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Irving Tissue officials discussing issue of assessment reduction with town

FORT EDWARD — Irving Tissue officials are having discussions with the town of Fort Edward over its recently lowered assessment.

Former Assessor Vicki Hayner had changed the assessment from $22 million to $11 million.

Plant Manager Eric Dawson on Friday said that the company did not have anything to do with the reduction.

“We’re working with the town. I can’t really talk about it. We’re talking about them right now to see if anything can be done,” he said.

Town Supervisor Lester Losaw did not return a message or email seeking comment on Friday.

The paper products company had a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement with the town in which the value was set at $22 million. The PILOT is expiring and the property is back on the tax rolls.

Hayner at first lowered the figure to $16 million to reflect the town’s 73% equalization rate. She then obtained an opinion from the assessing firm GAR and set the value at $11 million.

After a public outcry over the dramatic drop in assessment, Hayner abruptly resigned on May 7.

The Town Board last Monday moved forward with hiring a new assessor — Roseanne Lemery, who previously served as the town’s assessor. She will serve for the remainder of Hayner’s term, which ends Sept. 30, 2025.

The board discussed the assessment issue at length during its meeting. Losaw said he was going to work with Lemery to see what can be done, but did not elaborate, according to the minutes of the meeting.

Lemery also did not return a Post-Star call seeking comment.

Members of the public criticized Losaw because he allowed Hayner to seek that second opinion.

Resident Chris Boucher said Losaw should resign over that decision.

“You know how I feel about you personally, but that is the worst decision that has ever been made for this town,” Boucher said.

Losaw said he was simply supporting his employee.

“You have got to support your employees or you have got nothing,” he said.

Losaw admitted that he did not know about the figure that the consultant had come up with until the number was already submitted to Washington County as part of the tax roll.

Residents also pointed out that property owners have an opportunity to challenge their assessments on Grievance Day, which is set for May 25.

Resident Dave Cutler said changing this assessment did not make sense when the entire community is going to be revalued next year.

He also said that the full market value of the property is about $30 million, so the $22 million set by the PILOT had already factored into the equalization rate.

Former Supervisor Mitch Suprenant said he signed the PILOT agreement and after the 10 years it was supposed to be assessed at $22 million.

“It’s a signed-upon agreement. I don’t care if she’s a sole assessor or not, she did not have the right to negate an agreement,” he said to applause of the people attending the meeting.

Boucher said the town should stick to the $22 million and have Irving take the matter to court if it wants to lower it.

He said the assessor’s decision has generated a lot of angst in the town. The Fort Edward school board was caught off-guard. The board had factored an assessment on the property of at least $16 million into its budget and residents’ taxes were set to decrease. The district was projecting the tax rate would decrease by about 72 cents, from $29.27 to $28.55 per $1,000 of assessed value.

Instead, the drop in the assessed value of Irving Tissue will mean the tax rate will rise about 62 cents to $29.90 per $1,000 of assessed value.

Boucher worried about the impact on the school, which is in the midst of a merger study with South Glens Falls, and again called on Losaw to step down.

“You come here today and say it’s more important to worry about this employee’s feelings than it is about the whole town,” he said.

Boucher said parents are concerned that their students would not have access to extracurricular activities in a merger with South Glens Falls because that district does not offer after school busing. 

Working Thursday afternoon near West Hebron, a tractor prepares a field for a new spring planting season.

Israel kills 42 in Gaza as Netanyahu warns war will go on

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Israeli airstrikes on Gaza City flattened three buildings and killed at least 42 people Sunday, Palestinian medics said — the deadliest single attack in the latest round of violence. Despite the toll and international efforts to broker a cease-fire, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signaled the fourth war with Gaza’s Hamas rulers would rage on.

In a televised address, Netanyahu said the attacks were continuing at “full-force” and would “take time.“ Israel “wants to levy a heavy price” on the Hamas militant group, he said, flanked by his defense minister and political rival, Benny Gantz, in a show of unity.

Hamas also pressed on, launching rockets from civilian areas in Gaza toward civilian areas in Israel. One slammed into a synagogue in the southern city of Ashkelon hours before evening services for the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, Israeli emergency services said. No injuries were reported.

