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Gov. Andrew Cuomo at Ft. Drum. Photo: NCPR archive photo by Joanna Richards
Gov. Andrew Cuomo at Ft. Drum. Photo: NCPR archive photo by Joanna Richards

New York invests big in Fort Drum housing

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Thursday we reported that the North Country was one of the top winners of grant money and economic development funding in Governor Cuomo's statewide competition.

The region won $90.2 million for everything from waterfront development in the Thousand Islands to tourism marketing in the Adirondacks. But one of the biggest single investments that New York will make is in new housing, including apartments and multi-family homes, for the area around Fort Drum.

Brian Mann spoke about that effort, and other details of the Regional Economic Development Council spending plan, with Martha Foley.

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Reported by

Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

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Under this plan, the state will invest nearly $10.5 million developing new apartment complexes in the Watertown and Carthage area.

This is part of the effort to accommodate the expanding number of soldiers and soldiers families assigned to the Fort Drum area. And it's also an effort to make room for more servicemembers returning home from the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

By my rough tally, this spending will help to create or renovate roughly 500 apartment or multi-family units.

It's worth pointing out that that expansion of population and young families is really an extraordinary event in the North Country.

And not only a big push in housing but also in construction jobs. Another big push here that we didn't have time to talk much about yesterday is broadband. We've been hearing for years that this is a priority, connecting rural communities to high speed internet. And there are a lot of dollars here for that as well.

Right, kind of scattered about. The state is chipping in roughly $3 million for broadband access in the Long Lake and Hamilton County areas. That's a big investment for a part of the North Country that has fewer than five thousand people spread over a big area. There's also a half million dollars for projects in Lewis, St. Lawrence and Jefferson County. And another $2.2 million for helping emergency service providers gain access to broadband across a big chunk of the North Country. So broadband is clearly a big priority here.

This is a huge list of projects and we have the full list on-line for people to look at. Any others that caught your eye?

Yeah, two that I think are worth mentioning. Old Forge is actually lumped into central New York's project funding area and under that plan a million dollars will go to build a new biomass heating system for the Enchanted Forest, Water Safari and the Water's Edge Inn and Conference Center. So another big new renewable energy project for the Old Forge area.

Along with the $1.7 million natural gas project that received funding at the Ticonderoga IP mill, those two projects together will represent a significant reduction in the amount of fuel oil being used in the region.

Also, another project with some environmental interest, there's a million dollars in this plan to remove a dam on the Chubb River in Lake Placid with money to restore about a thousand feet of natural shoreline.

We're hearing that one of the strengths in the North Country's plans this year and last, is that it's really a grassroots effort, with a lot of diverse, smaller initiatives, not one big plan to attract an automobile manufacturing plan or something. But that's a lot of plates spinning in a pretty spread-out region, and I know there've been concerns tha the council that's responsible for overseeing all this is mostly volunteer. Did you get a sense in Albany that there's fatigue, or that people are just onward looking forward toward next year?

There's clearly worry about this, for the people reviewing these projects, vetting these projects, this has become, and Gov. Cuomo acknowledged this, a second full-time job. They've been energized of course by the fact that the North Country has won big for the last two years…but in theory this process is going to go forward year after year after year, and so I do think people are beginning to say "we have to have a discussion about how this can be made a little more systematic."

And one other thing that's important here is that these councils right now don't have a clear mechanism for vetting controversial projects, like the rooftop highway idea, or the big tourism train controversy in the central Adirondacks. They've been careful to avoid those flashpoints, and that's worked so far, but at some point since this is the new funding umbrella for a lot of these different things, this group of volunteers is going to have to find a way to ask these thornier questions, and we'll just have to see how they evolve to take that on.

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