Who rates half staff?

Copake ponders flag policy, told of fireworks’ toxins but show will go on

COPAKE—With images of Flag Day still rippling in the wind and the Fourth of July just around the corner, the Town Board took up flag-flying protocol and concerns over the toxic threat from fireworks at its June 12 meeting.

Town Supervisor Jeffrey Nayer told the board he had been asked if the town would fly the flags on town properties at half-staff in honor of Thomas Kane, the town’s former police chief, who died June 11.

Mr. Nayer said he had checked with the Association of Towns and was advised by Lori Mithen-DeMasi, counsel for the association, that “the rules let us set our own policy. We can fly the flag at half-staff if we choose to do so.”

New York State Executive Law “provides that the town board is the local agency for purposes of administering the article 19 [rules related to the flag] on town buildings and adjacent grounds. Therefore the town board, as the local agency, may determine to fly the flag at half-staff to commemorate the death of a local serviceman, official or public servant, who in the town board’s opinion, contributed to the community,” Ms. Mithen-DeMasi wrote in an email to The Columbia Paper.

Mr. Nayer said he did not want to make the decision by himself and asked for Town Board input.

Councilperson Susan Winchell-Sweeney said she was sorry for the loss of Mr. Kane and sent her condolences to his family, but said “the issue is larger.

“The American flag is a national symbol and federal law is clear about when the flag should be flown at half-staff,” she said, noting periods of national mourning and Memorial Day are allowable times.

Some exceptions have been made for the passing of state government officials, she said, adding that since 2011 Governor Cuomo had issued 50 proclamations for the flying of the flag at half staff on state buildings to honor deceased soldiers, deceased former Governor Hugh Carey and state troopers killed in the line of duty.

“I would hate for Copake to participate in this symbolic gesture” when it is reserved for service at another level, she said. “The work we do does not elevate us to that level,” Ms. Winchell-Sweeney said, referring to herself and the Town Board.

“We are a small town and we do have the right according to law. Whether [people who serve the town] are paid, elected or volunteers, they have stepped up and honoring them is important,” said Mr. Nayer.

The supervisor said he wanted to move ahead on the matter due to time constraints.

“Is there another way to honor Mr. Kane?” Councilperson Winchell-Sweeney asked.

Pointing to a lack of time, Mr. Nayer said calling hours are Sunday and the funeral is Monday. He said flowers did not seem like an appropriate acknowledgement. Councilpersons Kelly Miller-Simmons, David Paciencia, Jeanne Mettler and the supervisor all voted in favor of a motion to fly flags at half-staff at the Town Hall, town park and highway garage in honor of Mr. Kane until after his funeral on Monday. Ms. Winchell-Sweeney voted no. A town policy will be established in the future, said the supervisor.

Town flags continued to be flown at half-staff this week to honor longtime town building inspector Ralph H. “Tote” Shadic, who died Monday, June 16.

On the matter of fireworks, Harvey Weber, chair of the town’s Environment Committee, presented the board with copies of an article from Backcountry Attitude titled, “Fireworks—Cheap Thrills and Toxic Consequences,” and called attention to a letter from Copake resident Doug Goodhue. Both described the dangers of fireworks from substances contained in the rockets among other things.

The article (www.backcountryattitude.com/toxicfireworks.html) criticizes all aspects of the pyrotechnics that elicit July 4th “ooooos” and “ahhhhhhs” around the country.

To manufacture fireworks, the raw materials are mined, chemicals are used, trees are chopped, not to mention the factories that produce them pollute and many fireworks are imported from China, which has “a proven track record of cutting corners by using cheaper, more toxic materials,” the article said. Transportation of fireworks to wherever they are going is done in vehicles that produce pollution, according to the article.

Fine toxic dusts (particulate matter) are contained in fireworks smoke and this dust may contain a mixture of sulfur-coal compounds and traces of heavy metals. Toxic elements listed in the article include: antimony sulfide, arsenic compounds, barium nitrate, copper compounds, hexachlorobenzene, lead dioxide, nitrate, chloride and lithium compounds.

Water can become polluted by fireworks fallout and the noise disturbs people who are trying to sleep, said the article.

What Mr. Goodhue suggests in his letter is that a laser light show be substituted for the traditional fireworks display at Copake Community Day, July 12.

Mr. Goodhue notes that the logistics of where the fireworks are launched causes any toxic residue to fall on the property now owned by the Copake Agricultural Center and used by farmers to grow vegetables and flowers. Mr. Goodhue said he lives adjacent to that farm field and finds fine ash on his own lawn, bushes and fence the morning after a town fireworks show.

“Laser light shows produce a dramatically lower level of pollution,” wrote Mr. Goodhue, and “could provide a stunning conclusion to Copake Community Day this year.”

Supervisor Nayer said at the meeting that he is aware of fireworks concerns. But he said a certified laser technician would have to be hired to orchestrate a laser show at a considerably higher cost than a fireworks display. He said the matter would be addressed, but probably not in time for this year’s community day.

A call to the American Fireworks Company in Hudson, OH, for comment on alleged fireworks pollution was not returned by press deadline. The person who answered the phone said, “I’m sorry, but it’s really busy here now.”

In other business the board:

*Accepted with regret the resignation of Councilperson Paciencia, who was elected to a four-year term last November. Mr. Paciencia said he and his wife are moving out of Copake this summer. He thanked the town for giving him the opportunity to serve. His resignation is effective July 1. The board will discuss what to do about the vacancy next month

*Appointed Bob Haight the new Planning Board chair. Last month, the board received the resignation of Planning Board Chair Marcia Becker, who cited a disagreement with the town over the assessment of her property as her reason. Mrs. Becker also resigned from the Land Use Review Committee and the Agriculture and Farmland Protection Committee. She remains a member of the Planning Board

*Heard from David Wiener on behalf of Copake Valley Farm, the property closely associated with Sal Cascino. Mr. Wiener said that two and a half years ago the owner sent a letter to the board asking whether it recognized the place as a farm. “When can we expect an answer?” he asked.

Town Attorney Ken Dow responded, “It’s not for the Town Board to make a determination. It’s not within their scope, it’s a zoning classification.”

The board meets next July 10 at 7 p.m.

To contact Diane Valden email .

 

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