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Finger Lakes Land Trust will buy 470-acre Cayuga Lake property for conservation

Bell Station WEB

VESTAL, NY (WSKG) — The Finger Lakes Land Trust will purchase the Bell Station property and turn the land into a publicly accessible wildlife management area in coordination with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

The move comes after widespread outcry amongst conservation groups and local officials who opposed a proposed auction of the property earlier this year. Many expressed concerns that New York State Electric and Gas (NYSEG), which owns the Bell Station land, would sell it to a private developer.

The 470-acre parcel includes the largest piece of undeveloped shoreline on Cayuga Lake. Around 90% of the lake’s shoreline is privately own, making new opportunities for public access points especially rare.

"This is a tremendous win for the Finger Lakes and all residents of New York State,” Finger Lakes Land Trust Executive Director Andrew Zepp wrote in a statement Wednesday. “We are grateful for Governor Hochul's leadership and for all of our elected officials pulling together to make this happen."

Earlier this year, NYSEG announced a public auction for the property. At the time, Zepp said he was surprised by NYSEG’s move since the utility company had been in talks with the land trust about potentially selling Bell Station over several years.

In reaction to the announced auction, the land trust and other conservation groups launched a petition to cancel the public bidding. The Tompkins County legislature unanimously voted in favor of a resolution opposing the auction.

In September, following intervention by Gov. Kathy Hochul and the DEC, NYSEG agreed to cancel the auction.

Legislator Mike Sigler represents Lansing, which includes Bell Station, and worked with state lawmakers and other local officials to try and preserve the land and open it up for access to Cayuga Lake.

"There’s just not that much available anymore that's open to the public,” Sigler told WSKG Wednesday. “So, when we have an opportunity like that and it's public land we should certainly make every effort to open the lake to people."

In a statement announcing the sale to the land trust, Gov. Kathy Hochul indicated that the DEC would work to set up the property as a wildlife management area. The statement also said the state would “maximize” public access to the lake.

"The purchase of this land will guarantee its protection and preservation for future generations -making environmentally conscious decisions like this allow us peace of mind knowing our children and their children will have access to green space and a beautiful lakeview in the Finger Lakes," Hochul wrote in the statement.

Vaughn Golden has been reporting across New York since 2016. Working as a freelancer while studying journalism and economics at Ithaca College, Vaughn has reported for a number of outlets including the Albany Times Union, New York Post, and NPR among others. Prior to coming to WSKG full-time, Vaughn was a reporter for the Watertown Daily Times. Vaughn now covers government and politics for WSKG.