Congressman Hinchey bids farewell; makes stop in Owego, NY
TIOGA COUNTY, N.Y. - On Monday, Congressman Maurice Hinchey (D-Hurley), who served New York's 22nd Congressional District for 20 years, made a stop in Tioga County, N.Y. as part of a farewell tour.
Earlier this year, Hinchey announced his retirement from service that will take effect on Jan. 3, 2013.
At the Tioga County Office Building in Owego, N.Y., which was one of three stops made by Hinchey on Monday - the others being Ithaca, N.Y. and Binghamton, N.Y., he thanked his constituents for supporting him, and expressed gratitude for having the opportunity to serve.
"This is a great place," said Hinchey of Tioga County, N.Y. He continued, "Since 1992 I have tried to be present in this community because it is an area that has faced many challenges - economically and environmentally."
Hinchey talked of some of the challenges, and some of the accomplishments to include 2 million dollars in federal funding he secured for the Owego Riverwalk - a 1,200-foot walkway along the Susquehanna River in Owego's historic downtown commercial district that has provided pedestrian access to the river and helped maintain river banks from flood damage.
Hinchey also spoke of his longtime relationship with Lockheed Martin and his work to maintain and secure federal contracts for what is now Tioga County's largest employer.
Beyond that, the Congressman described his work to establish the Tioga Rural Area Economic Partnership (REAP) program - an initiative that has spurred rural development in the county over the last 13 years while delivering over $20 million in federal and state investments.
But the biggest accomplishment that Hinchey noted, was his leadership in securing the conversion of Route 17 to Interstate 86, which has created hundreds of jobs and injected millions of dollars in federal investments into the region.
"It's the largest federally funded construction project of its kind ... right here," said Hinchey of the transformation. "It has created many jobs over a long period of time," he added.
The conversion of Route 17 to I-86 will eventually provide a federal interstate connection from I-90 at Erie, Pa. to I-87 at Harriman, N.Y. The New York State Department of Transportation is currently planning a major reconstruction project for Prospect Mountain in Binghamton, N.Y., which will create more than 200 jobs.
Nationally, Hinchey was one of the first and most outspoken members of Congress to oppose former President George Bush's effort to invade Iraq. He subsequently became a forceful critic of ongoing operations within Iraq and led the call for the removal of U.S. forces, which has now occurred.
In regards to natural gas drilling, Hinchey is the primary leader in Congress to protect drinking water and the environment from the risks of hydraulic fracturing. He is a co-author of the FRAC Act, which would mandate public disclosure of chemicals used in fracking fluid and allow the EPA to regulate fracking activities under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
In 2009, Hinchey authored the appropriations language that initiated the EPA's current national study on hydraulic fracturing. This is the first comprehensive and independent analysis of the risks that hydraulic fracturing poses to drinking water.
But in spite of these accomplishments, Hinchey experienced some troubles over the last two years to include a cancer diagnose, and subsequent chemotherapy and treatment.
Hinchey spoke to constituents in Tioga County on Monday about his first surgery in July of 2011, and how he has faced many challenges, physically. "I'm struggling to get along," Hinchey stated on Monday.
"I'm trying to get back to where I used to be," he added.
Following Hinchey's announcement in January 2012 that he would be retiring, a re-districting followed. Most of Tioga County is now included in the new 23rd Congressional District, represented by Congressman Tom Reed, while a smaller portion of Tioga County remains in the 22nd Congressional District, which is represented by Congressman Richard Hanna and includes most of Nichols and a section of Owego.
And although Tioga County residents have new representation within these districts, many view the retirement of Hinchey as a loss for the community.
"We got a lot done here because of him [Hinchey]," stated former Owego Mayor Ed Arrington, who worked with Hinchey to gain funding and construct Owego's Riverwalk.
"I consider him a friend," Arrington added, "he's one of the few that I felt comfortable with calling if I needed something. My Congressman was the head of the pack."
Diane Molinari, a Tioga County resident, also stated that Hinchey's retirement will be a huge loss for the area.
"He was always working to get things done for us," said Molinari.
"He was always here for us, and fighting to get what we needed," she added. "He represented us well."
And for Hinchey, it was hard to say goodbye - although he promised he will not forget Tioga County, New York and will be back.
"Despite all the battles won and lost, I wanted to be here today to say thank you to all of you who stood with me as we took on the big fights," said Hinchey.
He continued, "For these reasons and many others, I am very proud to have represented you in Congress, proud to call you my friends, and proud of what we have accomplished together. You stood with me every step of the way. For that I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I look back on my life in public service proud of what we accomplished together, regretful that I could not do more and hopeful that you will pick up where I left off, and continue the fight for this region and for what is right."