May 5, 2013

Editorial: Protecting geographic assets


---- — For the North Country, geography is golden.

The factors that make this area attractive to tourists and that insulate it, to some degree, from variations in the economy all are influenced by three assets of location: the lake, the mountains and the proximity to Canada.

The clean, sparkling waters of Lake Champlain lure anglers to compete in tournaments, draw boaters and swimmers and bring tourists who want to bask on beaches. The 125-mile lake and the many smaller waterways around our region are the lifeblood of this area’s natural habitat and the local economy.

That is why it is vital that our lakes and streams be protected. We must preserve their purity and care for the fish and other creatures that thrive because of them.

The Adirondack Mountains are another asset that draws people — and their pocketbooks — to this area. Outdoor enthusiasts come here to hike, ski and bike in a pristine setting.

These soaring features of the environment also need our attention. We must maintain trails, ensure access and encourage complementary growth while protecting the mountain regions from overuse and detrimental development.

But many regions of our vast nation can point with pride to their beautiful lakes and mountains. The geographic asset that upstate New York shares with only nine other states is a border with Canada. And that is our biggest pot of gold, by far.

Canada and the United States are not only neighbors; they are solid economic partners. The trade relationship between the United States and Canada totaled $742 billion in 2012, Canadian Consul General for New York John Prato told a Plattsburgh audience recently, noting that Canada’s next-largest two-way trade partnership totals $70 billion.

And 8 million jobs in the United States depend on the relationship with Canada, he said, including just under 600,000 in New York state.

Our neighbors to the north also have a co-starring role in our transportation and security concerns. Canadian investments in infrastructure and border screening help us move commodities smoothly and keep illegal — and sometimes dangerous — people from passing back and forth across the border.

The Canadian government spent more than $86 million to improve Highway 15 leading to the border, and it recently announced plans to invest $47 million in improving the Lacolle-Champlain border crossing on Interstate 87. That will enhance the upgrades already made by the United States at the busy Port of Entry.

A publication of the London-based Financial Times recently named Plattsburgh as the fourth-best micropolitan city for economic potential in North and South America. That is an amazing ranking when you think about it — but it’s a sure bet that without its proximity to Canada, Plattsburgh wouldn’t be seen as having world-class potential.

So just as we need to protect our lakes and mountains, for business and aesthetic reasons, so must we cherish and encourage our relationship with Canada and its people and businesses.

Location truly does count — and it adds up to prosperity for the North Country.