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Rep. Bill Owens Hosts Telephone Town Hall Meeting

Congressman Bill Owens of New York’s North Country held a telephone town hall meeting with constituents last. 

Congressman Owens opened his latest town hall meeting by providing an update on what he’s been working on lately with his colleagues in Washington and the district. The Democrat, who is retiring after this term, said much of his work currently has been focused on federal budget negotiations.

Owens serves on the Appropriations Committee for the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security. He also mentioned his work on encouraging businesses in the sprawling 21st District to do more business with Canada and other nations. Earlier this month, Owens and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand hosted an Import/Export forum in Ogdensburg.

The first question came from Brian in Ogdensburg, who asked what Owens was doing to ensure hospitals, including Claxton-Hepburn, are providing specialty care to veterans.

"The closest area for us is a two-and-a-half drive south to Syracuse. Watertown only has a few specialty clinics," remarked Brian. "They could do minor surgeries up here at the hospital without the veterans having to travel."

Owens responded that he has been working with the VA on the issue of establishing more veterans clinics in North Country hospitals.

"I have been pushing that with the VA since I came to Congress. We are now working on some legislation that would require the VA to at least investigate those options," said Owens.

John from the Jefferson County community of Adams was concerned about any possible Base Reallignment and Closure reviews through the U.S. Department of Defense, and how they could influence future cuts at Fort Drum.

"It's very important I think that we really safeguard the presence of Fort Drum here. How is that progressing?" asked John.

Owens responded that there is no legislation in the House that would authorize another BRAC review for the coming year.

"So I have great confidence that at the end of the day there will be no significant reduction in the troops at Fort Drum. And as we all know Fort Drum provides great strength to our national defense, it is an economic driver in the Jefferson County and Watertown regions," said Owens.

Questions related to energy also came up. Owens discussed his desire to invest more in solar and renewable energy. A constituent identified as Thomas asked about the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline.

"Sir, what is your take on the Keystone project? What's holding it up, why can't it get going," asked Thomas.

Owen said even if the Keystone project were approved by the president today, the project faces barriers within the state courts that must be resolved before construction could begin. Owens said he’s a supporter of the project.

"Because I believe that over the next fifteen or twenty years the oil in the Middle East will go to Southeast Asia, prices will go up, and we need to have a safe and secure source of fuel because I don't believe anyone thinks that we are going to ween ourselves off oil in that period of time," said Owens.

Owens added he thinks the pipeline would offer a safer method of transport than the nation’s railroads, and that it is inevitable that the Canadian tar sands oil will be transported to coastal refineries.

The Congressman was also asked his opinion on hydrofracking. Although the de facto moratorium on the gas drilling technique in New York continues during a state health impact review, as a New York resident, Owens said natural gas is vital to reducing the rising cost of fuel oil. However, he said it must be done safely.

"I think that for anyone to say that it can be done absolutely safely is not being truthful," said Owens. "We need to have full disclosure of the chemicals that are going into the ground. Those are the kinds of things I'm hoping New York state is going to put into its regulations."

During one listener poll conducted during the meeting, 31 percent, the majority of responders, said Agriculture and Energy is the most important aspect of secure economic growth the district.

Owens also said he is doubtful immigrant reform will pass in Washington this year. He said he remains against the NY SAFE Act but favors increased background checks for gun buyers. Many of the callers thanked Owens for his service, and some wished that he would continue his Congressional career.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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