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Clay Enos 

This image released by Warner Bros. shows Bradley Cooper in a scene from the latest reboot of the film, "A Star is Born." On Thursday, Dec. 6, 2018, Cooper was nominated for a Golden Globe award for lead actor in a motion picture drama for his role in the film. The 76th Golden Globe Awards will be held on Sunday, Jan. 6. (Clay Enos/Warner Bros. via AP)

National climate change report shows pros and cons for the Northeast

The iconic seasons the Northeast and Adirondack region are known for are slowly disappearing as climate change continues to wreak havoc on the planet.

While the latest United Nations report on climate change released in October highlighted doomsday events looming across the globe, a report released in November focuses on what’s happening in the United States, and the answer is a mix of good and bad, though it’s mostly bad and the good might not last.

The Fourth National Climate Assessment is a quadrennial review delivered to Congress and the President of the United States based on the Global Change Research Act of 1990. The report was released on Nov. 23, and highlights the “human welfare, societal and environmental elements of climate change” for 10 regions, including the Northeast.

“By 2035, and under both lower and higher scenarios, the Northeast is projected to be more than 3.6 degrees warmer on average than during the pre-Industrial Era,” according to the report. “This would be the largest increase in the contiguous United States and would occur as much as two decades before global average temperatures reach a similar milestone.”

The temperature increase is really being felt during winter months, which are warming three times faster than summer, the report added.

The warming trend in this region supports a SUNY Plattsburgh study that examined temperature data from locations in the Adirondack Park collected by the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, showing that the Adirondacks are warming about twice as fast as the globe.

People and wildlife at risk

Climate change is hurting our health.

The assessment predicts that by 2050, there will be 650 more excess deaths per year caused by extreme heat in the Northeast alone. There will also be more ozone pollution related deaths, and pollen season is expected to intensify, which could cause more allergy concerns.

Respiratory problems are also expected to increase in the Northeast, as warmer and wetter weather provides the cozy conditions for mold to grow.

Ticks and mosquitoes are also flourishing, leading to more diseases like West Nile and Lyme.

Ticks are also threatening the area’s wildlife. Moose in the Adirondacks are threatened by ticks, which can congregate on their skin in the thousands. Moose will try to remove them, also removing their hair, during the winter months when they need it most to survive.

Pros and cons for agriculture

While the southern United States is expected to struggle with more drought, New York farmers could reap the benefits of more rain and warmer temperatures.

Mike Hoffmann, executive director of the Cornell Institute for Climate Smart Solutions, said as winters warm and shorten, the growing season is also getting longer. The area, he said, has already picked up days over the years.

But Laura McDermott, a regional agricultural specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension, said while the growing season is growing, it’s more unpredictable. Late frosts threaten woody plants like apple trees, plums, cherries, blueberries and even grapes.

These diagrams plot the spring thaw and fall freeze for the growing season from 2040 to 2099, according to the Fourth National Climate Assessment released in late November.

“They have to endure the possibility of spring frost for an extra four weeks every spring,” McDermott said. “That’s a real bad thing. We would much rather have a shorter growing season that we can rely on than have a longer growing season be less reliable.”

The more frequent heavy and intense rainstorms, too, are both a blessing and a curse. While other areas of the nation may suffer from drought, many times the downpours comes at inopportune times for farms, said Corinna Aldrich, manager of the Washington County Soil and Water Conservation District.

“When we do get rain, it comes hard and fast in an afternoon,” she said. “It tends to run off instead of soaking in, so we don’t benefit as much as if we had some of these lighter rain events. We’re seeing rain in times of year when we don’t need it. We had an inch on Sunday, on the second of December, after, where I live, there were four or five inches of snow in the previous week.”

As a result, farms are incorporating more water management into their overall plans using things like cover crops to keep soil from washing away and installing manure storage lagoons to keep from spreading manure on frozen ground when it might wash away into water bodies.

Post-Star file photo 

Michael Kilpatrick overlooks a plowed-under planting of leeks, a prized fall crop, damaged by shoulder-deep flood waters during Tropical Storm Irene while giving a tour in Granville in November 2011. Kilpatricks were one of many farms hit by Mettowee River flood water, and Kilpatrick estimates their losses at $120,000. They received some aid from the state, but that amounted to about $1,300 for soil conservation allowing them to till under destroyed crops and put in a cover crop. Much of the Chinese cabbage on the left will be a loss too, but some of it sprouted after the flood so it can be harvested. Two climate change reports released in 2018 show that farms in the Northeast will be dealing with excess water. 

Dealing with unpredictable weather isn’t really anything new for farmers, but Cornell University has developed a Climate Smart Farming program that includes a county-by-county look at how temperature and growing seasons are changing since 1950, and what the projections are all the way into 2100.

