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AGRICULTURE
At Skaneateles agricultural meeting, former TV meteorologist warns about climate change

SKANEATELES — Former TV weatherman Dave Eichorn talked climate change Tuesday at the Skaneateles Lake Watershed Agricultural Program's annual meeting.

His message to the crowd? Climate change is happening, and the Northeast does not have the infrastructure to handle upcoming changes. 

"We need to start thinking in the back of our minds now about preparing for rapid, abrupt changes in weather, and what used to be normal just isn't anymore," Eichorn said.

Retired after nearly two decades on NewsChannel 9, the meteorologist is now a meteorology instructor at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. He was the final presenter at the program's meeting at the First Presbyterian Church in Skaneateles Tuesday. 

Addressing the farming community, he said the Northeast doesn't even seem prepared to handle the weather happening now. There were chuckles throughout the crowd. He referenced heavy rainstorms this past summer, and showed some slides of record-breaking snowfalls in New York state over the last decade.

"I think agriculturally," he said," I think we're going to be in a situation where we're going to have to recognize that what we're going through right now is not just a one- or two-year thing. We need to start making adjustments both in our structure, our hardware, our spreading of manure, everything that we're regulated to do, everything that we want to do."

The reason for the changing weather patterns, Eichorn explained, is due to a warming Arctic. The temperature rise there is changing the speed and direction of jet streams. Considering North America is sandwiched by two oceans, and storm tracks tend to move up the eastern seaboard, Eichorn said the Northeast and the Ohio Valley are getting some of the more extreme weather events. 

But while they may appear extreme to residents, the events are what Eichorn calls, "somebody else's weather," getting pushed down into the Northeast region. 

While Eichorn acknowledged that the climate has always changed, he said the difference today is the increased rate due to greenhouse gases. The only trend people may rely on now, he said, is the weather's variability.

"It's for real," he said about climate change. "It's really happening. It's quantifiably and measurably happening."

After the presentation, Executive Director of the Onondaga County Soil and Water Conservation District Mark Burger said he experienced a lot of bad things this year at work. In his annual review slideshow, Burger highlighted adversities farmers have faced after the heavy summer storms and harmful algal blooms.

"Farmers, I've got to ask you to stick together and support one another," he said. "One of the things I noticed is our industry may have been a little bit slow supporting each other. So when you have a neighbor that's going through a big project and it gets controversial, be there to support them."


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BUDGET VOTE
Public votes to approve Seymour Library's 2018 budget

Seymour Public Library's proposed 2018 budget received overwhelming support from members of the public who voted during Tuesday's referendum. 

Out of 140 total voters, 131 approved of the budget, while nine voted no. The library tax district includes all registered voters in the city of Auburn, the town of Owasco and parts of Sennett and Fleming within the Auburn Enlarged City School District.

Next year's total operating budget will be $991,318, of which $796,000 will be raised by a property tax levied against real property within the district, an approximate 2-percent increase from the 2017 budget. The library district currently collects $780,000 of its revenue in property taxes.

The remaining money will come from non-public funds, including an estimated $100,668 from the Seymour Library Foundation.

The proposed budget will allow the library to maintain its current level of services and cover a modest increase in total operating expenses, the library said in a November news release.

A copy of the budget can be found at the library or on its website, seymourlibrary.org.


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AUBURN
Auburn Planning Board satisfied with final draft of city's zoning code

AUBURN — Members of the Auburn Planning Board unanimously voted Tuesday to recommend the Auburn City Council adopt the updated zoning code after it was revised based on comments from the public

During the planning board meeting, Senior Planner Stephen Selvek discussed about a dozen changes that have been made to the final draft of the code. 

The issue of tiny homes, an item that was not included in the city's code from the early 1990s, generated public comment from multiple sources as two Auburn human service organizations, Chapel House and Cape Haven, have plans to build tiny homes within the city for homeless persons.

The 75-percent draft of the code prohibited tiny homes smaller than 384 square feet and only allowed them to exist in clusters of at least four tiny homes. The final draft of the code reduces the minimum amount of square footage to 320 square feet, but still requires the homes to be built in clusters of four to 12 units. 

Another issue that was remedied based on public comment involves the city's policy for alerting neighboring property owners of new development projects. According to the code's final draft, notification will be mailed out to all neighboring properties 400 feet from all boundaries of the property in question five days prior to a project being introduced at the city planning board meeting. 