In the Israeli air assault, families were buried under piles of cement rubble and twisted rebar. A yellow canary lay crushed on the ground. Shards of glass and debris covered streets blocks away from the major downtown thoroughfare where the three buildings were hit over the course of five minutes around 1 a.m.

The hostilities have repeatedly escalated over the past week, marking the worst fighting in the territory that is home to 2 million Palestinians since Israel and Hamas’ devastating 2014 war.

“I have not seen this level of destruction through my 14 years of work,” said Samir al-Khatib, an emergency rescue official in Gaza. “Not even in the 2014 war.”

Rescuers furiously dug through the rubble using excavators and bulldozers amid clouds of heavy dust. One shouted, “Can you hear me?” into a hole. Minutes later, first responders pulled a survivor out. The Gaza Health Ministry said 16 women and 10 children were among those killed, with more than 50 people wounded.

Haya Abdelal, 21, who lives in a building next to one that was destroyed, said she was sleeping when the airstrikes sent her fleeing into the street. She accused Israel of not giving its usual warning to residents to leave before launching such an attack.

“We are tired,” she said, “We need a truce. We can’t bear it anymore.”

The Israeli army spokesperson’s office said the strike targeted Hamas “underground military infrastructure.”

As a result of the strike, “the underground facility collapsed, causing the civilian houses’ foundations above them to collapse as well, leading to unintended casualties,” it said.

Among those reported killed was Dr. Ayman Abu Al-Ouf, the head of the internal medicine department at Shifa Hospital and a senior member of the hospital’s coronavirus management committee. Two of Abu Al-Ouf’s teenage children and two other family members were also buried under the rubble.

The death of the 51-year-old physician “was a huge loss at a very sensitive time,” said Mohammed Abu Selmia, the director of Shifa.

Gaza’s health care system, already gutted by an Israeli and Egyptian blockade imposed in 2007 after Hamas seized power from rival Palestinian forces, had been struggling with a surge in coronavirus infections even before the latest conflict.

Israel’s airstrikes have leveled a number of Gaza City’s tallest buildings, which Israel alleges contained Hamas military infrastructure. Among them was the building housing The Associated Press Gaza office and those of other media outlets.

Sally Buzbee, the AP’s executive editor, called for an independent investigation into the airstrike that destroyed the AP office on Saturday.

Netanyahu alleged that Hamas military intelligence was operating inside the building and said Sunday any evidence would be shared through intelligence channels. Neither the White House nor the State Department would say if any had been seen.

“It’s a perfectly legitimate target,” Netanyahu told CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

Asked if he had provided any evidence of Hamas’ presence in the building in a call Saturday with U.S. President Joe Biden, Netanyahu said: “We pass it through our intelligence people.”

Buzbee called for any such evidence to be laid out. “We are in a conflict situation,” Buzbee said. “We do not take sides in that conflict. We heard Israelis say they have evidence; we don’t know what that evidence is.”

Meanwhile, media watchdog Reporters Without Borders asked the International Criminal Court on Sunday to investigate Israel’s bombing of the AP building and others housing media organizations as a possible war crime.

The Paris-based group said in a letter to the court’s chief prosecutor that the offices of 23 international and local media organizations have been destroyed over the past six days. It said the attacks serve “to reduce, if not neutralize, the media’s capacity to inform the public.”

The AP had operated from the building for 15 years, including through three previous wars between Israel and Hamas. The news agency’s cameras, operating from its top floor office and roof terrace, offered 24-hour live shots as militant rockets arched toward Israel and Israeli airstrikes hammered the city and its surroundings.

“We think it’s appropriate at this point for there to be an independent look at what happened yesterday — an independent investigation,” Buzbee said.

The latest outbreak of violence began in east Jerusalem last month, when Palestinians clashed with police in response to Israeli police tactics during Ramadan and the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers. A focus of the clashes was the Al-Aqsa Mosque, a frequent flashpoint located on a hilltop compound revered by both Muslims and Jews.

Hamas began firing rockets toward Jerusalem on Monday, triggering the Israeli assault on Gaza.

At least 188 Palestinians have been killed in hundreds of airstrikes in Gaza, including 55 children and 33 women, with 1,230 people wounded. Eight people in Israel have been killed in some of the 3,100 rocket attacks launched from Gaza, including a 5-year-old boy and a soldier.

