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Easing the way over

By Ron Leir  Observer Correspondent LYNDHURST – State officials are still pondering what to do about the century-old DeJessa Bridge which links Lyndhurst and Nutley across the Passaic River but, in the meantime, Bergen County has done its part to try and relieve congestion there. At the urging […]

Last chance to sound off on dog park

By Ron Leir  Observer Correspondent KEARNY –  The town is preparing to let the dogs out but first it wants the owners in. For a public meeting, that is, on Wednesday, Feb. 4, at 7:30 p.m., in the second floor Town Council chambers at Town Hall […]

Ice storm took its toll on local roads

By Karen Zautyk  Observer Correspondent  KEARNY –  By the time you read this, we all may be trapped inside by a blizzard — if the current weather forecasts are correct. But it doesn’t necessarily take heavy snow to create havoc. Sometimes, a coating of ice is sufficient. […]

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Bracing for funding shift

By Ron Leir  Observer Correspondent  KEARNY –  For the past 37 years, the Kearny nonprofit Pathways to Independence Inc. has helped those with intellectual and developmental disabilities to live independently in their communities. Currently, from its 3-level, 18,000 square foot headquarters at Kingsland and Bergen Aves., it offers on-site […]

Bixler_web

A new ‘acquisition’

Tim Bixler, of The Bixler Group Real Estate and Insurance and his wife, Charissa Bixler, welcomed their daughter, Addison Paige Bixler, on Tuesday, Jan. 20, at 1:20 p.m. Big brother Brayden is beyond excited. Only a few more years until […]

 
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Easing the way over

Bridge_web1

By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent

LYNDHURST –

State officials are still pondering what to do about the century-old DeJessa Bridge which links Lyndhurst and Nutley across the Passaic River but, in the meantime, Bergen County has done its part to try and relieve congestion there.

At the urging of Lyndhurst Mayor Robert Giangeruso, the county undertook – and has now completed – improvements to the Kingsland and Riverside Aves. intersection on the Lyndhurst side of the bridge.

The work, performed by JCC Contracting of Bloomfield, which, according to township engineer Brian Intindola, cost the county about $814,000, had several components:

Creating three separate eastbound lanes coming off the bridge into Lyndhurst dedicated to left turns onto Riverside, continuing straight onto Kingsland or turning right onto Riverside.

Creating an extra lane southbound on Riverside, allowing traffic to turn left onto the bridge.

Installation of eight pedestrian push button stations at every corner of the intersection. Each has a voice actualization feature that urges people to “wait” for a pedestrian image to appear before crossing.

Signalization upgrades, including a new control box, incorporating turning arrows, along with an improved synchronization of the timing of lights on and off the bridge, to facilitate the flow of traffic.

As part of the project, Intindola said, PSE&G ultimately agreed to relocate seven of its utility poles and wiring at different points of the intersection. “Originally, they wanted us to pay over $300,000 for the work,” he said, but after push-back by the township, the company relented.

Lyndhurst paid for relocation of two signs and underground utilities for 601 Riverside Ave. ($39,370) and for the Exxon property along with a tree removal ($54,350) plus the acquisition of seven easements from private property owners surrounding the intersection for $43,300 but the process took seven years, Intindola said.

Getting those easements and shifting the utility poles and equipment was critical to widening the intersection to accommodate the extra lanes while ensuring minimal construction conflicts and traffic disruptions, the engineer said.

In the spring, the contractor will apply the finishing touches to the intersection with milling, paving and final striping. Intindola said that work will be done overnight when traffic is light.

Giangeruso said that since the completion of the upgraded signalization in December, “the prior intersection delays have been diminished with a noticeable improvement to Kingsland Ave. westbound traffic going over the DeJessa Bridge.”

Photos by Ron Leir Lyndhurst Mayor Robert Giangeruso (r.) and consulting engineer Brian Intindola check out one of the pedestrian push-button crossing stations at Kingsland/Riverside Aves. intersection.

Photos by Ron Leir
Lyndhurst Mayor Robert Giangeruso (r.) and consulting engineer Brian
Intindola check out one of the pedestrian push-button crossing stations at Kingsland/Riverside Aves. intersection.

 

Intindola readily agreed, adding that a trip from his Lyndhurst office to Nutley, via the bridge, that – before the improvements – “used to take me 18 minutes now is just three to five minutes. I used to have to wait a cycle of four to five traffic signals to cross over. Now it’s down to maybe one and a half. You don’t see the queues you used to have.”

And, before the paving work is done this spring, Giangeruso said, “the signal timing will be revisited for coordination with the Rt. 21 ramp signal and the Park Ave. signal in Nutley.”

The mayor told The Observer he’s gotten a lot of positive phone calls and comments from residents in response to the intersection work that he’s been pushing for since coming into office.

As an example, he showed a reporter a letter postmarked Jan. 8 from someone who signed themselves “Lyndhurst resident” saying, “Just wanted to thank you very much for the new traffic lights at the Lyndhurst bridge. The (now) ‘green arrows’ really organize the flow of traffic very well. Thank you so much.”

Giangeruso is now hoping that the next step can be a widening or replacement of the bridge itself – something that the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority has committed to examine in detail by allocating $750,000 for a planning study for the bridge.

It will be up to Bergen County to bid out the planning project, according to Intindola, who says the construction cost will depend on whether the bridge is maintained as a “navigable” structure, meaning that it will continue to swing out to allow boats to pass, or is replaced by a “fixed” span, meaning that it would no longer open to let boats pass.

Keeping the bridge “navigable” could drive the cost up to as much as $30 million while installing a “fixed” bridge could mean cutting half that cost, Intindola said.

Last chance to sound off on dog park

By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent

KEARNY – 

The town is preparing to let the dogs out but first it wants the owners in.

For a public meeting, that is, on Wednesday, Feb. 4, at 7:30 p.m., in the second floor Town Council chambers at Town Hall on the proposed Kearny dog park targeted for Riverbank Park.

Council President Carol Jean Doyle, who has been leading the charge for the enterprise, encouraged those interested in the project to come out to hear how the park would be laid out and to offer any tweaks on some of the amenities associated with it.

“Neglia Engineering (the town’s consulting engineers) has incorporated all the suggestions we’ve received to this point into a ‘final’ plan,” Doyle said. “It’s a preview before we put a shovel in the ground.”

And, she added, it’s a sort of last chance for residents to add their two cents on anything the town may have missed that could be part of the mix – if it can be worked into the project budget.

Doyle credited Donald Gavin, Kearny superintendent of Parks & Recreation, and Mario Tridente, a Kearny resident who works for the Hudson County Planning Division, for their efforts in researching dog parks in the region.

“Don’s gone to see as many as 15 dog parks in New Jersey and New York and we got a lot of input from him on what he feels we need to properly maintain our facility,” Doyle said.

Kearny has been awarded a $175,000 grant from the Hudson County Open Space Trust Fund and the town has tentatively allocated a $95,000 local match. “But the goal is to get the project funded at $175,000 or under so it can all be [paid for] by the grant,” said Town CFO Shuaib Firozvi.

Ultimately, of course, that will depend on how the bids come in, he said.

The dog park is targeted to fit in a 200-foot-by100- foot section of Riverbank Park, along Passaic Ave., just north of the Butterfly Garden and south of Columbus Park.

As now designed, the park will contain two fencedin areas: one for smaller pooches weighing up to 35 pounds and the other for larger ones, Doyle said. In each of those areas, dogs would be allowed to run free.

Before the canines are led into those areas, their owners will be directed to lead them into what Doyle described as a “small cagedin area where you will then unleash your dog.”

This step, she said, is seen as a “safety” measure to allow the dog to get accustomed to this new environment and, if the animal begins to show aggressive behavior, the owner would be expected to take precautions before letting it loose with other dogs in either of the two larger fenced-in areas.

Since there will be no on-site staff to monitor the park on a daily basis, Doyle said the operation would be “self-policing.” In other words, the town would look to the dog owners to help keep order, she said.

This expectation, Doyle said, is extended to keeping the grounds as clean as possible. The town is expected to provide baggies as an aid to owners to pick up any poop left by their pooches, she said.

Neglia engineer Joseph Vuich, who last week was drafting the latest park design for Wednesday’s public meeting, said that plans call for a water line to be extended from the nearby Community Garden to the park as a source of drinking water for the dogs.

Vuich said that research is still being done on “the most appropriate surface” for the grounds where the dogs will roam, whether that’s gravel, sand or a mixture of both.

Other amenities that may be incorporated into the final design could include a “wash-down” station for the dogs, playthings for the dogs inside the fenced-in areas and benches inside and outside of those fenced-in areas, Vuich said.

Doyle said the park hours would probably mirror those of municipal parks. No lights will be installed, she said.

