Morning Read: Governor’s Economic Development Council hits rooftop highway pothole

So when I reported on Governor Andrew Cuomo’s new system of Regional Economic Development Council’s last week, it was still a little unclear how these volunteer-run advisory groups would navigate politically charged decisions.

State officials, and members of the North Country Council, argued that the group would work toward consensus, using public input to shape a plan for this region that all sides could embrace.

Then, last week, Council co-chair Garry Douglas — who also heads the Plattsburgh North Country Chamber of Commerce — announced that the I-98 rooftop highway project wouldn’t be included as a priority project.

Now, a St. Lawrence County legislator is calling for Douglas to be replaced, according to the Watertown Daily Times.

“If Mr. Douglas cannot find it in himself to be more open-minded, then I call for Gov. Cuomo to remove him from the council and we can continue with one chair,” Mr. Burns said in an email.

Mr. Burns’s ire was raised by Mr. Douglas’s announcement Friday that the council will not include I-98, the proposed four-lane highway that would link Watertown to Plattsburgh, as a priority project for state funding.

In his response, Douglas said that the highway project would eventually be addressed in the planning process.

“I take no offense. I perfectly understand how passionate people get about their projects. I have never expressed opposition to any project or support of any project. We’re letting the process work.”

So what do you think?  Can these volunteer advisory councils make decisions like this without courting controversy?  Is consensus really possible on issues of this kind?

And in the final equation, is it better to have this debate going on here, in the North Country, rather than being decided in Albany?

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27 Comments on “Morning Read: Governor’s Economic Development Council hits rooftop highway pothole”

  1. dbw says:

    The I-98 proposal is just a concept at this point, and a divisive one at that. My concern has been that it would become a distraction that will undermine the larger goals and mission of the the Regional Council. Sam Burn’s comments are exactly the type of situation that will hurt a regional approach to economic development. Garry Douglas was exactly right to handle things the way he did.

  2. It's Still All Bush's Fault says:

    It would appear that Mr. Sam Burns’ definition of being open-minded is to agree with Mr. Sam Burns. Now we know.

  3. Big Burly says:

    We are working in a strategically different environment than has existed before in NYS. The Regional Council process is still trying to find a sustainable way to operate — but what a difference having our regional leaders understand that we share common challenges, and strengths.
    I-98 or whatever the project should be called brings to mind the hoopla surrounding job promises and economic development during the run-up to construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway. That project was the culmination of more than 50 years of haggling. How many NC folks actually saw sustainable jobs during construction and afterwards?
    The upgrade of US 11, completed in a manner that takes account of the needs of local communities, is a common sense approach that will confiscate much less of the valuable, fertile farmland of our region than would the construction of an interstate highway.
    Better these ideas are decided in the region than in Albany or DC.

  4. mary says:

    Pettiness and politics as usual.

  5. Pete Klein says:

    The roof top highway or whatever you want to call it should never be a regional project. If it were ever to happen, it should be fully funded by the Federal Government.
    And oh by the way, as long as we are talking about Interstates, every last one of them should be maintained (including snow plowing and grass cutting) by the Federal Government.

  6. MrSandwich says:

    Are the power dams in Massena the result of flooding for the Seaway?
    Why can’t you consider those jobs resulted from the creation of the Seaway? How about all that cheap power in Massena.

    I’m not sure when Alcoa, Reynolds, and GM set up shop.

  7. Big Burly says:

    @Mr. Sandwich
    Reynolds is no longer in the Massena area, despite VERY attractive power rates. Alcoa has been in suspended ops for some time due to an aluminum production capacity glut worldwide and of course GM is no longer, having left behind lots of pensioners for sure and environmental issues that will be with us forever.
    The pay scales from these three very large entities make it very difficult for local, smaller scale enterprises to compete in the regional labor pool. The same goes for Fort Drum. Not suggesting these operations leave the area, just trying to explain some of the scale impediments small businesses have to recruit labor.
    I-98 as discussed and presented by its supporters will not provide either sustainable short term or longer term employment prospects. Making our existing transportation infrastructure sustainable, including US 11 and the county and town roads that support all residents including transients, is a better, local scale/control way to proceed.

