Note: The following letter is long version of a Peter's Shorter Letter, which he submitted to the regional Mohawk Valley media.
As many of you readers may have seen or heard... on local TV news there is some plan of intention to put a brand new hospital to replace the other two in the downtown area of Utica. The proposed facility has been billed as a boon to the Lafayette and Columbia Street area. The promise of $300 million has come from Albany to help fund it. I will first mention the in no way shape or form is this a done deal.
My object here is to inform rural taxpayers that you and I will be paying for a lot of the extra facilities for the project none the least of which is a parking garage, taxpayer funded to be handed over, that are not included in the purchase price. . The money has been advertised as being only for downtown Utica. That is not correct. It has been seriously misrepresented by both politicians and some major news media outlets which largely marches to orders of government officials.
There is no money tree in Albany, it is our tax money being spent much like the billion dollar Nano project that has come with only 13 jobs and endless excuses. There is a core group of business people who are opposed to this and are working hard to save their nearly 40 taxpaying properties that are intended to be displaced. These businesses have been offered pennies on the dollar for leaving town. Some cannot survive. No matter what anyone thinks about the exterior of their buildings they serve the owners very well. The hospital is a private business but seems to be getting support from a few politicians and some large non-profit organizations and they are threatening to use eminent domain proceedings to accomplish their concept. I don’t believe the benefactors to the non profits intended for their donations to be used in this manner.
There are Facebook pages dedicated to both support and opposition to the plan. I invite you to read them over for yourself to form an opinion. As one of those opposed I will mention that there are many good reasons to site this facility at St. Luke's Campus. There is a great symbiotic connection between Utica College, St. Luke's Hospital and the St. Luke's Home. They are connected to a cogeneration plant to supply heat to all three. This is a fairly new investment that probably was partially funded with taxpayer dollars that is not paid for itself and would likely be abandoned. There is good access to the St. Luke's Campus site by air and highway. That is not so true downtown, As MVHS-controlled hospitals already owns 64 acres there to build on undisturbed land. Land that should have almost no problems unlike downtown which may be the oldest industrial part of the city. One can only guess what would be dug up there and replacement of every part of utility infrastructure will need to be replaced. The expensive part will be the unknown. Disposal and remediation costs downtown will surely multiply just the site preparation expense.
One of the more ominous problems about downtown is that it is in the Evacuation zone in case of a chemical spill or oil fire on the railroad. These have occurred to the degree of evacuation in other places. If this is the only hospital and emergency room they will be useless in that event and emergency services will be evacuating hospital patients to someplace outside of Utica. The hospital is not exempt or protected as some officials have suggested. When the federal authorities say move you have to go or risk injury or death. MVHS claims there is some building technology that will protect from that? NASA level? Wouldn’t the money be better spent on medical technology?
The most annoying part of all this to me is the arrogant autonomy by elected officials that is being used to shove this project through. No referendums, no question and answer forums only information meeting closely guarded by police so that no one can protest or argue. You will be silenced as we spend your tax money.
The #nohospitaldowntown folks from Facebook attempted to publicize their opposition to the plan on billboards but were refused rental opportunity which amounts to censorship. The information supplied about size, cost and other administrative costs by MVHS has been contradictive and confusing. Which brings many to the conclusion that the consulting engineers are merely PR firms lining their pockets.
The claim that the hospital will bring prosperity to downtown businesses has been documented to fail many times in many places. To the contrary is drives local business away. The Auditorium and hockey is a grand success and parking would be either removed or turned into parking garages that add inconvenience and cost to attendees. Utica will also loose part of their law enforcement property which will need to be replaced by tax dollars. This plan has been in the works by some misguided politicians. The threat they like to use is that if it doesn’t happen downtown then the money goes away. That couldn’t be further from the truth. The funding bill was not that specific. Email records that were “FOILed” demonstrate that there was never any intention for the public to have any input, least of all the property owners’ downtown whose property is threatened by eminent domain.
Starting at the top, Andrew Cuomo, who most likely wants to run for president, Anthony Picente who is looking for his next job rumored to be in charge of another casino to be publicly financed, Anthony Brindisi who wants to be congressman for the NY 22nd and notably spoke in derogatory terms about the Herkimer county development agency as being inept and clueless. Just as a matter of record the Herkimer agency has been far more successful than its Oneida county counterpart headed by Steve Dimeo who has created 13 jobs after how many 100 million dollars for Nano? This charade probably deserves to be shown for what it is, criminal.
There are undoubtedly more players but one thing for sure none of them deserve another public job either elected or appointed. We all end up paying for these blunders and for sure Oneida County which will never get relief from the highest local tax rate in New York State if not the country. There are no longer political parties with different visions, only one big party financed by us the taxpayers. I would urge everyone to get this conversation going and inform your county and state officials how you feel.
When election time comes consider the people running including 3rd and 4th party candidates based on their positions and don’t let the mainstream media whitewash the elections with divisive ratings oriented issues but rather the ones that really end up affecting our communities.
Peter M. Benson
Read more Community Voices regarding the hospital concept.