The Lansing Town Council gathered this past Wednesday to discuss and vote on a resolution to authorize the itself and the Conservation Advisory Council to send a letter to multiple state officials and entities to support the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) intervening with the auction for the Bell Station property, acquiring the land and establishing and managing it as a publicly accessible conservation area.
The letter would also ask “NYSEG take action to cancel the proposed auction of the Bell Station Property and instead immediately enter into negotiations with the Finger Lakes Land Trust to bring about a sale for conservation that would provide NYSEG with fair market value compensation for the property.”
While the council ultimately voted unanimously to pass the resolution, Councilman Doug Dake shared some apprehensions towards the letter prior to the vote.
“Our letter is obviously biased in the fact that we want that land for conservation and use other than what could happen, right,” Dake said. “But … I don’t have a good feeling about it. I mean, I’d love to see it stay that way. Trust me. But are we overstepping our bounds, for lack of a better word, ‘taking’ on this?”
Town Supervisor Ed LaVigne assured Dake that the town will not be “taking” the land and that the New York Public Service Commission (NYPSC) is the one that approves the sale to the highest bidder.
Dake asked if the council is stepping on NYSEG’s landowner rights in this instance.
“We don’t own the property,” Dake said. “Right now, we’re benefiting from the taxes on the property. What’s going to come out of it if we don’t sell it to the Finger Lakes Land Trust? I’m not a hundred percent sure on how they work, but what if the tax benefits from anything they take over and manage?”
If the Finger Lakes Land Trust, which is acting as an agent to the NYSDEC, were to acquire the property, the plan would be to open the shoreline for public access and use the eastern portion of the property for solar development. Councilman Joe Wetmore said the town would receive the revenue from any solar facilities there.
“The plan that I’ve heard from [Executive Director] Andy [Zepp] is the upper field will be used for solar and we’ll be getting revenue from that, and the lower part will be conserved with the DEC,” Wetmore said. “We would be getting the revenue anyway. We just wouldn’t have to lose the forest to do so.”
Councilwoman Bronwyn Losey mentioned that there are other reasons besides tax revenue for conserving the property
“There are more important things at stake in this particular situation than tax revenue,” Losey said. “I think that’s low on the list of what is important about this parcel of land. … Having public access to the lake is really important to me, so I think doing what we can as a town to protect the land that everybody in town can then use seems like a clear cut decision to me.”
Wetmore emphasized that this matter would not put anyone’s landowner rights at risk.
“We’re not taking any rights away from anybody,” he said. “We’re interjecting what we think would be best for the town. We aren’t changing the zoning; we’re not telling them what they have to do. We’re saying this is what we would like to have happen.”
The town plans on sending the letter to the following individuals: Governor Kathy Hochul, Basil Seggos, Commissioner of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation; Michelle I. Phillips, Secretary to the New York State Public Service Commission; New York State Senate Leader Andrea Steward-Cousins; New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie; and several other individuals.
Assembly member Anna Kelles and Senator Pamela Helming, have issued to Hochul asking for her to intervene.
“In order to preserve this rare stretch of undeveloped land for the enjoyment of New Yorkers and the preservation of our natural resources,” Kelles and Helming wrote, “we urge you to request that NYSEG cancel its auction and instead enter into transparent negotiations with the Land Trust, as agent for the NYSDEC. This will offer an opportunity for NYSEG and the State to ensure the future of this unique stretch of Cayuga Lake shoreline.”
The Tompkins County Legislature passed a resolution on Sept. 7 that opposes the auction of Bell Station and asks for NYSEG to cancel it. Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick and the Common Council issued the following statement:
“The public and NYSEG ratepayers would be best served by conserving this property while paying NYSEG a fair price for the land. We request that you cancel the public auction and return to discussions with the FLLT and DEC and explore this opportunity to conserve this unique property on our treasured Cayuga Lake.”
On Sept. 13, the Cayuga Lake Watershed Network also shared a statement asking NYSEG to negotiate a deal with the Finger Lakes Land Trust.
“We call on NYSEG to negotiate with the Finger Lakes Land Trust for management and full protection of this rarest of properties, which is compact and large enough for ecologically effective human and natural protection,” the statement said.