LOWVILLE — Rep. Elise M. Stefanik, R-Willsboro, toured Lewis County on Wednesday, touting job creation and economic development and hailing the biomass industry as a potential growth sector for the north country.

Ms. Stefanik toured ReEnergy, a biopower facility in Lyons Falls, before meeting with community members at a “Coffee with your Congresswoman” event in Lowville. She also was scheduled to visit Double Play Community Center, Lowville, and tour RBI Bats, New Bremen.

At the ReEnergy site, a 22-megawatt facility that generates 162,000 megawatt hours per year, Ms. Stefanik said she sees biomass as a potential economic boon to the north country.

“ReEnergy is a great example of clean energy,” Ms. Stefanik said. “I think ReEnergy is a step in the right direction.”

The broader economic impact, she said, is that it has 22 direct employees and more than 100 indirect employees, which include truck drivers and loggers.

“It is specifically good for the north country economy,” Ms. Stefanik said. “Another facility that ReEnergy owns is at Fort Drum and it is the only facility of its kind. ... But that is a model for other military installations around the country.”

D. Bruce Proven, facility manager at the Lyons Falls site, said having Ms. Stefanik at the facility was important to get the word out about what the facility does.

“The biomass industry as a whole, we need to do better to educate and opportunities like this are a terrific opportunity.”

Sarah M. Boggess, director of communications and government affairs, said there are some issues with tax inequities in the federal code with respect to renewable energies.

“That is something she is keeping an eye on for us, if Congress decides to enact any tax reform,” Ms. Boggess said. “She is truly a champion of the forest products industry; she gets it. We are so thrilled to be hosting her today.”

Larry D. Richardson, CEO of ReEnergy, said Ms. Stefanik is engaged, interested and supportive.

“That is important for us. We have invested a lot of money in the north country and we support a lot of jobs in the north country,” Mr. Richardson said. “It has been a good relationship.”

Ms. Stefanik continued her trip to Lowville to meet with community members at the Lowville Municipal Building.

“It was great to see many familiar faces and some of the local officials,” she said. “I am focusing on job creation and economic development.”

When it comes to economic development, Fort Drum is an important aspect of it, she said. She has been focused on protecting and strengthening Fort Drum.

“I think the community did an exceptional job turning out in support of Fort Drum in March when we had the listening session,” Ms. Stefanik said. “I am continuing to fight for Fort Drum on the House Armed Services Committee.”

Ms. Stefanik said the committee has been working on the National Defense Authorization Act. She was able to get $19 million for the Noncommissioned Officer Academy at Fort Drum.

Her amendment, called the Stefanik Amendment for East Coast missile defense site, was passed; Fort Drum is one of four sites under consideration.

“It is important not only for our national security, but important for our local economy,” Ms. Stefanik said. “The broader impact is not just Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties; it is actually New York-wide and particularly Northern New York.”

Ms. Stefanik said it was great to answer questions from local residents about what she can do to increase economic development and give better opportunities to students.

“Why I have these coffees is to have that direct opportunity to communicate with my constituents to hear their concerns,” she said.

Lowville Town Supervisor Randall A. Schell said he thought Ms. Stefanik was very forthright and did not dodge any questions from her constituents.

“I know we are just appreciative of the fact that she called up and asked if she could hold this forum here,” Mr. Schell said. “We are always happy to see her in the town of Lowville and in Lewis County.”

Legislator Craig P. Brennan, R-Deer River, said in his lifetime, he has not seen any other politician show such deep appreciation and concern for her constituents.

“I applaud her for educating herself on the needs at the grass-roots level,” Mr. Brennan said. “I walk away with very positive feelings that we will be well represented by this congresswoman.”

U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro, said her first experience with the process of a committee debating, amending and rewriting a major federal spending bill was surprising.

The House Armed Services Committee began "markup," as the process is called, of the National Defense Authorization Act at 10 a.m. Wednesday and continued through 5 a.m. Thursday, she said.

"I was fighting for Fort Drum until 5 in the morning. I was proud of it," she said, in a telephone interview on Thursday.

Stefanik said at one point she sent out for barbecue to keep her endurance up.

"We took a break for the joint session and we had a couple of votes," she said. "But otherwise we went straight through. That was a marathon markup session."

