CHPE paying out millions for easements, filing lawsuits against uncooperative landowners

— From Transmission Developers Inc. 
This portion of the Champlain Hudson Power Express transmission line project runs through Albany County and the surrounding area. 

ALBANY COUNTY — As dozens of Albany County residents sign easement agreements allowing portions of the 335-mile Champlain Hudson Power Express transmission line to traverse their properties, New Scotland resident Barbara Wright doesn’t want any part of the $6 billion venture anywhere on her family’s land, choosing instead to take her chances on landing a judge sympathetic to her cause.

Wright is one of about a dozen Albany County property owners who, rather than take Wall Street money in exchange for land access, have had lawsuits, some of which have already been disposed, filed against them by CHPE. Backed by asset-management giant Blackstone Inc., CHPE wants to use eminent domain to condemn property whose owners won’t willingly sign over to the project.

CHPE has deed agreements totaling over $2 million in compensation with close to 60 Albany County property owners, some of whom received no remuneration, like the county itself, to others who accepted over $1.2 million for their troubles, like the Northeastern Industrial Park. 

CHPE is being developed by another Blackstone investment, Transmission Developers Inc., which is running, from Canada to Queens, two five-inch diameter 1,250-megawatt high-voltage transmission cables carrying enough energy to power a million homes.

Approximately 60 percent of the cables are to be underwater, either under Lake Champlain to the north or the Hudson River to the south save for over 100 local miles where the cables would be run along railroad rights-of-way in Washington, Saratoga, Schenectady, Albany, and Greene counties. 

In Albany County, CHPE’s underground cables are to run for about 24 miles through the towns of Coeymans, Bethlehem, and New Scotland, as well as the villages of Ravena and Voorheesville.

Each municipality had to approve the cable coming through their municipality, which was more of a formality because, much like local property owners, if a municipality didn’t approve the line going through, the company would have moved to use eminent domain.

 

IDA breaks

The lines are due to run through the town of Guilderland, which stands to benefit financially from the project. The town’s Industrial Development Agency will receive a portion of the county IDA’s fee for administering $67.6 million in tax breaks for the part of the CHPE project that runs through Guilderland. 

The Albany County IDA was the lead agency for the CHPE proposal, and has already approved a benefits package for the project, which has been in the works since 2008.

As of 2021, CHPE estimated the capital cost of its project in Albany County to be about $228.6 million although an April 2022 update now put that figure at $254 million. But the county and company both based their benefits estimates on the $228.6 million figure. 

Albany County granted CHPE a payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT, of $163.7 million. The 30-year payment-in-lieu-of-taxes deal was a 22.3-percent reduction from what CHPE would normally pay in taxes over the period, about $211 million.

Along with the $47 million break on property taxes that the project is set to receive, CHPE is also receiving exemptions for sales taxes of $18.3 million and for mortgage-recording taxes, valued at $2.3 million — for tax breaks totaling approximately $67.6 million. 

The privately-funded project won’t create a single permanent job in the county, typically something that is looked for by a benefit-granting authority. 

As of September 2022, Albany County IDA was set to receive an administrative fee equal to 1 percent of the project’s in-county $228.6 million cost, about $2.28 million, a portion of which would then be remitted to local IDAs, because the county IDA generally defers to local IDAs if a project is located within the local IDA’s borders.

For the local IDA fee, the county determined the percentage of the project, in both miles and dollars, running through each municipality and multiplied that number by 0.25 percent.

About 6.75 miles of cable will run through Guilderland.  

The mileage in Guilderland represents 27.85 percent of the overall Albany County portion of the project, or $63.7 million, which translates to an approximate fee of $159,000 for the Guilderland IDA.

 

Local suit

Among the dozen lawsuits, which were filed between October of last year and January of this year, seeking to use eminent domain for the installation of CHPE’s transmission lines was one against Barbara Wright, a Game Farm Road resident. But prior to the suit’s filing, Wright met with a representative of the project in March 2023. 

According to notes on the visit included as part of the CHPE’s suit, Wright and her family have lived on the 14.4-acre property “for generations and they do not want the project on their property.”

