The Town of Huntington and Long Island Power Authority have finally made their opening statements in a court trial that has been more than eight years in the making.
Huntington town officials, LIPA and National Grid are presenting their arguments over the proper tax-assessed value of the Northport Power Station beginning Feb. 25 before Justice Elizabeth Emerson at Suffolk County Supreme Court in Riverhead.
LIPA filed its tax certiorari case over the assessed property tax valuation of the Northport plant in 2010 seeking to reduce its annual taxes by 90 percent, in addition to repayment of all taxes it claims to have overpaid since 2010 — currently more than $550 million.
“It doesn’t differ all that much from when you grieve your property taxes, but this is on a much bigger scale.”
— Nick Ciappetta
Huntington Town Attorney Nick Ciappetta said all parties have agreed to start with the bench trial, decided solely by Emerson, by challenging the taxes paid on the plant in 2014.
“Even though they have filed petitions to challenge every year beginning in 2011, they have to file petitions individually for each year,” the town attorney said.
Ciappetta said that the burden of proof to demonstrate that the Town of Huntington tax assessor’s assessed value of the plant was incorrect lies with the utility company. LIPA will need to provide documents and expert testimony that convinces the judge that Huntington was in error, according to the town attorney.
“It doesn’t differ all that much from when you grieve your property taxes, but this is on a much bigger scale,” Ciappetta said.
LIPA started the trial with its opening statement and by calling on two expert witnesses for testimony Feb. 25. The Huntington town attorney said he expected the utility company to call on two additional expert witnesses to the stand to testify on its behalf before the town responds.
“We feel good about our position and that LIPA will not be able to sustain their burden,” Ciappetta said. “They have an appraisal that makes the plant seem as if it is worthless. That plant is vital to Long Island’s power grid.”
The Huntington town attorney said the town’s legal arguments will highlight how the Northport Power Station is unique given its “ideal location” and several factors, including its ability to operate based on either gas or oil, and is believed to be fundamental to meeting electrical demands during severe weather events.
“We feel good about our position and that LIPA will not be able to sustain their burden.”
— Nick Ciappetta
The trial is open to the public and any who wish to observe the proceedings or listen to the arguments are welcome to the Riverhead court room, located at 1 Court St.
LIPA did not respond to request for comment on the ongoing court proceedings.
Ciappetta previously stated although the Town of Brookhaven settled its case with LIPA earlier this year, he does not believe that agreement will have any impact on Huntington’s case.
While six months of mediation between the town, LIPA and National Grid under their hired third-party arbitrator attorney Marty Scheinman has not yet resulted in a settlement, it remains a probable outcome according to Ciappetta.
“There’s always the possibility it will settle,” he said.
The court trial proceedings, if not wrapped up this week, will continue in April.