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A tale of two base closures

June 10, 2004|by TIM ROWLAND

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. - And Washington County Hospital CEO Jim Hamill thinks he has problems. The hospital up here was built by William Miner, the chap who invented the railroad car coupler, made a mint and returned to his home in the Champlain Valley where he spent the rest of his life engaging in great works of science and philanthropy.

In keeping with his dual interests, my brother Bruce told me he built a hospital for the community - but as a condition, he required that it keep and care for, in perpetuity, an ark's worth of animal species for reasons that are unclear. Anyway, long story short, if today you look out the intensive care window to see a couple of llamas, it's not because the surgeon removed the wrong cranial lobe.

Another thing that may interest Hagers-tonians about Plattsburgh is that it, too, has a military base that was shut down under the Realignment and Closure Act back in the '90s.

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(Incidentally, I've been out of town for a while - I assume all the final details of PenMar Development's new plan for Fort Ritchie have been ironed out by now? It what? Oh dear).

Of course, Fort Ritchie is small potatoes compared to Plattsburgh, which back in the day was counted among the Eastern Seaboard's larger and more strategic nuclear air bases. Airport officials here would salivate because the end of the Plattsburgh runway is obscured by the curve of the earth. Or it seemed that way to me, anyhow.

The base is massive, and now they have to figure out what to do with it. Like Fort Ritchie, it's in a beautiful location on the shores of Lake Champlain. But it is also, as would make sense for a nuclear facility, slightly removed from major population centers. In its marketing literature, the Plattsburgh Airbase Redevelopment Corp. (PARC) is "strategically located" and it is, in the sense that it is "strategically located" between East Beekmantown and Ausable Forks.

There are some differences in the way the managers of the two bases have interacted with the community. Cascade residents might be interested in this snippet from the Plattsburgh Press Republican:

"PARC grew and became a key center, not only for residential and industrial development, but for community activity. The Base Oval has been the site of kids' soccer leagues, car shows and even a polo match, to name only a few of the events held there. The Old Base Gym not only hosts local basketball leagues, it is the daily habit of untold numbers of walkers and exercise buffs."

So see? Plain, ordinary citizens are not smallpox to a redeveloping military base.

Unlike Ritchie, Plattsburgh has about 60 tenants, although like Ritchie, Plattsburgh hasn't landed the Big Fish. However, there are B-52-like rumblings, most notably in the form of a jet-refurbishing center that promises 5,000 jobs.

By now, sharp readers - aware that I seldom care about anything that doesn't directly affect me - are probably wondering where I am going with this.

And where I am going is here: We all have to work to defeat the proposal to bring 5,000 jobs to the PARC, and here's why. The mega-development announcement came about 30 seconds after the Long & Foster in High Heels and I had decided to buy property in the Champlain Valley for an eventual retirement compound. And when this announcement hit, property prices around Plattsburgh began to go up faster than an Exxon gas pump after a Saudi Arabian sneeze.

"People are pulling land off the market thinking the value will go way up if they hold onto it a little longer," Realtor Kathy Bennett told me as I sat glumly in her Plattsburgh office.

There's some luck for you. Worse, I found out the crazy farmers and fruit growers up there value their crops and orchards (and gorgeous scenery) more than they do new housing, and are in little mood to sell.

"Are these people nuts," I asked? "Why would you want an unobstructed view of the lake and the Vermont mountains when you could look out at a Mediterranean-style villa with some stinkin' horseshoe pits in the back yard?"

They don't say much when I ask this, however.

And as for Ritchie, it looks as if their only hope for a major influx of jobs is if they can somehow get me to announce that I wish to retire there.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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