Hamas and the Islamic Jihad militant group have acknowledged 20 fighters killed in the fighting. Israel says the real number is far higher and has released the names and photos of two dozen alleged operatives it says were “eliminated.”

The assault has displaced some 34,000 Palestinians from their homes, U.N. Mideast envoy Tor Wennesland told an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council, where eight foreign ministers spoke about the conflict.

Efforts by China, Norway and Tunisia to get the U.N. body to issue a statement, including a call for the cessation of hostilities, have been blocked by the United States, which, according to diplomats, is concerned it could interfere with diplomatic efforts to stop the violence.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Al-Malki urged the Security Council to take action to end Israeli attacks. Israel’s U.N. ambassador, Gilad Erdan, urged the council to condemn Hamas’ “indiscriminate and unprovoked attacks.”

The turmoil has also fueled protests in the occupied West Bank and stoked violence within Israel between its Jewish and Arab citizens, with clashes and vigilante attacks on people and property.

On Sunday, a driver rammed into an Israeli checkpoint in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, where Palestinian families have been threatened with eviction , injuring six officers before police shot and killed the attacker, Israeli police said.

The violence also sparked pro-Palestinian protests in cities across Europe and the United States.

Israel appears to have stepped up strikes in recent days to inflict as much damage as possible on Hamas as international mediators work to end the fighting and stave off an Israeli ground invasion in Gaza.

The Israeli military said it destroyed the home Sunday of Gaza’s top Hamas leader, Yahiyeh Sinwar, in the southern town of Khan Younis. It was the third such attack in the last two days on the homes of senior Hamas leaders, who have gone underground.

Virus testing strategies, opinions vary widely in US schools

MISSION, Kan. — Children are having their noses swabbed or saliva sampled at school to test for the coronavirus in cities such as Baltimore, New York and Chicago. In other parts of the U.S., school districts are reluctant to check even students showing signs of illness for COVID-19.

Education and health officials around the country have taken different approaches to testing students and staff members — and widely varying positions or whether to test them at all as more children give up virtual classrooms for in-person learning. Some states have rejected their share of the billions of dollars the Biden administration made available for conducting virus tests in schools.

Officials in districts that have embraced testing describe it as an important tool for making sure schools reopen safely and infections remain under control. They note that the virus might otherwise elude detection since young people with the virus often are asymptomatic and most teachers have been vaccinated.

But many school administrators and families, weary of pandemic-related disruptions, see little benefit in screening children, who tend not to become as sick from COVID-19 as adults. Meanwhile, each positive test that turns up at a school can trigger quarantine orders that force students back into learning from home.

In Nebraska, Superintendent Bryce Jorgenson said he doubts parents with children in the Southern Valley Public School District would embrace school-based virus tests. His rural, 370-student district eliminated its mandatory mask policy in March.

“I can tell you right now, I would say that not just in our district, but in many districts around, there is not an appetite for that at all,” he said of ongoing screening. “I don’t know as a leader, too, if I want to get into testing kids because we don’t test kids for any other virus, really.”

Elected officials in Iowa and Idaho made their opinions known by turning down millions in federal aid for voluntary COVID-19 testing in schools.

“Here’s your $95 million back,” Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, declared on Fox News after commenting that in her view, President Joe Biden “thinks that COVID just started.”

In Idaho, the state House of Representatives rejected $40.3 million in offered funding.

“Schools are not medical facilities, and we shouldn’t want to place that responsibility and liability on our schools,” Republican state Rep. Tammy Nichols said in an email. “That is why we have medical facilities and staff who are licensed, certified and insured to handle those things.”

Experts are divided about how worthwhile it is to test for the coronavirus inside schools as more people are vaccinated and confirmed cases decline.

Joshua Salomon, a professor of medicine at Stanford University who supports screening students, said the procedure could help curb outbreaks involving more contagious variants.

“Basically, it gives you an insurance policy against things we may not be able to anticipate,” Salomon said. “The virus has really kind of caught us off guard in a few instances.”

But Dr. Monica Gandhi, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, said the nation’s vaccination program makes the tests less useful because immunized individuals are so much less likely to get infected. At the same time, she said, false positives in school settings carry significant consequences when they cause a return to online learning.

