January 30, 2007

Moment of silence planned for soldier

Pfc. Shawn Falter will be buried with full military honors Wednesday


Bob Ellis/staff photographer
A memorial for Shawn Falter stands in front of the Burns-McCauliffe American Legion Post 465 on Main Street in Homer. Francis Riter, post commander, has asked area veterans and active-duty military personnel to meet at the Legion Wednesday to participate in a funeral procession for Falter, who was killed in Iraq Jan. 20.

Staff Reporter

HOMER — Village and Cortland County officials are asking that area flags be flown at half-staff Wednesday in honor of Army Pfc. Shawn Falter, who was killed in Iraq last week.
A funeral with full military honors will be at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Grace Christian Fellowship Church, 1250 Fisher Ave., Cortlandville.
Falter, 25, a 1999 graduate of Homer High School, was killed Jan. 20 during an ambush in Karbala, Iraq.
Homer Mayor Mike McDermott and county Legislature Chairman Marilyn Brown both have asked that flags be kept at half-staff all day, and both have requested a countywide moment of silence at 11 a.m. in memory of Falter, a Homer native.
Meanwhile, Francis Riter, commander of the Burns-McCauliffe American Legion Post 465 of the American Legion, has asked that any veterans, veteran organizations or active-duty military personnel wishing to participate in the funeral procession meet at the Legion, 63 S. Main St., Homer, at 11 a.m. Wednesday.
Similarly, any members of the Legion family wishing to attend calling hours from 3 to 6 p.m. today at Grace Christian Fellowship Church are asked to meet at the Homer post at 5 p.m. so that the Legion can attend as a unified group.
Falter was among four members of his 2nd Battalion, 377th Parachute Field Artillery Regiment, deployed from Fort Richardson, Alaska, killed in the attack in Karbala.
Maj. Kirk Gohlke, a public relations officer at Fort Richardson, could not say what the regiment’s mission was in Karbala.
“Generally speaking, everything they do is focused on providing a safe and secure environment for people in Iraq,” Gohlke said.
A service will be held in honor of Falter at Fort Richardson, Gohlke said, though a date has not been set.
Accounts of the attack in Karbala in which Falter was killed have changed since last week.
After saying that five American servicemen in Karbala died during the initial attack, military officials now say that four of the five were first kidnapped by the attackers and then killed, their bodies found about 25 miles outside the city.
The Defense Department has clearly identified only one soldier as being killed because of the sneak attack. Capt. Brian S. Freeman, 31, of Temecula, Calif., “died of wounds suffered when his meeting area came under attack by mortar and small arms fire.” Freeman was assigned to the 412th Civil Affairs Battalion, Whitehall, Ohio. Officials only have said Falter and three other soldiers were “ambushed while conducting dismounted operations” in Karbala.
The other soldiers were identified as 1st Lt. Jacob N. Fritz, 25, of Verdon, Neb.; Spc. Johnathan B. Chism, 22, of Prairieville, La.; and Pvt. Johnathon M. Millican, 20, of Trafford, Ala. All were with the 2nd Battalion, 377th Parachute Field Artillery Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, of Fort Richardson, Alaska.


Spitzer seeks school reforms

Staff Reporters

CORTLAND — Local public and private school officials say they generally like Eliot Spitzer’s ideas to improve education, though some criticized certain proposals and others said they need more details about how they can be implemented.
Larry Spring, superintendent of Cortland schools, said he supports Spitzer’s idea to hold teachers, board of education members and superintendents more accountable.
If students don’t perform well, that should keep a teacher from getting tenure or serve as justification for removal of school board members or a superintendent, he said.
“I think the accountability principle should flow through the entire system so it makes sense we want to hold everyone accountable,” Spring said.
Spring did say, however, that a “values-added” system — which is based on individual student growth — should be used to determine whether students are performing well as opposed to a system in which success is only measured by test scores.
The Rev. Michael Moshkowski, director and principal at Parkside Christian School, a private nursery, pre-k and kindergarten school on Homer Avenue in the city, said he likes Spitzer’s idea of increasing the number of charter schools that are allowed in New York from 100 to 250 because charter schools have some of the same goals as private, Christian schools.
“I think charter schools provide educational choices for parents who want to make choices about where their kids go to get their public education,” he said. “They are public, except they run on a private school philosophy.
Moshkowski said he also supports Spitzer’s idea to give vouchers to students so they can attend private or parochial schools, such as his own.
One reason is it is less of a burden on taxpayers.
Moshkowski said his only worry about vouchers for private school education is that they would come with strings attached. He said he’s worried that schools such as his own would have to change their curriculum to accommodate state mandates.
“They might say, for example, you have to teach sexual education lessons in junior high that are more graphic and explicit than what we teach,” he said.
Superintendent of Homer Schools Doug Larison said he wasn’t opposed to the concept of charter schools, but he would like to see a plan or formula that works fair and accurately for all students in New York state.
“If you take the best and the brightest students, what does public schools look like?” Larison asked of the possible repercussions.
Moshkowski said he does not support Spitzer’s idea to make it harder for teachers to get tenure and for schools who don’t perform to shut down. Teachers and schools are trying their best, he said.
Larison said he wished Spitzer favored creating a plan to help underperforming schools as opposed to shutting them down right away.
Sister Harriet Hamilton, director of St. Mary’s School, in Cortland, said overall she liked Spitzer’s ideas. A longer school year is needed, and so is a longer school day, she said.
“There’s so many state mandates to be fulfilled within the confines of the school days and the length of school days has not changed,” she said.
Hamilton said she is also glad Spitzer would like to give more money to private and parochial schools, though she wonders if he will have support from the Assembly and Senate.
“It all sounds very good, but I’d like to see it happen,” she said. “It’s one thing to say it but it’s another to actually put it into practice.”