  8. MrSandwich says:

    Mr. Burly,
    Your statement said that the Seaway didn’t bring in sustainable employment. I cited a few examples of long term employment. Reynolds was purchased by Alcoa and that plant is still in operation. The slowdown is over. (getting into the particulars of aluminum pricing would be a little more complicated than you’ve described).
    Maybe GM would still be in Massena if they had a highway to transport parts more efficiently??
    Recruit Labor?? So you’re saying small business can’t get good workers because they have to compete with Alcoa and Fort Drum?? That’s an interesting concept that I hadn’t thought of…
    Route 11 is already overdeveloped and should be used for local traffic. I agree on this point. However, we also have to get out of our comfortable little box in the NC and meet the world. There is a lot of it out there. We also need to let the rest of the world come to us. Right now we are being bypassed. Mr. Douglas in Plattsburgh knows that this interstate would cut into the amount of traffic on I-95. Which is essentailly a bypass around Oburg, Massena, Potsdam, Malone, Canton..

  9. dbw says:

    I think the point about the Seaway was the unrealistic hype and expectations about it being a transformational project for the whole region. For example, the article “Its BIG now, but the BEST is still to Come in Northern New York State: Watch It Grow With the St. Lawrence Seaway-Power Project”, newspaper series by Alan Emory had readers believing that there would be jobs galore, theaters, restaurants, and shopping from Lake Ontario to Lake Champlain. While the power project kept the aluminum industry going and there have been some jobs with the Seaway Development Corp. and PASNY, all the big expectations never happened. History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme sometimes. All the talk about 27000 jobs, etc. with “I-98” doesn’t ring true.

  10. oa says:

    Brian asks: “Can these volunteer advisory councils make decisions like this without courting controversy?”
    What decision of any kind on an important issue can be made without courting controversy? If you know of a place where that happens, let us in on it. I, for one, would love to live on Big Rock Candy Mountain.
    This particular complaint sounds like whining. But a lot of leaders in the North Country seem to back down from or cave in to whining, killing good ideas or pandering to bad ones.
    Glad that Douglas didn’t in this case.

  11. Mervel says:

    The rooftop highway should not be included because it is outside of their mandate. An interstate is a federal project not a local project nor is it a project that we have much control over. Once again the Interstate fantasy is wasting time and energy.

    Sure we are for it, so what, how many times can you say we are for it why spend money or time or effort saying we want it it is out of our control we have made the case and it is done.

  12. tootightmike says:

    No Merv, we’re NOT for it. A big noisy highway that improves our lives by bringing another Arbys, McDonalds, Burger King, Crackerbarrel restaurant doesn’t actually do anything to improve our sorry lives here. If the North Country is too quiet for you, drive down to Watertown or Syracuse and find yourself a place.
    The real truth is that we live in a bit of a paradise here, and like all such places we wait for the day that someone with some BIG IDEA to come along and ruin it.

  13. MrSandwich says:

    Sorry that previous post should have been 87 and not 95.
    I like your attitude Mike. I don’t know if you’ve noticed but people are leaving the area in large numbers. Especially younger people. If you don’t become a CO or work at the plant, good luck. Move out, we don’t want you. In regards to your restaurant choices, i’m thinking more along the lines of an Oliver Garden or Applebees. Maybe even 99 steakhouse. Don’t want those places interfering with mom and pops greasy spoon though. You might actually be able to eat the food without wringing out the grease first. We should all just learn to live our “sorry lives” and get along. I think I get it now. Misery should be the NC’s biggest export.

  14. Mervel says:


    I work with to many people living in abject poverty to talk about this being a paradise. Maybe we should ship them all out of the county so we can have our paradise with a better view, all of these poor people get in the way sometimes.

    We need the construction jobs that any large scale highway construction program would bring, I don’t really care if it is an interstate or not.

