VESTAL, NY (WSKG) — New York State Electric and Gas (NYSEG) recently announced it would auction off its Bell Station property, which adjoins Cayuga Lake northeast of Ithaca, raising concerns from local leaders and conservation groups who want to open up the property to the public.
The Bell Station property is just north of the now dormant Milliken Station on the east side of Cayuga Lake. Its 470 acres and over 3,000 feet of undeveloped shoreline property are a rarity on the lake, and may make it attractive for commercial developers.
Conservation-focused groups like the Finger Lakes Land Trust (FLLT)* have also been communicating with NYSEG about potentially purchasing Bell Station for years with the goal of preserving and opening it up for public use.
“What really makes this site special is not only does it have more than 3,000 feet of shoreline, but it’s very accessible,” Zepp said. “The slopes are not as steep as some other areas along the lake. The old railroad grade serves as an existing trail along the entire lakeshore. It has some gorges that cut through the property, extensive woodlands.”
Zepp said he was taken off guard when NYSEG initiated the auction process. He acknowledged that FLLT plans to submit a bid, but legally the non-profit can only bid at appraised fair market value. Tompkins County property tax records show the property is assessed at just below $2 million.
“We are concerned that, at an auction, either the land trust or the state is bound by this appraisal process whereby other bidders may not be,” Zepp said.
As of Thursday, an online petition opposing the auction had over 4,300 signatures.
“Over the years, NYSEG has had a number of parties indicate their interest in purchasing the land,” a NYSEG spokesperson wrote in a statement to WSKG. “In the interest of transparency and fairness, the company decided to list the property for auction so that all interested groups have the opportunity to purchase. It is important to note the outcome of the auction is not binding. NYSEG will review the proposals and determine if the company wants to move forward with any of the submissions. NYSEG may also enter into discussions with a purchaser regarding preservation efforts if they were to choose to include that in their submission.”
Earlier this month, the Tompkins County Legislature unanimously passed a resolution urging NYSEG to cancel the auction.
“We can’t develop everything in the county for maximum profit. I mean if we were to do that, we would develop housing in Buttermilk Falls,” Legislator Mike Sigler, whose district includes Bell Station, said in support of the resolution. “There has to be some level of ‘Wow, this property is something that we would like to open to the public.'”
In order for NYSEG to go through with the sale, it will need permission from the New York Public Service Commission. Additionally, New York Assemblymember Anna Kelles (D-125) indicated in a meeting with county legislators earlier this week that NYSEG has told the assembly majority that it intends to put all the bids before the public service commission for review.
The auction has also attracted the attention of other state officials, including in the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).
“DEC recognizes the natural resource and public recreation value of the Bell Station property, is working with multiple partners, and communicating with NYSEG to achieve the best conservation outcome,” the DEC wrote in a statement to WSKG.
Bids are set to open in the auction beginning Oct. 11, but it could be months before any sale is approved by the public service commission.
*Full Disclosure: The Finger Lakes Land Trust is a WSKG underwriter.