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About Verizon Pulling Out…

The reports on Verizon’s decision to withdraw its proposal to build a data center in Somerset have leaned heavily on State Senator George Maziarz’s scathing criticism of a property owner who opposed the deal in court.

In the interest of balancing the scales, I think it worthwhile to post in its entirety the response to Maziarz drafted by Mary Ann Rizzo’s lawyer, Art Giacalone:

State Senator George Maziarz’s decision to angrily grandstand, rather than reflect intelligently, on Verizon’s decision to not proceed with its proposed data center in the Town of Somerset, is not surprising.  But it certainly is disappointing.

From the day that plans for a proposed data center in rural Niagara County were publicly announced, Sen. Maziarz has been its loudest cheerleader.  Whether he was blinded by the fact that one his largest contributors, the owners of the nearby AES power plant, hoped to sell 160-acres of property to Verizon, or whether he decided to just look the other way out of convenience, Mr. Maziarz chose to ignore the many signs that Verizon’s commitment to the Niagara county site was suspect, at best.  For example:

— Sen. Maziarz chose to overlook the “footnote” that accompanied Verizon’s zoning applications:

“Verizon is actively considering other sites in the Unites States for this data center and would not commit to the construction and operation of the Facility at the Site until certain financial incentive packages from State and local government agencies are finalized.”

—The State Senator also chose to disregard the frequent changes in Verizon’s so-called “plans.”  In the short five weeks that the Somerset town boards were considering the project, the project went from one building of approximately 500,000-square-foot project, to three buildings totaling a million square feet, to a decision to build one building now, and decide in a few years whether or not to build any more.  A responsible, committed developer knows what it wants before starting the approval process.

—Likewise, Sen. Maziarz refused to publicly acknowledge that the telecommunications giant was playing the same game in the State of Wyoming as it was doing in upstate New York.  Verizon acquired an option to purchase 160 acres of land (the same size as the Somerset parcel) in Laramie, WY, promising 150 to 200 high paying jobs, after telling officials in Cheyenne, WY of its interest in building a data center in their community.  Similar to the situation in New York State, Verizon was delaying commitment to the project and waiting to see if the Wyoming State Legislature took steps to pass legislation giving tax breaks to data centers.

Rather than objectively assessing Verizon’s intentions, and urging local officials to follow the letter and spirit of zoning and environmental laws, Mr. Maziarz urged Town of Somerset decision-makers to cut corners and quickly approve the data center project.  When members of the Rizzo family raised questions at a public hearing, they were silenced and insulted by the Town Supervisor.  None of the town, county or state officials, including Senator Maziarz, was willing to ask, much less, answer, the tough questions.

Senator Maziarz’s disgust with a “broken bureaucracy,” and a “snail-like judiciary,” is misplaced.  If the bureaucracy was broken, it was because the environmental and zoning laws meant to protect a community were circumvented by Town of Somerset officials determined to proceed at “Verizon time.”  Even the judiciary bent over backwards to accommodate Verizon’s insistence on a prompt decision, with Judge Matthew Murphy conducting five or six hours of oral argument in December the day after he was assigned to the case.  The fact that the State Senator believes that the Appellate Division in Rochester should set aside its rules meant to ensure fairness and cave into demands for an expedited appeal simply to keep Verizon happy shows his misunderstanding and disdain for the judicial process.

The legal system has not been abused by Mrs. Rizzo, as the Senator proclaims, and the issues she has raised are significant.  No one that has taken the time to review the court papers could objectively suggest that the lawsuit is frivolous, or that she or her attorney should be penalized.

It is time for Sen. George Maziarz to stop his grandstanding.  Whipping up hostility towards Mrs. Rizzo, her lawyer, or the system, will lead to nothing constructive.

Maziarz’s suggestion that Rizzo’s lawsuit alone sunk the deal with Verizon is contradicted by Verizon’s spokesman, who says AES is also at fault, and that Verizon’s recent acquisition of  Florida-based company expanded its stable of data centers, abviating the need for a new one.

Maziarz’s suggestion that plaintiffs like Rizzo ought to face penalties if their suits do not succeed (he said he’s like a law “mandating significant penalties if lawsuits are deemed without merit”) should be distasteful to conservatives and liberals alike.

  • Aaron

    I don’t like the way Maziarz and others are dealing with the Rizzo family, but the lose of 200 jobs in this area is devastating. Especially in the WNY area. The issues should have been expedited. I wonder what the big environmental issues were? A Verizon data center couldn’t of had such a big effect pollution-wise. But then what the hell do I know…

  • Jay Burney

    Thank you to Art Giacalone and Mary Ann Rizzo and family for making sure that SEQRA is followed, and that an open and accountable process is both the law and the spirit of the land. Sen. Maziarz is wrong when he says Giacalone abused the system. Fast tracking and avoiding SEQRA is a abuse of the system. Sustainable economic development requires accountability, not fast-tracking. I know that “promises” of dollars and jobs influence thinking on this, and we need jobs and appropriate economic development. But lets not make mistakes that an appropriate and timely process is designed to make us aware of. SEQRA can be both timely and revealing. It is designed to enhance economic development not kill it.