U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro. received 59 entries in the congressional student art contest, said Tom Flanagin, spokesman for the congresswoman.

The breakdown of entries by school district is as follows:

  • Glens Falls district office -- Argyle, 9; South Glens Falls, 2; Hartford, 1; Glens Falls, 1; North Warren, 1; Granville, 1; Greenwich, 1; Galway, 1; HMF Boces Gloversville, 3.
  • Watertown district office -- Local home school students, 1; South Jefferson Central School, 1; Copenhagen Central School, 6; Colton-Pierrepont Manor, 1; Lowville Academy Central School, 2; Massena Central School, 1; Carthage Central School, 1.
  • Plattsburgh district office -- Perus, 6; Plattsburgh, 3; Malone, 1; Elizabethtown-Lewis Central, 9; Tupper Lake, 2; Saranac, 2; Willsboro, 2; Chazy, 1.
  • A judging panel will select a finalist from each of the three district offices, and Stefanik will select the winner from the three finalists, Flanagin said.

The winning art work from the 21st Congressional District will hang in a student art work gallery at the Capitol in Washington.

student from Argyle won the 2013 congressional art competition.

When I ran for Congress, I pledged to work my hardest on behalf of New York’s 21st District in Washington. Now that I am one hundred days into office, I am happy to report that we have hit the ground running on your behalf.

In fact, I am proud to have helped the House of Representatives pass dozens of pieces of legislation that would help North Country families and businesses. For instance, with my support, the House has passed the Promoting Job Creation and Reducing Small Business Burdens Act and the Regulatory Accountability Act – both of which are bipartisan bills to reduce burdensome federal regulations to help our small businesses grow and get people back to work.

We have passed legislation aimed at improving “529” college savings plans so that families can better save for higher education and reduce the debt that too often comes with a college degree. And I was proud to support the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act -- important legislation that President Obama has signed into law that will help provide resources to help combat the tragedy of our nation’s veterans committing suicide while waiting for the care they need.

Most recently I was proud to join Congressman Chris Gibson as an original cosponsor of the Family Farm Relief Act of 2015 – legislation that would help North Country farmers by making reforms to our H-2A visa program. This legislation would make it significantly easier for farmers to find, hire, and keep H-2A workers.

When I ran for Congress I pledged to reach across the aisle and work on bipartisan solutions for our district. Last month I was proud to lead the entire New York Congressional Delegation’s effort to defend Fort Drum against the devastating sequester cuts that threaten this installation, and in turn, threaten our local economy, our state and the security of our nation.

Recently I led a bipartisan effort on behalf of 43 Freshmen lawmakers to urge Speaker John Boehner to fast track consideration of H.R. 160, the Protect Medical Innovation Act. This bipartisan legislation would repeal the Affordable Care Act’s onerous medical device tax that is limiting access to the healthcare devices that North Country families need and undermining the medical device industry that is so important to our local economy. This is an extremely important issue for our district, especially in Warren County, home of what is called "catheter valley" because of the numerous catheter manufacturers.

Importantly, my office has remained committed to providing transparency to our constituents on everything I am working on for you in Congress. I post the rationale for all of my legislative votes on my official Facebook page, and on my website constituents can find all of the legislation that I am working on.

In addition, my official schedule is made public online and we have launched a weekly e-newsletter – a platform for me to explain exactly what I have been working on for you and deliver it directly to your email inbox. I encourage everyone to follow me on my social media accounts and subscribe to my weekly updates at my official website.

I remain honored to serve New York’s 21st district and promise that the first hundred days is just the beginning.

Our offices have opened up in Glens Falls, Plattsburgh, Watertown and Washington, and my staff is committed to helping North Country families and businesses with any matter concerning the federal government. I encourage constituents to visit my online office at Stefanik.house.gov, and I look forward to continuing to work hard on your behalf.

SARANAC LAKE — A tour of the St. Joseph’s Veterans Program gave Congresswoman Elise Stefanik a chance to meet with veterans recovering from PTSD and addiction.

She toured the Col. C. David Merkel residence halls here Wednesday and discussed successes and challenges with staff and residents.

