Innovation Trail


Breaking the Ice on the Hudson

Monday, January 27, 2014

To keep the river open for business in the freezing winter months, the Coast Guard runs its cutter boats up and down the river, opening a navigable track through the ice.

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Can Lessons on Gun Control be Gleaned from the Military?

Friday, February 08, 2013

Speaking to soldiers about firearms, no matter what their individual views are on gun control, one thing becomes clear: they take them seriously.



With NY's New Gun Law, Sellers Wonder What's Next

Thursday, February 07, 2013

New York state is home to over 1,800 small gun retailers, many of which are trying to adjust to the state's new gun laws.

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Portrait of a Gun Manufacturing Town

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

When New York passed a wave of new gun-control laws in January, it outlawed a type of assault rifle made just over an hour's drive from the state capital.

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As NY Institutes New Gun Laws, Focus Shifts to Gun Industry Subsidies

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Every year, the state gives out millions in tax incentives, loans and economic development grants to the private sector. Every state does it, and New York has little choice if it wants to prevent companies from leaving.

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The Empire

ICYMI -- Court: Town of Dryden can ban fracking

Thursday, February 23, 2012

By the Innovation Trail's Matt Richmond

In his decision, Supreme Court Justice Phillip R. Rumsey says New York's oil and gas law gives the state the authority to decide how, but not where, drilling can be done.

Under this construction, local governments may exercise their powers to regulate land use to determine where within their borders gas drilling may or may not take place, while DEC regulates all technical operational matters on a consistent statewide basis in locations where operations are permitted by local law.

The decision will come as a relief to the dozens of other towns in New York that have banned  or placed moratoriums on drilling.

Dryden's ban was enacted in August as an amendment to a zoning law already prohibiting heavy industry. In September, the Denver-based oil and gas company Anschutz Exploration filed a lawsuit challenging that ban.

Dryden's lawyer, Mahlon Perkins, says the state will still regulate the technical aspects of drilling.

"And it was left to municipalities under their zoning authority and land use authority to regulate the "where" and even the 'if.'"

Anschutz is considering whether or not to appeal the decision based on business factors, says the company's lawyer Tom West.

"That'll be based on cost and whether or not they're going to remain involved in New York State," says West.

He says the outcome of a landowner challenge of the Town of Middlefield's ban on drilling will also determine the next step.

"Ultimately, this issue may have to go back to the legislature but I think it's premature at this point," West predicts. "We need to get a ruling from the courts and we need to get an appellate ruling clarifying what is and what is not allowed."

West notes that the Dryden decision runs counter to that of Pennsylvania.

"Pennsylvania kept the authority of municipalities to regulate some aspects of natural gas activities but required the municipalities to declare that drilling is a permitted use in every zone. So they've essentially taken the opposite position saying municipalities cannot ban natural gas drilling."

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The Empire

Happy Valentines Day--from upstate, to upstate!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

From our friends at the Innovation Trail upstate--a love letter from upstate New York to itself to New York City, so we here can also fall in love with the grand beauty that is 90 percent or so of the state we call home.

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The Empire

Do industrial development agencies really create jobs?

Friday, February 10, 2012

By Innovation Trail's Marie Cusick

Ask just about any politician these days, and he'll likely tell you that a big part of his job is to create jobs.

So how does the government attempt to do that?

Here in New York, industrial development agencies (IDAs) are one of main job creation mechanisms for local communities.

In 2009, IDAs gave away close to half a billion dollars in tax breaks to companies in the name of economic development.

IDAs are known as "public benefit corporations" - they're supposed to help their local communities, and create jobs.

But in their four decades of existence, they've been accused of everything from failing to comply with state laws, to simply being inefficient.

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The Empire

Thousands of last-minute fracking comments delivered to DEC

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

By the Innovation Trail's Marie Cusick

As of Monday, the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) had received a record-breaking 20,800 public comments on the latest draft of its review of hydrofracking.

But by Tuesday, the agency had its hands full with thousands of more comments arriving at the 11th hour.

The deadline for submitting a public comment to the DEC about hydrofracking is Wednesday, January 11th.

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The Empire

Focus on hydrofracking harder for NYC residents ahead of public hearings

Monday, November 14, 2011

Senator Liz Krueger, right, and Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh, center, at the hearing last week. (Colby Hamilton / WNYC)

Last week's elections upstate elections were partially driven by the debate over hydrofracking. This week, the issue enters a new phase. As the Innovation Trail's Matt Richmond reports, the state's Department of Environmental Conservation begins its last round of public hearings that will guide its recommendations on the controversial gas extraction process.

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The Empire

The battle over local fracking bans begins in Dryden, NY

Friday, October 14, 2011

By Matt Richmond/WSKG of Innovation Trail

Shutterstock / iznashih

There's a showdown brewing in Dryden, New York.

Back in August, the town passed a zoning ordinance that banned the practice of hydrofracking for natural gas. A month later, they were being sued by gas company Anschutz Exploration.

What happens here - who flinches, who wins - will reverberate across the rest of New York state.  And it all hinges on a simple question:

Can you, or can't you, ban drilling within your own town limits?

"Incompatible with our lifestyle"

Town officials in Dryden and across New York started preparing for gas drillingyears ago, when they began to see more and more leasing activity, says Dryden's supervisor Mary Ann Sumner.

"Somewhere in this process we realized ... that the gas industry was a heavy industrial use that is simply incompatible with our lifestyle," she says.

So Dryden attacked the issue on two fronts. First, it tried to work with the state to lessen drilling's impacts.

Environmental Conservation Law (ECL) 2303 gives the state sole power to regulate gas companies. That law, passed in the 1970s, would probably be much more contentious if it were to come to the state legislature today, says University of Albany Professor Erica Powers.

"Like many laws, that amendment to the constitution was proposed by the industry," says Powers.

Sumner says at the outset Dryden made an effort to comply with that law. They tried to collaborate with the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) on Anschutz Exploration’s application to drill locally.

But town officials noticed some problems with Anschutz's application - it had ignored the presence of a stream and power transmission lines - and ended up feeling like they couldn’t trust the DEC to protect them.

So Dryden applied its second tactic: it classified drilling as "heavy industry," prohibiting it under the town's zoning law. And that triggered the lawsuit that Dryden is facing today.

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The Empire

Wanted: science and tech SUNY students--international applicants welcome

Monday, September 26, 2011

By Daniel Robison/WNED of Innovation Trail

SUNY officials are under financial pressure to fill their science, technology, engineering, and math classrooms. The long term plan: Get American students interested at a young age in science and technology. While SUNY waits for that effort to pay off, they’ll recruit more ready-made STEM enrollees, like international students from places like India, China and Russia.

“It’s a no-brainer that we should be recruiting those students in these programs. Because the programs will then have students, faculty will be employed, and the programs continue to prosper and grow,” said Mitch Leventhal, SUNY Vice Chancellor for Global Affairs.

International students pay two and a half times more tuition than in-state students which SUNY admits helps subsidize falling American enrollment in math and science programs. Only 12 percent of SUNY degrees last year were awarded to students in so-called STEM fields: science, technology, engineering and math. That’s well below the national average.

Leventhal and other state education officials sing the same refrain of using SUNY as an economic driver, mostly with its STEM graduates. But there’s a downside to the international recruits. They return home. With poor job prospects stateside and student visas expiring not long after graduation, many now opt to leave.

SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher offers a few possible fixes: “Incentivize their staying here. Help them buy their houses. Invest in their research. Hook them up with other entrepreneurs. There are things we can do without a great deal of cost that pay attention to our need to keep international students here. Because conditions have changed and they can go home.”

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The Empire

Innovation Trail takes a look at Cuomo's economic councils

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

By Marie Cusick/WMHT with

This weekend the Innovation Trail and WMHT's New York NOW looked into the state’s plan to revitalize the economy through the creation of 10 regional economic development councils.

The councils will compete for a billion dollars worth of state funds, and the governor has said that there will be clear "winners and losers" among the state's regions. Take a look to find out why that has some people worried.

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The Empire

Regional economic councils meet, and this time the public is invited

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

By Emma Jacobs/WRVO for the The Innovation Trail

When Governor Andrew Cuomo pulled together the Central New York regional council on the economy he tapped business leaders and university presidents. Some of those council members were in the room on Tuesday night for a giant public brainstorming session at Lemoyne Le Moyne College. So were regular folk, like retiree Diane from Dewitt. She said she came to the event to find solutions.

“Consolidation and reducing taxes. That’s what drives kids and businesses out of our area,” she said.

Teenager Zack Kukulsky was at the table to speak for the younger set. He said he would stay in the region if he could.

“If there were jobs I could support a family on and live, go out and buy cars and all,” he said.

Jobs and work opportunities were the theme of the night. Participants said the challenges were big, and would require a lot of resources.

The regional councils have to present their plans by November to compete for a pot of state funds.

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The Empire

The Landmen Cometh: The frontlines of fracking get personal as owners face aggressive pitches for land

Monday, August 15, 2011

When landmen sit down with property owners over an oil and gas lease, there can be a lot of money at stake. Some of these prospectors are more honest than others. WRVO's Emma Jacobs reports on kitchen table negotiations underway for natural gas drilling access in the region.

Ruth Tonachel says landmen were coming to her door several times a week at the height of northeast Pennsylvania's land rush. (Emma Jacobs / WRVO)

The front line of the controversial expansion of natural gas drilling isn't a meadow in Pennsylvania or New York. It's the kitchen table.

That's where landowners meet with landmen - the fleet of salesmen that gas companies use to convince landowners to sign drilling leases.

Meeting the landmen

Landmen began approaching Ruth Tonachel during the leasing rush that swept through northern Pennsylvania in 2007.

“When they first showed up in 2007,” she says, “there were people knocking on the door a couple times a week, calling constantly, stuff in the mail, phone messages, from all different companies. I mean it was hard to even sort out.”

Tonachel’s property has been in the family since 1790 so she was cautious about the idea of a drilling lease.

She speaks fondly of some of the many landmen she met with. Others did things she didn’t like, like the one she met with at a restaurant.

“He talked awhile about his background and how long he’d been in business and where he was from," she says. "Just chit chat friendly talk … I said 'well I can’t sign anything in a hurry', but he pulled out a whole set of leases all with our names on them.”

Landmen are often compared to fast-talking used car salesman. Tonachel's visitors repeatedly urged her to sign right then and there, claiming theirs was the best deal she'd ever get. When she didn’t sign, they’d come back with a different, better deal. Signing bonuses went from hundreds to thousands of dollars per acre.

But the landmen were putting more than just money on the table - some of them were serving up half-truths, misrepresentations, or outright lies.

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