    I think that the financial incentives for this Maziarz project are the kind of corporate entitlements that we have to scrutinize. It is not atypical for a multinational corporation to misrepresent the values and benefits to itself or to the community that is is seeking to develop on. Not saying that Verizon did this, just saying that it is typical for communities to get rushed into a situation so that the project can avoid critical scrutiny. Jeese.

    That said, I would like to see more incentives that would help build a local economy through local owned companies. Give me (metaphorically) the incentive package that was on the table for Verizon and lets invest in a program that will talk the talk, walk the walk and will make us one of the strongest most sustainable communities in North America. I am pretty sure that the Verizon deal wouldn’t even begin to build a foundation for that.

  • The claim of 200 jobs is, at best, wishful thinking, and, more realistically, a gross exaggeration. While Verizon promised officials in Niagara County and the State of Wyoming the identical 150 to 200 jobs, Verizon’s application for financial assistance filed with the Niagara County IDA on Sept. 30, 2010 estimated the creation of only 30 jobs after the second year of operations. Just four weeks later, and shortly after the Somerset Town Board rezoned 160 acres of farmland to allow the proposed light-industrial project, Verizon told the Town of Somerset Planning Board that it was changing its plans. They were no longer going to immediately construct three buildings totaling nearly one million square feet. Instead they would construct one building now and decide in 5 years or so whether to build any more. So, whatever jobs were initially contemplated, and whatever construction might be occurring, was reduced by as much as two-thirds the week after the requested rezoning was granted. Not surprisingly, Verizon never bothered to revise its financial aid request to the NCIDA (or to the NY Power Authority) to reflect the reduced scope of the project. As far as an “expedited” process, in less than eight weeks, from September 14, 2010, the day the application to rezone the 160-acre parcel from Agricultural to “Planned Unit Development” was filed, to November 10, 2010, the day the NCIDA approved its generous packet of corporate welfare for the data center project, Verizon obtained approval for its rezoning request, site plan application, zoning variances, NY Power Authority request for low-cost electricity, and sales tax exemption and real property tax abatement from the IDA. On December 22nd, just six weeks after the fast-tracked approval process was completed, the parties were in court for a full day of oral argument, and a decision was issued on January 14, 2011. The entire process moved incredibly fast, especially when one considers the scale of the project and the complexity of the legal issues. Any official who complains about the appellate court’s recent ruling that Verizon’s request for an “expedited appeal” was “premature” either does not have a full understanding of what is involved in taking an appeal, or believes that we, the citizens and taxpayers, are best served by a judiciary that buckles under to political pressure. Although we’ll never know the real reason(s) for Veriozn’s decision to cut and run, to blame cancellation of the proposed data center project on the Rizzo lawsuit is a convenient and disingenuous excuse.

  • Hapklein

    My insight to the entire issue is the reality of the proposal by Verizon.
    Presume even ten jobs would be filled mostly by professional electronic engineers and senior technicians.
    We can expect the prospects would land in Buffalo Airport and transported by surface transportation across the marvelous landscape from there through he farmlands north of Lockport and presented with a big box building nestled next to a gigantic electric generating plant spewing tons of marvelous gases skyward.
    I suppose the company would have to dispense with the usual head hunting codes of recreation, schools and parks and emphasize the pay.
    Money would certainly have to be the only selling point for a site like that.
    They certainly would not be taken to the site by way of the Falls on the fear that they might drive by the famous Love Canal or that ominous pod of poison, the CWM, toxic waste dump that appears to be one of Niagara Counties top employers.

  • EA Farmer

    Giacalone kills another job and recovery opportunity. Add this to the sinking of Bass Pro and others.
    Art, please move away, you are killing our future.

  • KL Corwin

    Mr. Giacalone – What right do you have to interfere with this community and tell us how to handle our affairs? Two non-residents have halted a project that would have boosted an economically-depressed area. Whether Verizon was serious or not, the townspeople (who embraced this project) will never know because of two selfish, self-serving people. My one question is – did your client contact you for you legal services or did you contact landowners from around the proposed site to “offer” your services? No wonder NYS is in trouble.

  • RU Nuts

    I think it is time to exercise our right to load the buses and go to their community and protest their, lawyer and client, interference into our community.

  • read, research and think

    @ Aaron – what has never been had can never be lost

    @ EA Farmer, KL and RU – if you spent half the time of complaining and actually created a job for someone, you would do 100% more than Verizon has just done. Verizon is the entity that hosed us down, not anyone else.

  • Kate

    I’ve been sort of conflicted about this project since I first heard about it, liking the sound of 200 decent jobs, but wondering why we’re throwing subsidies at one of the largest corporations in the country, and why the reviews were expedited so much. When they do SEQRA, they’re not just looking at how much pollution the site might generate, but the totality of the environmental impact of the plan: can the neighborhood handle the increased traffic? did they plan for proper drainage? even, could it adversely impact the aesthetics of the area?

