MOHAWK & JOHNSTOWN -- As Christmas fast approaches, Mohawk Supervisor Ed Bishop recently received a long-awaited package sent by special delivery, not from the North Pole, but from Fulton County — but he isn't opening it just yet.
"I'm not opening it until I get that money," Bishop said. "There's nothing, until we get that money. We're not doing anything, until they've decided to pay me."
The package delivered to Bishop contains the environmental impact statement for a proposed annexation of 263 acres of land in Mohawk into the city of Johnstown.
The annexation would allow the undeveloped farmland now in Mohawk to be connected to water and sewer utilities in Johnstown, a necessary step toward building a long-planned Regional Business Park on the land. The park would be marketed to large companies, with an aim toward a "game-changing" employer capable of creating hundreds, or even possibly thousands, of jobs.
The land owners of the 263 acres -- James Miller, Jarold Miller, Stephen Miller and Milltown Plaza Inc. -- started the process of seeking annexation in 2016, although officials in both Montgomery and Fulton counties have been promoting the project for more than a decade. The counties already have a tax-sharing agreement inked for the park, if it ever gets built, but Mohawk and the city of Johnstown do not.
Mohawk town officials have opposed the annexation, expressing concerns that increased truck traffic could result from the project, which could further impact the village of Fonda — already under severe strain from trucks going in and out of the Walmart Distribution Center in Johnstown. Mohawk residents are also concerned about damage to surrounding farms near where the project would go.
All four municipalities involved in the annexation deal -- both counties, Johnstown and Mohawk -- all applied to become the lead agency for the State Environmental Quality Review required before an annexation can be approved. In May of 2016, the state Department of Environmental Conservation gave lead agency control to Mohawk.
Mohawk has controlled the process since then. Mohawk required the three municipalities supporting the annexation to pay for the SEQR study, which cost about $100,000 split evenly three ways, $33,334 each, to hire Sterling Environmental Engineering P.C. of Latham to create the Environmental Impact Study (EIS) for the project.
Mohawk also hired its own firm, Chazen Engineering of Poughkeepsie, to create a "scoping document" -- also known as a draft environmental impact statement -- that includes all of the possible environmental impacts that the Mohawk Town Board wants the SEQR's Environmental Impact Statement to consider.
Now that the EIS is done, Mohawk wants to be reimbursed the $13,000 for the scoping document before it will read the SEQR study.
"I have a package, I assume that's it, but I'm not opening it," Bishop said. "I'm not acknowledging receipt of it yet. When I have the money, we'll talk."
Tuesday night, the Montgomery County Legislature passed a resolution agreeing to pay for its portion of the scoping document, "not to exceed $13,000."
Fulton County Administrator Jon Stead said Fulton County doesn't need to pass any additional resolutions to support the cost of the scoping document. He said the three municipalities supporting the annexation agreed in principle to split that cost evenly months ago. He said the check to Mohawk is in the mail.
"We've decided to front the costs, and the other two municipalities will pay us back," he said.
Bishop said the SEQR study has already taken longer than a year to put together and deliver, and he's not certain how long it will take for his municipality to review it once he breaks open the EIS package. He said his first step will be to send the document to Chazen Engineering to make certain it fits all of the criteria included in the scoping document, and if it doesn't Mohawk will bounce the document back to Fulton County.
"I assume they've saved some money for Sterling Environmental to make it correct," Bishop said.
After Mohawk determines that the EIS is sufficient in its scope, the town will hold a public meeting and solicit comments from the public, before having a vote on whether to approve the annexation of the land or continue to oppose it. This process could take several months from the time Mohawk breaks open the EIS document.
James Mraz, retired Fulton County planning director told the Daily Gazette in November that one of the reasons the SEQR study has taken more than a year is that Fulton County wanted to hold off on presenting the EIS to Mohawk in hope that Johnstown and Mohawk could ink a tax-sharing deal in exchange for Mohawk dropping its opposition to the annexation.
In November Mohawk and Johnstown agreed in principle to a four-point tax sharing deal after more than a decade of negotiations:
• Johnstown would receive a 55 percent share of the local property tax generated by the site; Mohawk would get 45 percent.
• The deal would be for 40 years, the maximum allowed for a municipality under state law, but it would include a clause for automatic renewal for another 40 years, effectively locking in an 80-year-deal.
• Johnstown will review the traffic patterns created by the park as per the findings of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement.
• No access to the park from Old Trail Road in Mohawk will be allowed.
But Mohawk wouldn't go for Johnstown's fifth stipulation, dropping opposition to annexation, so no deal was signed.
"The first four points were what we were asking for, but I can't agree to the fifth, which would would have been not pursuing the SEQR, the scoping document and the EIS. I can't do that," Bishop said.
Johnstown Councilman-at-Large Craig Talarico said Johnstown has also received its copy of the EIS, and it's about 1,000 pages long. He said he's not sure if the tax-sharing deal will be pulled off the table if Mohawk continues to oppose annexation after it reviews the EIS, but he suspects that it will be.