In photos: Saratoga Springs High School alumna Jennifer Burt making a planetary point; and several images of the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite that today is her specialty. Photos provided.
CAPE CANAVERAL – Jennifer Burt, who graduated from Saratoga Springs High School more than a decade ago, is part of a team of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology preparing to study distant solar systems with the aid of the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS).
“Over the next two years, TESS is going to search for exoplanets across 85 percent of the sky, focusing specifically on the closest and brightest stars,” Burt wrote in an email that she sent this week from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
On Wednesday, she observed the successful second TESS launch attempt at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) facility in Cape Canaveral.
According to an April 18 report in USA Today, NASA partnered with the private company SpaceX to launch TESS as part of a two-year, $337 million project. Technical issues delayed an initial launch attempt.
Earlier this week, Burt’s role in the TESS project was first covered in a report by television news channel WNYT.
Burt, a Torres Exoplanet Fellow at MIT’s Kavli Institute, elaborated on the scientific data that TESS is programmed to generate.
“The mission is expected to detect thousands of exoplanets smaller than Neptune, and will be able to tell us both how large the planets are and how far away they are from the host star—that second bit of info then lets us calculate whether or not the exoplanets are inside the ‘habitable zone,’ or the region around the star where the temperature is just right for liquid water to be possible on the surface of a planet,” she wrote.
“My role in TESS actually comes after the mission detects these thousands of new exoplanets. I'll work with a variety of ground-based telescopes using precision radial velocity instruments to target the best and brightest TESS stars and measure the masses of the exoplanets that TESS discovers around them,” Burt said.
Determining the density of any newly discovered planets is “an important step in understanding what they're made of (metals, rocks, ices, gases, etc),” she continued.
“The most promising exoplanets, those with significant atmospheres around bright stars, will likely be targeted by NASA's upcoming James Webb Space Telescope which is set to launch in 2020 and will have the ability to peer into the exoplanets' atmospheres, looking for evidence of the elements and molecules that we think might be crucial for letting life develop,” Burt wrote.
When asked how her interest in outer space had evolved from her early years in Saratoga Springs, Burt fondly remembered the guidance provided by retired science teacher Charlie Kuenzel before she graduated in 2006.
“I developed an interest in astronomy when I was a kid, thanks in large part to the dark skies outside of Saratoga and up in the Adirondacks, where my family had a summer cabin,” she wrote.
“I was extremely fortunate to attend SSHS while Charlie Kuenzel was still teaching, and more specifically while he first developed the school's NASA club. I was one of the inaugural members, and ended up as the president for a couple of years, and through that club I gained my first real experience with scientific research and realized that astronomy in particular could become a rewarding career, and not just a hobby,” Burt explained.
Today she encourages high school students to take advantage of local opportunities related to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) as a means to pursue similar research.
“In my mind, the ability to get the public interested in what organizations like NASA are doing is almost as important as the science itself,” Burt admitted. “For students who share a similar interest and want to help explore our solar system, our galaxy, or even the universe at large, I think that pursuing a career in a STEM field is a challenging but extremely rewarding pathway, and one that will open all sorts of interesting and exciting career opportunities as they move forward in life.”
For more information about TESS, visit the website https://tess.gsfc.nasa.gov/.
In photos: Saratoga Springs Public Safety Commissioner Peter Martin, Mayor Meg Kelly, Greg Redling of Saratoga Preserving Land and Nature and Tina Carton of the city parks office walk the Bog Meadow trail this week; the existing route on Meadowbrook Road that walkers must navigate; a beaver hut next to the Bog Meadow Brook boardwalk; and volunteer Jeff Olson reflecting on 25 years of work. Photos by Larry Goodwin.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – After trudging through a ditch next to Meadowbrook Road on Tuesday morning, city officials and environmental advocates walked a soggy portion of the Bog Meadow Brook Nature Trail to welcome several upgrades that are needed in the 25-year-old preserve.