The transmission lines are due to run along Wright’s property, in a railroad right-of-way; CHPE is looking for a temporary easement agreement from her. 

Wright is being offered $1,300 for the temporary arrangement.

The three-year easement, according to court documents, “ranges from 3 [feet] to 34 [feet] in width, adjoins the railway to the west, and contains a total area of 0.34-acres. The temporary easement is for access, work area and construction in connection with the Project,” which includes “laying, constructing, burying, maintaining, repairing, and protecting power transmission cables and other related infrastructure.”

Granting the temporary easement, would mean “CHPE LLC also has the right to maintain and remove trees, brush, or other obstructions within the easement area that may interfere with their use of the easement.”

Transmission Developers Inc. can just take the land — with compensation — because the state’s Public Service Commission issued the project a certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need (kind of the electric-generating facility equivalent of a negative declaration in the State Environmental Quality Review, or SEQR, process), according to the suit, which exempts TDI from provisions in the New York State Eminent Domain Procedure Law.

“Pursuant to Section 206 of the EDPL, the filing states, TDI “is exempt from compliance with the provisions of Article 2 of the EDPL because Petitioner has obtained the Certificate [of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need], which Public Need Certificate is in force.”

Article 2 of the state’s Eminent Domain Procedure Law outlines the process for determining the need and location of a project prior to condemnation. This includes, among other parts of the process, public hearings, notice requirements, and field-condition amendments, as well as judicial review and court jurisdiction.

But Wright, according to the notes, “stated that she doesn’t need the money, she just doesn’t want the project on her property,” although it was “explained that there will be no cable installation and the temporary easements would be for roughly 3 years.”

Wright and her daughter, who was also present at the time of the March 2023 visit, according to the notes, felt TDI should place its lines on the other side of the railroad tracks, which Wright’s property abuts, where there is “an existing power corridor,” meaning National Grid’s lines. It was also suggested TDI’s lines could run through the state-owned Five Rivers Environmental Education Center to the north of Wright’s property. 

Wright’s concerns were that this project will negatively impact her farm, specifically her garden and goat area. And she was worried that removing the trees, which she claimed to own but which survey data indicated otherwise, along the railroad right-of-way would eliminate the shade, wind buffer, and sound barrier they currently provide. 

Wright, according to the notes, was also worried the aquifer supplying her water would be harmed by the horizontal directional drilling for the lines, but was reassured there was no reason to think that would happen, and was told “we can insert some language in her contract that protects the water with pre and post construction testing.”

Wright also claimed government officials told her in emails that they were unaware the project would impact private landowners, but would not commit to sharing the emails with the TDI representative when asked, according to the notes.

Over the course of the two-hour meeting, which turned “contentious at times,” according to the visitation notes, Wright “stated that she would take her chances in court because the judge would be sympathetic to the fact this is a generational farm and make [CHPE] move the alignment.”

A call to a number associated with Wright was not returned before publication, nor was a request for an interview placed with her lawyer, Jeff Baker, who is also chairman of New Scotland’s Planning Board.

 

CHPE’s response

CHPE, in a statement to The Enterprise, said, “The vast majority of the 339 mile CHPE line is within waterways, railroad right of ways, and public rights of way and the project route was carefully designed to utilize these existing rights of way to minimize impacts to local communities and the environment.

“There are areas where there is required deviation or temporary construction work on private parcels for which we work with property owners to negotiate an easement agreement.  CHPE has successfully secured the majority of the land and we are continuing to work collaboratively with all impacted landowners. Whenever there is potential for eminent domain, the CHPE team has already spent many months working with property owners and their representatives, often walking properties multiple times, negotiating a price for both the easement and any restoration work necessary after installation, and, if possible, modifying the transmission line route.  

“Similar to other transmission lines, CHPE has New York transportation corporation status – which allows for the use of eminent domain to obtain easement areas, but that is a last and final resort only after these long periods of negotiation with property owners. Even during eminent domain proceedings, CHPE continues to seek negotiated agreements and, in many cases, has been successful.

“We have an experienced team working through the process and do not anticipate any impacts to the project’s delivery timeline, which is still slated for Spring of 2026.”

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