Press-Republican

January 1, 2013

Crime, economic growth top '12 news


Press-Republican

---- — Crime played a larger role in 2012, with a sharp hike in North Country methamphetamine labs, not to mention a bank robbery in Plattsburgh.

But the North County had plenty of good news, too, with a second big year of funding from the State Economic Development Awards, more sales-tax revenue and business growth.

Here’s a look at some of the top stories around the region:

APA OKs ADK CLUB

The biggest news for the Tri-Lakes region in 2012 came early in the year in an Adirondack Park Agency decision.

After nearly eight years of planning, public hearings, adjudication and review, permits were issued for the Adirondack Club and Resort development on Mount Morris and Oval Wood Dish forestland.

The property has been logged for more than 100 years and long seen as a good prospect for ski resort development.

There were 14 APA permits in all approved in a 10-1 vote by APA commissioners.

The tally sent a strong promise for growth in the westernmost edge of the Tri-Lakes region and a message of hope to many in the community.

Buildings on Main Street were put into renovation projects, anticipating new business arrivals.

Developers looked to roll out a sales and marketing strategy in tandem with Industrial-Development-Agency review of a public bonding plan.

Construction of the Adirondack Club and Resort was approved by APA in four phases, the first of which would redesign the ski lodge facility at Big Tupper Ski Center.

The long-term goal, over some 20 years, is to add 14 neighborhoods, many of them built in tiers around the mountain resort and existing Tupper Lake golf course.

Environmental group Protect the Adirondacks filed Article 78 litigation, along with two nearby landowners, each of whom assert wildlife research was not adequate for approval and that APA did not follow due process in the final adjudicatory-review procedure.

That lawsuit stalled developers’ plans to begin construction and closed down ski center operations at Big Tupper for 2012-2013.

The permits remain in place, however, and Tupper Lake is poised to join Saranac Lake and Lake Placid as an economic driver for the Adirondacks.

— By Staff Writer Kim Smith Dedam

BIG BOMBARDIER CONTRACTS

It was a banner year for Bombardier Transportation in the City of Plattsburgh.

In March, the company announced a contract to build 300 railcars for the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s New York Transit valued at $600 million.

In May, Bombardier followed that up with an announcement that it landed a contract to build 410 railcars for California-based Bay Area Rapid Transit valued at $896 million. There are also options for 150, 115 and 100 railcars that could push the total value of the contract to approximately $1.5 billion.

The contracts were crucial in securing work for the 300 employees in Plattsburgh, as well as about 200 workers at companies that supply Bombardier.

In part due to the new contracts, Bombardier announced plans to move forward with a $25 million, 80,000-square-foot expansion of its Plattsburgh manufacturing and assembly facility, as well as an expansion of the test track on the former Plattsburgh Air Force Base property.

The company was awarded $2.5 million toward that work as one of the North Country Regional Economic Development Council’s priority projects. The council was a Best Plan designee and received $103 million in the first round of funding in late 2011.

— By Staff Writer Dan Heath

DIRECT AIR DEPARTS

Charter airline Direct Air suspended operations and then filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in March, leaving many stranded who’d flown from Plattsburgh to southern destinations or were heading to Plattsburgh International Airport. The sudden shutdown forced travelers to find alternate transportation, often at fares much increased from what they had paid, or wrecked vacations altogether. In addition, the airline owed Clinton County as much as $180,000.

Good news came a few weeks later when PenAir announced it would locate at Plattsburgh International, with service to and from Logan International Airport in Boston.

In December, Allegiant Air revealed plans to offer nonstop jet service between Plattsburgh and Fort Myers/Punta Gorda, Fla., starting in February. And before the close of 2012, that airline launched its first flights between the city and Las Vegas.

— By Suzanne Moore, news editor

SCHOOL TAX CAP TESTED

Last spring, area public schools put up for vote their first spending plans under the state-imposed property-tax cap.

The Plattsburgh City School Board was one of few in the area that opted to exceed its calculated 3.01 percent tax-levy limit in an effort to find out if the public would support such a spending plan to preserve programs for students.

But the school’s 2012-13 budget, which carried a tax-levy increase of 5.82 percent and required 60 percent voter approval to pass, was soundly defeated in May by district residents in a vote of 1,365 to 729.

