Charles Whitson: A St. Armand staple

BLOOMINGDALE – A booming voice always welcomes you when you enter the front door of the St. Armand Town Hall. Charles Whitson Jr., his office covered in blueprints, welcomes everybody when they walk through the double doors.

“My grandfather always said, ‘Charlie, if you go through even a day without learning something new-you’re not living,'” he said.

Whitson said he’s been learning something new since he was born on Sept. 23, 1944. Raised on Moody Pond Road in Saranac Lake, he considers his time outdoors to be the greatest learning experience of his childhood.

“Every weekend during the summer months, my brother David and I would climb Mount Baker,” he said. “We did all sorts of activities.”

Activities that included fishing, playing cowboys and Indians, and hiking Carpenter’s Field.

“We had so much energy in those days,” he said.

In high school, Whitson went to work for Grand Union supermarket where he earned 95 cents an hour. After graduating, he served a four-year term in the U.S. Navy-some of it spent aboard an aircraft carrier.

“I was a metal smith, a crew member,” he said. “We would fly cargo transport back and forth to the shore and to the fleet in the Mediterranean, and land and take off from aircraft carriers.”

Whitson spent three years in transport, but his last year he spent months at sea on a carrier.

“I did not see Vietnam during that period,” he said. “I was a fortunate one, you know what I mean?” Though he did see his share of terrible things.

“Planes coming back; the condition of them,” he said. “People sucked up into engines. Pilots coming in for a landing and misjudging their moves and going over the side of the ship.”

After returning home, Whitson moved to St. Armand in 1973 and said he enjoys seeing the town grow and progress.

“People are moving in, living in this community and traveling to other parts of the North Country for work … I feel like it’s a good place to raise a family,” he said.

Whitson became St. Armand’s interim supervisor when Joyce Morency passed away on Dec. 3, 2012. Morency had held the position since 1982, and Whitson served as town councilman for 32 years. He served out the rest of Morency’s term and won election in November 2013.

The Enterprise’s article on Whitson’s election had him saying he wanted there to be more transparency with citizens about town affairs. Now, he’s doing exactly that: sharing new town projects like replacing the town garage and major work on the sewage treatment plant.

“We try to keep the people of Bloomingdale as informed as possible.”

Whitson says as it is town custom to go door-to-door notifying locals of town emergencies, like this past winter when there was a water tower issue.

“We’ll be going on the Robocall system. Anyone that is on the water or sewer will receive an automated phone call informing them of the circumstances.”

That’s just one of the many town improvements that are starting this spring. The first one will be the new town garage for the highway department. The former garage was too small for the plows and other equipment, so the new garage will be 106 feet long by 60 feet wide.

“There will be four doors on the right side of the building,” Whitson says his eyes getting wide, speech picking up, because he says he loves construction and architecture. “The new garage will be much larger than the existing one, because of the size of the equipment. It’s going to be very efficient for our highway department. They will have the room and the capacity to work on the vehicles right there in the shop.”

Right now, workers have to back the trucks out to work on them outside, which is no fun when it’s minus 20 degrees.

Whitson is also working to make the garage friendly to our environment.

“The floor is going to have a gradual slope towards the center of the building that drops the water and oil out to a tank on the backside of the garage in what we call the oil and water separator,” he said. “The separator will have the chamber pumped out so that oil doesn’t pollute into our brooks or our new sewage treatment plant.”

The town demolished the old building last week for construction to begin May 1. It will cost the town approximately $800,000.

“We have to figure in there a contingency of 20 percent for cost overrun,” he said. “It may not be needed, but we have to have that money available to us.”

The old sewage treatment plant will also undergo a lengthy fix. Work on the plant will begin this summer and go for a year, costing $4.9 million. Some of the cost is covered by grants.

“We have two million in grants from EFC (Environmental Facilities Corporation), along with the balance of any monies will go through the EFC at zero percent financing, which is a big help,” he said.

So are taxes likely to go up?

“The people who will pay for this are the ones that are on the system,” Whitson said.

Who is on the system?

“Everywhere from most of Main Street, you have a couple of people on Maple Street, you have all St. Regis Ave., all of Prospect Street, a couple on Poplar,” he said. “All of the trailer parks are on it. Not the entirety of Poplar, I would say ninety percent or more are not on it.”

People who will not have an increase in their taxes due to this work live on Mill Street, Whiteface Avenue, some of Vine Street, some on Poplar and Maple. Whitson clarifies that “All taxpayers in St. Armand do not pay for that, because all taxpayers are not using it.”

At this point, Whitson says he does not have a figure on how much taxes will go up for those on the sewer, because there isn’t a total on the work that needs to get done.

Affordability for these projects is becoming easier because Bloomingdale’s population is growing “slow and steady” Whitson says he likes that. “I enjoy seeing people that take an active part in their properties as far as maintaining them.”

In fact, the town is applying for a grant for locals who can’t afford to tighten up their homes.

“If they meet the criteria there is a chance that applicants can get $25,000 to help make that happen. I enjoy watching construction,” he said.