Editorial: 'Remove the Squatting Campers'

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August 5, 2011 by   - () Leave a Comment

Editor's Note: The following editorial appeared in the Plattsburgh, N.Y. Press-Republican.

Every summer, parking lots of major retailers in the North Country become mini campgrounds. The owners of actual campgrounds don't like it — with good reason.

Campers of all sizes can be seen setting up shop in the far reaches of shopping-center parking lots, notably Consumer Square on Route 3 in Plattsburgh, which houses Walmart and Sam's Club.

Since there is plenty of room in the parking lots, the campers do not pose much of a problem, as far as taking up space, but there is more to this issue than that.

Concerns about cooking too close to campers and the illegal discharge of sewage have area officials watching closely.

Then there is also the question of free camping.

Many local residents who enjoy camping argue that if they have to pay for a site at a campgrounds, so should these squatters.

There is no Clinton County law prohibiting campers from parking overnight in shopping-center parking lots, but there is a state law forbidding the practice.

Sheriff's Department patrols do visit overnight campers from time to time and order them to leave, but not all do.

The Clinton County Health Department monitors the fire and sewage issues, but they are not parking-enforcement officers.

John Kanoza of the Health Department says most overnight parking-lot campers are respectful, as there have been few codes violations in the past decade.

Kanoza said some of the overnight campers are travelers who just need to stop for a few hours of rest before getting on their way.

"We don't want to stop people who need to catch a few Z's from parking," Kanoza said.

Those people aren't the problem. But someone needs to draw the line on visitors who want to set up shop for a few days in a parking lot. Just recently, a camper was spotted with a canopy out on his recreational vehicle in the Consumer Square lot, sitting in a lawn chair as if he were relaxing near a fire at a campsite. That despite a nearby "No Camping" sign.

It's nice to have visitors come to our region and spend their money, but they should not be given a free pass when it comes to parking illegally, no matter how much they spend in the stores.

The Champlain Centre mall security team does an excellent job of patrolling that extensive parking lot; you never see overnight campers there. If mall officials don't feel the need to cater to these shoppers, other retailers shouldn't either.

We encourage the Sheriff's Department, as well as State Police, to continue to patrol the parking lots and remove the squatting campers.

Perhaps handing out information on nearby public and private campsites — in both English and French — would be a nice gesture of public relations for our area.

We always covet commerce but not when it hurts other area businesses. The law must be enforced so it is fair for all.

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