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Schumer, Gillibrand want FEMA disaster declaration for Lake Ontario flooding

Posted 30 May 2019 at 11:44 am

Press Release, US. Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand are urging the Federal Emergency Management Agency to stand ready to quickly approve any request from New York State for a major disaster declaration for communities affected by flooding along Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River.

The senators explained that the communities surrounding Lake Ontario are now facing a repeat of 2017’s historic and devastating flooding, if not a worse situation, as indicated by the U.S.-Canada International Joint Commission, which warned on May 27 that water levels of Lake Ontario stood at 248.85 feet and would likely reach or exceed the 2017 record high within the next few days.

Therefore, in a letter to Acting FEMA Administrator Peter T. Gaynor, Schumer and Gillibrand requested that FEMA stand ready to approve any forthcoming requests from the state for a disaster declaration for municipalities affected by Lake Ontario’s flooding.

“As Lake Ontario’s water levels continue to climb and the associated damages get more and more severe, the feds must stand ready to immediately step in and do everything they can to help,” said Senator Schumer. “That’s why I’m putting FEMA on notice now to be ready to support any requests for federal assistance from New York State so that Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River communities have the resources they need to confront any challenge. With the risk of further damages escalating by the day, we must have all hands on deck.”

If a disaster declaration is declared, grant assistance would be made available to state and local governments, as well as certain non-profit organizations, to reimburse costs incurred for emergency work and the repair or replacement of damaged facilities. This funding is available on a cost-sharing basis; FEMA generally covers 75 percent of the eligible costs for permanent and emergency work. After any severe storm, the first step in the declaration process is for the state to request a Preliminary Damage Assessment, during which FEMA representatives join state, local, and other officials to survey damage across storm-impacted counties to help determine whether the cost of the disaster meets the criteria for a federal disaster declaration.

“Two years ago, we saw how severe flooding from Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River destroyed homes, businesses, and infrastructure along the shorelines,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Today, these communities are once again in danger from more extreme flooding, and we must do everything we can to protect these communities. I am calling on FEMA to quickly approve requests for federal assistance from these shoreline communities, and I will continue to do everything I can to help our communities get the urgent support they need.”

Schumer and Gillibrand explained that the flooding of Lake Ontario is already having a severe impact on the surrounding communities and that should it continue, it could become even worse. Currently, eight New York State counties – Niagara, Orleans, Monroe, Wayne, Cayuga, Oswego, Jefferson, and St. Lawrence – are currently under a state-imposed Declaration of Emergency.

The senators said the flooding is already forcing businesses to shut down, damaging property and public infrastructure, and has eroded away land and shoreline protections. Schumer and Gillibrand noted that even after Lake Ontario’s water level crests, it will take many weeks throughout the remaining summer months for the water to drop, which may likely make it difficult to get a full accounting of damage incurred. Therefore, the senators asked FEMA to prepare to work with New York State and be as flexible as possible should the state submit an expedited request for disaster assistance for the communities impacted by the Lake Ontario flooding.

Schumer and Gillibrand have been pushing emergency preparation measures along Lake Ontario for months this flooding season. In March of this year, Schumer voiced his support for the confirmation of Jane L. Corwin, Robert C. Sisson and Lance V. Yohe to the IJC, to ensure the Commission was appropriately staffed to address the rising Lake Ontario water levels, and earlier this month announced their successful confirmation.

Also this May, Schumer announced that following his push, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued an official Declaration of Emergency to activate its Emergency Operations Center to join with state and local efforts to assist Lake Ontario communities in the event of flooding. Additionally, Schumer and Gillibrand called on the IJC and International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board of Control to assess and take all actions possible to mitigate flood risks to surrounding communities, including the appropriate maximization of outflows at the Moses-Saunders Dam.

