the Gazette continues the ALCO TUNNEL COVERUP

controversial

photo of ALCO tunnel taken by DEC engineer 08Aug2014

 About eight weeks ago, Stop the Schenectady Casino learned that the Applicant/Developer of the proposed Schenectady casino at the Old ALCO Plant site failed to disclose to Metroplex in its environmental statements its discovery of “tunnels” under historic ALCO Building 332, and that the Schenectady Gazette helped in the coverup.

For the bigger story of how the Gazette has served the interests of the casino and ignored the opposition and the needs of the City and people of Schenectady, see rigging the news: the Gazette and the Schenectady Casino” (Dec. 16, 2014)

The Rotterdam-based Galesi Group is the owner of the Mohawk Harbor site and the developer of a planned marina and mixed-use complex there, and hopes to include a casino on the 60-acre site.  As the owner-developer, Galesi is responsible for submitting an environmental impact statement [“EIS”] to the Metroplex Authority, which is the lead agency for purposes of the State Environmental Quality Review Act.  As such, in attempting to obtain approval of a final EIS, Galesi has an ongoing responsibility to report any new facts that raise a significant question of potential harm to relevant aspects of the environment, including elements of historical or archeological importance. Galesi CEO David Buicko has taken the lead as spokesman for the proposed Mohawk Harbor projects before local government bodies as well as the NYS Gaming Facility Location Board, and is well known in the business, development, political and educational sectors of Schenectady County and the region. Rush Street Gaming, which is headquartered in Chicago, is the primary Applicant for a casino license and would operate the Schenectady casino, called Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor, if granted a license by the Gaming Commission.

Because the Gazette has failed to clarify what happened on the site, at Metroplex, and in its newsroom and editorial enclave concerning the uncovered utility tunnels, I sent the following proposed opEd piece or guest column Letter to the Gazette on November 14, 2014. There has been no response of any kind from the Opinion Staff.  Here is the piece the Gazette refuses to publish, followed by additional explanation and discussion, including communications between myself and both the Gazette reporter who admitted she was asked not to report on the tunnels and the one purportedly assigned to find out what really happened.

To the Editor:

Three weeks ago, I was told by a Gazette reporter that the paper would be following up on its incomplete and one-sided article “Metroplex OKs Alco site environmental review” (Oct. 22, 2014), concerning the failure of the ALCO/Mohawk Harbor developer (Galesi Group) to disclose in its environmental impact statement its discovery of tunnels under Building 332, and its request (honored by the newspaper) that the Gazette not report on the discovery. [the portions of the Oct. 22 article relevant to the tunnel issue are quoted below] So far, not a word has been printed about an issue that draws into question the credibility of the Applicant for a Schenectady casino license, Metroplex’s environmental review, and the Gazette‘s coverage of the casino selection process.  Is the Gazette waiting until the NYS Casino Facility Location Board makes its decision awarding a Capital Region casino license, so that the credibility of the Schenectady Applicant won’t be undermined prior to the selection?

The Oct. 22 article correctly points out that I and Mohamed Hafez had written to Metroplex chair Ray Gillen just prior to its Board meeting that day, asking for a postponement of its approval of the environmental review, because we had just learned that the ALCO contractor had uncovered tunnels under the century-old ALCO Building 332 while demolishing its foundation.  The discovery was in early August, prior to the approval of the draft environmental impact statement, but Galesi Group never brought in an archeologist nor reported the discovery to Metroplex.

The article then fails to mention any of my supporting information, although it was supplied to the reporter along with the Memorandum to Metroplex. Instead, the rest of the article debunks my Tunnel Coverup claims, by quoting Mr. Gillen and Galesi CEO Buicko denying that there were any tunnels and that there was any historical significance to the “utility corridors” they did find and demolish.  It then quotes from three Galesi consultants denying the existence of tunnels or saying that what was found was expected.  In addition, the letters by the consultants were described as having been “written this week,” although the reporter knew that they had been written that very evening specifically in response to our Memorandum to Metroplex.

The article also fails to mention that our Memo to Metroplex specifically alleged, using information verified by another Gazette reporter, that “When a reporter from the Gazette attempted to learn about the tunnels [in early August], the Applicant refused to give an interview on the record and would not allow photos to be taken; it also appears that the Applicant specifically requested that the Gazette not report on the discovery of the tunnels.” Not having mentioned our coverup claim, the article does not tell us whether Mssrs. Gillen and Buicko denied the request for a coverup or somehow justified it.

