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Seven Erie Canal Bridges rehabilitated

Construction to update seven historic single-lane bridges that cross the Erie Canal has been completed.

The $10.7 million project rehabilitated bridges in the towns of Murray, Albion, Gaines and Ridgeway and in the village of Medina. The state Department of Transportation replaced the steel flooring and raised the legal weight limit on each of the seven 100-year-old truss bridges to allow farm equipment, trucks and other commercial vehicles to safely pass, while simultaneously improving the flow of both people and commerce throughout the region, officials said.

“The Erie Canal is a treasured part of the history of New York state and continues to play a vital role in sustaining the economic health and wellbeing of the Finger Lakes Region,” said state DOT Commissioner Marie Therese Dominguez in a statement. “The rehabilitation of these bridges demonstrates our commitment to improving the canal’s infrastructure to meet the needs of a 21st-century economy while still respecting the important role the canal and the bridges have played in the history of not only the region but also the entire state and nation.”

Construction on the project began in December 2018 and has included repairs to the structures and installation of high-strength galvanized steel to replace steel flooring systems and truss elements of the bridges, state officials noted.

“The residents of Orleans County are very grateful to Gov. Cuomo and the New York state DOT for providing the funding to complete seven Erie Canal Bridge rehabilitation projects,” said Orleans County Legislature Chairwoman Lynne Johnson. “After two years of construction efforts, we now have safe and reliable access over the canal for our emergency services, commuters and farmers. These bridges not only are a part of our rich heritage but provide vital connections to our local businesses and residents. Investing in infrastructure is an easy thing to ignore and you don’t know it’s too late until you are in crisis mode. It’s great to see this kind of investment paying dividends in developing reliable infrastructure that will keep our economy strong.”

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Schumer pushes for COVID testing funds for Orleans County

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer is calling on the federal Department of Health and Human Services to release funds to enable local communities to offer free COVID-19 testing.

Schumer was in the Orleans County town of Medina on Thursday, where he joined officials from Medina Memorial Hospital to address the county’s lack of free COVID-19 test sites. Schumer (D-NY) demanded HHS release the testing dollars he reportedly helped to originally secure in prior COVID relief legislation, saying that Orleans County alone will need thousands of dollars to conduct sufficient rapid testing and tracing programs to keep residents safe from the virus. Schumer also announced his intention to fight for more of those funds for communities across Upstate New York as the possibility of a second wave emerges and as a COVID relief deal continues to be negotiated.

“With flu season upon us and a resurgence of COVID in New York, in order to keep everyone safe, we’re going to need rapid tests and we’re going to need them quickly,” Schumer said. “Right now, Orleans County residents have extremely limited access to COVID testing, and often they need to travel to Buffalo or Rochester to get tested, which is unacceptable, inaccessible and could wreak havoc on the health and safety of the community if COVID rates continue to climb. The feds are sitting on over $9 billion that can and should be long out the door, being used to ramp up 100 percent free testing in places like Orleans. Those dollars should immediately be used to get rapid tests to ensure peace of mind and some semblance of stability to Orleans residents who have already endured a tumultuous year.”

The process is especially discouraging for at-risk populations from rural areas like Orleans, Schumer said, where public transportation is limited and long-distance travel is difficult.

Schumer praised Medina Memorial Hospital and the Albion Clinic for offering COVID testing for Orleans County residents but he said funding for a standalone free testing site in Orleans County would dramatically increase access to testing and is critical to containing the virus throughout the winter. County officials project that they will need at least seven or eight rapid test machines and thousands of test kits at minimum, compared with the two machines and 700 rapid test kits they have now.

The need for funding and a robust testing regime is especially strong in Orleans County, Schumer said, where some students are attending school in person. Western and Central New York’s COVID-19 case numbers are rising to May levels, and New York state’s new COVID micro-cluster metrics, which identify areas of high COVID spread and labels them by red, orange or yellow that determine testing and lockdown protocols, have already prompted Orleans County officials to seek additional testing capacity, especially in schools, to meet the new requirements.

Earlier this month, all third-graders in the Lyndonville School District switched to remote learning after a school staff member contracted COVID, and several students testing positive at the Albion school prompted more than 50 families to switch their children from an in-person hybrid model to fully remote schooling. This week Medina High School said it would not resume in-school instruction until Nov. 30th due to the high number of staff members currently out due to mandatory quarantine and/or waiting for COVID test results.

Schumer and Orleans County officials said these reversals back to fully-remote learning as the virus resurges will disrupt student learning and are inevitable without sufficient testing, making it all the more important that HHS releases the funding for more testing immediately.

“There’s absolutely no question that the health and safety of all students across Upstate New York is paramount, bar none. The federal government cannot and must not repeat COVID mistakes of the past months. Instead, it must do everything in its power to keep students, families, and teachers safe, and use the dollars it has and the premise of robust testing and tracing to tamp down any second wave of this virus and lead us to a true recovery,” Schumer said.

