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Governor’s new prison redevelopment group has no north country members

Published: May. 24, 2022 at 5:38 PM EDT
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TOWN OF WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - Two north country prisons sit empty. One in Watertown and one in Ogdensburg. Now the governor is taking the first steps to figure out how to reuse the prisons - or at least the land they sit on.

Governor Kathy Hochul launched the Prison Redevelopment Commission, a 15-member panel to figure out what to do with closed state prisons.

Although the north country has 2 empty prisons, no one on the panel is from the region.

“You’re not going to be able to craft policy locally without hearing from the municipalities and the communities that are directly impacted by prison closure, or the legislators they send to Albany to represent them,” said state Assemblyman Mark Walczyk (R. - 116th District.

In a statement, state Assemblyman Ken Blankenbush (R. - 117th District) said, “How is the commission going to do right by North Country residents if we do not even have a voice at the table?”

“The Watertown Correctional Facility has been closed for more than a year. But now local lawmakers are hopeful the space can be repurposed.

Walczyk says he’s cautiously optimistic the governor will include local lawmakers in the process. Jefferson County Legislator Bobby Ferris says he thinks his district’s voice will be heard too.

“I did speak with one of the assemblymen, and the governor is supposed to have someone locally representing us when we get to that point,” said District 11 Legislator Bobby Ferris.

State Senator Patti Ritchie says she has already had talks with the governor’s office “regarding the critical need to put these facilities back into productive use in a way that helps boost the local economies.” She calls the commission a step in the right direction.

Ogdensburg Mayor Mike Skelly says the property the Ogdensburg prison sits on could be prime real estate.

“Incredible views, there’s a beach at one end, the natural harbor with a creek, and I’m certain people would love to build there,” he said.

Skelly says he hopes he has the opportunity to meet with the governor to discuss future plans for the prison. The commission’s first meeting was on Monday.

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