While some things may still be unsettled about the park’s look, one thing is certain, Doyle said. “There will be no fee to use it.”

Ice storm took its toll on local roads

By Karen Zautyk 

Observer Correspondent 

KEARNY – 

By the time you read this, we all may be trapped inside by a blizzard — if the current weather forecasts are correct. But it doesn’t necessarily take heavy snow to create havoc. Sometimes, a coating of ice is sufficient.

Last week began with an ice storm on Sunday. By the end of the day, there were news reports of more than 400 motor vehicle accidents in New Jersey.

That’s frightening enough, but consider this: That tally of 400, law enforcement told us, was likely just the number recorded by the State Police. It would not have taken into account all the accidents reported by the local police departments in all the communities throughout New Jersey.

In Kearny, on Sunday, Jan. 18, there were 48 reported MV accidents between 7:16 a.m. and 5:11 p.m. Repeat: 48. The first was on Fish House Road; the last, on Hackensack Ave. Those were both in South Kearny, but don’t think the residential area of town was spared.

One of the more spectacular crashes occurred on Wilson Ave. shortly before 8 a.m. A Kearny fire engine, en route to a call, hit some ice and slid down the hill for two blocks, hitting nine parked cars before coming to a stop. Luckily, there were no injuries.

In addition, Kearny police dealt with medical calls, including people injured in slip-and-falls on the icy streets and sidewalks, and disabled vehicles.

Between 7 a.m. and midnight, the KPD responded to an extraordinary 100 calls, the bulk of them weather-related. “The volume was unbelievable,” Chief John Dowie said. “It was non-stop.”

Example: 07:16:45, MV accident, Fish House Road; 07:22:03, injured person, Belgrove Drive; 07:25:00, accident, Bergen Ave.; 07:30:00, accident, Johnston Ave.; 07:31:00, accident, Devon St.; 07:35:00, accident, Quincy Ave.; 07:35:00, accident, Garfield Ave.; 07:35:53, accident, Forest St.; 07:37:00, accident, Passaic Ave.; 07:39:39, accident, Hackensack Ave.; 07:43, accident, Bergen Ave.; 07:44:35, accident, Davis Ave.

That covers about a mere half-hour. The list goes on. And on.

And remember, the KPD was also dealing with burglar alarms, disputes, disorderly persons, criminal mischief, suspicious persons, etc.

Dowie said noted that he had to call in three extra officers to handle the volume of calls.

In the chief’s words, on Jan. 18, “the starter pistols went off and it did not stop.” An apt description.

Bracing for funding shift

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By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent 

KEARNY – 

For the past 37 years, the Kearny nonprofit Pathways to Independence Inc. has helped those with intellectual and developmental disabilities to live independently in their communities.

Currently, from its 3-level, 18,000 square foot headquarters at Kingsland and Bergen Aves., it offers on-site adult training skills for 78 clients, along with job skills, extended employment and paid sub-contract work for 66 individuals, said Pathways Executive Director Alvin Cox.

It also arranged for the placement of 12 clients at “supportive employment” opportunities at job sites in the community, he added.

And, “within the next year,” Cox said that Pathways hopes to be expanding to afford more on-site day training “for those not ready to get a job in the community.”

The organization’s client population – ranging from age 21 to 65 – includes individuals with autism, cerebral palsy, hearing impaired, adults with physical disabilities who utilize wheelchairs, adults who have been diagnosed with mental illness and adults with behavioral challenges.

Pathways, with more than 60 part- and full-time staff, runs on an annual budget of $2.5 million, which is funded primarily by the state Department of Human Services’ Division of Developmental Disabilities and Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services. It also relies on private donations and fundraising events like its annual Walkathon (the 2014 event netted $25,000) to meet expenses. Cox would like to thank all community members and the business community for their continued support.

Photos by Ron Leir Depending on their needs, Pathways’ clients are exposed to a variety of life skills, job training opportunities and actual work assignments. Many develop computer skills; others perform sub-contracting work.

Photos by Ron Leir
Depending on their needs, Pathways’ clients are exposed to a variety of life skills, job training opportunities and actual work assignments. Many develop computer
skills; others perform sub-contracting work.

 

Our funding remains stable through June 30,” Cox said. But, that could change with the new fiscal year, starting July 1, when the Division of Developmental Disabilities transitions to a Medicaidbased fee for service system for optimal reimbursement from the federal government. All individuals who are eligible for DDD services must first be found to be eligible for Medicaid to continue to receive support.

