The town of Westfield may be entertaining a new proposal for wind power, but many residents are still questioning what happened during the last project.
ββI can think of two items which have yet to be resolved,ββ said Steven Lax, who presented a letter to the town board at the September meeting detailing the outstanding issues.
No contact from the previous developer, Chautauqua Wind Power, has been made with the town since 2005. While the town board has never been informed the project is terminated, it is increasingly obvious with the passage of time the company will never present the project to the board for its consideration.
Chautauqua Wind Power installed two meteorological towers through special use permits, and an extensive environmental review was undertaken to determine the impact of its proposal.
ββFirst, there are still two meteorological towers standing in the township and I believe that they stand in violation of the special use permits issued,ββ Lax said. ββAs far as I know, periodic engineering reports were required under those permits and that, to date, there have been no reports submitted by their owners. Also, one of those permits had a hand written end date on it which has long passed.ββ
Martha Bills, town supervisor, was questioned by residents at the most recent town meeting as to what was being done about these towers.
ββIt is being taken care of,ββ she said. ββThe town even set money aside to remove the towers ourselves if we must. It is being handled.ββ
The second issue residents wanted answers to was about money owed to taxpayers.
ββOne year ago, the town board was asked about an accounting of the unpaid debt of approximately $24,000. At a town board meeting in this room, we were told that there was no loss and that an accounting and explanation would be published on the town website by November of 2006,ββ Lax said. ββTo date, that information has not appeared on the Web site, nor has it appeared in the papers.ββ
Ms. Bills responded to residents at the town meeting that she did not deny it was money owed to the town.
ββFrom the beginning of the review process, the town boards worked to find a way to minimize the cost to the towns of conducting the environmental review the law requires we undertake for this type of project,ββ she said. ββWe think we accomplished that goal by negotiating an agreement with CWP to pay for the townsβ costs of not only reviewing both the draft and final environmental impact statements, but also for all of the other ancillary costs associated with the review process such as having counsel and our environmental expert attend public meetings and board meetings, review documents, and attend meetings with other regulatory agencies.ββ
The State Environmental Quality Review Act provides that a developer can be required to pay the costs of an agency, to a certain limit.
According to Ms. Bills, the towns negotiated an agreement with the developer to pay all the costs of the environmental review process and the review of the project without a cap.
ββWhile it is true that CWP did not pay the last bills submitted by the towns, apparently because it had run out of money by then, the town boards collected more money to cover the townsβ costs under the agreement that they would have been able to collect if the developer had insisted that only the fees permitted by SEQRA apply,ββ Ms. Bills said.
In other words, the town boards collected money they would have had to collect anyway during the review process if the developer had not agreed to pay the costs.
The board pointed out to the residents that suing CWP for the amount not paid by them as promised would most likely result in legal fees adding up to more than what they would be attempting to collect.
Many residents at the town meeting were less than satisfied with the board membersβ remarks.
ββIt disturbs me that this town is prepared to entertain presentations from wind power developers when we still have outstanding issues from the last foray into wind power,ββ Lax said.
Ms. Bills replied that the board must review every project that comes before it, regardless of timing, on its own merits, separate from any other project in the past.
ββEven though it appears that the (CWP) project will never move forward, we do not think that the past several years have been wasted,ββ Ms. Bills said. ββWe have emerged from the project review process wiser, more experienced, and determined to do what we can to continue to improve the economic environment in our towns, while preserving the quality of life.ββ
By Shirley West
7 October 2007
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