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Biggest news of the decade

December 19, 2009
By JESSICA COLLIER, Enterprise Staff Writer

Much has changed over the last 10 years in the Tri-Lakes and around the region. As the decade comes to a close, the Enterprise surveyed local news professionals and public officials on what they thought were the events and issues that had the biggest impact on the region between 2000 and 2009.



Article Photos

1. The terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 — A woman mourns at a candlelight vigil in Saranac Lake’s Riverside Park on Sept. 11, 2001.
(Enterprise file photo — Michele Buck)

Even though it happened a six-hour drive away, the impacts of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 was the resounding winner for the event with the greatest impact.

"I don't think it could really be anything different," said Enterprise Senior Sports Writer Lou Reuter.

"Everything has to go back to September 11th ... because it just shaped the next nine years," said Associated Press Upstate News Editor Rik Stevens.

Fact Box

1. The terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001

2. The Adirondack Club and Resort proposal

3. The troubled economy

4. Advances in technology

5. State buys more land

Kim Smith Dedam, staff writer at the Press-Republican of Plattsburgh, said the attacks heightened security everywhere, even in schools in small North Country villages and hamlets.

As a reporter, she said she used to be able to walk into schools to interview students and take photos, but since the attacks, she has been required to wear an identification badge and check in when she arrives. Entryways at schools are now all locked down, she said.

She also noted that the borders to Canada have changed drastically. Growing up in Vermont, Dedam said it used to be no big deal to cross the border, but now passports are required and the checks are much more extensive.

"Something fundamentally changed that day," Dedam said. "It was just a completely different world. It changed the whole world."

For some Tri-Lakers, the impact of 9/11 was more personal. Franklin County Legislator Paul Maroun, R-Tupper Lake, a U.S. Naval Reserve veteran, was 50 years old at the time and was mobilized to active duty in Connecticut and Washington D.C. for two years.

"For two years, I was just gone," Maroun said, "gone from the fire department, gone from my family."

He noted that other service members didn't just stay in the U.S. but were sent overseas to Afghanistan and then Iraq.

Quite a few people mentioned that the attacks led to financial instability in the months after the attacks, which lead to the economic breakdown over the last two years.


Local economy

The local economy was hit hard over the last decade, particularly in 2008 and 2009, and had resounding impacts, with businesses struggling and populations in the Adirondack Park and across the state dropping.

The area lost a reliable source of jobs and volunteer labor when the minimum-security prison Camp Gabriels closed this year.

"That was the one thing in the last decade that affected all aspects of life around here," said WNBZ News Director Chris Morris.

About 150 corrections officers and civilians who were employed there either had to spend more money to commute greater distances to other facilities or lose their jobs entirely.

Community members, state Sen. Betty Little, Assemblywoman Janet Duprey and public-employee unions rallied against the closing unsuccessfully. The facility is now empty, and the state has yet to put forward a plan for using it in the future.

The closing of Ames stores in 2003 hit both Tupper Lake and Saranac Lake hard as two major shopping centers lost their cornerstone businesses.

"It's changed the retail landscape in our community," said Saranac Lake Mayor Tom Michael.

In Saranac Lake, local Justice and former Enterprise editor Howard Riley noted that the plaza where Ames used to be has seen a complete overhaul and has become vital again with the addition of hardware, auto parts and dollar stores.

But in Tupper Lake, the former Ames plaza has continued to struggle. One storefront has been empty for the better part of the decade, and the department store that replaced Ames just announced it will close at the end of December after a year of hardship.

Tupper Lake town Supervisor Roger Amell said he considered the quick downturn of the Tupper Lake economy to be the issue that is having the biggest impact on the town. Besides problems with the former Ames plaza, the former Oval Wood Dish plant next door transitioned to become Jardin Plastics, then shut down.

Many Tupper Lakers have been fighting to bring a Walmart store to open at the location, but attempts have so far been unsuccessful.

Walmart did try to move in to Lake Placid and Saranac Lake in the 1990s, then Saranac Lake again in the last 10 years, but both communities blocked the discount chain after town-polarizing debates. Morris said that conflict is still a topic of conversation on WNBZ's call-in show "Talk of the Town."


Tupper Lake

In Tupper Lake, many residents see the Adirondack Club and Resort as something that could revitalize the local economy and the biggest story to come out of the town in the last 10 years. The project, proposed in 2004, would raze and rebuild the former Big Tupper Ski Area on Mount Morris and extensively develop the land around it.

"It's sort of been center stage for the last six years," said Tupper Lake Free Press Publisher Dan McClelland.

"This will be, when it's done, will be the biggest single private accomplishment in the Park since the Adirondack Park was established," Maroun said.

Both Maroun and Amell said they believe the project could draw a number of other businesses and have financial impacts on surrounding communities.

Village Mayor Mickey Desmarais said the new, higher-capacity power transmission line that was installed from Colton to Tupper Lake is the most important thing to happen in Tupper Lake in the last 10 years because it opens the door for more businesses to come into the area.

"We wouldn't be able to have any economic development if we didn't have viable power," Desmarais said.

Amell also said the proposal for a new pellet plant was a significant development, as was the opening of The Wild Center nature museum.

"It was a big boost to the economy," Amell said.

