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Soybean field once eyed by Verizon to remain fallow

The soybean field that was to become the site of Niagara County's biggest construction project in half a century apparently will sit idle indefinitely.

Attorneys, meanwhile, continue to joust over the lawsuit that was blamed in part for sinking the $4 billion Verizon Communications data center project.

The field, owned by AES Corp., lies just west of the company's coal-burning power plant on Lake Road.

Sid Silsby, the Hartland farmer who rented that field last year, said AES told him it won't let him plant a crop there this spring, although that could change by summer.

The reason appears to be that the power plant is for sale.

"We are not making any plans for this property during the current sale process," Peter Bajc, AES Somerset president, said in an e-mail to The Buffalo News.

Verizon announced March 17 that it would not build in Somerset, despite a record-smashing package of tax breaks and discounted hydropower, as well as a victory in a lawsuit over the town's granting of permits and a rezoning.

Verizon was planning to buy 178 acres from AES, although the sale never closed. The reason for the failure to reach a deal has not been disclosed.

Silsby said he planted 130 acres of soybeans on AES' land last season. When harvest time came last fall, "They sort of made us hustle up and get [the crop] off the field," he said.

Silsby farms 2,500 acres scattered across Royalton, Hartland and Somerset, including about 100 acres owned by Mary Ann Rizzo of Amherst, directly across Lake Road from AES.

Rizzo filed the lawsuit that Verizon blamed in part for sinking the project, even though Verizon won the case.

Rizzo appealed, and the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court refused what it considered a premature attempt by Verizon to speed up the case.

Arthur J. Giacalone, Rizzo's lawyer, said he would drop the case if Verizon gave him something in writing that it no longer has any interest in Somerset. The company has not done that.

Dropping the appeal, Giacalone said, would be imprudent if Verizon resuscitates its plan, despite saying it would not.

"I don't think Verizon is required to tell him what their plans are," said Morgan L. Jones Jr., who recently took over as Somerset town attorney.

Giacalone missed an April 11 deadline to file the full record of the case with the Appellate Division, a move lawyers call "perfecting the appeal."

He said he missed the deadline because he was wrangling with the other lawyers over what should be in the record.

As soon as the April 11 deadline passed, Jones asked the Appellate Division to dismiss the appeal.

The court, more likely, will set a new deadline for Giacalone to file, with dismissal resulting if he doesn't, Jones said.

Jones said that if he hadn't made that motion, the case "just goes on automatically for nine months, and then it gets dismissed. It's a request to speed things up."

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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