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Queensbury struggles to clear sidewalks due to plow issues

QUEENSBURY — As snow covers the town’s sidewalks again, the town Highway Department still hasn’t cleared off all the snow from the last storm.

The problem is that the town has been using only one sidewalk plow. On Monday, a week after a storm dumped 19 inches of snow, Highway Superintendent Dave Duell put new tires on a spare piece of equipment and turned it into another sidewalk plow.

But for the first week, there was just one plow for 14 miles of sidewalks. That plow has been operating about 6 hours a day, on weekdays only. With the amount of snow that fell, Duell estimated it would take two weeks to get it all cleared.

The town is only half done with that project.

“And now we’re going to get another 8 to 12 inches,” Duell said.

So the sidewalks won’t be walkable anytime soon.

“It takes a long time,” Duell said. “The number of hours depends on the snow. This snow — it’s going to take a lot.”

Making matters worse, many private plow truck drivers have piled snow at the ends of the sidewalk. Those mountains of snow take 30 minutes or more for the town to cut through.

And the piles seem to be at every parking lot.

“Every one of them. You look up and down Route 9, all you see is those piles,” he said.

Fort Ann ice jam keeps properties flooded

FORT ANN — Water flowed across the backyard of Alyce Rathbun’s county Route 16 home on Monday, coursing across her yard and through her neighbors’ yards. It was no longer flowing into her home’s basement, though, which was a positive development, considering the flood her family dealt with last week.

If people want the sidewalks cleared faster, they could help by directing plows to pile snow elsewhere in their parking lots.

“It would just help us out tremendously,” Duell said. “Their help would be appreciated.”

During a storm, Duell usually assigns all of his workers to street-plowing jobs. The four heavy-equipment operators who take turns driving the sidewalk plow will be loading plow trucks with salt and sand instead. They also fill in on the plow trucks if someone calls in sick.

“It’s a balance,” Duell said. “I’m trying to get to the sidewalks, because I know they’re important. But I need the heavy-equipment operators to run the sand and salt pits.”

The Town Board voted Monday night to buy another sidewalk plow, at a cost of $45,000 after trading in an older plow.

The machine should arrive by the end of February.

Roads with sidewalks the town has responsibility for clearing include the following: Main Street, the Route 9 corridor from Glens Falls to Route 149, Aviation Road, The Boulevard and River Street.

Fort Ann ice jam keeps properties flooded

FORT ANN — Water flowed across the backyard of Alyce Rathbun’s county Route 16 home on Monday, coursing across her yard and through her neighbors’ yards. It was no longer flowing into her home’s basement, though, which was a positive development, considering the flood her family dealt with last week.

Fort Ann firefighters had to pump out the basement of the brookside home, and a sump pump kept the water at bay for days.

Five days later, the barn in her backyard is still surrounded by ice and water. The stream responsible for the flooding, Mount Hope Brook, flows underneath her neighbors’ chicken coop, and Rathbun worries that more snow and an eventual return of warmer weather will result in the home being flooded again.

“It makes its own path. There’s water and ice everywhere,” the 93-year-old said.

The problem is an ice jam that moved down the brook Thursday, as rain and warm temperatures caused flooding around the region. The ice passed through the bridge on county Route 16, but got stuck just downstream, forcing the stream to make a hard right turn across the Rathbun property and her neighbors’.

Alice Rathbun’s son, Jim Rathbun, said the ice has been building up and his sister had to move the chickens from their coop. He was worried the ice would continue to grow as water flows over the property, blocking the stream again.

He said the family understands that Mother Nature will cause problems from time to time. But he said the home never dealt with flooding or ice jam problems until Washington County replaced the bridge just north of their home in the early 2000s. He believes the angle of the bridge was changed slightly, which has pushed water toward the family’s home.

“It’s kicking the water out,” he said, pointing to the bridge from his kitchen. “I’ve lived here 60 years, and we’ve never dealt with problems like this until they did the work on that bridge. Now it happens pretty much every few years.”