But, as Autism New Jersey notes in its website, “Just because you are Medicaid eligible does not mean you will be eligible for DDD services” because “DDD may maintain wait lists for services [and] any loss of eligibility for Medicaid services can result in the interruption of DDD services.”

As of now, Cox said, DDD provides Pathways $23,000 for each client enrolled in its adult training program, “but we’re uncertain about our future funding rate. In addition, Medicaid funding is based on clients’ daily attendance, so that’s another variable to be considered.”

Cox said he expects to learn soon what the new funding formula will be. Since there are only a handful of similar day programs for developmentally disabled adults in Hudson County, the change could have a big impact on area clients.

No funding changes are anticipated with Pathways’ other two programs – the extended employment – workshop/ sub-contract program and Supportive Employment – paid for through the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, he said.

In the meantime, he said, Pathways remains committed to its mission at its facility which was purchased in 2009 and renovated with the help of a Hudson County CDBG grant which financed an elevator, new windows, upgraded the electricity and a paved parking lot; and is currently providing funding for a new HVAC system. At the time, there were 25 clients in adult training and 30 in the extended employment program.

When the program was founded 37 years ago, it was run from 450 Schuyler Ave. off Freeman Ave., and among the original office staff was Marie Yakabofski. Today, Yakabofski – the longest consecutive serving employee – is still with Pathways, now as its finance officer.

Photos by Ron Leir Pathways administrators (from l.) Alvin Cox, Tessa Farrell-McPhoy and Marie Yakabofksi strive to enhance independent living opportunities for its clients, some of whom -- aided by staff -- proudly display some of the aquarium plants they’ve prepared for shipment.

Photos by Ron Leir
Pathways administrators (from l.) Alvin Cox, Tessa Farrell-McPhoy and Marie Yakabofksi strive to enhance independent living opportunities for its clients, some of whom — aided by staff — proudly display some of the aquarium plants they’ve prepared for shipment.

 

During a recent tour of its operation, The Observer got to see the organization’s two on-site programs in action. Clients attend Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and they are transported from their residences and back aboard 15 vans driven by Pathways staff.

As part of the adult training program, based on the clients’ abilities there would be a 6-to-1, 3-to-1 or 2-to-1 ratio of clients to staff. Clients are exposed to a variety of activities keyed to their personal needs and abilities. Staff members assist clients to focus on personal care, socialization and communication, computer skills, recreation, meal planning, shopping horticulture and meal preparation in an on-site kitchen. Dental services are available on site for all clients who have Medicaid or on a sliding scale fee.

Some clients also make arts and crafts and receive payments for items like holiday wreaths, wicker baskets and hand towels sold at Pathways monthly craft sales.

Other clients who take on maintenance chores, such as cleaning Pathways offices, bathrooms, program spaces and outdoors develop their daily living skills. They also receive pay for the work they complete.

Clients who are part of the extended employment program work on subcontract jobs which include building aquarium plants, packing animal bedding prepared for Keeper’s Choice in Teaneck and repackaged paints for Rich Art Paints in Northvale. Clients also worked on shredding jobs for the Kearny Board of Education and a North Arlington resident. The focus of this program is to enhance their vocational skills to prepare them for competitive employment.

Then there is the ultimate success story – clients who’ve made the transition of working at actual job sites. One young man who was referred to Pathways as a client from Newark three years ago is now working as a part-time staffer at Pathways, said Tessa Farrell-McPhoy, director of programs.

“Some work in maintenance jobs and a lot are in retail handling stock, working as a cashier at a department store,” she said. “We have one man doing security for an auto dealership and one woman working as a clerk in the East Orange Welfare Department. Ideally, we try to place them in positions where their interests lie. In all our programs, the goal is to work individually with all our clients and assist them to become more independent.”

A new ‘acquisition’

Bixler_web

Tim Bixler, of The Bixler Group Real Estate and Insurance and his wife, Charissa Bixler, welcomed their daughter, Addison Paige Bixler, on Tuesday, Jan. 20, at 1:20 p.m. Big brother Brayden is beyond excited. Only a few more years until she will be able to help you with your real estate and insurance needs.

‘He knew he’d be caught’

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By Karen Zautyk 

Observer Correspondent

KEARNY –

On Christmas Eve, Kearny police reported, a Windsor St. home was burglarized by a thief who gained access through a window after stacking a bunch of pavers below it and climbing in.