ATMOSPHERE CITED

One of the veterans in residence told Stefanik how welcoming this treatment center is compared with other programs he experienced through the Veterans Administration.

St. Joe’s, he said, is more in-depth, more familial and more relaxing. And being in a house with other warriors working through similar issues with addiction and post traumatic stress disorder has proved healing in itself.

Another veteran who recently completed treatment at St. Joe's said it was important to be treated like a person, not like a patient or a dollar sign.

NEW PROGRAM

St. Joe’s program for vets was established last year through the neighboring Rehabilitation and Treatment facility with support from New York’s Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services.

It is not a product of the federal VA program but does work through outreach from the VA.

CHANGES TOO SLOW

Stefanik (R-Willsboro) spoke at length about changes ongoing at the Veterans Administration, which was subject to federal audit and overhaul this past year.

Change is happening, she said, through the Choice and Accountability Act, a measure designed to increase care options for veterans, adding more timely treatment closer to home.

“But it’s not happening quickly enough,” Stefanik said.

Changes put in place so far aren’t working, she said, and the quality of care available is “not up to par."

The sheer logistics of rewiring an archaic system seems to be more of a stumbling block than proviso.

ACCESS TO CARE

In the North Country, a critical problem exists with travel time and distance.

“The difficulty they (veterans) have to go through to access care is challenging,” she said, especially from the North Country, where the closest VA center is two or more hours away in Albany.

“They are driving by local hospitals on the way to the VA (center),” Stefanik said.

Her solution would come as new legislation allowing “common sense” access to local hospitals for veterans medical care.

At St. Joe’s, Chief Financial Officer Russell Cronin underscored the problem.

“Our clients have to go all the way to Albany,” he said.

But St. Joe’s is working with Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake, looking to add the hospital to the VA provider's list.

Federal regulations determine mileage between providers, Cronin explained.

With a Veterans Clinic is Saranac Lake that offers some outpatient services, Cronin said, there has not been room for another “provider” under the current rules.

SEQUESTRATION IMPACT

Along with institutional changes to the VA, funding for military training has been threatened by sequestration policy that Congress put in place in 2011.

Sequestration requires arbitrary and automatic spending cuts throughout the federal budget.

The plan has threatened closure or cuts at nearby Fort Drum, along with all major military bases in the United States.

Asked if and when Congress will redress sequestration measures, Stefanik said she has been active in the Defending Defense Coalition, a think-tank looking to end arbitrary budget cuts.

“I’m confident that this year we can get rid of sequestration,” she said.

The congresswoman, who serves on the Armed Services Committee, said she didn’t vote with her party on the first House budget allocation for military spending. She did vote for the second House plan that matched funding levels requested by President Barack Obama.

Across-the-board cuts by sequestration affect the ability of the U.S. military to properly train personnel, she said.

“That translates into lives and limbs on the battlefield,” Stefanik said.

The tour and discussion at St. Joe's was Stefanik’s second stop Wednesday, though both revolved around concerns of North Country veterans. The first was a roundtable discussion in Tupper Lake.

INTEGRATED TREATMENT

At St. Joe’s, Program Director Zachary Randolph described success they’ve achieved working with three phases of treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and addiction.

Even when the warriors have completed their program at St. Joe's, Randolph said, “they still have resources here which really allow them to reintegrate.”

St. Joe’s inpatient program for veterans opened last July. So far, 18 clients have been in residence, with six having completed the program.

Repealing the medical device tax is a women’s employment issue, said U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro.

“One thing that I’ve noticed is if you look at the employees at medical device manufacturers, a significant majority are women,” Stefanik said. “I think that’s important to note this tax is hurting companies that are employing a high number of women.”

Medical device makers began paying the 2.3 percent tax on revenue in January 2013. The tax is associated with President Obama’s health care reform plan.

Stefanik recently organized a group letter from new House members urging leadership to “fast track” bringing proposed legislation to repeal the tax up for discussion.

“I think there’s an opportunity to address this issue before waiting for the Supreme Court to make its announcement later on this spring regarding the Affordable Care Act and its exchanges,” Stefanik said in an interview on Tuesday.

Stefanik said Republican and Democratic freshman members signed the letter.

“I wanted it to be a freshman only letter to show how much support there is from the new members of Congress,” she said.

