By JIMMY LAWTON
CANTON – A $1.1 million grant could help Canton retain jobs, increase its tax base and expand its recreational offerings, according to Town Supervisor David Button.
The town is chasing a Transportation Alternatives Grant for a pedestrian bridge across the Grasse River from Bend in the River Park to Maple Hill Development to connect trails in the village. The bridge would increase public access to the river and could lead to more opportunities for recreational activities near the waterfront, Button says.
The town is also seeking a $250,000 Northern Borders Regional Utilities grant that could help bring water and sewer lines across the river to address issues at Community Bank’s northern regional administrative location across from O’Leary Funeral Service on U.S. Hwy. 11. The bank has been struggling with septic and water problems over the past four years, Button said.
The Community Bank facility is located in the Maple Hill Development area, which is on the western side of the Grasse River on the south end of the Village of Canton.
Button said the town’s true goal is to marry the projects to create a bridge that can perform “triple duty” -- the walking bridge could support utility lines and improve shared services.
The town has been seeking money for a walking bridge for several years, but at this point bringing utilities across the water has become a priority, as water and sewer issues on Maple Hill are threatening jobs, Button says.
In an April letter to supervisor Button, Community Bank Facilities Manager Charles Foster said the multimillion-dollar operation building was built in the Maple Hill Development under the pretense that village utilities would be expanded to the facility, which has not yet happened.
“I realize it has only been a few years, but the lack of public utilities has proved to be a nightmare. On a couple of occasions, the filters on the sewage system have clogged causing minor flooding in the building. Of course the filters are in a pit, which was snow and ice covered at the time of clogging,” Foster said in his letter.
Foster said the bank was on a boil-water advisory for several weeks, forcing the bank to purchase water. He said the bank also paid for additional well work that totaled more than $20,000 this past winter.
“I believe the entire staff has lost faith in potable well water from that site and we will be providing bottled water until municipal water can be provided.”
He said the state Department of Health “has suggested drilling a new well and this would be drilled immediately but frost prevents the necessary trenching. This is another large financial expenditure with no guarantee of success.”
Button said the problems faced by Community Bank must be addressed.
“We talk about bringing new businesses and jobs to Canton, but if you can’t take care of the businesses you already have here, then maybe your priorities are a little messed up,” he said. “Community has been good and we need to work as hard as we can to bring utilities to them,” he said.
Button estimated the bank employs about 75 people at the Canton facility.
Increasing Tax Base
Like any town in St. Lawrence County, Canton is always looking for additional property development. Button says the utilities carried by the pedestrian bridge would provide opportunities for new homes and other development on Maple Hill.
Button said the tough bedrock and lack of access to potable water could deter developers.
“We have a lack of good housing stock in Canton. If we brought utilities to that site, a recent study indicated we may be able to jump start development in that area,” he said.
St. Lawrence University Regional Development Coordinator Benjamin Dixon issued a letter of support highlighting the importance to the project.
“Being able to extend water and sewer utilities into the Maple Hill area will serve multiple benefits. It would help retain Community Bank and its many good jobs in the community; it will spur additional residential and commercial development; and it could also provide a location for a Highway Shared Services facility for the Town and Village of Canton,” he said in his letter.
“We have been partners to the municipal government of Canton and the community's development entities. And we see now the important impact that this project will have on the community. If it moves forward, it will mean an enhanced business climate and improved housing stock for Canton. Without the project, our community will lose a critical business and its many jobs, while an area ripe for development will remain stagnant,” he said.
Button says connecting Maple Hill to village utilities could mean more shared services between Canton Town and Village and, more importantly, with the Department of Transportation.
Button says winter road plowing on the western side of Canton is at the very end of a long plow run that comes all the way from Fowler. He said establishing a shared facility in Canton could mean improved highway conditions during the winter months.
“We have looked at sites over in that area to establish a shared highway facility,” he said. “DOT reps told us if we could get in that area they’d work with us,” he said.
Although the town has failed to win the grant in the past, Button is hopeful that letters of support from Community Bank, St. Lawrence University, Rep. Bill Owens, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and SUNY Canton, will drive home the importance of the project.
Button said he is hopeful the town will receive good news in October.
“These grants are often politically tied. I expect we’ll probably get an answer near just before Election Day,” he said.