Watertown

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The viewers of Channel 7 evening news in Watertown will soon say goodbye to a familiar face on television. For 20 years, WWNY-TV anchor Brian Ashley has delivered the evening news every weeknight. Ashley is moving on to join the Fort Drum Regional Liaison Organization as its new leader.

Ashley began his broadcast career in radio while living across the border in Canada, where he's from originally. He moved onto TV in 1994 to host the evening news on Channel 7 alongside his wife, Ann Richter.

Julia Botero / WRVO News

 

This year's drought has left wells dry across the region. After some rain, farmers are wondering when their groundwater will be replenished. 

The good news is groundwater levels are higher than they've been in months, Cornell University hydrologist Todd Walter told farmers and agriculture leaders in Watertown Wednesday.

David Sommerstein / North Country Public Radio

The Burrville Cider Mill just outside Watertown embodies everything people love about autumn. They have warm cider donuts, crates full of fresh apples and lots of decorative gourds for sale. If you visit the mill in the mornings you might get the chance to watch apples pressed into cider.

WRVO's Julia Botero and David Sommerstein of North Country Public Radio visited the cider mill on a crisp fall day and filed this audio postcard.

The Burrville Cider Mill is open every day from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. this fall. They make cider on weekend mornings and on Tuesday and Thursdays.

Julia Botero / WRVO News

Empty and abandoned houses, known as zombie homes, are a big problem in the North Country. The State Attorney General has awarded a total of $13 million to cities and towns across the state to help tackle the problem.

Watertown City Planner Mike Lumbis says right now the office is notified about a new vacant home in the city only if a neighbor complains about it. The $150,000 grant will allow Watertown to create a database of all the homes that are empty or going into foreclosure. That database will have information on the homeowner, Lumbis says, usually a bank.

Julia Botero / WRVO News

A new law in Watertown will now require landlords to register their rental properties with the city. More than half of the homes in Watertown are rentals. Neighbors and city leaders say many of them are run down or empty. Some aren’t safe to live in. Watertown leaders say a list of property owners’ names and phone numbers will help stop the blight on neighborhood streets. 

Julia Botero / WRVO News

North Country residents struggling with heroin and opioid addiction have a new treatment option. A medication-assisted heroin treatment center in Watertown is taking its first patients.

Until last week, Credo Community Center in Watertown offered recovering heroin addicts only abstinence treatment – the cold turkey approach to overcoming their substance abuse.

Jim Scordo, Credo’s executive director, says he found it didn’t work for some.

Julia Botero / WRVO News

The Watertown City Council is considering a new law that would require landlords to register their rental properties with the city. Homes would then be subject to inspection every three years. Councilman Steve Jennings says the measure will help improve the city’s housing, but landlords say the measure goes too far.

Carl McLaughlin

After a decade of lobbying state and federal officials on behalf of Fort Drum, Carl McLaughlin, has announced his retirement.

McLaughlin began his work as head of the Fort Drum Regional Liaison Organization, or FDRLO, in 2004. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were just beginning.  Fort Drum was under threat of shutting down in a round of base closures. McLaughlin got news in his first week on the job from the Pentagon about the base’s 10th Mountain Division.

Julia Botero / WRVO News

 

There are more than 150 abandoned homes in Watertown.  A report put out by the city assessor finds homes in the city can be empty for months, even years, before the bank takes them over.

Vacant homes have become such a problem in Watertown, the city council has had trouble wrapping their head around what to do.

Brian Phelps, the city assessor, visited hundreds of empty homes and poured over stacks of paperwork to figure out why these homes were abandoned.

 “As many vacant homes as there are, are as many individual stories.”

Julia Botero / WRVO News

The Pokemon Go craze sweeping the nation has hit Watertown. The city’s Public Square usually doesn’t see activity in the evening but recently, downtown is flooded with young people. They’re all staring at their phones, playing an augmented reality game that has them hunting for cartoon monsters and points. WRVO'S Julia Botero went to see what all the fuss is about and sent this audio postcard.

