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SUNY Adirondack board OKs guns for officers

QUEENSBURY — Public safety officers at SUNY Adirondack will be wearing body cameras and carrying Tasers by January, and will be armed with handguns before the next freshman class arrives in September.

The school’s Board of Trustees voted 7-2, with one absence, Thursday to follow the recommendation of President Kristine Duffy and arm the officers. The vote also approved a lockdown system for the campus.

The proposal specifically called for Tasers, rather than stun guns.

At the board’s previous meeting, Duffy said the coast of equipping the officers with Tasers and handguns would cost about $59,000 for the initial setup and $21,000 on an annual basis.

The approval came despite an impassioned plea from English professor Neal Herr, who has been the most vocal opponent of handguns. He spoke at the meeting, as he has in the past. There were also more than a half-dozen students in attendance, and the group left after Herr’s speech.

The two board members who voted against the proposal were Bernice Mennis and Queensbury Supervisor John Strough. Trustee Cailie Currin was absent.

Last year, a survey found that 63 percent of college employees were in support of arming the officers. People were allowed to submit multiple responses. Seventy percent of students who responded supported giving the peace officers guns.

“They said it would make them feel safe. It would not make me feel safer,” Mennis said.

Strough opposed the move, saying there were two police agencies (the Warren County Sheriff’s Office and the State Police) who could respond to major issues at the college.

Board Chair Patricia Pietropaolo, Harry Booth, Kathleen Grasmeder, Robert Judge, John Morabito and Alan Redeker all voted in favor of the proposal, as did Jac’Quan Thompson, the student trustee.

At the last meeting, Thompson said he was personally opposed to arming officers, but he said he would bring the issue to the Student Senate. Thompson said the majority of students he and other senate members talked to were in favor of the move, and the senate voted to support it.

The Student Senate proposal suggested officers keep their guns in the locker room and carry the Tasers. It also called for a yearly psychological evaluation of officers and an opportunity to educate students on the reasons for carrying weapons.

Booth said he was comfortable with the resolution, because Duffy had set out a timeline that called for the cameras and Taser to come out by January, followed by the guns. He also pointed out that some officers are already trained to carry and two have experience training others.

Until 2004, the campus used private security guards, then hired one campus public safety officer. In 2013, the campus replaced all security guard with public safety officers. The public safety office was designated as an official law enforcement agency at that time.

In his opposition to the resolution, Herr said he had talked to a number of faculty members and “most” opposed arming the officers with guns. In the past, he has criticized the format of the survey that produced the finding of support for arming officers.

Herr said the decision was being based on feelings; not on facts. He noted that armed officers did not prevent the recent massacre in Las Vegas.

Judge wrote the resolution and said he had prepared the brief motion carefully, tweaking it as late as Thursday afternoon.

Washington County buys into the hype over hemp

EASTON — Farmers and fellow residents packed into the offices of the Washington County Fairgrounds Tuesday night to weed through the logistics of growing and marketing industrial hemp in the state.

Nearly all 90 people who gathered for the meeting expressed interest in learning about how to harvest the plant. A wide variety of topics and questions about the hemp industry were covered, from fertilizer to nutritional hemp food to farming techniques.

By the end of the almost three-hour discussion, many people were digging for answers on how to sow a successful hemp market and reap the benefits.

“I wouldn’t spend years and years of my life and move my family across the country and invest my time, energy and money if I didn’t believe in this ... there’s a massive opportunity around hemp but we’ve got to make good choices,” said Trey Riddle from Sunstrand LLC in Kentucky.

“You’ve got to find what your niche is,” Riddle told the crowd.

Riddle, one of three guest speakers invited to discuss the crop and new state regulations encouraging its growth, talked about markets for hemp. What was extracted from the discussion was that growing hemp on an artisanal scale might work better in Washington County than growing on a commercial scale.

Hartford Supervisor Dana Haff, who has been one of the biggest advocates of bringing the crop to the county, thinks the local niche for industrial hemp is the smaller, boutique market.

“In Washington County, we have the cheese and fiber tours ... there are a lot of things in Washington County that are artisanal, they’re not large-scale, agricultural industries,” he said.

Mary-Jeanne Packer, owner of Battenkill Fibers, said she came to the area to open her yarn business because of the access to raw material — sheep wool. But her customers have started asking her for other materials, including hemp.

