The Daily Star, Oneonta, NY - otsego county news, delaware county news, oneonta news, oneonta sports

August 10, 2013

Finding common ground for the common good

By Mike Zagata Guest Commentary
The Daily Star

---- — Based on an article in the July 27 and 28 issue of The Daily Star by Sustainable Otsego spokesperson Adrian Kuzminski, it appears that there is some common ground with the group Citizen Voices.

The article states that “Our local economy has been flat, if not in decline, for decades” and “tourism has been maxed out for years.” Clearly, if we continue in the same direction, our economy is not sustainable. Citizen Voices’ focus is about the need for economic development in the region, and thus the groups have something in common.

As is often the case, however, the devil may be in the details regarding what should be done to reverse the downward trend. At one time, Oneonta had 28 manufacturing facilities employing 993 people, and hops were a cash crop. Today we have less manufacturing but still have some, and Chobani alone employs more people that all 28 manufacturers did back then.

Companies such as Chobani, Corning, Ioxus, Ommegang, Custom Electronics, and Astrocom prosper because of our abundant natural resources and quality people. However, the hops industry has gone the way of the Long Island potato farms, as it could no longer compete because of variables such as soil, weather, labor costs and transportation.

The article speaks to boutique-type industry — which sounds good when you say it fast. However, that approach alone would not stop the current “brain drain” or enable our children to remain here instead of having to leave once they’re educated.

It also suggests we move away from fossil fuels to things like “solar, hydro, wind and perhaps biofuels.” It refers to the need to “stop exporting energy dollars.” Thus arises the need to focus on the details.

How do we get from here to there? What is the bridge? Natural gas is now overly abundant, and can help change our balance of trade deficit with regards to energy. Cutting energy imports and actually producing energy to export would have a huge positive impact upon our national economy.

Some groups have already made up their mind with regards to the use of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” to capture the gas reserves. Citizen Voices has not taken a position either for or against as it awaits a determination by DEC that it can be done safely and in a manner that protects our environment. Taking that approach allows for an ongoing acceptance of new information prior to making a decision.

Once we make a decision, it’s our nature to accept new information that supports our decision and reject information that isn’t consistent with that decision. Thus we lock into that position and are no longer open-minded and able to incorporate new information into our decision-making process.

Attempts to locate a biomass plant at the rail yard were opposed, as were attempts to locate wind farms. Hydro projects are fraught with environmental issues and solar is simply not yet economical.

The article cites local success stories and states they were “unpredictable, spontaneous initiatives by individuals with vision who knew how to execute.” The Constitution Pipeline Project is an example of just that and could provide both short and long-term economic benefit – yet some oppose it.

Tourism is the second-largest industry in the state, yet lacks the coordinated effort at the state and local levels needed for our region to realize its full potential.

Growth must be steady in order to be sustainable. In today’s world, if you’re standing still you’re losing ground. Cost-of-living increases will eat your budget alive — and that means more taxes for the same level of service.

What is “realm” and what can be developed in the near term? The area is blessed with abundant natural resources, I-88, two colleges, two health-care facilities, the rail yard and a quality workforce.

Let’s stop saying we’re “for” this and “against” that and focus on the “how.” How can we take advantage of what we have to better our lot – both for now and for the future?

MIKE ZAGATA is a former state Department of Environmental Conservation commissioner, Ruffed Grouse Society president and oil company executive.