By DAN HEATH
PLATTSBURGH — High-speed rail service between Montreal and New York City is one key way to make North America's first green transportation corridor.
Pierre Arcand, minister of international relations for the government of Quebec, said that was one of the topics of discussion when Quebec Premier Jean Charest and New York Gov. David Paterson met two weeks ago.
Charest noted that former Montreal Mayor Jean Drapeau called for high-speed rail in the 1970s.
High-speed rail between Buffalo and Albany is almost a certainty, Arcand said at a lunch sponsored by the Plattsburgh-North Country Chamber of Commerce and the Center for Canadian Studies at Plattsburgh State.
The same is needed between New York and Montreal, and he urged local leaders to increase their support for it, despite concerns about how much it would cost.
"If there is a will, there is a way."
Arcand said he believes the New York-Albany high-speed line will also be built, but a few challenges exist with construction of a line between Montreal and Plattsburgh.
The main problem is the section between Plattsburgh and Albany, specifically through the Adirondacks. The corridor along that section is very narrow between Lake Champlain and the mountains.
The high-speed rail service available in Europe shows it is a driving force in economic development, Arcand said. It helps with freight transportation but also boosts human resources and culture.
"This is a chance for us to deepen and expand our bilateral relationships," Arcand said.
Plattsburgh-North Country Chamber of Commerce President Garry Douglas said the chamber is very much on board with the prospect.
He said people opposed to high-speed rail are similar to those who said it was ridiculous to build a new airport in Plattsburgh or to spend more than $100 million on the Port of Excellence border at Champlain.
"The big projects get accomplished with vision and leadership," Douglas said.
Then-Gov. Dewitt Clinton had that type of vision when he started the Erie Canal, Douglas said, and that led to the state's economic development in the 1800s.
"High-speed rail is the next Erie Canal."
While the Quebec government realizes it would be costly, it can also provide an opportunity to install new electrical transmission lines to tap into Quebec's hydroelectric power.
Arcand said the Quebec government will invest $280 million in the next six years to foster development of environmentally friendly businesses. The state of New York is already Quebec's leading trading partner in that regard, he said.
New York is working to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050.
As he delivered the Plattsburgh State Institute on Quebec Studies Distinguished Quebec address later Monday afternoon, Arcand said that inexpensive hydroelectric power can help meet that goal.
He said 97 percent of the energy produced in Quebec is from renewable sources, some of which is already exported to New York.
Quebec would like to increase its availability to states in the Northeast. The opportunity is there because present production is from plants on only about 33 of the province's more than 4,000 rivers, Arcand said.
He thinks it will happen but not for a number of years.
Arcand also said it is vitally important not to allow protectionism to endanger free trade between the partners. About $100 million in merchandise flows between the United States and Canada every hour, he said, and 7 million U.S. jobs directly or indirectly depend on Quebec.
State Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury) said that relationship is especially important in her district, which relies heavily on Canadian tourism and businesses.
"All of us realize it's important to focus on this relationship because it is so important to us."
That sentiment was echoed by Assemblywoman Janet Duprey (R-Peru). She said that as a longtime North Country resident, she has seen the benefits Canadian tourists and businesses bring to the region.
"It's great to see that relationship continue."
E-mail Dan Heath at: firstname.lastname@example.org