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The Nature of Things

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Lamont-Doherty director named to new post

January
21

The marine geophysicist who has served as director of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory for the past decade has been named to a new post.

G. Michael Purdy will become Columbia’s executive vice president for research effective Feb. 1, the university said Friday.

Purdy will be replaced on an interim basis by Lamont-Doherty’s associate director, Arthur Lerner-Lam, who will serve while the university conducts what is expected to be a worldwide search for a permanent director.

Columbia University’s president, Lee Bollinger, and the Earth Institute’s director, Jeffrey Sachs, informed staff of the changes in an email sent Thursday.

Lamont-Doherty, part of the Earth Institute, is a research center dedicated to seeking knowledge “about the origin, evolution and future of the natural world,” according to its website.

In that pursuit, Lamont-Doherty’s 300 research scientists study everything from global climate change and earthquakes to nonrenewable resources and environmental hazards. The scientists work on every continent and in every ocean on the planet.

In a statement, Bollinger commented on Purdy’s efforts.

“He helped build a world renowned interdisciplinary research institution with the capacity to apply its scientific expertise to the complex problems facing a global society,” Bollinger stated.

“He possesses not only the respected scholarly and administrative experience required for this position, but also a deep familiarity with Columbia’s academic culture, and our ambitious goals for scientific research in the years ahead,” Bollinger stated.

Lerner-Lam heads Lamont-Doherty’s Division of Seismology, Geology and Tectonophysics. He is an expert on earthquakes and other natural hazards, and Sachs said Lerner-Lam was responsible for “bringing seismological knowledge to earth-affected communities around the world.”

Lerner-Lam recently led an international scientific task force in assessing the future earthquake risk to Haiti and nearby nations following a devastating earthquake that struck more than a year ago.

Above, top, G. Michael Purdy; above, bottom, Arthur Lerner-Lam (Photos provided by Columbia University).

Posted by Laura Incalcaterra on Friday, January 21st, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
| | 2 Comments »

Rockland Sierra reschedules Indian Point program

January
11

The Rockland Sierra Club will hold its program, “The Facts on Indian Point: Relicensing, Climate Change and Radionuclides in Our River,” Feb. 8 instead of today due to the snowstorm.

Marilyn Elie, a co-founder of Westchester Citizens Awareness Network, will speak. Elie has been working to shut down Indian Point for 17 years and has learned details about many issues surrounding the plant, the Rockland Sierra Club said.

The event will begin at 7 p.m. at the Nyack Public Library on South Broadway.

Posted by Laura Incalcaterra on Tuesday, January 11th, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
| | 1 Comment »

October
29

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the gift of land and money that led to the creation of Bear Mountain and Harriman state parks, and that ignited the national land preservation movement.

Without the gift, a new prison may have been built at Bear Mountain, something Mary Averell Harriman and her husband, Edward H. Harriman, deplored.

Instead, in 1910, a year after her husband died, Mary Harriman proposed donating money and land if the prison plans were dropped and others kicked into the overall effort to create a park and facilities.

Here’s a news release with information about the celebration and what’s being done to continue the parks’ mission:

The world-famous Empire State Building will be bathed in green light on the evening of Oct. 29 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Harriman Family gift that led to the creation of Harriman and Bear Mountain State Parks. The Palisades Interstate Park Commission has partnered with the Empire State Building Company to mark the historic anniversary.

On Oct. 29, 1910, 18-year-old Averell Harriman, the future governor of the state of New York, represented the Harriman family in donating 10,000 acres of land in the Lower Hudson Valley and $1 million dollars to the Palisades Interstate Park Commission. The family’s gift created Bear Mountain and Harriman state parks, which now encompass more than 50,000 acres, more than three times the size of Manhattan.

“The significance of the Harriman Family’s gift toward the formation of a statewide park system is immeasurable,” said Andy Beers, acting commissioner of the New York state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

“From its remarkable land stewardship commitment to its evolution in providing children and families of all means the opportunity to experience the beauty and importance of the natural world, the generosity of a hundred years ago continues to represent the very best of the spirit of giving,” Beers said.

Once the parks were established and open to the public, a defining commitment was made to share the acres of wilderness with all, particularly the underserved populations. Accordingly, the PIPC created a range of social programs for the relief of the urban poor. The essence of these social programs was the group camps—tents and cabins with facilities—to make the outdoors accessible to those who could barely afford to take time off.

“Thanks to the generosity of the Harriman family, the New York state park system boasts some of the most breathtaking public green spaces in the country,” said Senator José M. Serrano, chairman of the Senate Committee on Cultural Affairs, Tourism, Parks and Recreation.

“Their altruism, and its subsequent positive effects, highlight the importance of parks and their power to strengthen the fabric of society by improving our quality of life,” Serrano said. “Countless families, including my own, have enjoyed the recreational opportunities offered by the Hudson Valley parks, and it will be a joy to see the Empire State Building go green to commemorate this momentous anniversary.”

Saving the Harriman Group Camps

Throughout the last century, more than three million children have experienced the fun of camping, hiking and swimming through the Harriman Group Camps. Camps run by non-profit organizations, including the Henry Street Settlement, the YMCA and Vacamas programs for youth, continue to offer urban and disadvantaged children the opportunity to experience nature first-hand.

Yet over the past decades, the camps have fallen into disrepair, forcing closures of camps from a high of more than 100 in the 1940s to just 32 today.

In recognition of this year’s historic anniversary, PIPC has initiated a fundraising effort to rebuild, repair and restore the Harriman Group Camps, with a goal of $2 million. The effort hopes to build a new generation of philanthropy for the Harriman Group Camps so future generations of children can share in the wilderness experience. A kick-off fundraising event honoring the Harriman family held in June by the Palisades Park Conservancy raised $130,000 for the camps.

Connecting with Harriman Group Camp Graduates

Another initiative coinciding with the anniversary is an effort to connect with the millions of people who have directly benefited from the creation of the Group Camps and the tremendous generosity of the Harriman family.

A Facebook page has been established seeking to connect Harriman Group Camp alumni, share some of the thousands of photographs in PIPC’s archives, and raise funds for camp restorations. In particular, photos and stories are being sought to share from those that attended the Harriman camps.

For many, the time spent at the Harriman Group Camps taught lessons of stewardship, loyalty and teamwork and left lasting impressions.

“We hope that through this new Facebook page, Harriman alumni can join in the celebration of the park, connect with friends from the past, and help guarantee that the experiences which so positively impacted their lives can be repeated by millions yet to come,” said James Hall, executive director of the Palisades Interstate Park Commission.

In recognition of the Harriman family’s four generations of groundbreaking philanthropy and service to the people of New York, PIPC Media has produced The Harriman Touch, a film which taps the PIPC’s rich archive of more than 100,000 images spanning over 100 years.

Available on Youtube, the film traces the vital role the family’s generosity has played in such diverse fields as transportation, education, recreation, preservation, and the fine arts. Donations for the Harriman Group Camps can be made to the Palisades Parks Conservancy Group Camp Fund at https://palisades.exhibit-e.com/donate/

ABOVE: 100 YEARS AGO TODAY: W. Averell Harriman (right) hands a $1 million check to George W. Perkins Sr. at the dedication of Bear Mountain and Harriman state parks. Harriman went on to become governor of New York. Perkins served as the first president of the Palisades Interstate Park Commission. (Photo/PIPC)

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Posted by Laura Incalcaterra on Friday, October 29th, 2010 at 12:01 pm |
| | 9 Comments »

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Program helps households save energy and money

October
28

From the New York state Public Service Commission:

The New York state Public Service Commission wants to help people reduce their energy waste and lower their utility bills through a new program, “Jumpstart NY.”

The PSC, which oversees utilities in New York, is looking for a select group of households to participate. Energy monitors will be installed in select households so residents can monitor their energy use.

Using their computers, participants will be able to observe how their homes use electricity in real-time. Online tools will help them spot wasted electricity and eliminate it through simple actions like unplugging appliances that are not in use or setting the thermostat at a lower temperature.

Participants will also be able to interact with other Jumpstart NY households through an online community, where they can share information and personal experiences. A total of 250 households will be selected.

This initiative is the first phase of the PSC’s education and outreach effort to help New Yorkers reduce energy waste. A broader statewide campaign will be introduced in coming months.

The Jumpstart NY effort is being led by PSC staff under a contract administered by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, also known as NYSERDA.

Visiting www.jumpstartNY.org to learn more about the program and the eligibility requirements. Anyone interested should apply immediately.

