TUPPER LAKE - ECOsponsible Inc. withdrew its bid Thursday to purchase the seven-acre Setting Pole Dam property.
The purchase would have initiated a project to upgrade the existing dam into a state-of-the-art hydroelectric dam.
In a letter addressed to "Tupper Lake Residents, Elected Officials and Businesses," ECOsponsible Vice President Dennis Ryan wrote, "We feel longterm litigation is not indicative of the win/win scenario we had envisioned for this project. It is with this in mind that we are withdrawing our bid to purchase Real Estate and Dam at Setting Pole Road."
Ryan told the Enterprise the project has made the company a "ping-pong ball" in the upcoming town election.
The town board voted to sell Setting Pole Dam to ECOsponsible two weeks ago after the property went out for bid one month prior.
The vote was split, with council members Jerry Fletcher and Kathleen Lefebvre voting for the sale and Patti Littlefield and John Quinn voting against it. Town Supervisor Roger Amell broke the tie by voting in favor of selling the dam.
Tupper Lake resident Larry Reandeau, who was at the meeting when the vote came down, took issue with the decision and has since started a petition to put the sale up to public vote.
ECOsponsible's bid was the only one the town received. The company's bid included $400,000 for the property, plus an annual $12,000 donation for 50 years to local youth programs.
"That bid was a million-dollar bill, and it was so funny that no one's ever brought up the fact that we want to give $600,000 to the local summer camp, and football, baseball and soccer youth programs," Ryan said. "Our motivation was to try and help the kids, and it got thrown in our faces, and they ended up turning the donation into a fee."
Ryan said ECOsponsible's purchase would have also helped the town repair a deteriorating structure.
"In 2010, the DEC (state Department of Environmental Conservation) did a safety inspection and found five deficiencies that haven't been fixed yet because the town doesn't have the money," Ryan said.
He said those repairs could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to fix and would include painting the dam's flood gates, fixing nicks in the spillway and improving erosion control along the stream bank.
"Overall, the project itself is a $5 million project," Ryan said.
The letter also stated: "Our accountant estimated the local financial impact of this project exceeding $75,800 per year for 50 years or $3.79 million total." Ryan said that figure was derived from the company's purchase of the property, the purchase of local construction supplies, real property taxes and payroll to local construction workers.
Ryan said the company could place another bid, but only if the political climate improves.
"I think there has to be a dialogue that turns us from the political aspect that it is now," Ryan said. "My major motivation for trying to get it done before the end of the year, the only reason, has to do with the Farm Bill. There's renewable energy incentives that expire on 12/31 of this year that affect my investors for 10 years. If we don't have this project started by a certain point, we have to have a certain amount done, we're not qualifying for that, and that takes away the economic incentive to do the project."
Ryan said ECOsponsible has the money to pay for the project, but the production tax credit he referred to would save the company about 10 percent on its costs. Ryan fears that part of the Farm Bill will be removed.
Littlefield said she was baffled as to why ECOsponsible withdrew its offer for the property.
"The selling of the dam has already been decided, so how can it possibly be a political issue?" Littlefield asked. "The law clearly states that it's subject to referendum by petition, and a gentleman at the board meeting clearly stated he intended to circulate a petition. Either way, he'd (Ryan) still have to wait 30 days before anybody can pass a check and pass the deed. In the event nobody does put up a petition, then it's clear sailing, and by the way, that's 20 days from now. We're halfway there now, so why is he walking away?"
To put the sale up for a public vote, a petition with signatures totaling 5 percent of the total votes cast in the last gubernatorial election, which was in 2010, would have to be submitted to the town by Nov. 16. Since 3,071 votes were cast in the village and town of Tupper Lake, the petition will need 154 signatures.
Littlefield said the recent bid withdrawal could give the town a chance to include an assessment in next year's town budget to determine the value of the property.
"I don't think it's a bad thing to start over again with this whole process," Littlefield said.
Amell said the withdrawal will hurt the town, but he said he is optimistic.
"It's too bad a couple of selfish people threatened us with a petition," Amell said. "The selling of the dam would've benefitted Tupper Lake in a big way. I'm not giving up hope. I'm still trying to work on something to see if we can talk him back into it."
Amell called the dam a liability and said the town missed out on a good opportunity to increase its tax base. The town currently owns the property and makes no money off it.
"The program that we had set up was a real good one," Amell said. "Everybody would have benefited in all kinds of ways with it being sold. Hopefully, maybe down the road, we can find another buyer or get him back interested in it. We're going to move forward. That's what Tupper Lake is all about."
Contact Shaun Kittle at 891-2600 ext. 25 or firstname.lastname@example.org.