Governor Andrew Cuomo sent shivers up the spines of the region's local and state officials Wednesday when he railed against the long controversial upstate prison industry.
While delivering his first State of the State address, the freshly-elected Democrat gave a stark assessment of the use of prisons as job creators - especially in upstate New York.
"An incarceration program is not an employment program," he said. "If people need jobs, let's get people jobs. Don't put other people in prison to give some people jobs."
He couched the fiery comment in a discussion of youth correctional facilities.
But with recent skirmishes over the future of area prisons in Moriah, Ogdensburg and Dannemora, Cuomo's statement has local officials ready for yet another battle.
Cuomo's pointed statement directed squarely at the North Country wasn't missed by Dan MacEntee - a spokesman for state Senator Betty Little.
"It was really the only aspect of that speech that had any specific relevance to the North Country. Everything else was pretty much across the board," he said. "We're not going to know for a little while."
Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward said Cuomo's prison remarks were the one negative in a speech that largely could have been delivered by a Republican.
"I think anything can happen. He's facing a $10 billion deficit that he says he's going to close without raising taxes or borrowing money," she said. "If he's going to do that, then we're all going to have to face some really tough decisions."
During last year's budget fight, the prison in Lyon Mountain was slated for closure. The Moriah Shock camp and the massive Ogdensburg Correctional Facility survived but may be facing closure yet again.
Sayward noted that bringing a largely downstate prison population closer to home has been on the wish-list of Democratic lawmakers for years - especially as inmate populations have continued to fall in recent years.
"We all know that three-quarters of the people in the prisons up here come from downstate," she said. "It's really troubling because a lot of our CO's have roots here in the North Country and if the only jobs are moved downstate there will be a lot of disruptions in family life that not a lot of us want to think about."
The push to begin closing a number of the 18 North Country prisons accelerated over the last two years of Democratic rule in the state Senate.
Sayward said the lack of specifics surrounding Cuomo's planned restructuring of government creates a cloud of mystery around the potential prison battle.
"I don't know how he's going to restructure. Is he going to look differently at lifers than he does at youth or people that need to be integrated back into society," he said. "He really didn't leave us with much other than his hard and fast, 'we're not going to put people in prison just to create jobs.'"
The largest employer in Moriah, the shock camp is the economic lifeblood of the community. It directly provides over 100 jobs and pumps millions of dollars into the community's gas stations and restaurants.
During last year's battle for Moriah, local Supervisor Tom Scozzafava, Essex County Chairman Randy Douglas and county Manager Dan Palmer undertook a full scale assault on Albany - knocking on the doors of legislative leaders from both parties.
Douglas's Democratic ties allowed him access to the office of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
Both Sayward and Scozzafava argue that shock treatment throughout the state has received greater emphasis because of recent changes to the long-controversial Rockefeller drug laws.
"I think we can prove our point once again. Our argument was, 'if you're going to close prisons, don't just do it in the North Country,'" he said. "Our economy is absolutely dependent on them and it's not by our choosing. Because we live in the Adirondack Park jobs in the private sector are very limited."
MacEntee said the recent closures of prisons at Camp Gabriels and Lyon Mountain have already taken a toll on the region.
"It's a big stone being thrown into a small pond and the ripple is real," MacEntee said.
The state's recent attempts to sell the facility have failed and the region's officials argue they are destined to remain vacant because of the relative lack of infrastructure and unique land-use restrictions within the blue line.
The draft executive state budget is expected to be released in three weeks.