Street Corner Soapbox: The Inland Port Proposal

Categories:      News & Politics
Wednesday, September 18th, 2013 at 7:39 AM

Erie Mayor Joe Sinnott recently made a strong case against letting public officials run unopposed in elections.

You know the facts, right? For some reason, no one stepped up to challenge our city's mayor this election cycle. You might think that's because Sinnott was such an excellent mayor during his first two terms...but you'd be wrong. Sinnott's biggest accomplishment since taking office is that you can't really name anything he's done.

We know what happens to mayors that are aggressive, that try to do things, right? The last guy who reduced the number of city workers, who challenged the department heads to make city government better, who tried to push Erie out of its political apathy? Run out of office on uncertain charges.

When you stick your neck out, someone will be there with an ax.

There's a plan being orchestrated by the Erie County Economic Development Corporation to build an “inland port” – a plan to develop Erie's remaining industrial port into a transportation hub, a confluence of rail and ship to move goods from Ohio and Pennsylvania (wood pellets? timber?) around the world.

Part of that plan calls for the construction of a new dock on the area of the east bay front behind the city's wastewater treatment facility. And as a part of that development, the Economic Development Corporation is asking the city to create a “tax increment financing” district in the area – or “TIF” – that would subsidize development of the area with future tax earnings. That subsidized development would include the construction of a four-acre park.

To earn that TIF, however, the site has be meet the criteria of “blight” – underused or underdeveloped and deteriorated land. According to Economic Development Corporation head John Elliott in a recent Erie Times-News report, the land meets several of those criteria, including “faulty street and lot layouts” and “insufficient or unsafe open spaces.”

Our mayor does not agree.

“I don't know if we have enough information about the suggested development,” said Sinnott in the same report, “to see whether it fits these criteria yet.”

Huh?

If you're scratching your head about the mayor's reluctance to go ahead with the TIF designation, you're not alone. I'm wearing grooves into my scalp over this. Does Mayor Sinnott think the land isn't blighted? Or is he concerned about the “lost” future tax revenue used for redevelopment?

Neither makes much sense, honestly. The land seems to clearly be “blighted” under the law, and if the land doesn't receive TIF status, as property owned by the Economic Development Corporation, there's no guarantee of tax money, anyway.

Or maybe it's just a natural reflex. Maybe when Major Sinnott sees something new in the works, his first impulse is to say, “Stop.” And why not? Erie seems to have rewarded the mayor with an unopposed election for making sure nothing new or exciting or progressive happens in Erie under his watch.

Kinda like driving a car using only the brakes.

Jay Stevens can be contacted at Jay@ErieReader.com, and you can follow him on Twitter @Snevets_Yaj. 

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