- By Dan Veaner
Responding to an announcement by the Tompkins County Energy and Economic Development Task Force (EEDTF) last week that NYSEG has requested a solution to the natural gas shortage in Lansing that will make a moratorium on new customers permanent, Lansing representatives said Wednesday the moratorium should be spread county-wide before any further decisions are made. With close to 900 new building projects currently approved or undergoing the approval process in the Town, Lansing officials said that it's not fair that communities that have access to natural gas have come up with a plan that will deny it to Lansing.
"It's definitely not putting us on the right playing field," said Tompkins County Legislator Mike Sigler (Lansing). "The gas moratorium is obviously something that's going to have an enormous impact on our town."
In a call to NYSEG spokesman Bob Pass Wednesday, Lansing Town Supervisor Ed LaVigne was blunt in his criticism of the EEDTF's collaboration with NYSEG that will solve the problem of unreliable natural gas delivery in Lansing with a new compressor station that would stabilize the flow of natural gas, but not add new capacity within the Town. He noted that while the only Lansing representative on the EEDTF, Tompkins County Legislator Glenn Morey, does represent a small portion of Lansing, Morey himself is a Groton resident and the sliver of Lansing he represents is just a small part of the district he represents.
"I was not polite with Mr. Pass today," LaVigne told the Town Board at a meeting Wednesday. "Lansing is the one that's going to take it on the chin. In my opinion we have not bee represented. We're the ones that are going to have to pay. They say that someone from Lansing was on the committee, but he only represents District 8. With all due respect, he (Morey) doesn't pay taxes in Lansing. I am not going to get into a debate about natural gas or heat pumps or any of this stuff. What I did mention to Mr. Pass is that later is now. If you're not going to go in this one direction, then where do we get reliable power so that people that want to invest in our town will invest?"
Sigler stressed that he thinks surrounding communities that are not threatened by the moratorium are pulling the natural gas rug out from under Lansing.
"You're looking at Towns like Dryden who are saying you guys should not have natural gas in Lansing, yet they're putting in 34 units that use natural gas. It doesn't seem like any of the other towns are... sure there are a couple of projects that are using heat pumps and things like that, but overall most of the stuff you have being built in Ithaca is natural gas."
Lansing Planning Consultant Michael Long said that he had attended the EEDTF meeting, and said that Lansing officials opposed the plan the committee announced. He said demand for natural gas in Lansing is high.
"We put together a list of 890 projects that have been approved, or in the process of being approved -- we have a significant amount of interest and demand," he reported. "A lot of them are subdivisions for residential building plots, duplexes, and also some commercial projects. We don't have any power available to us. The rest of the County does. County Legislator Sigler was also there. He mentioned that if there is going to be a moratorium or a ban it should concern much more than just Lansing."
That sentiment was mirrored by LaVigne, who cited the example of developer Robert Weinstein's Cayuga Farms project that has been trying to get services lined up for a 102 unit townhouse project on Triphammer Road south of Asbury Road for years.
"Mr Weinstein has waited three years," LaVigne said. "Three years he's been calm. He's willing to put in 102 units at a quarter of a million dollars each. That's 25 1/2 million dollars he's willing to put into this town. That would take tremendous angst about what happens to our power plant away from us."
LaVigne said the main concern is to build up the tax base in Lansing, especially within the school district because of the travails of the district's biggest taxpayer, the Cayuga Power Plant. Over the last half dozen or so years the plant has lost about $100 million in assessed value, and local officials are predicting it will lose still more value in the current round of PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes) negotiations. Currently taxes from the plant add about $1.3 million to the School District's annual budget. The biggest impact has been on school taxes, because it has fallen mainly to homeowners to make up the loss of tax revenue from the plant.
Sigler said he met with a plant official this week, and was cautiously optimistic about the plant's prospects for remaining open in some form.
"I do not know what they're going to do, but I do get a sense from them that they are committed to this community,' Sigler said. "Take that for what it's worth. they bought the plant for a reason. They do seem just as committed as that plant has been to us for all these many years. I get the sense from them that they understand that and are committed to our community."
But LaVigne has been negotiating with various entities to provide infrastructure for new development, especially in the southern portion of Lansing, including sewer and power options.
"The good news is (Weinstein) still wants to invest in this town," LaVigne said. "The good news is that it's within the school district. In talking to the representatives from the schools, they are very sensitive as to where this development goes. Anywhere in Lansing is fine with me, but it's reassuring if they want to be within our school district, because, lets be honest, that's the real 5,000 pound gorilla in the room."
LaVigne noted that the Lansing schools are excellent and one of the main reasons people decide to settle in Lansing.
"It would be tragic (to lose developers because of the absence of available natural gas)," he said. "Whether this was done intentionally or not is irrelevant to me. What I care about is that Lansing residents have a strong tax base so they can stay in this town when they retire."