HENDERSON – On a day usually reserved for sweethearts, area residents and farmers packed the Henderson Fire District building, Route 178, to hear about Upstate NY Power Corp.’s plans for an electric transmission line from Galloo Island to the town of Parish.
The transmission line would run from 77 turbines that the corporation plans to build on the island, which is in the town of Hounsfield.
Owners of some 120 affected parcels went to the meeting Thursday to ask questions, learn about plans for the line and receive advice on negotiating right-of-way contracts.
By and large, the meeting was without rancor, perhaps due to a decision to accept only written questions from the audience.
The event was hosted by Jefferson County Agricultural Development Corp. and Jefferson County Soil and Water Conservation District, and organizers were clear that the only topic up for discussion was plans for the transmission line.
“If you’re here to discuss wind power or wind farms, you’re at the wrong meeting,” said Douglas W. Shelmidine, president of the board of the Jefferson County Agricultural Development Corp. and the evening’s emcee.
The presenters included a representative from Upstate NY Power, a lawyer and two agricultural experts. All four urged those affected by the transmission line corridor to pay close attention to their contracts and to consult with experts and attorneys on the details.
Upstate NY Power representative Robert W. Burgdorf, an attorney with Nixon Peabody, Rochester, said the company would even offer a stipend so landowners could consult with attorneys. He declined to say how much the company would provide.
In January, Upstate NY Power sent two letters to the owners of 120 parcels offering to buy strips of right of way for the transmission line. In the second, which was hand-delivered by land agents, the phrase “eminent domain” was mentioned.
Concern over whether the land could be forcibly taken was one that was raised repeatedly on Thursday. Mr. Burgdorf sought again and again to reassure people at the meeting.
Mr. Burgdorf said the company would work with landowners to find a mutual agreement. If that was impossible, then the location of the line would be moved, he said.
“The company is hoping to get 100 percent voluntary participation,” he said of the transmission line corridor. “It is confident it can get 100 percent voluntary participation.”
Upstate NY Power is backed financially by the global investment and advisory firm Babcock & Brown Ltd., which has had complete voluntary participation on all of its 20 previous wind farm projects, he said.
The company has been working with federal, state and local agencies on the project. Mr. Burgdorf estimated that the transmission line likely would not go through until 2010.
Also offering advice Thursday were Rodman resident Deanna R. Nelson, an attorney with Goldberg Segalla, Syracuse; Brian J. Wohnsiedler, executive director of the Soil and Water Conservation District; and Matthew J. Brower, an agriculture resources specialist in the Farmland Protection Division of the state Department of Agriculture and Markets.
“Just because you received a letter with a date on it doesn’t mean the ax will fall at any time,” said Ms. Nelson. “You have a voice in this process.”
Henderson dairy farmer Brian L. Zumbach, whose land is in the project area, said he thought the meeting was informative.
“I was comforted by the meeting,” he said. “The lawyers were very non-lawyerish. They seemed to want to work with us, not against us.”
James D. Rathbun said his property on Route 3 in Henderson is too valuable for potential development to allow rights of way through it, but he said he still is willing to take a look at the project.
“I’ll sit down and look at the pros and cons,” he said. “My interest is the long term, not the short-term payment.”
A written and video transcript of the entire meeting, including the question-and-answer session, will be available next week on the Jefferson County Agricultural Development Corp. Web site.
By Rachel Hanley
Times Staff Writer
15 February 2008
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