Julia Botero / WRVO News

Church leaders in Watertown held a rally on the Public Square Tuesday in response to the recent shootings across the country. The crowd of nearly 100 came to pray and listen to clergy speak about the importance of accepting one another regardless of race, background or faith.

Cars thundered by as people passed out water and searched for shade under the trees. Church leaders from congregations across Watertown took turns addressing the crowd.

Rev. Jeffery Smith, First Baptist Church’s first black pastor, organized the rally.

Julia Botero / WRVO News

A nonprofit in Watertown will receive $1.7 million to open a resource center for recovering drug addicts and their families. PIVOT is one of six non-profits throughout New York state to receive funding to help stop the heroin crisis in their communities.

Anita Seefried-Brown, who works with PIVOT, said the center is a culmination of everything she and the community have worked for since heroin first hit Jefferson County hard.

Meredith Turk / NCPR

A monument that celebrates Fort Drum’s relationship with its surrounding community was revealed at a ceremony in Watertown’s Thompson Park on Friday.

The four-sided granite monument depicts the 10th Mountain Division's history starting with World War II and ending in its missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Tom Doosin, an Air Force veteran who lives in Henderson, next to Lake Ontario, was there.

Julia Botero / WRVO News

 

A German-owned manufacturing company in Watertown will expand its facility and add jobs to its workforce. Roth Industries only plans to add 12 jobs as of now, but any job growth in Jefferson County is positive news.

Roth Industries is in the plastic processing business. That means they use heat to mold plastics into different forms -- like into those orange rectangle-shaped traffic barriers at highway construction sites. They also make oil storage tanks and other products.

Empire League

It looks like the Watertown Bucks are back again this season as the city's own professional baseball team. For a few months last year, it looked like the Bucks were gone for good after the North Country Baseball League folded. Now, the Bucks are in a different league and its manager is determined to keep America’s pastime in Watertown for good.

Lei Han / Flickr, Creative Commons

This week, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded more than $42 million to homeless housing programs across New York state. Organizations in Watertown, Geneva, Utica and Syracuse will receive funding. The effort to bolster housing nonprofits is part of the nation’s strategy to prevent and end homelessness.

Maureen Cean, who leads Transitional Living Services of Northern New York, based in Watertown, said housing programs have changed their strategy over the years.

Julia Botero / WRVO news

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s daughter, Chelsea Clinton, stopped in Watertown Monday to stump for her mother before New York's primary Tuesday.

Chelsea Clinton, who is expecting her second child this summer, told a room full of supporters at the IBEW Local 191 union hall, this will be the first presidential election she’ll be voting in as a mother.

Jason Smith / WRVO News

Former President Bill Clinton has spent the last several weeks campaigning in New York for his wife, ahead of the state's primary April 19.

Payne Horning / WRVO News

At a rally in Watertown Saturday, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump touched on his familiar campaign promises to secure the borders and boost military funding.

Trump told an enthusiastic crowd that the flow of heroin and other illegal drugs into the country would end with his proposed wall along the Mexican border. Under his administration, Trump said Watertown will get jobs back and heroin out.

Julia Botero / WRVO News

North Country voters got a chance to ask Ohio Governor John Kasich questions Friday in Watertown. The presidential candidate's town hall event attracted more than 500 people.  The crowd ranged from older voters, to high school students gearing up to vote for the first time. 

Outside the Bruce Wright Memorial Conference Center in Watertown Friday morning, the mood was calm as people waited in line to see and hear from Kasich in person. There were no protestors at this event, but a few supporters made sure to wear red hats reading Kasich 2016.

Julia Botero / WRVO news

Two weeks ago, more than 150 workers at the Climax Packaging plant in Lowville were told not to come to work the next day. The plant was closing immediately and everyone would lose their jobs. Thursday, a job fair in Watertown attracted many former Climax workers looking to get back on their feet.

It was hard to find a place to park outside the Bruce Wright Memorial Conference Center. Inside, people milled around a room sometimes stopping to introduce themselves to a local employer looking to hire.

