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The mill's closure in Newton Falls raises tough new questions about the economy in southern St. Lawrence County. Photo: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/83372564@N00/3701986511/in/photolist-6D8DBD-6T2khj-6D8DMc-6QUjhF">J. Stephen Conn</a>, Creative Commons, some rights reserved
The mill's closure in Newton Falls raises tough new questions about the economy in southern St. Lawrence County. Photo: J. Stephen Conn, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

As mill is dismantled, tough questions for Clifton-Fine

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A company called Scotia Investments has been dismantling the historic paper mill in Netwon Falls in southern St. Lawrence County. It's a devastating final blow to the local economy, following years of efforts to revive the mill.

North Country Public Radio reached out to state officials to find out whether the decision to spend ten million dollars refurbishing the rail line into southern St. Lawrence County will be revisited now that the paper mill in Newton Falls has closed. So far, we've had no answer to that question.

Chris Westbrook heads the Clifton Fine Economic Development Corporation. He's been one of the leaders trying to find new source of jobs and prosperity in his struggling corner of the Adirondack Park.

He spoke in-depth with our Adirondack bureau chief, Brian Mann, about this moment in the community's history and about what comes next.

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Stewart Belkin, President of Newstech NY, Inc., stands outside the mill in Newton Falls.

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Reported by

Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

Chris Westbrook: This whole situation with the Newton Falls paper mill has been going on for so many years now; the big thing is that I think people have become resigned to the fact that the mill will no longer be producing paper.

Brian Mann: I mean there was just such a long, drawn out and sometimes very hopeful fight to keep this mill in operation and to keep those jobs.

CW: It really has been an up and down road and it’s been like that since I think the early 2000s when Appleton closed it down for the first time. And then we went through that long process of trying to find an owner.

When we found Scotia Investments out of Nova Scotia we were also very, very happy. But then when the markets turned they had to close it down. We still were hopeful that Scotia investments would stay with it, but there was a change of leadership there, and lo and behold they have decided to liquidate that asset.

BPM: You’ve been involved for many years in the larger conversation about what can be done to revive the economy in your part of southern St. Lawrence County, that sort of northern Adirondack region. There’ve been questions about the hospital going forward, declining enrollments in the schools, those sorts of things. Where do you think the conversation goes now? What does the community do going forward to keep asking those questions?

CW: That’s a great question and I think we’re still asking ourselves that question. Obviously the big one probably is to look more to tourism and that seems to be the big push throughout the Adirondack Park.

The western Adirondacks sometimes get left out of that picture, but I think that that’s an important piece. Unfortunately we don’t have all of the infrastructures available here yet as far as hotels and restaurants, although we are moving in that direction, to help support the tourism-based economy.

Of course I think there has to be a broader look at it, you have to look at bringing other industries in. I think now that we have the paper mill site that we have to try and find somebody to take over that site; we also have the J&L site. We have been moving forward on that, the Jones & Laughlin site just outside of Star Lake. That seems to be moving in a positive direction. And I guess then we have to start looking at smaller industries coming in.

BPM: What is your thinking at this point about the railroad? The state of New York agreed a couple of years ago to spend 10 million dollars refurbishing the line into that area in large part because of its desire to support the paper mill. Now the mill is gone. Is that investment still a good idea for taxpayers? Is that something that can really help the community and the economy there or is that no longer a wise way to spend that money?

CW: You know I struggle with that particular question almost daily. I see that it’s important that we spend money wisely and we don’t want a railroad to nowhere. However, we almost need that railroad to encourage business to come in.

So you’re sort of caught in a real tough situation there. Do you support building or refurbishing a railroad in hopes that business will come or do you just say no to the railroad and say no to the money? Then you would really be making some serious decisions that would definitely impact this community.

So in the long run I guess I have to say I support the continuance of the railroad and I think the CFEDC, the Clifton-Fine Economic Development Corporation, also supports that because we need to be thinking about what the possibilities are for the future.

BPM: Let me ask one last question. You mentioned earlier the idea that in an addition to tourism there might still be a future for some level of industry at those sites, the paper mill site and the J&L site. Do you think that’s still plausible? Do you think there’s really a chance that a major industrial project could go into that very rural part of St. Lawrence County?

CW: The realistic approach is going to be not a large industrial complex, but it’s going to be something smaller. My vision would be is that it might be some kind of a bio-energy facility or some type of wood products industry. The value is that we have two industrial sites within the park that are classified industrial sites. I think that’s really important and makes it helpful or easy for an organization to come in and develop a company there.

Brian's full interview with Chris Westbrook.

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