Initially completed in 1993, the popular recreation trail is two miles long and has entrances on both Lake Avenue (Route 29) and Meadowbrook Road. Much of the existing path was built over old railroad lines. It is surrounded by 174 acres of wetlands and forest, according to the group Saratoga Preserving Land and Nature (PLAN).
Greg Redling, the stewardship coordinator for PLAN, said a three-phase upgrade project would begin with construction of a new trail near the Meadowbrook Road parking area.
An 1,100-foot connector trail of mostly crushed stone will eliminate the need for people walking in the ditch along Meadowbrook Road—on which some drivers rapidly increase their speed.
Redling said two other phases of the project will include elevating a northern part of the trail affected by “intensive use,” severe weather and beaver dams; and making repairs on the large boardwalk that spans the Bog Meadow Brook itself.
The changes are being designed and engineered by Munter Enterprises, Redling said. He noted how John Munter has been a “crucial partner” in the Bog Meadow trail from the beginning.
The PLAN media spokesman, John Kettlewell, said the work would start by late April when conditions are drier. Mostly “brush and undergrowth” will be removed to build the connector trail on old train tracks that are difficult to spot, he explained.
Kettlewell added that a ribbon cutting is scheduled for the fall to mark the completion of all three phases of the project.
“In conclusion, a 25-year-old trail naturally needs revitalization,” Redling told the small crowd that had gathered Tuesday on the Bog Meadow boardwalk.
The attendees included Saratoga Springs Mayor Meg Kelly and Tina Carton, administrator of the Parks, Open Lands, Historic Preservation and Sustainability office.
Redling and the small staff at PLAN works with a network of nearly 200 volunteers to maintain Bog Meadow and nine other trails in Saratoga County, from Woodcock Preserve in Clifton Park to the Orra Phelps Preserve in Gansevoort, and west to the Hennig and LeVine nature preserves near Galway.
Advocates hope to have the trails connected in a future Saratoga County Greenbelt Trail. They are actively recruiting volunteers to aid in all such efforts.
On the Bog Meadow boardwalk Tuesday, volunteer Jeff Olson said he remembered his “very first exploration of this trail,” which he found using basic information from former city planner Geoff Bornemann.
At first, Olson explained, there was not much local interest in creating the Bog Meadow preserve. “It turns out that, literally, for 25 years, every single time I’ve been here, there have been other people on this trail, and that’s just a wonderful thing,” he said.
“To me, the most exciting thing is we’re standing here today thinking about the next 25 years,” Olson added, as many birds could be heard chirping in the distance.
“Wetlands are really important. We have this wonderful network of springs within the city and water resources, and we need to learn how we’re going to maintain these for future generations,” offered Carton.
She said Saratoga Springs is in the process of compiling a “natural resources inventory” to inform any related planning endeavors.
Carton also talked about a separate trail project that she called the “downtown connector,” from the Exit 15 area of I-87 to Lake Avenue, which is being reviewed by an engineer. That trail will further connect the county’s entire network of trails.
Maria Trabka, the executive director of PLAN, compared the county’s trails to those used long ago by Native Americans—not for recreation, but for essential travel.
“We wouldn’t have any of our trails without volunteers,” Trabka admitted, adding that “homebuyers across the country” value recreation trails close to new properties they are considering for purchase.
“We need a lot of eyes and ears out in all the communities who understand,” Trabka said.
For more information, visit the website https://www.saratogaplan.org/.
Who: Dan Urkevich
Where: Garden Beds at Saratoga Spa State Park
Q: How many years have you been gardening here?
A: I started gardening in the park after I left the golf course, when the golf course privatized, in 2000 this bed was started…this is the 19th year. Both sides. It’s expanded quite a bit—that and some other beds in the park…every year I try to make it a little better.
Q: How is your commute from Mechanicville each morning?
A: Easy. Not bad at all. It’s not like having to drive to Albany.
Q: Where do you get the plants and flowers?
A: I buy all my plants at Sunnyside nursery. I’ve always gotten them there. I give him a list of plants I need, he grows them special for me. Ned Chapman. He’s willing to grow for me, so I can do some unusual things here with plants. He’s very generous to the park, always has been.
Q: What are your favorites?
