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Justin Ritzel, The Citizen 

The Chiefs' Axel Acosta passes the ball to a teammate while the Wolves' Alex Domingo goes for a steal Saturday at Union Springs High School. 

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Some Cayuga County leaders fear public doesn't know enough about harmful algae

AUBURN — It's hard to miss the green, bubbly slurry that's brewed in Owasco Lake and several others in the region and across the state over the last several warm and sunny days. But some local leaders fear the general public does not know enough about harmful algal blooms, let alone know to stay away from them.

That was the opinion of Owasco Watershed Lake Association President Bob Brower and past president Jim Beckwith at an Owasco Lake Watershed Management Council meeting Tuesday. 

"I don't think the notification process is at all adequate," Brower said to the council, which included Cayuga County Health Department officials and Owasco Lake watershed inspectors. "There's less information than there was a year ago. There's more than 15 years ago, but I think we've gone down the wrong path, and I continue to feel that way. I don't understand the thinking. I think that what people don't know they'll make up."

Leslie Baxter, a council member and town board member for Scipio, said boaters and swimmers were out on the lake in droves during the weekend of Sept. 16 and 17. Eileen O'Connor, director of the county's environmental health division, said the department gave Emerson Park staff at the ticket window brochures about harmful algal blooms to pass out, but Baxter said no one had been attending the window when she went through. Auburn Water Treatment Operator John West said he, too, has observed that staff at the ticket window has been hit or miss.

Niles Town Supervisor Joan Jayne said that sometimes people see other boats out on the lake, and think they're safe recreating there, too.

What is harmful algae and what can it do to your health?

Harmful algal blooms are a kind of bacteria that usually crop up in water bodies during late summer. They can look like a thick pea soup, or like a thin blue-green film of paint on the water's surface, depending on their intensity.

Brower and Beckwith suggested posting flags in the water to warn people of where a bloom was occurring. They also criticized the Owasco Lake Watershed Inspection Program's website, saying that the latest data showing the toxicity of the blooms and where they were located in the lake is hidden in the site.

Another struggle that local officials are dealing with is the lag time involved with reporting. The algae blooms are not always harmful, so inspectors may collect a sample of water directly from the lake. It takes a minimum of 24 hours, but more often a week or two before toxin levels are reported back from the lab for non-drinking water tests. That's partially why, O'Connor said, the health department and the state Department of Environmental Conservation have taken the approach to educate the public about what to look for.

"If you see discolored, scummy water, you should avoid it," O'Connor said. "That's been our messaging for a number of years. I think it makes more sense than trying to say, 'There was a bloom here a week ago, so watch out.' People should be educated. If you see a bloom, you need to stay away from that."

Watershed Specialist Drew Snell asked if reverse 911 was being utilized yet. Cayuga County Health Department Director Kathleen Cuddy said that method of communication would only be used for emergencies.

"An emergency is, 'don't drink the water,'" she said, "'not that there's a bloom on the lake, and I'm very firm on that one."

Snell said he thought that made sense. But following the meeting he floated the idea of putting out a temporary state Department of Transportation electronic roadside sign to warn the public about widespread blooms in the lake. He sent the suggestion in an email to council members on Thursday.

Owasco Town Supervisor Ed Wagner said he didn't think the signage was necessary. Neither did Cuddy.

"In my opinion, it doesn't provide enough information and would be alarming to the public," she said.

Snell said Friday that he would not be pursuing the signs.

Kevin Rivoli, The Citizen 

A harmful algae bloom inundates the water in the Owasco Lake outlet behind the Express Mart in Fleming on Tuesday.

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Historical marker for 1800s artist unveiled in Jordan

JORDAN — A historical marker unveiled in Jordan Saturday honors an artist who focused on human beings — both empowering them and capturing their likenesses.

The marker recognized 1800s-era artist and abolitionist Sheldon Peck, who lived in a house that was on the lot of 5 S. Skaneateles Road in Jordan from 1828 to 1836.

The painter, who was originally from Vermont and died in Illinois, created around 130 known portraits of people, some of whom were in the central New York area at the time. Peck's house no longer exists.

Around 40 people attended the event on Skaneateles Street, which was blocked off from traffic during the ceremony.

Lynn Fall was largely responsible for making the event a reality. Ever since Fall, who is from Jordan, was young, her mother, Carrie Gannett, had mentioned Peck was a one-time resident of the village, but it hadn't been determined where exactly he had resided.

Last year, Fall decided to figure out where the acclaimed painter had hung his hat. After some visits to the Onondaga County Clerk's office to see early Jordan deeds — the lot changed ownership 14 times — and looking at early maps of the village for about six or seven months, she tracked the property to the house on Skaneateles Street, which was built in 1868. When Fall was speaking at the event, she thanked the house's current owner, Jim Brown, for his support.

Fall said her mother had told her about the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, which gives grants for historic roadside markers. Fall provided the research for the sign and secured the grant earlier this year.

"I feel very strongly that (Peck) needs to be recognized and honored," Fall said.

Peck also painted beyond portraits, and was involved in the women's suffrage movement, as well. His house in Lombard, Ill., is now a museum.

