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St. Lawrence County IDA terminates Newton Falls PILOT

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CANTON — The St. Lawrence County Industrial Development Agency focused on the southeastern end of the county at a meeting Wednesday, eliminating a payment-in-lieu-of-tax agreement for Newton Falls Fine Paper and outlining conditions for a grant that could lead to removal of buildings at the former Jones & Laughlin Steel Co. site.

The IDA acquired title to the Newton Falls facility in 2007 so it could provide tax-exempt bond financing. The IDA approved a 10-year standard manufacturing facility PILOT for the paper mill when it issued tax-exempt bonds for the mill’s acquisition and restart. The bonds have since been paid.

The PILOT was based on a fixed assessment of $1.67 million on five parcels for the first five years. The second five years could have seen a 50 percent reduction of any increase in assessment.

After the mill closed, it went on the market, but its sale as an operating entity fell apart in March. Its owner, Scotia Investments, Halifax, Nova Scotia, has been scrapping the plant for its equipment and parts.

“The IDA programs are obviously incentives for economic development,” said Patrick J. Kelly, executive director of the IDA. “It’s no longer an active IDA project. We’re dealing with a closure and dismantling. It’s ongoing.”

As the facility is not operational, the IDA terminated the PILOT and will transfer the entire facility back to Scotia. The plant will be fully on the tax roll as of the date of the transfer.

A spokesman for Scotia was not available for comment, but the company has not wasted any time in arguing its assessment should be lowered. It filed for a reduction earlier this year, Clifton Assessor Michael C. Ward said.

The plant property could be eligible for IDA incentives in the future if a reuse is found, Mr. Kelly said.

“We can revisit the role of the IDA,” he said.

Mr. Kelly also updated the board on a $175,000 project through the Regional Economic Development Council to assess removal of blighted buildings at J&L.

The money would be used to come up with engineering cost estimates for removal of a number of eyesore buildings in the town of Clifton that are part of the contaminated industrial site.

Empire State Development is making half of the award available.

The IDA was unable to leverage state Department of Environmental Conservation funds that had already been used for the matching part of the award.

“We now know we can’t structure the funding that way,” Mr. Kelly said. “Now we’re out looking for other matching funds.”

To fill the gap and perhaps provide some extra for actual demolition, the IDA will apply through the Northern Border Regional Commission.

“We’re moving,” said IDA member Mark C. Hall, supervisor of the town of Fine. “We’re all very happy with that.”

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