Dominick Calsolaro

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Snake expert will serve serpents' needs

Published on 4/10/2009 by the Times Union written by JORDAN CARLEO-EVANGELIST, Staff writer

Government is seldom laugh-a-minute. But it has its moments — one of this week's best, courtesy of Albany Common Councilman Dominick Calsolaro by way of a parable of serpents, politicians and land developers.
(We know, it sounds like a Carl Hiaasen novel, and the only things missing from the quintet of public ridicule are lawyers and reporters. But, seriously, it's not a punch line.)

Calsolaro, who represents the First Ward, objected vigorously Monday night to the wording of a letter from an engineer representing a North Dakota developer seeking to build a hotel on the edge of the Pine Bush.

The offending phrase from the engineer, Daniel Hershberg, referred to a rare worm snake "allegedly found" by the state Department of Environmental Conservation in the area of the site off Washington Avenue Extension.

"Is Mr. Hershberg accusing the DEC of not finding a snake?" Calsolaro exclaimed.

He continued later in an interview with Inside Politics: "Either they found the worm snake or they didn't. To use the word allegedly, you're opining. ... They said they found a snake, they sent us a picture."

DEC says it very much found the serpent, not seen in Albany County in 20-plus years, both on the site, albeit under some trash, and nearby.

Calsolaro said he was using the example to make a larger point, that the city should have at its disposal independent experts — including biologists and herpetologists — when evaluating projects such as the proposed 124-room Residence Inn rather than relying on the developers' experts.

After a state judge ordered further review of the project's potential impact on plant and animal life in the area, there was some disagreement between scientists working for the developer, Tharaldson Development Co., and the state as to where the worm snakes were found and whether they actually lived on the site or were just passing through.

In an interview prior to Calsolaro's comments, Hershberg called it "a difference of professional opinion." Tharaldson has agreed to have a snake specialist on site when work begins to relocate any wandering reptiles out of harm's way.

For now, the project is still awaiting approval.