At the very minimum, your readers show have been told in the original article, or by now in a follow-up article, that:

  • Contrary to the letters of the Galesi consultants, the DEC engineer stated twice that it would have been virtually impossible for the contractor to know the tunnels existed prior to demolishing the building’s foundation.
  •  In addition to the original Gazette reporter calling the so-called “utility corridors” tunnels and not questioning our using that word, the Department of Environmental Conservation engineer heading up the remediation project at the ALCO site spoke with me at length by telephone, and said that the “pipe chases” were indeed large enough to be more appropriately called tunnels, and he thereafter referred to them as tunnels.
  • The Gazette reporter, Haley Viccaro, wrote to me on October 20 in an email that: “Yes there are tunnels and they are working to get rid of them. I was asked not to report on that fact,” and complied after discussing the issue with Gazette editors.
  • On October 21, I emailed the six photos sent to me by the DEC engineer to Don Rittner, the former Historian of Schenectady County and the City of Schenectady, and an archeologist.  Dr. Rittner wrote back: “[A] professional archeologist should have been hired to document the site before destruction.  This was such an important part of Schenectady history [but] we may never know what those tunnels were for.” Dr. Rittner also concluded that the discovery should have been disclosed as part of the Environmental Impact review process.
  • photo of Bldg. 332 - by H. OhlhouseAccording to information at the Historic Marker Data Base website, “Building 332 was one of the longest structures in the world at nearly 1000 feet when it was completed in 1905.” (see photo to the right, taken and with commentary by Howard C. Ohlhous, Historian of the Town of Duanesburg, NY; click on the image for a larger version) Furthermore, according to DEC engineer Strang, the buildings on the ALCO site often were built over the foundations of prior buildings dating from the mid-19th Century, and “cells” found during its demolition suggest that was the case with Building 332.
  • Construction of ALCO Building 332 was completed in 1905, but its foundation was very likely to have been erected on the foundation of buildings dating back to before the Civil War, increasing the chance that the tunnels could have some important stories to tell us.

Whatever they are called, the uncovered hollow structures were part of or beneath the foundation of a building which played an important part in the history of ALCO, of Schenectady, and of our nation’s war efforts in the 20th Century.  A professional archeologist could have quickly examined and documented the tunnels, assessing whether they were standard, mundane utility corridors, or were indeed of archeological and historical significance.  We will never know, because the Applicant concealed their existence from all but DEC’s remediation engineer, demolished them and filled them over.

The goal of receiving environmental approval by Metroplex as soon as possible to gain an advantage in the casino licensing process is understandable, but in no way justifies the Applicant’s covering the tunnels over without archeological examination, nor asking the Gazette to cover up the story.  To the extent the Gazette allowed itself to be part of the Applicant’s concealment efforts, it has also failed to serve its public.

Readers can learn more on this topic, and see the photographs and documents mentioned, at
http://tinyurl.com/ALCOCoverup

David Giacalone
Editor, Stop the Schenectady Casino, http://stoptheschenectadycasino.com/

_____

Instead of reporting our supporting information to its readers, the article dismisses me as “an outspoken critic of the casino,” and tried to make me look unreliable.  See “Metroplex OKs Alco site environmental review” (Oct. 22, 2014, by Bethany Bump). Here is the Gazette’s total discussion of our tunnel coverup claim:

Not everyone was pleased with the environmental review this time around. David Giacalone, a resident of the nearby Stockade neighborhood and an outspoken opponent of the proposed casino, sent an email to Gillen about 15 minutes before the board vote was to be held Wednesday asking the board to delay its final approval.

Attached was a letter addressed to the board of directors from himself and local landlord Mohamed Hafez calling for an investigation of tunnels that were allegedly discovered during remediation beneath Building 332 at the Alco site. The tunnels, they said, were discovered in August and removed, but were not addressed in the updated environmental review of the site.

Giacalone showed up to Wednesday’s board vote, but arrived too late to make any comments during the public comment period.

