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Lewis County legislators appoint highway chief, amend wind project PILOT

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LOWVILLE — Lewis County legislators on Wednesday removed the interim tag from their highway superintendent and gave a wind developer more time to undertake a proposed 39-turbine project in Martinsburg.

Legislators voted 6-4 to appoint David L. Becker, Martinsburg, as highway superintendent at an annual base salary of $60,000. Legislators Philip C. Hathway, R-Harrisville; Charles R. Fanning, R-Copenhagen; Michael A. Tabolt, R-Croghan, and Jerry H. King, R-West Leyden, opposed the appointment.

The four dissenters had advocated dropping the salary to $59,000, but they did not have enough votes to amend it.

Right after the vote, Legislator Paul M. Stanford, D-Watson, said he thought the $60,000 salary was “pretty reasonable,” given Mr. Becker’s knowledge and experience.

The new highway chief has worked for the county for 28 years and has been running the department on an interim basis since early May, when Highway Superintendent Joseph C. “Chuck” Langs resigned abruptly.

“There’s a lot of experience there,” Legislator Patrick F. Wallace, R-Lowville, chairman of the legislative Transportation and Solid Waste Committee, said after the meeting.

Eight people applied for the post, but one finalist removed himself from consideration.

Mr. Langs was named interim highway chief in mid-2009 and was appointed to the permanent post in January 2010. Mr. Becker is to complete the unexpired portion of that four-year appointment, which runs through 2013.

Legislators also voted 8-0 to modify a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement on the proposed Roaring Brook Wind Farm, with Board of Legislators Chairman Jack T. Bush, R-Brantingham, and Legislator William J. Burke, R-West Lowville, abstaining.

Mr. Bush chairs the Lewis County Industrial Development Agency’s board, which would receive more than $500,000 for administering the PILOT. Mr. Burke and some of his family members are employed by Iberdrola Renewables, which co-owns the Maple Ridge Wind Farm and is working on developing Roaring Brook.

Atlantic Wind, a subsidiary of Iberdrola, is proposing a 78-megawatt wind farm on 5,280 acres just south of Maple Ridge Wind Farm.

The original PILOT agreement, adopted in 2010, stipulated that commercial operation begin by Dec. 31, 2013. The resolution approved Wednesday will remove that end date, insert language showing that the developer is not able to make any representations on when the project will be completed and give the company the option of seeking a mortgage tax exemption through the IDA.

“I don’t know when we’ll start construction yet,” local Iberdrola representative Jenny L. Briot told lawmakers.

While it still could commence later this year, a poor energy market driven by relatively low natural gas costs and uncertainty about renewal of a federal wind production tax credit are keeping projects such as Roaring Brook on hold for the time being, she said.

The PILOT plan featured a base annual payment of $8,000 per megawatt with an annual cost-of-living increase of 2.5 percent to 5 percent. That escalator clause already has taken effect, with the per-megawatt rate now at $9,200 and counting, Ms. Briot said.

The mortgage tax provision was not included in the original proposal because the wind farm was to be paid for in cash, she said.

However, Iberdrola now would like the option of applying for the exemption, just in case it needs to borrow for the project, Ms. Briot said.

The town of Martinsburg and Lowville Academy and Central School District have approved the PILOT changes, according to County Manager David H. Pendergast.

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