August 09 , 2007


Gas line ruptures during work at SUNY Cortland

Leak brings out firefighters but causes no injuries


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer      
Cortland firefighter Derek Reynolds tries to isolate a gas leak on the SUNY Cortland campus by digging up a shutoff valve Wednesday.

Staff Reporter

A construction crew working on renovations to a residence hall accidentally broke a buried natural gas pipeline on the SUNY Cortland campus Wednesday evening.
The construction workers hit the gas pipe, causing a significant leak, said Charles Sherman, assistant chief for the Cortland Fire Department.
The break was located on a 1 1/4-inch gas line in a courtyard between Shea, Higgins and Winchell halls. Both Shea and Higgins are residence halls and were unoccupied at the time. Winchell Hall, the building the pipe runs into, is a telecommunications area, according to the Residential Services Office.
The Fire Department was called at approximately 6:30 p.m. for standby while officials from the university and New York State Electric and Gas Corp. tried to turn off the gas and isolate the problem area.
Steve Lundberg, assistant director for maintenance and operation services at the college, confirmed the construction company was working on renovations to Shea Hall.
SUNY Cortland spokesman Peter Koryzno said this morning that the contractor on the project is _FAHS Construction Group of Binghamton.
Erik Verfuss, a captain for the fire department, said no one had to be evacuated from the buildings; however, gas readings were taken in each building to ensure safety.
The leak was stopped at approximately 7:40 p.m. NYSEG workers first tried to shut off the gas to the line with a valve, but when that did not work, they began to dig for another valve with a backhoe.
Firefighters said the backhoe caused another nick in the line that caused another minor gas leak.
NYSEG was finally able to clamp the line, which controlled both leaks, Verfuss said. He added that there is no way to tell how much gas leaked from the line.
Koryzno said this morning that the pipeline was broken by a contractor using a backhoe to dig a two- or three-foot deep trench for electrical conduit on the west side of Shea Hall.
Electrical conduit is being installed in the trench for exterior lighting around the residence hall, which is undergoing a total renovation and is scheduled to reopened in the fall semester, he said.
Officials at FAHS Construction Group could not be reached this morning for comment about the gas leak.
According to Bob Pass, the regional community outreach and development manager for NYSEG, all repairs were completed by 9 p.m.
“Service was interrupted for an hour, but there were no customers in the building and we had everything under control,” he said. “There was no danger of any kind.”