A: I like the zinnias, the tall zinnias. The ‘state fair’ is the variety. And I also like the sunflowers, I’ve used a lot of sunflowers here… you get a nice height and they’re visible from the road…so you can see a splash of color.
Q: How much annual planting is required?
A: It’s probably like 65 percent perennial to 30 annual...they’ll be coming as soon as we get some warmer weather.
Q: How has the state park changed through the years?
A: My first year was ’78. I’ve seen a lot of things here. It’s really improved a lot, all the areas here…I also do the Victoria pool, I do the flowers and landscaping in there and that’s beautiful; try to keep it nice.
Q: Do you have many interactions with passersby?
A: Everybody. A lot of people stop here, you know, questions about the flowers. The walking path was put in the same time all this was done, so this has been a great thing for the patrons. All of that was started, I think, in ’99. It’s much more popular, the whole park…I’ve seen a big increase in the attendance…and with the pumpkins and mums in the fall, it’s just really popular for family pictures.
Q: What do you like to do for fun?
A: I do a lot of fishing, kayak fishing. I also bike. [Laughs.] I also do a lot of this for my family and friends, a lot of gardening.
In photos: One of the rooms filled this week at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 358 in Ballston Spa; and Village Hall at 66 Front Street. Photos by Larry Goodwin.
BALLSTON SPA – Dozens of cars and trucks spilled out of the parking lot at the V.F.W. post off Doubleday Avenue Monday night, when village residents showed up to express their concerns about a proposal to raise property tax rates by nearly 26 percent in the next fiscal year.
Television cameras blocked an entryway between two rooms that contained the crowd, as more than 20 people were called upon to address the Ballston Spa Village Board.
Former village mayor James Capasso set the tone for the next two hours.
“I wish you’d appoint a budget advisory committee,” Capasso told the board. “A committee of citizens that live in this village and want to take the budget apart and look at it piece by piece, analyze every nickel that we spend.”
Capasso recalled efforts that were made by village officials in 1988 to improve the future prospects of the Ballston Spa School District.
“You have to surround yourself with good people,” he said. “That’s the only way you’re going to run a good government.”
The board voted later to set a second public hearing in Village Hall for 7:15 p.m. on Monday, April 23, specific to the issue of exceeding New York State’s 2 percent property tax cap.
Ballston Spa’s pending 2018-19 budget is scheduled for a vote and possible adoption the same night. The $4.4 million spending plan must be passed before June 1.
Mayor John Romano and the village trustees are scheduled to meet with department heads through Friday, April 20 for additional budget workshops.
At the April 9 public hearing, several residents echoed Capasso’s comments, calling on the village board to allow more citizen participation and transparency in general.
Jes Rich, the owner of Sage Wine and Spirits, explained that she was so inspired by members of the Ballston Spa Business and Professional Association that she chose to open her business in 2016 on Front Street.
“One thing that is concerning is that there really isn’t conversation between the business association and village government about how we move forward and how we help each other move forward,” Rich said. “The businesses—the restaurants and retail shops—are what is bringing in more interest to the area and we need to embrace that.”
Hyde Boulevard resident Liz Kormos reported that she recently filed a Freedom of Information Law request with Ballston Spa Treasurer Christopher Hickey, who informed her “he did not trust the numbers coming out of the village’s computer system.”
“How can the village manage our tax dollars and create a budget if they don’t trust the numbers in their own accounting system?” Kormos asked the board members.
Rowland Street resident Chris Tebbens, a U.S. Navy veteran, urged the board to contact the New York State Comptroller’s office and utilize its “fiscal stress-monitoring tool.”
Romano responded that he has scheduled a meeting with the comptroller’s office in a couple of weeks “to discuss that very issue.”
Other local residents asked for more detailed explanations from Hickey, who prepared Ballston Spa’s tentative budget but was not present.
According to Romano, it was Hickey who recommended—in his capacity as the official budget officer for the village—raising property taxes by 26 percent. “That is his view of what needs to be done,” the mayor said.
