July 22, 2006
Philip J. Roche
Chairman, Steuben County Legislature
3 East Pulteney Square
Bath, New York 14810
Dear Mr. Roche,
I was part of a group of neighbors who spoke out against the Windfarm Prattsburgh at last Thursday’s Public Hearing. We were all very appreciative that you took the time to attend and listen to our concerns. Though we will be submitting a comprehensive analysis and critique of the DEIS, I wanted to send you some comments sooner so that you may have some additional time to consider some of the broader economic development issues.
First, let me give you a little background. Our family has worked our 175 acres in the town of Italy since 1958. We have done Timber Stand Improvement, planted tens of thousands of pine, spruce, and larch, thousands of wildlife shrubs, built four ponds (stocked with bass or trout), and strived always to maintain the character of the former farm and forestlands. In recognition of our accomplishments we received the Conservationist of the Year award from the NY DEC. Dad was deservedly proud of this recognition. Today we are a Certified Tree Farm with a DEC-approved Forest Management Plan. And our heritage orchard, which was planted last year, will be bearing fruit next season.
It goes without saying that we are totally committed to this area, its continued economic development, and the preservation of its cultural roots.
Regarding economic development I believe that there are a number of potential threats given the scope of the proposed windfarms that require serious, thoughtful, and objective analysis. The DEIS consideration of economic development impact is not serious, thoughtful, or objective. Here are a few issues that deserve further study.
1. Impact on Central Finger Lakes Tourism. Carole Kost covered this issue well in her remarks Thursday. Based on the studies she referred to as well as plain common sense the windfarms are a major threat to this $200M annual revenue stream. This threat needs to be carefully looked at by the various tourism groups, and studies need to be conducted by objective third parties.
2. Impact on property values. This issue will be covered in detail in our DEIS comments prepared by local real estate experts who believe that the impact to higher value properties will be devastating. For example, Canadaigua Lake waterfront is some of the most expensive property in the entire country. There are many multimillion-dollar homes, the majority of which are permanent residences. Danny Wegman (CEO of Wegmans Food and Pharmacy) and his wife reside on the west side. Tom Golisano (billionaire founder of Paychex) also has a place there. In addition to the waterfront value, there are hundreds of high-end homes on the hillsides overlooking the lake, including the massive investment at Bristol Harbor. The Prattsburgh, Italy, and Cohocton windfarms will be directly in the viewsheds of hundreds of millions of dollars of residences, yet there is not even a mention of this in the impact statements. The potential impact on such real estate should not be overlooked. It needs to have fair and objective analysis so that negative impact can be quantified and evaluated.
3. Implications for population growth and tax rolls. Back about six years ago my sister built a beautiful new log home on the northern portion of the property. Two years ago we completed a major renovation and expansion of our own home. Our neighbors to the north, the Bromleys, have just completed a significant expansion to their residence. Our new neighbors to the east, the Livingstons, just moved into their newly built home last summer. All of these families re-located from urban areas to make their permanent residences here. The total construction cost for these four projects was well over a million dollars, money that went to local suppliers, builders, and craftsmen. This incremental value is directly reflected in the tax rolls, and our taxes. Additionally, because we now all live here full-time, we spend our money here. A significant amount of annual revenue now goes to local businesses because of these new residents such as these.
This aspect of economic development is also quite eco-friendly, as existing large parcels were utilized; there has been no subdividing whatsoever. Perhaps it is not surprising that all us came from different places (Buffalo, Rochester, Geneva, and Raleigh-Durham) but we all came and made major investments for the same reasons: the countryside is just spectacular, and the peace, tranquility, and rural character more than make up for the inconvenience (several of us have rather long commutes). We came hear to live with nature; we moved away from urban, industrial, and commercial areas. It is quiet here all of the time; it is so quiet at night that guests from the city remark about it. The skies are deep black with billions of visible stars. There is no ambient light at night. There are no manmade structures anywhere in our viewshed. For those of us who choose to be here, it truly is God’s country. And for many of us who have been here for a long time, it is part of our culture and heritage.
I’ve only told you about four families within a single square mile. But our stories are not unique. They are being repeated throughout the area in Italy, Naples, Jerusalem, Prattsburgh, Cohocton, Springwater, Middlesex, and South Bristol. In aggregate, this influx of new residents is an economic development engine. We pay lots of taxes, we spend our money locally, we contribute to local institutions, and (in general) we demand few if any additional municipal services. This is an economic development engine that is all positive. There are loads of positives with no tangible negatives. A simple analysis of changes in residential values in Appendix K clearly shows rapid growth over 5 years in the >$100,000 sector while the lower end (<$60.000) is flat. New money is coming to our towns.
