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The general sketch of a "rooftop highway" as envisioned in a 2002 report for the Development Authority of the North Country.
The general sketch of a "rooftop highway" as envisioned in a 2002 report for the Development Authority of the North Country.

Farm bureau opposes "rooftop highway"

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The group that's pushing for an Interstate to be built from Watertown to Plattsburgh has collected hundreds of local endorsements.

But it just lost an influential one. The New York Farm Bureau passed a resolution earlier in December, opposing the so-called "rooftop highway".

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David Sommerstein
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All farm bureau resolutions start at the local level. This one started at the St. Lawrence County Farm Bureau's annual meeting in October, with dairy farmer and Republican county legislator Kevin Acres.

Acres says the group's supported the rooftop highway for years, but when members looked again, it didn't really make sense. "The farms, they themselves are actually more of a connection to Route 11 or Route 37. They would not necessarily be better served if there was a major four-lane highway.

In fact, says Acres, farmers would be hurt by an Interstate that plows through several thousand acres of farmland, forest and wetlands: "Let's keep the tillable land that we have here. Let's keep the environment that we have here in the North Country."

Acres says he consulted at least one other county farm bureau in the North Country, which had also supported the Interstate, which some call I-98. But he discovered, he says, "the reason that they supported I-98 was that they thought St. Lawrence County wanted it."

So the St. Lawrence County Farm Bureau passed a resolution opposing the Interstate idea. It went on to the statewide Farm Bureau's annual meeting earlier in December and passed there, too.

Here's what the resolution actually says, according to the New York Farm Bureau's Steve Ammerman. It says the Farm Bureau now supports "a more reasonable and cost-effective approach to improving transportation needs in the North Country without also impacting additional farm and forest lands". It instead argues for upgrading Route 11 to a "Rural Expressway" with four lane traffic in some places. That's also the position of the state Department of Transportation.

Some aren't pleased about the change. St. Lawrence County Democratic Party chairman Mark Bellardini is one of the Interstate's biggest supporters and a member of its advocacy group, the Northern Corridor Transportation Group. He says he doesn't think it's "very cordial of the Farm Bureau itself to act on a resolution if they only know half the story."

Bellardini says the other side of the story is that the Interstate would bring jobs. He says St. Lawrence County has plenty of farmland.

"A good portion of it is not even used and it's going to thorn apple bushes and wasting away. And it's a shame that he would think that way and use land as an obstacle when it could bring so much good to this area, economic development."

An Interstate highway from Watertown to Plattsburgh is estimated to cost at least $3 to $4 billion to build.

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