November 08, 2015

IDA Depot sale information meeting
Saturday, November 7, 2015.

General observations by Linda Mastellar

  • The IDA is working to make this an open and transparent sale process. 
  • The process will be open for competitive bids.  Decision criteria have not yet been established.
  • The towns and county are interested in a discussion with the IDA about ownership of the depot.   This will be discussed on Tuesday at the next meeting.
  • In general, white deer herd maintenance and tax benefit to the towns and county are a priority.
  • Some in the audience supported some sort of a public-private partnership. 
  • Most who spoke were in support of opening the road as soon as reasonably possible. 

Notes from the presentations. Statements and questions are described as presented by the speaker. Remarks in [square brackets] are by Thomas Björkman.

Steve Brusso, vice chair of the IDA led the meeting.

Brusso: The IDA is open to proposals for purchasing the Depot. They want to choose among proposals to find what will be best for the residents of the county. There is not a current plan that they are hoping the proposals will meet. While they have received two unsolicited bids, they have not entered into negotiations, preferring to wait for the open bid process.

Presentation by Bob Aronson, Executive Director SCIDA.
Aronson: The IDA has offered the property to the county and towns, but they have not been interested. [This assertion was later disputed by the town supervisors.] Therefore they are selling to private parties who can do the development.

Information is available at senecacountyida.org. The parcels as offered are described at senecaarmydepotreuse.com. That website has maps of the infrastructure. 

  • The IDA wants to sell the property in 1 to 3 parcels. They do not have the resources to do the subdivision. They prefer to have consortia that purchase large parcels and then do the subdivision.A 1000 acre parcel on the west side in Varick is not ready for release by the Army yet.
  • The maintenance costs incurred by the Army now are about $500,000 per year.
  • The deed transfer from the Army is taking longer than expected because there are many clearances that need to be obtained.
  • The timeline is to issue an invitation to bid December 15, and offer a tour of the Depot to prospective bidders at that time. Submissions will be due February 29, 2016.
  • The winning bids will not necessarily be those offering the highest cash price, but those that benefit the community the most. The IDA values job creation and the tax base.
  • They will accept bids on the railroad separately. [Separate ownership of the rail would have profound impact on the use of the rest of the Depot.]


Questions and comments from the audience

Seneca White Deer Representative
Q. When does the Fort Drum license expire?
A. The end of this year.
Q. When does permission to store railcars expire?
A. Finger Lakes Railroad can store up to 1000 railcars. The lease ends at the end of 2015, and will be maintained on a month-two-month basis in 2016.
Q. Who owns the mineral rights? It is not completely clear. In the deed transfer, the Army retains a 3% royalty on minerals extracted. The IDA would do the same.

Carol Doolittle, representing the wine industry.
Comment. Please work with the wine industry to help increase overall value. The white deer would be a tremendous tourist magnet. The wine industry supports industry in Seneca County not only through wine sales, but also through companies like Vance metals and Waterloo Container. There is opportunity to increase overnight stays and other tourism related revenue. All of these complement the casino development in Tyre.
Tony DiPlato. Innkeeper and Solar Seneca representatives.
Q. What is the potential for small solar installations?
A. Solar and wind energy have been discussed. A wind power company did some testing. The major limitation is that there is an active bald eagle nest, which is eliminated interest by the wind energy companies.
For solar, six groups have tried to get NYSERDA grants but have not been successful so far. A helpful recent development is that the solar power can now go directly to the grid and does not have to be used locally. [FLTG could use the solar DC power directly.]

