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Wind turbine project lifted OBPA in 2012, outlook for this year positive

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By most measures, 2012 was a great year for the Ogdensburg Bridge and Port Authority.

Even without considering its marquee project, the transit of 70 wind turbines to the Marble River Wind Farm in Churubusco, the authority enjoyed a number of successes.

The authority operates the Ogdensburg-Prescott International Bridge, the Port of Ogdensburg, the Ogdensburg International Airport and a short-line railroad between the city and Norwood. The OBPA also owns and operates Commerce Park light industrial park, adjacent to the bridge.

In January, Samuel J. LaMacchia took the reins as chairman of the authority’s board of directors.

“From a leadership role, I guess I would probably say we’ve had an outstanding year,” he said. “Obviously the highlight most people see is the wind turbine project and the access road making the entrance to the port a lot more practical. There are a lot of other things that make the whole year.”

The board’s outgoing chairman, Frederick J. Carter, continued as vice chairman.

In February, Frederick S. Morrill, the authority’s chief financial officer, was named deputy executive director. Throughout his tenure, a little less than two years, the OBPA has remained fiscally healthy.

The OBPA also extended Wade A. Davis’s term as executive director through 2015.

In May, the OBPA broke ground on an access road for the Port of Ogdensburg following a flurry of lobbying to raise the money to complete the project after beginning construction while more than $600,000 short. Eventually, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced $450,000 for the port access road, while the St. Lawrence River Valley Redevelopment Agency provided a $95,000 grant and the St. Lawrence County Industrial Development Agency issued an $87,000 loan to cover the rest of the project’s cost.

The $1.8 million road was essential to allow wind turbines to clear the port and prepare for the pending Paterson Street rehabilitation project later this year. Previously, trucks used Paterson Street to access the port.

Eventually, more than 1,000 truckloads of wind turbine parts, which arrived by ship and train, left the port for Churubusco.

The port also enjoyed an upswing in agricultural business as the authority continued and expanded a partnership with Richardson International, Canada’s largest agribusiness.

“This year, I think we looked more closely at some of the main functions, like, obviously, the port business,” Mr. LaMacchia said. “It gave us a strong indication of what a port should continually be doing. We want the grain business; salt was just the beginning. We’re going to add silos to our port in a strategic way to handle grain differently.”

During the summer, five 200-ton locomotives were shipped to a Canadian mining firm.

Increased port activity provided grist for the OBPA’s advocacy for dredging the port. The Army Corps of Engineers and the authority recently signed a cost-sharing agreement for a feasibility study to examine deepening the Port of Ogdensburg and its approaches. When completed, the port will accommodate more and larger ships; two ships can dock simultaneously at the port.

Through Nov. 30, the port generated almost $1.97 million, three times the budgeted amount of $645,000. Though the windfall will be offset somewhat by additional payroll costs, the authority is celebrating a successful shipping season.

The Ogdensburg International Airport also enjoyed another year of rising passenger numbers. As of Nov. 30, the airport’s boardings rose by 40.5 percent from the previous year, from 2,609 to 3,666.

At the beginning of the year, the authority set a deal with Countrywide Rental Cars to ensure deplaning passengers have transportation while they are in the north country.

Encouraged by the airport’s increased use, the OBPA began discussions to add additional flights to its schedule. The airport is connected to Albany daily by three flights said in each direction from Barnstable, Mass., carrier Cape Air.

Since taking over air service in September 2008, Cape Air has seen increases in passengers boarding flights at Ogdensburg each month.

The authority is courting other carriers to provide service to Quebec, Canada.

Mr. LaMacchia said the authority will try to find funding to complete elements of an almost $17 million, five-year capital improvement plan for the airport.

“We’re looking at the airport and progress there as far as improving the runway,” Mr. LaMacchia said. “We’re still working on extending the runway. We’re looking at other operators and airlines to do other business with us.”

Traffic across the Ogdensburg-Prescott International Bridge increased steadily over 2012, buoyed in part by a Canadian dollar that remains at par with its U.S. counterpart. As of Nov. 30, bridge crossings had increased by 11 percent over the previous year, from 471,937 in 2011 to 524,318 in 2012.

The OBPA is revisiting the way it markets sites in its commerce and industrial park.

“We’re looking at how we can do a better job with the industrial park,” Mr. LaMacchia said. “We’ve put an LED sign out there to say that we are energetic about doing something there. We’re also looking into changing our website.”

Executive Director Davis has experimented with a small business incubator in Building 1, a 30,000-square-foot manufacturing or warehousing facility. The authority is offering businesses small office space in the building to establish a foothold, then hoping they will lease more space as the need arises.

One tool at its disposal is the recently expanded Foreign Trade Zone 118, which once covered only about 70 acres of OBPA property. Now the zone has been expanded to an area within a 60-mile radius or 90-minute drive of the port. Foreign trade zones provide a special exemption from U.S. Customs procedures to businesses engaged in international trade.

The measure will allow firms from around the world to ship merchandise to any business in St. Lawrence County and exempt it from taxes and duty until it is made into finished products or shipped out of the zone. In addition, when a product leaves the zone, it is charged a lower tariff rate than those that do not go through foreign trade zones.

In 2012, the OBPA paid DCG Corplan Consulting of West Orange, N.J., $19,750 to develop an economic development and marketing plan for the commerce park and port. The study recommended the OBPA increase its marketing efforts to French-speaking Canadians, develop a specialty food brand and building or convert power plants to run on biomass products.

In 2013, The OBPA will staff a new position to oversee the application for and administration of grants. The grant manager will be paid $50,000. Theoretically, this would free Director of Commercial and Industrial Development John A. Rishe to concentrate on marketing the authority’s port and commerce park.

The authority also will hire an accounting manager to a new position.

“We’re adding two new positions to make growth — to give us some more manpower instead of just wish power,” Mr. LaMacchia said.

While no large wind turbine project is on the horizon for 2013, the authority’s work will continue as it advocates for funding to complete unfinished maintenance on the international bridge. The price tag for painting the bridge and rehabilitating approaches on each side of the St. Lawrence River is set at $95 million.

“We’re also looking at energy efficient facilities and other ways to keep costs down,” Mr. LaMacchia said. “Our staff are looking at a lot of things to do.”

The OBPA also is working to develop three parcels in the city, contracting out a $128,100 feasibility study to Fisher Associates, a Rochester engineering firm. The authority is interested in building a hotel, a residential development and a flex commercial development on a 6.5-acre parcel off Proctor Avenue, a 13-acre site on the northeast corner of routes 812 and 37 and the site of the authority’s Bridge Administration Building.

The authority expects to send out requests for developers’ proposals in the spring.

“I have a real positive outlook on what type of year we had and what type of year we’re going to have,” Mr. LaMacchia said. “I think the glass is half full, not half empty.”

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