Wal-Mart Supercenter backers and opponents vie to sway local opinion


A panel from a Wal-Mart mailer sent to people living in the area of a proposed Supercenter touts what the company says are benefits the new store would bring to the community.

Staff Reporter

CORTLANDVILLE — As the local approval process for its 200,000-square-foot store begins to move forward, Wal-Mart recently sent about 4,500 mailings to local residents touting economic benefits of the project.
“We certainly did do a mailing in Cortland to sort of get in touch with all of the supporters that we had originally identified,” Phil Serghini, Wal-Mart public relations manager for New York, said Wednesday. “We did a petition in our (current) store … and we had 3,000 petitioners who supported the Wal-Mart (Supercenter) there. We want to let people know that the project is getting some more attention.”
The town recently received the proposal’s Final Environmental Impact Statement and reviewed the document as a board on Wednesday. The store would be south of and replace the Wal-Mart store on Route 13.
The mailer was sent to those previously identified supporters and to others within the geographical area. It also included a detachable card, postage paid, to be mailed to the company, stating, “Yes — I support Wal-Mart’s Supercenter proposal in the Town of Cortland.” The cards also provide a place to indicate whether the sender wants to help by writing a letter, attending a meeting or becoming involved in local pro Wal-Mart efforts. Serghini said the information would be forwarded to such groups.
The mailers caused concern for Citizens for Aquifer Protection and Employment, a group formed partly in reaction to the Wal-Mart proposal but also to protect the aquifer, as well as to educate people about the sole source of drinking water for the city of Cortland and the town.
CAPE co-founder and executive board member Jamie Dangler, of Cortlandville, said the group has yet to decide upon a definite course of action for raising community awareness.
“We certainly will do something, because we find the brochures to be highly misleading,” Dangler said Wednesday afternoon. “Our problem is resources — Wal-Mart has billions of dollars to wage this kind of public relations campaign. We certainly will be participating during all the public hearings and public comment periods. A mailing costs huge amounts of money. We did do a mailing a couple months ago, and it did (generate public interest) — but it was expensive.”
The organization also has been involved in the town’s revision of its storm water and zoning ordinances.
“We’re running ourselves into the ground, there’s no doubt about that,” Dangler said.
A local, exclusively pro-Wal-Mart group, Cortland Citizens for a Strong Economy, has spoken in favor of the project, and President John Carroll said members will continue to attend public meetings on Wal-Mart.
“I support the Wal-Mart store here, and I think that if you look at this action that Wal-Mart is taking, it’s really to counter some of the negative comments put out by the CAPE group,” Carroll said Wednesday afternoon. “I think that we will try to express our views over the next few weeks, perhaps as much as a month and a half.”
Dangler said CAPE has hired an independent engineering firm and a hydrologist to review the Final Environmental Impact Statement.
“We just need to get people to speak up, to attend public meetings, write letters and things of that nature,” Dangler said of CAPE’s needs in reference to the proposal.
Serghini said Wal-Mart takes seriously criticism and concerns over its projects. “We also believe in fully communicating with people who have criticism and concerns, especially our neighbors — we try to work with them,” he said. “Overall, there is tremendous support in Cortland for a Supercenter.”

Staff Reporter

CORTLANDVILLE — During an hour-long work session Wednesday morning, the Town Board reviewed the draft of the Final Environmental Impact Statement for a proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter on Route 13.
The document was prepared by Wal-Mart’s engineering firm, APD Engineering, at the behest of the Town Board. The board is the lead agency for the local approval of the project.
Once the document is determined to be complete by the Town Board and its advising agencies, the document will be posted online, at the Town Hall, and in local libraries. Ten days afterwards, the board and its consultant will decide whether the applicant has taken all necessary steps to mitigate all possible environmental impacts. From that point, the proposal will go to the town Planning Board and will proceed like any other development.
Town Supervisor Dick Tupper hoped that the board would be able to decide whether or not the document was complete at its next meeting on Oct. 17.
About five members of the public, as well as attorneys for Wal-Mart, attended Wednesday’s meeting. Only Town Board members, their attorney and its engineering consultants with Clough Harbour & Associates were able to participate in the discussion.