For example, if greenhouse gas emissions continue to be released into the atmosphere at high levels, the growing season for Washington County is expected to increase from about 138 days in 1950 to an average of 196 days by 2100.

“It’s not all doom and gloom,” Hoffmann said. “We maybe have opportunities, you just have to adapt to a new normal, and these tools can help along with a lot of what our farmers are already doing.”

Urban infrastructure feeling the impact

The national assessment also warns that the aging infrastructure in the Northeast isn’t able to handle the effects of climate change.

“Current water-related infrastructure in the United States is not designed for the projected wider variability of future climate conditions compared to those recorded in the last century,” the assessment said.

Combined sewer and stormwater overflows have increased over the years. Ticonderoga’s wastewater treatment plant, for example, is under construction in part to handle heavier flows. The village of Whitehall also just received federal funding to help upgrade its system.

Jim Lieberum, manager of the Warren County Soil and Water Conservation District, said it’s a costly challenge for municipalities to upgrade their systems, which weren’t built to handle storms that dump 4 inches of rain in 12 hours.

Flooding also causes more erosion and runoff, which could be pushing more pollutants into water bodies, he added.

The district encourages everyone, from individual landowners to big businesses, to install green infrastructure and good stormwater practices like rain gardens.

“If you can slow the timing down of when all that water arrives and spread it out a little bit, it will help our infrastructure and help our stream system, and help our lake systems through a variety of ways,” he said.

South Glens Falls objects to Lehigh burning plastic

SOUTH GLENS FALLS — The village that takes the brunt of the chemicals sent into the air from Lehigh Northeast Cement Co. in Glens Falls is objecting to a proposal to burn plastic there.

While the plastic burning could reduce the amount of coal burned at the plant, it’s still not a great idea, village officials said at Wednesday’s Village Board meeting.

“They say it will reduce the carbon footprint, but ...” said South Glens Falls Mayor Harry Gutheil, who isn’t happy with the pollution already being sent into the air.

“I don’t think the air quality is where it should be,” he said.

Board member Tony Girard agreed.

“We’re going in the wrong direction with our air quality,” he said. “And we live here. When the wind blows, it blows to us.”

Lehigh is seeking state Department of Environmental Conservation approval to burn an “alternative fuel” of paper and plastic. That will reduce the plant’s reliance on burning coal and natural gas, which should reduce air emissions.

DEC has granted tentative approval but is now awaiting comments from the public before making a final decision.

John Brodt, vice president of Behan Communications and a spokesman for Lehigh, did not have specific numbers for how much the new fuel is expected to reduce emissions but said there would be reductions overall.

That left South Glens Falls board members with a lot of questions. Gutheil said he doesn’t have the technical expertise to know whether the change would be good for the village’s air quality. The comment period ends Dec. 21, so officials need to figure it out soon. Board members are so concerned that they plan to ask engineers to read the report and give them a layman’s version.

Brodt, in an email Thursday, said the fuel product Lehigh wants to use has been reviewed and approved for industrial use by DEC, and the department’s review of emissions testing data from Lehigh concluded that the plant will not exceed state air emissions guideline concentrations.

The cement plant’s air emissions, like for all manufacturers, are subject to regulation based on state-designated parameters to protect public health and the environment, Brodt wrote.

“We have not been contacted by Mayor Gutheil, but welcome the opportunity to talk with him,” Brodt stated.

No other municipalities seem to be studying the issue.

“This shouldn’t come down to just us,” Gutheil complained, saying that the greater Glens Falls area should be discussing it together.

Unless they get significant information to change their minds, board members are opposed. They agreed that, on its face, the plan was not a reasonable improvement to the plant’s occasional burning of coal.

“It just looks like plastic garbage when you look at it online,” said board member Nick Bodkin.

Board members don’t want that going into the air.

“Let’s be very careful here,” Gutheil said. “I still have an uneasiness, burning plastics.”

Post-Star file photo  

The Lehigh Cement Co. is seen in 2009 in Glens Falls. The plant is looking to update its air permit to allow for the burning of raggertail, a kind of recycled paper and plastic material.

Sex offender indicted for solicitation, child porn

QUEENSBURY — The homeless sex offender who was arrested earlier this fall for allegedly soliciting sex from a boy he met on the Warren County Bikeway has been indicted on 13 charges.

Edward L. Wheeler, 59, had been living in a tent in woods next to the bike path near Bay Road in Queensbury when he was arrested by State Police in October.

State Police said Wheeler, a Level 3 sex offender and three-time felon, befriended a group of children he had met on the bike path and began communicating with one of them via cellphone.

Court records allege he solicited a sex act from the child on Sept. 28 and Oct. 2, which led to his arrest on two charges on Oct. 4. Police said they identified two children he allegedly approached for sex.

