Landowner Letter, February 22, 2017

To the Town of Caroline Board February 22, 2017

Now that some of our FOIL requests have been filled, I can offer some new facts and a more clear picture of what has been going on with NYSEG regarding the trail for the last 9 years.

While landowners maintain our actual ownership of the land, and are negotiating the extent of any easements with NYSEG at this time, one thing is clear: the land upon which a recreation way would be built is private property and the list of possible owners can only include the adjacent landowners and NYSEG.

In January, 2008, NYSEG’s property manager wrote the Town of Caroline Board “With respect to the issue of adjoining landowners, NYSEG is sensitive to the concerns of property owners adjoining the proposed trail, particularly farmers. NYSEG respectfully requests that the Town obtain written approval from all adjoining landowners, including farmers leasing land from NYSEG, in advance of NYSEG providing the Town with the … easement” (note NYSEG told the County in communication we FOIL requested that the only farmer currently leasing land from NYSEG is Bill Hilker, so his approval would be required, as well as each and every landowner along the route)

After being told this, the Caroline Trails Committee spent most of 2008 first unsuccessfully trying to get landowner support, and then scaling back the project, cancelling the third public meeting, and lying to the Town Board that they had received 15 of 17 landowners’ support. The fact was, the 17 landowners had not even been contacted, and anyway there are 27 parcels adjoining the proposed trail between Burns and Middaugh Road.

When the above two facts came to light, after untold stress and countless hours wasted by landowners and by Board members, the Board withdrew Caroline’s support in October 2008.

In 2016, we once again have the Town of Caroline planning a trail without asking for permission, or even input of any kind, from these landowners. Several owners finally were notified for the first time in 9 years this very month of February 2017. (Richard Tenney and others) Why would this be? Why the secrecy?

Our FOIL requests have shown us that Tompkins County Planning began pressuring NYSEG for a new License Agreement for a trail again in 2015. NYSEG provided a draft, but the County didn’t like it and proposed changes. Last February, NYSEG provided the County with a final draft for the Towns to sign, but there still seems to have been a problem…

Is the wording the same as in 2008, requiring “written approval from all adjacent landowners”? We don’t know, just like we didn’t know in 2008, because the County is violating the FOIL law and refusing to provide the draft or final agreement in order to stall for time, or perhaps to avoid emarrassment (or worse) when the truth comes out. It will come out, because Crystal and I have brought an article 78 action against the County in NY Supreme Court to force them to fully comply with the FOIL law.

If the License Agreement requires our written approval and yet this is being intentionally hidden from us, I consider it a criminal matter and I intend to hold every official who participated in the cover-up fully responsible for the hundreds of hours of work and thousands of dollars of legal fees landowners have endured, as well as for the $2,600 in taxpayer money spent by the Town of Caroline in legal fees fighting the landowners.

I would ask each and every member of the Town Board to ask to see this Proposed License Agreement with NYSEG. Ed Marx, Tompkins County Planner, is in possession of it, as is Jonathan Wood, County Attorney. It was emailed as an attachment to Mr Marx from Martha Mauro at NYSEG on Feb 8, 2016. If they will not show it to the elected members of the Caroline Town Board, I respectfully suggest something is amiss and the Town of Caroline should not participate in this charade any longer.

For 9 years now, our local governments have worked in secret on this recreation way, and the more we investigate the more clear it becomes that this secrecy is not due to some monumental incompetence but has been intentional in order to dupe the two potential owners of the land, NYSEG and the landowners along the route. Government representatives are telling both NYSEG and us that the other gives permission, when in fact no one has given permission. When a kid does this to his parents, it’s irritating. When government officials do this to citizens, it is corruption. It is time to drop this once and for all and focus on bringing Caroline together around projects everyone wants.

Sincerely,

Scott Van Gaasbeck

Supporting documents can be found on the Coddington Landstewards’ website:

southhillrecreationway.org

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