February 23, 2009 - 7:05 AM
Western New York has a lot of brownfields and poor people and not enough shovel-ready development sites.
Has Phil Wilcox got a deal for you.
Wilcox spearheads a non-profit trying to build support and obtain funding to buy, remediate and reuse the hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of acres of brownfields that dot the shorelines of Lake Erie and the Niagara River from Youngstown to Lackawanna.
The Niagara Green Space Consortium would take title to brownfields, contract to clean them up, and sell or lease them for industrial or recreational reuse. The details are here and here.
The restored brownfields would have dual appeal: in addition to being coveted shovel-ready sites, they would be served by power transmission lines, which otherwise cost about $2 million a mile to build.
Think of a shovel-ready site on steroids. In a good way, of course.
"Every brownfield site is an ideal green power site," said Wilcox, a business rep and community affairs representative for the International Brotherhood of Electric Workers Local 97.
He added there's another benefit to their approach: training low-income residents to do the remedial work.The University at Buffalo already has a training program in place.
Wilcox and other consortium leaders have dropped more than $6,000 of their own money to establish the 501(c)3 in 2007 and make their case since then.
They are making headway. In recent months, Wilcox said that he and others in the consortium have met with a number of ranking officials in state government -- including Bob Wilmers, head of Empire State Development Corp. -- and are encouraged by what they've heard. They are scheduled to meet today with Richard Kessel, president of the New York Power Authority.
The key to moving forward is money. The consortium needs a good chunk of change and has identified four potential sources, all of them tied in one way or another to the Power Authority.
I think one has particular appeal: Use of a portion of the profits NYPA generates from the sale of low-cost hydropower earmarked for local industry that currently goes begging.
As I reported in June:
One-fifth of the low-cost power generated at the state power project in Lewiston and
earmarked for local industry has gone unused by area businesses over the past four years ...
Instead of helping the local economy, the cheap power has been sold by the New York Power
Authority for an estimated $161 million and used mostly to subsidize businesses outside the
region and fund authority operations statewide,
It gets worse.
Thanks to the deal recently cut by Gov. Paterson and the Legislature, Albany is taking hundreds of millions of dollars from NYPA -- including the aforementioned profits -- to close the budget deficit for the current fiscal year.
Gee, ya think some of that money could be put to better use funding Wilcox's idea?
While his consortium has done its due diligence to build support for their effort, it could use a champion in Albany.
Kessel keeps saying he wants to do right by WNY. Seems like this is his chance.
Then there's our local legislative delegation. As I blogged week before last, Senators Bill Stachowski and Antoine Thompson have leverage if they are willing to use it for something better than getting a taxpayer-funded car.
And on the Assembly side, we've got two committee chairmen, Sam Hoyt and Robin Schimminger, the latter of which heads the Committee on Economic Development, Job Creation, Commerce and Industry. Not that it seems have done much for WNY's economy.
It has been good for Schimminger's campaign coffers, however. Nearly $1 million in contributions over the past decade, despite little serious opposition for his seat. I guess a million bucks will do that.
I've known Wilcox for three years, dating to my work on the Power Failure series. He's one of the good guys - earnest, innovative, progressive. His plan for brownfield restoration seems like a good one.
We'll see in the weeks and months ahead whether any of our so-called leaders are able or willing to deliver on this issue.