Rep. Elise Stefanik has spent much of this month advocating to save Fort Drum from sequestration cuts. She also announced her support for a proposed New York Winter Olympic bid and skied during Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Winter Challenge.

Fort Drum could lose up to 16,000 military and civilian jobs if sequestration –– automatic congressional budget cuts –– remains in effect. The Republican from Willsboro said the loss of those jobs would have a severe effect on the New York economy and the military’s ability to protect the U.S.

“This has been a really important month for Fort Drum,” Stefanik said.

Once taking office, Stefanik quickly made Fort Drum a priority. She asked the entire New York congressional delegation to sign a letter outlining the importance of the north country’s military base, and they all signed on.

Stefanik said she discussed the statewide economic impact and the importance the post has for training the National Guard, when lobbying her colleagues.

“It’s very hard in Congress to get agreement on issues,” she said.

The letter was then delivered to Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, who will visit Fort Drum on Monday.

“I’m looking forward to welcoming Secretary Carter on Monday when he visits,” Stefanik said. “I think it’s a great opportunity for Fort Drum.”

Foreign policy was a major topic of discussion at the beginning of March, when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke before a joint session of Congress –– something the congresswoman called a historic occasion.

Stefanik said Netanyahu’s speech was important for the world to hear, and she shares his concerns about Iran possibly getting a nuclear weapon.

“I think it’s important when we consider U.S. foreign policy,” she said of the speech. “The United States and Israel have a special relationship.”

She was disappointed that President Barrack Obama’s administration did not meet with the prime minister while in Washington.

Stefanik mingled with state leaders on March 9 when she attended Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Adirondack Winter Challenge, an event meant to promote tourism throughout the Adirondacks. She was there with many other state officials and legislators, including many from downstate and local ones like state Sen. Betty Little and Assemblyman Dan Stec, both Republicans from Queensbury.

Stefanik, an avid skier, said she grew up going to Gore and Whiteface Mountain ski centers. She went to Whiteface this month with her father, Ken Stefanik.

Cuomo hands out lighthearted, and often tongue-and-cheek awards during each challenge, and this year Stefanik won the best alpine skier award, which made her father proud.

“I was really excited to be invited,” she said. “Sen. Little and I both sat at a table with Gov. Cuomo, and north country tourism is an issue we can agree on.”

Stefanik said the governor has done a good job raising awareness of north country tourism.

This month Stefanik also came out in support of a regional Winter Olympic bid proposal for New York. The bid proposal, in its early stages, centers around the two-time Olympic host Lake Placid and surrounding upstate cities.

The effort is being led by Essex County and local Lake Placid leaders, who are aiming for the 2026 Winter Olympics. The group, including Essex County Supervisor Randy Douglas, lobbied Stefanik this month, meeting in her Washington office to discuss the idea.

Stefanik said she will work to make sure it’s a serious bid.

“I think support will continue to grow,” she said. “I think it’s a unique way to market New York as a whole.”

“I’m open to it,” Cuomo said at the Adirondack Winter Challenge. “It’s a lot of work, but it would be a great opportunity.”

Stefanik also weighed in on a more controversial issue this month –– the resignation of Rep. Aaron Schock, a Republican from Illinois. He resigned following news reports questioning mileage reimbursements and gifts he received.

Stefanik said Schock, who became the center of a debate about internal ethics rules for lawmakers in Washington, did the right thing resigning. Congress should maintain the “highest degree of ethics,” she said.

The congresswoman decided at the beginning of this session –– before the news broke about Schock –– not to collect mileage reimbursements.

“I view it (driving) as part of the job,” she said.

WATERTOWN — The public outpouring of support for Fort Drum and the 10th Mountain Division during Friday’s listening session at Jefferson Community College was so great that even the post’s commander — a man who told himself he would remain impartial — was affected.

“After sitting here listening to all of you for three hours, you’ve made me so proud, I can’t be impartial, I just can’t,” said Gen. Stephen J. Townsend. “So Maj. Gen. Steve Townsend, but also citizen Steve Townsend, believes that Fort Drum and the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum is not only good for the north country and New York, as you all have said so well, but it is good for our Army and America.”