Washington County Public Works Superintendent Deborah Donohue said her office looked into whether changes to the bridge structure could be to blame for the county Route 16 issues, after being contacted by staff of state Sen. Elizabeth Little, R-Queensbury. She said it did not appear the bridge was playing a role and said the bridge’s opening for water was made larger when the work occurred.

She said the bridge was built in 1939, and in 1994 the county removed its beams and deck and replaced them with new beams and a wooden deck.

“At this point, the beams were raised slightly, providing a slightly greater hydraulic opening,” Donohue said in an email. “In 2003, the wooden deck was removed and replaced with precast concrete deck panels. The records don’t show any change in the abutments during any of the rehabilitations.”

Washington County Public Safety Director Glen Gosnell said county officials are monitoring the ice jam on the Rathbuns’ property but couldn’t do much about it as of late Monday. Since it is well off the road and not endangering any roads or homes, there was no plan to try move or clear the ice.

More than 2 inches of rain fell in parts of the region in less than 24 hours on Thursday, after a deep freeze had frozen some rivers and streams. That caused ice jams that flooded areas around many streams, with volumes of water that were unprecedented in some areas.

“There was water in places where I haven’t seen it in a long time,” Gosnell said.

US intel chiefs list N. Korea, not border, as threat

WASHINGTON — Directly contradicting President Donald Trump, U.S. intelligence agencies told Congress on Tuesday that North Korea is unlikely to dismantle its nuclear arsenal, that the Islamic State group remains a threat and that the Iran nuclear deal is working. The chiefs made no mention of a crisis at the U.S.-Mexican border for which Trump has considered declaring a national emergency.

Their analysis stands in sharp contrast to Trump’s almost singular focus on security gaps at the border as the biggest threat facing the United States.

Top security officials including FBI Director Christopher Wray, CIA Director Gina Haspel and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats presented an update to the Senate intelligence committee on Tuesday on their annual assessment of global threats. They warned of an increasingly diverse range of security dangers around the globe, from North Korean nuclear weapons to Chinese cyberespionage to Russian campaigns to undermine Western democracies.

Coats said intelligence information does not support the idea that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will eliminate his nuclear weapons and the capacity for building more — a notion that is the basis of the U.S. negotiating strategy.

“We currently assess that North Korea will seek to retain its WMD (weapons of mass destruction) capabilities and is unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capability because its leaders ultimately view nuclear weapons as critical to regime survival,” Coats told the committee.

Coats did note that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has expressed support for ridding the Korean Peninsula of nuclear weapons and over the past year has not test-fired a nuclear-capable missile or conducted a nuclear test.

The “Worldwide Threat Assessment” report on which Coats based his testimony said U.S. intelligence continues to “observe activity inconsistent with” full nuclear disarmament by the North. “In addition, North Korea has for years underscored its commitment to nuclear arms, including through an order in 2018 to mass-produce weapons and an earlier law — and constitutional change — affirming the country’s nuclear status,” it said.

The report said Kim’s support at his June 2018 Singapore summit with Trump for “complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula” is a formulation linked to an end to American military deployments and exercises involving nuclear weapons.

Trump asserted after the Singapore summit that North Korea no longer poses a nuclear threat. However, Coats and other intelligence officials made clear they see it differently.

“The capabilities and threat that existed a year ago are still there,” said Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Plans for a follow-up Trump-Kim summit are in the works, but no agenda, venue or date has been announced.

More broadly, the intelligence report on which Coats and the heads of other intelligence agencies based their testimony predicted that security threats to the United States and its allies this year will expand and diversify, driven in part by China and Russia. It says Moscow and Beijing are more aligned than at any other point since the mid-1950s and their global influence is rising even as U.S. relations with traditional allies are in flux.

“Some U.S. allies and partners are seeking greater independence from Washington in response to their perception of changing U.S. policies on security and trade,” the report said, without providing examples or further explanation.

