Normally summer is known as a slow news time, but in the last week or so, our region has seen some events that can’t be described as anything but very big news. Ten days ago, a massive explosion caused by a train derailment devastated the town of Lac-Mégantic in Quebec (here’s a timeline of the events from the CBC; and here’s Brian Mann’s report on the beginnings of the town’s recovery); the official death toll is at 35. The explosion in a small town with a rail line going right through it (sound familiar, residents of small North Country towns?) raised serious questions about safety in our region as well as in Quebec. It’s still being investigated.
A little closer to home for most of us, the big news came down last week that the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center in Ogdensburg is, under a new plan from the state, likely to lose a big part of what it does as the state moves away from local inpatient services and towards a few “hub” centers where patients can receive residential care (see our recent reporting on the psych center here.)
In Washington, the House passed a version of the Farm Bill that didn’t include the SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, better known as Food Stamps), a move many feel endangers both SNAP and the farm assistance programs outlined in the Farm Bill. It’s huge news for our region, obviously, and we’ll see what happens with that. And other huge national news was the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin (NPR’s ongoing coverage of that story on its news blog The Two-Way here) That story will be continuing for a long time to come, I’ll wager.
I’m sure I’ve missed something very big…but when there’s been that much going on, it’s a good idea to catch your breath sometimes and look at what else is happening. So here we go:
St. Lawrence County will receive a portion (not clear how much) of a homelessness prevention grant worth $3 million from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. It’ll split that money with several other New York counties, North Country Now Reports. The money’s intended to be used by private not-for-profit organizations and consumer cooperatives for services to veteran families who live in (or are transitioning to) permanent housing; that includes cash assistance for rent, utilities, security deposits and moving costs.
Watertown’s oft-remarked-upon “roommate ban” may make another appearance, this time as a campaign issue! The Watertown Daily Times reports that with six candidates facing off in the upcoming mayoral primary, the “ban” is seen by some as being an issue candidates want to stay away from — but it’s one that’s sill before the Watertown City Council and could be for some time yet.
Sigh…gas prices are up again in the North Country, WWNY-TV says. According to gasbuddy.com, WWNY reports, parts of our area have prices that are between 10 and 20 cents above the national average of $3.60 a gallon.
And although I usually (with some difficulty — it’s fascinating!) stay away from the police blotter, I will say it’s been a rough week for our local cities as a woman has plead guilty to selling crack in Ogdensburg (she’ll go to jail for two and a half years, looks like) and a Watertown man’s been sentenced to up to five and a half years in state prison for trying to sell heroin in the county in December.