The board’s second budget proposal was within the tax-levy limit and ultimately passed but resulted in more than $1.5 million in reductions to district faculty, staff and programs.

In the coming months, the board will begin planning the district’s 2013-14 spending plan, and Superintendent of Plattsburgh City School James “Jake” Short said he doesn’t anticipate the board will have any doubt about what kind of tax-levy increase voters would support.

“It seems very clear to me that the taxpayers would prefer that we stay at or below the tax-cap threshold calculations,” he said.

“I don’t foresee anybody coming to that same decision of needing to hear the taxpayers’ voice on that.”

— By Staff Writer Ashleigh Livingston

FIGHT AGAINST K2

A grassroots effort kicked off by citizens, including many students, and various organizations in Essex County battled the growing prevalence of synthetic substances sold, purportedly, as incense but used, in fact, as mind-altering drugs. A big rally last spring took place in Elizabethtown with students coming from schools around the county. Part of the effort included visits to stores that carried the substances, often known as K2, to discourage them from selling it. Use of the substances can cause symptoms that include hallucinations and even death.

— By News Editor Suzanne Moore

NURSING HOME SOLD

In June 2012, the Essex County Board of Supervisors voted to sell the 100-bed Horace Nye Nursing Home to the Centers for Specialty Care of the Bronx for $4.05 million.

The facility in Elizabethtown had been losing more than $2 million annually.

The staff at the home protested the sale, alleging patient care would suffer and wages would be reduced under private ownership. Others contended that little changed when the same firm took over a nursing home owned by Fulton County.

Some members of the Board of Supervisors vigorously opposed the sale, chiefly Thomas Scozzafava (R-Moriah) and Gerald Morrow (D-Chesterfield), who said the county has a duty to take care of its aging citizens.

Part of the sale agreement specifies that Essex County residents must be given preference in admission to the facility, and the current staff must be offered jobs with the new owner.

The county hasn’t finalized the sale contract, but that should take place very soon, County Attorney Daniel Manning III said at the end of December.

“The lawyer (for Centers for Specialty Care) and I have agreed on everything. It should be signed soon. Then we will do an application for a Certificate of Need.”

The State Department of Health must grant the Centers for Specialty Care the certificate, which allows the home to operate, before the transition of ownership can begin.

The private firm is expected to be operating Horace Nye sometime in late 2013.

PLATTSBURGH BANK HEIST

On July 2, a man handed a note to a teller at NBT Bank on Cornelia Street in Plattsburgh that said he had a gun and demanded money.

Authorities from multiple agencies launched a search for the suspect throughout Plattsburgh and its environs, but it was fingerprints on a note from another bank heist that ultimately led to the arrest of O’Neil O. Stephenson on Aug. 20 by the New York City Office of the FBI.

Stephenson, 33, had used a similar approach when he robbed a Chase Bank in Brooklyn in April last year. The teller handed over about $8,930 in large bills before he left the bank, leaving the note — with his fingerprints — behind.

Authorities confirmed his identity through the Plattsburgh City Police Department, as he had been arrested in March 2006 in Plattsburgh, charged with criminal possession and sale of a controlled substance.

Stephenson pleaded guilty to nine charges related to the Chase Bank heist.

State Police said recently the local investigation was still ongoing, and they could not release the amount of money Stephenson stole from NBT.

— By Staff Writer Felicia Krieg

WALGREENS ROBBED

Eight days after the bank robbery and just a short distance down Cornelia Street in Plattsburgh, a man wearing a hooded sweatshirt robbed Walgreens, absconding with nearly $30,000 worth of prescription drugs.

“We recovered significant evidence identifying the suspect, and we’re working with both New Hampshire and Vermont authorities and expect to make an arrest in the near future,” Plattsburgh City Police Lt. Pat Rascoe said in a recent interview.

Police used a surveillance tape from the drugstore to get a description of the suspect, who fled with OxyContin and Oxycodone after giving a note to the pharmacist that said he was armed with a knife, authorities said.

Multiple law enforcement agencies, including the Clinton County Sheriff’s Department, Plattsburgh State University Police and U.S. Customs and Border Protection Border Patrol worked together in their search for the thief. They checked businesses close to Walgreens and questioned potential witnesses.

