North Country

Joanna Richards

As with many small cities, Watertown’s downtown has been decaying for years, with boarded-up buildings and businesses dwindling.

Now, a handful of big projects are reviving the historical structures at the center of town, and some new small businesses are thriving. But some say the city could be doing more to encourage growth.

Joanna Richards / WRVO

The Watertown airport has been much busier since it started offering direct air service to Chicago rather than Albany just over two years ago. Now, the merger between American Airlines and U.S. Airways is causing a switch in destination again.

Direct flights to Philadelphia will replace those to Chicago beginning May 8.

A regional carrier for American Airlines now provides the Chicago service. American merged with U.S. Airways in December. Philadelphia, a hub for U.S. Airways, is closer, and therefore a cheaper major hub for the airline to get to from Watertown.

Joanna Richards / WRVO

Since Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel detailed his proposal for deep military cutbacks Monday, officials in Watertown have been trying to divine what that could mean for Fort Drum. They believe the Army post is well-positioned – but that doesn’t mean it won’t take a hit.

The military is already in downsizing mode as the war in Afghanistan winds down. But Hagel’s plan calls for deeper cuts, including shrinking the Army to its smallest size since before World War II.

Green party voters may get primary race in 21st

Feb 21, 2014

It's been just about a week since the Democratic Party announced documentary filmmaker Aaron Woolf as its candidate for the 21st District congressional seat Bill Owens currently holds, but Woolf has yet to make a public appearance or return emails since then. A brief statement last week said an official campaign announcement would be made "in the coming days."

Army officers anxious as they await word of cuts

Feb 20, 2014
Joanna Richards

In any company town, when the major employer is planning layoffs, people get worried. How will they earn a living if they lose their job? How will they remake their identity?

This is the picture for many Army officers stationed at Fort Drum. By early summer, some will find out they have to go.

It’s part of an overall downsizing of the military as the war in Afghanistan winds down. Evaluations this spring will determine whether some officers can stay in the service.

Doheny4Congress.com

Matt Doheny is again adding his name to the 2014 ballot for northern New York's 21st Congressional District. Doheny, the owner of a private investment firm in Watertown, ran for the seat in 2010 and 2012, but lost both races to Democrat Bill Owens. Owens announced last month that he will retire after his term ends at the end of this year.

Doheny announced his candidacy less than two weeks after the district's 12 county Republican chairs endorsed Elise Stefanik as their candidate. Stefanik worked for former President George W. Bush and vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan.

Hi-Lite

A Jefferson County company is planning to expand with the help of a loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

Hi-Lite Airfield Services, in Adams Center, plans to create between eight and 10 new jobs, according to a news release from Rep. Bill Owens’s (D-Plattsburgh) office. The company also plans to buy new equipment with the $7.1 million loan from the USDA’s Rural Development program.

DEC proposal to kill invasive swans drawing protests

Feb 18, 2014
DEC website

Most people think swans are beautiful. But the agreement seems to end there, when it comes to a new state plan to manage them. A proposal by the Department of Environmental Conservation to kill invasive mute swans isn’t flying with some animal lovers. 

Joanna Richards

Hospitals around the country are all under the same pressures: a turn toward outpatient and preventive care, low Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates, and increasing regulations. It’s the same in Carthage. 

Joanna Richards

The Defense Department has named Fort Drum as one of four military installations to house a possible East Coast missile defense facility. 

Joanna Richards / WRVO

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand says the nation’s workplace policies are out of date and don’t reflect increasing women’s employment – and their roles as family caregivers. Gillibrand was in Watertown yesterday to make the case for paid family and medical leave.

Students and reporters jostled in a student lounge as Jefferson Community College president Carole McCoy introduced the senator. Gillibrand told the crowd of several dozen that her legislation would provide financial security to people dealing with the birth of a child, or sick or dying family members.

DOT to determine scope of rooftop highway study

Jan 27, 2014

As Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced in his budget address, $2.5 million has been allocated to analyze the Route 11 corridor in the North Country. But state transportation officials say they have not yet determined what kind of highway study they're going to do.

When Cuomo mentioned Interstate Route 98, aka the rooftop highway, between Watertown and Plattsburgh in his budget speech last week, he acknowledged a range of opinions on the decades-old idea.

Downed trees from ice storm will be turned into energy

Jan 22, 2014
Joanna Richards / WRVO

All the power lines have been fixed after last month’s ice storm, and the crystal coatings have melted off the trees, but there’s still a persistent sign of the damage: lots of downed limbs.

Yards in the northern half of Jefferson County are full of tangled branches, sunk in the snow. Extricating them is going to be a long process, but there’s a plan in the works to give them a new life as fuel.

Buyout could mean growth for Watertown employer Stream

Jan 14, 2014

There have been a lot of questions in the wake of an announcement that the Stream Global Services Watertown call center will be sold. The company that’s buying it says if anything, the sale should make workers optimistic.

