By DAVID L. SHAW firstname.lastname@example.org
Fingerlakes Times – fltimes.com
Seneca Falls, NY February 5, 2017 – Earl Martin said there are several reasons why he needs to lease 7,000 acres of the former Seneca Army Depot for a year, possibly two, before he buys the property.
At a Friday press conference, Martin said a major reason is the future of the white deer herd within the depot’s fences.
He acknowledged that the proposal to lease and then buy the property has raised questions in the community and said he wants to “give clarity” to his claim that the limited lease is the best option for all stakeholders.
“Preservation and protection of the white deer and other wildlife is a major part of my plan,” Martin said.
He’s hired ecologist Keith Tidball to develop a plan for the wildlife and natural habitat section of the parcel and is working with Seneca White Deer Inc. on a proposal for the white deer.
Martin said he’s fixed holes in the fence that formerly allowed some deer to escape and also let predators into the depot to prey on deer.
“Having a food source for the herd is a key. I have already invested money in planting food for deer and other wildlife. In the spring, I will plant more food plots in the bunker region,” Martin said. “I’m planting soybeans, alfalfa, corn, beans, high-protein grasses, trying not to use pesticides, and using soils good for growing.”
He expects to have 200 to 250 acres of food planted for the deer and other wildlife, along with some 1,000 fruit trees, mostly apple.
“I have done a census on the deer, but I don’t want to reveal a number until I can confirm it with Seneca White Deer and we are on the same page,” Martin said. But the number “is cause for concern” and white deer numbers are definitely down from previous years for several reasons — such as predators, both human and coyotes; lack of food; and the fact that both parents must have the recessive gene to produce a white deer offspring.
“We are monitoring the situation closely. It’s a delicate balance in terms of breeding,” he said.
In addition to the deer, Martin said bald eagle nests have also been found on the property — with barriers installed to protect those nests. Martin said he also wants to initiate a pollination program this spring to enhance the bee and butterfly populations.
Martin said if he has to wait for the many steps to be completed so he and the IDA can have a deed transfer closing, he won’t have access to the depot to do what he can to help the deer population.
“A lease gives me access to the depot. The IDA gets its money up front. I would like to close on the sale now, but that’s not feasible in light of the property assessment issue and other factors, all of which take time to resolve,” he said.
IDA Executive Director Robert Aronson said the Army likely assessed the $25 million value to the property years ago. He added that at least three professional appraisals of the property will be done, including one by the IDA and one by Martin.
The deed transfer is still Martin’s main objective. But obstacles, such as the $25 million assessment on the land, prevents that from happening for at least a year, he said. That makes the lease a sensible option.
A lease, with payments in lieu of taxes, meets everyone’s objectives, said Martin, who wants to start his business expansion plan this summer and fears a delay could jeopardize the white deer preservation.
“That could be the end of the white deer as we know them. There would not be enough left to be an attraction,” Martin said. “A lot of investment is needed and a lease allows that until the purchase can be completed.”
Aronson said granting a lease to Martin is not unfair.
“When a joint IDA and supervisors committee reviewed the bids, they knew that Earl had asked for tax relief because of the assessment. That was the same option given to the other bidders for the entire parcel,” Aronson said.
“Some see this as a bad thing, but I disagree. A lease is part of the sale process and it has benefits for all stakeholders, when you consider how long it would take to close on the property,” Martin said.