Schenectady Mayoral Candidates Discuss Environmental Issues
Six weeks before election day, former Union College president and Independent mayoral candidate Roger Hull and Democratic Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy attended a forum Monday evening where they answered questions related to sustainability and the environment.
The candidates took turns in front of an audience at Proctors Theater at the forum hosted by the New York League of Conservation Voters.
Answering questions submitted by the audience and moderator John Greenthal, Hull and McCarthy addressed topics including energy conservation, flood mitigation, bike lanes, and the candidates’ own top priorities.
Hull was up first. The former college president who lost to McCarthy in a close race four years ago said if elected, his top environmental issue would be to address the sewage that is discharged into the river from the city's wastewater treatment plant.
"53 million gallons. Now, you may hear later on that the city is able to treat 98.9 percent of the sewer through the waste treatment plant. The number sounds good, but the more dramatic number is the 53 million gallons that are dumped into the Mohawk."
Later, during McCarthy's turn in the hotseat, the incumbent Democrat said the wastewater plant has held up against other facilities in the region during major storms.
"During Irene and Lee, the wastewater treatment plant in the city of Schenectady never had any violations. It functioned in compliance when every other facility was challeneged, was compromised and really had difficult times dealing with those high water events," said McCarthy. "Having said that, there are still times in the City of Schenectady when we have to open one valve that's currently referred to as the Alco regulator, where we let some of the stormwater go into the river, and some of that's combined with sewer, so that is a less than desirable option. Now, we have entered a consent order with DEC and are in the process of remediating that so that problem will not exist."
Hull said a priority of his would be to reduce garbage and waste in the city's neighborhoods. Hull said only 8 percent of city households recycle.
"You name the street, and I've been on it. And what I have found is there's a feeling of despair in the neighborhoods. And I would want to seek to change it, and the best way to change it is to engage everyone in the process," said Hull. "And so, to me, the idea of starting with the fact that we can change things, we have control over the easiest part of the environment to control, namely trash, I would like to do that. And in terms of an issue that I would immediately turn to, as something I would like to put in place, would be single-stream recycling."
McCarthy said he also would like to see increased recycling. He said the city is working with Transfinder, a school bus routing program, to help collect data on traffic patterns, and that data can also be used to help better coordinate garbage and recycling collecting.
"I've mapped out a plan where we're doing a systematic approach, putting the data together, and looking for, again, long-term sustainable results of which garbage collection, recycling, we haven't really looked directly at composting....those things would be factored in with our code enforcement, our policing, and just improving the overall quality of life in this community."
McCarthy also discussed how smart technology could be better used to control the city's lighting systems.
It wasn't long into the audience-submitted questions before each candidate was asked about the incoming Rivers Casino and Resort at Mohawk Harbor, which will be built on a remediated brownfield that was once home to the American Locomotive Company.
One of the most controversial aspects of the planned casino among nearby residents is the proposed 80-foot pylon sign to be set back from the adjacent roadway, which casino developers have said is necessary for visibility.
Hull questioned the need for the sign.
"One of the things that I've never understood is why one needs to have a sign of that size and of that height. It is not as if people are going to be unaware of where the casino is," said Hull.
McCarthy argued the sign, with its LED message screen, could be a community asset.
"Where, yes, they're going to market and promote the casino on site, they're talking about doing cross marketing with shows that may be happening at Proctors. There might even be environmental forums where you might have mayoral candidates, in the future, that would be advertised on the sign to make sure people know about it and are able to attend it."
Questions were also posed about the casino approval process. Hull said he would work to ensure transparency and accessibility for all city meetings.
"There would not be closed meetings. There would be no attempt to circumvent the open meetings law. As I've said now in a couple of occasions in this hour, I think this is our community, this is your community, we are all in it together, and people have a right to know what's happening."
McCarthy said while locating a casino does not come without challenges, the public has been heard in the planning process.
"There's been a lot of debate and discussion on some of the things that have happened or have not happened. What I would submit to you is the process has been fairly open. Every, I think there's been six public hearings, every time there's been a hearing or a vote, the public comment has resulted in some change in the proposals."
The candidates also both called dedicated bike lanes in the city a “no-brainer.” They will meet again for a debate hosted by the Daily Gazette on Wednesday, October 7th.