Owens will not seek reelection to Congress

Jan 14, 2014

North Country Rep. Bill Owens (D-Plattsburgh) announced Tuesday that he will not seek reelection in November -- surprising the political establishment and putting the seat for the 21st Congressional District up for grabs.

Clinic taking steps toward financial health

Jan 13, 2014
Joanna Richards

A clinic in Watertown that serves many needy children is taking steps toward better financial health after nearly closing abruptly in October.

Jennifer Gaffney

Travelers got back on the road yesterday afternoon after Interstate 81 reopened following the massive snowfall. Many spent an unexpected night in the north country – some in hotels, some in fire halls, some in the homes of strangers. The experience might have been a lousy advertisement for the climate here, but natives seemed to be at their best as Good Samaritans during the storm.

Catherine Loper / WRVO

The last portions of Route 81 between Watertown and North Syracuse are open again, after lake-effect storms closed much of the highway down.

Through the storms, hardy North Country natives have been helping stranded travelers. Many people spent last night in fire halls - the one in Adams took in 150 people. Watertown hotels right off the Interstate 81 exit were full, of both drivers and staff who couldn't get out, either.

The lake effect snow warning for northern New York has been extended until Thursday at 1 p.m. as upwards of four feet of snow has fallen in some spots since Monday. A state of emergency remains in effect for 14 counties, including Oswego, Jefferson and Lewis Counties.

Forecasters predicted snow to fall at a rate of two to three inches an hour Wednesday morning in an area in the Tug Hill area.

Joanna Richards

The growth of Fort Drum and its fluctuating soldier population have always complicated the housing market around Watertown. But the Army post throws another factor into the mix: soldier’s housing allowances. They just went up.

As of January 1, the Basic Allowance for Housing, or BAH, rates across the military went up an average of 5 percent. In the Fort Drum area, it’s up around 13 percent. Junior enlisted soldiers have gone from receiving $948 per month to $1,071 per month, to cover the cost of housing and utilities.    

Joanna Richards

Governor Andrew Cuomo visited a newly expanded snowmobiler lounge in Lowville Monday to unveil a new ad campaign to promote winter tourism upstate. Cuomo says there’s new energy in the north country, thanks to increasing economic investment. He credits the efforts of both the region and his administration in making that happen.  

Money to expand drone hangar at Fort Drum

Dec 30, 2013
David Sommerstein

Not long after a military drone crashed into Lake Ontario in November, the program that aircraft belonged to is getting a boost with funding from the 2014 defense spending bill signed into law last week. The money will go toward expanding a storage and maintenance facility at Fort Drum.   

Joanna Richards

The lights are coming back on in Jefferson County after the ice storm left most residents in the dark for some period over the weekend. National Grid says it expects to restore power to nearly all customers by midnight tonight.

Sixteen-hundred field workers from as far away as New Jersey and the Ohio Valley are helping to make that happen. Despite the progress, the utility says some customers could be in the dark through Christmas.

Joanna Richards

The North Country Family Health Center, in Watertown, is still working to gain long-term financial stability after nearly closing in October. Now, another Watertown health care provider is getting a bailout to stay afloat. This time, it’s Family Counseling Service of Northern New York. 

Drum numbers likely dropping – but no cause for alarm

Dec 12, 2013
Joanna Richards

The Watertown area’s economy is heavily dependent on Fort Drum. With the federal budget sequester on and the Afghanistan war winding down, the numbers of soldiers assigned to the post and civilians working there is likely to decrease. But the outlook is more complicated than just doom and gloom.

Ski season gets underway

Dec 12, 2013
Joanna Richards

The winter sports season is underway in the north country. Thanks to the pre-Thanksgiving snowstorm, some skiers in Jefferson County got an early start this year. 

A snowboarder twists and slides to a stop at Dry Hill Ski Area in Watertown. He unclips his boots and dashes into the clubhouse to warm up.

Josh Askins and a friend cozy up to the big stone fire pit.  “We were snowboarding, then we came inside to sit next to the fire. It smells really nice,” he says.

Askins teaches snowboarding lessons here.

acchamber.org

There were several big winners amongst the state’s Regional Empire Development Council, as five walked away with more than $80 million each, during the third annual set of awards announced Wednesday.     

Cape Vincent tells state: we want decision on wind farm

Dec 10, 2013
Joanna Richards

The town of Cape Vincent, in Jefferson County, has been divided over a proposed wind farm for a decade. The latest company to pursue the project is BP. But now, with a potential sale in the works, residents told the state power project siting board they’re getting impatient with the uncertainty. 

napaneegal / via Flickr

A proposed wind farm in Cape Vincent, in Jefferson County, has been in limbo since energy company BP said earlier this year that it's planning to sell off its entire wind power division.

Town officials have been anxious for news about the wind farm's fate since then. The review process that produced one tense public meeting after another came to an abrupt halt earlier this year.

Work begins on Watertown's Woolworth building

Dec 5, 2013
Joanna Richards

Work has begun to revive a long-vacant eyesore at the center of downtown Watertown.

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