By Nathan Mayberg
MONTICELLO September 19, 2006 Back in March, in his State of the County speech, Sullivan County Legislature Chairman Chris Cunningham proposed the idea of using county funds to protect open space and build a green technology park in cooperation with Sullivan County Community College.
What sounded like a far-fetched initiative back then is quickly turning into fruition. Loose plans were introduced last week by Sullivan County Planning Commissioner Bill Pammer in front of legislators. They include a $16 million, 10-year plan to purchase open space and farmland for preservation, as well as properties on or near flood plains, including some on main streets from willing sellers. Part of those funds will also go to the repairing of bridges and roads damaged in prior and future floods. The cost for the technology park is being estimated at $15 million, of which Pammer is forecasting a $7.5 million county share.
The county intends on applying for state and federal grants, and is expecting grants from such organizations such as the Open Space Institute. A $1.1 million grant has already been secured from FEMA to buy out properties near the flooded areas of the county. The county is in the midst of purchasing property.
In addition, Pammer suggested an increase in the mortgage recording tax by one-quarter or one-half of a percent to cover the expenses. Last week, Pammer sent out an application for a major state grant. “This is an investment in our future,” he said. Some of the ideas are from the Sullivan 20/20 program headed by Pammer which was completed last year.
Pammer is estimating the park will need between 18 and 22 acres of space at the back of the college, near the ballfield. The concept for the technology park is still being developed. Pammer said the idea is for a shovel-ready site where renewable energy businesses would build alongside a new center for the advanced sciences and technology at the school. If everything goes as planned, Pammer believes construction could begin in 2009. The college may also build a wind turbine on campus before then.
The commissioner said he hopes to draw high performance design architects and engineering firms to the technology park. High performance design companies focus on alternative energies to heat and light buildings. In addition, he expects to attract material specialists who will use component parts that are energy efficient and environmentally friendly.
Pammer said the state has expressed interest in funding the programs because of its uniqueness. The county will be tapping into an industry that is continuing to grow. He has already received inquiries from companies in New England, he said
Currently, Pammer expects the park to be run by a non-profit local development corporation. He expects the county to gain revenue from the park in the form of spillover dollars from its new employees.
The college and Pammer are also expecting it to be a boom for the college, drawing in new faculty and students.
Most legislators expressed joy and optimism for the projects. Jonathan Rouis said “development pressures are something everybody agrees on,” in the eastern part of the county which he represents. “Developments are becoming overwhelming,” he stated.
For Elwin Wood, whose district includes the often flood ravaged Livingston Manor and Roscoe, “the plan can’t come fast enough.”
He hopes the purchasing of land near the flood plains will assist in flood mitigation efforts already begun by the county, such as the watershed study.
Rodney Gaebel was another supporter, although he admitted the plan still needs a lot of work.
Ron Hiatt said “this county is so beautiful because it is so green.” The county is doing a service for future generations, he added. Hiatt said the whole country has to move into the direction of renewable energy.
Leni Binder said the program with the college would help it find the identity it has been searching for. “The timing is right,” she stated.
Cunningham said he is expecting pointed comments from the real estate community. A funding stream for the projects will have to be addressed at a future meeting, he stated. But, the chairman said, the projects “will benefit the county long into the future,” and put the county on the cutting edge of technology.
As for the public, Richard Riseling of Callicoon Center expressed his appreciation for the plans. He has been pushing for similar plans for some time now. “This is a model for self sustainable development,” he said.