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War of 1812 tourism bill vetoed in Albany

TIMES STAFF WRITER
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Gov. David A. Paterson vetoed a bill Wednesday that would have helped drive tourists interested in the War of 1812 to the north country for the next six years.


The bill, sponsored by Sen. Darrel J. Aubertine and Assemblywoman Dierdre K. Scozzafava, would have created a 24-member commission to organize and promote bi-national events related to the war's 200th anniversary.


Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, co-sponsored the bill. She said Thursday that the veto would "impede the tremendous and singular potential for the north country to generate millions in heritage tourism dollars for New York."


Mr. Paterson returned the bill because he said the commission would cost the state about $2.25 million by 2016, an expense he considered "not absolutely necessary" in light of a $2.1 billion state deficit this year.


The governor's cost estimates were drawn from two existing commissions: the Hudson-Fulton-Champlain Quadricentennial Commission and the New York State French and Indian War 250th Anniversary Commemoration Commission.


But Ms. Scozzafava, R-Gouverneur, pointed out that the 1812 bill did not require a budget appropriation. It specifically said the commissioners wouldn't be paid, although it did allow for reimbursement of "necessary expenses incurred by them in the performance of their duties."


"It was just asking for the commission to be put into place so that people could have some formal structure on which to work from," Ms. Scozzafava said. "A lot of these communities rely on tourism. They're working hard, so this is a little disappointing."


The commission would have organized tourist-friendly events, such as re-enactments in Sackets Harbor, Ogdensburg, Plattsburgh, Old Fort Niagara, Fort Wadsworth and other sites yet to be determined.


Mr. Paterson said additional state-level efforts to coordinate activities "would certainly be of benefit to the sites and their surrounding communities, as well as the public at large."


But the governor added: "The goals of this bill could be achieved without convening a formal commission of 24 appointees ... by relying on available existing resources."


Mr. Aubertine, D-Cape Vincent, wrote a letter to Mr. Paterson questioning the cost estimate. He then noted that tourist attractions in Jefferson, St. Lawrence and Oswego counties generate more than $26.2 million in revenue for the state.


"If commemoration events increase our local tourism by a meager 1.3 percent, which we fully expect, the revenue generated for the state will exceed even your estimated costs," the senator wrote.


Mrs. Russell said Thursday that her district had "deep military roots" and the commemoration sites could become "lucrative draws" not only during the bicentennial year, but in subsequent years.


Mr. Aubertine also pointed out that Ontario Tourism Ministry put aside $23 million for tourism improvements to prepare for 1812 commemoration ceremonies in Canada.


The senator said he was "disappointed" by the governor's decision, but added he will continue working with state leaders and those in the heritage tourism community "to ensure that we do have a mechanism in place to capitalize on this opportunity for increased tourism as we celebrate our local, state and national history."

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