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St. Lawrence County legislators support Cuomo’s backing of I-98

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CANTON — A majority of St. Lawrence County legislators rallied Monday behind Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s spoken support of I-98, although the issue remained divisive.

Legislator Vernon D. “Sam” Burns, D-Ogdensburg, introduced a resolution thanking the governor for his call for a $2.5 million investment in the I-98 corridor development project.

The governor specifically mentioned the value of the project in his State of the State address, but the focus of a feasibility study remains unclear to many.

Supporters of a four-lane highway said seeing the I-98 logo affiliated with Gov. Cuomo was a step in the right direction.

“I never heard of a governor until this one say ‘I support a four-lane highway,’” said Legislator Donald A. Peck, D-Gouverneur. “This is the closest this county has ever been to a four-lane highway.”

The Legislature has split over I-98 before and Monday’s discussion was no exception.

Invited to speak by a legislator, Democratic Committee Chairman Mark J. Bellardini said no one should doubt the governor’s commitment to the project, viewed by its supporters as a tool to advance economic development in the county.

“We owe this to our children to build a foundation for business. Our children work at gas stations,” he said. ”The ones who don’t want it are the status quo.”

Legislator Mark H. Akins, R-Lisbon, took offense that anyone not in lockstep with the Democrats on I-98 meant they were satisfied with the state of the county.

“To say I’m against our kids is absolute rhetoric,” he said. “Don’t just preach and preach and preach. You don’t want to have a discussion of what we should actually do.”

A move by Legislator Daniel F. Parker, R-Potsdam, to remove a part of the resolution that stated it was out of the scope of the state Department of Transportation to conduct a study that includes an economic impact report failed.

Mr. Parker abstained from the vote on the resolution because of the negative comments from some Democrats.

“I think they were inappropriate,” he said. “They just caused more divisiveness.”

Legislator Jason A. Clark, D-Norfolk, also abstained because his consulting firm does work for Northern Corridor Transportation Group, which supports building I-98. The vote urging the governor to move forward with the feasibility study passed 11-2, besides the two abstentions.

Bipartisan support came from legislators Alex A. MacKinnon, R-Fowler, and Joseph R. Lightfoot, R-Ogdensburg, although neither thought an interstate would become a reality.

“Twenty-one years we’ve been talking about this,” Mr. MacKinnon said. “It’s another study and I’m going to vote for it.”

Mr. Lightfoot said he was skeptical but thought the county needed a four-lane highway.

“It’s a ray of sunshine, a crack,” he said. “I don’t have a good feeling this is going to come to fruition, but I have five kids and they’re all gone. It would be a great boon.”

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