Did Lawsuit Disconnect Verizon Project?

March 17, 2011 Updated Mar 17, 2011 at 11:25 PM EDT

By WKBW News

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March 17, 2011 Updated Mar 17, 2011 at 11:25 PM EDT

NIAGARA COUNTY, NY ( WKBW / releases )
First word that the proposed Verizon data storage project was disconnected came when New York State Senator George Maziarz issued an emotional statement Thursday. His release regarding the decision by the Verizon company not to build a data storage center in the Town of Somerset in Niagara County blamed a lawsuit involving a local woman and her attorney.

Maziarz claims that a potential delay in that lawsuit, from a woman who owns property near the proposed project, was the reason the project was stopped.

Maziarz claims he and Governor Cuomo continued to make last minute pleas with the president of Verizon before the plug was pulled.

Here is the text of the release from Senator Maziarz:

I’m saddened that the next generation will look back and say “if only” Verizon had located their multi-billion data center in our region. It could have been a key in redefining ourselves as a location for major data storage and investment.

Today,( Thursday) we see once again why our children are forced to move away in search of jobs. One disgruntled property owner hires one lawyer with a reputation of opposing everything to stall this project until Verizon gets fed up waiting and goes elsewhere. And our broken bureaucracy and snail-like judiciary, which refused to expedite this case despite its huge importance to the region, are complicit in this failure.

I will be looking at ways to legislate around this nonsense so the next one doesn’t get away. That could mean mandating significant penalties if lawsuits are deemed without merit, which this suit clearly is.

Everyone has a right to their day in court, but there should be consequences when that right is abused as it was so egregiously in the Rizzo case. Something needs to be done to reform our legal system. Something needs to be done to turn the “if only...” stories into success stories for Western New York.

Later Thursday, the Chairman of the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency issued a release:

STATEMENT BY HENRY M. SLOMA, CHAIRMAN, NIAGARA COUNTY INDUSTRIAL DEVELOPMENT AGENCY

SANBORN, NEW YORK – “The Niagara County Industrial Development Agency is extremely disappointed with the announcement by Verizon that they have decided to withdraw their plans to build a state-of-the-art data center in Somerset. This decision casts a dark cloud over Niagara County and has cost the region significant economic benefits in terms of high paying jobs and vast new revenues to the community.

“The Niagara County Industrial Development Agency recognized the importance of this project at the very early stages and was dedicated to do everything within the agency’s power to ensure Version would build its newest Data Center in Niagara County. It is very discouraging that our collective effort to make this once in a lifetime economic development project a reality for Niagara County has come to an end because of a frivolous lawsuit.”

The attorney who brought the lawsuit on behalf of his client released this statement Thursday evening:

SEN. MAZIARZ’S ATTACK ON RIZZO LAWSUIT AND COURT SYSTEM
IS RECKLESS, IRRESPONSIBLE

State Senator George Maziarz’s decision to angrily grandstand, rather than reflect intelligently, on Verizon’s decision to not proceed with its proposed data center in the Town of Somerset, is not surprising. But it certainly is disappointing.

From the day that plans for a proposed data center in rural Niagara County were publicly announced, Sen. Maziarz has been its loudest cheerleader. Whether he was blinded by the fact that one his largest contributors, the owners of the nearby AES power plant, hoped to sell 160-acres of property to Verizon, or whether he decided to just look the other way out of convenience, Mr. Maziarz chose to ignore the many signs that Verizon’s commitment to the Niagara county site was suspect, at best. For example:

- Sen. Maziarz chose to overlook the “footnote” that accompanied Verizon’s zoning applications:

“Verizon is actively considering other sites in the Unites States for this data center and would not commit to the construction and operation of the Facility at the Site until certain financial incentive packages from State and local government agencies are finalized.”

- The State Senator also chose to disregard the frequent changes in Verizon’s so-called “plans.” In the short five weeks that the Somerset town boards were considering the project, the project went from one building of approximately 500,000-square-foot project, to three buildings totaling a million square feet, to a decision to build one building now, and decide in a few years whether or not to build any more. A responsible, committed developer knows what it wants before starting the approval process.

- Likewise, Sen. Maziarz refused to publicly acknowledge that the telecommunications giant was playing the same game in the State of Wyoming as it was doing in upstate New York. Verizon acquired an option to purchase 160 acres of land (the same size as the Somerset parcel) in Laramie, WY, promising 150 to 200 high paying jobs, after telling officials in Cheyenne, WY of its interest in building a data center in their community. Similar to the situation in New York State, Verizon was delaying commitment to the project and waiting to see if the Wyoming State Legislature took steps to pass legislation giving tax breaks to data centers.

Rather than objectively assessing Verizon’s intentions, and urging local officials to follow the letter and spirit of zoning and environmental laws, Mr. Maziarz urged Town of Somerset decision-makers to cut corners and quickly approve the data center project. When members of the Rizzo family raised questions at a public hearing, they were silenced and insulted by the Town Supervisor. None of the town, county or state officials, including Senator Maziarz, was willing to ask, much less, answer, the tough questions.

Senator Maziarz’s disgust with a “broken bureaucracy,” and a “snail-like judiciary”, is misplaced. If the bureaucracy was broken, it was because the environmental and zoning laws meant to protect a community were circumvented by Town of Somerset officials determined to proceed at “Verizon time.” Even the judiciary bent over backwards to accommodate Verizon’s insistence on a prompt decision, with Judge Matthew Murphy conducting five or six hours of oral argument in December the day after he was assigned to the case. The fact that the State Senator believes that the Appellate Division in Rochester should set aside its rules meant to ensure fairness and cave into demands for an expedited appeal simply to keep Verizon happy shows his misunderstanding and disdain for the judicial process.

The legal system has not been abused by Mrs. Rizzo, as the Senator proclaims, and the issues she has raised are significant. No one that has taken the time to review the court papers could objectively suggest that the lawsuit is frivolous, or that she or her attorney should be penalized.

It is time for Sen. George Maziarz to stop his grandstanding. Whipping up hostility towards Mrs. Rizzo, her lawyer, or the system, will lead to nothing constructive.

Channel 7's Eyewitness News will follow this story and will reach out to all parties involved in the project.