LAKE PLACID — Gov. Andrew Cuomo was in Lake Placid on Wednesday to deliver funds for restoration of a tribute highway and money for a scientific partnership that will boost jobs.
Funding is in place to restore and rehabilitate the Whiteface Mountain Veterans Memorial Highway.
Work, in fact, is already underway, with State Department of Transportation design teams working on logistics.
In Lake Placid on Wednesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a $12 million state investment in the highway in the Town of Wilmington, calling it a “beautiful piece of history.”
He drew from the highway’s very foundation and its dedication in 1935, when Franklin D. Roosevelt opened it to honor veterans of World War I.
“It was one of the first disabled-access projects ever,” the governor said, remarking on an engineering design that “showed the foresight and progressivity of the community.”
Cuomo’s father — former Gov. Mario Cuomo — rededicated the long, winding Whiteface summit road to all veterans in 1985.
“It should be kept in top-flight shape,” the governor said, listing reasons that drove the decision as “safety, tourism and legacy.”
Funding for repairs to the Memorial Highway will draw from NY Works resources.
In the same hour, at the ORDA Conference Center in Lake Placid, Cuomo announced a $35 million Empire State Development investment in a partnership between Trudeau Institute and Clarkson University, providing operational costs for new research collaboration and laboratory improvements at both facilities.
Cuomo had toured the closed Hotel Saranac early in the day Wednesday and said, after making the formal fiscal announcement, that New York “wants to be a partner in that development,” as well.
Hotel Saranac and the new hotel planned on Lake Flower in Saranac Lake were both named priority projects by the North Country Regional Economic Development Council.
The entire slate of Regional Council funding will be announced in December, Cuomo said.
The Veterans Memorial Highway was listed by the Regional Council as a top priority in August.
But a somewhat inelegant and urgent request for state resources for repairs apparently came at the end of a recent conference, when local leaders decided to surround the governor, cutting through a crowd to reach him.
Jay Supervisor Randy Douglas, Wilmington Supervisor Randy Preston, Keene Supervisor Bill Ferebee and Hamilton County Board Chairman Bill Farber made their case after drawing Cuomo’s attention that evening about three weeks ago.
All four made light of their not-so-subtle approach. So did Cuomo.
“They told me, ‘We have to do something’ — it’s what they said,” the governor said Wednesday.
“I told them (that) together we can figure out how to do this, whatever’s fair – I’m in.’”
The governor kidded local leaders Wednesday, then earned a standing ovation with the $12 million award.
He said it was his pleasure to work with a “great group of local officials. And your senator (Betty Little) is totally representative of all of it. She is the embodiment of what good government is all about.”
Little said it was an honor to welcome the governor here again.
“No longer are we kind of on the back burner when it comes to Albany,” she said.
Preston was visibly grateful and relieved to hear Whiteface’s historic road would be both repaired and made safe.
“It’s a magical spot — it’s a national treasure,” he said. “That highway was dedicated to all the veterans in this country. It is truly, truly an engineering marvel.
“I can’t tell you what (the funding) means to Wilmington and to the region.”
Asked about the repair and restoration project after Cuomo’s announcement, DOT Commissioner Joan McDonald said they had already pulled together design information, seeking what they call a “best-value” contract process.
She was not certain if the work would be done in phases next summer along stretches of the 8-mile road or if they would work on one lane at a time.
Funding also will repair the elevator that brings visitors to the summit, the castle building on top and the toll house at the bottom.
The Veterans Memorial Highway is managed by the Olympic Regional Development Authority, and CEO Ted Blazer told the Press-Republican that Cuomo’s decision shows “a wonderful commitment to such a remarkable facility. We are so thankful to the governor and his ability to recognize what an asset the (Memorial Highway) is to the region.”
Blazer said ORDA will work closely with the State Department of Environmental Conservation, which technically owns the property, to plan the construction through sensitive alpine zones and ensure protection for rare species, including the Bicknell’s thrush, a songbird that nests on Whiteface during the summer.
The investment in Trudeau Institute and Clarkson was likewise celebrated with the signing of a memorandum of understanding by Clarkson University President Tony Collins, Trudeau President Dr. Ronald Goldfarb and Ken Adams, CEO and president of Empire State Development.
Collins held up a college textbook, inviting people to scratch their heads and ask: “Why Clarkson, why Trudeau?”
The textbook contains research from Clarkson professors on immunology, and he ceremoniously handed the book to Goldfarb.
The $35 million investment in the collaboration, over five years, will preserve 80 jobs at Trudeau and, Adams said, create likely another 100 more in the biotechnology niche surrounding Saranac Lake grows.
An initial payment of $10 million will be delivered in the current fiscal year, Adams said, before state budget numbers reset next spring.
Saranac Lake Mayor Clyde Rabideau, who earned a degree at Clarkson University, appeared elated.
“This is big,” he said of the state’s interest and investment in the region.
“This is $35 million to not only preserve our heritage but also to make it part of our future. It’s tremendous.”
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