October 3, 2009

Local officials rap camp re-use effort

Critical of marketing put into Gabriels


GABRIELS — Local officials question how much effort the Department of Correctional Services put into marketing closed Camp Gabriels prison for re-use.

"I plan to find out how much marketing DOCS did," Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury) told the Press-Republican.

"It just appears that the state is giving up rather quickly. There has been quite a lot of investment there in recent years; Camp Gabriels has a new wastewater treatment plant and a new water system.

"You have to wonder how much effort they put into this report."

Little was dismayed by the report's finding that the Federal Bureau of Prisons has lost interest in re-using Camp Gabriels as a minimum-security facility.

"I had a lot of interest for this federal camp conversion. (DOCS) Commissioner (Brian) Fischer told me the federal government was interested just a couple weeks ago, and they were looking for the money," Little said.

"Then the report comes out, and it's all over. We can't give up that quickly."

Little plans to take the issue up with Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) right away.

She was appalled at the idea of tearing the camp down.

"This talk of demolition is a waste of state money. It's almost like they have no use for it, and no one's come asking, so they think it should just be torn down."

Councilwoman Sheila Delarm from the Town of Brighton, where the prison sits empty on 200-plus acres, was also critical of the state's effort.

"My understanding is that DOCS was legally obligated to develop strategies to minimize the impact of Camp Gabriels' closure on the local and regional economies. I don't see Commissioner Fischer's plan as fulfilling that commitment. A list of alternatives is not a re-use plan.

"There was more in Commissioner Fischer's report about the potential demolition of Camp Gabriels buildings than about viable alternative uses.

"Commissioner Fisher states, 'in a mere three months, DOCS has made significant progress decommissioning the camps, but limited progress determining any possible alternate uses for these facilities.' Why is that?

"It seems DOCS has put significantly more (resources) into justifying the closure than it has into developing the required Reuse Plan," Delarm said.

DOCS officials couldn't be reached Saturday for comment.

When the state announced its intention to close the prison last March, St. Joseph's Rehabilitation Center, based in Saranac Lake, created a model program to provide addiction treatment for inmates leaving incarceration.

"We talked with (the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services) about that," Little said, "and their theory is Gabriels is too far from metropolitan areas, and they want to transition residents back into their own communities."

The idea to build a solar-panel fabrication plant at the Gabriels campus remains alive in nascent stages.

Brian McManus, co-founder of Mountain Sun Solar, based in Jay, said they are looking to build a solar-panel manufacturing center and solar farm producing 12 megawatts of power.

"That power would go into various solar farms around New York and in the Northeast. We would produce the panels we use. We've sold the power produced already."

McManus toured several sites, including the former Oval Wood Dish/Jarden Plastics plant in Tupper Lake and the business park in Harrietstown.

What interests him most about Gabriels is the infrastructure.

"In order to qualify for stimulus funding, the project has to be ready by 2010. That's the problem with Gabriels. I was referred by DOCS to the Office of General Services, and they told me they probably wouldn't be ready to turn Gabriels over until midsummer. That timing wouldn't work right away, so we're looking at other sites. OWD is still a possibility."

Mountain Sun's business model includes a training center for green technology, a plan McManus has already discussed with Paul Smith's College President John Mills and officials at North Country Community College.

"The market is enormous, and this has to be done," McManus said.

A summer 2010 sale does not rule out Gabriels as a future training site, he said.

The company is ready to build its first solar farm in Hudson in the Capital District.

E-mail Kim Smith Dedam at: