LANSING, Sept. 2, 2021 — Despite an intense local outcry, NYSEG plans to auction off one of the last major undeveloped sections of shoreline in the Finger Lakes — a 470-acre parcel on the east side of Cayuga Lake once earmarked for a nuclear power plant.
The site has 3,545 feet of lake frontage.
“Over the years we’ve had a number of interested parties reach out to us wanting buy it. In the interest of transparency and fairness, we said the right thing to do is put it up for auction,” said Mike Jamison, NYSEG’s senior manager of corporate communications.
“Any proceeds from the sale will be used to benefit our (electric) customers in future regulatory proceedings.”
Bidding for the Bell Station property is set to begin Sept. 20 and run for 45 days through Ten-X, an online auction service for commercial property.
The Ten-X website describes the site as “a charming rural area anchored by Cornell University… a perfect candidate for waterfront development with agricultural secondary use and recreational forestry/tertiary use.”
That description incenses many of the 2,400-plus signers of a petition to block the auction. They want the property to be conserved as a wildlife management area or for other public use.
Meanwhile, a draft resolution that the Tompkins Legislature is expected to vote on next week calls for NYSEG to cancel the online auction. It seeks a negotiated sale to the Finger Lakes Land Trust, the state’s designated agent for purchases of shoreline property.
“We all know what will occur if this land is auctioned,” Gary Mallow of Ithaca wrote in a comment on the petition. “It will be split into dozens, perhaps hundreds, of parcels that will rapidly be developed into lakefront mini mansions and perhaps condos and apartments. We already have plenty of those. They provide no public good.”
Mallow would prefer to see the Finger Lakes Land Trust gain control.
That way, “the land is preserved, protected, development is minimal and it often remains open to the public with hiking trails and low impact to the ecosystem, flora, fauna and landscape.”
According to the petition, FLLT has identified the site as “a priority conservation parcel and for many years has dedicated resources to coordinate its protection.”
A YouTube video of the property is here.
In the early 1970s, NYSEG sought to build the Bell Station nuclear plant on the property. But local opposition forced the company to cancel it.
For the past 45 years, much of the land that isn’t forested has been leased for farming. Old rusted fencing suggests that some of the land was once used for cattle grazing. The property features mature forests and two gorges with waterfalls. Several rare plants have been spotted.
In 2016, the DEC’s statewide Open Space report singled out Bell Station and noted that the state “must be prepared to capitalize on these opportunities, which will become increasingly critical as shoreline development and prices continue to climb.”
A year later the Tompkins County Environmental Management Council identified a Nut Ridge tract that includes Bell Station as a “Unique Natural Area.”
Brian Eden, chair of the council at the time, said NYSEG’s decision to put the property on the auction block is a public relations blunder.
“There are a lot of people, I mean a lot of people, who are interested in this,” Eden said. “It’s going to be very unpopular. It would be better for them to go back and quietly negotiate and keep it under the radar.”
Karen Edelstein, who has worked with both the county EMC and the Finger Lakes Land Trust, said she didn’t buy NYSEG’s rationale for auctioning the property.
“It’s a weak smokescreen” to claim that NYSEG electric customers will benefit from the auction process, she said.
In an interview Aug. 31, Jamison of NYSEG said the company intends to “move forward with the auction.
“The company doesn’t want to pick winners and losers,” he added. “Everybody should be on an even playing field.”
The announced starting bid for the auction is $750,000.
Edelstein said the county assessed value of the property has held steady at $1,970,000 for more than a decade. (A more recent appraisal reportedly came in higher. Theoretically, the state could reimburse a buyer up to the value of a valid appraisal.)
The land trust has been interested in the Bell Station property for many years. Andrew Zepp, executive director of FLLT, did not return phone calls to discuss past negotiations with NYSEG.
But Zepp was quoted recently in the Tompkins Weekly saying, “It seems like a win-win for all involved if we can secure this wonderful shoreline area for the public, and for water quality, utilize a portion of the fields for solar and provide NYSEG with fair compensation.”
The draft Tompkins resolution notes that almost 90 percent of the Cayuga Lake shoreline is privately owned, and county residents see value in dedicating remaining shoreline property to public access.
The draft also states that Sen. Pam Helming (R-Canandaigua) has tried to convince NYSEG to negotiate a sale to FLLT.
On Aug. 11, the land trust announced that it had acquired 200 acres of Cayuga Lake waterfront property with 4,000 feet of shoreline several miles south of the Bell Station parcel.
That Cayuga Cliffs shoreline site, directly across the lake from Taughannock Falls State Park, features cliffs and gorges and has been designated by the National Audubon Society as a designated Important Bird Area.
FLLT said it plans to establish a public nature preserve on the property for hiking, cross-country skiing and wildlife observation.