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Article: Tamarindo Airport to Reopen, but Questions Linger

Originally published in the Tico Times on June 7, 2014. Click here to read online. 

By SUZANNA LOURIE

TAMARINDO, Guanacaste – Two weeks ago, Tamarindo Airport was shut down by Costa Rica’s Civil Aviation Authority due to runway safety concerns. Now the company that owns the land – Hotel Diria Beach Resort Group – has stated that it will “continue with its aeronautical operation once everything is resolved.”

“Everything” includes working with consultants and construction companies to come up with quotes and alternatives solutions for repairing and reopening the runway, according to Diria Director Manuel Rockbran

The comments came after two weeks of radio silence from the Diria following the airport shutdown, which caused local residents and business owners to fear they were losing their airport for good. Without it, the town’s tourism-drive economy would take a hit, residents said.

While the Diria’s recent statements cleared up some of the misconceptions and put minds at ease, important questions about the airport’s future remain.

The Tamarindo airstrip lies on a large piece of the Diria’s privately owned land; land that is home to a driving range and may become a full-scale golf course. With signs, billboards and the recent completion of a model home advertising a future residential golf community, it’s no secret that the Diria has plans for the area.

According to a statement made by Civil Aviation at a recent meeting, its authorities first began sending safety reports to the Diria in 2009, informing the administration the runway needed attention. Five years passed and more memos were sent, but no one from the Diria responded.

IMG_7512

The Tamarindo Diria Airport Sign – Airport still closed.

So when the airport was temporarily shut down, some local residents feared the worst. One of them was Guido Scheidt, a pilot and area resident whose company, Auto Gyro America, has flown scenic gyrocopter flights from the Tamarindo Airport for over five years. He organized community fundraising to fix the runway, but once he heard the Diria’s statements, Scheidt admits the effort may have been premature.

“The Diria said they are not looking for help,” he said. “They don’t need financial help to rebuild the runway.”

Diria representatives told the group they remained silent until now because they had been negotiating with construction companies and contractors to determine a budget for runway repairs.

When it comes to Diria’s long-term plans for the airport, Rockbrand and other Diria representatives have declined to comment.

The uncertainty over the airport’s future has created frustration for Tamarindo businesses – particularly three real estate conglomerates reportedly interested in donating land for a new public airport. Those projects include Reserva Conchal in Flamingo, Hacienda Pinilla in Avellanas and a group in Tempate.

Once a location is chosen, the project could take up to three years to complete. Business owners say they are eager to get started and disappointed with lack of information coming out of the Diria. For a new runway to succeed in this region, it would rely on the service of regional airlines Sansa and Nature Air – both of which seem unlikely to add a new route so close to Tamarindo’s airstrip, should it remain open.

As for an exact date for the reopening of the airport, Rockbrand didn’t know. But the public can expect an announcement soon, he said.

 

Where There’s Smoke … Synthetic Marijuana Use on the Rise in Area

Originally Published in the Saratogian Newspaper, Print Edition. Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2011. Click Here to Read Online.

By SUZANNA LOURIE, slourie@saratogian.com

 

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Officials say a dangerous national trend is catching on in and around Saratoga County: synthetic marijuana. It’s perfectly legal, but its dangers are very real

Synthetic Marijuana

Owner of Smoke & Fire on Caroline Street Theresa Sheffer has stopped selling synthetic marijuana, despite the fact it’s legal. She says she doesn’t feel comfortable selling such a dangerous and unnatural product. (ERICA MILLER, emiller@saratogian.com)

About three weeks ago, Saratoga Springs High School Resource Officer Lloyd Davis caught several students skipping school. He brought the students back to school and while searching one student Davis discovered the student had a small green package of “herbal incense” called Supernova.

It was herbal incense, Davis discovered, a synthetic mixture of plant materials and unregulated chemical compounds that mimic the effects of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.

“That’s when it first came to my attention,” Davis said at a Saratoga Partnership for Prevention meeting Wednesday. “We asked — what is this? And he explained it’s something he gets high off and it’s completely legal and that he bought it at a shop in Saratoga.”

Marketed as herbal incense or herbal smoking blends, synthetic marijuana is called by a variety of street names including Wicked X, Posh, K2 and Thunder. These artificial marijuana products actually have 4 to 5 times the potency of marijuana, causing intense and dangerous side effects including hallucinations, anxiety, vomiting, heart failure and even death.