Peck historian Richard Miller, of New Jersey, who is writing a book on the artist, said that Peck went largely undiscovered for years because the artist "didn't paint for exhibition, he painted for people," so unless one was a member of the family that had one of Peck's portraits or had otherwise been in one of the houses, the work was sheltered.

Miller said Peck's portraits provided an idea of what some his subjects looked like.

"His talent allowed him to enter these lives and leave a painted proof that these people had lived," Miller said.

Justin Ritzel, The Citizen 

The Wolves' Ava Mills drives to the net while the Chiefs' Molly Walter defends Saturday at Union Springs High School. 

GOP chair believes party will unite against Cuomo in 2018

Ed Cox will serve a fifth term as chairman of the state Republican Party, and it could be the most important two-year stretch of his tenure.

There are local races on the ballot in November across the state. County executive seats are up for grabs. Republicans will seek to win or retain control of county legislatures. In New York City and upstate cities, the GOP is mounting long-shot mayoral campaigns.

Cox isn't overlooking the local races. He believes they're important and will set up the Republicans for future success. But he's already looking forward to the 2018 election.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New York's Democratic governor, will likely seek a third term next year. Other statewide races for attorney general, comptroller and U.S. Senate will be on the ballot. Congressional and state legislative elections will be held, too.

Republicans haven't won a statewide race since George Pataki was re-elected governor in 2002. But the party has been successful in down-ballot races. Nine of New York's 27 congressional districts are represented by Republicans. Thirty-one of the 63 state Senate seats are held by GOP members. (Thanks to a Democrat who caucuses with the GOP and an alliance with the Independent Democratic Conference, Republicans hold the majority.)

Cox revealed that in 2016, for the first time since 1984, Republicans retained all of their congressional seats in a presidential election year. The bigger test, though, will come in 2018.

"We had a lot of success, but the real challenge, as Andrew Cuomo is going for a third term, is to win the governorship and the down-ballot statewide races and to get a Republican majority in the state Senate again," he said in a phone interview Friday.

Entering 2018, Cuomo will be the Republicans' top target. There are other statewide Democratic officials — state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli — but it's Cuomo who will get most of the party's attention. And Cox believes he's vulnerable.

The GOP chairman recalled what happened in 2014 when Cuomo faced a primary challenge from the left. He defeated the challenger, Zephyr Teachout, by nearly 30 points.

The governor's critics are quick to note that Teachout received 33 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary as a little-known candidate without a sizable campaign war chest. Cuomo's campaign had more than $35 million as of July 2014.

Cox called the results of the 2014 primary "a huge embarrassment for Governor Cuomo." He believes that's what spurred Cuomo to advocate for a $15 minimum wage and ban hydraulic fracturing in New York.

"We're the least business-friendly state, the highest tax state, the most regulated state ... We got a lot of work to do in order to win the governorship and get a Republican majority in the state Senate so we can reverse all those things that Andrew Cuomo has done to please in large part his political ambitions," he said.

Several Republicans have expressed interest in challenging Cuomo next year. Harry Wilson, a corporate restructuring expert who ran for state comptroller in 2010, is exploring a run. Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro has spent months criss-crossing the state to attend Republican events.

Over the summer, two upstate legislative leaders entered the fray. State Sen. John DeFrancisco, a Syracuse Republican who serves as the Senate deputy majority leader, announced he's exploring a run for governor. Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, a Canandaigua Republican, is considering a gubernatorial bid, too.

Cox and other Republican leaders want to avoid a primary that could shift necessary resources away from challenging Cuomo.

"We will have a united front going forward," he said. "All of (the potential gubernatorial candidates) I think have that understanding that we need to be united when the party makes a selection going forward. We want a very powerful team with a united party behind them."

Recent poll numbers give Cox confidence that Republicans can win the gubernatorial race in 2018. A Siena College poll released earlier this month found 48 percent of voters would support Cuomo's re-election bid. Forty-four percent said they prefer someone else.

Cuomo's job approval rating isn't strong. Forty-three percent of voters give him excellent or good reviews. A majority — 55 percent — said he's doing a fair or poor job as governor.

For Cox, that's an indication that New York voters "want something new."

"They want change," he said. "They're very unhappy, and they should be. This is our opportunity and we have worked eight years now to get organized for this." ​

What is harmful algae and what can it do to your health?

Harmful algal blooms are a kind of bacteria that usually crop up in water bodies during late summer. They can look like a thick pea soup, or like a thin blue-green film of paint on the water's surface, depending on their intensity.

Unlike traditional algae blooms, HABs can have different kinds of toxins, which may cause health problems in people and animals. The toxins are released into the water once the algae cells die. The toxin most commonly found in local HABs is called microcystin. 

Swimming or drinking microcystin can cause side effects such as abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, headache, sore throat, upper respiratory problems, diarrhea, blistering around the mouth, pneumonia and skin rash. Microcystin is also a liver toxin and can be lethal, especially in animals and pets who may jump into a bloom and ingest the water. 

Microcystin is not regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, but a 10-day health advisory guideline is in place for drinking water. That is, 0.3 micrograms per liter for children under the age of six, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems. For those over the age of six, the guideline is 1.6 micrograms per liter. 

With about $2 million from the state, the town of Owasco and city of Auburn installed carbon treatment systems this summer to treat the toxins. Last summer, toxins were detected in the drinking water of those plants. It was the first time to happen in the state.