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State contributes $1 million to Fort Drum buffer program

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FORT DRUM — The state will contribute $1 million to a buffer program designed to protect the post’s training operations from outside development.

The new funding in the state’s 2014-15 budget, announced on Thursday by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, is the state’s largest contribution to the program, and is expected to help the state and regional advocates lobby for more federal financial support.

Last year, the state contributed $500,000, which the governor’s office said leveraged an additional $4 million in federal support.

“The land around Fort Drum is vital to the training of our nation’s military as well as the economy of the north county, which is why New York is dedicated to protecting the base,” Gov. Cuomo said in a statement.

The post’s buffer program, operated in conjunction with the Tug Hill Tomorrow Land Trust and Ducks Unlimited, purchases permanent development rights from property owners, keeping the land in use for a range of low-impact agricultural purposes.

“It’s not just protecting the land, but helping Fort Drum become more sustainable, and having farms become more sustainable,” said Linda M. Garrett, executive director of the land trust. “It’s great to have the state’s support. We’re grateful it’s a priority for them as well.”

Since its inception in 1999, the program has spent approximately $6.5 million to protect 20 properties covering 4,700 acres of land in areas deemed important to the post. Four of those deals, worth about $1 million, have been closed since October. The newer deals primarily have been near Denmark and Champion.

The new funding is expected to support the protection of an additional 2,500 acres of land.

“It makes a big difference,” Mrs. Garrett said.

She said future areas of interest for the program will be in areas such as Felts Mills, Deferiet, Herrings and Evans Mills.

The governor’s office noted the value of the investment given the post’s economic impact, estimated at about $1.4 billion in the 2013 fiscal year.

A news release from the governor’s office about the funding also included endorsements from Elizabeth C. Fipps, chairwoman of the Fort Drum Regional Liaison Organization; John K. Bartow Jr., executive director of the state’s Tug Hill Commission; Joe Martens, executive director of the state Department of Environmental Conservation; Garry F. Douglas, president of the Greater Watertown-North Country Chamber of Commerce, and Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa.

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