Letters: The railroad’s time has come, gone; Vote for Provenzano; Nepotism in Kingston

ktx hudsonfultonstampTime has come and gone for the railroad

From reading recent letters to the media and pronouncements from Catskill Mountain Railroad Corporation, Inc. and its supporters a person could be seduced into believing that CMRR is a viable business, an asset to the county and has a bright future. Nothing could be farther from the truth, based on CMRR’s lack of performance in the past and the resulting current legal difficulties.

CMRR’s supporters are now advocating a side-by-side trail rail and trail solution in order to achieve their goal of having a railroad corridor as it was a hundred years ago.

CMRR has stated that it has spent $400,000 on legal counsel to prevent its eviction from County taxpayer-owned property and that that money would have renovated a lot of track. CMRR was required as a condition of its lease with the county taxpayers (us) to bring one mile of track a year up to Class 1 condition. It’s had 24 years and four months to accomplish this, and hasn’t produced the result. Why didn’t CMRR just do what they agreed to do in their lease? What would make any right-thinking person believe that CMRR could produce a trail alongside the track they never renovated? Perhaps CMRR would like the taxpayers to make them a gift of this improvement at several million dollars a mile? Did I mention that CMRR’s lease is up in eight months?

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CMRR has monopolized the taxpayer’s land like the railroad barons of a hundred years ago. We’ve been locked out of our own publicly-owned open space for 30 years thanks to CMRR’s railroad pipe dreams.

Give us back our land! The best way to honor the history of the Ulster & Delaware is to follow the adopted legislation that the county legislature wisely enacted, allowing railroad operations where they are appropriate in Mount Tremper and Phoenicia and trail that begins in Kingston, traverses the reservoir lands, and returns the railroad corridor to the legitimate owners, the taxpayers of Ulster County, as a linear park trial that pays health and recreation benefits to all of us, not just lovers of railroad nostalgia.

A little context here: I’m almost 70 years old. I spent my youth in Ulster Park, where I attended a one-room schoolhouse and my family’s means of getting to Kingston for shopping was the West Shore Line train. I have no desire to go back to “the way it was.” It’s time to move on with what has value today, which is the public open space of the former U&D corridor, where senior citizens like me as well as people of all ages and abilities can have the restorative power of a walk or a bike ride on a trail that originates in Kingston.

Nick Mercurio, Cottekill

She’s earned your vote

One candidate has been humble and serving Kingston in that humble way since the 1980s remains a candidate for alderman-at-large. That candidate is Jeanette Provenzano.  There has been no one more deserving of a vote than she. Yes, she stepped out and took a risk and did not prevail in the Democratic Party primary. But that’s a very minor point compared to the many years she has served Kingston and once again, not to enrich herself but to actually serve in the strongest sense of the term. Not only can very few in politics make such a claim — almost no one can validly make that claim these days. Therefore to pass over this opportunity to cast a positive vote for Jeanette Provenzano for alderman-at-large on Election Day, Nov. 3 would be to miss a golden opportunity to vote for someone who has earned the vote of the public over many, many years.

Her name is still on the ballot, and I urge all voters who value humility in public office to get out on Nov. 3 — and cast those absentee ballots as well — and vote for Jeannette for alderman-at-large this year.

Jeff Kelly, Kingston

Nepotism and Kingston

During the mayoral debate, the term “nepotism” came up. The origin of the word, (derived from Italian for nephew) was favoritism directed at a family member, and that favoritism often was expressed through the appointment of a relative, but that’s just a special case which focuses on the deed, the appointment, as the misuse. That use does not focus on the functioning of a governing body when the various members are blood relatives. It was with this misunderstanding of the word by the audience that the consideration was allowed to be swatted away: this was merely two family members engaged in city government. This was just about a history of service at different times.

In government, family alliances become a problem where there is supposed to be a separation of powers. That kind of separation is called for in business dealings when commerce is carried on between family members: If the city bought products or services from a family member of one of the people who influenced selection, that would be a problem for sure. That would be a conflict of interest, and the underlying defect would be the appearance of nepotism.

Here, we have family members at the head of two branches of Kingston government: the head of the Common Council, the alderman-at-large, and the prospective mayor.

