Sackets unveils $7 million proposal for downtown facelift

The artistic rendering illustrates proposed improvements along West Main Street planned by the village of Sackets Harbor. BERNIER, CARR & ASSOCIATES

The artistic rendering illustrates proposed improvements along West Main Street planned by the village of Sackets Harbor. BERNIER, CARR & ASSOCIATES

The village has introduced a $7 million proposal to reconstruct West Main Street and upgrade its water plant during the next three years.

About 30 property owners on West Main Street would be affected by the reconstruction project, which would run from the intersection of North Broad Street to the street’s western end at the Sackets Harbor Battlefield State Historic Site; sections of Hill, Ray and Ambrose streets also would be rebuilt. Water and sewer lines about 120 years old would be replaced under the plan, which also calls for the installation of sidewalks, granite curbing, LED street lighting and an 1,800-foot stormwater drainage system and planting of trees.

To enhance the aesthetics of the downtown area, the village also plans to apply for funding from National Grid to bury a 1,700-foot section of aerial electric, telephone and television wires.

In addition, a historic recreational area named Market Square Park would be developed in front of the Sackets Harbor Visitors Center off the street. A gateway to the battlefield would be built at the western end of the street, with the goal of attracting visitors to the Pickering-Beach Museum and other historic buildings inside the park. [Read more...]

St. Lawrence Seaway steel shipment boost largely due to auto industry demand

A large jump in steel product shipments through the St. Lawrence Seaway this season has been due to demand from the U.S. automobile industry, among other factors.

According to a news release sent out by the Chamber of Marine Commerce, the shipments to ports of Cleveland, Detroit, Indiana-Burns Harbor and Milwaukee also are a result of the improving American economy.

“In addition to an upbeat auto industry and an improving economy, robust oil and gas industries depend upon manufactured iron and steel goods,” St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corp. spokeswoman Nancy T. Alcalde said.

General cargo shipments, including steel slabs and coils and aluminum, totaled 872,000 metric tons from March 25 to June 30, according to the Seaway Corp.

This represented a 44 percent spike from 2013.

“We are seeing exports as well as imports. Advance notifications from industries suggested 2014 would be a good year, and we’re heading in that direction,” Ms. Alcalde said. “An example is that 20 high-value GE locomotives have been shipped through the Seaway to Mozambique and 30 more are set to leave this summer. Wind component movements to Duluth and Muskegon are on the rise. The new liner service between Cleveland and Antwerp has also resulted in new cargo tonnage for this navigation season.”

A Canadian grain rush is another factor behind the increase, according to the Marine Commerce release. “However, total cargo shipments through the St. Lawrence Seaway from March 25 to June 30 were 11.1 million metric tons, down 7 percent compared to 2013 due to decreases in iron ore exports and coal traffic,” it read.

Ms. Alcalde said that the Seaway Corp. is expecting the steel shipment increase to continue in the foreseeable future.

“The slow start to the navigation season was due to the lengthy winter that lasted well into April” she said.

We expect cargo tonnage to continue to increase for the remainder of 2014 and improve upon last year’s tonnage performance,” Ms. Alcalde said.

By Victor Barbosa, Johnson Newspapers

Potsdam Bagelry gets news owners, plans to produce artisan coffee

New Bagelry owners B. Ryan Dunphey, left, and Gabriel A. Ockrin stand next to a picture of the business taken in 1982. Melanie Kimbler-Lago / NNY Business

New Bagelry owners B. Ryan Dunphey, left, and Gabriel A. Ockrin stand next to a picture of the business taken in 1982. Melanie Kimbler-Lago / NNY Business

Artisan coffee culture is making its debut at the Bagelry this summer with the help of new owners Gabriel A. Ockrin and B. Ryan Dunphey, two men who left behind careers in corporate America to follow a shared passion.

The partners plan to infuse the long-standing Potsdam business with big-city coffee culture, while staying faithful to north country lifestyles. [Read more...]

Antwerp group opens playground in first of many revitalization projects

Karen K. Sands, president of Operation Restore Antwerp, stands near the recently built playground on Main Street in Antwerp with children and other volunteers. Justin Sorensen / NNY Business

Karen K. Sands, president of Operation Restore Antwerp, stands near the recently built playground on Main Street in Antwerp with children and other volunteers. Justin Sorensen / NNY Business

The opening of a new playground at the Antwerp baseball fields was the first project of a group of dreamers trying to restore the village to its vibrant glory, one project at a time.

The playground was opened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday.

“After the ribbon fell, 25 or so kids ran onto the playground,” said Karen K. Sands, an organizer with Operation Restore Antwerp. “It was magical. The kids just exploded with energy to play.”

ORA is a community-based organization that was started to help raise funds to restore and refurbish public facilities in the village. Mrs. Sands said the group began fundraising and making a list of possible projects four years ago. The playground at the baseball field was the first project. [Read more...]

Watertown chamber nets $60,000 grant to launch community health program

The Greater Watertown-North Country Chamber of Commerce has been awarded $60,000 by the Community Service Society of New York to launch a yearlong community health program serving Jefferson, Lewis, St. Lawrence and Oswego counties.