— By Staff Writer Felicia Krieg

CHATEAUGAY MAN KILLED BY SON

A search began in July for Dale Jarvis Sr., 48, of Chateaugay, who had not been seen for five months.

The last person in contact with him was his son, Dale Jr., 24, known as D.J., who told relatives his dad left his keys, wallet and forms of ID behind before leaving with a man who showed up at 14 White St. about midnight on Feb. 22.

He said his father told him not to file a missing-person’s report.

State Police investigators found human remains, later identified as the missing man, buried behind the house, and D.J. was arrested.

Prosecutors said Dale Sr. pulled a gun on D.J. as the two argued about the volume of a video game the younger man was playing. D.J., a continual victim of his father’s alleged abuse, admitted that he picked up a sledgehammer and struck his father in the head, killing him instantly.

The younger man hid the body in a crawl space under the house, built a makeshift casket to hold it, and buried it with a backhoe during mild weather, police officials said.

D.J. began serving a 15-year sentence for first-degree manslaughter in November.

— By Staff Writer Denise Raymo

GANG-ASSAULT DEATH

The body of Robert Rennie was found at 6 a.m. Aug. 26 near the closed iron footbridge on River Street in Keeseville.

The father of two young girls died of internal injuries that police said were inflicted by steel-toed boots and sneakers.

The three men charged in the gang-assault death of Robert Rennie of Keeseville are scheduled to appear in Essex County Court at 9:30 a.m. Jan. 10.

Paul J. Taylor, 39, is charged with second-degree murder, a felony, as well as gang assault and criminal possession of a weapon. Michael D. Rivers, 36, and Scott E. Denno, 19, face charges of manslaughter, gang assault and felony possession of a deadly weapon.

The three Keeseville men, indicted by a grand jury, pleaded not guilty on Oct. 16.

“It’s all pending (court action) at this point,” State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation Senior Investigator John Donohue said recently.

Taylor remains in the Essex County Jail without bail. Rivers and Denno are also incarcerated there, in lieu of $250,000 cash or $500,000 bond for each of them.

Rennie’s daughters, Morgan and Mackenzie, still live in Keeseville, according to Vaida Rennie, Robert’s mother.

She has established an education fund for them. Donations can be mailed to her at 4 Apple Valley Drive, Apt. D4, Peru, NY 12972.

— By Staff Writer Felicia Krieg

HORRIFIC ACCIDENT

Four members of the same Moira family, along with a close friend, were killed July 19 in a fiery crash in the Town of Antwerp in Jefferson County.

Laurie Dana, 42; her two daughters, Caitlynn, 14, and Lauren, 11; her mother-in-law, Janet Dana, 69; and Caitlynn’s best friend, Shannon Planty, 14; died when their vehicle was struck from behind at a construction site by a tractor-trailer driven by James Mills Jr. of

Pennsylvania.

The crash caused a chain reaction that also killed Maryann Gregory, 59, of Dickinson Center.

Driver inattention was blamed, but no charges were filed.

More tragedy for that area in Franklin County came Aug. 4, when Cody O’Connor, 21, of Moira was killed Aug. 4 on County Road 8 in the Town of Bangor after he lost control of his vehicle in a curve. A trailing car driven by Justin Supernault, 21, of Brushton, also went off the road and struck O’Connor’s car.

That accident came eight months after Brooke Lyon, 17, of Moira, was killed in a one-car crash off Eddy Road in the Town of Bangor on Dec. 7, 2011.

She was a passenger in a car driven by Tanya Menke, 17, of Moira, who was sentenced to probation and 45 days in Franklin County Jail for her death and for injuring a second passenger, Alexis Collette.

DISSOLUTION GOES DOWN

A joint village and town committee was formed to study the merits of dissolving the Village of Malone and identifying consolidation and shared-services options.

Months of research concluded that taxes on village parcels would go down $330 on a $75,000 home and about $55 on a similar property in the town the first year, based on the town receiving $720,000 a year from the state, which must be funded in the annual state budget.

The report urged the town to create special districts for sidewalks, streetlights, leaf and brush pickup, and village debt paid by those who benefited from the services, along with a town-wide police force rather than a police district that would be paid for by property owners within and near the existing village limits.

Such permission has apparently not been sought from the State Legislature for 80 years.