Bob Steele, Romulus Fire Chief.
Q. What will happen to the fire and police enforcement training at the airfield?
A. The future of that activity is undetermined.  A full scale training facility is operating in Oriskany, NY.  The next owner of the depot could definitely enter into longer term lease agreement or other negotiations with the training centers. The state does not want to own the airfield. 
Unknown questioner.
Q. How will the deer be protected as an asset? Hunters seem to be able to get in, but not prospective buyers.
A. The Army will not be doing a deer call as a service in the future. The 2015 call is the last one for which they are responsible.
Seneca White Dear Representative
Q. The Depot featured heavily in the recent DEC Open Space hearing. Will there be state funding available for buying the property?
A. There has been no contact from the DEC. The DEC has a priority list by region. It would be informative to look at the priority list for Region 8.
Matt Hilber, The Andersons (a Depot tenant company that repairs rail cars).
Q. His company uses the tracks to bring railcars to the shop where they repair them. They need continued use of the track.
A. Access from the rail entry points to the east side cannot be interrupted by new owner. That access remains in perpetuity. (The constraints created by the rest of the track were not specified. Switching yard may not be included.  They are not sure. 
Mary Ann Kowalski, Seneca Lake Pure Waters Association.
Comment. Reeder Creek has highly elevated phosphorus levels. They suspect that the phosphorus is causing an algae bloom at the mouth of Reeder Creek. 
Please have Seneca Lake water quality be a criterion in choosing a winning bid.
David Kaiser, Romulus supervisor.
Comment. Federal law protects access to the rail. It is a valuable asset, particularly the turnaround.
Comment.  Did the county ever officially abandon County Road 135? If not, it may still be a county road.
Paul Kronenwetter. Seneca Falls Supervisor.
Comment. The revenue potential for white dear is substantial. Compare it to the business plan for Keystone Elk Country Alliance. That Pennsylvania reserve is currently getting 400,000 visitors per year and bringing in several hundred thousand dollars per year through their lottery for elk hunting permits.

Unstructured discussion. There was considerable discussion among IDA representatives and town representatives regarding who was involved in the negotiation leading to the county and the towns turning down the offer to take over the property. The parties agreed to revisit the issue because there appears to be significant interest from the towns. If the county or the towns take over the entire property, then the bid process would be canceled. That issue should be resolved within a couple weeks.
Kathy Russo, Varick town board.
Comment. The Romulus and Varick town boards want to see County Road 135 open.
Tom Bouchard, Romulus planning board.
Q. How will the value of the properties be assessed?
A. The value will be determined by the bidders. The IDA does not have specific values in mind.
Q. Is there the potential to have advisory involvement by the towns in the acceptance committee? What will be the mechanism for contact between the towns and the IDA during the bidding process?
A. Yes. [Subsequent discussion led to the proposal to have the two town supervisors on the acceptance committee.]
David Kaiser, Romulus supervisor.
Comment. Very large portion of Romulus is already tax-exempt, so increasing the tax base is a priority.
While the town likes the white deer a great deal, it is still not clear how they can be preserved. He has not seen a viable business plan, nor financial backing for Seneca White Deer over the past decade.
Ralph Lott. Farmer, former IDA board member.
Q. With Bruce Austic, he provided a good business plan in the bid they submitted in April. It would preserve the white deer in the north and had a dairy in the south. Why was that offer not accepted? What was wrong with the proposal?
A. All the bids need to be considered at once for the process to be fair. In particular, it would be inappropriate to accept a single bid from an IDA board member who had just resigned without any competition. [Part of this answer was from Cindy Lorenzetti, current IDA board member.]

Ralph Lott.
Comment. The EPA regulation Waters of the United States, which went into effect at the end of August, will restrict agricultural and other uses on most of the Depot. Any use will require a 2 to 5 year permitting process even if it is ultimately allowed. Those restrictions reduce the value of the land and the price they would be prepared to pay.

Lee Davidson, Lodi town supervisor.
Comment. County Road 135 is only one lane wide in some places.  That is his observation from traveling on the road recently.  That makes it a poor prospect for reopening. [The Varick Highway Department and members of the Varick Planning board and examined the road closely and determined it to be two lanes with shoulders, with very deep concrete, perhaps as deep as 4 feet, that is in good condition.]