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Ethics Group, DEC decry acceptance of unfinished report

CAPE VINCENT – The Wind Power Ethics Group and the state Department of Environmental Conservation say the town Planning Board should not have accepted a draft environmental impact statement for the St. Lawrence Wind Farm.

Judy Drabicki, a Dexter attorney representing the ethics group, a citizens’ organization that has opposed wind farm development, said the developer has not sufficiently identified impacts because studies listed as part of the review have not been completed, including those for wetlands.

A DEIS is a document that is part of the State Environmental Quality Review process. Its purpose is to identify and study any adverse effects a development may have on the environment. A project can be turned down if adverse effects cannot be mitigated.

Todd R. Hopper a developer from AES Acciona Wind Power NY, which proposed the St. Lawrence Wind Farm, said the goal is to complete the studies by 2008.

St. Lawrence Wind Power’s draft statement identifies 96 possible turbine locations. Mr. Hopper’s partner, Shawn A. Briggs, said the company wanted to present a “worse-case scenario.” If small turbines were used for a 130-megawatt farm, there may be 96, he said.

In previous interviews, Mr. Hopper has said there will be about 65 turbines, and the final locations will be determined as studies are completed.

Ms. Drabicki said the project has been rushed.

“Of course, we’ll have to comment, but this is just not the way the process works,” she said. “This should not have been accepted for review.”

Stephen W. Litwhiler, spokesman for DEC, said the studies outlined in a DEIS should be complete before a review is accepted.

Mr. Litwhiler, reading from state law, said: “A DEIS must contain information sufficient to show what the significant adverse environmental impacts might be. The DEIS must allow an evaluation of proposed mitigation measures and alternatives. In order to be adequate, a DEIS must contain information necessary to evaluate the potential effects of project alternatives. If not fully developed, a DEIS should not be accepted.

He added that the public would be at a disadvantage if it was asked to comment before the studies were completed.

Mr. Hopper said it is a matter of opinion as to whether the studies in the DEIS are complete enough for it to be accepted. He said archaeological and wetland studies still need to be done. While some bird studies were done this summer, more may be needed.

“Should this be sitting in our office another six months?” he said. “I’ve been working on this project for five years, and I want to get it done.”

St. Lawrence Wind Farm’s DEIS indicates there will be 29 miles of gravel access roads and 44 miles of underground wire. The closest turbine to the village would be 2,000 feet from the village line.

Richard J. Edsall, Planning Board chairman, said the board will hold a public hearing on St. Lawrence Wind Power’s DEIS from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, March 24. The public can indicate if studies not listed in the DEIS should be done, he said.

He declined to comment as to why the DEIS was accepted without complete studies.

There may be two hearings on wind farm development that day. If BP Alternative Energy, developer of a second proposed wind farm in Cape Vincent, submits a DEIS, the board will hold a public hearing on it the same day, Mr. Edsall said.

BP’s project is called Cape Vincent Wind Farm.

The Wind Power Ethics Group also believes it took too long for St. Lawrence Wind Power’s DEIS to be released to the public. While the Planning Board received it in January, hard copies were not made public until Feb. 1, even though the documents were requested under the state Freedom of Information Law.

The Planning Board argued that since the review had not yet been accepted, it was not a public document, a move the state Committee on Open Government said violated that law.

Mr. Edsall declined to comment on whether BP’s draft environmental impact statement for the Cape Vincent Wind Farm would be released before the Planning Board accepts it.

“I have no idea how they (BP) are going to distribute it to us,” he said.

Ms. Drabicki said she is disappointed that the impact statement was not published online until Feb. 9. According to DEC’s Web site, “a draft EIS should be posted as soon as it is accepted and remain posted until the FEIS (final statement) is accepted.”

She also said that DEC wanted to assume lead-agency status for St. Lawrence Wind Power. The regional office in Watertown made this recommendation, and a representative in the department’s Albany headquarters told Ms. Drabicki that DEC supported taking on lead-agency status, but the office of former Gov. George E. Pataki denied the request.

Mr. Litwhiler declined to discuss the department’s internal conversations, but a source inside the regional DEC office confirmed Ms. Drabicki’s comments for the Times.

Ms. Drabicki said the ethics group has not had an opportunity to discuss whether it will pursue a lawsuit against the town.

By Kelly Vadney

Publication: Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, NY)

Publication Date: 02/13/2007