  15. Two Cents says:

    Just because the highway is built here, it does not mean the contractors are from this area. Mohawk casino entry as an example, the G.C. is from Kansas.
    Maybe some local help is employed, i wonder what the percentage of local vs. the G.C.’s homestate employees is?
    Tootight, makes a good point. Just because we need people to work/ or people need to work at a Mcdonalds, doesn’t mean we need one at every intersection/exit.
    If you want Interstates, Applebees, and Urban lifestyle, there are places out there already, we don’t need to make everywhere the same.
    The real fix is ncohesive and comprehensive mass transit.
    The love affair with our automobiles need to come to an end in some/mant respects.
    Four Colleges? and how many have a nice centralized Train station/ bus station within the campus ?
    11 b was obviously built to compensate for 11’s shortcommings, or should i say man’s desire for a straight line to his destination. God forbid it’s an inch out of our way…..
    When an Interstate removes people from abject poverty i’ll eat my hat.
    After it’s built, will the issue be the lay offs of local labor?
    Will all the former laborers get State jobs mowing the medians like pete suggests?
    Too many issues to think that there is one solution to the mess this society is in, and a faster, straighter way to get someplace in our cars is NOT the answer in my experience.
    Let Canada build it, they’re the rooftop on NY

  16. Two Cents says:

    x’cuse me– Kentucky.

  17. Mervel says:

    No we need jobs and these are good infrastructure jobs. I thought everyone loved infrastructure? I think it is immoral at this point to turn away infrastructure jobs from an area as poor as we are, talk about the I got mine mentality.

    A definition of what a minority of people want as a playground up here is not necessarily what most working people living in the North Country want. This fantasy of mas transit between these colleges is a bigger fantasy than the roof top highway! We have tried a commuter bus service, guess what’; no one rode it, no people who worked at the colleges rode it that is for sure, mainly you had people riding it who were disabled or needed to go to dss in canton and didn’t have a car or the Amish rode it, but that was it.

    This bizarre projection of the North country some sort of rural paradise of small artisans living lightly on the land is so far from any sort of reality it is laughable and really holds us back from making progress on good jobs.

    But anyway, the crazy thing is I agree, let the stupid rooftop highway go, lets make some four lane corridors and improvements on 11 and 37, this would actually work and is doable. The rooftop is not worth our efforts at this point.

  18. MrSandwich says:

    The GC is not from Kentucky, the designer is. Im not sure they’ve picked a GC yet. The tribe always uses local labor.
    Merval I half agree with you. 37 is worth improvement, 11 is overcrowded and a lost cause. As two cent pointed out, 11 has been bypassed once already.

  19. Paul says:


    They support their “infrastructure” jobs as long as the project is somewhere else.

  20. Dave says:

    There is a lot of support for infrastructure jobs in the Adirondacks. People would love it if their bridges were repaired, their roads paved, their culverts fixed, their schools and public buildings updated, etc etc.

    Don’t interpret lack of support for a rooftop highway as lack of support for infrastructure upgrades and improvements.

  21. john says:

    I was astounded at the comment Sam Burns made about how, “it’s too bad some people will have to move, but it’s for the greater good.” It will take many many thousands of eminent domain property seizures to build an interstate size highway corridor. That would mean hundreds of farmers, businesses, landowners and homeowners displaced for this folly. It will take 20 years to build such a highway. What should we do in the meantime as on-third of our bridges are deficient and one-half of our highways are in fair or poor condition. Where’s the money going to come from to fix those job-creatinbg infrastructure projects? The villages? Towns? County? State? Our county legislature will spend every dime it gets to keep trying to jump-start this idea. After all, once they can force us all to put money into this boondoggle they will have the self-sustaining logic for putting ever-greater amounts of money into the interstate. Where is 10 or 15 billion dollars going to come from? What economic activity will we have if the RT. 11 corridor is abandoned and employers have to wait for 15 or 20 years for an alternative? The advertising guys in CAnton and Massena would have us all believe that the highway fairy will come in the night and in the morning, there will be an interstate highway, thriving with business and nobody will have been displaced and our streams will flow with milk and honey.

