AND THEN THERE WAS MONEY – Municipalities along Hudson accept perks from TDI/Blackstone, sign off on Champlain-Hudson Power Express

BY KATHY KAHN AND DYLAN SKRILOFF

The Champlain Hudson Power Express (CHPE) power line has been given the thumbs up by five Rockland County municipalities. If all goes according to plan, the underground line could begin delivering 1,000 megawatts of Canadian hydroelectric power to a converter station in Astoria, Queens by 2022. 

On Wednesday the towns of Stony Point, Clarkstown, Haverstraw and the villages of Haverstraw and West Haverstraw all signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with CHPE’s builder Transmission Developers, Inc (TDI). The line goes through the five localities and TDI, which is financed by the Blackstone Group, promised to invest millions in a community benefit fund for the five municipalities.

Prior to this week’s agreement local governments and the local public, particularly in Stony Point, expressed considerable displeasure with the CHPE project. Resistance sprang up when a 2013 route proposal had the cable coming ashore near the Stony Point Battlefield (declared an historic national landmark in 1961), crossing near the historic Waldron Cemetery and then going alongside the CSX railway. 

Vague assurances that the public good would be protected were offered by TDI officials at town meetings, but details were scant. In early public conversations, TDI officials even said use of eminent domain was an option to make their project happen.

With Stony Point public and its politicians up in arms over the 2013 route, TDI went back to the drawing board and produced a new route, which the five municipalities and TDI have now officially agreed upon. Much of the CHPE line will be buried  four feet under Route 9W as it traverses Rockland. 

Spokesperson Jenn Laird White said TDI already had been given permission to use the route regardless of the opinion of local governments, but TDI valued the support of local communities. 

Because construction would adversely affect business and the quiet of some residential areas, TDI/Blackstone has agreed to create a community benefit fund for all five towns and villages involved and repave Route 9W.  The municipalties will be furnished with funding to improve their sections of the 9W corridor to make it business and pedestrian-friendly. Project leaders also promised to use local Union labor on the CHPE project. 

CHPE’s engineers and financial team determined the portion of the project (in miles and in capital cost) located in each taxing authority. Along with counsel, the parties also gathered current tax rate information from each taxing authority. Based on its initial analysis, CHPE’s transmission line is expected to generate approximately $4.1 million in property tax revenue to the Rockland host communities and to the county in its first year of operation.

In addition to the tax revenue, the five municipalities will be provided with an estimated $9 million for road improvements and Streetscape Funding along the Route 9W corridor. After the transmission line construction, TDI will be responsible for curb to curb repaving and repair of any construction related damage to curbs or sidewalk.

In turn, Streetscape Funding will be allocated as follows:  Town of Stony Point: $2.9 million; Village of West Haverstraw$2.2 million; Village of Haverstraw: $3.8 million. Town of Haverstraw: $0; Village of Haverstraw-$3.8 million; Town of Clarkstown- $0.

The five municipalities will receive funds to make upgrades to infrastructure within their borders.  Stony Point will receive $5.3 million; Town of Haverstraw, $6.8 million; Village of West Haverstraw, $2.5 million; Village of Haverstraw, $3.5 million; and the Town of Clarkstown, $3.9 million.

In total, Blackstone will give $22 million to the Rockland towns and villages it will be working in, as well as a total of $9 million for streetscape funding, 50 percent to be received upon completion of the project and another 50 percent once the transmission line has been in operation for a year.

After the Public Service Commission gives the go-ahead, spokeswoman Jenn Laird White, said hopes are that construction will begin in 2019 and be completed by 2022.

“This could not have happened without the cooperation of Blackstone and TDI when it came to addressing the needs of our communities,” said Stony Point Supervisor Jim Monaghan.  “In addition to protecting the Estuary and Stony Point’s historic sites, all five municipalities will benefit financially from the funds to be given to create streetscapes along 9W and significant revenue in taxes.”

Blackstone will paying $2 million a year in taxes to the North Rockland School District, still reeling from the massive settlement with Mirant and the loss of two power plants. Clarkstown will receive $500,000 in school taxes.

Stony Point’s Deputy Supervisor Tom Basile was the sole “nay” vote at Stony Point’s Board meeting on January 22 and expressed dissatisfaction in an e-mail to the Rockland County Times about the amounts allocated to the municipalities. He also said the way the project was handled from top-to-bottom did not sit right with him. “There’s a lack of transparency on the part of CHPE representatives and still unanswered questions about the final approved route, as well as the anticipated annual income generated for its investors.  I believe a much better deal for our towns, including an ongoing community benefit package, should be the goal. I fear with this agreement; our municipalities now have little leverage to continue negotiations with CHPE to increase the aid package or even oppose any future changes to the route of the power line.”

If project planners original designs were in place, there would have never been a long-running negotiation with Rockland communities. TDI did not want to impact any land communities at all. Instead the original plan was to run a cable under the length of the Hudson River until it reached Queens.

The plan hit a hitch when regulators said the line must avoid the Haverstraw Bay Estuary. Approximately five miles in length, the Bay is protected by the NYS Dept. of Coastal Management as an “irreplaceable habitat” for the fish that lay their eggs there.