Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced $1 million in funding in the 2014-2015 State Budget that supports the continued development of a buffer zone at Fort Drum in the Greater Watertown-Tug Hill Region. This money will match federal funds already dedicated to the project, and is one of several key efforts to maintain the facility as an active army installation and vibrant part of the North Country economy.
The land around Fort Drum is vital to the training of our nations military as well as the economy of the North County, which is why New York is dedicated to protecting the base, Governor Cuomo said. We are proud to partner with the federal government to support the expansion and preservation of the buffer zones so that Fort Drum can continue to conduct critical military exercises and provide stable, good paying jobs for thousands of New Yorkers in the North Country.
As part of the 2014-2015 State Budget, Governor Cuomo secured funding through the Environmental Protection Fund for the Army Compatible Use Buffer (ACUB) program. New York State will work with U.S. Army to establish buffer areas around Fort Drum by acquiring easements on farms to prevent development outside the base that could impede training, such as helicopter landings, which require adequate space.
Since 1999, approximately 3,500 acres around Fort Drum have been conserved through ACUB for a buffer zone. In addition to easements to conserve land, some funding has been used for environmental offsets for wetlands and habitats.
The North Country Regional Economic Development Council identified Fort Drum as a priority and recommended that the State partner with the U.S. Army to sustain operations at the facility. In 2013, New York States $500,000 in funding leveraged $4 million in federal funds for easements on surrounding lands. With this additional $1 million obtained as part of the recently approved State Budget, New York State will leverage additional federal funds. This commitment is expected to preserve at least 2,500 acres around the Fort.
Other significant efforts to secure the future of Ft. Drum in the Watertown-area include: support to the Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization to ensure that the Fort Drum soldiers, their families, and the residents of the community have access to high quality health care services on a regional level; support to the Fort Drum Regional Liaison Organization to build and improve housing, transportation and education infrastructure surrounding Fort Drum, and the powering of the 60 megawatt ReEnergy biomass power plant at Ft. Drum with support from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.
Also, since 2011, New York has invested over $52 million in housing resources to create over 650 new units of affordable housing to increase opportunities for our military members and their families.
Ft. Drum is the cornerstone of the local North Country economy. First installed over a century ago, Ft. Drum now 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. Also, the U.S. Department of Defense estimates that there are more than 2,600 retirees from all branches of service living in the immediate area that receive a total of more than $52 million per year, all of which flows directly into the local economy.
In total, last year alone, Fort Drum contributed $1.4 billion to the economy of the surrounding community, an increase of more than 172 percent over the past decade.
Fort Drum Regional Liaison Organization Chair Elizabeth Fipps said, Fort Drums ranges and training areas are recognized as some of the best in the Army. New York States significant effort to ensure the training areas remain unencroached by development, help guarantee that the installation remains a premiere Defense asset. It really protects and solidifies Fort Drums military value in the national defense structure.
Executive Director of the Tug Hill Tomorrow Land Trust Linda M. Garrett said, Thanks to the support of Governor Cuomo, our legislative representatives, and the NCRECDC we will be able to leverage federal funds to not only secure Ft. Drums training ability, but to protect valuable farmland, our rural landscapes and wildlife habitat. The ACUB program is a win for everyone.
Executive Director of the NYS Tug Hill Commission John Bartow said, Fort Drum borders the Northern portion of the Tug Hill Region. Encouraging compatible development and land use around Fort Drum has been a focus of the Commissions work for nearly 30 years. In some instances it is better to acquire development rights as opposed to regulation. Thanks to Governor Cuomo's leadership in this years EPF budget, New York is making an investment that can leverage federal funds to purchase agriculture development rights around Fort Drums training area. A win for Fort Drum, a win for agriculture and a win for Northern NY.
State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens said, Fort Drum is an integral part of the Tug Hill region and this funding will support base operations and the regional economy, while also protecting valuable open space and natural resources. Governor Cuomos commitment to funding additional land conservation through the ACUB program will provide both economic and environmental benefits for the North Country.
Acting State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball said, The Department of Agriculture and Markets looks forward to working with North Country farmers, in cooperation with the Tug Hill Tomorrow Land Trust and Fort Drum officials, to deploy these resources for the protection of agricultural lands surrounding Fort Drum. Through ACUB, New York State is leveraging federal resources to accomplish mutual goals: protecting farmland and creating a buffer zone around Fort Drum to help facilitate their operations. Fort Drum is one of the most important economic engines in the North Country and this funding will help ensure its continued viability in the future.
State Senator Patty Ritchie said, "Support for the expansion of the buffer zoneswhich will allow for even more space for military exercises that prepare our troops for the challenges they facewas a top priority of local Fort Drum community leaders and complements other recent efforts to strengthen the post. Fort Drum is critically important to the North Country, not only for the economic benefits it provides for our region, but also for the troops and their families who are our defenders of freedom, our fellow community members and our friends. I want to thank Governor Cuomo for his strong support and assistance in helping to preserve the post for many years to come.
Assemblywoman Addie Russell said, "Fort Drum is an enormously important part of the North Country, both for the families that live here and for what it injects into the economy. I always fight to ensure that the post is properly funded in the State Budget, and am happy to support this year's planned expansion of the buffer zones. I thank Governor Cuomo, my partners in the Legislature, and the NCREDC for supporting and investing in this vital resource."
President of the North Country Chamber of Commerce and Co-Chair of the North Country Regional Economic Development Council Garry Douglas said, "Fort Drum is not only the single largest employment site in the North Country. It's the largest in New York State. On top of that, it is an indispensable part of our country's defense. That's why this investment by the state is so very important. It will further enhance the present and future of Fort Drum, while simultaneously supporting agriculture and open space. And it is a timely indication to Washington of our state's direct commitment to this base. Our thanks to the Governor and our North Country state legislators for this welcome initiative."