As stated above in our proposed op/ed Letter to the Editor, none of our supporting information was provided in the article.  Not only did Ms. Bump, the reporter, receive our email to Mr. Gillen with our Memorandum at the time it was sent to Metroplex, she spent perhaps half an hour discussing the issues and facts with me directly after the Metroplex meeting on October 22She knew I had only received the tip on the tunnel and coverup two days prior and verified it one day before the Metroplex meeting.  She also knew that I was late to the Metroplex meeting because of the lack of parking spaces due to a big show at Proctor’s and because a building guard sent me to the wrong set of elevators, at the opposite end of the building.

Also, regarding my late arrival:  The public comment portion of the meeting was in fact continuing as I entered, but when Chairman Gillen looked to me to see if I wanted to say anything, I shook my head no, because I had submitted my comments in writing.  More important, although I was about 15 minutes late for the start of the meeting, the Metroplex Board had already voted on its annual budget and approved the Mohawk Harbor SEQRA environmental report in the short period before I arrived, as well as offering its brief public comment period.

In our discussion after the Metroplex meeting, Bethany Bump voiced her dismay that the Gazette would agree not to cover the story when asked in August.  She also said she did not plan on mentioning the tunnel issue in her article that evening, because her editor would want her to check out my sources before reporting on my claims.  Ms. Bump also told me it was too bad Don Rittner was a former City and County historian and not still in that position.  When I saw the article online later that evening, I was surprised that they had nonetheless raised the tunnel issue.  Ms. Bump replied to a  tongue-in-cheek email from me late that evening asking who “this kook Giacalone” is by explaining that her editor decided they would report on the tunnel issue, because I had submitted a letter about it to Metroplex that was on the public record.

Here is the  much longer “rebuttal” portion of the Gazette article concerning the tunnels:

Buicko and Gillen have both disputed the allegations. They said the “tunnels” were actually pipe chases — a concrete encasing that protects and conceals underground infrastructure such as water or electrical pipes. They had no historical or archaeological value, they said. They were removed and filled in, they said, so the ground would not collapse under future development.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has overseen remediation of the site as part of its brownfield program, and could not answer specific questions this week regarding the discovery. A spokesman said it’s not unusual to find such infrastructure at a cleanup site.

The excavations on-site have included the removal of foundations, concrete slabs, pavements and abandoned utilities. Three firms involved with remediation work on the site wrote letters to Gillen this week confirming the removal of underground utilities and said the only thing resembling a tunnel would have been “utility corridors.”

“All of the items uncovered by excavation were as anticipated from the site records and do not consist of any archaeological or historical properties,” said Daniel R. Hershberg, a partner at Albany firm Hershberg & Hershberg who has served as a civil consultant on the project, in a letter.

Rifenburg Contracting Corporation, a Troy-based contractor that’s working on the site, and Barton & Loguidice, an Albany firm providing environmental consulting services, also wrote letters with similar findings.

“To my knowledge, the utility corridors that have been removed were intended for allowing access for operation and/or maintenance activities, and were not passageways or tunnels,” said Andrew J. Barber, a senior environmental consultant with Barton & Loguidice, in a letter.

The removal was necessary, he said, to provide appropriate “geotechnical” stability for future buildings at the site.

During our conversation after the Metroplex Meeting, Ms. Bump and I discussed the apparent bias of the Gazette newsroom editors in favor of the casino.  When I mentioned the front page article on Sunday August 3, 2014 [“Schenectady Casino Group Praised“, by Haley Vicarro,], Bethany instantly and animatedly said that when she went in to the Gazette newsroom the next day she pointedly asked how they could put a Rush Street Gaming press release on the front of the Sunday Gazette.  She also asked why they needed to repeat a topic she had covered herself in a (balanced) article in June [see “Officials in other cities warn of pitfalls, failed promises by Rush Street“, June 8, 2014, by Bethany Bump; and see our posting “a few things the Gazette forgot to mention“].

images-5 By the way, although the Gazette could not be bothered to focus on our reasons for a delay in the SEQRA review process to clarify the tunnel issue with even a sentence of explanation, it had no problem publishing a 600-word article on November 19, 2014 trumpeting that “Howe Caverns environmental review questioned” (by Matthew McKibben), based on the allegations in a lawsuit filed by an opponent of that casino.  Is there a difference that would justify coverage of the allegations in a petition starting a lawsuit?  One big difference is that filing a lawsuit questioning and therefore perhaps slowing down the finalizing of the Howe Caverns environmental review might lessen its chance of being selected by the Location Board, which increases the odds that the Schenectady casino application will be selected.

