LITTLE VALLEY – More than 100 people opposed to the Alle-Catt Wind Farm cheered Wednesday as Cattaraugus County lawmakers approved a resolution asking the Industrial Development Agency to limit the size of wind farms eligible for tax breaks.
Dozens of demonstrators wearing red T-shirts with “No PILOT for Big Wind” emblazoned across the front attended the meeting.
When the 104-person capacity for the legislative chamber was reached, people were ushered to two committee rooms where they could hear the proceedings.
Signs in the audience included: No Windmills, Demand Further Setbacks, Big Wind PILOTS are a Misuse of Public Funds and Who Would Pay $461,538 to Create One Job?
The wind farm would consist of 120 wind turbines in Farmersville and Freedom in Cattaraugus County, Rushford and Centerville in Allegany County and Arcade in Wyoming County.
After nearly an hour of comments from wind farm supporters as well as opponents, legislators turned back a move to table the resolution asking the IDA not to grant a payment in lieu of taxes or P.I.L.O.T., for large wind projects.
The vote was 13 to 2, with Legislature Vice Chairman Susan Labuhn, D-Salamanca, and Joseph Boberg, R-Delevan, voting against the resolution. Legislators Vergilio “Dick” Giardini, D-Allegany, and Howard VanRensselaer, R-Randolph were absent.
One of the sponsors, Majority Leader Donna Vickman, R-Farmersville, said, “I felt giving this huge multi-million dollar company tax relief on the backs of our taxpayers is wrong.” The company “already receives subsidies from the government,” she added.
Vickman said afterward, “They should pay their fair share of taxes.”
Will it be the death knell for the project if the IDA board of directors follows the County Legislature’s advice and limits P.I.L.O.T.s to 5 megawatt wind systems?
“It would have a substantial impact on the project,” said Valessa Souter-Kline, Alle-Catt Wind Farm manager for Invenergy. About half of the turbines in the project would be located in Cattaraugus County.
Before voting for the resolution, she urged legislators to review review the economic benefits of the project that would bring about $7 million a year into the local economy.
Those benefits would include:
• $380,000 a year to Cattaraugus County.
• $330,000 for Pioneer School District.
• $100,000 for the Franklinville School District.
• $450,000 for the Town of Freedom.
• $360,000 for the Town of Farmersville.
The $7 million also includes community host payments, leases from property owners, taxes and operation and maintenance spending.
Souter-Kline said Invenergy had based its P.I.L.O.T. projections for Alle-Catt Wind Farm on other New York projects, including those in neighboring Wyoming County and in Steuben County. Those projects counted on P.I.L.O.T. agreements to avoid paying property taxes based on the value of the turbines.
Stephanie Milks, president of Freedom United, urged legislators to “fully tax the commercial scale industrial turbines that will cause adverse environmental and economic impacts on the loyal tax paying residents of this county.”
While 40 leaseholders in Freedom and Farmersville will financially benefit, it will come at the expense of 3,455 other residents of the two towns, Milks said.
The nearly 600-foot tall turbines would be visible from Ellicottville, which she said could impact tourism and bring down property values for local residents.
Asked later whether she thought the resolution would kill the project if Invenergy couldn’t get a P.I.L.O.T. in Cattaraugus County, an emotional Milks replied, “I can’t say. Invenergy is going to come in hard. There’s no reason not to fight. The people have spoken.”
Attorney Ginger Schroder who represents property owners in Farmersville and Freedom said Cattaraugus County would lose $4 million in property taxes if the IDA approves a P.I.L.O.T. agreement with Invenergy. She added with other municipalities losing another $1.5 million in tax revenue under a P.I.L.O.T., Invenergy jobs will be very expensive.
“No one wants to be located next to one of these things, or very close.”
County Legislature Chairman James J. Snyder, R-Olean, commended those attending for speaking respectfully. There were three sheriff’s officers in the chamber for the emotional meeting.
“I couldn’t help but think this is democracy in action,” Snyder observed afterward. “The system works. Nobody got mad at each other. Everyone was very respectful.”
After the resolution passed and the audience prepared to leave the legislative chamber, Snyder said, “It’s probably not the end of this.”
The County Legislature will have the last word, Snyder said. P.I.L.O.T. agreements by the IDA need to be approved by county lawmakers.
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