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Gray wants more openness among transportation advocacy groups

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MASSENA - Town Supervisor Joseph D. Gray would like to see more openness among groups advocating either for or against the proposed Interstate 98 that would connect Watertown to Plattsburgh.

Mr. Gray published a blog, “What Gov. Cuomo Really Said About 4-Lane Highway,” earlier this month providing his interpretation of Gov. Cuomo’s statements on the proposed I-98 during a visit earlier this month to Potsdam and criticized the reactions by groups such as the Northern Corridor Transportation Group, which backs the proposed I-98, and YesEleven, a group that is in favor of improvements to the existing Route-11 as a way to boost transportation in the north country.

“Both groups were quick to interpret what the Governor said, what they heard the Governor say. But instead of rushing to get out the next press release on what the Governor said, why don’t they work to let the public know what they’re doing?” Mr. Gray said.

Mr. Gray feels that neither the NCTG or YesEleven have adequately disclosed their activities to the public, pointing out neither group announces their meetings or activities to the public. He said the NCTG received $18,000 through the Business Development Corporation for a Greater Massena, an entity that receives funding through the town of Massena.

“They processed a lot of money over the last few years. Where did that money go?” Mr. Gray said. “Nobody asks those questions.”

Jason A. Clark, former executive director of the BDC and a current chair of the NCTG, said his board has always held open meetings, which take place quarterly and are usually held in the county court building at 48 Court Street, Canton. Mr. Clark also said Mr. Gray and Massena Mayor James F. Hidy have been invited to these meetings on numerous occasions, but neither has taken the opportunity to attend.

Both Mr. Hidy and Mr. Gray denied that they’d ever been invited or made aware of the group’s meetings.

Mr. Clark deferred comment on the group’s activities to Wade Davis, executive director of the Ogdensburg Bridge and Port Authority, who said NCTG is a nonprofit organization that has worked to push more than 600 resolutions supporting the proposed interstate highway.

“The group is a group of interested parties supporting transportation in the north country. One of our goals is the formation of the I-98,” Mr. Davis said. “Local towns, villages and economic development agencies have been instrumental in moving the process forward.”

In his blog, Mr. Gray criticized YesEleven for what he sees as a lack of definitive action on that group’s part.

“And it’s time for YesEleven to go to the government officials in Potsdam and Canton to commit IN WRITING to bypasses around their congested, travel-time-sucking downtown corridors,” Mr. Gray wrote in his blog. “Maybe then we can get the NYS Department of Transportation to upgrade US Route 11 and NYS Route 12 and make portions of them four-lane so as to relieve some congestion and speed people and commerce on their merry way.”

John Danis, one of the co-coordinators of YesEleven, called their group a “grassroots advocacy organization,” in which the only acting members are himself and fellow spokesman and co-coordinator John Casserly.

On the group’s website, yeseleven.org, visitors may make a donation or sign an online petitions supporting improvements to Route 11 over funding the proposed I-98. So far, 525 visitors have signed that petition.

The website also features a 2002 North Country Transportation Study and a 2008 Northern Tier Expressway Study. The Route-11 upgrades recommended in these studies form the basis of what YesEleven is pushing for, Mr. Danis said.

“If (Mr. Gray) wants to know what we’re doing, he should read those two studies,” Mr. Danis said.

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