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SUNY Canton jockeys for position as homeland security training headquarters

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CANTON — SUNY Canton is lobbying lawmakers to make the college a premier training center for homeland security, emergency preparedness and cybersecurity as the state prepares its budget.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo proposed creating the nation’s first college devoted to homeland security training in January. His budget includes $15 million for creating such an institution.

SUNY Canton, in partnership with Clarkson University, Potsdam, and local leaders, wants to become the focal point of this initiative.

The college already has degree programs in homeland security and emergency management, while Clarkson’s computer science department employs cybersecurity experts. St. Lawrence County’s proximity to the U.S.-Canada border and Fort Drum also provides a potential benefit, because of the opportunity to create partnerships with U.S. Border Patrol agents and nearby Department of Homeland Security officials.

“What we’re trying to do here is to advocate that this proposed college stays in the budget, and that we have the opportunity to present our (very strong) case for it being housed in Canton/Potsdam,” SUNY Canton spokeswoman Lenore VanderZee said via email.

Canton Town Supervisor David T. Button, Canton Mayor Mary Ann Ashley, Potsdam Town Supervisor Marie C. Regan and Potsdam Mayor Steven W. Yurgartis have all expressed support for the initiative.

“All of us locally realize we have two schools that can do everything the governor is looking for,” Mr. Button said.

If the state does support SUNY Canton’s proposal, it is uncertain how the governor’s plan would be implemented. Much depends on the ongoing budget negotiations, and there are political hurdles in the way.

The Assembly budget calls for investing money in existing programs statewide rather than creating a new training headquarters. The Senate’s budget supports the governor’s plan, but insists the program be located in Syracuse.

This is largely due to the efforts of state Sen. John A. DeFrancisco, R-Syracuse, who has been one of the chief advocates for a homeland security college.

“Because it was his proposal, that’s the way it was carried forward in the Senate’s budget,” said state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton. “I certainly support my colleges, and I know SUNY Canton has been working to put a proposal together. I don’t think it’s locked down at this point.”

Syracuse’s claim is far from a sure thing, Mr. Button said. Local lawmakers have urged state leaders to keep all options available.

“They made it clear to us that this is wide open. No one area has a claim on this, but we need to get working on it,” Mr. Button said.

Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, could not be reached for comment Thursday, but her spokesman, Mark A. Pacilio, said Mrs. Russell has been advocating for SUNY Canton’s proposal since it was first discussed. The details of the plan’s implementation and the beneficiary of the state’s funds will not be known for a while, he said.

“We won’t know until the budget is ready,” he said.

Ms. VanderZee said the plan would be a major benefit to SUNY Canton.

“To locate the governor’s proposed College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security and Cyber Security here would be wonderful for SUNY Canton, and would establish us, along with Clarkson University, as national leaders in these areas, integrating education, training and research in a comprehensive public-private academic partnership,” she said.

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