Area students fare better in state math assessments

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — The second round of assessment tests released by the state reveals the same trend as the English Language Arts Assessments — grades five through eight do poorly while grades three and four excel.
“There is a problem particularly at the middle school level,” said DeRuyter Superintendent of Schools Bruce Sharpe. “Elementary school kids still want to please their teachers.”
Overall, students scored better on the Math Assessment Test, the results of which were made public on Wednesday, than they did on the English Language Arts Assessments released three weeks ago.
“Statewide, 81 percent met all the standards in grade three, declining slightly to 78 percent in grade four,” according to a State Education Department release about the math results. “There is a larger drop after that, with 68 percent meeting the standards in grade five and declining to 54 percent in grade eight.”
Cortland City Schools Superintendent Laurence T. Spring said the scores were “a little bit better and I am a little bit happier.” Although Spring is happier with the recent scores, he knows there is room for improvement.
“Every one of our kids should be passing these assessments,” Spring said.
Although school officials are unsure why the middle school grades are doing poorly on the test, some point to a lack of motivation. The test holds no bearing on whether a student will be promoted to the next grade.
“It doesn’t count in term of graduation requirements,” said McGraw Superintendent of Schools Maria S. Fragnoli-Ryan. “It counts in terms of proficiency in math. It may be a lack of motivation for that grade level. We need to do something different.”
The construction of the test was also brought into question. Groton Superintendent of Schools Brenda Myers, who said she sat on a panel with Education Commissioner Richard Mills to write new math standards, said the test has a different structure from previous years. Myers said the test given in grades three, five and seven are “skinny tests” and grades four, six, and eight are “fatter tests.” Myers said the skinny test has no writing and there is more multiple choice, whereas the fatter test is more of a problem-solving test.
“The fourth-, sixth- and eighth-grade test is more robust,” Myers said. She also said the test reviews “a narrow measure of math.”
Homer Superintendent of Schools Douglas Larison also questioned the structure of the test. “I am not convinced that the exams are consistent and congruent from one year to the next,” Larison said.
He said the “gold standard” for measuring his students is the Regents exams and how well students perform on the test.
“Ultimately, our responsibility is to get them a high school diploma,” Larison said.