Health Dept. catches up with smoking law violations

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — The Cortland County Health Department’s Office of Environmental Health this year has doled out $18,400 in fines for indoor smoking violations, including one fine of $6,000.
The fines are for violations from previous years, Environmental Health Director Audrey Lewis said, and the department is now fully up to date on its backlogged enforcements of violations of the state Clean Indoor Air Act.
Lewis on Wednesday told the Health Committee that, now that the department is up to date, future enforcements should be significantly more consistent and potentially more stringent.
“The logs have been cleared, so from this point forward, hopefully the restaurants and taverns will see some more consistency,” Lewis said after the committee meeting. “Hopefully we’ll start to see less smoking going on and we can level the playing field for everybody.”
A clerical staff shortage in the department had caused the backlog, but since January a full-time clerical position dedicated to processing enforcement has alleviated the logjam.
Inconsistent enforcement of the law and lengthy delays between findings of noncompliance and actual hearings have raised concerns from the county Restaurant and Tavern Owners Association, but association President Troy Beckwith said this morning that those issues were being resolved.
“We’ve been working with the Health Department and I think we’re getting there, “ said Beckwith, who owns Friends in Homer. “They’ve said they’re going to be a lot more consistent with it, and that’s what we’ve been pushing for, so we’ll see how it goes.”
Compliance with the law has been a key issue for the Cortland County Legislature’s Health Committee.
“All I want is to see it be done consistent and fair, that’s all I’m asking for,” said committee member Ron Van Dee (D-5th Ward).
The state law, enacted in 2003, covers restaurants, bars, bowling alleys and pool halls.
Committee Chairman Sean Clark (D-2nd Ward) said he had invited Lewis to report at the meeting because of questions regarding implementation of the law.
“Environmental Health has done a lot to make sure this program is more evenhanded, and I think they’re proceeding appropriately, so I wanted (Lewis) to talk to us about that and clear up any questions we had,” Clark said.
When the law was first enacted in 2003, department officials visited restaurants on a complaint-basis only, Lewis said.
Since 2005, the department has moved toward doing more frequent compliance checks, Lewis said, and has enlisted the assistance of the Tobacco-Free Coalition to report potential noncompliance.
The department’s current policy calls for up to three visits to a business whenever there is a complaint of noncompliance, she said, and the additional clerical help has allowed the department to be more consistent in ensuring findings of noncompliance ultimately result in an enforcement, through a fine, against a business.
Beckwith said he has been pleased that most of the backlogged enforcements have been settled with the county, but noted he and another restaurant owner are still trying to work out long-standing fines.
“My thing there is that this dates back to 2004, I just feel that too much time has gone by to bring charges on these people,” Beckwith said.
To date this year the department has issued 15 fines against business owners — because of the backlog, the citations date back to previous years — totaling $18,400, Lewis said.
If a business owner acknowledges the noncompliance and foregoes a hearing, the fines range from $100 for a first offense within a three-year period, to $1,000 for a fourth act of noncompliance within that period.
At a hearing, however, which is overseen by a third-party hearing officer, the fines are at that officer’s discretion.
For instance, Malarkey’s Pub & Grub in McGraw recently was assessed a $6,000 fine by the hearing officer, Lewis said, for a number of violations.
Beckwith said he expected the Association would challenge that particular fine, on the basis that it was raised by the hearing officer from approximately $3,800.
“She had a hearing and she lost, but I think it’s pretty ridiculous that her fine would double,” he said.
While Beckwith said the association would support Malarkey’s, which also has fines dating back a number of years, he said that as a whole the association would not support businesses that continue to be found in noncompliance with CIAA.
“I think most of the business owners know that they’re not going to get our support if they continue to do it, because it’s just not fair to the rest of the association,” Beckwith said.
Lewis said there is one business, which she would not name because of pending legal activity, that has been through three hearings and still this year has been found to be noncompliant twice.
Lewis said the county is limited under the CIAA to take any action other than fining the business, but she told the committee she would be discussing with the county attorney’s office whether or not the information could be forwarded to the state Liquor Authority.
Lewis said time will tell whether the increased enforcement will improve compliance.
“There seems to be a general shift, like there’s going to be more compliance, but at this point it’s hard to say,” Lewis said. “At the end of the year, we should have a better sense of the fruits of our efforts.”


Purchase of radio stations nears completion

Staff Reporter

The Michigan-based broadcasting company that plans to buy WKRT-AM and WIII-FM in Cortlandville expects to close on the stations around Sept. 1.
Sam Bush, senior vice president for Saga Communications, said Tuesday that will give the company enough time to complete necessary paperwork.
The purchase, which will be a finalization of a $4 million contract signed on Oct. 5, is taking a few months longer than anticipated due to a relatively lengthy investigation that is now complete by the state Attorney General’s Office, Bush said.
The office issued a subpoena requesting certain documents and information to determine if the acquisition, which now has Federal Communications Commission approval, violated federal antitrust laws.
Bush said the Attorney General’s Office withdrew its investigation after several months, though he is not aware when that took place.
“Ultimately they did an investigation and said there’s no reason legally or otherwise we can’t complete the purchase,” Bush said.
The Office of the Attorney General could not be reached for comment Tuesday, Wednesday or this morning.
Bush said the delay in the sale of the stations has resulted in “a lot” of employees leaving the stations. He did not know many people that includes or the percentage breakdown from WKRT and WIII.
He said all of the full-time employees who have stayed at WKRT and WIII, with the exception of one person he would not identify, are going to work for Saga Communications once it has control of the stations. He said he does not know how many employees that includes.
Todd Mallinson, general manager and spokesman for the two stations, would not confirm the departure of employees or answer any questions related to the sale.
Judy Ellis, chief operating officer for Citadel Broadcasting, the stations’ current owner, has not returned repeated phone calls over the last two weeks.
Once Saga Communications purchases the radio stations it will leave WIII, a classic rock station at 99.9 AM, as is and donate WKRT, a talk radio station at 920 FM, to the Bible Broadcasting Station, a nonprofit, to comply with the FCC’s multiple ownership rules.