Guest Opinion: To Serve the Common Good, Discern the Facts

By Mike Koplinka-Loehr

Mike Koplinka-Loehr

In the daily barrage of news and opinions, discerning the truth can seem impossible. You need to seek trustworthy sources who don’t bend the facts. And each of us must sharpen our discernment skills to make the right choice on Election Day.

In the July 31 Republican View column, my opponent for the county Legislature in District 6 summarizes a bridge-building effort between political parties. I’m in favor of building bridges between parties and have practiced it in my own leadership. As chairperson of the county Legislature, I appointed Republicans as chairs of standing committees and invited residents from many perspectives to serve on advisory groups.

My opponent concludes that “language [is] essential going forward; to think about persuading instead of winning. There are words that are hot buttons for the other side and close off discussion. … I don’t think triggering the other side gets us where we want to be.”

I agree completely. Unfortunately, Mr. Sigler is employing exactly such tactics to trigger unfounded fears among Lansing voters in his campaign messages, even after we pledged to each other to run a fact-based campaign.

In that spirit of sharing facts, I’d like to answer his mischaracterizations about my views.
Salt Mine: Lansing needs Cargill operating safely long into the future. The most recent Cargill salt mine managers, Russ Givens and Shawn Wilczynski, would confirm that I have PROMOTED the Lansing mine for the past seven years through concrete action and follow-through, showing results over rhetoric:
– As a consultant, I conducted a 2015 Economic Impact analysis for Cargill (town, county and statewide), with Tompkins County Area Development.
– When I was a member of the Town of Lansing Economic Development Committee (2011-13), Cargill offered to donate land for a sewer district. During that time, I helped to coordinate a 2012 feasibility study of a bio-mass co-generation plant at Cargill.
– In 2015-16, I worked with Cargill to allow some of their land to be used by Lansing schools as one option for their proposed solar array.
– I have facilitated nonprofit donations from Cargill since 2010, benefiting Get Your Greenback Tompkins, Friendship Donations Network, Youth Farm, and the Lansing Bicentennial.
– I am on the public record supporting Cargill at their IDA sales tax abatement hearing (Lansing Town Hall last fall) and again at the Tompkins County Legislature (December 2016).
– I’ve met with Shawn Wilczynski and Cargill’s senior engineer Dave Plummeau in my home and at their offices to discuss ways to minimize the environmental impact of the Shaft 4 project (we live just downhill from the permitted site). I’ve encouraged them to hold biannual public information sessions about their shaft planning progress to keep Lansing residents informed.

Future of the Power Plant: Governor Cuomo proposes closing all New York state coal plants by 2021, affecting all our taxes. I support the conversion of the power plant to natural gas, but not at electric ratepayer expense. (The Public Service Commission couldn’t justify the $100-plus million cost to ratepayers.) I helped negotiate the first Cayuga Power Plant’s Payment In Lieu Of Taxes (PILOT) agreement. While plant value decreased subsequently, I discussed with the plant manager the idea of locating the Lansing School District solar array on their land. I fully support the creation of the “energy park” now being proposed there.

Supporting Energy Needs: I support the NYSEG plan – which the Public Service Commission is now reviewing – for improving the natural gas supply in Lansing, including a compressor station to increase pressure especially for those businesses in need of reliable natural gas.
Economic Development: In addition to membership on Lansing’s Economic Development Committee, I’ve served on the Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce Board and the Industrial Development Agency Board, which subsequently created the Lansing Town Center Incentive Zone Program to encourage well-planned development on Town lands. Economic development action trumps talk.

To not mischaracterize others takes a lot of restraint and courage, but it’s how we build bridges, relationships and influence policy for the common good, thereby improving the lives of Lansing residents and others countywide.

And there’s another step – literally. It’s not enough to just talk. We need to act on our words. We must read the background material, propose a resolution, meet with people of different persuasions, lead committees, and work steadily for solutions.

Discerning truth from fiction takes some effort, but democracy demands it. May each Lansing voter take the time to discern that difference in the November 7 election.
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Koplinka-Loehr, a former member and chairperson of the Tompkins County Legislature, is running against incumbent Mike Sigler for the 6th District seat.