JOHNSTOWN- Municipal leaders and transportation officials assembled Thursday at Fulton-Montgomery Community College to discuss issues caused by industrial growth and economic development along the Route 30A corridor and Thruway Exit 28.
The forum was hosted by The Institute for Infrastructure Asset Management, and discussion was lead by IIAM Executive Director Dimitri Grivas. The focus was balancing economic growth with livability and sustainability of the communities it is meant to benefit.
"Everybody should be winning with development," Grivas said. "It shouldn't be some win, some lose."
The Leader-Herald/Levi Pascher
Dimitri Grivas, executive director of the Institute for Infrastructure Asset Management, speaks Thursday at a development forum at FMCC.
He said development often has unforeseen consequences because it will put increased strain on existing infrastructure.
Before solutions can be developed, he said, it is important to identify the problem clearly.
"We cannot solve the problem if we don't have a clear vision of it," Grivas said.
In the Fulton and Montgomery county region, increased development along the Route 30A corridor - primarily in the industrial park that houses the Walmart Distribution Center and Fage's yogurt plant - is threatening to affect the quality of life and the existing infrastructure, Grivas said.
He said the growth of the industrial park has brought increased freight traffic to the area, increasing emissions, traffic congestion, and stress on the roadways and water and sewer systems.
He said Exit 28 is one of the busiest exits on the New York State Thruway in terms of freight traffic.
Grivas noted development has had a positive influence as well -?bringing jobs, tax revenue and increased real estate value.
However, he said, he has concerns about whether the advantages will outweigh the strains on the infrastructure.
"Is the economic development effort budgeted adequately to also address the physical infrastructure?" Grivas asked. "Who is going to pay for it?"
He said one solution to the problem will have to be better communication between the communities affected and a more holistic approach.
The forum discussed the proposed Exit 28 bypass as a possible solution. The two counties recently received a $400,000 grant to study the issue.
However, the grant will be awarded after a local match of $100,000, and only Fulton County has approved its $50,000 share. Montgomery County hasn't agreed to provide its portion of the funding.
Fulton County Planning Director Jim Mraz said the ability to address the issue will come down to the availability of resources and money.
"Most municipalities are struggling to find the money to maintain their roads and buy things like sand and salt," Mraz said.
Fonda Mayor Bill Peeler said he had concerns that if development is allowed on the bypass, it will take away sales tax from the village.
"Sales tax is the majority of our income," he said.
Grivas said plenty of resources are available through federal and state grants, but local municipalities don't know the proper way to ask and make a case for the funding.
Peeler gave a firsthand account of the damage caused by the increased freight traffic on Route 30A in his village.
He said a neighbor who has breathing problems had to leave home due to the increased emissions from commercial traffic, and he is worried about other seniors who live in the village.
"You should see the amount of soot I have to clean on my siding," Peeler said.
He also said because of these quality-of-life issues the village has lost property tax revenue and more than half its population in recent years.
He said the population has declined from approximately 1,400 people to just 600 over the past several years.
"This development doesn't help the village of Fonda the way it may help others in the area," he said. "What I think has happened is we fell asleep a little bit at the wheel."
Grivas responded by saying the issues should have been taken into account from the start and accountability needs to be built into every economic development plan.
He said this would have been done through the two counties strategically thinking together on a solution. He said funding is available but the municipalities must be persistent and clear about their demands.
"You will never receive if you don't ask," Grivas said. "And you will never receive more than you asked for."
Northampton Town Supervisor Linda Kemper said she thinks the frequency of grant applications doesn't matter as much as the size of the community requesting them. She said the money awarded is structured to benefit the larger communities.
"Unfortunately, it comes down to the number of voters," she said.
The Infrastructure group plans to have a similar meeting again early next year to discuss solutions and funding opportunities. Participants were assigned to return with a list of specific needs of their local communities.
Levi Pascher can be reached at email@example.com.