Gazette needs to get its facts straight before dragging Amsterdam through the mud

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I hate to have to write a piece like this, but when a major local newspaper distorts the facts so badly just to make a point about state government spending, smearing an entire city in the process, someone has to call them out.

In an editorial released by the Daily Gazette with no byline on December 23 titled “Amsterdam needs help, not sculptures”, subtitled “What a wasteful idea!”, the editors take aim at the city’s $650,000 in grant money that is available for improvements around the Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook pedestrian bridge. $400,000 of that money will go toward creating two sculptures, one at each entrance of the bridge. In the article, the Gazette editors unleash a scathing breakdown of Amsterdam’s problems, punctuating each item with the phrase “But they’ve got $400,000 for sculptures.”

The biggest blunder the editorial makes is suggesting that lack of funding is preventing the city from addressing it’s sewer plant problems, and that somehow transferring that $400,000 would help.

“They can’t keep their sewer system from polluting the environment,” says the Gazette. And later, “…it would be far better for Amsterdam’s long-term economic and social health if state and local officials could direct that money to fixing that leaky sewer system…”

The reality is that the city was awarded a $1.25 million grant in August that will go toward a massive $5 million project to fix the major problems with the sewer system. New pumps, new backup generators, and miles of new piping will help keep the system running during power outages and help keep groundwater from seeping into the system and overflowing into the river. The project is scheduled to start in 2017. This is not a top-secret project, it was widely reported in the local media.

So there’s a solution in place to fix the problem, and its fully funded. If you want to criticize the pace of the project, that’s one thing. But we don’t need an extra $400,000. That’s a pretty big fact to leave out, one that pretty much undermines the very premise of the entire article.

Based on the tone of the article, you might also think that the sewage leaks are a major environmental disaster. That is also not the case. The reality is that SUNY Cobleskill students collected scientific data that shows that your average rainstorm in the Capital District sends far more pollution into the river due to runoff of the surrounding farmlands than anything that overflows from the city’s sewer plant. That doesn’t mean the problem doesn’t need to be fixed, but it certainly puts things into perspective.

Another big blunder the writers make is in their presentation of the city’s homeless problem.

The Gazette talks about a “county homeless shelter in Amsterdam” and how when it gets filled to capacity, that homeless people have to sleep at the police station.

The writers incorrectly state, “They don’t have money for a permanent shelter to house the homeless population.”

Wrong. Interfaith Partnership for the Homeless operates a permanent homeless shelter in the city, and has done so for several years now. It is funded both by the county and the city, as well as by other donations.

According to Police Chief Greg Culick, the police station occasionally allows a homeless person to sleep in the police station lobby if the shelter is full, until the department of social services can process their case and get them into a hotel. He said this happens “a couple times a year.”

So again, here’s a situation completely distorted by the Gazette. Homelessness is always a difficult issue, but we have a system in place that handles it. We do not need $400,000 to build an additional homeless shelter for an occasional overflow.

The writers brought up blight, but failed to mention that the city has received approximately a half million dollars from the state through our partnership in the Capital Region Land Bank that will go toward rehabbing and demolition buildings. They also failed to mention the additional $500,000 the city borrowed last year to do demolition as well. Again, if you want to criticize the pace of the projects, that’s one thing, but lack of funds is not the problem.

To top it off, the Gazette shamelessly holds up the recent deaths in the city due to heroin overdose as additional condemnation of the city’s condition.

“They don’t have enough resources to address what appears to be a growing heroin epidemic in the city,” opines the writers.

Well, actually, the Hamilton, Fulton and Montgomery County Prevention Council just opened a club house on East Main Street using a $250,000 state grant to help teens with substance abuse problems. It doesn’t solve the problem completely, but its a good start. Lots of cities are struggling with this problem, but solutions are hard to find. Throwing money at a problem without a plan is a waste.

Finally, the article suggests making Amsterdam the “posterchild” for irresponsible New York State funding.

That’s nice of them. So while they are criticizing the city for spending $400,000 in state funds on public art, their own home city of Schenectady recently received a $2 million grant to create a “Mill Artisan District, a three-block area that will include New York maker space for a distillery, a craft brewery, retail establishments and apartments,” and $150,000 for the “construction of a walking trail, visitor’s center with public restrooms and approximately 75 feet of large vessel dockage space.”

Wow! So even though Schenectady posts similar, if not higher, poverty, crime, and housing vacancy rates, it’s perfectly fine for them to receive grants for non-essentials to help them grow their downtown. But for us, it’s a sin?

Now if you want to criticize the state government for their priorities in awarding grants to local projects, I have no problem with that. The state hands out billions for economic development projects every year, and its hard to gauge whether these projects are creating real economic growth and jobs or not. Would it be better to cut economic development spending and reduce taxes instead? That’s a conversation worth having.

But I’m extremely skeptical as to why the Schenectady-based Gazette decided they wanted to target Amsterdam in making their point, given we share the same problems as Schenectady and every other upstate city. No one denies the problems. But the ignorant portrayal of the problems, and the blatant omission of critical facts as to what is being done to fix those problems, are a big failure on the Gazette’s part . Maybe if they actually sent reporters to city council meetings on a regular basis, they’d have a better understanding of what’s going on. But to publish a piece like this is just plain irresponsible journalism. The publishers and editors should be ashamed.

Tim Becker

Tim Becker is the owner of Anthem Websites Inc. which publishes The Compass. He serves as both editor and a writer.