Currently, Ballston Spa has about $16.5 million in taxable property, Romano explained. If the annual tax rate does increase by 26 percent, he cited two examples of how that would translate into real numbers.
Romano said a property valued at $180,000 would see a rise from $694 to $874 in village taxes; a “higher-end” property valued at $254,000 that pays $980 now would see that number rise to $1,243.
Yet Romano stopped short of saying that Hickey should be present at budget meetings.
“I speak to the treasurer every single day, Monday through Friday. Every member of this board has the same opportunity,” Romano said. “You need to spend some time with the treasurer, one on one.”
“What I’m worried about is that people are getting stuck on whether the guy’s here or not,” interjected Trustee Noah Shaw, who in recent weeks has frequently criticized Hickey’s absence from board meetings. He referred to Hickey as the village’s chief financial officer (CFO).
“The most important part is whether the CFO of this organization is coming up with good ideas for how to solve the problem. I’m not sure he is,” Shaw said. “We need more help, and we need different ideas and we need different options.”
Shaw prompted much debate about updating the village’s property assessment strategy, which he claimed has not been done in 25 years.
Anna Stanko, a senior technician in the Saratoga County Real Property Tax Service Agency, reminded the board that village property assessments are tied to those made in the neighboring towns of Ballston and Milton. She vouched for their overall accuracy.
Shaw also recommended that the board should consider selling off properties to raise revenue, including the three-story Village Hall building at 66 Front Street. He said that would make sense following the arrival of so many new businesses on Front Street.
Shaw requested that Romano form a new budget advisory committee by this August to accommodate the concerns stated by residents in attendance Monday night.
Another local woman acknowledged the complexity of putting together any municipal budget.
Still, she told the board she wants to see results. “I think we have a right to expect a much better process” in the years ahead, she concluded, eliciting applause.
The last speaker was local real estate broker Rory O’Connor, who advised setting up a citizen budget committee without delay. He called on the board members to at least focus on “zero-based budgeting” as they finalize any plan to fix the village’s fiscal woes.
“This is the people’s money. It’s not village money. This belongs to all of us to solve,” O’Connor said. “Zero-based budgeting is simply everyone justifies every penny, starting from the beginning, so there are no sacred cows; there are no programs that are not looked at in the context of being adjusted or reduced.”
“All of the storefronts are filled. It’s because we all worked together to make that happen,” Romano said in conclusion.
“We’re going through some tough times, but we’ll get through it. We’re going to work hard. We’re going to turn things around,” the mayor added. “You have my word on that.”
(From left) Ballston Spa volunteer firefighters Glenn Bowers Jr., third assistant; Kevin Krogh, second assistant; Michael Bashore, first assistant; and Chief Bill Lewis. Photo by Larry Goodwin.
BALLSTON SPA – The Ballston Spa Fire Department (BSFD), an all-volunteer service provided to the village and surrounding communities, requested a small amount of funding this week for a memorial plaque.
According to current Chief Bill Lewis, who was recently re-elected to his position along with three other BSFD officials, there will be a $700 initial cost for the plaque. He said the goal is to honor all of the fire chiefs who have served in the village through the course of more than 200 years.
On Monday, the Ballston Spa Village Board unanimously approved the expenditure after a lengthy public hearing that focused on a proposed $4.4 million spending plan for the next fiscal year, which starts on June 1.
In 2017, Lewis said, volunteers at the two firehouses that comprise the BSFD—Eagle Matt Lee and Union Fire Company—responded to 392 calls and contributed over 10,000 hours of labor.
WILTON – On Thursday, April 5, the Wilton Town Board voted in favor of a public hearing to amend a 2009 law known as the Ernst Road Planned United Development District (PUDD).
The proposed Ernst Road PUDD amendment involves removing a proposed town road connection to the Burnham Hollow subdivision.
Separately, the Wilton Planning Board recently reviewed plans by North Manor Development LLC to add six lots in a cul-de-sac to Burnham Hollow.
The Ernst Road PUDD public hearing was set for 6 p.m. on Thursday, May 3 at Wilton Town Hall on Traver Road. The proposed amendment was referred to the Saratoga County Planning Department for review as well.
