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Henderson residents decry possible PILOT for wind farm

WATERTOWN – A group of Henderson residents told economic development officials Thursday of their opposition to a proposed tax abatement for the Galloo Island Wind project.

Local taxing jurisdictions and the Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency have considered creating a possible payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement for Apex Clean Energy’s proposed wind farm in the town of Hounsfield. The developer submitted a PILOT application and the agency deemed it complete last year.

The group of about 10 seasonal and year-round residents from the neighboring town, along with a couple from Hounsfield, filled every available seat at the meeting room at 800 Starbuck Ave. to urge the JCIDA not to approve a PILOT for Apex. Several, including Peter M. Price, contended that the 108.9 megawatt wind farm would have adverse economic, aesthetic and environmental effects on the surrounding communities.

“If the island could speak, she would plead with you: ‘do not approve a PILOT agreement for this potential travesty that’d scar me for eternity,’” said Mr. Price, owner of Henderson Storage.

The JCIDA reviews and approves PILOT agreements based on guidelines established in its uniform tax exemption policy, which it revised, then readopted, in February.

Apex’s project, however, has been considered a deviation from the policy because it exceeds 25 megawatts, which correlates with the county’s requirement for developers to pay an amount equivalent to full taxation for projects equal to or greater than 25 megawatts. Therefore, the JCIDA must receive “affirmative consent of each affected taxing jurisdiction,” for a PILOT agreement, which would include the county, Hounsfield and Sackets Harbor Central School District.

“Yes, we have statute authority to (grant PILOT agreements), but … this board’s policy is and always has been, we will not inflict a PILOT upon any taxing jurisdiction that doesn’t want it,” said JCIDA Secretary W. Edward Walldroff. “So, if one of three taxing jurisdictions in this case does not support the PILOT, we’re not going to override them. That’s why we sit here. So take your cause to your town boards, your school districts and Jefferson County. They’re the ones that are going to be making that decision, not us, in that sense.”

Jefferson County Legislature Chairman Scott A. Gray said the Legislature can consent to a PILOT agreement so long as its payment would be equal to full taxation and nothing less. The Legislature has made no official decision regarding a possible agreement with Apex, and Mr. Gray said it hasn’t had negotiations with the developer.

“We’re not willing to give up anything in taxes,” Mr. Gray said.

Several Henderson residents who attended the meeting argued the possible adverse economic effects would outweigh the possible benefits.

Mark A. Bosco, a seasonal resident of Stony Island, contended that the jobs created from the project would pale in comparison to possible jobs lost due to the project’s effects on fishing, hospitality, realty, home remodeling and other industries in Henderson and the town of Lyme.

While the project could bring temporary construction work to many people, Robert E. Ashodian, Henderson, said Apex would only retain two or three permanent workers from outside the area. Apex previously said it would hire up to six full-time employees to manage the project.

At the same time, Mr. Ashodian said he believed the wind farm would “destroy fishing, and recreation and property values.” Henderson backed the Nanos Clarkson Research Collaboration Study, which concluded the facility would cause a possible $40 million loss in property values. Apex refuted the study, previously arguing it failed to account for the about six-mile distance between Galloo Island and the Henderson mainland.

“Granting a PILOT to wind towers – granting a PILOT to Apex (Clean) Energy is a perversion, a total perversion of the very intent of what a PILOT is for, and should not be even considered,” Mr. Ashodian said.

Gail Smith, Clayton, said the Galloo Island Wind farm would harm wildlife.

“The migratory birds go right over Galloo Island. If you put those blades up there, you’re going to slice them up,” said Ms. Smith, who resides in Henderson in the summer. “There’s eagles out there. There have always been eagles on Stony and Galloo Island. It’s a wildlife preserve.”

Members of the group, including Mr. Price and Ms. Smith, also participated in another protest on Sept. 20 when they boated to Galloo Island and waved signs reading “no wind,” “no industrial wind turbines” and “swindle,” with “wind” emphasized, at state and local officials arriving for a tour.

Apex has proposed building 30 turbines on the island that could include 600-foot-tall towers and blades as long as 180 feet. Each would generate 3.6 megawatts of power, which would be transmitted to shore through a 32-mile underwater cable.