WARREN – A new court ruling will delay the Jordanville Wind project and is raising questions whether the developer might drop the project in southern Herkimer County.
State Supreme Court Justice Donald Greenwood of Onondaga County ruled that the Warren Town Board failed to look closely enough at the project’s potential impact. The town was the lead agency for a state-required environmental review.
The town’s process and decision to approve the review was “arbitrary, capricious and an abuse of discretion,” Greenwood’s decision states.
The judge also ruled that the Warren and Stark town boards acted in violation of the state’s Open Meetings Law and Freedom of Information Law, and he awarded attorney’s fees to the environmental group that brought the lawsuit against the wind-turbine project.
The decision renders an already completed environmental review null and void. That means the developer would have to start the lengthy process over.
Plaintiffs pleased: Residents group Otsego 2000 and other neighbors of the project area are hoping the ruling stops the project, which many oppose on account of the possible impact of tall turbines on the rural landscape.
Leon Zgirski of Warren, one of the people suing, said he worked his whole life to be able to live in the country.
“I don’t want to see the towers messing up the scenery,” Zgirski said.
Towns may lose funds: If the project is cancelled, it will mean millions of dollars in losses for the towns of Warren and Stark, the Owen D. Young Central School District and Herkimer County, said Bernard Melewski, a Saratoga attorney who represents Warren and Stark.
“At best, it’s creating a delay that harms the taxpayers in both towns,” Melewski said. “At worst, the company could decide not to pursue the project.
‘Back to square one’
Project developer Jordanville Wind of Iberdrola Renewable Energy USA could not be reached for comment Wednesday night.
Fifteen residents of Warren and Stark filed a lawsuit against the proposed wind project, citing what they said was an inadequate environmental review.
Douglas Zamelis, a Manlius attorney who represents the petitioners, said he is pleased with the decision.
“I imagine it’s devastating news for the towns and the developer,” Zamelis said. “It sends the project back to square one.”
Zamelis also assisted Otsego 2000 during state Public Service Commission hearings dealing with the project.
In August, the state commission accepted a scaled-down version of the project – deciding to reduce it from a 68-turbine, 136-megawatt project to a 49-turbine, 98-megawatt project to avoid negative environmental impacts on the Glimmerglass Historic District.
The Herkimer County Legislature voted in October to support the towns in an attempt to seek a new hearing before the commission.
Each delay and each turbine eliminated results in less money for the two small, agricultural towns, for the school district and for a county facing the expenses of possibly building a new county jail.
Town leaders concerned
When asked his reaction to the decision, Warren town Supervisor Richard Jack spent the next several seconds laughing, before saying he is disappointed and looking into the town’s options.
Money from the projects would cover much if not all of the town’s budget, he said.
But Jack said he doesn’t think the project will be cancelled – just possibly built smaller and further into the future. The developer, like the towns, has put too much time and money into it, he said.
“I think they’re committed to the project,” he said.
Melewski said it’s likely the towns will appeal, but a decision hasn’t been made. The decision relies on the developer’s plans, he said.
“It seemed like a nice fit for the towns,” Melewski said. “We were very surprised at the outcome and very disappointed.”
Any appeal would go to the Appellate Division’s Fourth Department, in Rochester.
If this project is scrapped, it would likely hurt the entire county because it would scare other developers from coming to Herkimer County, said Stark resident Shirley Mower, on whose property some of the turbines would go.
“It wasn’t enough that eight landowners were penalized when they took 19 turbines,” she said. “All the landowners up here are totally devastated.”
Mower declined to say what actions she hopes to take next, but said something will be done.
“It’s just not the end of everything,” she said. “We don’t give up easily.”
By Bryon Ackerman
12 December 2007
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