Auburn resident Karen Walker, who raised concern about the previous notification policy, said she was satisfied with the changes. 

"I'm especially appreciative of the mayor, city council and city manager in both hearing the public's recommendations and what appears to be an affirmative response," Walker said after the meeting.  

In June, city council voted to impose a six-month moratorium on applications for new billboards as the zoning code was being updated. Originally, city staff wanted to prohibit all new billboards from going up and remove all existing billboards within the next three years. However, after representatives from Park Outdoor Advertising and local businesses expressed concern regarding the policy, it was changed in the code's final draft.

New billboards are still prohibited. However, one new digital billboard can be placed in the highway commercial zoning district if the advertising company removes four existing billboard faces from any other zoning district. Selvek said there are 10 billboards within the city, plus the digital billboard on the Arterial.

Rules regarding the planning board are also included in the updated code. One major change would reduce the number of board members from seven to five. The code would also provide guidelines for state-regulated board member training, as well as the option for the planning board to review and update the zoning code as needed every April, Selvek said.

Board Chairman Sam Giangreco said he does not support changing the number of board members. 

Selvek also discussed changes regarding food trucks, microbreweries, RV and heavy equipment storage, drive-thrus, standards for heavy industrial uses, short-term rentals and the different zoning districts. 

Selvek said there are likely to be additional changes and revisions made to the code following a final public hearing, which will take place at 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 14 during the city council meeting. The code is scheduled to be voted on by the council the following week. 


INFRASTRUCTURE
Local leaders hail new I-81 study

A few central New York leaders hailed the study released Monday by the state Department of Transportation that determined a tunnel option for the Interstate 81 project in Syracuse is "technically feasible."

U.S. Rep. John Katko, who has urged the state to consider constructing a tunnel as one of three options for the project, said the recommendation by WSP, a design firm that was paid $2 million by the state to conduct the study, should be included in the draft environmental impact statement.

WSP endorsed what it called the "Orange Alternative," $3.6 billion tunnel-community grid hybrid that would take nine years to complete. The tunnel portion of the project would extend for 1.6 miles.

The state has already said it is considering whether to tear down the existing I-81 viaduct in Syracuse and replace it with a $1.3 billion community grid, or boulevard option, or spend $1.7 billion to rebuild the viaduct and alter its alignment.

While the tunnel-community grid hybrid would cost more, Katko, R-Camillus, said it is a viable option that should be considered.

"This is a transformative project, or it can be, and we've got to get it right," he said.

State Sen. John DeFrancisco echoed Katko's comments. He noted that the project would last for decades and there will be a great impact on the regional economy.

He believes it would be "foolish" for the state to pay for this study and not include the tunnel alternative in its decision-making process. He said the state should add the option to the draft environmental impact statement.

Owasco Supervisor Ed Wagner, who opposes the community grid option on its own because it could increase truck traffic on state roads that pass through his town, views the tunnel alternative recommended by WSP as a compromise.

He said it offers both parties what they want. For many in the city of Syracuse who wanted to remove the elevated highway and replace it with a boulevard, the community grid is part of the proposal. For those who want to ensure that the through traffic stays on I-81, the tunnel portion of the project would ensure that happens.

For Wagner, the benefits of the alternative outweigh the cost. If only the community grid is pursued, he thinks it would have a devastating impact on businesses and increase truck traffic in Owasco.

Not all central New York elected officials support the tunnel alternative recommended by WSP. Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner said the study revealed the tunnel option "would take nearly a decade to build and have an outsize price tag."

"A tunnel is not feasible financially and would have detrimental impacts on the economic and social health of our community," she added. She urged the state Department of Transportation to remove the option from consideration in the draft environmental impact statement.

The cost of a tunnel option doesn't faze other officials who pushed for its inclusion in the environmental impact statement. Katko, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, highlighted infrastructure projects in downstate New York that have cost billions of dollars. Most, if not all of those projects received significant federal and state funding.

DeFrancisco projected that the federal government would pay for 75 to 80 percent of the I-81 project. The state would cover the remaining costs.

"I don't think we should be considered chop liver in central New York on a project that's gonna last the number of years this project is going to last," he said. "It seems to me that the federal government has done many projects throughout the country and central New York should not be ignored on this one." ​