Note: I was able to interview all of the candidates for Town Council and Town Justice. Unfortunately, I was unable to interview the highway superintendent candidate within the time frame that I had. The candidate stories turned out to be a much bigger project than I ever anticipated. It was, however, in my opinion, a worthwhile project. I hope that you have gotten to know the candidates and to see sides of them that would not have readily come out in an election campaign.
Until now, I have not commented, but have, instead, let the candidates do all of the talking. When I interviewed them, I purposely left out discussion of the issues. I did, however, attend candidates’ night and I asked a question via the Facebook group, “Grand Ideas for Grand Island.”
Today, I am sharing my impressions and am focusing on two serious local issues: the opioid epidemic and the emerald ash borer.
|Pete Marston, Jr.|
According to statistics, someone dies of an opioid overdose every ten minutes.
For Cyndy Montana, the issue is personal: I have an aunt who died of a prescription drug overdose. We have to stop hiding. We have to be involved as leaders in a community. Doing nothing is not an option. (candidates’ night)
· For Jennifer Baney, the focus is on education: I went to the Narcan training. We have to be concerned but not overwhelmed and follow the best practices. Everyone should get trained. (candidates night)
· Pete Marston: The opiate problem is nationwide. I am an advocate for a public health advisory board. (candidates night)
· Mark Frentzel: We act as a drug court without the official label. (Note: He also mentioned federal funding to combat opioid addiction, as well as inclusion of Grand Island residents in the new opioid court in Buffalo, which requires daily attendance, counseling, and random drug testing) (candidates night)
· Eric Soehnlein: I think that a town court judge has to be actively engaged in cases that come before him that are dealing with substance abuse offenders and people with mental illness. Those types of offenders have a better chance of improving and not reoffending when they have a treatment plan that works within the framework of their specific circumstances. In other words, there’s no one size fits all solution. But what our town needs is someone who is not only competent but also compassionate and willing to invest the time on a case-by-case basis to address the specific issues of each offender. (from my interview with him)
· Celia Spacone: (three steps to dealing with the opioid crisis: “We have to admit that this is a problem; treat it as an illness, not a criminal act; and work as a community to bring structures here.” (candidates’ night)s
Alice’s comments: On the issue of the opioid epidemic, I feel that all candidates showed great concern. They all had different perspectives, as town council candidates and as town justice candidates. Pete Marston’s idea of a public health advisory board could certainly be implemented. I would have to say that Celia Spacone, during the campaign season, went above and beyond anything that I have ever seen a candidate do. She organized and moderated a community conversation on the opioid crisis. She brought in as speakers a young recovering addict, a mother of a deceased addict, the superintendent of the Grand Island school system, and a Narcan trainer from the Erie County Department of Health. At the last minute, Cyndy Montana was called in to do the introductions. In my opinion, the program was well-done and effective. I sincerely hope that this conversation on the opioid epidemic is just one of a series of conversations on this life-threatening problem that affects all communities, including Grand Island. Celia Spacone showed strong leadership in this area and she should be given the opportunity to continue to show this sort of leadership as a town council member.
The second issue that I will mention in detail is the emerald ash borer. Approximately 30 to 60 percent of Grand Island’s trees are ash trees. According to Mark Whitmore, an entomologist from the department of natural resources, which is part of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University who did a presentation on the emerald ash borer in October 2016, all of Grand Island’s trees are infested and, eventually, most of them will die. During candidates’ night, a question about the emerald ash borer was presented to the two candidates running for highway superintendent. When Grand Ideas for Grand Island (a facebook page) requested questions for the candidates, I submitted this one: “Grand Island's ash trees are dying. What sort of plan would you like to see Grand Island put in place to deal with issues of deforestation? How would you plan for the island's reforestation?”
Dick Crawford: mentioned the Emerald Ash Borer task force. “We have mapped aggressively” on town-owned land, including basketball and tennis courts. There are 30,000 ash trees on Grand Island, and we hit eight areas. (candidates night)
· Dan Drexilius: I have cleared lots. The ash trees come back. Trees in the town right of way should be dealt with. (candidates night)
· Cyndy Montana: The Town has already put in place an Ash Borer Task Force that is looking at this issue and how to resolve it before it becomes a huge problem. The dead trees that are in the right of way will have to be taken down before they fall on their own. If they are left to do that, it could become a safety issue. We can’t let anyone get hurt. And any lawsuits would cost the Town tax-payer money. There are grants that we should be able to get to help with the cost of deforestation. We are also looking into creating a sapling nursery where we can grow the trees necessary for reforestation without spending a fortune. (Grand Ideas for Grand Island questions)
· Celia Spacone: Yes, I am very disheartened to see our beautiful ash trees dying. On our property alone, we have had to cut down nine trees. This is the plan I would like to see in place to deal with this: In consultation with an arborist, we need to develop a plan to identify which trees on public property and the right of way are beyond help. The Town should start taking those trees down. Ash trees are large and typically fragile when invaded by the emerald ash borer. If they fall in a storm or high wind, they are going to damage property and/or human life. The Town could incur legal liability and we would find ourselves facing very costly lawsuits.
§ Second, we should encourage homeowners to do the same for trees on their property as they are responsible for those trees. I understand this is expensive. There is a proposal before the NYS Senate which would give homeowners a tax credit as they take on this expense: https://www.nysenate.gov/…/kennedy-proposal-provides-relief…. Encourage our NYS Senator, Chris Jacobs, to advocate for passage.
§ We need to reforest. This is critical for beauty and the reduction of air pollution and soil erosion. There is a program now where you can purchase a tree at Beaver island state park to honor or memorialize someone. This is an excellent idea. We need to go further. I would propose a partnership with the state park whereby we set up a sapling farm. Residents would be allowed to come and dig up a sapling and replant it on their property, free of charge. This is an inexpensive way to support private initiative. All reforestation should follow the 10-20-30 rule which calls for an urban tree population to consist of no more than 10 percent of any one specific species, no more than 20 percent of any individual genus, and no more than 30 percent of one tree family. By requiring biodiversity, this helps to head off widespread damage that has been seen previously, such as Dutch Elm Disease, the Emerald Ash Borer, and the Japanese beetle. Never again should we over-plant one kind of tree!
Unfortunately, neither Jennifer Baney nor Pete Marston answered the list of questions. I wish that they had. Deforestation is an environmental crisis. We need leaders who will respond to these issues. I found Cyndy Montana’s response to be very factual and pro-active, and I found Celia Spacone’s answers to be very detailed and well-researched. On this issue, Celia Spacone and Cyndy Montana were the most responsive.
Alice’s conclusions: First, I want to thank the candidates who shared their stories with me. I appreciate it so much. I have had a chance to get to know most of the candidates for local office. They have different perspectives on issues, based on their life experiences and their personal philosophies. I hope that you will think about the opioid crisis and our trees, among other issues, when voting. Thank you for reading the stories. I hope that I have helped during this election season.