The perp took jewelry and $100 in change.

The police took fingerprints, which Det. Ray Lopez found on the windowpane and on a glass jar that had held the coins, The prints were sent to the State Police, which confirmed they belonged “to a local resident we were familiar with,” Capt. Stephen Durkin told The Observer.

The KPD then obtained both an arrest warrant and a search warrant for the suspect’s home.

Last Thursday, at 5:30 p.m., Dets. Michael Gonzalez and John Telle arrested 22-year-old Joseph Ferguson of Kearny at Wilson Ave. and Maple St. At headquarters, Ferguson reportedly admitted to not only the Dec. 24 crime but also four other burglaries in the town: Dec. 19, on Halstead St.; Dec. 30, on Windsor St.; Jan. 2, at Belgrove Drive and Bergen Ave.; “and a Maple St. burglary that was never reported to us,” Durkin said. That one, the captain said, occurred “a couple of months ago.”

Ferguson was charged with four counts of burglary and theft and was remanded to the Hudson County Jail in lieu of $25,000 bail, with no 10% option.

Sidelight: The Jan. 13 edition of The Observer carried a report on the Belgrove Drive crime. The burglar had gained entry to a ground-floor apartment by smashing a window, cutting himself in the process.

Police followed a blood trail along Belgrove, collecting stained tissues the thief had apparently used on his wounds. That evidence and the blood on the window glass has been sent to the State Police lab for DNA analysis.

Durkin said that Ferguson told police he had read the story in The Observer:

“He said he knew we had his blood and we’d be coming to get him.”

3 nominees vie for vacant council seat

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By Ron Leir

Observer Correspondent 

KEARNY –

Three political novices – all women – were under consideration for appointment to the First Ward seat on the Kearny Town Council that was left vacant Jan. 5 by the resignation of Alexa Arce.

A decision was expected by the council at its meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 27. The council was due to interview the nominees, before the meeting, at 6 p.m., in the council chambers.

“These are three good candidates,” Mayor Alberto Santos told The Observer last week after local members of the county Democratic Committee (chaired by Santos) convened Jan. 20 at the American Legion post to choose three people whose names would be presented to the council for its review.

“This will be difficult to choose,” the mayor added, referring to the list of nominees selected by the committee. “They are all First Ward residents and all involved with the community.”

They were: Marytrine DeCastro, Sonia Hill and Jennifer Mach.

DeCastro, a registered nurse for the Daily News production facility in Jersey City, is a member of the Kearny Board of Health, a former member of the town’s Beautification and Environment Committee and has also served on the local Juvenile Conference Committee. DeCastro, sister of part-time mayoral aide Lyla DeCastro Lawdanski, is a single parent with two children.

Hill, a state-certified patient access representative for St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston for the past 15 years, is an elder with the First Presbyterian Church of Kearny and a member of the PTA at Garfield Elementary School where her daughter attends first grade. She is the wife of James Hill, vice chairman of the Kearny Zoning Board of Adjustment.

Mach, a sixth-grade physical science teacher for the Teaneck public schools, is a co-founder, with her husband David Mach (a member of the Kearny Municipal Utilities Authority) and others, of the town’s Butterfly and Community Gardens in Riverbank Park.

Santos said that he and Councilman Albino Cardoso, the other First Ward representative, reached out to members of the county committee to see if any wanted to be considered for the council seat but “none expressed interest.” At that point, he said further inquiries were made to members of the community at large.

In the end, Santos said, “we presented a slate of the best possible candidates.”

The mayor said that the search for potential candidates began “right after the Christmas holiday. We were going through voter and [appointive town] board lists to try and find out who might be interested.”

Santos said that “community involvement, communication skills with fellow council members and residents and any special interest or expertise currently lacking on the council” were used as criteria to help narrow the search for possible nominees.

Asked if there was any predisposition to draft only women candidates to replace the departed Arce, the mayor said, “That was not the intent. It was just coincidence we came up with three women nominees.”

At the county committee meeting, there was a suggestion that the daughter of one committee member should be considered but she didn’t make the final slate chosen by the committee, Santos said.

If the council hasn’t filled the vacant seat this week, then, “by state law, an appointment must be made by Feb. 4,” the mayor said.

In any case, whoever is picked to occupy the seat would serve only “until the next general election in November 2015,” Santos said. In that election, the seat would be up for grabs again and whoever wins would fill out the remaining two years of Arce’s term, he said.

