ELLENBURG – Conflict of interest is a wind-farm outcry gaining power here.
“We have a board member who has signed leases” for wind-turbine easements, said Ellenburg Town Councilor Hilda Danforth. “Our Zoning Board of Appeals – three out of four members have signed leases.”
Issue raised at meeting
She brought up the issue at a Town Council session last week, when the board voted 4 to 1 not to extend the soon-to-expire wind-energy moratorium and set a public hearing on a local law outlining wind-tower regulations.
Councilor Lawrence Carter said “aye” on the motion – his name appears on paperwork filed with Clinton County, giving two easements for windmills.
Is that a conflict?
“Probably is, probably is,” said Carter. “I’m for the windmills, but I’m not doing it for the money that’s in it.
“I’m 80 years old – I don’t need the money.”
And actually, he said, those easements are on a farm he owns in name only.
“I sold it on a land contract,” he explained why his name is still on the deed though his daughter and son-in-law have been making payments on it for a few years now.
“Any income from those mills, I won’t be getting.”
Danforth still believes a conflict exists.
“The lease is registered as Larry Carter, owner,” she said.
Resident Bob Weeks agrees and has said so at town meetings.
“I’ve never been against the wind turbines,” he said, “but, boy, have I been opposed to the process.
“I think it is completely obscene for any public official to legislate on his own behalf.”
code passed in 1970
Local Law No. 1 of 1970 details the Town of Ellenburg’s code of ethics, barring anyone who serves the town, whether paid or unpaid, from engaging in business transactions that “reasonably tend to conflict with the proper discharge of his official duties.”
Danforth first brought up the issue last December, when she notified Supervisor Brent Trombly by certified letter that Carter – and others serving the town in some capacity – had given wind-turbine easements.
The supervisor responded to the letter at a meeting before the council voted on a wind-system moratorium, which passed unanimously.
“If you got a dime from them, I wish you wouldn’t vote,” he paraphrased from memory the comment he made that night to the council at large.
“But (Carter) voted anyway,” he continued.
“How did his vote hurt anything? Even if he would have voted the other way, he would have been beaten.”
Trombly acknowledges there may exist a conflict with Zoning Board members who have given easements to wind companies, including Board Chairman Francis LaClair.
“Does he have a vested interest? I suppose he does,” the supervisor said.
“(But) when they were appointed, windmills were the last thing on anybody’s mind.
“They weren’t heard of yet.”
Richard Pearson, who’s running for the job of town supervisor against James McNeil, serves on the Zoning Board.
He’s also served for several months on committees set up to research the wind issue.
His name and that of his wife, Kathleen, appear on two deeds granting easements to wind company Zilkha (now Horizon Wind Energy).
Pearson said anyone serving on the Town Council who owns land leased for windmills “should consider the sale of the property.
“My leases have been withdrawn from the wind company,” he continued. “What I did, personally, was I removed myself from that.”
Patrick Doyle of Horizon confirmed that the Pearson easements, located in the Adirondack Park, will be canceled.
“The paperwork is in process,” he said.
Those sites were never going to be used anyhow, both Doyle and Pearson pointed out, as Horizon won’t build in the park.
Pearson doesn’t feel there’s an issue over wind-committee membership by those who’ve granted easements.
“Who should serve on these committees?” he said. “Just those who are opposed?
“Or should we have a diverse group of people, pro and con?”
The supervisor candidate, who has a background in grant writing that he believes could help bring in funds to “make Ellenburg a nicer place to live,” questioned the ethics of some of the wind-farm opponents, who he said have been spreading tales that he’s bought up property in other towns that are suitable for windmills.
He has not done that, he said firmly.
He’d signed up with Zilkha “well before I decided to run” for office, he added.
And Danforth denied rumors that she is using her charges of conflict to win votes this November.
The anti-wind faction, she said, “appears to be a small group,” so winning that endorsement wouldn’t help her much.
A law put in place through inappropriate action would leave it open to litigation, she added.
“And I am frightened that we do not have the proper ordinance (proposed) to protect the town.”
Defeat by any means
Trombly believes opponents of the proposed wind farms are snatching at any excuse to block ordinance passage.
“Ninety percent of the people showing any interest in this are for it,” he said. “The 10 percent against it are making the noise and trying to dig up the skeletons to discredit the honest effort myself and the board have done to try to find the true facts.”
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