“I think I’d need a few acres ... It’s a good fit with our scale of agriculture ... I could potentially have orders for a thousand pounds of hemp yarn today if I could just get people to grow it and get it processed,” she said.

“I just need the raw material, and I could buy it right now from Europe or California or wherever, but I’d like to use local-sourced material the way I do with wool,” she said.

Farmers asked about the proper equipment to use and the number of pounds of hemp that could be produced on a small acreage farm.

When Riddle asked to see a show of hands of those interested in farming or producing the plant, about 15 hands shot up. He later asked how many people were interested in the artisanal hemp market and about 10 of those 15 hands were raised.

Riddle told the crowd that production on an artisanal scale is a “viable possibility.”

But to grow hemp at any scale, farmers must follow specific guidelines from the federal Drug Enforcement Agency.

State Department of Agriculture and Markets policy analyst Tim Sweeney talked about the approval process for growing hemp and emphasized the research-proposal portion of the application.

“Everything you do has to be couched as research,” he said.

“We have no limits on the number of permits we can issue as long as the application meets our criteria, we’ll be able to approve them and you can go on your way … hemp is a schedule one controlled substance, so as far as the DEA is concerned, it is a drug,” he said.

Applicants would be considered “research partners,” with the Department of Agriculture and Markets, and research topics could range from agronomic to marketing, Sweeney said.

Figuring out the right kind of hemp for premium yarn could make for a good research topic, Packer suggested.

“A one-thousand pound order of hemp can come from just a couple acres of the right plant, we heard … It would be a perfect project for someone to research,” she said.

Betsy Foote, a high school agricultural teacher in Greenwich, said her family runs a small dairy farm in Hartford. She attended the meeting to bring information back to her classroom, but said she isn’t opposed to growing the plant, although she isn’t sure who she would sell it to.

“Growing hemp is way more environmentally intensive than I thought … I don’t know where the market is for it around here,” she said after the meeting.

Growing hemp was illegal in New York in 2013. With Haff pushing, the Washington County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution urging the state and federal governments to recognize the benefits of hemp as an agricultural product.

Cornell University Professor Larry Smart, the third guest speaker, talked extensively about his experience of growing hemp as part of a research project. The purpose was to increase knowledge of hemp cultivation, collect data on New York soils and prime potential markets with initial harvests of grain and fiber, he said.

Smart and his team bought more than 51,000 pounds of hemp seed from Ontario, Canada, imported under Cornell University’s DEA permit.

Smart and his team learned that hemp grows well on rich, well-drained corn and soybean land, needs a lot of fertilizer and prefers semi-humid conditions with temperatures between 60 and 80 degrees.

Smart talked for nearly an hour, and could have kept the conversation going, even though he had said he didn’t know a lot about growing hemp.

At the end of the meeting, however, he did say he knew one thing: “People are crazy about it.”

Police investigate business burglary spree in Queensbury

QUEENSBURY — Police are investigating a rash of burglaries at businesses in Queensbury in recent days, with at least four break-ins reported along Quaker Road.

The Warren County Sheriff’s Office and State Police are looking into the burglaries, in which a suspect or suspect forced their way into buildings and stole cash.

Police said the loss from all of the businesses was several hundred dollars, but damage also occurred during the forced entries.

Hewitt’s Garden Center, Adirondack Wine Merchants and the Salvation Army store were hit, with the break-ins happening on successive nights,

Police said Hewitt’s was hit twice.

The burglaries happened between Saturday and Monday.

“We have four altogether between our agency and the State Police and we are working with the State Police to pursue some leads,” sheriff’s Lt. Steve Stockdale.

Adirondack Wine Merchants owner Robert Doin said a door was broken late Sunday or early Monday and had to be replaced, and money was stolen. The loss was tough for a small business, he said.

“It gives me pause for our community,” he said.

Police have been analyzing surveillance videos and recovering forensic evidence from some of the businesses.

Anyone who saw suspicious activity around the businesses was asked to call the Sheriff’s Office at 743-2500 or 583-7000.

Police also dealt with a rash of commercial burglaries in the Warrensburg area earlier this year, but they said there had not been any notable break-ins around Queensbury before the recent spate.