    After reading this and the comments, I’m still not 100% sure what to think. I always say that this area doesn’t have a jobs problem, it has a *good* jobs problem, and this would have provided at least a few. I certainly would rather see subsidies for a project like this than for another dollar store that provides a handful of part-time, minimum-wage jobs (like the one on the East Side the ECIDA recently gave around $50,000 in tax breaks to, despite the fact that there’s another dollar store just up the road from it). But I’m skeptical that it ever would have happened at all, even without the suit. It sounds like they simply don’t need the facility anymore, but by putting the lawsuit at the forefront of their statement, they made Rizzo and Giacalone the two most hated people in Western New York overnight. I appreciate Artvoice printing the other side, because I think most of the rest of the coverage has been rather biased.

  • S Bradley

    Both the Town of Somerset and Niagara County would have benefitted immensely from this project. Perhaps 3.1 million per job is high, but the alternative is that we get nothing- no new business, no construction jobs and no new tax payer. Regardless of the breaks they would be getting, we’d still be bringing in more tax revenue than before. When is the last time that a major corporation aside from Yahoo was interested in Niagara County? The Verizon proposal gave us hope that our area wasn’t going to be left for dead and that industry might still be interested in Western New York. It meant so much more than just 200 jobs; it meant that our town would have a company other than AES shouldering the burden and that our business owners would have increased traffic. It meant many things to us, and nothing to Ms. Rizzo. It is my understanding that she is the only person who lived around the proposed site that took Mr. Giacalone’s offer for representation. Why is that? The view from her property wouldn’t have been diminished (especially because her property consists of fields and a decrepit building while she herself lives 40 miles away). It likely would not have decreased her property value. The accusation that the town fast-tracked the approvals doesn’t fly. What EXACT DAMAGE would this have done? Verizon taking root in our community could have brought attention to the benefits of Niagara County. Instead, thanks to a fame-seeking attorney on a David vs. Goliath media mission, and a non-resident naive enough for the ride, that hope is gone, and we are back to where we started. You might not be concerned about the future of Somerset or Niagara County, Ms. Rizzo, but I am. Not only for myself and my children, but for the rest of the people who love this town and work hard every day to make it a great place to live.

  • appleman

    No one will live and thrive in Niagara County until its radioactive and toxic waste sites are cleaned up.

    Those concerned about the future of Somerset or Niagara County would be well-advised to seek the removal and remediation of sites like CWM, Simmonds Saw, the TNT Manufacturing Plant, the Northeast Chemical Warfare Depot, the NFSS Radioactive waste storage (Manhattan Project, Atomic Energy Comm., Dept of Energy), U.S. Air Force Plant 38 and 68, the Boron-10 Production Plant, the NIKE Missile Base NF-03 and NF-05, the Ransomville and Youngstown Test Annex-U.S. Air Force, the Army National Guard Training Site, Hazardous waste treatment/disposal at Chemtrol, SCA, and CWM Chemical Services, and toxic solid waste disposal at Modern Corporation.

    There are dozens more sites in Lockport, Niagara Falls, North Tonawanda and hidden in the hollows and byways of the whole County. Commitment of federal, state and industry funding will contribute to planning, scientific and construction jobs that will ease the way for future development and growth. If this doesn’t happen the best growth to bet on is in cancer and medical treatment, vacant property management, and legal representation of the indigent and dying.

  • S Bradley, I don’t mind when you take ignorant swipes at me. But I will respond to your mindless accusations against my client. The suggestion that I solicited clients in the vicinity of the project site is absolutely false. Town officials have been floating that lie for months. I knew nothing about Verizon’s “plans” for Somerset until my client’s daughter called me the morning of the October 19th zoning hearing to ask me if I could represent the family that evening. Mary Ann Rizzo saw with her own eyes a town supervisor unwilling to listen to criticism about Verizon and its plan. She also saw Verizon’s consultants hand to the town board members a 312-page environmental “analysis”, and watched as the town board refused to give her attorney the opportunity to review it, and then rushed to approve the rezoning. She did not need to be convinced that the rezoning process was a sham, and that the elected officials were unwilling or unable to question Verizon’s self-serving presentation. The word “naive” best describes the Niagara county residents and officials who believed that Verizon was truly committed to their community.

  • Lawrence

    I have read about this fiasco from afar and I can tell you, these big companies making promises are just that, rich, powerful companies looking down on all the people they can manipulate, and the starved governments they can force into concessions, until, when they deign to actually build, they can pay nothing in taxes or wages, and everyone thanks them for just showing up! To the writer who referred to Bass Pro–do you really believe that was ever going to happen? Bass Pro was just a flirt who makes promises and runs off with someone else. Face the facts–this area is just begging to be taken advantage of, and we have politicians who want to keep their jobs, by feeding the delusion to their voters, that they can “make things happen.” To trade your pristine woods for polluting buildings for companies who will take off as soon as their tax breaks end, is thinking from the wrong end.

  • Jay

    We now know that there are $500 million in incentives for jobs floating around in the IDA’s. I would suggest that this money be distributed to small companies who are already in existence, who are creating jobs in this area.

  • jones

    So who really made out on this deal?

    Did Mr Giacalone walk away with most of the $575,000 from the recent refinancing of Mrs Rizzo’s estate in Snyder, NY