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Contractors to get first look at Owasco Flats, invasive species survey underway

MORAVIA — Donning a tan-brimmed hat, rubber boots and a yellow and blaze orange vest, Bruce Natale waded through goldenrod and reed canary grass in the Owasco Flats Wednesday afternoon.

Narrow boards ran across parts of the wetland in the muddiest areas, and Natale, environmental engineer for Cayuga County, walked across them, sweeping off dirt and debris with his boots as he went along. The Owasco Flats Wetland Restoration and Riparian Buffers Initiative has finally received its two permits from the state Department of Environmental Conservation and its one permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to start work. The project hopes to limit the amount of sediment and nutrients running into Owasco Lake.

Natale said requests for proposals have been sent out and next week, contractors will take a pre-bidding tour of the flats.

"I hope we get it to the point where the contractors understand what our goals are," he said. 

While the project, if it works, won't fix all of Owasco Lake's problems (it's only going to divert about 5 percent of the total flow, Natale said), it marks more of a science experiment and milestone for future work to help the lake. 

Walking through the site on Wednesday, Natale said the winning contractor will first construct two of the project's three sediment collecting basins and an access road down into the wetlands. The basins, Natale said, will look like grassy ponds that water and whatever it's carrying will flow into. As the water travels into the Owasco Inlet and Owasco Lake, soil and its nutrients will stay behind, getting caught up in the vegetation. 

Corresponding with the ponds will be three water control structures, which Natale said can limit or enhance the flow. Once every three years or so, the collected sediment will be taken off site, and depending on its makeup, could be used as topsoil.

While the restoration project could be ready to break ground this fall, the state and federal permits require monitoring of certain invasive species. Staff from the state Department of Environmental Conservation were surveying for the invasive species reed canary grass Wednesday. The survey will act as a baseline to ensure that contractors are not spreading the grass during construction.

When asked what reed canary grass looks like, Natale laughed and spread his arms wide.

GwenCraig2 / Gwendolyn Craig, The Citizen 

Before work can begin on the Owasco Flats restoration project, Cayuga County and the state Department of Environmental Conservation are surveying the invasive species, reed canary grass. The grass is everywhere, as seen on Wednesday.

"Don't go so far," he said. "It's everywhere. It's everywhere. We'll monitor and make sure it doesn't get worse."

Other invasive species run rampant throughout the flats including Japanese knotweed and spotted knapweed. Both are flowering plants, dotting the yellow swaths of goldenrod with white and bright pink. Natale fenced off some of the knotweed, so contractors would know not to tread near it. The county doesn't want to spread those plants, either, he said. 

At the base of the project's footprint, Natale walked under a grove of mostly shellbark hickory trees. It's the first main source of shade on the pathway down besides a few scattered apple and willow trees on the edges of a stream, and Natale said the plans for construction will save the grove. Just beyond, there are plans to create several small ponds and restore wildlife habitat for turtles and frogs and salamanders. 

It's been a long wait — more than six years — for the project to move to construction. The state Environmental Facilities Corp. awarded the county $712,500 for the work in 2011, but that sum no longer covers the full scope of work. The county applied for more state funding to complete phase two. Natale hopes the first phase of the project will be completed in 2018 and the second in 2019.

"This is just the first step," he added. "We're very hopeful for the funding for the second phase. Kind of anxious to get it built and see how effective it is."

GwenCraig2 / Gwendolyn Craig, The Citizen 

Cayuga County Environmental Engineer Bruce Natale shows a water control structure at the county's kayak launch on the Owasco Flats Wednesday. Similar water control structures will be part of the Owasco Flats restoration project.

GwenCraig2 / Gwendolyn Craig, The Citizen 

Leopard frogs are prevalent in the Owasco Flats. Here's one caught on Wednesday. 

Lt. gov seeks end to gender gap

GEDDES — As the keynote speaker at the New York State Fair's annual Women's Day luncheon Wednesday, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul urged attendees to address "unfinished business" 100 years after women won the right to vote in New York.

The unfinished business mentioned by Hochul is the gender gap in positions of power, whether it's upper level management positions at a corporation or the U.S. Congress.

Hochul, who chairs the New York State Women's Suffrage Commission, noted that women hold 27 percent of the seats in the state Legislature. That's slightly higher than the national average of 24 percent in state legislatures in the U.S.

The ratio gets worse at the federal level. Women hold nearly 20 percent of the seats in Congress.

"It's kind of lonely, and it's not right," Hochul said.

