By Rep. Maurice Hinchey
Serving Sullivan County in the United States House of Representatives has been the greatest privilege of my life. As I prepare to leave office, I want to sincerely thank the people of Sullivan County who put their trust in me to serve their interests in Washington. In the most basic sense, that is what I have worked to do over the past 20 years.
To be honest, when I was growing up in a working-class family in Saugerties, NY, I didn’t really see myself serving in public office for nearly four decades. When I graduated from high school, I enlisted in the U.S. Navy and went to work in a cement factory upon my return. Knowing that an education would help me build a better life, I enrolled at SUNY-New Paltz and worked the night shift at a toll booth on the New York State Thruway to pay for school. I never could have envisioned that I would have such an extraordinary opportunity to serve my community, my state and my country.
During the past two decades representing Sullivan County, I worked to protect our natural resources and environment, promote tourism and agriculture, and deliver millions in infrastructure and other federal investments, including my conversion of Route 17 to Interstate 86, which is literally helping to pave the way for a brighter future in Sullivan County.
I am proud of what we were able to accomplish, but of course, there is always more to do. As I near the end of my final term in Congress, I have spent a great deal of time reflecting on the work that remains.
I firmly believe that Sullivan County’s beautiful scenery and storied history is only exceeded by its future potential. As we work toward charting the region’s economic course, it is my hope that the focus will be on long-term, sustainable development.
With the future of hydraulic fracturing in New York still uncertain, we must make sure that we remain vigilant in our efforts to protect our water supplies from the dangers that this method of drilling for natural gas poses. Despite what those who stand to directly benefit may claim, fracking for natural gas is not the answer to the region’s struggling economic conditions. In fact, it could do more harm than good by undermining property values, hurting the region’s tourism industry and damaging the region’s incredible beauty and natural resources. If we take the long view, economic revitalization can only be achieved by building upon the area’s existing strengths and assets, protecting the region’s water and other natural resources and cultivating a more diversified and sustainable economy.
That’s why we must focus attention on attracting New York City residents to the region. With 10 million people living within a few hours’ drive, we need to continue to promote tourism. As air and car travel becomes more expensive, we have a chance for new generations to discover the fantastic beauty of the region from the Delaware River to the peaks of the Catskills.
To be successful, we must continue protecting key assets, such as the area’s world-class fisheries. To maximize the benefits of tourism, we also need to develop strategic economic plans that incorporate ways to tap the economic potential of our unique institutions. If a visitor to our region attends a concert at Bethel Woods, they should have access to quality hotels and be given reasons to extend a day’s visit into many days.
We should also build public-private partnerships to redevelop the region’s capacity to produce, process and distribute agricultural products to New York’s restaurants and green markets. With our urban neighbors seeking fresh, local, and healthy food, Sullivan County has just begun to tap the economic potential of a revitalized farm sector.
We must also continue seeking the federal and state investments necessary to upgrade and repair the county’s aging infrastructure. I am proud to have secured a Rural Area Economic Partnership designation for Sullivan County to help give the area a leg up in securing federal funds for this purpose. I hope that will carry on and that Sullivan will continue receiving the benefit of badly needed federal investments that will allow the region to grow into what we all know it can become.
While the region has seen its share of development proposals come and go, I strongly believe that the future of the Catskills and Sullivan County can only be understood by reflecting on its past. We know what our strengths are and we should work to build on those strengths.
As I look back, I hope that my story inspires others to build on what we accomplished together. Despite all the turmoil, rancor and pettiness we see in politics today, I still believe in public service. To me there are few things nobler than a person who chooses to serve their community, whether it is in public office, at a public agency or school, the military, or even volunteering through a local charity. We need more people to choose those paths and become strong, effective voices for the middle class.
I leave Congress with few regrets, but with a strong appreciation and love for this extraordinary institution, our democracy, and the people of our nation, particularly the people of this great district who I love dearly.