I expect you can see where I am going with this but it is an undeniable fact that none of us would have come here to live next to industrial scale wind turbines, to have our viewsheds ruined, our dark and still evenings taken away, or to have our health and safety compromised. If the turbines go up, this economic engine will cease to operate. And without question the economic value contributed from all of these new residents is far greater than what the windfarm developers promise, even if you believe what they claim. Will some of our neighbors decide to leave because their quality of life has been impacted? I can only speak for our own situation, and for now, we just don’t know. This property has been a central part of my life for 48 years and is a significant element of my identity. Since I was a child, I wanted to live at “the farm”. Our dream is now reality. This property speaks to our priorities and to our values. Should the Prattsburgh and Italy projects sprout multiple clusters of giant turbines smack dab in the center of our view, we may decide to move on. As I said, we just do not yet know. Of course, selling a high-end property with a viewshed marred by an industrial park may be pretty difficult.
So please study and carefully consider the longer-term implications of the windfarms on population growth and the tax rolls.
4. For a number of years I held an executive level position with ALSTOM USA. Of our 28 sites across the country, two were in upstate NY, in Rochester and Hornell. Between these two sites we had over 500 white-collar professionals in addition to a large blue-collar workforce. Recruiting professionals to Rochester was relatively easy. Recruiting them to Hornell was very difficult. Here is why. Most of today’s college grads live and work in urban or suburban environments. They make these choices for lifestyle, amenities, plentiful jobs, and friends and family. The decidedly rural character of Hornell is not the least bit attractive to the vast majority of engineers and scientists that ALSTOM Transport required. Based on many years of recruiting experience I would estimate that less than 10% of technical professionals would choose to work in a place like Hornell. So right off the bat we had a tiny applicant pool compared to Rochester or Seattle or Hartford or other sites. Since we were not going to be successful marketing Hornell as the next Silicon Valley, we had to sell it for its genuine assets: natural beauty, rural lifestyle, etc. This did appeal to that small segment of the population that would consider living in Bath, or Arkport, or Dansville, or Geneseo, or Naples (we still have a number of managers residing in Naples). This recruiting strategy paid off, and our attrition for technical professionals was quite low. Those that joined up liked it here, and stayed.
Unfortunately widespread development of industrial windfarms would significantly reduce our ability to attract new technical talent because we will lose the attributes that they value. In search of rural, they will not choose industrial. With all of the project plans on the table right now, I cannot in good conscience recommend that a client consider an expansion site in Steuben or Yates Counties. The risk of not being able to attract top talent would simply be too great. Again, this is an area of substantial economic risk that isn’t even considered in the DEIS.
I would also like to offer another example, a rather timely one. There are plans underway to build a luxury hotel/spa adjacent to Reservoir Creek Golf Course on Route 21 south of Naples village. If the Cohocton windfarm is built it will place a large number of turbines on Pine Hill that would tower over the hotel and ruin the entire southern viewshed. This project (120 permanent jobs) will not move forward if there is any possibility that Windfarm Cohocton (4 – 6 jobs) will be. This is not a rational economic development trade-off. We need to look at the bigger picture; we need to evaluate the cumulative impact of all of the proposed developments. Looking at each project separately without considering the aggregate impact on the local economy is not sufficient due diligence.
I believe that much additional study is required to honestly and objectively determine the real economic impact of the windfarm projects. To do this, one would first need to accurately quantify the economic benefits of the projects, and correct many of the blatant inaccuracies in the DEIS. Everyone agrees that there is economic benefit in PILOT’s and lease payments but they may be trivial in light of the economic risks described above. Another economic benefit described in the DEIS is the amount of electricity generated by the windfarm. But a close examination of the facts (courtesy of NYSERDA and GE Energy) reveals that they will generate a mere fraction of the usable energy claimed: only about 8 or 9% of nameplate capacity, not the 50 to 75 MW claimed in the DEIS. There is also the $75M price tag for decommissioning that somehow must be funded.
So by overstating the benefits and understating the risks, the DEIS wrongly concludes that the project will result in positive economic development. In fact, it is highly probable that the windfarms will hurt tourism, reduce property values, discourage business investment, and result in public health and safety problems. This is not alarmism. Rather, it is a valid conclusion based on many hours of research. In my professional opinion, industrial windfarms have the potential to turn Steuben, Yates, and surrounding counties into an economic development wasteland. Given what I have learned to date, I do not see that the risks can be justified by the rewards. Surely it is prudent to have unbiased experts objectively and comprehensively evaluate the pros and the cons of such a massive undertaking before we proceed any further.
Should you or Mr. Sherron wish to discuss any of these issues in more detail, I am available to meet at your convenience. I have also enclosed for your review a letter that was published in the local paper last week. Thank you for your consideration.
Bradley E. Jones
President, PerformancePlus Business Consultants
3996 Donley Road, Naples NY 14512
585 374 2627 (office), 585 233 8539 (cell)
cc. James P. Sherron, Executive Director, Steuben County IDA