Two community health advocates will be hired by the chamber to lead the program, which will serve individuals and small businesses seeking health insurance and help educate those with insurance issues. In a statement, chamber President and CEO Lynn M. Pietroski said the $60,000 grant will help the organization continue its outreach efforts to serve businesses in the region.

“We are excited that we have established an ongoing relationship with the Community Service Society and can now continue to offer these services to the community,” Mrs. Pietroski said. “Having the support of such a strong organization ensures the quality of education and information we can provide local consumers. With so many moving pieces, we are happy.”

State public schools anticipated to pay highest pension contribution for teachers in 2014-15

School districts across the state are paying more than ever toward pension contributions for instructional staff and school administrator salaries.

John L. Cardillo, public information officer for the New York Teachers’ Retirement System, said for the 2014-15 school year, school districts are anticipated to make a contribution of 17 percent.

“In good times districts are paying very little,” Mr. Cardillo said. “We should see this peak with 17.5 percent and it should start to decline after that.”

Funding for state teachers and other instructional staff in the public schools are funded with a 3 percent employee contribution and a contribution of varying amounts by their employing school district. For 2013-14, he said the employer contributions were about 16 percent for each eligible employee. He said for 2014-15 employers are projected to have to contribute 17.53 percent.

“Those numbers have been an anomaly since the world economic collapse in 2008-09,” Mr. Cardillo said,

He said for the two decades prior to 2008, the districts’ contributions were in the single digits.

Each employee’s pension is based on salary and years of experience. Mr. Cardillo said the money given to the NYTRS is pooled for all pension recipients and invested.

“It’s really one big pool,” Mr. Cardillo said. “More than 87 percent of all our funds come from investment income.”

He said the Teachers’ Retirement System used to be able to make less money go much further in the market, but as the market changed, more money was needed from the school districts to make up the difference.

He said the system uses information from the school districts about the ages and salaries of employees to make projections about the amount of money that will be needed years in advance.

“We’re ahead of the curve in anticipation for any large-scale retirement,” Mr. Cardillo said. “I expect once the market has leveled out, we will see that number go down. I think the 17.53 percent is the highest it’s going to go.”

Mr. Cardillo said the money is pooled and paid out annually to pension recipients in a set amount based on the years of membership to NYSTRS and their salary. In the 2013-14 school year, Mr. Cardillo said, the system paid out $103.3 million to pension recipients in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties: In Jefferson County, $41.2 million for 1,196 employees, in Lewis County, $10.6 million for 317 employees and in St. Lawrence County $51.5 million for 1,551 recipients.

Stephen J. Todd, superintendent of Jefferson-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services, said when schools break down their budgets, pension costs are one of the fixed expenses such as health care that must be included.

“We estimate about 5 percent of annual budgets go toward teacher pensions and if you look across the state it’s about the same in every district,” Mr. Todd said. “It’s a fixed expense that school districts can’t control.”

Mr. Todd said with state-mandated expenses such as the lowered state aid provided due to the Gap Elimination Adjustment, school districts are forced to work with less funding. Regardless, he said, providing pensions to instructional staff isn’t something anyone begrudges.

“They’ve worked long and hard for that and every year districts find a way to pay that,” Mr. Todd said. He said when investment returns aren’t enough, employers must pay the difference. “School districts are like a family and we need to honor our commitments to our families.”

James R. Koch, business manager at Indian River Central School, said last year the district contributed $3,650,000 toward pensions for about 380 current instructional staff.

“Pay-out is based on salary, then the exact amounts can be properly calculated,” Mr. Koch said. “They know whose employed and we report regular salary and we report every month.”

Watertown Superintendent Terry M. Fralick said for the 2013-14 school year, the district paid $4,125,333 into the NYSTRS and has estimated its contribution will go up $511,478.

The calculations are done to ensure every member who reaches eligible age to receive compensation, age 55 to 57 depending on their position, can be supported.

Mr. Cardillo said even in the worst-case scenario, if a larger-than-expected number of teachers were to seek pension compensation, the pension would still be guaranteed for eligible retirees.

“The state constitution guarantees the funding for the pensions,” he said. “New York state doesn’t pay into the pensions — this would be the only time New York state would come into play.”

Teacher pension records had been public in May for the first time. Pensions can be viewed athttp://wdt.me/6Y4JE5.

By Katherine Clark, Times Staff Writer

Air Force investigator says ‘perfect storm’ led to drone crash in Lake Ontario

An outline of the area of impact of an MQ-9 Reaper drone that crashed Nov. 12 after taking off from Fort Drum’s Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Air Force

An outline of the area of impact of an MQ-9 Reaper drone that crashed Nov. 12 after taking off from Fort Drum’s Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Air Force

A combination of bad navigational software and timing led to the November crash of the MQ-9 Reaper drone crash into Lake Ontario, the Air Force colonel who investigated the crash said.

