Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Panel: spread wind's rewards

CAPE VINCENT — The town's wind economics committee, finding risks and rewards of wind farm development, has offered bold recommendations to spread rewards around and compensate nonparticipating landowners for any losses they incur.

The committee, which released its report Oct. 7, saw risks to property values, school district aid and tourism. On the other hand, wind power projects would have payments for landowners and for taxing jurisdictions through payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreements.

The report also briefly pointed to other financial risks, including the failure of the developer to pay agreed payments, the owner terminating operation and the owner not saving enough money for decommissioning costs. The town and residents could incur legal fees from disagreements or disputes.

To limit the possibility of economic harm, the committee recommended that the town:

Adopt a zoning law that considers all effects of wind power development.

■ Create a planned development district in the town for turbines.

■ Negotiate PILOT agreements that "fairly and fully compensate" the town.

■ Require compensation to individuals for effects that can't be mitigated.

■ Require property value protection assurance.

■ Require a buyout plan for properties negatively affected.

■ Require bonding to ensure compliance.

■ Establish a reserve fund to cover any town-incurred project costs.

■ Establish a decommissioning plan.

The committee was composed of Assessor Robert V.R. Barnard; Zoning Board of Appeals member Robert S. Brown; Rockne E. Burns, owner of Willow Shores Mobile Home Park and past Planning Board member, and Cyril C. Cullen, past chairman of the Planning Board. Joseph A. Menard, superintendent of Thousand Islands Central School District, advised the committee on school-related issues.

"During this study it has become apparent that the Town and School may well see a financial gain through PILOT payments," the report said. "In addition to the Town and School, participating lease holders, who comprise only 3.9% of the property owners, in the Town are the only citizens that will benefit directly."

The report described the town's land value and compared the participating and nonparticipating land areas.

The total assessed value in the town, including tax-exempt properties, is $310.7 million. Property owned by participating landowners comprises 13,679 acres totaling $9.2 million in assessments. Property owned by nonparticipating landowners comprises 22,267 acres with a value of $301 million. While the participating landowners' property covers 38 percent of the town's area, it includes only 2.9 percent of the assessed value.

Contrary to assertions by St. Lawrence Wind Farm's developer, Acciona Wind Energy USA, in the final environmental impact statement, the report said, "Indications are there will be an overall decrease in property values with the potential for significant negative impact on assessments and related factors such as tax rates and the ability to market property at a fair price."

For example, nonparticipating property owners in the project areas could lose 20 percent to 40 percent of their properties' value, while others within 1,000 feet of turbine sites could lose 15 percent to 25 percent of their value.

One of the effects for lower assessments is the town and school district could raise tax rates to collect the same amount in property taxes, the report said.

On revenue for those in the town, the report recognizes that participating property owners could see more than $4,000 per year per turbine. The town and school district also would receive revenue, but through a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement instead of full property taxes.

"Town income would be whatever the Town negotiates for a PILOT agreement," the report said. "The Town's share of the PILOT agreement could be as much as $8,000 to $8,300 per turbine annually."

The school district's share now is extra income, but that situation could change if the state decides to include it as income.

"Although, there have not been official discussions at the State level that this practice is going to change, it should be noted that school districts across New York State have seen reductions in State Aid and it is possible that at some point PILOT revenues may affect school districts' State Aid," the report said.

If property values decline, the district may see more state aid through the wealth ratio, the report said.

The report also finds that tourism likely would be hurt by wind turbines. Those who come to Cape Vincent to see turbines "may slow down when they first go past a wind turbine, but do not spend any significant amount of time looking at them," it said.

For visitors who come to spend time on the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario, turbines "will not help promote the benefits of Cape Vincent that have drawn so many people to our town for decades," the report said. "It is felt that the negative effect of this industrial complex can be moderated by careful placement of the individual turbines so as to minimize their impact on the positive aspects of the town."


Cape Vincent Wind Economic Impact Committee report:


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