Sports complex to host winter carnival

Staff Reporter

CORTLANDVILLE — On Friday youths will have the chance to jump in a bounce house, win prizes and listen to the local student band Pyro, among other activities.
The J.M. McDonald Sports Complex, at 4292 Fairgrounds Road in Cortlandville, is hosting its first Winter Carnival from 6:30 to 8 p.m.
Sue Covington, office manager for the complex, said employees came up with the idea during one of their meetings. She said two to three Friday nights a month the complex hosts “Rock-n-Skate,” but the complex staff wanted to do something that would attract even more youths.
“We said it’s time we do something for kids who don’t skate,” Covington said.
The event gives families a chance to spend time together while the skate nights are just for children, she said.
Tammy Sciera, executive director at the complex, made the same point about family in a press release.
“The event is a chance for everyone to get out on a Friday night and have fun as a family,” she said.
Covington said the event will have about 10 games and another five or six hands-on activities.
Games include an inflatable hockey-shooting table sponsored by the Syracuse Crunch, a football throwing game and assorted carnival games, she said.
“We geared games to all age groups so all kids will go home with prizes,” she said.
There will also be miniature golf, a batting cage, an obstacle course, a sand art stand and a dunk tank. Students will have the chance to dunk teachers and coaches, Jennifer Turck said in a press release.
Turck said this morning she won’t know which teachers and coaches will be dunked until the end of the day.
Turck, who is coordinating a penny drive for the complex, said all proceeds from the dunk tank will go to the penny drive. The complex is trying to collect a million pennies — or $10,000 — to help fund the complex’s operation.
Covington said for every $1 youths donate to the complex’s penny drive on Friday, they will get to put their name in a drawing that will take place at the end of the night.



Cortland professor to study Washington state water contamination

Staff Reporter

In his office in the basement of Bowers Hall at SUNY Cortland, Peter Jeffers, a professor emeritus of chemistry, talked about how the entire nature of his work had changed when he learned about the contamination of neighborhoods surrounding the former Smith Corona plant in South Cortland.
Twenty years later, Jeffers’ subsequent work has made him an authority on how carcinogenic chemicals similar to the trichloroethene released by Smith Corona react with water.
Over the past year, Jeffers has received $109,299 in federal grants to study another chlorinated hydrocarbon that has contaminated areas in southeastern Washington state following plutonium production beginning in the 1940s.
The U.S. Department of Energy tapped Jeffers to determine the rates at which carbon tetrachloride and a second contaminant, chloroform, disintegrate when they encounter water and aquifer minerals at various temperatures.
Carbon tetrachloride had been used as an industrial solvent at the 586-square-mile Hanford site, and 1.5 million pounds of the chemical were disposed of into the ground, contaminating the groundwater.
Jim Amonette, a senior research scientist at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash., said the research team was well-aware of Jeffers’ work.
“Sometime in the next 50 or 100 years, it may start to affect the groundwater from which we get our drinking water,” Amonette said in a press release dated Jan. 24. “One of the biggest questions is, ‘Will it degrade away on its own?’”
Jeffers, who retired in 2005 after 39 years teaching chemistry at the college, will use his research of carbon tetrachloride’s hydrolysis, or reaction with water, to determine if the chemical poses a threat to the Columbia River or the water supply for the neighboring city of Richland.
City of Richland Public Works Director Pete Rogalsky said the problem is extremely well-monitored and well-studied.
“There’s a tremendous amount of energy, brainpower and effort being expended to monitor and take care of it, and our water supplies have been structured to try to mitigate any risk of contamination,” Rogalsky said Monday evening. “We filter river water, and we also have a facility that we infiltrate, or pump river water into the ground, and then pump out of the ground. We pump two gallons of river water into the aquifer for every gallon we extract. In effect, we push water away from our extraction points rather than drawing it in.”
It’s a question of where does the water move, and how fast does it move, Jeffers said Monday afternoon. If there is the need for some kind of cleanup, it will be very expensive, he said.
The experiments are conducted in what Jeffers calls the “Research Dungeon” in the lowest level of Bowers Hall, and he will enter his information into a computer database run out of the Washington laboratory.
The data that Jeffers has collected since last year are based on experiments starting at about 70 degrees Celsius, or about 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Because the temperature of the groundwater is not that high — it’s actually about 50 degrees Fahrenheit — he needs to conduct tests at the temperature of the groundwater to accurately predict the migration of the chemicals in nature.
Although the Department of Energy had used some of the existing data on carbon tetrachloride to figure out the hydrolysis reaction at the required temperature, Jeffers is now working to verify those predictions, and is testing the reactions at 30 degrees Celsius, which is about _86 degrees Fahrenheit. A solution of de-ionized water and carbon tetrachloride is enclosed in handmade U-shaped Pyrex tubing — Jeffers is a glass blower who often makes his own laboratory equipment, as well as decorative glass — and then immersed in a water bath that stays at a constant temperature.
It’s difficult to predict how long the work will take, because once Jeffers completes the reactions in de-ionized water, he will begin to use water from Richland for the tests in order to ensure accuracy. And, he will begin testing the properties of chloroform.