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River community leaders: Thousand Islands region deserves more state protection, recognition

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The St. Lawrence River valley — a region world-renowned for its charming landscapes and a dramatic waterway dotted by more than a thousand islands — deserves more recognition and extra protection from the state, according to community leaders.

Over the past few years, Thousand Islands area officials have been seeking a Scenic Area of Statewide Significance designation for the region. They plan to gather once more Friday in Clayton to meet with a consultant hired to prepare an inventory of the area’s scenic resources for submission to the state.

“This is a great program for the area. It’s one of the most beautiful places in the world,” Cape Vincent Councilman John L. Byrne said.

The state Department of State’s Office of Communities and Waterfronts program would not hinder development, Hammond Supervisor Ronald W. Bertram said, but would help the waterfront towns — Hammond, Morristown, Alexandria, Orleans, Clayton and Cape Vincent — to secure more grants to promote and develop the region’s tourism industry.

Mr. Bertram said the anticipated designation “would not add regulations to the average developer” seeking approval from local planning boards.

While the program would require an additional layer of review for government-funded projects, Mr. Bertram said he believes a SASS designation would not necessarily make it harder for large-scale industrial development to occur in the area.

Major energy developments, such as industrial wind projects, already are subject to New York’s Article X siting reviews that allow the state to override local zoning regulations, Mr. Bertram said.

Hammond and Cape Vincent both bid farewell not too long ago to global energy developers that ditched wind farm projects proposed in their townships.

Iberdrola Renewables has not officially pulled the plug on its Horse Creek Wind Farm proposed in Clayton, but the community has not seen any significant activity since 2012.

With a $75,000 matching North Country Regional Economic Development Council grant awarded to the group last year, the partners hired Harry L. Dodson, landscape architect and president of Dodson & Flinker, based in Ashfield, Mass., to create a Thousand Islands Regional Assessment document that would be reviewed by the state.

Hammond has been taking the lead on this effort.

Representatives from the towns will meet Friday at Clayton’s Antique Boat Museum to discuss their plan further and possibly set dates for workshops to gather public feedback.

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