Posted by Laura Incalcaterra on Thursday, October 28th, 2010 at 7:31 pm |
| | 10 Comments »

Keep Rockland Beautiful volunteers to be honored for, well, you know.

October
20

Keep Rockland Beautiful will hold its 2010 awards gala from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Nov. 6 at the historic bath house at the foot of Hook Mountain at Nyack Beach State Park in Upper Nyack.

Among its many activities, KRB annually organizes roadside and waterside cleanups, offers environmental programs at local schools, encourages beautification projects to deter blight and create better looking communities, hosts a seminar with local highway department workers on issues ranging from proper road salt usage to fighting graffiti, and offers land-use planning programs to high school students.

Most of what KRB does wouldn’t be possible without the support of thousands of volunteers, including individuals, families, churches and synagogues, businesses, scout troops, neighborhood groups, elected officials, and so on.

The organization will take time to recognize the efforts of its volunteers at the gala.

Here are the honorees:
• KRB Sponsor Award: Anna Roppolo, executive director, Rockland County Solid Waste Management Authority.
• Beautification Award: Scott Milich, chairman, Town of Clarkstown Pride of Clarkstown Committee.
• Education Award: Daniel Sullivan, teacher, Fieldstone Secondary School in Thiells.
• Cleanup Leader Award: Donna Drygas, Pascack Brook Cleanup Crew in Nanuet.
• Public Art Award: Shirley Goebel Christie, teacher, Clarkstown South High School in West Nyack.
• Enforcement Award: David Basnight, code enforcement, Rockland County Department of Health.
• Adopt-a-Road Award: Mal McLaren, McLaren Engineering Group in West Nyack.

The Artists in the Parks program features artists who create during the day and exhibit their works at the gala. The works will be sold to benefit KRB. Visitors can watch the artists as they work in the hours before the gala.

Tickets are $75 per person, and proceeds benefit KRB’s efforts.

Get tickets or more information by visiting www.KeepRocklandBeautiful.org or calling 845-623-1534.

Above, Frank Heinemann, left, and Liridon Gjonbalaj, both of Congers and workers with Town of Clarkstown Highway Department, place decorative trash cans at a bus shelter in Bardonia in July. Keep Rockland Beautiful provides decorative trash cans painted by artists and civic groups to place at bus shelters around the county. (File photo/Meagan Kanagy/The Journal News)

Posted by Laura Incalcaterra on Wednesday, October 20th, 2010 at 4:51 pm |
| | 92 Comments »

Learn more about our foodshed

October
13

A conference, “ Advancing Our Regional Foodshed: The Role of Higher Education,” will be held from 8 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Friday and from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Rockland Community College in Ramapo.

The event is part of the Environmental Consortium of Hudson Valley Colleges and Universities’ seventh annual conference.

Highlights include a discussion about whether the regional “foodshed” — the geographic areas that feed population centers — can realistically supply enough.

The cost is $25 per student consortium member; $35 for non-member students; $125 for consortium members; $150 for non-members. Get details by visiting http://environmentalconsortium.org/news/annualmeet.html or call 845-574-4323.

Posted by Laura Incalcaterra on Wednesday, October 13th, 2010 at 2:26 pm |
| | 456 Comments »

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Activists work to curb climate change

October
7

Supporters of efforts to fight global climate change plan to participate in a “Global Work Party” at sites around the world Sunday.

Locally, supporters will staff an information booth from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the Nyack Street Fair. Information about the issue will be available and adults and children can write letters and create drawings that will be sent to Congress and state and local elected officials calling on them to take action.

Visit http://350.org for more information about the events and about climate change.

Email pkurtz9@gmail.com or call 845-358-3386 to volunteer to help staff the info table on Sunday or for information about Rockland Sierra Club, the local event host.

Posted by Laura Incalcaterra on Thursday, October 7th, 2010 at 6:19 pm |
| | 287 Comments »

Legislature considers sewer law changes to allow biological grease treatments

October
4

The County Legislature will hold public hearings on two proposed amendments to the Rockland County Sewer law when it convenes at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Allison-Parris County Office Building, 11 New Hempstead Road in New City.

The first amendment, sponsored by Legislator Ilan Schoenberger, D-Wesley Hills, would charge single-family homes one fee even if they have two kitchens. Homes with two kitchens currently pay two charges.

The second amendment, sponsored by Legislator Alden Wolfe, D-Suffern, would allow biological treatments to be added to a grease or oil interceptor, such as those used by restaurants and other facilities. Such treatment is currently banned.

