Citing violations of the state’s open meetings and environmental laws, a state Supreme Court justice has annulled special-use permits that would have allowed private electric utility Iberdrola to erect 49 wind turbines in the towns of Stark and Warren in southern Herkimer County.
Locally, wind-turbine proposals have been a divisive political issue in numerous towns in Delaware and Otsego counties, including the town of Meredith, where Democratic Councilman-elect Ron Bailey said after winning election last month, “We campaigned from the beginning on the promise to ban the big turbines.”
Previously, the state Public Service Commission ruled that 19 of 68 proposed turbines, those that might be visible from Otsego Lake, be dropped from the Herkimer project.
Last week, Justice Donald Greenwood in Syracuse went further, ruling for several petitioners who had questioned the legitimacy of a process that earlier this year had led the towns’ boards to approve a final environmental impact statement for the project.
Petitioners, led by Sue Brander of Stark and represented by Syracuse lawyer Douglas Zamelis, alleged that the town boards had not adhered to guidelines in the State Environmental Quality Review Law, and Greenwood agreed:
“Inasmuch as the Town of Warren Board, as lead agency, failed to properly evaluate and analyze sufficient and acceptable alternatives to the project, improperly relied upon plans for future mitigation and improperly delegated its SEQRA (state environmental quality review act) duties to other agencies, the board failed to take the requisite hard look at potential environmental impacts.
“Consequently, this Court finds that their adoption of the FEIS and subsequent issuance of the special use permit was arbitrary, capricious and an abuse of discretion,” the judge wrote.
Underwood also wrote that on two occasions, the Warren Town Board violated the Open Meetings Law and “improperly entered executive session in violation of the statute. On April 23, 2007, the board went into executive session, stating no basis for same. On May 4, 2007, the board entered executive session for approximately one hour, claiming that the purpose was to “discuss negotiations with attorney.”
Such general discussions of negotiations with a lawyer are not a statutorily prescribed basis for an executive session.
Paul Copleman, communications director for Iberdrola, said he was unsure what the firm will do next.
“We’re committed to the project, but right now we’re still analyzing last week’s decision and thinking about our next move,” he said.
Brander said Greenwood’s decision was good news, although opponents are not about to let their guard down. Wind-turbine opponents from around the state are linked, she said, ready to share information and help each other.
Iberdrola issued a statement declaring disappointment with the judge’s ruling for the 136-megawatt project.
“The decision ruled against the conclusions reached by the host towns of Warren and Stark following a multi-year examination of the project that included thousands of pages of study and public input,” the statement read. “These same conclusions had been confirmed by the Oneida-Herkimer County Planning Board.”
By Tom Grace
Cooperstown News Bureau
18 December 2007
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding