RUSHFORD — The Allegany County Industrial Development Agency is facing criticism for scheduling a public hearing on the controversial Alle-Catt Wind Farm between the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.
Invenergy, the corporate parent of Alle-Catt Wind Farm, has applied to the IDA for $1.35 million in sales tax exemptions for construction and equipment and a 20-year $17.45 million payment in lieu of taxes (P.I.L.O.T.) agreement.
At the outset of Monday morning’s IDA public hearing at the Rushford Fire Hall, IDA Executive Director Craig R. Clark told those attending the hearing was not for review of the project, but the proposed IDA tax breaks and P.I.L.O.T.
The portion of the $550 million, 117-turbine project in Allegany County covers about 15,000 acres in the towns of Rushford and Centerville. Clark said Invenergy hopes to get permits to begin construction in late 2020.
Invenergy said 49 of the turbines would be in Allegany County — 13 in northern Rushford and 36 across Centerville.
One woman whose family had owned a farm on Brookside Road in Rushford since 1917 said the IDA holding a public hearing during the day between two major holidays was a guarantee of low public participation.
Landowners who do not have leases with Invenergy still have to contend with health issues, shadow flicker, infrasound and the loss of enjoyment of their property. The IDA, she said, should have guarantees of no loss of land value and that health won’t be affected.
Clark replied that the IDA hearings were generally held in the mornings or afternoons.
Murial Kummer of Rushford Lake said she learned about the public hearing by chance: “My husband saw it on Facebook.”
Clark said the IDA published the notice of the public hearings (10 a.m. in Rushford and 1 p.m. in Centerville) in its official paper, the Wellsville Daily Reporter, which is solely online.
Others asked why a hearing for such a controversial project wasn’t advertised in the Olean Times Herald, Cuba Patriot or Arcade Herald, all of which circulate in the two Allegany County towns.
The timing of the public hearing and little notice “tells me something doesn’t smell right,” said John Cady of Rushford.
But Joe Donnelly of Rushford said the project shouldn’t be dismissed “if it’s going to cut my taxes by 50%.”
Charles Bliss, a member of the Rushford Town Board, which approved a wind law sought by Invenergy with a 600-foot turbine height limit — up from 450 feet — said the town would be getting about $300,000 a year from Invenergy. That would be half of the general fund, he said. He claimed Allegany County taxes would go down, too.
Bliss said the town would share a P.I.L.O.T. based on $5,850 a megawatt. “Allegany County is in a tough position” losing businesses. “We have to look at any opportunity to bring additional revenue into the town.”
One man, who said he owned a campground near a proposed turbine, said patrons have told him they would leave rather than have one 1,200 feet from the campsite.
Stephanie Milks, president of Freedom United in Cattaraugus County, said the timing and lack of publicity for the public hearing was another example of the non-transparency of the Alle-Catt project.
“It looks fishy,” she said. “It looks very fishy. It seems very underhanded.”
Invenergy will suggest that the small number of people who came to speak at the public hearing is an indication that it enjoys wide support, Milks said.
Milks said Invenergy’s filings show a large number of homes will get 80 hours a year of shadow flicker during 241 (sunny) days. One Rushford leaseholder will get up to two hours of flicker a day and another will get about three hours of flicker a day.
“Is that worth your $200 to $400 tax break?” Milks asked.
One man observed that the IDA’s legal counsel is Daniel Spitzer of Hudson Russ in Buffalo, who has been pushing wind projects — including Alle-Catt — for 15 years.
Ginger Schroder, a Farmersville resident, Cattaraugus County legislator and an attorney fighting the Alle-Catt project, said county lawmakers in 2018 urged the Cattaraugus County IDA not to grant tax breaks to big wind projects.
“Our goal is to make sure this project is never built in Cattaraugus County,” she said.
Schroder said the Alle-Catt project is months away from being accepted or denied under Article 10. There is no reason for the Allegany County IDA to be accepting a P.I.L.O.T. application from Invenergy.
“Our IDA sent it back,” she said.
Schroder said Monday’s little-publicized public hearing hit “an inconvenient speed bump in what I think is a rush bid to P.I.L.O.T. this program and grant enormous tax incentives on the backs of taxpayers.”
Shroder also called Spitzer’s representation of both the IDA and Invenergy “a terrible conflict.” She said she wasn’t sure the IDA members were aware of Spitzer’s dual role.
Schroder said by agreeing to a P.I.L.O.T. for Alle-Catt, the IDA would find itself “in a dance with the devil.” She cited the state attorney general’s fine of the company for failing to make financial disclosures that more than 10 town officials or their relatives in five towns had leases with Invenergy. The company was fined $25,000 for the lack of compliance. “Their lack of compliance does not inspire confidence this company will do the right thing,” she said.
Four of those town officials are in Allegany County, Schroder added.
At the conclusion of the 1½-hour public hearing, Clark thanked those who attended and said the IDA would make no decision until February or March.
To view a YouTube video of the public hearing go to: https://youtu.be/Ewwdippafak
(Contact reporter Rick Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @RMillerOTH)