Turbine tax breaks debated

Bob Clark

Many area residents voiced their concerns — some by talking softly, some by yelling — over a proposed tax reduction for the Cohocton, N.Y., wind power projects Friday.

The hearing, hosted by the Steuben County Industrial Development Agency, was a way for SCIDA board members to receive some specific community input on a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement the board is negotiating with Canandaigua Power Partners and Canandaigua Power Partners II, SCIDA Executive Director James Sherron said.

The two companies are building up to 48 turbines on Pine Hill, Lent Hill and Dutch Hill in Cohocton. At least two turbines are up now on the Dutch Hill project.

“This meeting is for you, the public, to be allowed the opportunity to give comment relative to what the IDA has been asked to do,” Sherron said, adding SCIDA’s jurisdiction extended only to financial assistance.

Among the speakers was Naples school Superintendent Brenda Keith, who said SCIDA does not have jurisdiction over school taxes for three of the turbines located in the Naples School District, even though they are in Steuben County.

Keith, along with an attorney for the district, said the school should receive much more from the towers than they have heard the district could receive, totaling only $458,000 over 20 years, compared to $2.98 million the district would receive at the rates UPC Wind, the parent company, has published it would be willing to pay.

Other speakers at the meeting questioned the legality of the construction and what they viewed as negative aspects of wind power in general.

Cohocton Wind Watch spokesman James Hall, in his 11-minute speech, told Sherron he did not approve of giving a PILOT with lower payment rates than what UPC had previously said was budgeted for the project.

“In writing, in the formal application, (UPC) admitted, and said publicly, they’re willing to pay $4.5 million in taxes,” Hall said. “Not bad. Sounds like we might even drop a lot of our opposition. I’d like my taxes to go down.”

“Now that we’ve had something taken away from us, we expect compensation,” said Stephen Trude, a former Reform Cohocton candidate for the Cohocton Town Board in November who spoke of the lost beauty of Cohocton since construction began.

“I feel this project will keep the community very poor for many, many years to come,” he said of the proposed PILOT agreement, saying UPC should be held to its published tax budget or to a full assessment.

Hall said it is not too late to either increase PILOT payments or to tax the project at full value.

“What is really at issue is that the developer has made a conscious business decision, and I am a businessman, to assume the risk of starting construction before a PILOT has been approved,” Hall said.

Sherron said after the meeting starting construction before a PILOT is approved is the normal way of doing business in the county.

“Virtually all of (PILOT applicants) begin construction before an agreement is met,” he said. “Virtually everyone goes forward with construction once the SEQR is completed and a tax-exempt status is issued.” SEQR stands for State Environmental Quality Review, which such large projects must clear before getting approval to build.

Sherron added he could only remember one project that began construction before a PILOT was issued that did not receive an agreement.

“They voluntarily pulled out,” he said.

Hall also warned SCIDA of more litigation.

“I’m going to make you a promise today,” Hall said. “There will be no more Article 78’s. The three that we have pending, that’s it.

“But, there sure is going to be other litigation,” he added. “And it’s not going to be on procedural changes that could have been done differently, we’re not asking for a municipality to do something over. We’re going to look at fraud. We’re going to look at criminal conduct.”

The only comments not critical of SCIDA came from Carol Robinson, who thanked SCIDA for their work creating jobs in Corning and asked them to keep pushing for Cohocton jobs.