Gen. Townsend’s comments brought the second standing ovation of the evening. The first came when Mary M. Corriveau, chairwoman of the Fort Drum Regional Liaison Organization, revealed that a petition to protest cuts at the post had received more than 22,000 signatures.

The Army is looking to cut up to 16,000 personnel at Fort Drum, the largest single-site employer in New York, and in a worst-case scenario, such a large cut would result in more than $1 billion in economic losses, thousands more indirect job cuts and the loss of about a third of Jefferson County’s population. The cuts come as a result of sequestration.

Friday’s listening session, one of the final stops on a 30-installation tour for Army officials, brought out politicians from all levels of government, including Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, Rep. Elise M. Stefanik, R-Willsboro, state Sens. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton and Elizabeth O’C. Little, R-Queensbury. Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, and Assemblyman Kenneth D. Blankenbush, R-Black River, Watertown Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham, members of the Jefferson County Board of Legislators, and town and village supervisors. Sens. Kirsten E. Gillibrand and Charles E. Schumer and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie delivered video statements during the listening session. Deanna Nelson, assistant attorney in charge of the attorney general’s Watertown office, read a statement from Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman.

First to speak was Lt. Gov. Hochul, who said the state has made a strong commitment to Fort Drum.

“We have stepped up as a community, we have stepped up as a state and met every single challenge that’s been presented to us to make sure that this relationship works out so well,” she said. “Making sure there’s plenty of housing in the community to support the people off base — 48 percent of the families and military live in our own communities, 40 percent of the kids in our local school districts are from Fort Drum. We are one community, ladies and gentlemen, and I’m not going to let anything happen to that.”

During her comments at the beginning of the listening session, Ms. Stefanik, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said the post was uniquely positioned to meet the challenges of a dynamic security environment.

“I urge you to listen to the calls of thousands of north country citizens who are asking you to protect Fort Drum,” said Ms. Stefanik, who secured the support of the entire New York state congressional delegation in a letter sent Wednesday to Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter. “There is no better place in the nation to train our great soldiers to ‘Climb to Glory.’”

The support from the politicians was met with cheers, but some of the most affecting testimony came from the people in the audience, who drove home a theme that the north country and the post are one family, one community, with comment after comment.

“We are family sirs, you don’t mess with us,” said Dianne D. Chase, a local radio personality.

Audience members told stories of the care they received at local hospitals, former service members spoke of the safe and secure feeling they had when they deployed and left their families behind in the community and a woman told a story about how a soldier literally saved her life nearly 14 years ago when she was involved in a car accident outside a fast-food restaurant where he was eating with his friends.

At least three audience members spoke of the diversity that the post brings to the area and Rev. Jeffrey E. Smith, pastor of First Baptist Church, said the area should serve as a model to other communities around the country.

“I believe that we can be a model for this nation,” the Rev. Smith said. “We are different cultures, we can live together in peace and harmony, we all can get along, one nation under God, consider that also.”

In addition to the close-knit communities and personal stories shared by members of the audience, the post has a significant economic impact on the area as several businessmen and women noted during their comments.

Direct spending from the post, primarily soldiers’ paychecks, accounts for about $1.3 billion locally, with local advocates saying the post also contributes hundreds of millions of dollars in additional indirect economic activity.

A man from Detroit spoke of the economic devastation that resulted when the auto industry began to falter in his hometown.

“I’ve seen what happens to a community when the primary employer no longer does what they’ve been doing. ... It seems to me that the last thing you want to see is a mirror of what happened in Detroit.”

John P. McLaurin III, the Army’s deputy director for force management and top Pentagon official at the hearing, said he was impressed by the show of support for the post.

“It was overwhelming, the show of support.” Mr. McLaurin said. “Our soldiers live by a set of values — loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage. Well, what I heard and saw here tonight was a reflection of those values from the community. For me, that was very special. It just emphasized the fact that Fort Drum and the soldiers and families there and all the communities surrounding the installation are really one family.”

Throughout the evening, between the jam-packed rally in the JCC gymnasium and the passionate comments during the listening session in the JCC auditorium, it was clear that many residents of the north country view the fates of their communities and of Fort Drum as being intertwined. The ultimate decisions affecting both, which will be made by politicians and government officials in Washington, D.C., remain unknown.