Sunday, October 31, 2010

Judge questions Ecogen, 2009 Prattsburgh town accord

Rochester, NY — Recent court action could greatly affect the future of wind farms in the town of Prattsburgh.

State Supreme Court Justice John Ark recently ruled the lame-duck Prattsburgh town board must explain its unusually swift, 3-2 passage of an agreement last December allowing wind developer Ecogen to move ahead immediately without standard town agreements.

Ark’s decision gave the board 45 days to submit statements to him, and delays Ecogen’s motion to begin immediate construction of 16 turbines in the town based on the previous board’s action.

The December agreement was passed short weeks after two pro-Ecogen board members were defeated by wide margins in their bid for re-election in November. Within days of the defeats, Ecogen had threatened to sue the town if a settlement was not reached by the year’s end.

In early December, defeated board members Town Supervisor Harold McConnell and Councilwoman Sharon Quigley teamed with current board member Stacey Bottoni to approve the settlement, reportedly drawn up by Ecogen.

Board members Chuck Shick and Steve Kula protested the action and voted against the settlement.

In January, the new board rescinded the settlement 4-1, with Bottoni voting against the measure. Ecogen promptly sued the town, claiming the December settlement was binding.

But Prattsburgh’s attorney, Ed Hourihan, of Bond, Schoeneck and King, said Ark clearly wants a closer look at the reasons behind the previous board’s actions.

“He wants to ask the members and Ecogen what was behind this 11th hour settlement that was rammed through,” Hourihan said. “There was no debate. It was pushed through by people who had a particular interest in (the project). This decision was made by Ecogen and a couple board members in a back room. That’s not democracy. He just wants to shed some light on a backroom deal.”

The Ecogen project has been the source of long debate in the town, stretching back to 2002 when the developer announced plans to set up turbines in Prattsburgh, and in the neighboring town of Italy, in Yates County.

The projects were touted by Prattsburgh board members and many residents as a way to provide green energy, increase needed town revenues and provide income for landowners.

Other residents strenuously opposed the projects on the grounds the turbines could irreparably harm people in the area, the environment, and the landscape.

But in February 2008, reports of intolerable noise at the nearby First Wind wind farm in Cohocton alarmed residents and the board, which considered a moratorium.

Ecogen threatened to sue, saying the ban would hurt the project. The developer assured the board it would work to reduce problems and restrict sites, and the idea of a moratorium was dropped.

Kula and Shick, and a number of residents continued to lobby strenuously for greater setbacks to reduce the problem of noise. Noise has been key issue for residents, with medical studies reported could bring on short- and long-term illnesses. Ecogen refused to redraw its site plan, saying any changes would delay the project.

In November, candidates supporting a cautious view of the project were elected by overwhelming margins, changing the dynamics of the board and resulting in Ecogen’s third threat of a lawsuit in less than a year.

Hourihan said Ark is concerned because the election was a clear public referendum on the project.

“The people have spoken,” Hourihan said. “Ecogen doesn’t care.”

Wordingham said Ark is continuing his plan for both sides to find a way to agree without a court decision. Ark has warned any decision is likely to lead to costly appeals for both sides.

“He’s left a lot of work for us to do,” Wordingham said. “Don’t worry. It’ll get it done.”

No comments: