December 14, 2007


Second round of snow on the way

Meteorologists still unsure how much may fall locally


Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Mark Waterman shovels snow from the sidewalk near The Art Pool Studio and Gallery, which he owns, on Main Street in Homer. Thursday’s storm dumped several inches of snow on Cortland County.

From staff and wire reports
CORTLAND — Meteorologists are watching a storm moving up the East Coast to determine what impact it will have on the region beginning Saturday, two days after heavy snows closed schools and made local roads a slippery mess on Thursday.
Brian Lovejoy, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Binghamton, said a storm originating in the southeast part of the country is predicted to hit the area Saturday evening, though it’s hard to tell exactly when or the storm’s potential effects, he said.
“We’re having big discussions about that,” he said this morning about meteorologists at the National Weather Service, noting the storm had not yet taken shape.
Some people in northeastern states will get snow and others will get sleet and rain, he said, but which states will get what was underdetermined this morning.
Meteorologists should have a better idea about everything this evening, Lovejoy said.
Lovejoy said high temperatures for this weekend will be in the upper 20s, while low temperatures will be in the teens. The storm should produce winds, he said, but they won’t be damaging.
Lovejoy said Cortland County got between 6 and 8 inches of snow Thursday.
The storm originated in the Tennessee and Kentucky area and moved to West Virginia and Maryland before going off the coast, he said.
It was a “moderate” storm, Lovejoy said, but relatively warm temperatures near 30 degrees Fahrenheit made the snow wet, which caused the roads to be slippery.
“It makes an ice cream effect on the roads,” he said. “They’re kind of slushy and really slippery.”
The storm is finished, he said, and snow today will be light. Any snow that does fall, which is lake effect, will likely not stick to the roads, Lovejoy said.
“The temperature is too warm for it to lay on the roads,” he said.
Highs today are in the upper 30s, which is slightly above average for this time of year, while lows tonight will be in the teens.”
The weather conditions Thursday caused dozens of accidents on area roadways, according to the Cortland County 911 Center.
Between 6 a.m. to midnight Thursday, there were 49 accidents in the county that were weather related — 32 property damage, two with injuries and 15 cases when police assisted after vehicles drove off the road but were not damaged. Most of the accidents were on Interstate 81, according to the 911 center.
Area schools also closed for the day or sent students home early.
Thursday’s winter storm brought a mix of snow, sleet and freezing rain across the state, glazing roads and sidewalks with ice and making travel treacherous in parts of the state.
Dozens of accidents, most of them minor, were reported on snowy upstate highways throughout the afternoon, and evening rush hour traffic inched along on slippery roads in eastern New York.
A 23-year-old woman died Thursday morning when her pickup truck skidded and flipped over on a snowy highway in Waverly, 74 miles southwest of Syracuse in Tioga County. Police said Jessica Rose Nash was partially ejected despite wearing a seat belt.
Travelers at the New York City region’s three main airports got a reprieve: Some airlines, including Continental and Delta, allowed Thursday and Friday flights through the area to be rescheduled free of charge. Air traffic in the metro area returned to normal by evening, following earlier delays averaging more than an hour at John F. Kennedy International and Newark (N.J.) International airports.
Westchester County and Binghamton Regional airports were closed in the afternoon due to snow and ice.
Traveling was also tricky on the ground.
In suburban White Plains, a light lunchtime snowfall was followed by a combination of sleet, rain and hail — and sidewalks and roads that could double as skating rinks. In Cayuga County, a crash briefly shut down eastbound traffic on the New York State Thruway west of Syracuse.
Massie Baker, 33, huddled in the doorway of a Dunkin’ Donuts shop as she waited for a bus home to Greenburgh. “I didn’t think to wear boots,” she lamented.
It was the same story in the city: Wary pedestrians inched along icy sidewalks. Freezing rain pelted the metropolis in the afternoon, but by evening the wet weather had started drying out, said meteorologist Peter Wichrowski.
Snowfall ranged from as little as one-fifth of an inch in Western Nassau County to as much as 10 inches in parts of Ulster County in the lower Hudson Valley, where the snowfall was heaviest. Less than an inch fell in New York City.
School officials in Poughkeepsie called a snow day for Friday, despite a forecast for sunshine and temperatures in the 40s, because city streets and sidewalks were likely to be still treacherous in the morning after more than eight inches of snow fell Thursday afternoon. Several hundred minor traffic accidents were reported in Dutchess and Ulster counties throughout the day Thursday.
In Albany, snowy roads slowed traffic to a crawl.
“People are crazy. ... They’re still shopping,” said Kay McIntyre, shoveling a sidewalk in suburban Colonie as cars inched into a nearby mall parking lot.
Ciemnecki noted that sleet “is harder to push and shovel,” so residents, especially the elderly, should be careful.
Just north of New York City, Metro-North Railroad officials were not too concerned.
“It’s snow, it’s not a blizzard,” said spokeswoman Marjorie Anders. “We have all of our forces at the ready,” including crews equipped with hair dryers and rubbing alcohol to deice switches, if necessary.
The Long Island Rail Road put specialized non-passenger cars out on the tracks, spreading antifreeze along the electrified third rails. Scraper shoes attached to the passenger trains were at work brushing ice and snow off the rail, said railroad spokesman Sam Zambuto.
The storm was expected to blow out by Friday, with a sunny day expected. But early Sunday could see a return of snow and sleet.
Staff reporters Christine Laubenstein and Aimee Milks contributed to this article.




Legislators want more details in attorney investigation

Staff Reporter

As the county administrator moves forward with his push for a criminal investigation into the County Attorney’s Office, legislators want more details about how the office arrived at a settlement figure for a Randall Street property the county had backed out of buying.
County Administrator Scott Schrader said this morning that on Monday he would request the District Attorney to investigate the county attorney and an assistant county attorney, primarily for their role in arriving at a $17,433 settlement over the property.
“The public needs to know if this is on the up and up or not,” Schrader said after first proposing the investigation at a Budget and Finance Committee meeting Thursday morning.
The committee rejected the settlement at the meeting as well as a second $12,475 settlement for a Williams Street property.
Committee Co-chair John Troy (D-1st Ward) said he believed that if the committee had chosen to approve the settlements proposed by County Attorney Ric Van Donsel, it would have done so “too hastily.”
Van Donsel proposed the $17,433 settlement for the former owner of 6 Randall St., Steve Lissberger, and the $12,475 settlement for James and Yvonne Cole, who still own 11 Williams St.
The property owners had signed contracts to sell their properties to the county last year and pursued legal action after the county backed out of the deal in January after the county scrubbed plans for a public health building in the area.
Schrader said during a committee meeting Thursday morning that the Lissberger settlement was too high, given that the actual August sale price of the property to a third party was only $500 less than what the county had agreed to pay in the contract it later reneged on.
The property was sold at the beginning of August for $72,500; the county had originally planned to purchase the property for $73,000.
“If you use the itemization in the record, it does not justify what he (Van Donsel) has asked the Legislature to do,” Schrader said.
Van Donsel and Lissberger did not return phone calls for comment Thursday or this morning.



County may pick up cost of city hazmat crew

Budget and Finance Committee  OKs resolution to pay $26,475 for the city fire department’s  hazardous materials unit.

Staff Reporter

The Cortland County Budget and Finance Committee agreed Thursday to pay for the $26,475 annual budget for the city fire department’s hazardous material response unit, the only one in the county.
The Legislature will review and vote on the request at the Dec. 20 session.
The city has requested help from the county in attempts to keep down what had originally been a 9.8 percent tax rate increase for city property owners. That tax rate increase has since been reduced.
City Director of Administration and Finance Andy Damiano said this morning that he received revised figures from the city fire department Thursday that put the cost of the hazardous materials unit closer to $35,000.
That figure has been sent to the legislators and Damiano said the city would be asking the Legislature for the larger figure.
The increase from the original proposal is due to the department taking into account the more costly and more stringent medical examinations for the HazMat unit members, Damiano said.
Since there is no guarantee of legislative approval of the city’s request, Damiano said the HazMat costs would likely be included in the preliminary budget when the Common Council votes on its budget Dec. 18. If approved, Damiano said he would recommend allocating the money to the city’s surplus fund balance in attempt to rebuild it.
The city’s surplus reserves will be drained to nothing at the end of this year, otherwise.
Committee member Dan Tagliente (D-7th Ward) said during the Thursday morning committee meeting that the hazmat funding is a “token” contribution.
“I think that we could at least do this,” Tagliente said.
Committee member Newell Willcox (R-Homer) said he approved of the county’s footing of the bill “in the spirit of Christmas.”
The city had hoped for help with its more than $200,000 annual funding of the Cortland Free Library, but meetings between city, county and eventually library officials convinced county officials that it was not their place to step in and fund the library.
Ninety percent of the library’s patrons live in Cortland and Cortlandville, which already contribute to the $300,000 operating budget. The citys budgeted contribution for 2008 is $200,000 while Cortlandville’s is $79,000.




Final Hoxie Gorge bridge span comes down

Staff Reporter

CORTLANDVILLE — The state’s $16 million project to build two new Interstate 81 bridges over Hoxie Gorge came to a close Thursday morning as a Wyoming company removed the old southbound bridge with explosive charges.
The demolition took place at 10:30 a.m. and was conducted by Demtech, a company hired by the state Department of Transportation, DOT spokesman Tony Ilacqua said.
Like a similar northbound bridge demolished in September 2006, the bridge was too costly to maintain and too narrow, Ilacqua said.
Ilacqua said he believes the Hoxie Gorge bridges are the first ones to be demolished with explosives.
He said he could not remember another bridge being demolished with explosives since 2000 when bridges were taken down in Port Ontario.
The Hoxie Gorge bridges, which were constructed from 1964 to 1966, spanned 720 feet and were 150 feet above the ground.
Northbound vehicles have been using a new northbound bridge since late October, and before that used a new southbound bridge for a little more than a year.
Southbound vehicles have been using the new southbound bridge since late October.
Both new bridges were constructed by Vector Construction of Cicero, with the southbound bridge being built from 2005 to 2006 and the northbound bridge from 2006 to this year.
The new bridges are wider than the old ones, and have concrete pillars instead of the old bridge’s iconic steel arches.
The bridge has been widened from 28 to 38 feet to provide 10-foot shoulders on the right side.
The last step of the project was getting rid of the old southbound bridge.
About 2.2 million pounds of steel that made up the two-lane bridge dropped immediately after 97 pounds of dynamite and other explosives were set off.
At 10 a.m. Thursday morning State Police began detouring traffic in both directions, beginning northbound at Exit 8 in Whitney Point and southbound at Exit 13 in Preble, so that vehicles would not be crossing the new bridges during the demolition of the closed span nearby.
Dozens of people showed up at the intersection of West River and Stafford roads in Virgil Thursday morning to watch the bridge fall, but heavy snow kept them from seeing much off the bridge demolition across the Tioughnioga River valley.



Developer in court over garage demolition

Staff Reporter

A local developer appeared Thursday in City Court and argued he was justified in tearing down a West Court Street garage without a permit in August.
The three-car garage of the historic former George Brockway house at 19 W. Court St. had fallen down on Aug. 3, property owner John Del Vecchio said. As a result it had to be torn down, he said.
The property has been at the center of controversy since plans to convert it into a student apartment complex were first presented in February.
The city code office deemed the structure unsafe a few weeks before it was demolished on Aug. 4.
“It is my opinion that you (Del Vecchio) knew you had to obtain a demolition permit and that is why you received the court appearance ticket,” Assistant Fire Chief and Director of Code Enforcement Chuck Glover testified Thursday.
Del Vecchio, who represented himself before City Judge Elizabeth A. Burns, argued that he was concerned with public health and safety on his property and for the children at the YWCA, which is approximately 50 feet from the property, when the garage collapsed Aug. 3. Due to his concern, he said he brought in his own equipment to tear it down without contacting the city police, fire station or code enforcement office.
There is no requirement in the city codes that such notification be made, but considering the pending review Del Vecchio should have notified city officials, Glover said this morning. Del Vecchio has said that he tried unsuccessfully to reach city officials after business hours.
Glover visited the site on the morning of Aug. 4 and advised Del Vecchio to finish the demolition and collect the debris in a pile until the city could make a determination as to how to proceed.
Later that day, Glover issued Del Vecchio a violation notice for failing to comply with city codes, as well as a court appearance ticket. The notice stated that Del Vecchio had until Aug. 18 to obtain a permit for the demolition, which he received before the deadline, and that he could not continue with demolition until the permit was obtained.
The maximum fine for failing to get a permit before beginning demolition is $250, according to the city code office; the minimum is $150.
After reviewing the testimony,  Burns will render a decision as to whether to dismiss the code violation case or issue Del Vecchio a fine for commencing demolition without a permit.