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Farm Bureau supports Route 11 improvements

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CANTON - New York Farm Bureau has modified its stance on support for a rooftop highway to one that favors improvements on Route 11 to the delight of the YESeleven organization and the displeasure of I-98 proponents. The change to a previous resolution supporting a rooftop highway that dated back a number of years was recommended at the Farm Bureau’s annual meeting earlier this month in Albany by St. Lawrence County Legislator Kevin D. Acres, R-Madrid, a delegate.

“What I was able to do was have that resolution removed and have one adopted that recognizes Route 11 is a valuable corridor,” Mr. Acres said. “The delegates went along with my arguments. I think they thought we supported I-98 but we don’t.”

Mr. Acres said a new interstate rather than improvements to Route 11 would adversely affect agriculture because of the land it would take to build.

“It would take up a lot of acreage,” he said. “You’re going to go through farmland. It’s a sizeable swath of land right up through the bread basket of St. Lawrence County.”

County Democratic Chairman Mark J. Bellardini, a supporter of I-98, said he was surprised Farm Bureau passed a resolution without hearing the alternate argument that a four-lane interstate would help agriculture.

“I think it’s unfortunate not to offer to hear anybody from the other side,” he said. “I think it’s terrible for Farm Bureau to let that happen. It would be a huge help to farmers around here.”

County Farm Bureau President Jon R. Greenwood, who was also a delegate to the meeting, said the early discussions about a rooftop highway were more along the lines of what the state Department of Transportation has proposed as improvements for Route 11, not for a four-lane interstate.

“To me, the whole thing has kind of been hijacked. Now it’s changed to a four-lane highway in addition to the other one,” he said. “I don’t think we need a completely independent four-lane highway that takes thousands of acres.”

John T. Casserly, a spokesman for YESeleven, a grassroots organization that favors improvements to Route 11, welcomed Farm Bureau’s position.

“It’s a major organization that sees fixing Route 11 in their interest,” he said. “I’m just thinking they might have in their mind farmland is valuable.”

Upgrading Route 11 as an expressway with passing lanes and occasional wider sections would be enough to meet transportation needs, Mr. Casserly said.

Undermining the importance of an interstate highway demonstrates opposition to a growth strategy, said Jason A. Clark, a supporter of I-98.

“I can understand their concerns, but I don’t think there would be a significant impact on farmland,” he said. “A handful of farmers are trying to serve their own interests and doing a disservice to the rest of the north country.”

A four-lane highway would help with the transportation cost of moving agricultural products out of the north country, such as yogurt made by Upstate Niagara Cooperative in North Lawrence and timber from local forests as well as open up other opportunities for business, Mr. Clark said. The project supported by federal elected representatives is not simply an interstate, but an integrated system of rail, road and trails, he said.

“We’re going to keep trying. We’re not giving up,” Mr. Clark said. “We’re working on the governor.”

YESeleven does not see itself as anti-growth, according to John W. Danis, a member of the group.

“We’re for economic development. We just don’t see I-98 as the path to economic development,” he said. “For us, it’s a quality of life thing and business development.”

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