Lansing Rescinds Caroline Broadband Pledge

Aug232013

Lansing Rescinds Caroline Broadband Pledge

 

townhall_120Outraged by neighboring municipalities' renouncing of Lansing in the debate about repowering the Cayuga Power Plant, the Lansing Town Board Wednesday rescinded a pledge of $6,000 that would have helped the Town of Caroline pay for poles needed to provide wireless broadband service to that community.  The board unanimously passed a resolution revoking the pledge after Former Lansing Councilwoman Connie Wilcox urged withdrawing from the Tompkins County Council of Governments and taking back the pledge.

"The fact that the towns of Ithaca, Ulysses, Dryden and Caroline denounced repowering Cayuga publicly was a real stab in the back," Wilcox said.  "The fact that the Tompkins County Legislature also did not try to pass a resolution in favor of repowering shows it's 'all for one and one for all' but not for Lansing."

At a time when the Lansing board has been split on many issues, they were unanimous in their outrage at statements made by neighboring legislators at the town and county levels, both at a New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) public hearing and after.  The hearing was held Monday, July 29th to gather public opinion on proposals to either repower the Cayuga power plant with natural gas or a NYSEG proposal to close the plant in favor of upgrading the transmission grid, either of which would provide reliable power to Auburn.  Notably, Ulysses Supervisor Elizabeth Thomas, County Legislator Carol Chock made statements attacking the town and school district for relying on the plant for revenue, and State Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton, who only supported repowering the plant with renewable energy.  Lansing board members were also upset by Caroline Supervisor Don Barber's comments at the PSC hearing and afterward, opposing repowering the plant.

Lansing's County Legislator Pat Pryor told the board she had proposed a resolution supporting repowering the plant in a Tompkins County Legislature standing committee, but found herself outnumbered 4-1 by members who wanted a proposal opposing the plant.  She said she convinced committee members not to put forward any resolution on the grounds that it would be damaging to the community she represents.

Miller had a similar story.  She attended a TCCOG meeting prior to the PSC hearing to ask neighboring governments to refrain from condemning the repowering because of how damaging  a plant closing would be to the town.  She said she spoke up because she feared council representatives wanted to pass a resolution against repowering.  TCCOG is made up by representatives of 16 Tompkins County governments including towns, villages, the City of Ithaca and Tompkins County.

Miller said she was encouraged when TCCOG members did not propose such a resolution.  But many of those officials spoke against repowering at length at the PSC hearing.

"If you were there... it was pretty bad," Lansing Supervisor Kathy Miller said Wednesday.  "When some of these people got up and went on for ten mintes or over I thought this is just a soap box for them and they're not thinking of Lansing at all.  It's one thing to say 'we're not in favor of repowering', but it's another to go on and on  and on and be as negative and accusatory as they were.  It was like not only sticking the knife in, but twisting it."

Since that time neighboring communities have passed resolutions opposing repowering the plant, including Dryden, which made its opposition official last week, and the Town of Ithaca.

Last month the Lansing board voted 3 to 1 (with Councilman Robert Cree absent and Councilman Ed LaVigne voting no) to pledge $6,000 to help pay for infrastructure Caroline needs for broadband service.  A state grant had eliminated parts of Newfield, the Town of Enfield and the Town of Caroline from the project that will bring wireless broadband service to unserved parts of Tompkins County and part of Cayuga county.  Some board and community members worried Wednesday that rescinding the pledge would look like revenge, but uncertainty about the plant's future and tax rises and other costs to the town that will result if it closes influenced them to vote to withdraw their pledge.

"I know that one doesn't have anything to do with the other," said Councilman Robert Cree,  "But I thought the spirit of what you were trying to achieve was there and it certainly wasn't reciprocated."

Councilwoman Ruth Hopkins said she thought the structuring of the request for support was flawed because the broadband initiative is a county project.  While she favored pledging the money last month, she voted to rescind it Wednesday.  Councilwoman Katrina Binkewicz also changed her vote.

"I was in support of a cooperative inter-municipal solution because I felt we had gained from bandwidth from other counties and towns that we're not paying for and I felt it was just for us to extend that to an unserved community," Binkewicz said.  "But I was shocked by the lack of empathy and spirit of cooperation, so I support rescinding the $6,000."

Wilcox accused Pryor of "practically bullying the board into passing the resolution at the July meeting", but Pryor said she does not oppose rescinding the pledge.  She told the board she met with Caroline Town Councilwoman Irene Weiser after the PSC hearing to warn that while she would not make a move to change Lansing's commitment that has been made, she would not be surprised if, given the tenor of the comments at the hearing, the Lansing Town Board decided to withdraw their support for the Town of Caroline on the broadband project.

"If the Town Board does decide to do that I would certainly not object to it," Pryor said.  "I have been very, very distressed by the comments from other municipalities and other municipal leaders across the county.  It has really shocked me that other places here in the county would target one town the way they have on this repowering project."

Councilman Ed LaVigne moved a resolution rescinding the pledge, calling it a moment of clarity.  LaVigne had opposed the resolution last month on the grounds that private donations should be sought before pledging taxpayer money.  He also cited uncertainty about whether the two poles slated to be erected in Lansing will actually provide the level of broadband service anticipated.  Hopkins agreed.

"We're still at a level of unknowns in our own town as to what it's going to cost us," she said.  "There are no guarantees of who is going to get service and who's not."

Only one voice at Wednesday's meeting favored keeping the pledge in place.  Lansing resident Claes Nyberg said taking back the pledge would appear as vengeance.

"I think the happiness you would get out of revoking the money is going to be less than the happiness you would get from giving the money," he said.  "I think you are making a mistake."

But Miller said she is not concerned about how it looks.

"So be it," she said.  "I wanted to give the $6,000 to Caroline because I thought it was the right thing to do.  But the bottom line is charity begins at home.  We can't keep giving and giving and giving."

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