postheadericon Economic Development Committee Considers State Forest

bellstation_120The idea of a state forest in the northwest corner of Lansing has been gaining traction with a number of Lansing residents writing town officials in support of the idea.  But town officials are concerned that local taxpayers not take on liability or too much responsibility for the property.  To that end an open meeting has been scheduled between New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and town officials on February 27th to try to clear up some of the concerns Town Board members have.

Lansing Councilwoman Katrina Binkewicz updated the Lansing Economic Development Committee Wednesday.  She presented committee members with a brief outline of the possible project, samples of letters of support the board has received from local residents, and the beginnings of lists of potential benefits and liabilities to the Town.

The property is almost 500 acres currently owned by NYSEG.  In the 1990s it was designated as the location for the Bell Station nuclear plant project that eventually fizzled out.  NYSEG reportedly wants to sell it quickly.  The power company's first choice is to sell it to New York State for a state forest, but would explore other options if there is no local support for the idea.  The Fingerlakes Land Trust has positioned itself to facilitate the sale, and approached the Town Board in November to endorse the idea.  Binkewicz says that there is some urgency in providing town support to help lock in the deal, even though the actual purchase and development of a state forest may not occur for years.

About half of the 490 acre plot is forested land with the rest fertile farmland that is currently rented to local farmers.  She anticipated the farmland would continue to be rented for that purpose.  The property includes 3,400 feet of shoreline.

Binkewicz says that potential uses for a state forest would be to institute snowmobile trails, cross country skiing from the woods up into the meadows, and it could be a destination for horseback riding and camping.

Among the potential benefits Binkewicz listed that local parks and forests are the number one reason tourists come to the Ithaca region, and she suggested that a map of the forest could also promote local Bed & Breakfasts and inns.  She said a state forest would raise nearby property values and help attract and retain economic investment in the town.

"There are state camps, and if you look at where they are, there are none in the Finger Lakes," Binkewicz noted.  "This would be a beautiful place to have a state forest camp for kids."

She also mentioned concerns that the Town might be liable for accidents as well as for maintenance of the area, including law enforcement, controlling evening use, building and/or maintaining a parking lot, managing dumping and trash, protecting fish spawning areas, unwanted camping, and others.  She said many of these concerns will be explored before next month's meeting, and that they will be addressed.

"We would still receive taxes on that land, which is farmland and forest.," Binkewicz said.  "It's got about 3400 feet of shoreline.  It's got old growth forest, some pretty deep ravines, some beautiful waterfalls.  There are a lot of big oak trees.  The ag land is quite good."

A PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes) agreement is contemplated to prevent any property tax loss to the town.  Some board members have brought up the concern that potential future property taxes generated by high-end housing development would be lost, but Binkewicz said that town maintenance of such a neighborhood would be more costly in the long run, and would be offset by the economic benefits a state forest would bring to the town.

"We're doing a lot of work on figuring out what the negatives are," she said.  "We're trying to make sure we won't have taxes go up.  There is a fair amount of concern about how much of the financial piece the town would be required to participate in."

Binkewicz said that the February 27 meeting with Town Board members, DEC, and a Finger Lakes Land Trust will be open to the public.  Town Board members will ask questions, after which the public will be invited to participate as well.  The meeting is scheduled for 9:00AM at the Lansing Community Center.

She asked the Economic Development Committee to think about potential economic benefits to having a state forest.

"I see diversity of attractions as being a real strength for a town," she said.  "I think this is the perfect committee to evaluate that in ways I wouldn't think of."

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