Lawsuits challenging the process that permits wind-energy parks in Altona, Clinton and Ellenburg have been dismissed.
“I’m extremely pleased that the court upheld the (environmental) review that the towns did and rejected a lot of the wild allegations that the opponents brought up,” said attorney Daniel Spitzer, who represents all three communities on wind issues.
Neighbors for the Preservation of the North Country Inc. filed the Article 78 and declaratory judgment actions against the towns, Clinton County Industrial Development Agency, Noble Environmental Power and its Altona Wind Park, Clinton Wind Park and Ellenburg Wind Park in September 2006.
Acting Supreme Court Justice Patrick McGill dismissed them last week in Clinton County Court.
McGill addressed each assertion made by Neighbors for the Preservation of the North Country in his decision, including one claiming the final environmental impact statement issued by the towns was “inconclusive, incomplete, fails to set forth alternatives, fails to respond to questions and comments, and contains errors.”
“This court finds that the respondents conducted a thorough and careful examination, fully complied with procedural requirements and took the statutorily required ‘hard look’ at the environmental impact of the proposed wind complex,” McGill wrote.
He said the process addressed areas of environmental concern – among them wetlands-mitigation measures, construction impacts, shadow flicker, visual impact, noise levels and bird mortality – “in a reasoned analysis.”
The neighbors group, which is described in the decision as a not-for-profit corporation formed in August 2006 to advocate positions on North Country community and environmental issues, presented to the court affidavits by individuals who disagreed with those findings.
The judge found those arguments without merit – some because they were not properly raised during the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) process and therefore could not be brought up for the first time during judicial review. Many others, McGill wrote, had been, in fact, considered by the towns.
“The towns have set forth a clear, reasoned decision with which the petitioner/plaintiff disagrees,” he found. “This disagreement, however, does not provide a legitimate basis for the relief requested by the petitioner/plaintiff.”
The group wanted the court to set aside the environmental findings made by the towns and IDA.
The judge also dismissed claims that the towns gave inadequate public notice of meetings during the SEQR process and the assertion that Altona, Ellenburg and Clinton failed to complete independent reviews by issuing a joint decision on their environmental review.
Speaking for Neighbors for the Preservation of the North Country on Monday, Holly Garceau said she had received “no legal verification” of the court’s decision so she could not comment on it.
Mark Lyons, development manager for Noble’s North Country wind parks, said the legal proceedings “didn’t really affect us.”
In December, the company began construction of wind-park substations.
“As the weather improves, our activities will ramp up,” he said.
Lyons wasn’t surprised that the suits were dismissed.
“It was a pretty rigorous process,” he said of the environmental review for all three parks. “And it was done by the book.”
Spitzer said Neighbors for the Preservation of the North Country was served with the court decision last week and has 30 days from that date to appeal.
“Nobody doubts that the wind farms are going to have a major impact on the communities,” the attorney said.
“The towns did what they were required to do, which was to investigate the particular impacts, take a hard look at them and (plan) the maximum mitigation practicable to protect the community.
“We really thought that we had done a very good job in terms of addressing all the questions.
“I’m just very pleased the court agreed.”
By Suzanne Moore
20 March 2007
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