Synthetic Marijuana

Packages of herbal incense don’t come cheap. Three-gram packages can sell for up to $25. (ERICA MILLER, emiller@saratogian.com)

On Wednesday, Davis shared his concerns about synthetic marijuana with Partnership members including representatives from the Saratoga Springs High School, the Saratoga Springs Recreation Center, the Center for Missing and Exploited Children and Four Winds Hospital.

“This is just like kids sucking chemicals into their body and possibly having hallucinations or seizures — there’s no gray area on this,” Maureen Cary, of the Prevention Council, said.

Smoking herbal incense can cause harmful health effects and erratic, even dangerous behavior, and those side-effects have been seen in communities across the Capital District recently.

Several weeks ago, a 15-year-old Whitehall girl was treated at Glens Falls Hospital after having an adverse reaction to smoking herbal incense. Police also say a man was high on synthetic marijuana when he beat a 7-week-old child, landing the infant in Albany Medical Center.

 

Police in Glens Falls, Queensbury and Fort Edward are investigating a series of burglaries and break-ins at stores that carry herbal incense.

In Saratoga Springs, one local shop owner chose to remove synthetic marijuana from her store altogether.

Theresa Sheffer, owner of Smoke & Fire, a tobacco accessories shop on Caroline Street, noticed strange addictive behavior in her herbal incense customers — just one of the reasons she stopped selling “fake weed” in October 2010.

“Every time I would show up for work there were people waiting for herbal incense and it made me feel uncomfortable — it was an addiction almost like crack or cocaine — they were obsessed,” Sheffer said. It was a costly decision. Packages of herbal incense don’t come cheap — 3-gram packages can sell for up to $25.

“We started learning about it and what they were finding in the products. We made a lot of money off it, but at what expense? Do we need to make money if it’s hurting our customers?” Sheffer said.

Some other local head shops still carry brands of herbal incense, though.

Before Wednesday’s Partnership for Prevention meeting, Cary visited several of these shops to find out where the product was being sold and discuss with the owners the possibility of not selling herbal incense if there were a community-wide agreement.

Synthetic marijuana is currently available in Saratoga Springs at the Getty station on Church Street and Smoke n’ Save in Congress Plaza. But, Cary says at least one shop owner seemed agreeable to pulling the product if other local stores do the same.

Though they don’t have a solid plan as to how they would approach local government, the Partnership agreed something needs to be done in the community to help make parents — and kids — aware of herbal incense and its dangers.

“This looks like a package of candy or gum. If I saw this on my son’s desk I wouldn’t think twice,” a concerned parent said at Wednesday’s meeting.

 

In addition to being legal — even for kids younger than 18 — herbal incense is fruity and sweet-smelling. It has been popular among people on probation because it does not show up in drug screening.

Region Rattled: Rare Quake Shakes Up East Coast

Originally Published in the Saratogian Newspaper. Print Edition, Wed., Aug. 24, 2011. Click Here to Read Online.

By SUZANNA LOURIE, slourie@saratogian.com

State Employees

State employees mill about on the Empire State Plaza near the Corning Tower in Albany Tuesday, August 23, 2011 after an earth quake centered in Virgina shook the east coast. (J.S. Carras/photos@saratogian.com)

SARATOGA SPRINGS — At 1:51 Tuesday afternoon, a 5.9 magnitude earthquake, 3.7 miles deep, struck Virginia, rattling the entire East Coast up to the Capital District and beyond.

The U.S. Geological Survey reported the quake’s epicenter was located in a town 44 miles northwest of Richmond, Va., in Louisa County. In Washington, D.C., the White House, Capital Building and the Pentagon were all evacuated due to the strength of the tremors. Flights from the Reagan National Airport outside of Washington, D.C., were also put on hold.

The quake, close to a 6 on the Richter scale, shook the computer monitors in the Lake Avenue office of The Saratogian here in Saratoga Springs. Within minutes, calls from people in towns across the county started rolling in and the newspaper website and social media outlets exploded with feedback.

Bob Gordon, who lives in Pyramid Pines on Old Gick Road in Wilton, said he felt the quake for about five minutes, and although nothing broke, it shook the entire house.

“We live in a mobile home and it shook the place like nothing,” he said.

Like many in the area, Judy Shrade of Nelson Avenue said that at first, she thought the vibrations were from a passing truck, but when the shaking didn’t stop, Shrade knew it wasn’t a truck causing her glassware to clatter on the shelves.