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First meeting held to develop waterfront plan for canal in Orleans County

Photos by Tom Rivers: Ed Flynn, project manager of the Local Waterfront Revitalization Program for the canal communities in Orleans County, leads Tuesday’s meeting. Flynn works as a planner with LaBella. He is joined by Barbara Johnston, a principal planner with Labella. They are meeting with, clockwise from back right: Tom Lampo, planner with Orleans County; Jim Bensley, director of the county’s Planning Department; County Legislator Ken DeRoller; Chris Van Dusen, Murray representative; Tyler Allport, Gaines town councilman and Gaines representative; and Mark Bower, Holley representative.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 29 May 2019 at 4:45 pm

ALBION – The steering committee for the waterfront development plan for seven Erie Canal municipalities held its kickoff meeting on Tuesday, and set a goal for identifying projects in the coming months that can boost the local economy and better utilize the canal.

Orleans County received a $62,000 state grant in December to develop a Local Waterfront Revitalization Program for the canal communities outside the Village of Medina. That includes the towns of Shelby, Ridgeway, Gaines, Albion and Murray, and the villages of Albion and Holley.

The state recently added a new sign promoting the Empire State Trail, the towpath and trail system of the canal. This photo was taken during the winter near the Main Street lift bridge in Albion. A steering committee said the canal needs mile markers and more signage about services available in the canal towns.

Medina is working on its own LWRP and has been meeting for several months on the plan.

The county has hired LaBella as a consultant for the plan for the seven municipalities. The first meeting on Tuesday followed several years of effort to get the communities together to work on a plan.

Each of the municipalities has a representative who will weigh in on current strengths and weaknesses of the canal, and opportunities to make the historic waterway and towpath a bigger asset.

“This is the right time for us,” said County Legislator Ken DeRoller.

The state is looking to spend more money to promote the canal and make it a better resource for the canal communities. The canal’s new caretaker, the New York Power Authority, also has shown a commitment to improving the canal infrastructure, DeRoller said.

Gov. Cuomo and the State Legislature have made money available for the canal communities in recent years for economic development projects. The Orleans communities have tapped few of those funds, partly because there isn’t a waterfront revitalization plan in place.

The steering committee for the LWRP will be looking for ways to improve trail access, perhaps add a boat or kayak launch, improve signage (mile markers and information about services) and also try to identify economic development projects with businesses near the canal.

The committee will have three public sessions in the coming months with a goal to have the plan complete in about a year.

That document can then be used to help the municipalities pursue grant funding through the state.

The steering committee members include: Ken DeRoller, Orleans County; Jake Olles, Town of Albion; Samuel Robinson, Village of Albion; Tyler Allport, Town of Gaines; Mark Bower, Village of Holley; Chris Van Dusen, Town of Murray; Mary Woodruff, Town of Ridgeway; and Ed Houseknecht, Town of Shelby.

Only half of the group attended the first meeting. DeRoller said this is a great opportunity for the communities to brainstorm ways to capitalize on the canal, which a nationally known brand passing through the county.

The plan also will look at opportunities 500 feet from the canal in the towns, and 1,000 feet from the canal in the villages.

The committee considered some of the strengths of the canal in Orleans County. They noted the county has seven of the 16 lift bridges on the canal, intact historic downtowns, and other historic assets (Cobblestone Museum, Courthouse Square, historic cemeteries).

DeRoller said the recent opening of 39 Problems in Albion and Holley Falls Bar & Grill are important sites for the downtowns, and desired places for tourists.

The county has a strong agricultural sector that siphons from the canal during dry periods when crops need water.

DeRoller also pushed for a Local Waterfront Revitalization Program for the Lake Ontario waterfront in Kendall, Carlton and Yates. He said the county is fortunate to have the lake and canal. The LWRPs should help the communities to better utilize the lake and canal.

“I’m really interested in anything having to do with water,” DeRoller said.

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Libertarian candidate is running for county legislator

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 29 May 2019 at 8:10 am

CARLTON – A Libertarian Party candidate is believed to be making the party’s first-ever run for the Orleans County Legislature.

Chase Tkach

Chase Tkach, 23, of Oak Orchard Road in Carlton is challenging Don Allport for an at-large position on the Legislature. That is a county-wide position for someone who lives in central Orleans. Allport is a Republican and has served on the Legislature for more than a decade.

“I am motivated to become the At-Large Legislator of this county because I see so much beautiful potential for this county that remains untapped,” Tkach said.

