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Sen. Schumer announces funding for NCCC water program

SARANAC LAKE — On Friday, Aug. 21, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, sat in front of a gathering of local politicians, teachers and administrators at North Country Community College to announce a $89,700 grant from the Northern Border Regional Commission for NCCC to develop a water and wastewater operator certification program.

“It’ll keep our water and sewer infrastructure and create jobs, so that’s great,” said Schumer to the group, which included Assemblyman Billy Jones, NCCC President Joe Keegan, Saranac Lake Mayor Clyde Rabideau, Lake Placid Mayor Craig Randall and Keene Supervisor Joe Pete Wilson.

“My purpose in coming here, other to say you got the grant, which everyone knows, is to fight for more money for the Northern Border Regional Commission,” said Schumer, addressing the small gathering, which had moved to the NCCC library to accommodate a downpour.

“We’re asking that it be put into the upcoming COVID package, or the next appropriations bill. COVID’s been tough,” continued Schumer, “and that’s what I’d like to talk about. I’d like to ask people about the effects of COVID here in the North Country.”

Thus began a conversation about the Adirondacks and the pandemic which had nothing to do with water certification programs and everything to do with how the last few months have gone in the Tri-Lakes area. The topics included tourism, the Canadian border closure, the Payment Protection Program and small business loans and permanent closures, and the number of COVID cases and deaths — including the recent outbreak at the Essex Center in Elizabethtown.

“So where are we with being able to get money for the Northern Border Commission? There are about 20 senators who are the old Tea Party types, who don’t want to spend any more money,” said Schumer. “Any. It’s crazy. It’s like Herbert Hoover after the crash of 1929 didn’t want to spend any money, which led to the Great Depression. Their view is let the private sector work all this out. Well, when you have the largest economic crisis in 75 years and the largest health care crisis — you can’t let the private sector do it. We’re not on a glide path out of here.”

There are plenty of tourists now, filling Adirondack Park streets and restaurants, but not further up north where the region is hurting, those assembled told the senator. And many of the cars with out-of-state plates are not technically tourists, but second home folks coming back to the North Country for the season. School enrollment is down as well, though many of those second home residents are staying and enrolling their kids locally.

The discussion moved from tourism to local labor shortages, issues of immigration and childcare, including the demographic of adult students who are also parents coping with remote learning — both their own and their kids.

Schumer slow-rolled his efforts in the Senate to get another aid package through, then spent most of his time listening to the dozen or so gathered in the library.

“Thanks, everybody. This helps me do my job better,” said Schumer at the end of the conversation, as he left for his next stop.

“I’m still going to every county every year.”

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