EDITORIAL: Amtrak can’t fence us out

THERE’S ONE NAME Amtrak should keep in mind as it tries to fence off access to the Hudson River along the Columbia County shoreline: St. Lawrence Cement.

This is not a threat to fit Amtrak executives with “cement shoes” for pursuing their scheme to keep pedestrians off the tracks. Far from it. The public needs the folks who provide this important service.

The idea of new fences and gates at certain points alongside the tracks might make sense if it improves what Amtrak does so well–efficiently, safely and (reasonably) reliably transporting millions of people. But the secretive, know-it-all way the railroad is going about this project makes it smell like a boondoggle. Read more…

EDITORIAL: Watch out, bus-pass jerks

IT SOUNDS SO SIMPLE. Add a camera and maybe save the lives of children. In this case, school children, specifically the ones who ride school buses. They deserve extra protection, don’t they?

Not in this state.

School buses are very safe. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration puts a number on it: “Students are about 70 times more likely to get to school safely when taking a school bus instead of traveling by car.” But the risk goes up when they enter or exit the bus, not having anything to do with the bus but because some of the vehicles that approach a stopped school bus are driven by jerks. Read more…

EDITORIAL: Where have students gone?

THE STORIES WE HEAR readers talk about don’t always match what’s on the front page. Take last week’s issue, for instance, when reporter Jeanette Wolfberg prepared a chart showing a large decline in public school enrollment countywide.

The chart showed that while the percentage decline varied from one district to another, taken as a whole the six public school districts in the county saw a drop in enrollment of 29% between the school years 2000 and 2016. This presentation of annual state data didn’t try to explain why the numbers have dropped, though the topic comes up frequently at school board meetings. But if you’re a taxpayer in Columbia County it’s worth thinking about.

The numbers reveal that all the districts saw double-digit declines over that period, which indicates that public education in the county is caught up in a long-term trend rather than bad decisions made by clueless school boards. On the contrary, school administrators and board members are acutely aware of their shrinking student bodies. The question now is: What can we do about it? Read more…

EDITORIAL: Easy voting = more voters

OVERSLEEPING is not an excuse for failing to vote in next Thursday’s primary election. Go ahead, sleep in. The polls don’t open until noon. Show up fashionably late. But please do show up.

Before going any further, yes, the Democratic and minor party primary for statewide and local candidates takes place Thursday, September 13, not the preceding Tuesday, as would usually be the case. The reasons are explained in our Page 1 story on the primaries.

This switch of days is a reminder that nothing in the Constitution or the laws of physics requires that we vote only on Tuesdays. Most states–34 of them–now have some form of early voting. But not New York. Maybe that’s why this state was ranked 41st out of 50 in voter turnout statewide in the 2016 general election. We’re tied with Mississippi. Read more…

EDITORIAL: CEDC gets paid

HOW MUCH WOULD YOU PAY for undeveloped land in Columbia County? Let’s say, for example, you wanted 33 acres near the intersection of state Routes 66 and 9H? Would you pay $10,272 per acre?

Ginsberg’s, the locally owned institutional food supplier in Claverack, paid that much last week to the the Columbia Economic Development Corporation (CEDC). But this was more than a routine business deal. The payment of $339,000 and change ended a chapter in a long-running story about local economic development in the county.

As for value, if you wanted roughly the same amount of land in Kinderhook near the Rensselaer County line, there’s a property listed for $1.1 million. That comes to roughly $34,000 an acre. But if you want 57 acres in Stuyvesant you can have it for a mere $6,900 an acre. Location, location…. Read more…