Screening tests have played a key role in reopening plans for schools in New York City and liberal-leaning states like California and Massachusetts.

Some districts, like Baltimore City Public Schools, use so-called pooled testing methods that combine multiple samples from students in kindergarten to eighth grade; a positive result leads to everyone in the pool being quarantined. The district is using individual saliva-based PCR tests to screen its high school students..

“By doing this screening testing, you can actually catch the cases early, and that is really effective at preventing transmission,” Cleo Hirsch, who oversees the testing in Baltimore’s public schools, said.

In Chicago, surveillance testing for COVID-19 was part of the district’s reopening agreement with the teachers union. For elementary students who are at least 10, the district tests a percentage at random, focusing on zip codes with the most confirmed COVID-19 cases. The district tests a sampling of high school students citywide. The tests require parental consent.

In Massachusetts, which also relies on pooled testing, the collected data indicates a positivity rate within schools of 2 cases for every 1,000 people, said Russell Johnston, a senior associate commissioner at the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

“That just again gives us enormous confidence in the mitigation strategies that we have available in the schools,” he said.

Oregon is beginning to pilot testing of unvaccinated school employees and plans to expand the health surveillance effort to children attending overnight summer camp before deciding how to proceed in the fall. Some school administrators have expressed trepidation about adding surveillance testing, state epidemiologist Dr. Dean Sidelinger said.

“COVID has added 12 new challenges every hour for them on top of everything else they were already burdened with,” Sidelinger said. “So many of them just kind of, I think instinctively, said, ’No, you cannot ask us to do another thing.’”

In Minnesota, the 8,500-student Edina Public Schools has quarantined hundreds of close contacts of students with positive results. The district began a “Test The Nest” surveillance program at its high school and middle schools in mid-March in an attempt to identify individuals without symptoms who are carrying the virus, spokeswoman Mary Woitte said.

But Nicole Schnell, of the group Edina Parents 4 Progress, opposes the expanded testing, saying a single positive case can lead to massive disruptions.

Schnell said her daughters, age 15 and 18, spent two weeks quarantined in the fall and another two weeks in the spring despite testing negative because they were considered close contacts of people who were infected. Her 17-year-old son decided to keep attending classes virtually because he didn’t want to risk a potential exposure that might force him to miss the spring baseball season.

“I have seen firsthand effects of keeping kids out of society,” Schnell said, adding that one of her children was diagnosed with depression after being quarantined. “We are not just talking about out of school. We are talking about out of any sport that they play, out of any activity, out of anything outside, out of seeing their friends, because of a potential positive exposure.”

Solar company wants to double its arrays on Moreau town land

MOREAU — The company that has proposed a solar panel array in the Moreau Industrial Park now wants to build a second array in the park.

The second array would be virtually the same as the one that has already been proposed.

Nexamp, which would build both arrays, had two representatives speak to the Town Board via Zoom on Tuesday.

They said they would pay the town about $15,000 a year to lease the industrial park lot, the same amount they offered for the first lot. The amount would increase by 1.5% each year for 25 years, with an option to extend to 40 years.

The company would be the second business to ever locate in the park.

Town Supervisor Todd Kusnierz has been trying to market the mostly vacant park, but he said he had expected to get businesses that bring jobs to the area. The solar arrays only need to be maintained two days a year.

“I’m not sure how it would be received by the general public,” he told Nexamp. “We have to take into consideration what the initial intent was in building the park.”

Taxpayers shouldered the $1 million cost to bring sewer, water, natural gas and three-phase electricity to the site in an effort to lure in businesses, jobs and tax revenue.

But the big draw for Nexamp — and its subsidiary, Baker Falls LLC — is the National Grid substation next door. Nexamp would hook directly to it.

Nexamp also wants to build a gravel road along the side of four vacant lots, which could be shared with any future developer of those lots.

The two solar projects would each collect 2.5 megawatts of solar power. The first project would cover 13 acres with solar panels; the new project would use another 12 acres. The panels would be 18 feet tall and rotate with the sun.

Commercial solar projects are allowed in the industrial park. Currently, they are not allowed anywhere else in the town.

The first project is intended to be a community solar project, which will provide solar power to residents. But the second project could be used for municipal purposes, said Michael Cucchiara of Nexamp. The town could get energy credits, reducing its energy bills.