Village police Chief Tom Fee noted some significant cases in Tupper Lake in the last decade, including the shooting of state Trooper Douglas Hoffman in 2007 when he was investigating a parked car on Pitchfork Pond Road, the assault of village police officer Jason Amell in 2007 by a group including 19-year-old Brad Eggsware and the shooting of state Trooper George M. Stannard in 2008 by a suicidal man in a canoe on the Raquette River.


Saranac Lake

In Saranac Lake, Paul Smith's College sold the historic Hotel Saranac in 2007, an event that "had a tremendous impact in our community," said Mayor Tom Michael.

Another important issue this decade, Michael said, has been Saranac Lake's water system. The state Department of Health rescinded the village's exemption from having to filter water for its current source, McKenzie Pond, in September 2007. After a few years of testing and debate, the village Board of Trustees decided in October to borrow $12.5 million to develop a well-based water system, which Michael said would have a "tremendous impact for years to come."

Bob Pettee, of Pendragon Theatre, said the last decade has seen a greater visibility of and respect for the arts in Saranac Lake.

"It's been really invigorating," Pettee said.

Riley agreed, saying, "There's a growing, healthy art community here that a lot of people around this area are noticing."

Cape Air moving in to the Harrietstown airport and greatly increasing passenger use there was another big accomplishment of the decade, Riley said.


Lake Placid

In the Enterprise newsroom, Managing Editor Peter Crowley and Senior Staff Writer Chris Knight, formerly news director at WNBZ, remembered the visits of two sitting presidents as significant.

President Bill Clinton visited in August 2000 for a three-day birthday vacation, with wife HIllary and daughter Chelsea, which also included a campaign rally for Hillary Clinton's senate run at the Saranac Lake Civic Center.

Then in 2002, then-President George W. Bush visited Wilmington to celebrate Earth Day, a major event of the decade.

Other significant developments over the last 10 years in the Lake Placid area included the announcement and work on the state Olympic Regional Development Authority's Conference Center and the announcement of a satellite location of the Adirondack Museum on Main Street, which was then postponed indefinitely due to a lack of funding when the economy went south.

In the sports world, Lake Placid native and third-generation Olympian Jim Shea win a gold medal in skeleton at the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, which was a source of pride for many in the area in the last 10 years, Reuter said. Shea's grandfather, Jack Shea, a double-gold-medalist speedskater at his hometown's 1932 Winter Olympics, died in a car collision a month before the 2002 games.

ORDA spokesman Jon Lundin also noted the return of Skate America, the Goodwill Games being held in Lake Placid, the addition of twin gondolas at Whiteface and Gore mountains and the staging of three Great Outdoor Games there were significant events for the Olympic village.


State land acquisitions

Another huge development of the last 10 years has been the state's purchase of a large amount of land for the Forest Preserve or for conservation easements. Gov. George Pataki had a goal of saving 1 million acres of land during his governorship and achieved that before he left office in January 2007.

"Long after he's reduced to a footnote in New York history, Gov. Pataki will be remembered as someone who redefined the public-private balance in the Adirondacks," said North Country Public Radio Adirondack Bureau Chief Brian Mann.

Adirondack Explorer Editor Phil Brown said the acquisitions are a win-win situation because they preserve logging jobs on easement lands while preserving habitat for animals and opening land for public recreation.



This year saw two significant special elections: first when Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand - who had unseated Republican U.S. Rep. John Sweeney in 2006 and won re-election in 2008 - was appointed to the U.S. Senate, and then when John McHugh left his position representing the 23rd Congressional District to become Secretary of the Army.

"All the national media attention it brought here was pretty crazy," Knight said.

The fall of Chris Ortloff, a state assemblyman for 20 years representing Clinton and Franklin counties and the town of St. Armand, shook the region, Morris said. He was caught trying to set up a sexual encounter with a pair of pre-teen sisters through undercover agents posing as the girls' mother.



Several people noted the changes in the region and the country in general that have occurred due to advances in communications technologies like cell phones and broadband.

Michael said the spread of broadband Internet has led to an increase in people working from their homes in the region.

Knight noted that the struggle to get more cell towers in the region took shape over the last decade, having a huge impact on the safety of residents and travelers here.

On another end of the technology spectrum, the Trudeau Institute in Saranac Lake has been able to make significant contributions to science over the last 10 years, said Institute spokesman Brian Turner, with increased money for the National Institutes of Health and Navy under the Clinton and Bush administrations.



The decline in population in the Adirondacks has led to the shuttering of several schools, from Holy Ghost Academy Catholic elementary school in Tupper Lake to the Lake Clear Elementary School, which has been painful for local communities, Mann said.

New North Country Community College President Carol Brown said the biggest change in the last 10 years for community colleges has been "the growth in recognition of their importance for education and preparing for the workforce."

At Paul Smith's College, the campus has improved several facilities significantly, adding a new library, student center and dormitory this decade, said spokesman Ken Aaron.

The college's addition of four-year baccalaureate degrees has shown a huge change in the identify of the college. When the decade began, the college had 13 percent of its students in four-year programs, and by 2009, 81 percent of students are working on bachelor's degrees, Aaron said.

The identity of Saranac Lake schools underwent a significant change this decade as well, Morris said. A Saranac Lake native, Morris was in the first class of students to graduate with the mascot of Red Storm, which was changed from the Saranac Lake Redskins because of the cultural insensitivity of that team name.


Enterprise staff writers Chris Knight and Nathan Brown contributed to this report.


Contact Jessica Collier at (518) 891-2600 ext. 25 or



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