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State contributes $500,000 to Fort Drum’s land-buffer program

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FORT DRUM — A buffer for the post from outside encroachment could grow by 65 percent by the end of this year, thanks to an infusion of $500,000 from the state on top of millions of federal dollars already allocated.

The state money announced Monday, combined with federal funds, gives the post $4.5 million this year to purchase development rights on land the Army deems of concern to its operations. The buffer program has been operated locally since 1999, in conjunction with the Tug Hill Tomorrow Land Trust and Ducks Unlimited.

Since its founding, program has dedicated approximately $5.2 million to buy the development rights to 16 properties totaling about 3,500 acres. The most recent purchase, in the town of Wilna, was finalized by Ducks Unlimited this month.

Linda M. Garrett, executive director of the land trust, said she and other coordinators were close to closing deals on five parcels covering an additional 2,292 acres.

“This allows us to do that,” Mrs. Garrett said.

Although the deals for permanent development rights limit certain land use, the program allows the property owners a range of agricultural uses.

The five development rights purchases that are close to completion this year are for land south of the post, including northern Lewis County. Specific sites were not indicated.

Military leadership on post has been concerned about wind turbines’ potential interference with radars and helicopters. Wind turbines have been proposed in the Copenhagen area.

The state funding also gives the combined local effort better odds when it applies for future money to support the buffer program, Mrs. Garrett said.

In a news release announcing the new money Monday, the state said the buffer was necessary if another round of Base Realignment and Closure was considered, and also pointed out the post’s value to the community.

“Fort Drum is critical to maintaining the strength of both our nation’s military and the economy in the North Country, which is why New York State is stepping in to protect the base and the land around it,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said in a statement. “These buffer zones will preserve important land around the base for military exercises — which means Fort Drum can continue to train army personnel and employ New Yorkers from all across the North Country for years to come.”

The post generated about $1.4 billion in economic activity for the 2012 fiscal year, according to statistics earlier this year.

Col. Gary A. Rosenberg, the post’s garrison commander, said the buffer program helped protect the readiness of the 10th Mountain Division.

“New York state contributions will greatly enhance the effectiveness of this program, and also speak volumes about the dedication of our home state to our future,” he said.

The news release from the governor’s office also included endorsements from U.S. Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, Assemblyman Kenneth D. Blankenbush, R-Black River, and the heads of several state government agencies.

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