Julia Botero / WRVO News

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is introducing a new Hunger Games-style competition, this time aimed at downtown revitalization. Struggling communities in regions across the state will compete for their share of $100 million. Watertown’s mayor thinks his city has what it takes to compete.

A shrinking population? Check. A struggling economy? Check.

But Watertown’s' downtown development hasn't been all doom and gloom. Quite the opposite. The old Woolworth building was renovated into apartments. Mercy Hospital was torn down and a mixed-use building is going up in its place.

Brit Hanson / NCPR

It was a cold night in Watertown’s Thompson Park. The sun had already set and the park closed by the time Betsy Rogers and her mom arrived. They were there for what felt like a bittersweet celebration: Betsy’s 30th birthday.

 

She knelt on the ground shivering, trying to light a paper lantern. It had a red number 29 painted on its side. Darlene, Betsy’s mom, stood trying to shield them from the wind. For Betsy, the ritual was about more than turning 30 — she was also celebrating six months clean.

 

Julia Botero / WRVO News

 

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), sporting protective ear plugs to block out the whirling of machines, shakes hands with workers on the factory floor of New York Air Brake in Watertown. It's the senator's first visit to the company, which has made brake systems for the railroad industry for over a century.

As Schumer pauses to study the heavy metal contraptions that make trains stop and slow down, company officials explain what he’s seeing. 

Brit Hanson / North Country Public Radio

Bedbugs, those creepy crawly pests that embed themselves into mattresses and furniture, are a problem in big cities across the country. The bugs have managed to find their way to smaller cities in the North Country.

Watertown is now dealing with the pests and the stigma that comes with them.

Back in September, a friend told me she was dealing with a serious bed bug issue. Her name is Kris Rusho and I gave her a call a few weeks ago to get the whole story.

Julia Botero / WRVO news

Watertown celebrated St. Patrick’s Day a little early this year with a beard contest at their annual Irish Festival last weekend. But he competition begins before that. On January 1, men come to Watertown for a clean shave. They have until the Irish festival in mid-March to grow the fullest, longest beard they can.  WRVO's Julia Botero went to the  Donegal Beard Competition in Watertown to see the winner. 

North Country Baseball League Facebook page

The sun refuses to set on professional baseball in Watertown. After the North Country Baseball League folded late last year, a new corporate-sponsored league is taking its place. The Watertown Bucks will open another season throwing their first pitch at the city fairgrounds this summer.

Eddie Gonzalez is a professional baseball player who coached one of the Watertown Bucks' biggest rivals — Road City. As he watched his team take the field every day, he remembered his own struggles trying to make it big in baseball.

Petroglyph / Flickr Creative Commons

Eight skunks in Jefferson County have tested positive for rabies this winter. County Health officials say this is number is unusually high. They're urging more pet owners in rural areas across northern New York to vaccinate their pets to stop the spread of the fatal disease to humans.

Faith Lustik remembers the first time this winter she got a call about skunks. Two were spotted in a Watertown neighborhood acting strangely.

"One of the skunks actually chased a woman and she subsequently was bitten by it," Lustik said.

Fort Drum Mountain Community Homes

There’s a glut of housing in towns surrounding Fort Drum. With thousands of troops deployed, many houses and apartment complexes in the area are empty, including the homes on base. Now, housing on Fort Drum is available to all civilians, even those who don’t work on post.  Anyone who passes a background check is welcomed to rent a home on Fort Drum.

Joe McLaughlin is working on his sales pitch. For a thousand dollars a month, he says you can get a 2-bedroom house with an attached garage, electricity and heat included.

Rande Richardson / NNY Foundation

A prominent social club closed its doors last year after more than 100 years as a Watertown institution. Everything in the building from the bar stools to the kitchenware was sold at auction in December. The Black River Valley Club was a second home to its members, and the last remnant of Watertown's gilded history. WRVO's Julia Botero recorded memories of the club’s heyday and took a tour of the building on auction day.  
 
In this audio postcard, you'll hear from auctioneer David Johnson and former club members James Hearsey, George Couch, Deb McAtee.

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