The report also said the Islamic State group “remains a terrorist and insurgent threat” inside Iraq, where the government faces “an increasingly disenchanted public.”

The intelligence assessment, which is provided annually to Congress, made no mention of a crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, which Trump has asserted as the basis for his demand that Congress finance a border wall. The report predicted additional U.S.-bound migration from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, with migrants preferring to travel in caravans in hopes of a safer journey.

In Syria, where Trump has ordered a full withdrawal of U.S. troops, the government of Bashar Assad is likely to consolidate control, with Russia and Iran attempting to further entrench themselves in Syria, the report said. Asked for her assessment, Haspel said of the IS group: “They’re still dangerous.”

The intelligence agencies said Iran continues to work with other parties to the nuclear deal it reached with the U.S. and other Western nations. In doing so, they said, it has at least temporarily lessened the nuclear threat. In May 2018, Trump withdrew the U.S. from that accord, which he called a terrible deal that would not stop Iran from going nuclear.

Coats told the committee that Russia and perhaps other countries are likely to attempt to use social media and other means to influence the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

“We expect our adversaries and strategic competitors to refine their capabilities and add new tactics as they learn from each other’s experiences, suggesting the threat landscape could look very different in 2020 and future elections,” the intelligence report said.

Democrat-controlled Legislature passes series of gun control bills

ALBANY — The Democrat-controlled New York Legislature on Tuesday passed a package of bills aimed at making the state’s already tough gun laws even stricter, including a measure barring teachers from carrying firearms in schools.

The legislation easily made its way through the Assembly, long controlled by Democrats, and the Senate, where Democrats regained control of the chamber in the November elections.

“It seems like every day we wake up to headlines of another mass shooting, another horrific gun crime,” said Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, of Yonkers. “The madness has to stop.”

The gun control legislation was the first approved in Albany since Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act in early 2013, when Republicans controlled the Senate. The tougher gun laws known as the SAFE ACT passed just weeks after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

The latest round of gun control legislation comes in the first month of Cuomo’s third term. He supports the measures and is expected to sign them into law. Cuomo called the new legislation “a big step forward” for commonsense gun control.

“There is a solution, and we have six years of history to show that the planet does not stop spinning, people don’t lose guns, it doesn’t bankrupt an industry,” Cuomo said earlier Tuesday at a state Capitol news conference with anti-gun violence advocates.

A supporter of gun rights called the Legislature’s bills “disingenuous” and said they would only hurt people who adhere to current firearms laws.

“It’s a violation of their Second Amendment rights and these are lawful gun owners who are not committing the crimes,” said Tom King, president of the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association and a National Rifle Association board member.

One piece of legislation would make it illegal to sell or manufacture bump stocks, devises that can increase the rate of fire of semi-automatic weapons. Such a device was used by the gunman who opened fire from a Las Vegas hotel room in 2017, killing 58 people at a country music concert and wounding hundreds of others.

Another bill would prohibit anyone other than a law enforcement officer, school resource officer or other security personnel from carrying a firearm while on school property. Under current state law, districts can decide whether to allow teachers and other school employees to carry guns in school.

The package of bills includes measures to create a municipal gun buyback program and to extend the waiting period from three days to 30 days after an inconclusive background check before a gun can be purchased.

There’s also legislation that would authorize law enforcement, parents, teachers and school administrators to ask a judge to evaluate a child they believe is a threat to themselves or others. The judge could then order the confiscation of firearms in the child’s home. That measure is known in Albany as a “red flag” bill.

Among the gun control advocates at the Cuomo news conference were Linda Beigel Schulman and Michael Schulman. The Long Island couple’s son, Scott, was among the 17 students and staff killed in last year’s shooting at a Parkland, Florida high school.

A former student with a troubled history at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School was charged in the Feb. 14 shooting. Scott Beigel, a geography teacher and cross country coach at the school, would be alive today if Florida had gun control measures similar to New York’s in place before the shooting, his mother said.

“Parkland would never have happened if Florida had a red flag law,” she said.