Further investigation by State Police led to the discovery of additional correspondence between Wheeler and the boy, and an analysis of Wheeler’s cellphone led to the determination he had obtained child pornography, records show. The illegal porn did not involve the children he met along the bike path.

Wheeler faces five felony charges of possessing a sexual performance by a child, three felony counts of criminal solicitation, one charge of attempted luring of a child, two counts of attempted disseminating indecent material to a minor and two misdemeanor charges of endangering the welfare of a child.

Wheeler pleaded not guilty to the indictment Wednesday in Warren County Court, and Judge John Hall returned him to Warren County Jail without bail, pending further court action.

His lawyer, Warren County Public Defender Marcy Flores, said she had no comment on the case as of Thursday.

Wheeler is a Level 3 sex offender because of a 1990 conviction for sexual abuse of a boy under the age of 11 in Warren County.

In that case, he was accused of molesting three boys, and he served 12 years in state prison, records show.

Wheeler also has convictions for burglary, grand larceny and bail jumping and has been arrested at least once for failing to register as a sex offender when changing his address.

He faces potential sentencing of up to life in prison as a persistent felon if convicted of a felony in the new case. He faces up to 7 years in prison on each of the weightiest charges.

Police are still investigating Wheeler’s contact with children along the bike path. Anyone with information in the case was asked to call State Police at 518-745-1035.


N.C. race shines light on 'ballot harvesting'

HELENA, Mont. — An investigation into whether political operatives in North Carolina illegally collected and possibly stole absentee ballots in a still-undecided congressional race has drawn attention to a widespread but little-known political tool called ballot harvesting.

It’s a practice long used by special-interest groups and both major political parties that is viewed either as a voter service that boosts turnout or a nefarious activity that subjects voters to intimidation and makes elections vulnerable to fraud.

The groups rely on data showing which voters requested absentee ballots but have not turned them in. They then go door-to-door and offer to collect and turn in those ballots for the voters — often dozens or hundreds at a time. Some place ballot-collection boxes in high-concentration voter areas, such as college campuses, and take the ballots to election offices when the boxes are full.

In North Carolina, election officials are investigating whether Republican political operatives harvested ballots in parts of the 9th Congressional District with high numbers of Democratic voters and then did not turn them in to the local elections office. Ballot harvesting is illegal under state law, which allows only a family member or legal guardian to drop off absentee ballots for a voter.

The investigation is focusing on areas in the district where an unusually high number of absentee ballots were not returned.

Republican Mark Harris leads Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes, but the state elections board has refused to certify the results. The head of the state Republican Party said Thursday that he would be open to holding a new election if there is evidence of fraud.

Supporters of ballot harvesting say they worry the North Carolina election may give an important campaign tool an unnecessary black eye. These groups see their mission as helping voters who are busy with work or caring for children, and empowering those who are sick, elderly and poor. Collecting ballots to turn in at a centralized voting hub also has been an important tool for decades on expansive and remote Native American reservations.

“Sometimes we think of voting as this really straightforward process and we often forget that all voters, but for new voters in particular, there’s a lot of confusion when voting about when they actually have to vote by, where they have to take their ballot to,” said Rachel Huff-Doria, executive director of the voter advocacy group Forward Montana.

Several states have tried to limit ballot harvesting by restricting who can turn in another person’s ballot. In Arizona, a video that showed a volunteer dropping off hundreds of ballots at a polling place prompted a debate that led to an anti-ballot harvesting law in 2016.

“I think at any level, Republican, Democrat or anything, it’s wrong. It’s a terrible practice,” said former Arizona Republican Party chairman Robert Graham, who backed the law. “People should be responsible for their own votes.”

The Arizona law making it a felony in most cases to collect an early ballot was challenged in federal court before the 2016 election, and blocked by an appeals court. The U.S. Supreme Court stepped in and allowed the law to be enforced.

Further challenges have so far been unsuccessful, most recently just before the midterm election.

Montana was the latest state to pass an anti-ballot harvesting law when voters approved a referendum last month. Al Olszewski, a Republican state senator, said he proposed the ban after two of his constituents in northwestern Montana complained of pushy ballot collectors coming to their homes.

“For a woman in her 70s that’s maybe frail and lives alone and feels intimidated, at least now they can say please leave” and have confidence that the law is behind them, he said.

Voting-rights advocates are dismayed that such laws are being passed without evidence of actual ballot fraud happening, at least before questions were raised about the activities in the North Carolina congressional race. They say restricting who can collect ballots punishes certain voters without doing anything to actually detect, deter or punish fraud.

“If you have an honest person who is trying to help voters, then who they are doesn’t matter as long as they return (the ballot),” said Myrna Perez, the deputy director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s democracy program.