Facing Sandy-recovery aid fraud charges

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TRENTON – 

A Nutley woman is facing up to five years in prison and fines totalling $25,000 for allegedly filing fraudulent applications for federal and state relief funds related to Superstorm Sandy, the state Attorney General’s Office reported last week.

According to Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman, Kathleen F. Ambro, 58, received a total of $12,270 in aid. She was charged criminally last Thursday with thirddegree theft by deception and fourth-degree unsworn falsification.

Following the October 2012 destruction, Ambro allegedly filed false applications for a FEMA grant and for state grants under the Homeowner Resettlement Program (RSP) and Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation Program.

Authorities said Ambro claimed that a storm-damaged home she owns on Rosewood Drive in Bayville was her primary residence, when, in fact, her primary residence was a home she owns with a relative in Nutley.

Ambro reportedly received $2,270 in FEMA rental assistance and a $10,000 RSP grant.

The theft-by-deception charge carries a sentence of three to five years in state prison and a fine of up to $15,000; the unsworn falsification count, a prison term of up to 18 months and a fine of $10,000.

Since March 2014, the Attorney General’s Office has filed criminal charges against 23 people for allegedly engaging in fraud related to Sandy.

Cases were investigated by detectives of the N.J. Division of Criminal Justice and special agents of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Department of Housing and Urban Development.

– Karen Zautyk 

Thoughts & Views: Mars? Tempting but focus on Earth first

After listening to President Obama’s most recent State of the (Dis) Union speech last Tuesday night, I couldn’t help thinking, I’d sure like to be Scott Kelly.

Just to remind you (since none of the TV commentators bothered to point this out), Kelly has been picked to become the first U.S. astronaut from NASA to spend a year in space – possibly a prep for a future voyage to Mars.

Remember NASA? That’s the National Aeronautics Space Administration, although you wouldn’t know that from a quick perusal of the NASA website. But I don’t blame them. Our space agency has lost much of its hype since our government forced it to reinvent itself after discontinuing funding of human flights beyond our atmosphere, although that could change soon.

But I digress.

Kelly will be blasting off in March, appropriately enough, the month we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, and for our man in space, it will be the very tip “top of the morning” when he goes on his way.

Ironically, as noted by the website space.com, Kelly “is scheduled to launch on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to the International Space Station” where “he and cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko will live and work on the orbiting outpost for one year.”

I wonder what Comrade Putin has to say about this. I certainly hope the leader of all the Russias (including Crimea) was at least consulted. Given the Kremlin’s expansionist policy, let’s hope that Putin doesn’t extend the Russian empire’s grasp to holding the Space Station – and the American within – hostage. Remember, the U.S. government’s policy is no ransom payments.

Despite the potential risk, I’d still trade places with Kelly because he’s in the forefront of what the President characterized in his address as being in a “race for the kind of discoveries that unleash new jobs … pushing out into the Solar System not just to visit, but to stay (my emphasis).”

This means colonization, folks. No question about it.

Obama and his advisers are firm believers in global climate change and they know that the timeline for Planet Earth is rapidly winding down, thanks to out-of-control development, coupled with overpopulation and the widening of income inequality.

That’s why Obama is subtly reversing course – abandoning all pretense of developing a domestic policy once aimed at eradicating poverty and enhancing our quality of life – and turning now toward conquering the Final Frontier … Space.

Mars is now our Destination of Choice and I want to be part of the vanguard that will, undoubtedly, be re-shaping the Red Planet as our new home. I don’t know if I’ve got The Right Stuff to make it there but maybe, at the very least, I can become the First Journalist in Space.

Forget about “middle class economics” – how does not charging for community college do anything really to change the high dropout rate? The whole thing is just a smokescreen for the President’s real intent: to create the Great Space Society.

After all, you didn’t hear any mention of gun control, did you? Nothing about immigration reform or the willful emasculation of Frank-Dodd by bank lobbyists. He’s caved on everything – all the remedies for fixing the ills here on this planet.

I’m sure that the Koch brothers, Dick Cheney, Jamie Diamon and probably even Bill Clinton, have their reservations already secured for that expedition to Mars.

But, despite everything, I believe Bill and Melinda Gates will still be down here, giving it their all for this world.

Which, I suppose, is where all of us should be engaged, after all.

– Ron Leir 

CORRECTION

A story in the Jan. 13 issue of The Observer about a fire at Plaque Art Creations in Harrison incorrectly reported what the factory made. It has manufactured plaster moldings.

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