Landowners in the path of a proposed transmission line for the Galloo Island Wind Project have been threatened with eminent domain if they don't accept payments for easements to the property.
Farmers contacted by the Times on Friday said they have not agreed to the payments, preferring to wait until they attend an informational meeting organized by local agricultural interests.
"I noticed it (eminent domain) when I read it," William E. Eastman, an Ellisburg farmer, said. "We decided to wait for the workshop."
The power lines will reach from Henderson through Ellisburg, Sandy Creek, Richland and Albion to a larger transmission line in Parish.
The letter states the assessed value of land and the acreage Upstate NY Power Corp. would need for its line, totaling the value for that area. Assessments are not tied to market value, which can be established only through sales or appraisals.
The letter then reads, "However, in order to avoid the expenses, delays, and related inefficiencies of eminent domain," it offers a payment about four times the assessed value.
Upstate NY Power is backed by the global investment and advisory firm Babcock & Brown Limited. Babcock & Brown or its affiliates have never used eminent domain to obtain land, spokesman Matthew Dallas said.
"We're working for a voluntary transfer of the easements required," he said. "We're offering significantly more than the fair market value."
But if a landowner doesn't participate, the company will look for alternatives, he said.
Upstate NY Power does not have the authority to wield eminent domain, at least not yet. Upstate NY Power was formed through the state's transportation law, which potentially gives it the ability to use eminent domain to obtain easements for electricity transmission.
But first, the company must receive a certificate of environmental compatibility and public need from the Public Service Commission. Upstate NY Power has not yet filed any applications, so it "has not been granted status," PSC spokeswoman Anne V. Dalton said.
Jefferson County Agricultural Coordinator Jay M. Matteson said agricultural interests are not lost in the review process. The state's commissioner of agriculture and markets is also "at the table," because much of the area that would be included is part of agricultural districts.
And the county also has a say. Michael J. Bourcy, community development coordinator for the Jefferson County Planning Department, said that any entity wishing to use eminent domain on more than 10 acres in an agricultural district must give a notice of intent to the county's Agriculture and Farmland Protection Board.
"One of the benefits of an agricultural district is that it can put a limit on eminent domain," he said.
If an entity claims land through eminent domain, it must pay the full fair market value of the property, which is determined in a court proceeding.
Farmers in Jefferson and Oswego counties first received a letter about Jan. 18 saying that their land could be host to transmission lines for a proposed power project.
"I was concerned when I saw the letter," said Douglas W. Shelmidine, a Belleville farmer and president of the board for the Jefferson County Agricultural Development Corp.
He decided that landowners needed more information. So the Agricultural Development Corp. and the Jefferson County Soil and Water Conservation District planned a workshop for Thursday.
The workshop will include presentations from Upstate NY Power, the state Department of Agriculture and Markets, the conservation district and an attorney. The Public Service Commission also may attend. The workshop will be from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Henderson Fire District Building on Route 178.
About Jan. 29, a second letter was hand-delivered by Gotec Land Services, hired by Upstate NY Power, to farmers who are in the planned transmission line district. That letter contained the actual offer and the phrase "eminent domain."
The letter also offers an extra $1,000 for legal fees. It gives the landowner 30 days to consider the offer before it expires.
Mr. Shelmidine said that Gotec asked if he would sign that day, so it could begin engineering work, but "it wasn't a pressured push," he said. He has been encouraging other farmers to wait, as he will, until after the informational session.
Mr. Eastman said other farmers he's talked to have similar reactions.
"Really, I guess it's going to be an important meeting," he said.
A NOTE FROM THE BETTER PLAN, ROCK COUNTY RESEARCH NERD: If you are as disturbed by this story as we are, you can do something about it this minute by writing your legisators and the editor of your local newspapers and letting them know you want people to look deeper into wind power and the impact it will have on our treasured community. Tell them we need laws that protect our residents, not laws that enable wind developers to take our land.
And THEN what happened? 120 land owners facing powerlines on their land want to know! Click here for the 2/15/08 update.