Moriah Shock seen as potential renewable energy facility
By Gwendolyn Craig
The New York Prison Redevelopment Commission released its analysis and recommendations for two closed Adirondack Park prisons and 10 others across the state on Thursday, along with a commitment to keep the lights on at the former Moriah Shock Incarceration Facility in Essex County.
The 140-paged report called “2022 Unlocking Opportunity” highlights a tight lock on development at Moriah and at the former Camp Gabriels Correctional Facility–the state constitution. Moriah’s complex in Essex County and Camp Gabriel’s in Franklin County “are located within the Adirondack Park, so their redevelopment is barred by the NYS constitution,” the report read.
Empire State Development, the state’s economic stimulus agency, “will work with each community to identify a redevelopment plan that may be supported by the legislature and pass as constitutional amendments,” the report says. It also notes that Empire State Development and the state Office of General Services are working with attorneys on the next steps.
A constitutional amendment to allow for new private uses for Camp Gabriels was introduced multiple times and failed to pass the state Legislature.
A constitutional amendment takes years. The bill has to pass the state Legislature not once, but twice. It has to be approved by successive legislatures, meaning there must be an election in between, before it goes to a statewide public vote. If Camp Gabriels had passed last year, it would have been on its way to a second vote in 2023. Now, however, the earliest it could go to a public vote is in 2025.
Franklin County Legislature Chairman Donald Dabiew told the Explorer in June: “The only thing that upsets me about it (is) nothing is going to happen to it, and it’s been falling apart as it is.” The facility closed in 2009.
It appears the state is trying to avoid the same deterioration at Moriah Shock, which was highlighted in an Empire State Development press release as one of the prisons the state would maintain with systems running. The report comes less than two weeks after local political and nonprofit leaders gathered at Moriah Shock advocating for the state to make use of the empty complex that once housed 300 prisoners in a boot-camp-like rehab program.
Since Moriah Shock was closed in March, there has been no constitutional amendment introduced, at least yet, to clear the way for its reuse. State Sen. Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, has ushered the Camp Gabriels amendment through the state Senate three times and told The Explorer he would introduce one for Moriah Shock if it is needed.
“We will continue to press these amendments and the Executive regarding the appropriate stewardship of these taxpayer-owned assets,” he wrote the Explorer. Stec declined to comment on the full report until he could review it with counsel.
A constitutional amendment would not be needed if the state decided to use it for its own purposes. The commission’s mention of a constitutional amendment was news to state Assemblyman Matthew Simpson, R-Horicon, who called the Explorer in the middle of a special session in Albany where legislators were voting on a $32,000 pay raise. (Simpson is against the measure). Simpson, too, had not seen the report yet.
“I know for private use of that property it would require a constitutional amendment to develop it with a private business, but I wonder why it couldn’t be used by a state agency,” Simpson said. “That’s a real issue. That’s something that needs to be thought of going forward when the state acquires property in the Adirondack Park.”
Simpson said he would support a constitutional amendment and would work “to get that in front of voters.”
Moriah Supervisor Thomas Scozzafava was “extremely disappointed” with the report and called it “window dressing .” He had thought the state would keep ownership of the facility and noted how difficult it has been for Camp Gabriels to get a constitutional amendment.
“I just find it unbelievable,” he said. “This report does nothing. All I know is we lost 125 jobs out of this community, and it’s going on a year now and nothing. Nothing has happened.”
Scozzafava thinks the facility could still be a good place for rehabilitating prisoners. It was “the best program in the country,” he said, and with the state Legislature focusing more on crime, he thinks it’s even more relevant today. He highlighted the vocational opportunities and workforce housing hopes from last week’s press conference. He was also skeptical that any of the commissioners had stepped foot in the former prison site. Scozzafava had attended one video conference with commissioners and participated in several phone calls but did not host any visits.
“There’s no real foresight in any of this,” he added. “No more than there was any foresight into the closing of these facilities.”
Though he was considering retirement, Scozzafava said he won’t be until Moriah Shock’s future is resolved.
John Sheehan, communications director of the Adirondack Council, said his organization appealed to the governor to keep the Moriah complex for some sort of state purpose like management of the forest preserve so that “it would possibly pass constitutional muster without an amendment.”
“If an amendment is necessary for the purpose that is ultimately chosen, I expect we would help to work toward that,” he said. He thinks the deteriorating Camp Gabriels shows the urgency to find a solution at Moriah Shock.
Kristin Devoe, spokesperson for Empire State Development, said Gov. Kathy Hochul “looks forward to closely reviewing the Commission’s recommendations and working with local, state, and community partners to identify the best uses for these facilities.”
Hochul assembled the Prison Redevelopment Commission at the beginning of the year following the announcement to close several upstate prisons. The commission was charged with setting “clear and credible actions to hasten the next chapter in the stories of these facilities,” according to the report.
“As we continue to move New York’s economy forward, we are investing in communities across the state, including reimagining closed prison properties as hubs of regional opportunity,” Hochul said in a release. “I am pleased that the commission has done their due diligence and made these recommendations based on community input to create jobs, save taxpayer money, and bring these buildings to new life as economic engines.”
Moriah Shock and Camp Gabriels have their own sections in the report, detailing acreage, utility connections, transportation routes, population and industry trends.
The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) analyzed sites for large-scale renewable energy projects and found that the Moriah prison complex could be viable for one, though it “would require building demolition, forest clearing, and in-fence design.” NYSERDA did not find that Camp Gabriels could support such a project “due to limited buildable area outside of the perimeter fence.”
The commission also recommended the state create a Prison Redevelopment Fund, a Municipal Technical Assistance Fund and a Prison Redevelopment Planning Initiative to provide more resources for the communities impacted by the closures.
Two of the 12 prisons are farther along in their plans. Empire State Development is releasing requests for proposals in 2023 for Watertown Correctional Facility to the west of the Adirondack Park in Jefferson County and Downstate Correctional Facility in Dutchess County.
The commission also recommended:
- Launching a public relations campaign for the former prison sites marketing their assets;
- Publicizing the size, infrastructure and utility information of each site;
- Building a community outreach program;
- Creating a workforce training program prioritizing “communities impacted by prison closures, former prison employees, and formerly incarcerated individuals;”
- Reviewing maintenance of closed prisons;
- Dividing larger sites into smaller parcels; and
- Prioritizing housing developments.
Thursday’s news release quoted five state agency leaders, Hochul and co-chair of the commission Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the governor acts on proposed constitutional amendments; if passed twice by successive legislatures, they go directly to a statewide vote.