I tell this story all the time, but it’s a true one: When I came to the North Country thirteen years ago, someone — I can’t remember who it was — told me I’d scored the best job in the world, with one big caveat.
In a rural place like northern New York, he opined, you’ll run out of good new story ideas in two years, tops.
So far, thankfully, that hasn’t happened. 2012 felt like another huge year. There just weren’t enough hours in the day. Here’s my recap of the biggest events that I covered, counting down to the biggest.
10. We learned that serial killer Israel Keyes lurked in the North Country, owning land in Franklin County, stashing weapons in St. Lawrence County. He brutally stalked and murdered two people in Vermont and robbed a bank in Tupper Lake. This guy was a true predator. It’s lamentable that he was allowed to commit suicide in an Alaska jail cell last month, leaving so many questions unanswered.
9. In August, Governor Cuomo signed a $47 million deal to acquire nearly 70,000 acres of land for the Adirondack forest preserve. The former Finch Pruyn lands include some iconic spots, including vast reaches of the wild Hudson River. The controversial purchase also continues to shift the debate over conservation in the Park, as more and more vulnerable timber land is protected.
8. Earlier this month, the region won a second top-prize award in Governor Cuomo’s statewide economic revival competition – a victory that secured for the region $90.2 million dollars for grants, tax breaks and other incentives. The award means a huge infusion of cash, but it has also put the North Country on the map as a region doing interesting things to boost jobs and investment, from renewable energy to Bombardier’s big rail car assembly plant in Plattsburgh.
7. Human activity continued to spark a new kind of “living pollution” in the North Country, from the spread of noxious invasive species like Giant Hogweed and Spiny water flea to the explosion of toxic blue green algae on Lake Champlain. We know how to clean up oil spills and PCBs. But what do we do when our agriculture and recreation open the door to pollution that, you know, reproduces?
6. The Hudson River Black River Regulating District won a victory in the courts in May that will allow it to bill county governments for its flood-control services. This sounds arcane, I know, but the HRBRRD manages dams, reservoirs and waterflows across much of the Adirondack-North Country, from Watertown to Great Sacandaga. Without this victory, the organization was teetering toward insolvency.
5. Teresa Sayward, the Republican pioneer who crusaded for same-sex marriage in New York state, chose not to seek re-election to her Willsboro-based Assembly seat. She faced enormous heat from social conservatives for her stance. Yet she was, for decades, one of the most level-headed politicians in the region, and would have had a very real shot at being her region’s next state Senator.
4. The North Country’s priest shortage continued to deepen. For decades, the Roman Catholic church has been an essential part of the region’s fabric, a role defined in significant measure by priests dispatched from the Diocese of Ogdensburg. But the number of priests continues to dwindle, with a third of the region’s RC clergy expected to retire in the next decade alone with few seminarians to replace them.
3. The New York Civil Liberties Union attacked the use of solitary confinement in state prisons statewide, but focused on facilities in the North Country. In a sweeping report, and in a new lawsuit, the NYCLU set out to change the system by which inmates are placed in lockdown cells in facilities like Upstate Correctional in Malone. State prison commissioner Brian Fischer has promised an “intense review” of internal procedures.
2. The fight over the Adirondack Club and Resort escalated following the APA’s 1o-to-1 decision in January to green light the massive project. Protect the Adirondacks and the Sierra Club sued to have the permits invalidated. In the months since, the mood in Tupper Lake has been bitter and the controversy became a major flashpoint during the political campaign, with most politicians supporting the development. The lawsuit is still pending and its outcome could have wide ramifications for developers, the APA, and the environmental community.
1. Democratic congressman Bill Owens was re-elected in a straight-up rematch with Republican challenger Matt Doheny. We’ve known for a long time that the political temperament of the North Country was changing. This contest settles the argument. A once Republican-conservative stronghold is now a moderate, centrist sort of place. Voters appear to have little appetite for partisan ideology and rhetoric. Owens won with an even temperament, calls for bipartisanship, and a grounding in local, bread-and-butter issues. Boring and dramatic at the same time.
So there it is. 2012 distilled. How about you? What stories caught your attention? Comments, as always, welcome.