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Other notable stories of 2012

January 15, 2013
Adirondack Daily Enterprise

Biotechs open for business in Saranac Lake

SARANAC LAKE - A year-and-a-half after the village announced that a pair of Lake Placid biotech companies would relocate to Saranac Lake and help form what was billed as a budding biotech cluster, all the pieces of that cluster are now in place.

Active Motif and its eight employees were welcomed to the village in early December at a well-attended reception in the company's new location at 17 Main St., the former village water department building.

The company joins Myriad RBM, another biotech company that moved to Saranac Lake from Lake Placid earlier this year. Myriad is located just across the Lake Flower dam in the three-story former village offices.

Village officials have said the presence of Active Motif and Myriad RBM, along with Trudeau Institute and Bionique Testing Laboratories in the town of Harrietstown's Lake Clear business park, creates a biotech cluster in the Saranac Lake area that could attract similar companies to the community.

In May, the village won a statewide economic development award from the New York Conference of Mayors for its biotech cluster building effort.

-Chris Knight


Prescription drug abuse problems spike

The abuse of prescription narcotic drugs emerged as a fast-growing problem in the North Country this year.

Police, prosecutors, doctors, pharmacists and drug counselors say narcotics like oxycodone, Percocet and fentanyl have become the drug of choice for many people.

"I think it's probably rising faster than anything in our line of work," Lt. Brent Davison of the state police Troop B Bureau of Criminal Investigation told the Enterprise early this year.

There were multiple drug raids this year across the region that led to the arrests of dozens of suspects on charges of criminal sale and criminal possession of controlled substances.

The problem prompted state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to push for legislation to create an online, real-time database to report and track the use of prescription narcotic drugs.

- Chris Knight


Farm Bill hearing held at NCCC

SARANAC LAKE - Washington lawmakers and agricultural lobbyists descended upon this community on March 9 to debate the proposed 2012 Farm Bill.

The site, North Country Community College, was selected by U.S. Reps. Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh, and Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, who are House Agriculture Committee members. The hearing was held as the committee was putting together a new Farm Bill, and it attracted hundreds of farmers, environmentalists, students and local politicians.

But the legislation ended up falling victim to election year politics. House Republican leaders declined to bring the bill to the floor for a vote, instead letting it expire in September. As of December, a new Farm Bill still hadn't been passed.

-Chris Morris


Irene cleanup continues

No one expected recovery from 2011's Tropical Storm Irene to be quick, and in 2012, leaders in storm-scarred communities like Keene and Jay continued efforts to pick up the pieces.

Most of the public infrastructure damaged by the storm was repaired this past year, as were many homes along the East Branch of the AuSable River. Town officials also lobbied the state to provide funding to help remove large piles of debris next to the river that lingered for months after the storm. Much of that debris still remains today.

The Keene Volunteer Fire Department broke ground on a new fire station on state Route 73, receiving $640,000 from the state to lower the local share of the project's costs.

In December, the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced it would provide Essex County with funding to purchase and destroy 26 flood-damaged homes. The funding will also cover the cost of grading and seeding for the properties.

-Chris Morris


Harrietstown supervisor resigns amid sexual harassment claim

SARANAC LAKE - A veteran local elected official resigned this year amid allegations that he sexually harassed his former bookkeeper.

The Enterprise reported March 8 that the Harrietstown Town Board had agreed in late December 2011 to let its insurance company pay former town bookkeeper Brenda LaPierre $30,000 to settle a sexual harassment complaint she had brought against Supervisor Larry Miller last year.

Miller, LaPierre and members of the town board said they couldn't speak about the matter, citing a confidentiality agreement that was part of the settlement. Town board members also said their hands were forced by the town's insurance company, which wanted to settle.

After the story broke, the Enterprise learned that councilmen Bob Bevilacqua, Ron Keough and Jim Murnane had asked Miller to resign in June 2011, less than three months after LaPierre filed her complaint. Murnane left the board at the end of 2011, but Keough and Bevilacqua stood behind their call for Miller's resignation.

Miller's supporters, including Deputy Supervisor Barry DeFuria, said Miller had been "railroaded," noting that the allegations against him only surfaced after LaPierre's position was eliminated.