A referendum was defeated by a 2-to-1 margin in November, but a recommendation to create a shared transportation facility among the town, village and Malone Central School District is now being discussed.

— By Staff Writer Denise Raymo

MANY METH LABS

Ten methamphetamine-lab busts in 2012 netted 24 arrests in Clinton County.

Three raids took place in Plattsburgh, three in Altona and one each in Chazy, Redford, Mooers Forks and Beekmantown.

“It’s increased dramatically,” said Clinton County Assistant District Attorney Doug Collyer of meth production.

In 2010 and 2011, the District Attorney’s office prosecuted only one case each year.

But as of Dec. 20, eight meth-related cases remained open, he said.

Statewide, the increases are just as dramatic. @Body Copy:State Police reported response to more than 100 drug labs are around the state as of December 2012. That’s more than double the number from 2011.

Collyer said meth busts have increased in Clinton County because meth use and production in the area has grown.

“Once somebody who knows how to do it moves to the area, they teach more people how to do it” and things snowball from there, Collyer said. “(Meth) is very potent, and you need a very, very small dose to get high.”

It takes one hour to make a 100-dose batch, Collyer said.

Meth labs pose a risk to first responders, the public and those who concoct the harmful drug, said Doug Wildermuth, technical sergeant of the State Police Contaminated Crime Scene Emergency Response Team.

Statewide, between one and two fires are caused by meth production each month, he said.

To report information about a potential drug lab, call State Police at 897-2000.

— By Staff Writer Felicia Krieg

$90.2 MILLION IN STATE FUNDING

The North Country was rated a “top performer” when the state handed out Regional Economic Development Council Awards in December, with $90.2 million earmarked for a variety of projects.

The plan that earned the funding, assembled by the North Country Regional Council, rated fifth out of 10. In 2011, the initial year of the program, the North Country was awarded the second-highest total, with $103.2 million.

STRAND EYES COMPLETION

No one was more excited than Leigh Mundy to see the paint dry on the exterior and interior of the Strand Theatre in Plattsburgh.

“The goal for 2012 was to raise the money to match the New York Historic Preservation grants and a new one, a Priority Project,” said Mundy, president of the North Country Cultural Center for the Arts Board of Directors.

“They wanted to see that work done within a year’s time. I have been raising that money ever since.”

The 2008 grant, for $300,000, was earmarked for auditorium restoration, including plaster repair, painting and a new 1600-amp electric service and heating system.

“You have to spend $460,000 to get the $300,000 through matching funds.”

The 2011 grant is ongoing. Work completed includes the exterior insulation system, restoration of organ niches, masonry and brick repair.

In spring of this year, stage doors and windows will be replaced, as well as lighting and seating.

The transformation of the 1924 theater into a performing-arts center recently received a $50,000 boost from the Clinton County Legislature and another $500,000 from the New York State Regional Economic Development Council awards. These funds are for dressing-rooms modernization, main-stage curtains and valance, fire curtains, organ-wind room and chandelier motor.

“It’s wonderful,” Mundy said. “(But) it’s like any of our grants — you have to raise the money to spend it, and you get your part back. It’s not like they’re writing me a $500,000 check.”

— By Staff Writer Robin Caudell

SALES TAX GIVES BIG BOOST

Some of the best news for Clinton County in 2012 came in the form of sales-tax revenue.

Buoyed by Canadian visitors, the county had a much-needed outstanding commercial year.

When the county put the finishing touches on its 2013 budget plan in November, sales-tax revenue was more than $3 million ahead of projections.

The extra money, along with the sale of the county’s home health-care service, which saved about $1.7 million, helped legislators keep the tax-levy increase to just 1.3 percent.

The county could have raised its levy by as much as 3.2 percent under the state tax-cap formula.

County Treasurer Joseph Giroux said sales-tax revenue went up about another $300,000 in the final month of the year as shoppers spent on holiday gifts.

”We know that the end of the year will be strong because of the holiday spending, and that is what has been happening,” he said in late December.

Giroux said Canadian traffic in the area was busy at retail establishments and Plattsburgh International Airport throughout the year, which helped bolster the sales-tax revenue stream.

”As long as they keep buying and flying out of here we will be in good shape,” Giroux said.

— By Staff Writer Joe LoTemplio