PORT HENRY Teen drinking poses a serious risk. That simple message was delivered over and over again as the Essex County Underage Drinking Prevention Task Force kicked off its program at Moriah Central School Feb. 10. There is nothing more important, no resource more vital, no obligation more solemn than the protection of our children, said New York State Police Lt. Col. Pedro Perez. Perez said teen drinking and its associated violence motor vehicle crashes and injuries, sexual assault, domestic abuse and other criminal activity must be limited. Nothing on this earth is more important than our children rising up to adulthood, he said. You have my promise the New York State Police will be a full and active partner in this effort. The meeting attracted educators, police, government leaders, social service agencies, church leaders, business owners, parents and others. The Essex County Underage Drinking Prevention Task Force is co-chaired by Essex County District Attorney Julie Garcia and New York State Police Capt. John Tibbitts Jr. Other members include Doug Terbeek of the Prevention TEAM, Cathy McMahon, Elizabeth Viele, Mac MacDevitt of the Prevention TEAM, Deputy Robert Rice, Deputy, William Allen, T.J. Feiden, Mary Breyette-Almon, Matt Bosley, Scot Hurlburt, Pastor David Peterson, Pastor Keith Savage, Carrie Savage, Moriah Police Officer in Charge Steve Stahl, Dave Wyant of the Prevention TEAM, Tracy Sherman, Cindy Estus, Sue Allott and Deb Kahler. The task force has been meeting for the past five months to investigate options and discuss practical methods to not only reducing, but also eliminating, the available sources of alcoholic beverages for youth in Essex County, according to Garcia. This will be a year full of challenges, a year full of hope, a year when well make a difference in the lives of our children, Garcia said. The district attorney cited statistics showing teen alcohol use contributes to a myriad of problems later in life. A survey of youths in Essex County showed both underage drinking and binge drinking by teens significantly exceeded state averages. She went on to ask parents to stop teen drinking in their homes. Teen drinking is accepted by some parents, she said. They believe theyre making their children safe by having them drink at home. This is not acceptable. What message do we send our children when we say its OK to break the law. The task intends to establish projects and programs, like underage drinking tips lines, coordinated enforcement and education efforts to eliminate underage drinking. Im confident if we come together as a community, as a county, we can come up with a plan to keep our children safe, Garcia said. Tibbitts said police normally hope for successful arrests and prosecutions, but in this case arrests and prosecutions should be viewed as failure. Education, awareness and community support are the keys to the success of this program, he said. Wed rather prevent these issues now than react to them later. Also speaking during the program were Moriah Supervisor Tom Scozzafava, Essex County Clerk and Stop DWI Coordinator Joe Provoncha, New York State Assistant Attorney General Glen Michaels, Ticonderoga Supervisor Bob Dedrick, John Coneys of the state Alcohol Beverage Control Board, Elizabethtown Supervisor Noel Merrihew, Essex County Sheriff Henry Hommes, Charles Noth of the Essex County Bra Association and Terbeek. Each of the 229 alcoholic beverage retailers in Essex County was invited to attend. Those who did attend received a Laminate Age Verifier to assist them in preventing anyone younger than age 21 years of age from purchasing alcohol with fake or altered licenses. The Laminate Age Verifiers were supplied by Heineken USA. For more information about the Essex County Underage Drinking Prevention Task Force contact Liz Viele at the Essex County District Attorneys Office at 873-3724.