She attended the March 27 County Legislature and was disappointed the group opposed a push to legalize recreational marijuana.

She favors legalizing marijuana, without taxing it, and would encourage farmers to grow it if the state legalizes marijuana.

Tkach supports releasing inmates charged with non-violent marijuana possession charges.

“The war on drugs is ineffective, unfair and immoral,” she said.

She said she is a strong supporter of the Second Amendment and opposes the state’s SAFE Act and Red Flag law.

She also opposes subsidies for wind and solar energy projects.

“I would like to lower Orleans taxes substantially,” she said. “Taxation is theft.”

Tkach said she would donate half of the legislator’s annual salary of about $12,000 to the Stop ALD Foundation. Her son suffers Adrenoleukodystrophy, a brain disorder that destroys myelin, the protective sheath that surrounds the brain’s neurons.

Photo by Tom Rivers: Chase Tkach, back to camera, meets Larry Sharpe, Libertarian Party candidate for governor, at the Orleans County 4-H Fair last July. Her father, Jeremy McCauley, holds his grandson, Nikolay Tkach. Nikolay’s mother is Chase Tkach, who is running for Orleans County Legislature and was active in Sharpe’s campaign.

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IJC members say too late to react to high lake level this year

Photos by Tom Rivers: Jane Corwin, a newly appointed member of the International Joint Commission, said she is determined to have a plan that works in regulating the Lake Ontario water levels. She is speaking with reporters at the Greece Town Hall after meeting with officials from six counties along the south shore.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 28 May 2019 at 6:35 pm

‘If it is the new normal we need to come up with a new plan because this isn’t working.’ –  IJC commissioner Jane Corwin

GREECE – Four newly appointed members of the International Joint Commission, three representing the United States and one from Canada – heard from elected officials from Orleans County and other south shore communities about the impacts of flooding from Lake Ontario.

The IJC commissioners met at Greece Town Hall with officials for 90 minutes before going into Greece communities to see flooded roads, yards and homes and businesses fending off water with sandbags and pumps.

The IJC is tasked with regulating water levels. The commission has used a new plan for regulating the water levels the past three years, the first change in more than a half century.

A property owner has sandbags inside large grain bags along the shore in Kendall by Monroe-Orleans Countyline Road.

Two of the three years – 2017 and now 2019 – have seen major flooding along the lakeshore.

“I would just ask for patience,” said new IJC commissioner Jane Corwin, who is the U.S. section chair. “I know that isn’t easy for people evacuating their homes and losing their businesses.”

Pierre Béland, the IJC’s Canadian section chair, said Mother Nature is most at fault for the high lake levels, not a plan for regulating the lake.

She and the new commissioners just started the job less than two weeks ago. They want to see how much of the flooding is attributable to Plan 2014 and how much is from melting snow and rainfall.

Pierre Béland, the IJC’s Canadian section chair, said the high lake levels are due to rain and the high water levels in the other Great Lakes.

“These is no plan that would have relieved better than 2014,” Béland told reporters at Greece Town Hall. “There is no way to get more water out of the system without flooding other people.”

But there have been other wet springs and winters with lots of snow. The lake levels only were this high in 2017 and now this year. That has community leaders pointing to the Plan 2014 as a culprit.

Béland said the precipitation is the main cause.

“It’s unique,” he said about the rainfall. “it’s unseen. It hasn’t happened before.”

Corwin said water was let out in the fall at the maximum levels allowed by Plan 2014. But, State Sen. Robert Ortt said the old plan would have let out even more water in the fall, before it’s too late in the spring to respond without flooding the Canadians.

Congressman Chris Collins, R-Clarence, said he supports scrapping Plan 2014 and going back to the plan from the 1950s which resulted in only one flooding event, in the mid 1970s.

“We can’t continue down this road,” Collins said.

He attended the closed door session with officials from the six counties.

“Their testimony confirmed what a catastrophe we’ve been dealing with,” Collins said.

Jane Corwin and other local officials and IJC members meet with reporters after a closed-door session at the Greece Town Hall to discuss the impact of the high waters.