Quakes don’t strike this area often, but 87-year-old Saratoga resident Roslyn Pittinger has had earthquake experiences in the past. After yelling to her daughter, “Your washing machine is backing up,” Pittinger said her daughter responded that it wasn’t even on.

“I’ve lived a lot of places and felt this before,” Pittinger said, still laughing about the incident.
NORTHEAST_QUAKE_RISK
While the ground was still rumbling, people from Virginia to New York reported the events using social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook to tell the story as it was happening in real time.

Even state Assemblyman James Tedisco, R-Schenectady, tweeted at 2:27 p.m., “My office in Schenectady was shake, rattle and rolling from the earthquake!” On Facebook, Steve Lyon added, “Definitely felt it here, about 8 miles east of the track, just off Route 9.”

 

South of Schenectady, a spokesperson from the Albany branch of the National Weather Service said their building, “shook like crazy,” and most staff evacuated the premises. Employees at the Capitol Building and government agency buildings also were required to evacuate their office, but returned to work later that afternoon.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo released a statement at 2:43 p.m. announcing that effects of the quake in New York state were being monitored by the State Office of Emergency Management and that as of that time, there had been no reports of damage to buildings, bridges, roads, power grids, the Indian Point nuclear power plant or other infrastructure.

Locally, the Saratoga Springs Police Department said although no emergencies or accidents had been reported as a result of the quake, more than a dozen calls came in immediately after the ground stopped shaking.

Lt. Robert Jillson of the Saratoga Springs Fire Department said firefighters were dispatched to a possible gas leak, but said he didn’t know if it was related to the earthquake or if it was just coincidence.

Since no horse races are run on Tuesdays, “dark days,” at Saratoga Race Course, thankfully no horses were running when the ground shook. Dan Silver, communications director for the New York Racing Association, said as of around 3 p.m., there had been no reports of harm to any horses, who were safe in their stalls in the backstretch.

Although the Virginia quake was felt here in Saratoga County, it wasn’t the first earthquake of the day for New York state. The USGS reported a smaller, 2.2 magnitude earthquake, 13.3 miles deep, that hit three miles outside of Altamont, a town just 20 minutes northwest of Albany, at 6:35 Tuesday morning.

Earthquakes might be rare in the Capital District, but it was only one year ago on Wednesday, June 23, 2010, when Saratoga residents felt the rumblings from a 5.0 quake that hit northeast of Ottawa at 1:40 p.m. — today’s earthquake coincidentally struck on the same date, the 23rd, of a different month, August, just 11 minutes after last year’s quake.

Later Tuesday, the USGS confirmed two aftershocks hit near the epicenter in northern Virginia — the first, magnitude 2.8, at 2:46 p.m., and the second, at 3:20 p.m. with a magnitude of 2.2. The National Weather Service said no tsunami was expected as result of the quake.

Saratogian reporters Michael Cignoli and Lucian McCarty and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Off to a Good Start: Attendance Up, Handle Up, Temperatures Way Up on Opening Day at Saratoga Race Course

Originally Published in the Saratogian Newspaper, Print Edition. Friday, July 22, 2011. Click Here to Read Online.

By SUZANNA K. LOURIE
slourie@saratogian.com

Opening Day

Horses make their way around the main track at Saratoga Race Course Friday for morning workouts.
Photo Erica Miller

 

SARATOGA SPRINGS — It was the hottest July 22 in more than 10 years for Saratoga Springs, but blistering temperatures couldn’t stop the 25,155 fans who showed up, water bottles in hand, ready to celebrate the kickoff of Saratoga Race Course’s 143rd annual racing season.

The high temperatures were a stark contrast to last year’s opening day when a crowd of 23,178 came out despite torrential downpours; this year’s opening day attendance represented an 8.5 percent increase over last year.

For the next six weeks, the racing industry will be focused on Saratoga, America’s most historic track, where plenty of new features abound,from the entrance of Dunkin’ Donuts and the exit of Carvel to the touted low price of beer at $3 for a 12 oz. domestic draft. Fans were up early in the Clubhouse for the 7 a.m. breakfast at the track, where they dined on scrambled eggs, pastries and sipped a morning mimosa during the horses’ early workouts.

Close friends Marie Vredenvurg of Mechanicville, Teresa Califano and Ann Palin, both from Clifton Park, come to breakfast at the track on opening day every year.

