Press-Republican

August 11, 2010

Officials gearing up for Lyon Mountain closure

By ANDREA VanVALKENBURG
Staff Writer

---- — DANNEMORA -- As the closure of Lyon Mountain Correctional Facility looms, state and local officials are already discussing possible future uses of the site.

Officials gathered recently for a special meeting to share ideas about development of the site.

"I can't believe it can't be used as a central storage (for the six upstate prisons)," Dannemora Town Supervisor Americo "Ves" Pivetta said.

"I think it'd also be perfect for a youthful offender home."

Pivetta said the latest closure is the third crippling blow to the town since the 1960s when, first, Republic Steel closed mining operations and, later, the Lyon Mountain school shut down.

"We're in a time where we have to get some help .... and we should start (planning), the sooner the better."

VALUABLE SITE

Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury) agreed that advanced planning is needed and suggested that a steering committee be formed to begin the collaborative process.

Since 2006, she said, the location has undergone $2.6 million in renovations at some of the site's 20 buildings, which include garages and dormitory areas.

The area, which has its own sewage system, recently had its 14-acre property assessed for $5 million, she said, making it a valuable asset in the community.

And not only has the facility provided dozens of local jobs and support to area businesses, officials said its operations also contributed about $28,000 a year for water use in the town, which means the prison's closure could significantly impact water rates.

"If they're not going to pay, that's going to affect everyone in town," Little said, as she and others discussed details of the facility's actual closure.

FINAL DATE UNCERTAIN

With information still limited, officials only know that the prison will close in January but say a limited staff will still provide security at the site until it is no longer state owned.

It was unclear how water payments would be addressed between the closure and any future sale.

Pivetta also wondered if the town could benefit from the facility's surplus property, such as equipment, which, he said, could help the fire-ravaged Highway Department.

CHALLENGES

In discussing the closure, some, including Little and Town Councilor Lori Stacey, noted the geographic challenges of the site, including issues with broadband and cell service.

Plattsburgh-North Country Chamber of Commerce President Garry Douglas said that finding an alternative use could "take some creative thinking.

"I think it will be challenging ... and there's no guarantee that it will be reused."

But, Douglas said, he and others, including officials with Empire State Development, have pledged their complete support and assistance to the town in seeking an alternative.

"We're just here to help you whichever way you decide to move forward."

Also at question was whether the area is under strict Adirondack Park Agency regulations, though officials believed the agency would have less jurisdiction since some of the land falls in a hamlet.

The property is considered state-administrative land and would likely revert to prior zoning regulations in the event of a sale.

SUGGESTIONS

Local businessman Andy Chase, who owns a convenience store adjacent to the property, wondered whether the site could help the Department of Homeland Security accommodate its growing local staff and services.

"What a great use that would be," Chase said as he discussed the site's security and proximity to the border.

Little said the town should discuss possible incentives to attract a new owner, such as phasing future development into the tax roll.

Though she seemed optimistic about the site's future, in reality, she said, the town should also prepare for long-term non-use of the site.

She and Assemblywoman Janet Duprey (R-Peru) said they will stand by the town through the transition.

"We're not walking away from Lyon Mountain," Duprey said.

E-mail Andrea VanValkenburg at: avanvalkenburg@pressrepublican.com