TUPPER LAKE - After his stop in Saranac Lake, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., headed to Tupper Lake, where he toured Park Street and discussed grants, economic development and his love for corn.
Schumer's tour began in the Tupper Lake village offices. His entourage included village Mayor Paul Maroun, town Supervisor Patti Littlefield, Franklin County Board of Legislators Chairman Billy Jones, Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism CEO James McKenna, North Country Chamber of Commerce President Garry Douglas and Adirondack Club and Resort developer Tom Lawson.
The mood was light as Schumer toured the new location for Well Dressed Foods, which is being renovated, as well as the cafe's current location across the street. He made a stop at the Veterans Park memorial and bought a bag of produce from the local food marketplace, located in the former Ginsberg's Department Store.
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, center, tours Park Street in Tupper Lake with Adirondack Residents Intent on Saving Their Economy Chairman Jim LaValley, left, and village Mayor Paul Maroun, right. Behind Schumer is Adirondack Club and Resort developer Tom Lawson.
(Enterprise photo — Shaun Kittle)
Shortly after the produce purchase, Schumer declared his love for corn, stating that there are only about 80 calories in a medium-sized ear.
"I eat corn all of the time," Schumer said. "People cover it in salt and butter, and that's what makes it bad for you. I think it tastes great the way it is."
As the tour entered the State Theatre, the conversation took a more serious turn. Schumer hosted a question-and-answer session there and fielded a wide range of questions.
"I come for homework, which means give me things to do that you need help with," Schumer said. "I'll try to do those, and that's the purpose of this little gathering here."
Maroun immediately told Schumer the village needs help funding the new shared-services building, as $1.3 million of the $3.78 million project was supposed to come from grants, but so far a $500,000 grant is the only money that's been secured.
Schumer told Maroun there might be homeland security money available through the Department of Justice to help fund the project.
"We have to figure out the grants that are out there and available for Franklin County," Schumer said. "The way I look at it is, you're a peg of a certain shape. The grants are holes of a certain shape, so we have to find the right hole that the peg fits through, and that's my job to push it through."
Schumer then asked Jones what the biggest issues are for the county's board of legislators, and Jones answered that it's keeping up with state mandates, especially Medicaid funding.
Schumer said his goal is to pass legislation that would establish about a 15 percent cap on how much Medicaid funding states can pass off to localities. Jones said Franklin County spends about $10.5 million on Medicaid a year.
"There's no way that property tax owners should be carrying the burden of Medicaid," Jones said.
Adirondack North Country Association Executive Director Kate Fish told Schumer she is concerned that federal energy policy doesn't recognize biomass as renewable energy.
Schumer said cow manure, wood chips and whey - a byproduct of Greek yogurt production - can all be used to produce energy. He said he's already introduced a bill that would provide tax credits for building the infrastructure to convert biomass to energy.
Next Stop Tupper Lake Chairman Dan McClelland asked Schumer about federal money to renovate the tracks along the rail corridor from Utica to Lake Placid.
"We envision also a rail and a trail, where a recreational corridor would go side-by-side with our train," McClelland said.
Schumer said that would be a great opportunity for the region. He said there is a bill to increase the tax break for short-line rail, and that it might be something that could help renovate the tracks here.
Littlefield said she was concerned about the lack of broadband Internet access in the region.
"Comcast is seeking to merge with Time Warner, and you have Time Warner here," Schumer said. "I would recommend you get (state Sen.) Betty (Little), get your state people to weigh in and say one of the conditions to allowing them to merge is to supply more broadband to rural New York. I'm serious. Trudeau, they had trouble a few years ago, and I had to help prevent them from moving. One of the reasons was lack of broadband. You have leverage for the next three or four months."
Overall, Schumer said he was happy to see progress in Tupper Lake, and he urged anyone with more requests to contact his office.