his re-election bid.

The state's voter enrollment favors Democrats. A Republican hasn't won a statewide race since then-Gov. George Pataki was re-elected in 2002.

But both believe there's too much at stake in the 2018 election. And they both agree that there needs to be a leadership change in New York.

"There is too great an interest, I think, in (the Cuomo administration) to make a headline, to score political points, to leverage people against one another in order to score a win instead of truly understanding the kind of change that needs to happen in order to grow the economy, keep New Yorkers here and make the state more affordable and improve everybody's quality of life," Molinaro said. "One of the reasons that I'm even thinking about running statewide is because of the overwhelming burden the state places on businesses and taxpayers. Brian, I know, agrees with that."

Kolb said "pocketbook issues" are among the top priorities. He panned Cuomo's economic development strategy and one of his signature initiatives, the regional councils, that develop plans for investing millions of state funds to support projects across New York.

While the councils consist of regional representatives, Kolb said the final decisions on funding are made by the Cuomo administration in Albany.

Another flaw of the program, according to Kolb, is how the funding is distributed to the councils. Under the current model, the 10 regional councils compete for more than $800 million in state aid. Some regions win more money than others.

Kolb wants a more transparent process and would give equal amounts to each region for economic development projects.

Critics of Cuomo's economic development strategy also claim that the governor's campaign donors benefit more from his initiatives.

"We believe that everybody should be doing well and it shouldn't be who you're connected to or how many campaign dollars that you received," Kolb said.

There is a large field of Republican candidates considering a run for governor in 2018. Aside from Kolb and Molinaro, corporate restructuring expert Harry Wilson is exploring a bid. He narrowly lost to state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli in 2010.

State Sen. John DeFrancisco, a Syracuse Republican, is traveling around the state to determine if GOP leaders will support him for governor. Buffalo businessman Carl Paladino, the GOP nominee in 2010, and Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, who ran for governor in 2014, have been mentioned as possible candidates.

But it's Kolb and Molinaro who are discussing the possibility of a partnership — a ticket that would aim to defeat Cuomo in 2018.

"We have a mutual respect and an appreciation for each other," Molinaro said. "We both think that we have something to contribute both on behalf of our party but more importantly, for New York. And we're having a conversation about how we could do that together."

New look for CNY's 'front door': Syracuse airport terminal to get $48M facelift

The aging terminal at Syracuse Hancock International Airport will get a makeover. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo joined local officials Tuesday to break ground on a $48.8 million project to upgrade the interior and exterior of the terminal. The improvements will be funded with $35.8 million from the state, $9.1 million from the federal government and $3.9 million from Onondaga County and the Syracuse Regional Airport Authority. 

Cuomo first announced the airport terminal renovation project in January. It was one of the signature initiatives included in his agenda for the year. 

The existing concrete canopy outside the terminal will be removed and replaced with a new 650-foot-long canopy with LED lighting. Two glass pedestrian bridges above the passenger drop-off area will be renovated. The bridges will give passengers with mobile tickets an easier route to access the airport. 

Perforated steel panels that can withstand harsh weather will be installed on the exterior of the terminal. New energy efficient windows, a rainwater collection system and rooftop solar panels will be part of the upgrades. 

The inside of the terminal will feature improved baggage claim areas and ticketing counters. Amenities — beverage, food and retail options — will be upgraded. The downstairs section of the terminal will have more than 140,000 square feet of new terrazzo flooring. 

A new feature in the terminal will be the Regional Aviation History Museum. The facility will be designed in partnership with the Onondaga Historical Association. 

Cuomo joked that the improvements are necessary because the terminal is "almost as old as I am." The terminal was built in 1962 — 55 years ago. Cuomo is 59 years old. 

"After that long, you need a little work," he said. 

The airport, according to Cuomo, was a factor in the New York Mets' decision to buy the Syracuse Chiefs. The Mets announced the purchase last week with the intent of making the Chiefs the club's Triple-A affiliate in 2019. 

The Mets' current Triple-A affiliate is in Las Vegas, which means players who are called up to the majors would need to travel several hours by plane to New York City. The flight from Syracuse to New York City is much shorter — a little over an hour, according to travel websites. 

There are other reasons why the airport needs a facelift. Cuomo said a modern airport can serve as "the gateway to central new York" and play a role in luring businesses to the region. 

"It's an airport of tomorrow," Cuomo said of the plans. "It's going to happen. It's going to happen quickly." 

Construction is expected to be completed by fall 2018. 

Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney touted the advantages of a new terminal for the region's main airport. The airport averages 1 million passenger boardings annually, according to the governor's office. 

"Our community will benefit tremendously from the real jobs this project will create as well as the future growth in our tourism and business sectors," she said.