The City of Troy, New York, "Where Henry Hudson Turned Around."

Wednesday, July 13, 2005


The saga of Lewis and Betty Buck demonstrates municipal government at its most ineffective.

The Bucks reside at 1070 Madison Avenue. In 1991, their neighbor filled in a swale bordering the rear of their property. The swale was the lowest point on the property, a ditch or a channel, that was the key point for water to flow off the Buck property.

The result is nothing less than "a house of horrors. A cracked foundation, loss of homeowners insurance, replacement of a driveway, and, most recently, deteriorating health from mold growing on their basement walls...."*

Throughout various administrations, the Bucks have attempted to resolve the problem. They met with Corporation Counsel, various Code officials, engineers and council people. They even hired a respected consulting engineer that indicated the problem has begun to effect other properties downstream. This same engineer has on numerous occasions set forth a remedial plan that is practicable and rather self-evident: restore the swale.

During the course of this saga, Sterling Insurance Company refused to provide coverage for repairs:

"not only was there a threat of explosion from fractured gas lines due to the flooding, but also the foundation is shifting and the main carrying beam has cracked..." - Jane Rosscoe CPCU, Sterling Insurance Company

The Bucks needed a white knight to help them. That knight was Councilman Harry Tutunjian.

Tutunjian visited the property on June 12, 2002. In a memorandum to Mayor Pattison, Tutunjian wrote:

"It is apparent that this condition has existed for some time as a result of improper filling of an existing swale that was protected by an easement.

I feel the city has the right and the responsibility to enforce any and all laws that have been violated as the result of the improper encroachment of the existing easement that protected the swale and permitted the drainage of surface water. I also believe that the city has the ability under the current zoning law to declare an emergency and remedy the problem immediately without further delay.** Privately owned homes and property are at risk....."

On February 17, 2003, Tutunjian wrote the Bucks:

On your behalf, I had several conversations with Mayor Pattison.....As a legislator, I sought to seek*** an administrative solution to your problem. This could have been accomplished by code enforcement, the legal department, and the mayor's office. As City council President, it would be nearly impossible to force a specific legislative action to resolve your situation without first having a commitment from the administration to carry out any such plan. I have contacted all the proper departments to try and remedy your situation, but to no avail.

I remain ready and willing to take the necessary steps necessary****to seek a solution to the problem that affects you and your neighbors. However, this can only be done with the cooperation of the administration. As I have said to you before, I only pass the laws, enforcement is an administrative action.

Former District Attorney Charles Wilcox is trying to help the Bucks in their struggle. Currently, they are proposing that the city purchase the property for $150,000 and remedy the drainage problem in order to protect other property that is endangered by flooding. They would like to use the money to live the remainder of their lives in some degree of comfort and security. That's not too much to ask for, especially for Lewis Buck, a veteran of Guadalcanal.

Now, Harry is the administration. He has a supportive City Council (this would be a non-partisan issue) That respected engineer retained by the Bucks is Russ Reeves, the current City Engineer. Reeves, a fine engineer, has put forth solutions as early as 1997. All the pieces are on the board, Harry. What happened to "immediately and without further delay"? The roadblocks Tutunjian mentions in his February 17, 2003 letter no longer exist, if they ever did. He's been in office for more than a year and a half. Cut the crap and get it done.*****

Ironic isn't it? Lately there's been talk about revamping parks, building faux lighthouses and moving the Veteran's Memorial. Can we forget about those granite statues for a moment and focus on a flesh and blood veteran, before it's too late.

The Record, to their credit, has done a number of stories on the Bucks. Maybe another one might help push the administration into action. Maybe all of us could call City Hall and contact the City Council demanding action. Just tell them Democratus sent you.

* From The Record, Jeff Buell, October 13, 2002. Mrs. Buck, who never smoked a day in her life, has developed emphysema attributable to the mold.

** That's right, immediately and without further delay!

*** "Sought to seek..." We're not kidding. It's in the letter.

**** "necessary steps necessary..." Still not kidding. In the letter.

***** There's more than enough blame here, going back at least to the Dworsky administration.

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