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Serving the communities of Massena and Potsdam, New York

Supporters turn out to see Potsdam Town Board support I-98 study

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POTSDAM - A feasibility study to determine the merits of a proposed Interstate 98 corridor received the support of a split Potsdam Town Board Tuesday after listening to supporters of the interstate as well as proponents of focusing efforts in making improvements to Route 11.

A document was provided to town officials by Northern Corridor Transportation Group consultant Jason A. Clark. Supporters said I-98, which would connect Interstate 81 in Jefferson County and Interstate 87 in Clinton County, would greatly benefit the struggling north country economy.

Town Supervisor Marie C. Regan and councilmen James A. Grant and Rollin A. Beattie voted in favor of the resolution supporting the I-98 feasibility study, while councilwomen Rosemaria Rivezzi and Judith R. Rich voted against it.

Ms. Regan was outspoken in her support of the cause, noting that Mr. Clark’s resolution included both I-98 and Route 11’s causes and she received a steady round of applause after making her case.

“First of all, I have to admit to everybody here that I helped get signatures for I-98, that I was chairperson of this board when we voted to give $5,000 to I-98’s group for lobbying efforts which finally have become successful. It’s the first time that (Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo) has said that they are willing to do a study to shut us up and let us know whether it’s viable and what the pluses and minuses are,” Ms. Regan said. “From 1936 until now everybody always says, ‘I-98 can’t happen in my lifetime.’ Well darn it, it can’t happen until it gets started.

“I feel that the north country’s biggest deficit is that we don’t pull together. Every time we make a step forward it seems like we’ve got some splintered group that can find something negative and then we don’t move. As far as I’m concerned, let’s let the governor do the study, get some of these things answered and then see what happens and at least we’ll at least have had our shot and we may get some good news.”

Ms. Rich pointed out that she understands the I-98 supporters’ arguments, but feels that the construction of a corridor also carries some negative aspects.

“I feel for people who don’t have jobs. My husband went through a period where he didn’t have a job. And I understand about children leaving the area. We brought up our children here and they left the area,” Ms. Rich said.

“On the other hand, in some ways small is better. It isn’t better for everybody but it’s better. That’s one of the wonderful things I feel about living in Potsdam. This idea of ‘Oh, you’d get all these corporate food chains and this and that’ - that’s the bad side as far as I’m concerned.”

Before the I-98 supporters stated their case, Richard Grover and John Casserly spoke on behalf of the YESELEVEN group. They suggested federal and state funding would be better spent improving the existing highway that extends all the way from Watertown to Plattsburgh.

“We are a group that formed three years ago over the issue of Route 11 and we felt that Route 11 was being neglected and needed upgrades, needed to become more safe, needed to have more improvements to the roads so traffic could pull through here better,” Mr. Casserly said. “(Route 11) is the economic engine that powers this area ,and it should be the focus of the DOT to upgrade it.”

Mr. Casserly said that the duo have already had their resolution passed by the town and village boards of Canton and are awaiting a response from the village of Potsdam.

“Given the governor’s state of the state address, where he said to focus on the Canton/Potsdam area, we would like to see that exactly happen. Whether bypasses are in the future, that’s not for us to determine. We would like to see the process start and that would require the towns and the villages to get together on this,” Mr. Casserly said.

“We are advocating for planning - that these communities get together and start looking at ‘What do we want our community to look like 30, 40, 50 years down that road?’” Mr. Grover added.

Advocates for the I-98 project who spoke on Tuesday included Mr. Clark, Massena Town Councilman Albert C. Nicola, county Democratic Committee Chairman Mark J. Bellardini and St. Lawrence County Legislator Vernon D. “Sam” Burns, among others.

“We fully understand and we fully recognize the need to improve existing Route 11. The resolution that we prepared for your consideration fully addresses the need to deal with some of the safety problems on Route 11,” Mr. Clark said.

“The problem is with the New York state Department of Transportation there much needed maintenance work that should have been done for decades that wasn’t done. We’ve been dealing with that for the past decade.”

“Every year 18 school districts in St. Lawrence County graduate children and we hemorrhage them out of here because we don’t do anything to put a foundation underneath this place. Brand new homes are built every day in this county. They put a good foundation underneath those homes so they’ll last forever. We have to build that foundation,” Mr. Bellardini said.

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