In the general rules of political competition, things that are beneficial to one’s cause are given a pass under the rubric that we are here doing good things and, say, an agreement between family members could only be a good thing. So, it is a good thing, one might say, that Kingston may have close family members at the head of two independent branches of government, separation of powers.

Googling “separation of powers” and “nepotism” will bring up several examples that illustrate the applicability of the term to a situation Kingston faces. Nepotism is favoritism which is an ethical breach, a conflict of interests.

Gerald Berke, Kingston

There are 17 comments

  1. todwest

    Googling “nepotism” will show you that it is in fact a situation in which a person in power awards unqualified family members with cushy jobs. Both Nobles are on the ballot because they both won an election fair-and-square. This process is known as “democracy,” which you can also Google if you are so inclined.

    1. MikeS

      I agree Todd, if two members of a family run for an office, then we are making the choice to allow them to serve in those positions. If one gets elected and then appoints the other, then that appointment can be suspect, particularly if it’s happening multiple times within an administration, then that may be considered nepotism. John and Robert Kennedy come to mind. This is an issue I had to deal with often in the business world as a fraud investigator.
      They can work on each other’s campaign and coach each other, but that is not illegal, albeit questionable.
      Btw, I’m working from this definition from the OED:
      The practice among those with power or influence of favoring relatives or friends, especially by giving them jobs.

  2. CP

    To Mr. Mrrcurio: before the CMRR was a railroad, it was…a railroad! I agree that the major successes of the CMRR are recent, but they are significant and have been financially beneficial to the city and county. Let them continue.

    By the way, I too am approaching Mr. Mercurio’s age, but I guess my vantage point is different from his. But take your grandkids for a ride on one of the fall or holiday theme trains, watch their faces and their joy, and ask yourself if you want to be the grinch that kills their fun.

    1. prairie nut

      To CP: The CMRR in my view has fallen short as recently as this year in its expected performance. How much additional track has been made usable at the Kingston end? From what I can see, it is measured in feet. At this rate, how many years would it take to reach the boundary of the DEP property? I’m quickly losing faith in their ability to sustain any reasonable amount of growth. Unfortunately, volunteers get burned out. If the tracks do stay, we need a new operation in control of them.

      1. Harrison Balduf (Islanderh93)

        Well, it’s a pity that a lawsuit had to be started in the first place in order to not be evicted after the city of Kingston ordered the railroad out of the yard at Cornell Street, and after the operation of any track at all in Kingston was threatened. So yes, it’s $400k that didn’t go to track improvements, but had the railroad followed what the city wanted to do there’d be 0 miles of track in any shape in the city limits, which makes the corridor less viable to the CMRR or any other operator. Even the S&NC has an interchange with the rail network, and that wouldn’t exist without track in Kingston.

        I am aware that currently there is still no connection to CSX on the CMRR, but that is 100′ of rail and a switch to be replaced, which is it’s own current issue to be taken up with CSX about as I believe that’d be on their land. Through that connection the CMRR (or any other operator of the Catskill Mountain Branch through Ulster County) can operate carload freight to customers, move in/out new equipment to repair or operate on the railroad, and in the future could operate through passenger services like a ski train.

        I am a volunteer of the CMRR. I can understand that ya’ll might not want the CMRR as an operator, and I can’t very well stop you from feeling that way. I am certain though that there are few (if any?) operators who want a spur of track unconnectable to the rail network. So far the only standard-gauge railroad I’ve seen willing to do that is the D&U, who operates non-for-profit by means of an annual subsidy and generous county assistance. Every other railroad, shortline, tourist or otherwise, has a connection to the rail system at a minimum of one location. All those other railroads also operate some sort of freight to help pay the bills, all are allowed to erect shops in which to maintain equipment(permits have been preventing us), but most importantly aren’t being harassed with dumptrucks, lawsuits and threats to shut them down by local business.

        I am not only confident but certain that without attritional lawsuits, scandalous withholding of FEMA funds, criminal dumping on the right of way, roadblocks upon the county’s hands, the tracks between Phoenicia and Kingston would be in operation today.