In Orleans County, no roads have been closed yet due to flooding.  Several roads have been closed in Hamlin and Greece in neighboring Monroe County.

Lynne Johnson, Orleans County Legislature chairwoman, attended the session today with the IJC commissioners. She said the IJC’s new representatives will work to have a better plan in place long-term. Unfortunately, that won’t help with this year’s flooding, Johnson said.

“We want more of a quick fix,” she said.

Johnson is thankful Corwin, a former state Assemblywoman from Clarence, is on the IJC. Her Assembly district included parts of Orleans, Niagara and Erie counties.

The shoreline at Oak Orchard Harbor by the lighthouse takes a beating today from the waves.

“She knows our area,” Johnson said. “She knows our lake. She has sailed our lake.”

The three lakeshore towns in Orleans – Carlton, Kendall and Yates – have all declared a state of emergency due to the high lake levels. The towns have worked with residents to put sandbags by the shoreline.

Inmates and the National Guard have helped to fill and stack sandbags. The state also has brought in AquaDams, which are large tubes filled with water.

Corwin said she is impressed by the collaboration among the local governments, and the state and federal agencies.

The IJC commissioners will find answers for the cause of the flooding, to see if it’s mainly from precipitation that can’t be handled or if Plan 2014 is at fault, too, Corwin said.

“Is this the new normal or is it an extended flooding level like 2017?” she said. “If it is the new normal we need to come up with a new plan because this isn’t working.”

In the meantime, Assemblyman Michael Norris, R-Lockport, said the lakeshore communities are suffering economically, as well as from the flooding. He reminded the community that many businesses are still open and would welcome support from their customers.

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County Leg asks Trump to renegotiate Plan 2014 for regulating water levels

Photo by Tom Rivers: Bruce Schmidt, a resident of Gaines and Carlton, speaks in support of a resolution asking the Trump administration to renegotiate Plan 2014 for regulating Lake Ontario water levels.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 28 May 2019 at 1:22 pm

ALBION – The Orleans County Legislature last week passed an official resolution asking President Donald Trump to immediately renegotiate Plan 2014, an agreement for regulating Lake Ontario water levels between Canada and United States.

The plan took effect in December 2016. Since then there was record-high lake levels in 2017. Now the lake is an inch away from the record height and the Legislature said the high waters and flooding are devastating residences, businesses and government infrastructure.

The County Legislature went on the record several times opposing Plan 2014 before the document was approved.

Not only has the high water chewed away at shoreline, it has hurt the sportsfishing industry, valued at $12 million annually in Orleans and $30 million annually in Niagara County. Legislators said.

Orleans County and the three lakeshore towns of Yates, Carlton and Kendall have all issued states of emergency due to the current high lake levels.

“The implementation of Plan 2014 has proven an absolute disaster to the southern shore of Lake Ontario, that based on the 2017 high water event we expended $95 million dollars of state taxpayer dollars, plus FEMA funds along with other resources to reinforce property that has had been extremely altered and are right back in 2019 with another devastation that is playing out right now,” the Legislature states in the resolution.

The local lawmakers called on the International Joint Commission, the group that regulates the water levels, “to immediately suspend Plan 2014 and re-implement previous regulatory rules.”

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New IJC commissioners will meet lakeshore officials in Greece today

Photo by Cheryl Wertman: The sun sets on Sunday evening at Lakeside Beach State Park in Carlton. The high water levels at Lake Ontario have closed some beaches and marinas on the southshore of the lake.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 28 May 2019 at 8:11 am

The new members of the International Joint Commission, the body of Canadian and American officials who control the Lake Ontario water levels, will meet today with elected officials from shoreline communities.

That “listening session” is invite-only and includes the three new IJC members for the United States: Jane Corwin, Robert Sisson and Lance Yohe. Corwin is the section chairwoman and a former state assemblywoman from Clarence. Her district included portions of Erie and Niagara counties, as well as the town of Shelby in Orleans County.

The three IJC members will also be joined today by Pierre Béland, the Canadian section chairman.