Here is a news release from Legislator Wolfe regarding the biological treatment (verbatim):

Rockland County Legislator Alden H. Wolfe has proposed an amendment to the Rockland County Sewer Law that if passed, would allow food establishments that generate grease and oil the option to use biological methods to pre-treat and breakdown the captured waste, improving grease trap management.

Under the current sewer law, establishments such as restaurants, cafeterias, centralized kitchen or dining facilities are required to maintain grease and oil interceptors to prevent excessive amounts of waste, which clog sewer lines, from entering the sewer system.

Establishments are required to follow a regular, documented process to maintain and clean the interceptor and
remove and properly dispose of the grease. Presently, use of biological systems or treatments are prohibited, however, research has shown that some biological treatments break down complex grease molecules into simpler components, accelerating the degradation process that occurs naturally.

“Grease and oil are the natural enemy of a sewer system, narrowing pipes like plaque lining a blood vessel. Pre-treating grease and oil lessens the negative impact on the system as a whole and should contribute to its overall efficiency,” said Legislator Wolfe.  “Grease removed from a grease trap is considered hazardous waste, and breaking it down in advance reduces the volume of waste needed to be pumped, transported, processed and ultimately disposed of.”

“I want to make it very clear,” said Wolfe, “that if adopted, this law would simply create an additional opportunity for food establishments, not a mandate.  For those who do opt to utilize this method, pretreatment would not be a substitute for the regular maintenance that is required by the law.”

Above right, Legislator Alden Wolfe (The Journal News/file photo)

Posted by Laura Incalcaterra on Monday, October 4th, 2010 at 3:59 pm |
| | 432 Comments »

Lamont-Doherty’s ‘giant science fair’ is Saturday

September
28

The theme of this year’s open house at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory is “Earth on Alert.”

The event takes place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Route 9W campus in Palisades.

Here’s some information from the LDEO press release:

Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, a global leader in studying the natural world, opens its doors once a year to the public for demonstrations, talks and exhibits detailing its work — a giant science fair for all ages featuring top researchers.

This year, many scientists will discuss natural and manmade hazards they studied in 2010, including the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti and the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Highlights:
• Tsunami layers in the Hudson River from one or more impacts of extraterrestrial bodies (11 a.m.)
• Earth Institute director Jeffrey D. Sachs on the outlook for next month’s world climate summit (11:15 a.m.)
• Lecture on hurricanes and climate change (11:30 a.m.)
• Haiti earthquake: panel on geology, socioeconomic impacts and prospects for recovery (noon)
• Latest findings on volume and consequences of the oil spill, from scientists now working in the Gulf (2 p.m.)
• Earthquake prediction in the shadow of chaos (2:30 p.m.)
• Tripling crop yields in rural Africa (3 p.m.)

Check out the complete schedule because the event offers loads of hands-on activities and other interactive opportunities.

Above right, a postcard announcing the open house (Provided by LDEO)

Posted by Laura Incalcaterra on Tuesday, September 28th, 2010 at 6:30 pm |
| | 8 Comments »

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Putnam County’s Rain Garden Demonstration Project

September
23

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Posted by Mike Risinit on Thursday, September 23rd, 2010 at 10:54 am |
| | 146 Comments »

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About this blog
The Nature of Things provides a chance to talk about the wild denizens that share the Lower Hudson Valley with us and the natural settings that make this place home for everyone. From Long Island Sound to the Hudson River to the Great Swamp and beyond, almost anything related to the environment is fair game in this blog.

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About the authors
SBenischekJournal News staff writer Greg Clary writes Earth Watch, reporting on environmental issues in the lower Hudson region. Clary has been a reporter, editor and columnist at the Journal News since 1988 and has covered police and courts, transportation, municipal government, development and the environment in the Lower Hudson Valley, among other topics.
Laura IncalcaterraLaura Incalcaterra covers the environment, open space and zoning and planning issues for The Journal News. A Boston College graduate, Laura grew up in Rockland, attended East Ramapo schools and has worked for The Journal News since 1993. Laura has written features and covered North Rockland, crime, government and a host of other issues.
SBenischekMike Risinit covers Patterson and Kent in Putnam County, as well as environmental topics touching on the Hudson River and the Great Swamp. Risinit has been a reporter at The Journal News since 1998.
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