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Officials at odds over wind payments  

Some Madison County supervisors believe the county’s involvement in negotiations to receive a share of the payments from the latest windmill project are too little too late.

Town of Sullivan Supervisor Alexander Stepanski says negotiations have been going on between the towns and the company Airtricity for a couple of years.

He says five windmills are expected to go into Stockbridge, five in Madison and nine in Eaton.

“On everyone’s part there should have been more stuff done a year ago,” he says.

Some supervisors have stated that “three men in a room” decided at the “11th hour” to get involved in the negotiations and it wasn’t the decision of the full board to do so.

It was made clear that the three men consisted of Chairman of the Board Rocky DiVeronica, Administrative Assistant and Budget Officer Russell Lura and Madison County Attorney John Campanie.

“The county’s position was that the county should not get involved and I believe the three men in a room felt that because they didn’t have a lot of support from the committee, they had it in their mind that because they work for the county that they have to look out for the county’s best interests,” said Town of Smithfield Supervisor Rick Bargabos. “But their job is really to carry out policies of the board of supervisors not to establish the policies-their role is to bring us information not negotiate and bring us agreements.”

“It should have gone through the proper committee system and there should have been something in place at the county level that deals with these projects,” said Town of Sullivan Supervisor John Becker. “This is just something that’s an 11th-hour deal-something that slipped through the cracks.”

But Lura said that’s not how things happened.

At a Finance, Ways and Means Committee meeting on Nov. 2, Lura said he brought up the possibility of the county getting involved.

The committee chairman, City of Oneida Supervisor Scott Henderson said committee members were divided.

“Mr. Bargabos (Smithfield) was steadfast that the county should have no involvement, the other half of the committee felt that we should at least look into it,” he said. “The vote was to ask Russ Lura to do some more research and look at the issue so that we could have some more information in which to formulate a policy.”

But Lura said the timetable got truncated because Airtricity needed an answer to move the project forward.

“The attorneys for the towns and schools asked specifically for the county to call a special meeting and to have a resolution at the board outlining that agreement with the county,” he said.

DiVeronica called that meeting, which was held Wednesday, but the resolution was tabled.

It will be brought up again at the next board of supervisors meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 13.

But according to DiVeronica, that resolution will most likely be amended.

As it read on Feb. 7 the county stood to receive $500 per megawatt for a total of $14,250 a year that would increase annually based on inflation. Lura said that increase could be nothing or it could be three percent depending on rates.

Supervisors have cited a number reasons for their disappointment with the way this situation has played out.

Many assumed that based on the county’s past handling of windmill projects that the county would not want a cut of the payments.

In both the Madison and Fenner wind farm projects the county was there as an advisor to the towns.

“The county has been involves all along, but not taking a payment and that’s the impression everybody’s been working on,” said Town of Fenner Supervisor Russell Cary.

But in 2002 the state law changed to allow the county to collect on the payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT).

“We have a right to ask for negotiations in a PILOT program,” DiVeronica said. “We do it all over, we do it in Canastota when we have an industrial PILOT-everybody gets that money, everybody is involved in that tax. Now they are trying to omit the county from getting anything.”

But Cary said that the impact is to the town, not to the county, so the town should get the money from the PILOT.

“The town has a lot of exposure with 6.5 miles of underground wiring, 20 windmills and we developed and now maintain somewhere in the neighborhood of a mile and a half more road in an area that practically was abandoned road because you couldn’t keep it open in the winter,” he said.

Other supervisors are afraid that the county jumping in may kill the project completely.

“As far as I’m concerned what we’re doing makes us look hostile-we come in at the 11th hour and throw a monkey wrench in the negotiations,” Cary said. “I definitely don’t want it to turn out that developers look at Madison County and say ‘that’s a hostile area.'”

Bargabos objects to the resolution discussed at the special meeting even being brought to the floor.

“It was obvious to the most casual observer an attempt was made to railroad this agreement through and disenfranchise most of the members of the board of supervisors,” he said. “These actions were unprecedented and the procedure was very questionable.”

He said the resolution did not receive an appropriate committee review and that the full agreement with Airtricity wasn’t available for supervisors to read before voting on the resolution.

Some supervisors agree that a policy should have been drafted on the county’s position when it comes to wind projects before the county inserted itself into the negotiations.

City of Oneida Supervisor James Rafte said a policy should have been drafted when the Madison and Fenner projects went in.

“If we’re going to continue to do this-there was a lot of time the county could have come up with a policy, not at the 11th hour,” he said. “We can’t operate government that way.”

DiVeronica hopes to start the process of ironing out a policy at the meeting on Tuesday.

Bargabos said that if some of the wind corridors had been designated as Empire Zones a few years ago the revenues being brought in could be as much as $46,000 per windmill per year.

“Now we’re just fighting over scraps,” he said. “I feel the county should take responsibility for that oversight and allow the schools and towns to get what they can because they could have gotten six times as much.”

According to Bargabos the benefits to the wind farm company would actually be better under a reduced-tax Empire Zone than with the current state exemption.

“At that time we did not think about the wind powers being in an Empire Zone,” DiVeronica said. “The way the law reads now, you can’t do that.”

On the other side of the argument some supervisors say that their peers are being “parochial” and not looking at the county as a whole.

“One of the strengths of our form of government is that the towns are well represented in the county government,” Henderson said. “But in this case, I am afraid that some of the supervisors are overlooking the welfare of the county in favor of their individual towns, and that’s not a positive thing.”

Everyone does agree that this situation needs to be worked out soon and no one seems to want to harm or stop the project in any way.

“We’re never going to agree as a body of 19 people, I think our committee system has worked quite well and I think it will come through this time for sure.” Stepanski said.

By Leeanne Root
Dispatch Staff Writer

oneidadispatch.com

11 February 2007

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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