  22. Two Cents says:

    AAHHh yes, the Interstate fairies!! They’re good friends of the shingle elves that come to finish my roof jobs at night while we sleep.

    Yes, i should have picked up on the design firm not being the G.C.
    Thanks for emphasizing that, it does make a difference. I would hope that local labor gets the Casino expamsion work.

    Infrastructure work is key. I don’t think it always has to be a half-a-million dollar endeavor either. I could walk around my farm and (with the help of a magic wallet that produces a hundred dollar bill every time i open it), fix one project after another till i’m chasing my tail like the guy who washes windows on the Empire State Building. Unfortunately those projects are funded either by the State or the Local muni, and are never without excessive padding by Politicians, Union heads, untill the cost is ridiculus for the Taxpayers to get behind. Is that what Cuomo’s prop tax cap was meant to do?
    Milk and honey would be grand, now we need an oatmeal fairie too…..

  23. Mervel says:

    You know a person looks at the beauty of the drive along highway 11, particularly the scenery between Canton and Potsdam and I can understand why you would want to protect those crumbling buildings, junked cars, and random really ugly businesses. I mean it is a PARADISE!!! Think of the damage an interstate or a four lane highway would do to the environment, what with all of the Waste Stream dump yards and auto salvage yards protecting the landscape now.

  24. Two Cents says:

    Organize the clean-up. I’m in, but if Bret was still here i’m sure he’d have something to say about property rights. Again, infrastructure can include something as simple as a rake and garbage bags. Don’t need to be wealthy to drag a rake or fill a garbage pail, just takes motivation, desire, and even self-respect I’m not opposed to chain gangs either. I think alot of rural area’s garbage problems have a little to do with municipal garbage service, and alot to do with people’s personal concept of yard hygene,crapping where they eat, not with the nature of the type of road that cuts through the countryside.
    It has always baffled me why some disrespect their property, or that of others, but that’s another ball of wax.

  25. Mervel says:

    It is not trash. The issue is the random ugly structures and ugly businesses that have been allowed to build willy nilly and then go bankrupt and leave their old buildings and the current businesses are very ugly. I mean yeah if we had this pristine area I would be very much against plowing an interstate through it, but we don’t an interstate would improve the looks.

  26. Two Cents says:

    People trade aesthetics for profit. Thats an aspect of greed.
    Why improveg the looks when it costs money, uses profits for an appealing facade?
    Maybe local communities should enforce an ugly code. That’ll float like a lead balloon.
    I’m afraid that would be a tough sell, though it would be nice on some level.
    Architectural Review boards, Incorporated Villages with more restrictive standards, Zoning Boards, Historical Review Boards, Home Owner Associations, are all meant to serve this purpose of creating and or keeping community character–once it’s defined and decided what “character” is. How popular are these groups with the public? These groups exist, and when they restrict you, you hate them. When you agree with them you love them.
    Go to a Town Board meeting, and get on the call, then single out a building or a business and voice the opinion their building is ugly and you would like it changed. See what ensues next!
    I agree with your point Mervel, but it boarders on Facism, so i just make my stuff nice, and hope the effort is appreciated, and hold quiet disdain for those who do not behave with the same consideration, but my Catholic upbringing guilts me into eventually practicing live and let live. (sarcasm)

  27. Mervel says:

    I know what you mean. But for me at least on 11 through slc, its not the homes. Some are run down and some are better but they don’t stand out as a problem. What bothers me is the development, the auto salvage, the abandoned large commercial buildings, the random RV/boat dealers strewn about, I mean how is that type of development somehow better than a cracker barrel along an interstate?

    Anyway look how this fantasy interstate has derailed the conversation; like I originally said it is a BIG waste of everyone’s time it is not going to happen so lets focus on getting some four lane roads made and some bypasses.

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