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Regional Council approves $3 million pot of grant funding for municipal water, sewer projects

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CANTON - The North Country Regional Economic Development Council Thursday announced it will offer $3 million in grants for small-community infrastructure projects.

Available across the region’s seven counties, municipalities will be able to apply for grants of up to $500,000 for water and sewer projects under the program, council co-chairman Garry F. Douglas said. The funding was part of the $90.2 million awarded last year in round two of the state’s regional economic initiative.

The council will award the funding to municipalities that have projects ready to break ground this year. Application information will be mailed to municipalities this month.

“Every local government will have the ability to submit an application that seeks our endorsement for projects,” Mr. Douglas said. “Funding will be going to small projects that are ready to go but have a hard time filling that last gap. We have no doubt there are several of these in the region.”

Mr. Douglas said the council plans to award funding to localities that need assistance due to their limited tax base. Economic development aspects of projects will also come into play. To illustrate such a project, he cited $3 million awarded in 2011 for sewer and water improvements in Gouverneur. That project helped retain a warehouse owned by Kinney Drugs in the community, he said, which required a sprinkler system but had no access to water.

Another advantage of the funding is that municipalities won’t have to wait long for their applications to be decided on.

The program “gives municipalities better access to funding, because it gives the council more control to award it,” said Jason Conwall, senior press officer for Empire State Development. Although municipalities normally have to wait about a year to get answers from the state about funding, he said, “they’ll now know in about a month, because it’s a rolling application.”

He said the funding will be available until it runs out.

Council members also learned the latest news at Fort Drum and toured the ReEnergy biomass plant being built at the base. They heard about the future troop outlook at Fort Drum, based on the Department of Defense’s fiscal year 2014 budget released Wednesday. The budget includes a request for a Base Closure and Realignment Commission effort in 2015, and also has a rough outline on how those ensuing cuts will be decided on. Twenty-one of the country’s largest military installations, including Fort Drum, will be assessed for potential troop cuts under the plan, reported Carl A. McLaughlin, executive director of the Fort Drum Regional Liaison Organization. The DOD aims to reduce troops by 80,000 by the end of 2017, bringing the total about 490,000.

Mr. McLaughlin said at the same time, however, Fort Drum is listed as one of the eight installations that could receive an infusion of troops due to the consolidation other bases. The DOD will seek to add battalions with 3,000 troops to brigades under the plan. That means Fort Drum, which has three brigades, could garner a 9,000-troop boost.

“It’s a negative impact if you’re a loser, but positive if you’re a gainer,” he said. “I think they’re going to say we’re a ‘can-do’ community, and we’re ‘can-do’ for providing housing” to support the base.

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