Homer replaces varsity basketball coach

Group of parents had called for coach's ouster, while others supported him

Staff Reporter

HOMER — The Board of Education has hired a new varsity boys basketball coach, two months after parents criticized the previous one at a board meeting.
At their meeting Tuesday, board members voted 8-0 to accept the superintendent’s winter sports coaching recommendations. Those included replacing basketball coach Patrick Dugan with Jim Luchsinger.
Dugan said administrators told him on Aug. 30 he would continue as coach, despite parents’ complaints.
But then after the board’s Sept. 12 meeting, administrators told him the board would not accept his name for the position.
“I reapplied when it was posted in the paper and never was contacted,” he said.
Dugan has coached the boys basketball team since 2003. He also coached the team from 1989 until 1994.
At the board’s Aug. 22 meeting, angry parents called for Dugan’s resignation. They read two letters — one blaming Dugan for students’ lack of interest in basketball and the other claiming Dugan unfairly cut a student from the team in the early 1990s.
In the meeting, parents did not cite specific concerns current players have with Dugan. But in the hallway after speaking at the meeting, parents said Dugan favors certain players over others. They also said the school’s program has suffered under Dugan’s watch, with the varsity team losing its league status.
At the board’s Sept. 12 meeting, a group of parents voiced their support of Dugan. They said they had heard a rumor the board would not be hiring him back, which disappointed them.
Superintendent of Schools Doug Larison would not say Tuesday whether parents’ concerns factored into his recommendation to the board. He would only say that Luchsinger was the “most qualified of the people that applied.”
Luchsinger has worked as an assistant coach for the boys varsity football team for the last couple of years. He coached the boys varsity basketball team from 1977 to 1982; he coached the boys varsity lacrosse team from 1978 to 1980 and again from 1985 to 1988.
Luchsinger could not be reached to comment on why he stopped coaching basketball in 1982. Athletic Director Michael Carboine declined to talk with the Cortland Standard about the issue.
Luchsinger will earn $6,857 in his new position, which is what Dugan earned before, said Kelly Yacavone, the district clerk.
James Gallagher, a board member, said the board based its vote on Larison’s recommendation. And like the superintendent’s recommendation for any position, he had “view(ed) things from both sides,” Gallagher said.
Nicole Sprouse, another board member, said the board also hired a new coach to help improve the boys varsity basketball program. It has suffered over the years, she said.
“It looks like without this kind of change they’re going to stay in some kind of rut,” she said. “Sometimes it’s good to try something new.”
Dugan said Tuesday the program has not suffered under him. He was the only coach in the last 15 years to take the team to sectionals, he said. Dugan admitted last year’s varsity team had a very poor record, but there also was a poor record at the junior varsity and junior high levels, he said.
“I guess they should have let all the coaches go because they lost so many games,” he said.
A junior varsity coach has not yet been chosen, Larison said. Rich Barnes and Nick Patriarco will remain as the junior high coaches.
Michael May, one of the parents who had criticized Dugan at the Aug. 22 meeting, said he regretted he had to speak up at the meeting.
“The whole situation was unfortunate,” he said. “I’m not happy about anything.”
At Tuesday’s board meeting, board members hired one other new varsity coach: George Snyder for the indoor track team. Snyder will also earn $6,857.




Counterfeit case may be connected to one in Mass.

Staff Reporter

Police believe two men scheduled for arraignment today in Massachusetts on counterfeit money charges may be connected to similar crimes committed in Cortland.
Godwin Gould, 22, of E. 46 St., Brooklyn, and Mousa Alminawi, 21, of E. 49 St., Brooklyn, are scheduled for arraignment today in Monson, Mass., on several felony charges after a Brooks Pharmacy clerk caught them trying to purchase goods with a fake $100 bill.
Sgt. James Boucher, of the Monson Police Department, said the two men were arrested Saturday for larceny over $250, possession of a counterfeit note, three counts of passing a counterfeit note and credit card fraud, all felonies.
Although Boucher would not comment on the details of the ongoing investigation, he did say he believes the two men and the phony money are connected to arrests made by the Cortland City Police Department last month.
Lt. Paul Sandy of the Cortland Police Department said this morning that his department is working closely with Monson police to determine if the cases are related.
Cortland police charged Franzy Rodney, 25, of 1902 Belleview Road, Apt. 6J, Brooklyn, with two counts of criminal possession of a forged instrument and Allen Leveille, age and address unknown, with one count of the same charge for buying small items at local stores with fake money.
Police said Rodney was arrested Sept. 16 after a Hess Mart clerk on Port Watson Street questioned the validity of a bill that Rodney used to buy a pack of cigarettes and a bottle of water. Police said when the clerk questioned Rodney, he fled the store.
Police later stopped Rodney, Leveille and two other men on Main Street. Although Leveille originally gave police a false name and police were unable to tie him to the Hess Mart incident, he was later arrested on Sept. 22 while in Immigration and Naturalization Services custody and charged him with passing off fake $100 bills at the Eckerd Pharmacy and Coffee Mania on Port Watson Street.
According to police, Leveille could not provide any identification upon his detainment, but claimed he was a French citizen who had just flown into JFK airport a few days prior.
Police later found out Leveille was wanted on a felony conviction for bribing a government official, after he skipped out on sentencing in 2003.
He is being held in Cortland County Jail without bail.
Boucher would not say how he believes the Massachusetts arrests are connect with the Cortland incidents, but he did say that like Leveille and Rodney, Gould and Alminawi were attempting to buy small items with big bills, hoping to get the most real-cash change as possible.
Leveille is due back in City Court on Oct. 18, while Rodney is due to appear Oct. 25.