Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced a partnership with federal and state officials and local groups to create buffer zones surrounding Ft. Drum in the Greater Watertown-Tug Hill Region, which will help to maintain the facility as an active army installation and vibrant part of the North Country economy. Buffer zones are designed to conserve land surrounding the base so as not to impede training activities, and they are an important factor the federal government considers when determining whether to invest in the retention of a military installation.
Fort Drum is critical to maintaining the strength of both our nations military and the economy in the North Country, which is why New York State is stepping in to protect the base and the land around it, Governor Cuomo said. These buffer zones will preserve important land around the base for military exercises which means Fort Drum can continue to train army personnel and employ New Yorkers from all across the North Country for years to come.
Under the Army Compatible Use Buffer (ACUB) program, New York State will work with the U.S. Army to establish buffer areas around Fort Drum to prevent development outside the base that could impede training, such as helicopter landings, which require adequate space. The buffer areas may include farmland, forest lands, wetlands and other natural resources. The State will provide $500,000 for 2013, leveraging a $4 million federal commitment for easements on surrounding lands.
Fort Drum is the largest employment site in upstate New York. Approximately 60 percent of the military personnel who work at the base live off-site and receive services such as health care and education in the community. Last year alone, Fort Drum contributed $1.4 billion to the economy of the surrounding community, an increase of more than 172 percent from the past decade. The North Country Regional Economic Development Council (REDC) has identified Fort Drum as a priority and recommended that the State partner with ACUB to sustain operations at the facility.
Colonel Gary Rosenberg, Fort Drum Garrison Commander said, "The ACUB Program protects Fort Drum's premier land and air training areas and supports the mission readiness of the 10th Mountain Division. New York State contributions will greatly enhance the effectiveness of this program, and also speak volumes about the dedication of our home state to our future. I am very thankful to all who were involved in this effort and look forward to seeing this collaboration's many benefits come to fruition."
Since 1999, approximately 3,500 acres have been conserved through ACUB for a buffer zone. In addition to easements to conserve land, some of this funding has been used for environmental offsets for wetlands and habitats.
The Tug Hill Tomorrow Land Trust, Tug Hill Commission and Ducks Unlimited have also been active partners in promoting land protection through ACUB, which also benefits local farmers. Under ACUB landowners can obtain easements and compensation for the appraised value of non-farm development rights.
Increasing Fort Drums ability to handle a diverse set of training missions will ensure our nations soldiers are well prepared for deployment and strengthens the bases role in the local and regional economy, Representative Bill Owens said. I will continue supporting community-backed projects that enhance the mission at Fort Drum, and I applaud Governor Cuomo for making this important investment in the North Country.
State Senator Patty Ritchie said, Protecting Fort Drum for the future is a top concern for me and for everyone in the North Country, and thats why I fought so hard to include funding in the state budget to ensure that there is support for the continued growth and expansion of the post. I applaud Governor Cuomo for recognizing the important role Fort Drum plays when it comes to our regions economy and our nations safety and look forward to continuing to work together on initiatives that support the installation.
State Assemblyman Ken Blankenbush said, Agriculture and Fort Drum are the North Countrys top economic drivers. This investment will strengthen their sustainability for future generations.
Fort Drum has a significant economic impact on the North Country and its vital that we continue to direct resources to support this important military base, said Empire State Development President, CEO & Commissioner Kenneth Adams. As the federal government considers military bases for future growth, the conservation of the surrounding land to establish buffer areas around Fort Drum will help ensure the base remains an active part of the community.
State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Joe Martens said, Governor Cuomo has demonstrated how New York State can support and enhance local economies, while also preserving important lands and natural resources. The ACUB program has benefitted Fort Drum and the local community and we look forward to the working with partners to advance its goals.
Acting State Agriculture Commissioner James B. Bays said, The Department of Agriculture and Markets is pleased to be part of this initiative, which preserves farmland in one of the most important agricultural areas of the state and ensures the future viability of Fort Drum.
Linda M. Garrett, executive director of the Tug Hill Tomorrow Land Trust, said, Thanks to Governor Cuomo and Senator Ritchie for their leadership in advancing this initiative. We view this program as a win-win-win: for Ft. Drum viability, for farmers and for the environment.
John Bartow, executive director of the NYS Tug Hill Commission, said, This is yet another demonstration of local, state and federal partnerships helping to sustain Fort Drum as the premier power projection platform of the Army and a major economic force in the North Country.
The future of Fort Drum is essential to the North Country and beyond, and ACUB is an essential part of securing that future, said Garry Douglas, President of the North Country Chamber of Commerce and Co-Chair of the North Country Regional Economic Development Council. Once again, Governor Cuomo and his team have responded positively to the Regional Council, which identified state funding for ACUB as a key priority, and are making a very targeted investment that will not only accelerate the program but will also provide further evidence to the Defense Department of New Yorks commitment to Fort Drum. I thank the Governor for this latest of many examples of listening to the North Country and providing the support we need.