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Fort La Presentation’s park and trail will be tangible progress on the city’s waterfront

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The Fort La Presentation Association’s decades-long efforts are starting to pay off.

The group got a $352,000 state grant earlier this week to establish a walking trail at Lighthouse Point, Ogdensburg, also known as Van Rensselaer Point, that will include signs posting historic information about the site, a picnic area, landscaping, site restoration, visitor and educational meeting space and parking.

It’s a brilliant ray of sunshine for the fort group, which was left out of a recently announced $8 million settlement between the state and ExxonMobil to reimburse the state for cleaning up oil contamination on the point.

The fort group has been on a long quest to rebuild the fort where it once stood, and the discovery of contamination and ensuing cleanup delayed those plans for more than a decade. The association has a pending claim with the state to try to recover damages from the oil giant for delaying development on the point.

Fort La Presentation Association members have been in this project for the long haul. There have been plenty of naysayers along the way who have said the association will never accomplish its mission, that nothing substantial will ever be developed on the site and that the city, the fort group and its supporters have wasted time and money on a pipe dream.

The state grant won’t come close to the amount of money it will take to rebuild the fort, and association members will have to remain in the effort for the long haul ahead while they build the resources to make their dream reality. But this trail will be a good start.

It will also be a feather in the city’s cap. The city has been on its own long quest to redevelop its once-industrial waterfront, and a lot of progress has been made on that front in recent years. There are still no tangible results, but a lot of positive, substantial things have happened behind the scenes to set the stage for redevelopment.

This park and trail will provide something tangible to demonstrate that progress; something solid that city residents can use and feel good about. It will also provide another avenue for north country youth to learn about our community’s rich history.

Congratulations to the Fort La Presentation Association for sticking it out through the long haul.

■       ■       ■

The St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center Task Force is appealing to north country residents to send letters to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo reinforcing the message to keep inpatient psychiatric services in the north country.

Task force members obviously want to strike while the iron is hot. The team members I’ve talked to since Tuesday’s meeting with the governor are optimistic that their voices were heard and the state will act to protect the north country’s access to inpatient services.

Time will tell, but I have to take that as a positive sign.

Letters may be sent to the governor at the New York State Capitol Building, Albany, N.Y., 12224.

It absolutely can’t hurt to reinforce the message that our mentally ill population cannot and should not be expected to travel hundreds of miles for inpatient care. Their families cannot and should not be expected to travel hundreds of miles to see them and play the crucial role a family needs to play in their loved one’s recovery.

School and medical professionals fear that the removal of inpatient psychiatric services will mean that parents will choose to not seek treatment for their children if it means sending them far away from home.

The elimination of inpatient services also means that people who need inpatient care won’t get it, will eventually run afoul of the law and end up in jail. The state is worried about warehousing the mentally ill in its hospitals while the mentally ill are already being warehoused in county jails and prisons. That’s a problem that will only get worse if the state follows through with its plan.

The St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center has provided top-notch care for its patients for more than a century. It needs to remain open so it can continue that legacy of compassionate care.

Please take the time to write Gov. Cuomo a letter explaining the devastating effect closing the center will have on our region and the most vulnerable among us. Ask the state to come up with a humane solution.

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