“We like to see the horses work out,” Califano said. “We also just love Saratoga and it’s not just during race season,” Palin added. “I love Saratoga all year long — I enjoy coming up here, just walking the main street through the little shops — you find things you don’t find any other place. Saratoga is just unique and we’re fortunate to be a part of it.”

Opening Day2

Sirsy duo Melanie Krahmer and Rich Libutti perform on Division Street during the first night of this weekend’s Hats Off to Saratoga Festival.
Photo Ed Burke

Other dedicated fans lined up even earlier than 7 a.m. outside of the main gate to ensure they would get a shady picnic table in the backyard.

“We line up every year at 6:30 in the morning to get this same spot,” said longtime racing fan Randy Johnson, who also teaches biology at Saratoga Springs High School.

Johnson, a Saratoga Springs resident, reunites with friends he only sees during racing season each year at the very same picnic table.

 

“Randy runs every morning with his packed backpack, table clothes and chairs to get this spot,” said Johnson’s friend Cynthia Hutchinson of Montreal. “He calls it running with the bulls.”

Johnson is no backyard rookie either, for more than a decade he’s come back to the same spot to meet friend Bob Guay, of Montreal.

“We met right here 15 years ago and now this guy is my best friend — we go to his house and he comes down here,” Johnson said of Guay.

For Johnson and his crew, the best prescription for beating the heat was kicking back with a cold beer, plenty of water and, of course, laughing with old friends.

“We sit in the same area every year and you really start to know people,” said Guay’s wife Joy Brock. “People say, ‘Hey, how are you?’ It’s really wonderful.”

A “who’s who” list of Capital Region business leaders gathered at the Carousel Restaurant, where socialite Marylou Whitney and her husband, John Hendrickson, hosted their annual Opening Day luncheon.

Outside in the picnic areas, track goers were in high spirits despite temperatures soaring into the mid-90s.

“It’s Christmas in July!” yelled one happy fan while setting up his tent.

Strolling past the bars, there was a buzz about the new low prices of beer.

“Dude, it’s only $3!” called out another anonymous crowd member from one bar.

 

For some, the cure for the sizzling heat was knocking back a cold one and for others, it was savoring a bowl of ice-cold Ben and Jerry’s. Moshik Teichholtz of Israel came to Saratoga for the first time with son Guy Teichholtz and brother Udi Vax. Having only been in Saratoga for three-hours, the trio was already enjoying the atmosphere of the track.

Opening Day 3

“I like the atmosphere, it’s not like Israel — except it’s hot, the weather is just like Israel,” said Teichholtz.

Closer to the track, fans outside the paddock lined up to watch the horses warm up before the second race of the day.

“The horses are why we come here; they’re the stars,” one observer said.

Racing fans did a lot of wagering Friday: on-track handle was $3,551,745, up 13.4 percent from 2010; total handle including wagers made on-track and from nationwide simulcast outlets was $15,871,449, up 18.9 percent.

Other fans were content to post up with elaborate picnic set ups in front of the outdoor TV screens to watch the races and do their betting from the comfort of their claimed space.

“We only go to the rail if it’s not blistering hot,” Hutchinson said. “We mostly spend the day right here in the shade and it’s great.”

Despite the high humidity, well-coiffed women in the Clubhouse managed to stay glamorous with elaborate hats and headpieces, high heels and frequent make-up touch-ups.

“I love the excitement and the challenge of picking the right horse… which I often do by name,” laughed 10-year track attendee Wendy Burke, of Boston.

It’s not just racing fans who are feeling good about the 2011 Saratoga meet, the New York Racing Association heads into the 2011 meet in much better financial condition than a year ago, when it was faced with the possibility of a racing shutdown before getting the first installment of a $25 million loan. The loan, first provided by the state, has since been taken over by Genting New York LLC, the firm chosen to run Aqueduct Race Track’s new casino that’s scheduled to open this fall.

 

Adding to the sense of optimism, Saratoga Race Course is expected to undergo $100 million worth of capital improvements in the next few years as new gaming revenue becomes available.

Overall, searing temperatures couldn’t slight the opening day excitement felt around the track about the official kick off of what is sure to be another exciting 40-day meet.

“I think Saratoga is the best track in the country because of the ambiance,” said Mary Ann Monaco of Albany. “At Belmont, it’s just the racetrack — here, it’s the picnic areas, the trees and just look at the track! It just inspires you to come here. Saratoga is the place to be, just like they say.”