Monday, November 22, 2010

Prattsburgh, Italy heads to meet with energy reps

A face-to-face talk is in the works between the towns of Prattsburgh and Italy and an energy company seeking to build an electricity-generating wind farm.

Prattsburgh Town Supervisor Al Wordingham said Monday John Calloway, of Pattern Energy, will meet with representatives from the two towns to discuss their differences.

Pattern Energy is the parent company of Ecogen, a wind farm developer planning to set up 16 turbines in Prattsburgh and 18 turbines in the town of Italy. The three sides have been locked in legal disputes for nearly a year, with a state Supreme Court justice recently urging them to find an out-of-court compromise.

Wordingham told the town board he tried to contact Calloway three times after their initial 30-40 minute phone call on Oct. 20. However, Calloway had been out of the country and finally reached Wordingham Monday morning.

“He told me he had some internal issues to resolve, and then we could meet,” Wordingham said. “And he said ‘When we get together, no lawyers.’”

Wordingham said the details of the meeting have not been worked out, although he offered to meet Calloway at one the firm’s existing wind farms.

Calloway also offered to meet with Italy Town Supervisor Brad Jones, Wordingham said.
“It’s a good start,” Wordingham said. “I feel good about this.”

The current issue between Prattsburgh and Ecogen stems from a town election last year, during which pro-wind town Supervisor Harold McConnell and town Councilwoman Sharon Quigley were ousted by sizeable margins.

Days after the election, Ecogen filed a lawsuit against the town, insisting all details be cleared up before the end of the year. The lame-duck board swiftly reached a 3-2 agreement with Ecogen in December, which was rescinded by the new town board in January.

Ecogen then filed its second lawsuit, charging the new town board did not have the authority to overturn the December action. The board opted to fight the lawsuit, saying the earlier agreement violated a number of laws, including home rule.

Ecogen also sued Italy, after the town denied the developer the permits to proceed with the turbines. Italy also piled up significant legal debts, prompting their attorneys to step down recently from the case.

Concern about future legal costs for all sides led state Supreme Court Justice John Ark to recommend last September the parties work out a solution before he publicly announces his decision.

Since then, both towns have told Ark they would support alternate sites originally proposed by Ecogen.

Ecogen response, on Oct. 13, maintained the Prattsburgh agreement in December is binding and any compromise would kill the project. But Ecogen said it would look for other ways to increase annual payments to Italy and offered to pay the town’s legal fees.

The developer’s statement to the court was made a week before Calloway and Wordingham talked for the first time.

Italy Town Supervisor Brad Jones said he would be glad to meet with Wordingham and Calloway. He added Ecogen’s financial offers are not enticing.

“For one thing, we’ve paid our (legal) bill,” he said. “I’d say they’ve been hard line with us throughout.”

Italy recently passed their 2011 budget, which includes a near-flat increase in the tax levy and a drop in the tax rate. The town also has increased its legal fund account, which will go toward paying their previous attorneys and securing a new one, Jones said.

“We’re in good shape,” Jones said.

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