“It was kind of a perfect storm that this thing happened,” said Col. Dana A. Hess­­­heimer, who oversaw an Air Force Accident Investigation Board whose 21-page report about the incident was released July 1.

Within two days of the Nov. 12 incident, he said, the Air Force issued a servicewide notice to remedy the unspecified software problem.

“They corrected that right away,” Col. Hessheimer said, later comparing the notice to the safety recalls of automaker General Motors. [Read more...]

Impossible Dream Thrift Store’s new look revealed; grand opening next week

The newly refurbished Impossible Dream Thrift Store on Factory Street has reopened for business. Norm Johnston / NNY Business

The newly refurbished Impossible Dream Thrift Store on Factory Street has reopened for business. Norm Johnston / NNY Business

“Amazing,” “awesome” and “gorgeous” were some of the adjectives used by shoppers when they walked into the recently remodeled Impossible Dream Thrift Store.

Located within the Watertown Urban Mission at 247 Factory St., the thrift store had a soft opening July 2 of its mostly renovated space. While the two-floor thrift store is a work in progress, customers will notice an improved shopping experience as soon as they walk in the doors.

New to customers is a public rest room to the right just inside the entryway, and to the left is a small office and presentation space where household, furniture and clothing may be displayed.

People and businesses donated more than $2 million for the renovations. “I hope they feel proud of their investment,” Urban Mission Executive Director Erika F. Flint said. [Read more...]

Schumer urges FAA to approve runway expansion at Ogdensburg airport

Sen. Charles E. Schumer tells north country leaders at Ogdensburg International Airport Monday he will do everything he can to get the FAA to approve the runway extension. Melanie Kimbler-Lago / NNY Business

Sen. Charles E. Schumer tells north country leaders at Ogdensburg International Airport Monday he will do everything he can to get the FAA to approve the runway extension. Melanie Kimbler-Lago / NNY Business

U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer visited on Monday to urge the Federal Aviation Administration to approve a long-awaited runway expansion at Ogdensburg International Airport.

The Ogdensburg Bridge and Port Authority is planning to extend its runway by 1,200 feet to attract larger commercial airliners. The FAA’s stamp of approval is needed before work can begin on the $12 million project.

“The OBPA is ready, willing and able to complete this extension,” Mr. Schumer, D-N.Y., said. “The missing ingredient in making the airport and its new agreement with Allegiant a major economic driver in the regional economy is the feds, the FAA, where approval is sitting on somebody’s desk.”

The OBPA announced in June a partnership with Allegiant Air that officials say could increase traffic by up to 40,000 passengers a year with larger jets, which could turn the airport into a regional hub for air travel. [Read more...]

Consultant to analyze operations at Watertown Fire Department

A consultant is ready to start working on finding what the staffing level should be at the Fire Department and whether it has the right types of facilities and equipment.

City Manager Sharon A. Addison and other city officials met Wednesday with a representative of the International City/County Management Association to discuss how the consultant plans to go about completing the study.

“They’re kicking it off with a look at operations,” Ms. Addison said, noting that the consultant intends to conduct telephone interviews and make contacts through emails to see how the department is run.

Initially, the consultants will be in the mode of obtaining information before they start analyzing the operations of the department. The study is slated to be completed within 135 days.

Among the people they want to make initial contact with are Chief Dale C. Herman; Jefferson County Fire and Emergency Management Director Joseph D. Plummer, and Bruce G. Wright, president and CEO of Guilfoyle Ambulance Service.

Chief Herman did not attend Wednesday’s meeting, so he did not know what was discussed. Besides Ms. Addison, City Attorney Robert J. Slye and Elizabeth U. Morris, the assistant to the city manager, were at the meeting.

Within 30 days, ICMA representatives will make an on-site visit to meet with key stockholders of the department, Watertown City Council members, Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham, Chief Herman and others.

Last month, council members agreed to spend $56,000 to hire ICMA to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the Fire Department, despite the objection of the local firefighters union. Firefighter Mark W. Jones, president of Watertown Professional Fire Fighters Association Local 191, criticized the selection of the consultant, calling it a lobbying group for municipal managers. He told council members that it would be an unfair assessment, since Ms. Addison belongs to the organization.

The union offered to pay for half of the study if the city commissioned one that’s “equitable and fair to all parties,” union officials said. The city did not take up the offer.

After getting a recommendation from the New York Conference of Mayors, Ms. Addison proposed hiring ICMA, an association representing professionals in local government management, to conduct the study.

The assessment would include looking at the department’s organizational structure, studying workloads, identifying appropriate staffing and looking at response times, equipment and facilities.

During city budget discussions this spring, council members informally agreed that the department, which has an $8.8 million budget, should be evaluated. They said a study is needed to determine the efficiency of the department and whether the staff level, at 78 members, is appropriate.

The last fire department study was completed in 2002.

At any given time, 15 members of the Watertown Fire Department are on duty. The department has a main fire station on South Massey Street and two substations, one on Mill Street and the other on State Street.

The union would have to agree to any staffing changes. Its contract expired last month.

By Craig Fox, Times Staff Writer