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Lackawanna pursues wind farm review powers

The Lackawanna Planning Board Wednesday voted to make the city the lead agency in any environmental review required for the expansion of the Steel Winds wind farm at the old Bethlehem Steel site.

The vote was taken during a meeting with Clipper Windpower officials that was initially intended to be an informal affair, Planning Board Chairwoman Kathy Galanti said. However, the board convened a formal session once members agreed that the city should be made lead agency on the project.

“There’s nothing that’s being hidden from the public,” Galanti said in a telephone interview Thursday.

However, 1st Ward Councilwoman Andrea Haxton, who attended the Planning Board meeting, disagreed.

“It’s a totally illegal meeting,” Haxton said. “This is a real big thing because a meeting of this magnitude should have been open to the public and they had a public vote.”

Galanti said public notification was not required because the Planning Board had no specific agenda planned and had intended to meet only informally with Clipper Windpower officials. The city’s code enforcement officers handle public notifications for the board, she said. After consulting with them and lawyers for the city, Galanti said she was confident that the Planning Board action was proper.

Mayor Norman Polanski Jr., who also attended the meeting, agreed.

“Our people made sure it was what it had to be. We would be stupid to call something illegal and not properly notify the public,” Polanski said.

Developers broke ground nine months ago on the $40 million wind-energy project, erecting eight turbines off Lake Erie, after agreeing to pay the city $100,000 annually over the next 15 years.

Clipper Windpower is seeking to erect 13 additional windmills at the site.

Haxton believes the city should be compensated for the additions, and raised concerns the city would be bound to its current agreement with Clipper.

By state law, renewable energy projects, like the Steel Winds, are tax exempt. The federal government also offers numerous tax incentives for such projects.

In neighboring Hamburg, officials have raised some concerns about the Steel Winds turbines and are working on a comprehensive ordinance that would set rules for the development of such projects.

Galanti said that by law, Hamburg, Erie County or other municipalities affected by the project may challenge Lackawanna’s bid to assume lead agency status.

By Harold McNeil
News Staff Reporter

The Buffalo News

29 June 2007