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Somerset open to Verizon project; company sends a dozen officials to hearing

by mmcnamara
Wed, Oct 13th 2010 12:15 pm

October 13, 2010


Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

SOMERSET — Verizon was represented by a dozen major players at a public hearing Tuesday to rezone a portion of the AES property for a $500 million data center.

The town courtroom was nearly filled as Bruce Biesecker, the Verizon project manager, showed drawings of the plans on the 160-acre site. Three buildings, 300,000 square feet each, would make the Lake Road site among the biggest of Verizon's 250 data centers around the world.

The site is right for a handful of reasons, according to Verizon. However, the broadband and telecommunications company is considering other sites, as well. The hitch might be a bill that is being considered in the state Senate.

"That weighs as heavily in our decision as do things like power, taxes, environment," Verizon spokesman John Bonomo said. "The business climate in the state is as important as some of those other factors."

Verizon is lobbying against Bill S.7263-C which it says could pose a financial hurdle. The bill contains conditions for givebacks of 40 percent for telephone providers, but does not do the same with cable TV corporations.

The Communications Workers of America is lobbying in favor of the bill, saying it strengthens review standards, protects jobs and ensures quality of service.

Jane Corwin, R-Clarence, voted against the bill in the Assembly, but is concerned the bill could trip up Verizon in its desire to put its data center on the shores of Lake Ontario.

Verizon did not allay those concerns, except that it had engineers, architects, lawyers, construction and public relations people on hand to answer questions.

"We feel positive about the town," Biesecker said. "We're happy with the town and it's one of the reasons that we're making the investment of bringing this many people in and going through the rezoning process."

"I believe that they are very serious, but they also made it clear that this is not the selected site yet," Somerset Supervisor Richard Meyers said. "Everyone who has spoken to me has spoken positively about the project."

There were not many questions from the public, but James Hoffman raised concerns about transportation, energy and environmental design; noise; lighting, hazardous materials; and sewage disposal.

 Biesecker had the right answers for the moment.

"I think it's great," said Chris Czelusta who lives on Hosmer Road about a mile away from AES. "I hope Verizon moves in here (and) the state does not make any holdups for us."

He also hopes the traffic is controlled. "I lived here when the other plant (AES) was built, and the traffic was unbearable," he said.

Linda Johnson of Johnson Properties Management in Newfane said. "It's a blessing in disguise. It's the shot in the arm that our economy needs. They should do everything they can do to make sure this goes through."

Corwin, who debated Richard Brodsky, D-Westchester, about the bill in the Assembly, said A2208 didn't get a fair hearing. "It's a very bill bad bill, being pushed by the Communication Workers of America, the union that represents the workforce at Verizon," she said. "Of all the people that stand to get hurt, it's the employees that would get hurt the most, and the investors as well. The whole bill doesn't make sense."

The bill is not likely to be voted on until after the November elections.

"I'll tell you who's calling the shots in the Senate, and that's the residents of New York state," Meyers said. "The average citizen in New York state does not like this bill, and I don't either. I think it stinks. It's not a necessary bill, and there's a lot of time and energy wasted."

Corwin agreed that there is nothing in the bill that has to do with the data center, but sees a negative potential. "This bill chills any business incentive to invest in New York state ... because they stand to lose 40 percent of that investment down the line. The playing field will be made uneven, if we start taking 40 percent of that potential away from Verizon and not from the cable companies and Internet companies."

She  contends that the CWA was putting pressure on the Assembly. "The shame of it all is that it's been driven by a special interest group. They are the ones pushing this bill."

Corwin said she debated against Brodsky in committee, and when the bill came to the in the floor of Assembly. "It actually hit the floor of the Assembly in the 13th hour of a 14-hour session at 11:30 at night," she said. "It did not follow the legislative process. We didn't have a chance to debate on the floor the way it should have."

The town board will meet again next Tuesday.

Contact reporter Bill Wolcott at 439-9222, ext. 6246.


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