Last Thursday, Orleans County reported 30 new COVID cases, which was its highest daily number of new infections since May when the county had 23 cases in one day. On Tuesday, the county confirmed 10 new cases for a total of 529 positive cases since March. The number of people in Finger Lakes region hospitals has roughly doubled since the end of October.

“Increasing COVID testing capacity is vital to keep our community safe and avoid other restrictive measures that can disrupt our businesses, in-school instruction, and families. I applaud Sen. Schumer’s efforts to free up existing federal testing funding now so that communities like Orleans County can have access to more testing,” said Lynne Johnson, chairman of the Orleans County Legislature.

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GLOW With Your Hands goes virtual

The Genesee, Livingston, Orleans and Wyoming counties’ successful GLOW With Your Hands career exploration project has launched a new virtual platform to benefit students in the four-county region.

GLOW With Your Hands Virtual expands the hands-on career exploration experience with innovative, on-demand interaction with 34 careers across four growing sections of the regional economy. Last year’s in-person event engaged more than 800 students.

“After seeing the direct impact GLOW With Your Hands produced in a single-day event in 2019, we are excited to bring careers in agriculture, food processing, advanced manufacturing and skilled trades directly to even more students,” said Karyn Winters, director of the Genesee County Business Education Alliance. Winters led the project with Angela Grouse, director of Education to Employment Initiatives at the Livingston County Area Chamber of Commerce.

Schools received early access to the GLOW With Your Hands Virtual website beginning Nov. 2. The full website has launched to the public.

“Students who swung a hammer, laid a concrete walkway, practiced welding and dozens of other activities at GLOW With Your Hands 2019 can now have an even deeper connection to explore these careers,” Grouse said. “GLOW With Your Hands Virtual takes those experiences into the production facilities, job sites and farms, with meaningful results.”

Area students participate in GLOW With Your Hands 2019. (provided)
Area students participate in GLOW With Your Hands 2019. (provided)

Careers highlighted include assembly and fabrication, welding, concrete and masonry, project manager, food packaging, veterinary technician, animal nutritionist and CDL driver.

“Each career page includes an extensive ‘day in the life’ profile of professionals at great companies in the GLOW region and an outline of the general duties, earnings and educational requirements,” Grouse said. “Most importantly, students are shown a pathway of classes, clubs, volunteer opportunities and local training programs that they can pursue during middle and high school and beyond with training programs and post-secondary opportunities.”

In addition to the Genesee County BEA and Livingston County Chamber, volunteers for Access-VR, Iroquois Job Corps, Livingston Associates, Genesee Valley BOCES, Wyoming County BEA, Orleans County Job Development Agency and more participated in generating career information, filming and editing of videos with companies across all four counties, as well as preparing the website.

“We are already planning how to grow GLOW With Your Hands for the future,” Winters said. “In addition to continuing to expand the virtual platform, all of our organizations are ready to assist our students, educators and businesses.”

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Follow Velvet Spicer on Twitter: @Velvet_Spicer

Wind power company offers grant program in Orleans County

Apex Clean Energy, the company planning to build a 33-turbine wind farm in the Orleans County town of Barre, has opened a community grant program. 

“This is a difficult time for all New Yorkers and we want to step up and do what we can to support both short-term needs and long-term investments in Barre and Orleans County,” said Carmen O’Keefe, project developer for Heritage Wind, the name of the wind farm project. “This grant program gives us a meaningful way to support the things that this community decides it needs most.”

The company is making $4,000 available for grants each quarter of the year, with applications for the first quarter due April 30. If an application demonstrates sufficient need, the company said it may not wait until the deadline to make an award. 

Grants will be considered for projects in Barre that promote these areas: healthy communities, economic development, environmental sustainability and promoting education. Details on the categories and information on how to apply are available online at

Apex has submitted its application to build the project to the state, which it expects will determine whether the application is sufficient or needs more information around June. Once the application is deemed complete, a company spokesman said, a 12-month clock begins in which the state decides whether to approve the project. 

Apex originally had also proposed another nearby project, Lighthouse Wind, in the nearby towns of Somerset, Niagara County,  and Yates, but has not submitted an application to the state for that project. 

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Schumer wants time extended for commenting on hemp regulations

Sen. Charles E. Schumer called upon the federal government Wednesday to allow more time for comment on proposed hemp regulations, concerned that the proposed rules would harm the rising industry of growing the useful plant.

Schumer announced his concerns while visiting the Albion farm of Gina and Terry Miller, who operate an organic hemp-growing business in Orleans County.

Proposed rules were published Oct. 31 and the comment period is due to end Dec. 31. Schumer, D-N.Y., would like the U.S. Department of Agriculture to extend the comment period by an additional 60 days.

