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State followed appropriate procedures in purchase of land for Athenex factory

Here’s the bottom line on the “problem” with how the state went about acquiring property for the proposed Athenex drug-manufacturing facility in Dunkirk:

There was no problem. Zero. There could easily have been one had the state gone about the purchase in any other way. Some issues demand follow-up, given the way they played out, but based on what is known so far, the process proceeded as it should have.

The question arose when it was revealed that one of the property owners who sold land to the state for the Athenex plant was a staffer in the office of State Sen. Catharine Young, R-Olean. Neither the aide, Kevin Muldowney, nor the owner of a neighboring property involved in the sale, Ryan Mourer, knew who the buyer was or the purpose for which it would be used when they agreed to sell the land.

That’s exactly as it should have been. Imagine if the opposite were true: The price for the land would certainly have skyrocketed if the sellers knew that the money was coming out of the deep pockets of state government, to be used for a $200 million, 300,000-square-foot manufacturing plant that is expected to bring 900 jobs to the Dunkirk area. As it proceeded, though, the purchase protected the sellers, the state and the taxpayers who support it, because it was an arm’s-length transaction.

In addition, the site was one of 10 presented to leaders of Athenex, a 13-year-old maker of specialty cancer drugs whose headquarters is at the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. If ever the fix was not in, this seems to be it.

Had Muldowney known who he was dealing with, the question of impropriety would have been significant, with the state buying property, possibly at an inflated price, from a state employee. That would have been the scandal.

Not only did the transaction take place in an apparently appropriate manner, but Muldowney, once he realized who was buying his property, went a step further to ensure no issue arose. He asked for an informal advisory opinion from the Legislative Ethics Commission. Its executive director and counsel, Lisa Reid, said she sees no ethical concerns for Muldowney.

Based on the information available, it’s hard to see this transaction as anything other than legitimate and conducted in the best interests of taxpayers. The skepticism of some observers is understandable, given New York’s pay-to-play history and its willingness to cheat taxpayers for the benefit of those players. It pays to pay attention.

But that wasn’t the case in this transaction. Indeed, it could function as a template for how the state should go about acquiring land. This was a good deal.