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Residents wary of wind power

LITTLE VALLEY -- Representatives of town governments want more of the financial pie from new industrial wind power developments, but many Cattaraugus County residents say they are financed by federal debt and long-range costs to the community will outweigh benefits.

These sentiments dominated three public hearings on a tax-incentive proposal for wind developers by the Cattaraugus County Industrial Development Agency.

The hearings were attended by about 60 people and ended in Little Valley on Thursday. Corey Wiktor, executive director of the Cattaraugus County Industrial Development Agency, asked participants to focus on the proposed amendment to the agency's uniform policy for payments-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT).

Under PILOTs, developers pay a percentage of normal tax revenue to towns, schools and the county over 10 to 20 years. The formula is linked to DA property tax abatements and other backing that attracts investors and lenders for financing.

The Wind Advisory Committee, made up of town, school district county and IDA representatives, proposed the PILOT policy revision being considered by the agency's board.

A full 15-year tax exemption is offered to small wind or alternative energy facilities used by farms, residents and small businesses.

Two wind farm developers are currently eyeing several towns, but no developers have applied for Cattaraugus IDA assistance, while local wind licensing laws are being adopted in many towns around the county.

Wiktor said his board is neutral on wind farms and licensing is a town decision. But he conceded after the meeting that there is criticism of the county IDA's role in providing assistance.

One critic, Art Munson of Ashford, said the IDA is ignoring community impacts and job creation while providing town officials with draft wind laws and urging school districts to opt out of state tax exemptions -- thereby allowing IDA involvement and aiding developers. He complained the agency has "low-balled" PILOT payments and persuaded town officials that wind farms can't operate while paying full taxes.

Bradley Parker of Machias accused the IDA of eroding the local quality of life in collusion with an "unscrupulous" industry, replacing $45 million in tax revenue with $7.5 million in PILOT payments.

Cattaraugus County Legislator Jim Ellis, R-East Otto, who learned about wind farms from relatives living near a Lewis County facility in the northern part of the state, said property values there "have increased tremendously" because of farmers -- including an influx of Amish -- moving into the area.

Suzette Rushman of Mansfield said wind farms near East Aurora are not loud or unsightly and warned of continued reliance on coal power, but added that she wants no part of profiting from others' losses.

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