Three important questions are often posed. Will the City and Town of Plattsburgh merge? Will the sewage treatment plant be moved? Will the train tracks be routed out of downtown Plattsburgh? The answers are “yes.” The real question is “when?”
The City of Plattsburgh has a population just shy of 20,000 people, while the town has a population of about 12,000. The city is three miles long, a mile and a half wide and entirely surrounded by the town. Long ago, in an era in which households and businesses were moving to the suburbs, the malls in the town began to attract those residents who once spent Friday nights and weekends downtown at Merkel’s Department Store, at Woolworths and at an abundance of other downtown stores.
With the great mall migration, the city lost some of its shine.
It did not lose its history, nor its beauty, though. The city is a resource and a legacy for us all, and is experiencing an urban renewal we can all enjoy.
The city’s liability is the number of promises it must keep, even as its economic base has lost some of its polish. It has long-term financial obligations to pensions and to debt but without the economic support it once enjoyed.
On the other hand, the town has growing financial resources and fewer long-term obligations. Yet, the town needs the historical and cultural vitality of the city, just as the city needs the economic vitality of the town.
There will come a time when New York state realizes it cannot support almost 3,500 separate governmental entities. When it shrinks to half that number, we will someday see one Plattsburgh. Before we can enjoy those efficiencies, we must figure out a way to insulate the town from burdens the city took on.
If we do not, even a shotgun marriage will not be enough. We will need a bazooka. But, we know that the hurdle is only one of dividing up the pie. Promises must be met, and we will all enjoy our shared legacy in the city. The question remains. When will we be able to figure out a way to streamline our governments and enjoy the economies of scale that municipalities of 10,000 or 20,000 cannot support.
The next two issues both bisect the city from our great Lake Champlain. We built garbage dumps and sewage treatment plants on our lake shore, and we ran railroad tracks through the city.
The railroad tracks and a sewage plant built in the 1970s separate our residents from our greatest natural resource. We would never again build a sewage treatment plant on our lake shore, even if it might have seemed like a good idea long ago. The secondary plants that were built in the 1970s were better than primary plants, or no plants at all, because they use biological processes to degrade the sludge, fats and detergents that more primitive plants do not.
However, they don’t work in conjunction with lagoons to remove the lake-damaging nutrients and nitrogen that tertiary plants are designed to treat. The ideal location for a world-class sewage treatment plant is upstream from Scomotion Creek, not at the foot of our great city.
The 25-year design life for our plant expired a decade ago. When we rebuild it to modern standards, the plant will be moved. When it is, we will see a dramatic renaissance for our downtown waterfront. We will finally be the Lake City, not just in name only.
Finally, to attain the world-class status our city deserves, we must move train tracks that traverse downtown. Locomotives cross our town daily pulling the same tankers that are terrorizing towns elsewhere, like in Casselton, N.D., Waverly, Tenn., or Lac-Mégantic, Quebec. We can ill-afford a similar tragic accident right in our historic downtown.
Someday we will resolve these issues and be much better for it.The question is when.
Amazing fact of the week: How many goals does the SUNY Plattsburgh Women’s Hockey Team score for every goal scored against them this season? 25. That is not the score from one blowout game. It’s the season average. They are simply amazing.
Colin Read chairs the finance and economics faculty at SUNY Plattsburgh and has published a dozen books on local and global finance and economics.