The late Saratoga County Republican John Nolan in 2012 at the Saratoga Springs Holiday Inn. Photo by Thomas Dimopoulos.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – A legendary chairman of the Saratoga County Republican Committee passed away on Sunday, April 1 after battling the symptoms of dementia, according to an obituary published online by the William J. Burke and Sons/Bussing and Cunniff Funeral Home.
John (Jack) “Jasper” Nolan “was a man of conviction and unwavering faith. He was a loyal supporter of his family and friends, his beloved Saratoga Springs and our country,” the obituary reads.
The funeral home, located at 628 North Broadway, has scheduled calling hours for Nolan from 4 to 7 p.m. on Friday, April 6.
The obituary indicated that Nolan was 83 and had worked as a teacher for more than 30 years.
Nolan served as chairman of the county’s Republican Committee between 1985 and 2012. He also was actively involved in a local Knights of Columbus chapter, the Wilton Elks lodge, the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick and other groups.
Steve Bulger, another respected Republican and former committee chairman who recently took a position in the federal Small Business Administration, said he had not seen Nolan in several years. Bulger called him “absolutely one of my mentors.”
Apparently, Nolan had relocated to Connecticut to be closer to a daughter.
“They really took good care of him these last few years,” Bulger said of the family.
As a history teacher, Bulger explained, Nolan “had a great historical perspective” that he could apply to many different subjects.
Bulger said that Nolan’s specialties in politics included a mastery of running campaigns and “how to hold elected officials accountable…to conservative principles.”
“He wasn’t just good at election time. He was a leader all the time,” Bulger added.
In a statement emailed on Tuesday, Saratoga County Office of Emergency Services Director Carl Zeilman further expressed the sentiment of local Republicans following the announcement of Nolan’s passing last weekend.
Zeilman, the current Republican Committee chairman, said Saratoga County “lost one of its greatest champions.”
“Jasper was a giant of a man who led the Saratoga County Republican Committee for nearly three decades, achieving unmatched electoral success,” he said. “Under his leadership, Saratoga County grew into one of the most successful counties in the state, with a thriving economy and growing population. Chairman Nolan was recognized across the state as a king maker in the party, but to most of us he was a mentor, a friend, a leader and a man who epitomized the values and commitment we hold so dear.
“On behalf of all the entire Republican Committee,” Zeilman added, “I offer my most sincere sympathy to the Nolan family and ask that we all hold them in our prayers in this trying time.”
MALTA – Jim O’Connell says there will be “just about everything you can think of” at the flea market he plans to start next month at the Malta Drive-In, including a wide assortment of antiques, handmade crafts and even a reader of tarot cards.
On one Saturday each month starting on May 12 and ending on Sept. 15, according to O’Connell, a fee of $2 per vehicle will be charged to access the flea market at the popular drive-in theater. He indicated that $1 from each fee will go to charity.
“My plan for this thing is to make it a community event,” he said, with minimal noise or noticeable impacts on local residents. The other two Saturdays it will be open are June 9 and July 7.
Several years ago, O’Connell explained, another weekend flea market was started at the Malta Drive-In but did not succeed. He said the goal is to improve upon that experience.
O’Connell, who works full time as a marketing specialist at the CapCom Federal Credit Union based in Albany, conveyed how he has been involved with flea markets in his spare time for more than 20 years.
This new plan in Malta has received a “a tremendous amount of feedback,” he said, noting how the closest similar markets are set up farther south on Route 9, at the Guptill’s Roller Skating Arena in Cohoes, and in the Washington County fairgrounds west of Greenwich.
O’Connell estimated that the flea market fees would generate approximately $1,000 for the CapCom Cares Foundation, which supports local children and families.
Earlier this week, the Malta Town Board took an action related to the flea market by voting to schedule a public hearing at 6 p.m. on Monday, May 7 for the purpose of amending the so-called Caro Planned Development District (PDD).
According to Malta Supervisor Vincent DeLucia, a section of that particular PDD needs to be amended because it currently specifies that a flea market can operate at the drive-in between the hours of 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.
O’Connell said the new flea market will operate between 7:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. only on Saturdays, as a means to avoid any potential traffic problems in connection with services at the St. Peter Lutheran Church directly across Route 9.
DeLucia noted how such a time change “extends the traffic pattern” and would benefit flea market enthusiasts who “want to get there early.”
Malta Councilman John Hartzell was the sole vote in opposition to the public hearing measure.
He opined that changing the hours of operation in the Caro PDD does not “strike” the right balance for residents who live near the Malta Drive-In.
“I wish them well with their business,” Hartzell said. “I think this goes farther than I am comfortable with.”
Yet DeLucia thinks the new flea market will be good for Malta.
“It’s supportive of economic development and brings people into the town,” he said.
Photo by Larry Goodwin.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner (D-Round Lake) confirmed this week that $250,000 in new funding was secured in the recently passed state budget to support Saratoga Hospital’s drug-treatment program at the Community Health Center on Hamilton Street.
In February, Woerner said, she attended a meeting with Saratoga Hospital President and Chief Executive Officer Angelo Calbone to discuss a perceived need for state funding.
Woerner called the effort a “priority” of hers, saying the program in Saratoga Springs is “fully subscribed.”
In that February meeting, she explained, a figure of $500,000 was agreed upon, but only half that amount remained after negotiations were finalized between state lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Woerner said the opioid problem, in particular, has been “overwhelming our primary practices.”
“The medical staff at the hospital is really doing a tremendous job,” she observed, noting how “it’s an enormous problem in our county.”
Saratoga Hospital spokesman Peter Hopper declined to provide further information about how the state funds would be spent. The management team at the hospital is still reviewing the matter and details will be provided at a later date, he said.
In a September 2017 interview arranged by Hopper, Dr. Joshua Zamer, the addiction medicine specialist at the Community Health Center, told Saratoga TODAY that he was actively treating about 170 patients monthly in the drug-treatment program.
Woerner added that Saratoga County emergency workers have expressed to her that many people are still affected. “We haven’t crested the hill on this addiction problem,” she said.
MALTA – Town officials avoided potential litigation this week by approving a legal settlement with the New Jersey-based company that owns the Steeplechase apartment complex, which recently contested the town’s tax assessment of the property.
According to Malta Assessor Rae-Lyn Dussault, the apartment community at 2767 Route 9 was previously valued at $30 million.
Dussault explained that representatives of The Silverman Group in New Jersey had requested a reduction in Malta’s tax assessment to $24 million.
“We kind of met them in the middle,” she said, noting how the new agreement values the property at $27.5 million.
“The values that we put on commercial properties, to begin with, are market,” Dussault said.
In October 2014, The Silverman Group purchased the property for $35.5 million, according to a report in the Albany Business Review.
Neither local company officials nor others in New Jersey could be reached for comment. The Silverman Group website indicates that Steeplechase is run by a division named C and R Property Management.
Dussault said it was “logical” to reduce the tax assessment for a number of reasons, including the fact that the community is more than 10 years old and has experienced some recent vacancy issues.
A company description online indicates that there are more than 230 apartment units in Steeplechase, ranging in size from 830 to 1,300 square feet of living space.
On Monday, the Malta Town Board voted 3-2 in favor of approving a “stipulation of settlement” agreement that was reached between the attorneys representing each respective party in the tax dispute.
Councilman John Hartzell and Supervisor Vincent DeLucia both were opposed.
DeLucia called the previous $30 million assessment “fair and reasonable.” But he added that, as a general rule, he respects the town board’s democratic process.
“I’m all for settling when we can,” DeLucia said.
Daniel Zazzali, the attorney at the New Jersey law firm McCarter and English who represented The Silverman Group in the case, did not return a request for comment.
Multiple calls to Cathy Drobny at the Saratoga Springs law firm E. Stewart Jones Hacker Murphy, which represented the Town of Malta, also were not returned.
Dussault added that New York State Supreme Court Judge Ann Crowell is expected to review and approve the settlement agreement pertaining to Steeplechase.