Aubertine votes raise questions of conflict-of-interest
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Assemblyman Darrel Aubertine, candidate for the 48th District Senate seat in the special election Tuesday, Feb. 26, may have a conflict-of-interest involving his own interest in wind-power turbines and votes he made on legislation that favor tax benefits for property owners who host the turbines.
A May 23, 2003 story in the Watertown Daily Times reports that a company had approached Aubertine about installing wind-powered generators on his property. Less than two weeks later, June 4, 2003, he voted in favor of legislation that would allow farmers to host wind turbines without having their property-tax assessments increased.
The bill, sponsored by Assemblyman William Magee (111th District), is titled, “An act to amend the agriculture and markets law in relation to wind activities in agricultural districts.” The legislative record indicates Aubertine voted in favor of the bill.
In May 2006, Aubertine was quoted in a Watertown Daily Times story about wind power stating that he had abstained from “several bills that may or may not have been construed as a benefit to me or my family.”
Thursday, in an interview with WWNY television in Watertown, Aubertine denied voting on wind-power legislation that may have placed him in a conflict-of-interest position. “No, not at all,” he said. “I never—one way or the other—certainly not for my personal gain.”
Maps provided on-line through St. Lawrence Wind Power show four turbines planned for his 500-acre Cape Vincent farm.
Yesterday, the Syracuse Post-Standard reported that “Aubertine said he collects two $700 payments each year from St. Lawrence Wind Power, which is seeking to develop wind turbines on Cape Vincent. He said he signed a five-year contract about three years ago.”
The news of Aubertine’s potential involvement with wind turbines comes at a time when Oswego County lawmakers are grappling with the surprise news that a wind-power company has proposed siting turbines in Jefferson County that would require high-power transmission lines to run through Oswego County from Redfield to Parish.
Legislators learned earlier this month about the proposal when they were contacted by irate constituents who had received letters from the power company seeking to obtain access to their properties. The letters advised residents that they had until Feb. 25 to respond or they could face eminent-domain proceedings.
Upon learning this, Oswego County Legislature Chairman Barry Leemann criticized Assemblyman Aubertine for not notifying county officials about the project.
Aubertine’s disclosure statement, filed May 15, 2007 with the N.Y.S. Legislative Ethics Commission, does not list any interests or contracts with any wind-power companies. His disclosure statements show he and his wife Margaret own a total of just over 600 acres of land.
A spokesperson for the Aubertine campaign denied any conflict. “That vote happened over a year before he sold his wind rights,” Aubertine spokesperson Cort Ruddy said Friday. “Those towers, if they are ever built, would be owned by the company and would not impact Darrel’s assessment at all.”
Ruddy added that the only approval process is done locally. “The company is going to set up an arrangement with the town for payment-in-lieu of taxes and there’s usually no assessment,” Ruddy noted.
Regarding the payments, Ruddy said that one check went to Aubertine and the other to Aubertine’s father.
As for the maps that indicate Aubertine’s property is targeted for four turbines, Ruddy said he was told by a representative of the power company that they are just a rendering. “They could have no wind mills on his property,” he said. “Everything is very preliminary as to where they are going to put them.”
by Carol Thompson
23 February 2008
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