“When it comes to an industry as promising as industrial hemp in the Rochester-Finger Lakes Region, the feds need to get it right the first time, and not rush to any reckless regulatory decisions. Regulating this rapidly emerging industry is a must, but any rules must be part of a well-thought-out process that carefully considers the needs of all stakeholders—from farmers and growers to producers and manufacturers,” Schumer said. “These hemp experts have serious fears about how this proposed rule making could impose unrealistic or poorly thought out rules, restrict their industry, cut off growth and stop the creation of good-paying jobs. So, it is incumbent on USDA, the chief agricultural regulators in the United States, to hear them out and make improvements to the final regulations that are balanced and smart.”

Charles E. Schumer
Charles E. Schumer

Growers and hemp processers on a panel discussion at the recent Grow-NY Food & Ag Summit shared concerns about lack of clarity in the emerging regulations. A problem they mentioned and Schumer reiterated is the timing of testing to make sure the THC content (the stuff in marijuana that gets you high) of the hemp isn’t too strong. Samples are taken before harvest but results take so long that a farmer could harvest the entire crop before learning that the THC levels are too high for non-medicinal uses, and therefore have to scrap the crop.

Schumer said testing usually takes five to six business days, and the 15-day window for testing may be impossible to meet with a scarcity of appropriate test sites in the state. Additionally, the rules don’t provide for retesting or finding an alternative use for the crop if its THC level exceeds the limit.

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Genesee, Orleans counties’ Head Start receives federal funding

The Early Head Start program at Community Action of Orleans and Genesee Inc. has been awarded nearly $800,000 in federal funding.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services funding will be used to support childcare services for low-income families in Orleans and Genesee counties.

“Study after study shows that the better we prepare our young children, through programs like Early Head Start, the better they perform in school later in life,” U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.,  said in a statement. “This federal funding for Community Action of Orleans and Genesee will bring real results to young students in the Rochester-Finger Lakes Region by providing them with the resources they need to succeed both in and out of the classroom. I am proud to support this essential funding and I will continue to fight to see that early childhood education remains a priority.”

Head Start is a free preschool program that is funded by Community Action of Orleans and Genesee through the Department of Health and Human Services. Most children are 3 and 4 years of age when they enter the program. A minimum of 90 percent of the total enrolled children must meet low-income eligibility standards, and at least 10 percent must be children with diagnosed disabilities.

“The Early Head Start Program gives children opportunities to reach their full potential by making high-quality early childhood education and care more accessible,” U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said. “This federal funding will support Community Action of Orleans and Genesee as it works to provide young children with the tools they need to get a strong start in life.”

Head Start services include early education, health screenings, social and emotional health, nutrition and social services.

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
Follow Velvet Spicer on Twitter: @Velvet_Spicer

Town of Yates opposes wind power project

Orleans County’s Yates Town Board has voted to oppose a wind turbine project that would place 71 turbines in that town and the adjoining town of Somerset in Niagara County.

Apex Clean Energy’s Lighthouse Wind project, which would create enough energy to power 53,000 homes, has been in the works at least four years.

The Yates Town Board voted last week to amend its wind energy facilities law, and reaffirm its opposition to the project.

“The Lighthouse Wind proposal for the Town of Yates is not appropriately sited,” said Yates Town Supervisor Jim Simon. “It does not protect and accommodate the concerns of the town, and is most definitely not consistent with all local laws and ordinances.”

Amendments made to the town laws regarding wind power reflect “the recommendations of two agencies well-placed to balance impacts and benefits,” Simon said. Those include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recommending that no turbines be placed within three miles of the Lake Ontario shoreline to avoid impacting bird habitat and flyways. The Vermont Public Service Board had also recommended turbines be set back from residences a distance equal to 10 times the distance between the base of the turbine and the tip of a blade in the upright position, which would amount to hundreds of feet.

In a statement responding to the town’s action, Lighthouse Project Development Manager Taylor Quarles said, “We are disappointed in the town board’s second revision to the wind law in two years which is very clearly aimed at banning residents from ever having the opportunity to benefit from a wind project and totally discounts the agricultural community on which the area was built.”

He said the project would provide 10 ongoing jobs, hundreds of construction jobs, $1 million a year to landowners with turbine leases, and $1.5 million a year in tax revenue.

“Opponents of wind energy are claiming that setbacks far and above any seen in the over 20 successfully operating wind projects across the state, and far above those in the recently approved Cassadaga wind project, are necessary to protect residents,” Quarles said. “These excessive setbacks severely restrict landowners’ use of their land as well as residents’ chances to benefit from a wind project.”

The Town of Yates statement said it also opposed the project due to concerns about:

  • local control;
  • negative aesthetics;
  • noise;
  • health and quality of life of residents;
  • shadow flicker;
  • throwing of ice off blades;
  • potential impact on the nearby Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station;
  • and construction effects on wetlands.

“We are called to protect the health, safety and welfare of our citizens for current and future generations and to preserve the rural, agricultural and leisure-based character of our community,” Simon added.

The company behind the project, Apex Clean Energy Inc., of Charlottesville, Va., intends to continue pursuing a permit for the project.

In January, the town of Somerset also amended its laws regarding wind turbines, stipulating that they be sited only in industrial zones and no closer to the shoreline than 3 miles, among other restrictions.

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