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Fort Edward Industrial Park

The former General Electric Co. dewatering site, now called the Fort Edward Industrial Park, is seen. 

FORT EDWARD — An agreement between a private management company and the new owners of the former General Electric Co. dewatering site has still not been released to the public, although the state Committee on Open Government has said it should be.

The Fort Edward Local Property Development Corp., formed at the end of last year and led by Town Board member Neal Orsini, was gifted 80 acres by WCC, a private company with ties to owners of D.A. Collins, a construction company.

WCC had defaulted on its property taxes, sued the town for a lower assessment, got the assessment reduced, then gifted the land to the new nonprofit.

The Local Property Development Corp. is a quasi-government entity.

It held its first public meeting on April 16. At that meeting, the LPDC entered into an agreement with a private company called Fort Edward Development, which would split any profits from revenue made at the site.

Fort Edward Development is made up of members of WCC, according to Don Boyajian, attorney for the town.

The connection between the management company, Fort Edward Development, and WCC raises questions about the nonprofit nature of the setup, and the reason WCC donated the land.

State and local officials have expressed concern over a nonprofit organization — the LPDC — splitting profits with a for-profit company, Fort Edward Development. Also, the delinquent taxes that were owed to Washington County on the property remain unpaid.

County Treasurer Al Nolette said Monday he is still waiting for two 2019 tax payments — $231,894 and $207,850.

Nolette said he suspects the bills won’t be paid until the site has a new tenant.

Nolette has not seen a copy of the management agreement.

Other local officials who have seen it have either declined to provide a copy or said they do not have one.

Boyajian and Orsini had said they would get a copy of the agreement to The Post-Star following the April 16 meeting. After multiple requests, The Post-Star filed a freedom of information law request to Orsini on May 2.

Orsini did not provide a response.

The Post-Star filed an appeal on June 10. That same day, Orsini responded.

“We currently are still negotiating a potential agreement, but do not yet have anything in final form or signed,” Orsini wrote. “We are working through some of the last few items. I will keep you posted and let you know when we have a final binding agreement subject to disclosure.”

Kristin O’Neill, assistant director for the state Committee on Open Government, said, since the agreement was publicly discussed at the April 16 meeting, it should have been provided to the public.

“If they discussed this agreement during an open meeting, it should have been made available prior to or at the meeting in the first instance,” O’Neill said. “Once they discuss the contents during an open meeting, the whole deliberative process goes out the window, because you’ve witnessed it.”

O’Neill recommended The Post-Star file a second appeal, on the grounds that the LPDC had violated open meetings law by not providing the document. The Post-Star did so on June 13.

Orsini has not responded to the appeal within the law’s designated time frame. He has not returned phone calls to his restaurant, The Anvil Inn, nor has he returned follow-up emails.

“This entire agreement has been fishy from the beginning because of the continued lack of transparency,” said Post-Star Editor Ken Tingley. “The Fort Edward Local Property Development Corp. is in violation of the Open Meetings Law and needs to comply by releasing the details of its agreement immediately. Fort Edward officials and its citizens should be concerned by the secrecy.”

Other members of the LPDC also could not be reached or did not respond to questions.

Boyajian did not respond to an email on June 24 asking again for a copy of the agreement, accompanied by the Committee on Open Government’s opinion.

Town Supervisor Terry Middleton said on June 20 that he did not have a copy of the agreement and was trying to keep his position separate from the LPDC.

It appears several of the audience members at the April 16 meeting have seen the agreement, including village officials and members of the school board.

Mayor Matthew Traver said Monday night that he had seen the agreement, but he did not have a copy.

“I would have hoped it would have been signed by now,” Traver said.

Fort Edward school Superintendent Dan Ward said Monday night that he had not heard anything more about the agreement, and he did not have a copy.

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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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