Miller had been on the town board since 1995. He had been town supervisor in 2001.

His decision to leave office sparked a political battle for the last remaining year of his term between Bevilacqua, a Republican, and Democrat Tom Catillaz, a current village trustee and former mayor. Bevilacqua won the race handily on Election Day and was sworn in as supervisor on Dec. 5.

A full four-year supervisor term will be on the ballot in November 2013.

-Chris Knight


Local residents give to Sandy victims

Local residents, officials and emergency responders spent days preparing for Superstorm Sandy, but the North Country was spared from the brunt of the storm.

The same couldn't be said for people who live on Long Island, in parts of New York City and along the coast of New Jersey, where the storm caused extensive flooding and widespread damage.

When news of the devastation began to emerge, local residents were quick to react.

Teams of firefighters from Franklin County, including two-man crews from Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake, were among the first to respond. They helped pump out basements, stood in for local firefighters and provided other assistance to storm-ravaged towns on Long Island. Essex County sent several truckloads full of generators to communities that were without power.

In the weeks that followed, numerous Sandy relief efforts were launched in the Tri-Lakes. Local residents, churches and businesses collected and donated thousands of dollars in money, and countless boxes and bags full of clothing and supplies for communities affected by the storm.

The Saranac Lake Middle School adopted an elementary school on Long Island whose students were displaced for weeks due to damage from Sandy. It's planning a series of fundraisers throughout 2013.

-Chris Knight


Trudeau Institute pulls back from tipping point

SARANAC LAKE - Trudeau Institute hired a new director this year, and the nonprofit biomedical research center appeared to be back on the right track after two challenging years.

Ronald H. Goldfarb was appointed to lead the institute in early October, filling a position that had been vacant for more than a year following the controversial departure of David Woodland. The appointment came after what's been a tumultuous last few years for Trudeau that included the potential relocation of the institute.

The Enterprise and North Country Public Radio, as part of a two-part investigative series, reported this spring that top executives and a small group of Trudeau scientists and board members began working aggressively and in secret to relocate the facility outside of Saranac Lake as early as 2008.

The reporters also found that the institute was at a tipping point, brought on by the departure several top executives, the loss of well-funded faculty and the erosion of Trudeau's endowment.

As the year continued, however, Trudeau showed some signs that it's bouncing back. In March the institute launched a contract research organization, making its infectious disease expertise available to biotechnology firms, pharmaceutical companies and academic researchers on a contractual basis. Its scientists have won several lucrative grants and Trudeau is partnering with an infectious disease hospital and research center in China to see how its laboratory studies could help people afflicted with tuberculosis.

-Chris Knight


Saranac Lake completes infrastructure upgrades

SARANAC LAKE - This year proved to be one of the busiest construction seasons the village has seen in decades.

A small army of village employees and private contractors worked on millions of dollars in repairs and upgrades to village infrastructure, including miles of new sidewalk and pavement, replacement of a major sewer lineand at least a half-dozen other projects.

Village officials say much of the work had to be done because it was either state-mandated or, in the case of the sidewalk upgrades, long overdue.

One of the biggest projects was the completion of a new village water system, a $12.5 million overhaul that involved the drilling of two wells, construction of a 1.15-million-gallon water storage tank on the side of Mount Pisgah, installation of a new water transmission main and replacement of other water infrastructure in neighborhoods throughout the village. The new water system went online in December.

Most of the projects were completed under budget, although the village dug deep into its reserves to pay for some of the work.

-Chris Knight


Watertown woman sues Lake Placid police, village

LAKE PLACID - A pair of village police officers became the target of a lawsuit filed by a Watertown woman in 2012.

Taryn Stanfa, 21, filed a federal claim against officers James D. Staats and Matthew J. Braunius in October. The suit seeks $1 million in damages from a Jan. 21 incident that happened in the parking lot of Hannaford supermarket, just outside the village of Lake Placid in the town of North Elba.

Stanfa, who was a North Country Community College student at the time, claims the officers assaulted and falsely imprisoned her. Village police Chief Bill Moore has said he isn't been able to respond because it's village policy not to comment on pending litigation. He said he expects the truth to come out eventually.

-Chris Morris



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