ELIZABETHTOWN - Local representatives at the state and county level are up in arms following an announcement by Gov. David Paterson to close the Moriah Shock incarceration program.
Paterson announced his plan to close the facility Jan. 19, part of his proposed 2010-2011 Executive Budget that seeks to reduce state spending by $5.5 billion.
Moriah Supervisor Tom Scozzafava relayed news of the facility's closure to the Essex County Personnel Committee at their Jan. 19 meeting and urged other county leaders to take action.
"I don't need to tell any of my fellow supervisors the economic impact this is going to have in this community," said Scozzafava.
More than 100 people are employed at Moriah Shock, which opened in 1989 at the site of a former mining camp on Fisher Hill road. It uses a para-military approach to rehabilitate inmates who are serving time for non-violent crimes.
"To be frank, if that facility is closed, those buildings are going to remain vacant for the next 50 years," said Scozzafava. "They let our bridge fall apart, and now they're going to take away the biggest drivers of our local economy."
St. Armand Supervisor Joyce Morency likened the proposal to the last year's closing of Camp Gabriels, just outside Saranac Lake. Facilities there have remained vacant since July 2009.
Other supervisors affirmed Scozzafava's claim that the effect of the facility's closure would be far-reaching, if only because of its 171 inmates, most of whom regularly support public works projects as part of work crews.
"We've come to rely on using them to cut the cost of government to the local taxpayers," said Westport Supervisor Dan Connell, noting how Moriah Shock work crews put in hundreds of man-hours at the Essex County Fairgrounds each year.
"The town of Wilmington uses those crews customarily, especially for our parks," said Wilmington Supervisor Randy Preston, referring to the state's decision as the latest in a recent string of incompetence. "It's just one unbelievable mistake after another they continue to make."
Representatives at the state level are also expressing their opposition to Paterson's proposal. Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward has pledged to help save a facility she says helps to save money for the state.
"I've already been beating the bushes and talking to a lot of my friends on the other side of the aisle. We're putting a package to make them well aware of what's going on, so that we can get some help as we go through this process as we try to make sure that Moriah stays in Moriah."
Sayward said Moriah Shock was originally put in place to help rescue the community, which had suffered greatly following the decline of the mining industry.
"Moriah Shock was put in Moriah because of the devastation in the community and the lack of jobs," she said. "We're going to go back and see if we can find documentation where that was the case so that as we move forward we can build a case for keeping Shock where it is, because there's still no jobs. In the Adirondacks it's the same old thing, once a business goes empty, nothing is going to replace it."
In addition to Moriah Shock, Paterson announced plans to close minimum security prisons at Lyon Mountain in Clinton County and Butler in Wayne County, both of which will be closed in January 2011.
The Moriah Shock facility would then close in April 2011, along with Ogdensburg medium security prison in St. Lawrence County.
"They're only closing prisons in the North Country," said Scozzafava. "You have to wonder if part of the environmental lobby has a play in this also."
"The fact that the budget would target upstate prison facilities for closure is not a surprise," said State Sen. Elizabeth Little. "Since entering the Senate, I have heard my downstate Democratic colleagues repeatedly call to close our upstate facilities, often citing what they believe to be an unfair counting of inmates in the federal census."
"Closures not only directly impact those employed at correctional facilities, but there's also a ripple effect that is tough for rural and economically depressed communities in the North Country to absorb," Little added. "Camp Gabriels, closed last year, now sits empty. I don't want to see the same thing happen at Lyon Mountain or Moriah."
WNBZ news manager Chris Morris contributed to this report.