The listening session will be from 1 to 2:30 p.m. at the Greece Town Hall. The IJC commissioners will then be available to meet the media and will go to the shoreline to see the flooding.

“Despite having just been confirmed, these commissioners are already hard at work learning about the high water levels in our community and the devastation being caused,” Congressman Chris Collins said in a statement. “Western New York finally has a voice with Jane Corwin serving as the U.S. Chair and, I applaud all the commissioners for taking the time to listen to our concerns as elected officials.”

Governor Cuomo has declared a state of emergency for eight counties on the Lake Ontario southshore anticipating damage similar to 2017. Collins faults the Plan 2014, the first change in regulating water levels in a half century, for the flooding in 2017 and now this year.

“Federal, state and local officials, as well both Republicans and Democrats all agree that Plan 2014 is a disaster and needs to be terminated,” Collins said. “This new IJC needs a more rational approach when it comes to managing Lake Ontario water levels.”

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Local physician headed to Normandy to honor Orleans soldiers who died in D-Day

Orleans County Historian Matthew Ballard created this honor roll of soldiers from Orleans County who fought in the D-Day invasion in 1944.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 27 May 2019 at 8:34 am

Photo by Tom Rivers: Dr. Eric Johnson speaks at the Orleans County Legislature meeting last week, sharing about his upcoming trip to Normandy American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer, France. He will place a brass marker and flag at the graves of soldiers from Orleans County.

ALBION – The Orleans County Legislature last week recognized the upcoming 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, a critical assault from the Allies in winning World War II.

County officials have counted 17 soldiers from Orleans County who were part of D-Day from June 6, 1944 through Aug. 21, 1944.

Six men from Orleans were killed at D-Day including PFC Clifford Williams, Pvt. John E. Rosenbeck, Pvt. James Campas, Sgt. George Quinn, Lt. William Barnum and Lt. John Butts.

Campas was killed on D-Day, while Rosenbeck, Williams, Quinn, Butts and Barnum were killed following the invasion. Rosenbeck, Quinn, Williams and Campas are at the Normandy cemetery.

The Allies landed more than 2 million soldiers in northern France for D-Day and suffered more than 226,386 casualties with 72,911 killed/missing and 153,475 wounded. The German losses totaled more than 240,000 casualties and 200,000 captured.

Dr. Eric Johnson, a local physician, is going to Normandy for the 75th anniversary observance. He will place a brass marker and flag from New York State on the graves of the fallen soldiers from Orleans.

“We’re honored to be representatives from Orleans County,” Johnson told the County Legislature.

County Historian Matthew Ballard has compiled a list of soldiers from Orleans County who were part of D-Day. In addition to the six who died in the invasion, others who served included: Lt. Rance Cotton, Lt. Elwin Smith, Pvt. Donald Stirk, Capt. William Lattin, Capt. Angelo Leone, M.D., QM2c Calvin Warne, SSgt. Russel Wigley, SSgt. Haayo Vanderlaan, Cpl. Edward Pahura, Pvt. Kenneth R. Owen and Herbert Charles Schultz.

Men of the 16th Infantry Regiment, US 1st Infantry Division wade ashore on Omaha Beach on the morning of June 6, 1944.

County Historian Matthew Ballard visited Normandy in 2017 and took this photo of the beach where the Allies staged a critical invasion almost 75 years ago.

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Memorial Day events are planned in Orleans County communities

Photo by Tom Rivers: The World War I cannon was brought back to Medina on May 1 after spending more than a year getting refurbished. It will be rededicated at noon on Memorial Day at State Street Park.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 27 May 2019 at 7:31 am

Here is the list for Memorial Day parades and events in Orleans County for today (with Kendall’s celebration on Thursday):

• Albion – Parade starts near the Orleans County Court House on Main Street at 10 a.m. and proceeds to the Albion Middle School front lawn where there will be a service near the Vietnam Memorial. Former State Assemblyman Charlie Nesbitt is the featured speaker. He was a helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War.

• Holley – A ceremony will start at the American Legion Post at 9 a.m. and proceed to the VFW Post and then to Holy Cross Cemetery.  Nesbitt is also speaking at that ceremony.

