LITTLE VALLEY — It was standing room only for Wednesday’s Cattaraugus County Legislature meeting.
About 75 people — many of them members of a group called We the People — attended the meeting in which a resolution called “Opposing infringement on the inalienable rights of the people and declaring Cattaraugus County a Constitutional County” was on the agenda.
County Legislature Chairman Howard VanRensselaer, R-Randolph, issued a directive to those attending the meeting at the County Center that they were “strongly encouraged to wear a mask” because the county is in a high COVID-19 transmission area due to the Delta variant.
You could count the number of people with masks in the legislative chamber on one hand. No county lawmakers were among those wearing masks.
County Legislator Ginger Schroder, R-Farmersville, an attorney who drafted the resolution with Brenda Hansen of Freedom, the head of the We the People group, got a standing ovation after a 5-minute speech she made in support of the Bill of Rights. The ovation came not only from those from We the People, but other legislators as well.
The resolution also amends the county legislature’s mission statement and states “this current mission (goal) statement fails to recognize the Constitutional, historical and rightful role of the legislature as a voice of the people of Cattaraugus County and a guarantor of their liberties.”
Members of the audience nodded their heads and waved small American flags as Schroder spoke. “Our freedoms are currently under attack, the freedom of speech, the freedom of assembly, the freedom to bear arms and the freedom of self-determination,” she stated.
“I really don’t recognize the country I grew up in” said Schroder, who turned to the group to address them.
Many of the concerns voiced by We the People stem from the powers given to former Gov. Andrew Cuomo last year during the early days of the pandemic, Schroder said afterward. Many businessmen who did not have essential businesses have lost everything, she explained.
“I cannot speak for the other 16 legislators in the room today, but for myself, I promise all of you that I will not walk quietly into that dark night,” she said.
“I will stand by those who are feeling oppressed by the current state of affairs. I will fight for our constitutional rights and I will fight for our rights as humans,” Schroder said.
“I will engage in civil disobedience where necessary and called for,” she said. “I will not let the Adam Skellys of the world stand alone. My hope is that you will join me.”
Following the standing ovation, Legislature Vice Chairman Andrew Burr, R-Gowanda, cited the overturning of the state’s eviction moratorium by the state Supreme Court. The court ruled there was no due process in the moratorium, he said.
Schroder said landlords are being hurt by a government program that does not require tenants who are behind on their rent due to the pandemic to apply for funding to pay back rent to their landlords.
All 15 legislators in the chamber agreed to be cosponsors to the resolution, including the lone Democrat, David Koch of Salamanca. “I see no reason not to be a sponsor,” he said.
Legislators Laurie Hunt of Salamanca and Richard Klancer of Gowanda were absent.
Asked later if it was a “feel-good resolution,” Schroder agreed that it was.
And while broad, the resolution addressed the concerns of the group and like-minded legislators.
“Make no doubt about it, this is a war about the role of government in our lives,” Schroder said.
“It is about your freedom to think, to speak and to question, and about whether your individual autonomy is downgraded to a conditional privilege or whether it remains a right,” she said.
Sean Perry, a spokesman for Alle-Catt Wind Farm, updated legislators about the planned timeline for construction of the $450 million project. Most of the 116 turbines and facilities will be located in Cattaraugus County. The company is about 14-16 months away from the start of construction, he said.
Marguerite Wells of Invenergy, the parent company of Alle-Catt Wind Energy, also said the company was eager to reach a road use agreement to haul heavy loads over 15 miles of county roads.
Two months ago, Alle-Catt Wind Energy took the county to court in an attempt to have the state’s Public Service Commission impose a road use agreement with the county.
The county legislature has previously urged the Cattaraugus County Industrial Development Agency not to grant tax breaks for the Alle-Catt project which would feature turbines up to 600 feet tall in the towns of Freedom and Farmersville.
The project cannot proceed without the tax breaks available through the IDA. There are concerns that the PSC might offer similar payment in lieu of taxes (P.I.L.O.T.) agreements. The P.I.L.O.T.s provide a much smaller amount of property taxes for towns, schools and the county than if they were taxed at 100%.
Wells said the road use agreement Alle-Catt is proposing is modeled after one they have negotiated with Lewis County to leave county roads in “as good or better condition” than when they started.
Wells reminded legislators Alle-Catt would provide more than $9 million a year in P.I.L.O.T. payments to municipalities and host community benefits.