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Ezra Prentice Update

Progress (slowly) at Ezra Prentice
By Tom McPheeters
Residents at Ezra Prentice Homes may legitimately feel like they are a long way from the kinds of action that would help them breathe easier, but starting this spring they will at least be seeing activities that could help in the long run. And there will also be more opportunities to help move things along.
Two events will be visible this spring: air monitoring by DEC staff carrying sophisticated hand-held monitoring devices, and a second (third, actually) traffic study designed to find out where the diesel trucks that use South Pearl Street are coming from, where they are going and who owns them.
The air monitoring plan was presented Jan. 18 by Department of Environmental conservation officials and staff to a gathering at the Ezra Prentice Community Room. It entails a permanent shed-like installation at the parking lot on the hill side that will monitor and report continuously on air samples, and then the liberal use of hand held devices roaming the grounds and other nearby locations. The intent is to build a picture of where various forms of air pollution are coming from and where they have the most impact. The big box probably won’t be up and running until some time this summer, but the hand-helds will be roaming the premises this spring. Brian Frank, one of the team that will be using the portable monitors, said DEC is interested in working with residents to gain local knowledge as they walk. There are a number of ways volunteers can help with their local knowledge, he said, including walking with the DEC staff carrying hand-helds and suggesting routes and hot spots.
The presentations by Dirk Felton, who will run the fixed installation, and Frank and Marilyn Wurth, who will be roaming with hand held instruments, was very specific as to what pollutants will be measured and how particulates of various sizes will be used to trace diesel and gasoline emissions. It’s on the DEC website here. They also promised to post information as they acquire it on a special section of the DEC website. (Currently that section is mostly recaps of previous studies.)
AVillage has assembled a team of advisors to help us understand the highly technical work DEC proposes. Those five advisors (two SUNY School of Public Health professors, one School of Atmospheric Sciences professor, an environmental advocate and an attorney) will return to Ezra Prentice on February 1 to present their conclusions.
Diesel truck traffic has already been the subject of two studies — the first organized by AVillage last summer, and the second commissioned by the Port of Albany.  The AVillage counts on two separate days established that approximately one thousand diesel vehicles pass back and forth through Ezra Prentice every workday. The Port of Albany study is unaccountably still not public, but according to sources who have seen a summary it confirms the AVillage results but provides little additional useful information.
The Capital District Transportation Committee (CDTC), a little-known organization that coordinates state and federal highway spending in the region, has stepped into that breach. At a meeting at DEC earlier in the month, Executive Director Michael Francine said CDTC is planning to conduct a longer and more thorough study that would be useful for figuring out how to reroute traffic. This study would also take place during a week next spring, and DEC and CDTC officials are working to coordinate the traffic study with the air quality monitoring.
Although there will be visible activity at Ezra Prentice, there is still no telling when any of this will lead to the kind of action residents and their advocates want to see. It’s frustrating for everybody, but residents feel it most. In the back of everybody’s mind is the ongoing health survey being conducted at Ezra Prentice by AVillage and the Radix Center. With just over half of the households surveyed the resulting numbers for respiratory diseases and asthma are alarming health professionals and public officials. Work continues on that survey, with strong participation from residents.
But unknown to just about everybody, there has been one not-so-small victory. Two months ago, Dylan Remley, Global Partner’s man in charge of the multi-national’s Albany facility, came to Ezra Prentice to speak and answer questions at one of the Wednesday evening community meetings organized by AVillage. We asked him to do something about parking his trains behind the homes at Ezra Prentice and having the long “unit trains” made up there. A long-standing complain is that the tanker cars and other freight cars are moved around and assembled into the long “unit trains” during all hours of the night, which means much rumbling and banging — and worry and sleepless nights.
Remley responded then that his company does not run the trains, or even own very much track.  But he said he would ask Canadian Pacific what they could do. He reported last week that just about all Global trains are now being parked and made up on a section of track further north. Some cars are still parked behind Ezra Prentice, but not for long periods, he said.
A small victory, but hardly the kind of solution the residents say they want. There are still plenty of other train cars parked behind Ezra belonging to different companies, and CP and CSX are still using those tracks to make up long “unit trains” from those cars.
Also, this victory could be only temporary. Rail traffic is slow right now because the price of oil is down, and right now none of the black tanker cars coming through Albany are carrying the heavy fracked crude from North Dakota that has people worried about explosions. Remley said he can’t commit to keeping the oil tankers from North Dakota out of back yards when business picks up, but would try. Global is still pressing DEC to allow it to install warming ovens so that it can heat up thick crude before loading it on ships or barges, and a new oil pipeline originating at the Port is still being considered by DEC. These legal battles tend to drag on for years.
A press conference on January 12 was organized by community leaders and elected officials to commemorate the three-year anniversary of a press conference that first drew attention to the plight of Ezra Prentice residents and the threat of the oil trains. As Mayor Kathy Sheehan noted, the main difference between three years ago and now is a recognition by all levels of government that “we are all in this together.” She emphasized the necessity of gathering good data so there can be informed decision making and so that the city can advocate for the money to carry out any plans.
Still, residents are wary. “Don’t forget us,” pleaded Dineen Carter-El, one of the few residents who could attend the press event because it was in the day time.
“I am personally committed to seeing this through,” said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos.

DEC’s South Albany Draft Budget   (Bid Prices will Change Final Costs)



Fixed Site and Lab Equipment

PM-2.5 Monitors, Ultrafine Monitors, Black Carbon Monitors, Nitrogen Oxides Monitor, shelter, support equipment for Benzene analysis


Portable Equipment

Ultrafine Handheld Monitors, Black Carbon Handheld Monitors and Meteorological high speed portable instruments


Service (Estimate)

Electric installation for two sites and a fence for background site



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