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FORT EDWARD — The Town Board updated the public Monday night on what a local nonprofit is doing to market the former General Electric Co. dewatering site, and whether taxes owed to Washington County will be paid.

The matter came up when resident Katie DeGroot asked Town Board members what was going on, after reading a Post-Star editorial about how the nonprofit was violating open meetings law.

Neal Orsini, a Town Board member, also leads the nonprofit called the Fort Edward Local Property Development Corp.

The site has been part of a labyrinth of public and private deals over the last several months.

It was originally where the General Electric Co. set up shop to remove water from PCB-contaminated sediment from the Hudson River. The land, however, was owned by a company called WCC. WCC is made up of the owners of D.A. Collins, a construction firm.

WCC stopped paying taxes on the land after GE left. It sued the town for a lower assessment, which it got. Then, in December, WCC gifted two parcels, approximately 80 acres of the main site, to the LPDC.

It also gifted a nearly $450,000 tax bill for the two parcels.

At its first public meeting on April 16, the LPDC formed a full board of local residents, still led by Orsini. The group then authorized Orsini to enter into a management agreement with a private company called Fort Edward Development.

Who is Fort Edward Development? Town Attorney Don Boyajian said it is made up of members of WCC.

The Post-Star filed a request under the state freedom of information law for the agreement. The LPDC denied it. Boyajian said Monday that it’s not a public document because the law does not require drafts of agreements to be disclosed and the agreement had not been signed.

That reason is in violation of open meetings law and freedom of information law, according to the state Committee on Open Government.

“I guess the question is, I’m still wondering what’s going on,” DeGroot said Monday.

Orsini said he’s in the process of showing the property, hoping to attract manufacturers to the site to create good-paying jobs.

The LPDC has not met since April, he said.

In recent months, Orsini has shown the site to a New York City startup interested in recycling electronic automobile batteries. The problem, he said, is the startup wouldn’t be able to move onto the site for two years.

“It would be perfect if he could do it tomorrow, but it’s two years away, and we can’t wait two years,” Orsini said.

Supervisor Terry Middleton added that a large retailer looking for warehouse space was interested.

“We’re not going to give them huge tax incentives, I hope,” DeGroot said.

Orsini said, “We are going to try our hardest to create well-paying manufacturing jobs,” and Middleton said the matter of tax breaks was “out of their hands.”

“That’s why I came,” said DeGroot, who was the only member of the public in attendance to ask about the situation. A few other residents were there to ask about other issues. “I wanted to have an understanding of what’s going on. ... I can’t believe there’s no one else here. It’s amazing to me.”

Several state and federal officials, including the U.S. Economic Development Administration, have toured the property, Middleton said.

Orsini said the site still needs sewer and natural gas.

After the meeting, Orsini told a Post-Star reporter he is showing the site again on Monday. Afterward, he plans to hold another public meeting to explain what is going on, he said.

DeGroot asked whether the 2019 taxes still owed to Washington County will be paid.

“The taxes will be paid,” Orsini said. “I don’t know when, but the taxes will be paid.”

A Post-Star reporter asked Middleton for a comment about where the LPDC stands with Fort Edward Development.

“They’re working their hind ends off, trying to market the property, that’s where it stands,” Middleton said. “I mean, the people on their time, they’re not getting paid for it, are over there showing the site, multiple different clients, and my hats off to every one of them.”

Orsini said the articles in The Post-Star were “scaring people away like you have no idea.”

One tenant continues to occupy the property, SMS Rail Lines. It is operating an agricultural grain transfer station.

The Post-Star received a copy of the draft management agreement, not through the freedom of information law request. It includes 19 pages of lease agreements involved with the site and a 12-page contract between Fort Edward Development and the LPDC.

Orsini said he did not know whether The Post-Star‘s copy was the latest draft.

The unsigned document is detailed and stipulates that Fort Edward Development will receive compensation in the amount of 50% on any sale, rents, leases, etc. on the property.

It also includes the original management agreement between WCC and SMS Rail Lines from 2017.

Two new management agreements, including a lease agreement from D.A. Collins for a portable truck scale and a lease agreement for a portable electric generator, are also exhibits in the document.

Those lease agreements show the chief operating officer of D.A. Collins, Robert Manz, is listed also as the signer for Fort Edward Development.

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Reporter Gwendolyn Craig can be reached at (518) 742-3238 or gcraig@poststar.com. Follow her on Twitter @gwendolynnn1.

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