        I would not waste my valuable time as a college student riding 2.5 hours to Kingston to work on a railroad as a volunteer if I didn’t think it wasn’t able to become sustainable and successful. Maybe the CMRR will be put-out by the current political scene, but I know that the line will make for a successful operation to whomever operates it in its current entirety. Chopping it into little unconnected pieces though would harm that ability, which is why I’m opposed to that notion.

        1. prairie nut

          If CMRR went non-profit as a tourist railroad so it could apply for private and public grants to get the languishing track work done more quickly than I have seen over 30 years, I would donate to the cause, maybe even volunteer. When you start talking freight I get nervous. Unfortunately the most promising market is the storage of obsolete used oil tankers on unused track. And until the Ashokan needs to be dredged several decades down the road, I don’t see any other viable freight market. Road salt to Phoenicia ain’t gonna cut it.

  3. Tom Whyte

    Looks to me like Mr mercurio wants ulster county and new york state taxpayers to fund his bicycle hobby. Maybe the state should supply bikes too.

    1. Historian

      “where senior citizens like me as well as people of all ages and abilities can have the restorative power of a walk or a bike ride on a trail that originates in Kingston.”

      Mr. Mercurio, you are in luck. These opportunities ALREADY EXIST. Now, how about giving others their preferred form of recreation? Diversity is what attracts interest not homogeneity.

  4. Pete Baker

    Mr. Mercurio,

    Please view all of Bob’s photos. By the way, Bob and I are not related. We do however both support rails with a trail. I am 72 and feel that you are missing the boat or in this case the train.
    ———————————————————————————–
    Bob Baker

    1 hr ago

    On this past Saturday we took a trip on the CMRR from Mt. Tremper to Phoenicia and back. Having been on it only 3 weeks ago with the cars 2/3 full at that time, we were amazed at the lines as well as the overflowing parking lot. I stopped counting at 150 cars (and 3 tour buses) with license plates from 7 states other than NY. While I recognize this weekend is considered peak tourist season for “leaf peepers”, it’s still disconcerting to think we might lose part or all of the rails in Kingston and Mt. Tremper. The folks who we told of this possibility were amazed that our county officials would even consider destroying part of our state’s history…….more so when factoring in that CMRR is an all volunteer organization which benefits so many local businesses. Our elected officials should be doing everything possible to support CMRR as a real benefit to the local economy instead of considering tearing up the tracks……….just one voter’s opinion!
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    Make that 2 Bob…

    https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10206765920138934&set=pcb.747520385391354&type=3&theater

  5. dewy crow

    Pretty pictures and nostalgic dreams don’t build railroads, this has been proven over the last 25 years here in Ulster County…Let’s look at the real numbers, not just the big revenue hit, but all of the numbers for the entire term of the lease. Especially the biggest number of all, the cost of the ‘deferred’ maintenance on the corridor by the current tenant.

    1. CP

      Fact: last Saturday, the CMRR ran TWO extra trains to accomodate the crowds in Mt. Tremper. Sounds likena popular success to me – revenue-producing, too.

      LAs you say, let’s not look at the big revenue hit – the one-time payment the country would get for ripping up the rails folowed by an eternity of taxpayer-supported maintenance vs ongoing revenue from an expanded and successful regional attraction, returning money to the country and the community in cash spent by tourists.

      Be here now, “dewy crow.” See what is and can be.l

      1. dewy crow

        The county plan does not take away the Mt. Tremper section. It re-purposes the little used, poorly maintained section from Kingston
        to Mt. Tremper to non-motorized transportation use. There is a greater need for that than a part time seasonal railroad tourist attraction. The economic case you make for having two railroads operating is flawed, to look at the possible revenue without revealing the true cost to make the corridor right is misleading at best. Although I like to live in the moment, I have an obligation to my grandchildren to make Ulster County better. That obligation would not include public financing of facilities for a tourist railroad to run in two places when one will do.

        1. CP

          Personally, I agree – there should be one railroad, running from Kingston through to Phoenicia, with or without an adjacent trail. And if the tracks remain in place, there can be.

          As you no doubt know, the Polar Express, a huge revenue booster for the railroad and the community, runs in Kingston – and I’m told is expected to have a longer run this year.

          Two sections for now and the immediate future – and one through run in the not-too-distant one.

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