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State, federal awards garner $9.6 million for airport-related projects in Jefferson County

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The Watertown International Airport is getting a lot of attention these days, and not just inside the borders of Jefferson County.

A pair of announcements Friday heralded the arrival of $9.6 million for two projects that will directly and indirectly affect the airport, on Route 12F near Dexter, according to state and federal representatives.

Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, said she was able to speed up a $7.8 million bridge-replacement project as part of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s NY Works initiative, which aims to encourage economic development in the state by rebuilding infrastructure.

The bridge, which spans the Black River and provides access to the main part of the village of Dexter on Route 180, is just over a mile from the airport and will provide an opportunity to get infrastructure such as sewer lines to the growing facility, according to Mrs. Russell.

She said the project, which originally was slated for two years from now, was moved up after she lobbied for acceleration in the Assembly and with the governor’s office.

“I have pushed to get this work started ahead of schedule, and now it will begin sooner than originally planned. ... The reconstruction of this bridge will complement efforts to develop the Watertown International Airport,” Mrs. Russell said in a news release.

Mrs. Russell’s announcement came hot on the heels of an announcement from the office of Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, that the U.S. Department of Transportation had awarded a $1.8 million grant to the airport for a taxiway rehabilitation project.

Mr. Owens’s hometown airport, the Plattsburgh International Airport, also received a grant of $2.5 million to improve its water and wastewater systems.

Joining local officials in applauding the allocations, Mr. Owens said in a news release, “These two airports connect our rural communities to larger airline hubs, taking business travelers and tourists to where they need to be. They are also valuable revenue generators as Canadians seeking cheaper flights and the relative convenience of domestic travel are increasingly crossing the border to purchase seats on U.S. flights.”

The money will go toward rehabilitating Taxiway B at the airport, Jefferson County Administrator Robert F. Hagemann III said.

That announcement comes as the county is initiating eminent domain proceedings to secure room for a Federal Aviation Administration-required protection zone at the east and west ends of a runway it plans to expand by 1,000 feet.

The expansion would allow the airport to accommodate larger jets, a necessary measure as American Eagle, a subsidiary of American Airlines that serves the airport, is looking to move from 44-passenger regional jets to 50-passenger jets sometime in April.

The county is looking to acquire 47 acres of adjacent property from William E. and Colleen J. Lawler and 153 acres from Roscoe A. Eisenhauer to establish the safety buffer.

The taxiway rehabilitation will take place at the opposite end from where the expansion is planned, Mr. Hagemann said.

Last month more than 4,000 passengers flew into and out of the airport, a record for the facility.

Mr. Owens’s announcement included a link to a July 15 article in the New York Times about the growing number of Canadians who are crossing the border to fly out of small regional airports in the U.S.

More than five million Canadians drive across the border every year to fly from American airports, the New York Times reported.

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