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St. Lawrence County legislators like Ogdensburg’s plan for St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center land

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CANTON — The St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators has thrown its unanimous support behind a plan for community control of some of the surplus land at the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center in Ogdensburg.

“A big part of developing all of these properties is local control,” Ogdensburg Planning and Development Director Andrea L. Smith told legislators Monday in a presentation about the plan.

The plan for the state to turn over 160 mostly vacant acres at the psychiatric center to the city so it could be developed was initiated by state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton. Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa and Mrs. Ritchie will work together to introduce sister bills for the Senate and Assembly, Legislator Vernon D. “Sam” Burns, D-Ogdensburg, said.

The psychiatric center campus covers more than 400 acres, including extensive frontage on the St. Lawrence River, but its primary services have been consolidated in just a few buildings and much of the land is unused.

The state has offered land at the psychiatric center for sale twice, but has not had any takers. The state also had a study done that said the land was not valuable, City Manager John M. Pinkerton said.

If the state retains possession, community leaders fear the property will remain idle.

The plan for the psychiatric center could not come at a better time, County Administrator Karen M. St. Hilaire said, because the director of the state’s Empire State Development Corp. told her six months ago he has been charged by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to get rid of excess state land.

“What you’re proposing, I think the timing is perfect,” she said.

The city is interested in 45 acres prime for industry on Route 37, which includes four buildings it would take and two it would not; 50 acres of uncontaminated waterfront, which includes several homes; 45 acres of timberland adjacent to the Ogdensburg Correctional Facility which has no buildings, and 25 acres that includes a cogeneration plant that provides steam to heat the psychiatric center and Ogdensburg Correctional Facility.

The co-gen plant’s contract ends in 2019 and the city could put in a biomass facility at that point. The plan also includes creation of a revolving fund that would be used as part of a long-term strategy to deal with the vacant buildings and under-used properties.

“The main focus of this is to get this back on the tax rolls,” Mr. Pinkerton said.

The city wants to partner in the endeavor with Empire State Development, the St. Lawrence River Valley Redevelopment Agency, the county Industrial Development Agency and the Ogdensburg Bridge and Port Authority. The OBPA is interested in some of the property eyed by the city, but Mr. Pinkerton said he did not see that as a stumbling block.

“Either it’s going to be done by legislation or we’ll negotiate,” he said. “We have to present a united front.”

Mr. Burns said the concept is excellent.

“This is a great idea,” he said. “It all fits together well.”

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