The gender gap also exists in local government positions. Thirty years ago in New York, 17 percent of chief administrative offices, such as mayors, county executives and county clerks, were held by women. Today, the percentage is the same.

Hochul acknowledged that there are women in some prominent chief administrative roles across the state. Stephanie Miner, a Democrat, is in the final year of her second term as Syracuse mayor. Lovely Warren, also a Democrat, is seeking another term as mayor of Rochester.

But Miner, Warren and mayors in Albany and Saratoga Springs are in the minority. Most of those offices are held by men.

"I'm not here to depress everybody but to tell you this has got to end," Hochul said. "This is a problem."

One reason Hochul believes women are hesitant to run for political office is the confidence gap. She said women tend to hold themselves back because they incorrectly think that they need to be more qualified than other candidates in the field.

She didn't have to look far for an example of the confidence gap. She recalled her experience when she ran for a seat on the Hamburg town board. She was initially reluctant to run despite being 35 years old with an extensive resume. She was an activist, businesswoman and served as an attorney for U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

It wasn't until a 22-year-old man entered the race that she changed her mind. She told attendees at the luncheon not to make the mistake she did and believe they're not qualified to run for office.

"Never hold yourselves back," she said. ​

Cayuga Onondaga BOCES cut special education aide positions but kept some staff

The Cayuga Onondaga BOCES cut 16 special education aide positions but the program was able to bring back some of those staff members in other ways.

Mark Vivacqua, the district's chief operating officer, said while 25 aide positions were up to possibly be cut ahead of the new school year, it later became 16 positions instead.

While those jobs were indeed removed, Vivacqua said, some of those staff members have been rehired for different positions.

For example, some of the staff members were brought on as one-to-one special education aides — where a student's disability requires an individual aide to work specifically with them — while others took on the aide positions of other staff members who had left, Vivacqua said.

Meanwhile, some of the special education aides whose positions were cut found jobs elsewhere or moved out of the area, he noted.

Ultimately, Vivacqua said, any of the aides who wanted to stay in the district were able to do so.

"Nobody was forced out," Vivacqua said.

He said he was glad the district was able to re-hire staff.

Pete Colucci, the Cayuga Onondaga BOCES associate superintendent for management, regional services and finance, said earlier in the year that the fate of those 25 aide roles were dependent on enrollment. 

The school year for BOCES starts Tuesday. Additionally, Vivacqua said no new programs have been added or removed for this year.

Katko: No grudge over Sandy aid, supports federal help for Texas

DEWITT — U.S. Rep. John Katko isn't seeking revenge.

Katko, R-Camillus, wasn't in Congress five years ago, but he remembers what happened after Superstorm Sandy hit parts of New York and New Jersey. An aid package that aimed to help affected communities was held up in Congress because a group of lawmakers, several of whom were from Texas, opposed the measure.

Their reasoning: That the legislation included unnecessary spending.

Now, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and other members of the Texas delegation are requesting federal assistance in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, which has caused widespread damage and flooding in Houston and other parts of the state.

Experts estimate that it could take years to clean up the damage left behind by Harvey. Any aid package passed by Congress will likely cost billions.

Katko indicated Tuesday that he will support any aid for Texas to recover from the hurricane. But he noted that it was "very interesting" some of his colleagues who opposed aid in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy are now pushing for funding to help Texas.

"Regardless, the politics aside, I'm going to do what's right," he said Tuesday. "I'm not going to say, 'We're gonna get you back for what you did with Sandy.' Forget it. We're gonna do what's right for the American people."

Cruz, R-Texas, and other critics of the $60 billion Sandy aid package claimed that it was wasteful spending. Multiple lawmakers claimed that only a fraction of the funding was dedicated to Sandy relief, which isn't true.

Katko is confident that Congress will pass an aid package when session resumes in September. The House and Senate are in recess until after Labor Day.

"I can't even imagine what it must be like to get 50 or 60 inches of rain dumped on you in a high flood zone like Houston is. It's tragic," he said.

For now, the focus is on the areas that have been hit hard by the hurricane. Parts of Texas have reported more than 50 inches of rain — a record for the continental U.S. Flooding has forced people to leave their homes. Churches, convention centers and other large structures are being used to hold thousands of people who had to evacuate.

Boats have been used on city streets and roads to rescue people from their homes.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has sent New York Air National Guard personnel and equipment, including rescue aircraft and boats, to assist with the response in Texas. On Monday, New York airmen helped rescue 255 people in Houston and Katy, Texas.