• Lyndonville – The parade will start at 9 a.m. at the Catholic Church and end near the library.  A ceremony will be held there and includes music by the Lyndonville school chorus and band. For the third year, the Yates Community Library arranged to have many flags in the school front yard.

• Medina – The parade will start at 11 a.m. at the Olde Pickle Factory building and proceed to the State Street Park where a ceremony will be held.

At noon, the World War I cannon and memorial will be rededicated at State Street Park.

• Kendall  – The town has its Memorial Day observance on Thursday, May 30. Kendall alternates the location among three cemeteries. This year Memorial Day will be observed at Morton Union Cemetery at 7 p.m.

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2 leaders in county government receive ‘Special Recognition Award’

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 25 May 2019 at 5:45 pm

Photos by Tom Rivers

ALBION – Lynne Johnson, chairwoman of the Orleans County Legislature, shakes hands with Chuck Nesbitt while presenting him with a “Special Recognition Award.”

Nesbitt, the county’s chief administrative officer since 2005, was acknowledged on Wednesday, two days after he won the Public Service Excellence Award from the State Academy for Public Administration. Nesbitt is president of the New York State Association of Counties and served as president of the NYS Association of County Administrators and Managers from 2008 to 2018.

The State Academy for Public Administration cited Nesbitt’s efforts to streamline county government, reducing costs while maintaining services to residents, in particular with public health services with Genesee County. The two counties share a public health director, Paul Pettit, and other staff and a board.

“The Orleans County Legislature does hereby commend you, and wishes to share our appreciation, for your commitment to continuously improve the operations of Orleans County and your dedication to lead a great team in delivering the best public services in Orleans County,” states the award, which was signed by all seven members of the Legislature.

Luci Welch also was presented with a Special Recognition Award. She is shown accepting the award from County Legislator Don Allport.

She was congratulated by the Legislature for receiving the 2019 Outstanding Women in the Law Award on May 8. That honor was presented by the New York State Judicial Commission on Women in Courts, Gender & Racial Fairness Committee of the 8th Judicial District. Welch has been the county’s probation director for abut 20 years.

“The Orleans County Legislature wishes to share our appreciation for your passion and dedication to the Orleans County Probation Department as our Director and does hereby commend you and your team in the services you provide Orleans County and beyond,” the award states.

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County Legislature meets for final time in historic building before move to new site

Photos by Tom Rivers: The Orleans County Legislature is shown on Wednesday during its meeting in the legislative chambers on the top floor of the County Clerks Building. The group next month will be at a new meeting room with about double the space.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 23 May 2019 at 5:40 pm

Lynne Johnson, chairwoman of the County Legislature, reviews a resolution during Wednesday’s meeting.

ALBION – The Orleans County Legislature is heading to “the hill.” The 7-member Legislature had its final meeting in the historic County Clerk’s Building on Wednesday.

The Legislature has been meeting there since 1982. Prior to that, the Legislature and the former Board of Supervisors, met in a first floor courtroom in the County Courthouse.

The Legislature is headed to the new addition on the County Administration Building. That $10 million project is nearly complete. A ribbon-cutting and open house is scheduled for 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. on June 11.

The 23,000-square-foot addition will include a larger meeting room for the Legislature (an increase from 30 seats to 60). There will also be offices for the legislative staff, the Health Department, Board of Elections and information technology department.

The building is connected to the current County Administration Building with the addition on the south side. The current CAB includes the Department of Social Services, Job Development, Tourism, Planning and Development, Office for the Aging, Department of Motor Vehicles, and Personnel.

The building at 14016 Route 31 West is located on a hill behind the nursing home.

County Legislator Bill Eick noted on Wednesday the group was meeting for the final time in the Courthouse Square, which is named to the National Register of Historic Places.

“There’s a lot of history in these walls,” Eick said.

The space on the top floor of the Clerk’s Building will likely be used by the Public Defender’s Office, which is getting an infusion of money from the state more than $1 million annually. The Public Defender will likely be adding staff.

The meeting room could also be used for arraignments or pre-trial services.

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