About Verizon Pulling Out…
by Geoff Kelly - posted 10:28 am, March 18, 2011
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.