We were at the fifth of our nine stops, and all we had seen so far were newly green trees, blue sky and lakes so still they reflected the clouds.
Art Smuckler motioned for us to step up on his deck.
“You see?” he pointed south from the side porch of his Stillwater home. “There are your cranes. And there are your balloons.”
I saw the cranes, and next to them a tiny black speck peeking over the treetops on the other side of Saratoga Lake. I knew I should be looking for a second speck, the one that would mark the top of a hypothetical smokestack of the proposed second GlobalFoundries computer chip fabrication plant, but all I could focus on was the breathtaking beauty of the lake on a pristine, sunny Saturday.
The Smucklers live on the lake, and its smell wafted up to their porch suddenly and swiftly. A motorboat idled a few dozen yards out, while a man in a life jacket stood motionless.
We were participating in a balloon test to help the public assess the visual impact of GlobalFoundries’ proposed plant — a crucial step for company officials hoping to move the project forward. Red balloons were flown 125 feet high to mark the height of the four corners and roof of Fab 8.2, with a larger, blue spotter balloon tethered at 175 feet to help people know where to look.
As the group spoke of cranes and vantage points, measurements and emission standards, I leaned against a porch beam and began to daydream. It was the kind of day where butterflies flit on by, birds sing out and life in upstate New York was suddenly so beautiful I forget about the long, cold winter we just escaped.
“You can see it from Snakehill Road,” said Smuckler, who was nice enough to let a group of planning and development officials park in his driveway and conduct their fifth stop from his porch. “It’s an interesting perspective because you’re looking directly at it from your backyard. That concerns me because I don’t know what the smokestacks are going to be emitting, and how active they’re going to be, and whether there’s going to be smoke coming up over the top of the trees or not.”
His house on Snakehill Road was the second stop where we could see the balloons.
We started the day at Malta Town Hall, then took Route 9 to Round Lake, followed by winding roads past woodlands and hiking trails.
Then we stopped at the newly created Wafer Way, a road that leads to the proposed construction site for the second plant.
We didn’t get too much farther, though: A security guard told us we couldn’t go into the site, which held mounds of dirt and cranes and was surrounded by barbed-wire and a chain-link fence.
We could see the balloons at the construction site, of course. But our tour guide, Tony Tozzi, director of the Malta Building and Planning Department, assured us they would only be visible from two other sites in Saratoga County — Snakehill Road and Manning Cove Road — and even then, just barely.
Mike Carlito, a longtime Malta resident along for the balloon test, described GlobalFoundries as a tsunami that hit a small town in the midst of a normal growth cycle five years ago. Today, he can see its effects in almost every twist and turn and roundabout in the town and surrounding communities. He wonders how far those effects will ripple with the addition of a second plant.
“Malta is experiencing a growth cycle that is unnatural for a small community like this,” said Carlito, who lives in Maltaville, a hamlet just north of Round Lake. “GlobalFoundries has created an unnatural and accelerated growth cycle in this community. The influx of people from many cultural backgrounds will need to be served. They will need physical and mental health facilities, housing, places of worship, law enforcement, emergency response, educational institutions, sewage, water.”
He reserved opinion on whether these additions would be positive or negative.
But as one of only three town residents to turn out for the balloon test, it was obvious he had concerns.
“In the next five years, Malta will not feel the same or look the same, but will be the backdrop community to GlobalFoundries,” he said.
But as we stood on the back porch of a Stillwater man’s lakefront home, the sun beating down on a beautiful Saturday morning, every thought of economic impact, job counts and the future of Tech Valley left my mind.
I looked out over Saratoga Lake, scanning its pretty green border of trees until I saw it — the second red balloon. Without binoculars, it was a black dot barely visible above the treeline. I mustered a mental image of smokestacks, but it slipped away as a breeze delivered another whiff of lake water and memories of camp.