On the morning of October 23rd, Ms. Bump sent me an email that said:

“I just got the go-ahead to do another, bigger story on this. I have a good week to dig into this stuff, so let’s stay in touch. Thanks for your help.”

I replied (Oct 23, 2014 at 11:39 AM):

This is good, thanks.  Unlike some advocates and gadflies, I want you to dig deeper, because I believe the more you learn the more you’ll wonder why Buicko wanted silence on this issue. (probably just to avoid delay, but maybe because they did not know at the time how much additional contamination would be found)

I will let you know what I find out, no matter which way the facts seem to cut.
david

And, later that morning Ms. Bump wrote [emphasis added]:

Exactly. These conduits/pipes/tunnels/whatever could very well be perfectly innocent, but now I’ve heard from at least one other person that was asked not to talk about them. If they’re so innocent, why can’t anyone talk about them?

I continued to send Ms. Bump information as I collected it.  On November 11, after a couple weeks of silence from her, I emailed her asking, “Are you still working on the Tunnel issue?  Or, do we [have] a cover-up of the cover-up?” Bethany replied about 40 minutes later:

I’ve just been busy. But yes I am still looking into them. One of the holdups has been the state agencies. DEC finally got back to me the other day. Still waiting on SHPO.

GarbagePail point neg flipThat was the last communication from Bethany on this or any other topic.  On Nov. 14, 2014, I sent the above op/Ed Letter above to the Gazette Opinion staff and to Mark Mahoney, Editorial Page Editor.    For perhaps two decades, the Gazette has published every opEd piece I have proposed to them, as well as my letters to the editor.  Former Editorial Page Editor Art Clayman and his successor, Mr.  Mahoney, have always replied quickly, at times with a phone call.  When I heard nothing about the ACLO coverup piece, I wrote again to Mark Mahoney on November 20th, asking “Are you planning to use the piece I sent you a week ago about the “tunnels” uncovered and covered-up at the ALCO site?”  Again, there was no response of any kind.

Therefore, I have decided to “publish” the piece myself here at “stop the Schenectady casino.”  The Gazette‘s actions and failures on this issue are not important solely on the casino question, but raise questions about its integrity that will linger as long as it attempts to fill the role of Schenectady’s “Newspaper of Record”, and is an important actor in our community’s public and political life.

By the way, earlier this week, in its article “Pearl Harbor put Schenectady on high alert: Security heightened at GE, Alco in response to attack” (by Jeff Wilkin, Dec. 7, 2014), the Gazette suggests an historical basis for further inquiry into the nature and uses of the tunnels found on the ALCO site. Because of Schenectady’s pivotal role in any American war effort, “There was a fear that if the mainland United States was attacked, then Schenectady would be a prime target.”  Therefore, when news reached the City of the attack on Pearl Harbor, “Schenectady reacted quickly. Guards were quickly doubled at the General Electric Co. and American Locomotive Co. as a precaution against attack.”  Historian and archeologist Don Rittner raised the issue of the possible wartime uses for the tunnels in a quote that we supplied to Metroplex on October 22:

“This was such an important part of Schenectady history that we may never know what those tunnels were for. Could they have been secret passageways in case of war, . . . ?”

As we wrote in the Letter to the Editor above and in our Comments on the issue to the Location Board, we will never know whether the tunnels were standard, mundane utility corridors, or were indeed of archeological and historical significance.  We will never know, because the Applicant concealed their existence from all but DEC’s remediation engineer, demolished them and filled them over, and both the Gazette and Metroplex let them get away with it.

I am still optimistic that the NYS Gaming Facility Location Board will give full consideration to the information we have submitted to them about the Schenectady Casino application, as well as to the opinions of other opponents.  If the Board carefully evaluates the credible evidence and compares it will the statutory standards it is tasked to apply, we feel confident that the Board will choose an applicant other than Schenectady’s Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor.

  • red check Finally, later this weekend, I hope to post a list of the many ways the Gazette has skewed the news during the casino selection process to diminish the force of its opposition and avoid negative news about Rush Street Gaming, the hopeful operator of a casino at Mohawk Harbor. [see “rigging the news: the Gazette and the Schenectady Casino” (Dec. 16, 2014)]

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