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U.S. backing Hudson plan


WEST POINT, N.Y. -- In an effort to revive ailing towns and preserve farms along the Hudson River, federal housing and agriculture officials have said that they would focus more than $50 million in loans and grants over the next two years on projects that spur the region's economy while improving its environment.

In contrast to most federal offers of money for development aimed at solving a local problem, the effort would give preference to projects whose impact spans several municipalities or counties, said Andrew M. Cuomo, the housing secretary, at a meeting of about 150 officials and business owners from the area.

The goal, he said, is to use the competition for aid to spur cooperative planning in a state where local governments usually act independently -- and often at cross purposes.

"If you want to win, you must come up with a regional plan, which gets outside of your boundaries," he said.

Cuomo said he hoped the valley would follow the path already taken by several other parts of the country that have shifted to a regional strategy for economic growth, including western Kentucky and the Research Triangle Park area of North Carolina.

The Hudson River project is modeled on a similar 1997 effort for communities along the Erie Canal that used federal money to encourage tourism and new businesses, Cuomo said.

He cited a 1999 Cornell University study that showed that the Canal Corridor Initiative, as the previous effort was called, had so far funneled $400 million in federal loans and grants to communities along the 524-mile waterway, while generating an equal amount of private investment and creating twice as many jobs as had been initially predicted.

As they outlined the Hudson Valley plan, Cuomo and Dan Glickman, agriculture secretary, were flanked by New York members of Congress from both political parties, including Sen. Charles E. Schumer, a Democrat, and Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman, a Republican whose district stretches from the suburbs of Westchester to the Borscht Belt in the Catskills.

Gilman predicted that communities around the valley would find ways to take advantage of the program. Cuomo cited recent surveys of New York's economy showing that most of the Hudson Valley had not shared in the protracted economic boom.

For example, he said, federal surveys of wages showed that from 1990 to 1997, while the average weekly wage in the state rose 9 percent to $467 from $424, the average weekly paycheck for the rest of the Hudson Valley fell to $355 from $361.

The project outlined Monday included a variety of grants and loans aimed at both urban renewal and rural preservation around the region.

Up to $20 million in grants from the housing agency will be doled out over the next two years for proposals that foster regional planning, Cuomo said. The deadline for proposals is May 24, he said.

Housing officials said recent examples of federally supported local projects that had had broadly beneficial impact were a park, museum and marinas along the Erie Canal, which created a network of stopping points for boaters, and an existing proposal for a ferry linking Ossining and Haverstraw, which sit on opposite sides of the lower Hudson River.

The grants can be sought by communities across the country, Cuomo said, but he added that the Hudson Valley was one of only a few areas where several municipalities could easily create a suitable project with shared benefits.

He cited a recent economic partnership between Kingston and Newburgh, two Hudson River cities that faced high unemployment and loss of industry, as an example of the kind of collaboration the agency was seeking to support.

In a separate but coordinated effort, the agriculture department is offering $30 million over the next two years to projects up and down the valley that help sustain the farming economy, Glickman said.

In addition, the housing agency is offering loans for business development that could bring the total targeted support for the region to $80 million, Cuomo said.

NYT-04-10-00 2317EDT

Pub Date: 04/17/00

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