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Decision on lead agency due  

DEC chief to rule on who’ll direct Galloo wind project study

The town of Hounsfield could know by Wednesday who will be lead agency for the environmental review process for the Galloo Island Wind Project.

Alexander B. “Pete” Grannis, the state Department of Environmental Conservation commissioner, has set that day as his deadline for making a decision. DEC has opposed the town Planning Board’s request to be lead agency, instead asking for the department to have that position.

Whichever agency wins the dispute will be responsible for overseeing the environmental impact studies for the Galloo Island Wind Farm. Upstate NY Power Corp. has proposed a project with 77 turbines that could produce up to 268 megawatts.

In the town’s final letter to Mr. Grannis, town Attorney Dennis G. Whelpley responded to DEC arguments from a March 6 letter to the commissioner.

Jack A. Nasca, chief of DEC’s energy projects and management division of environmental permits, argued that the effects of the project would be felt state- and regionwide, that any structures built for construction workers would be only temporary or unnecessary and that the effects on fish, birds and bats are unknown partially because those populations have not been surveyed.

The “impacts from the loss of a unique habitat of regional importance and the potential for impact to resident and migratory bird and bat species of statewide importance will remain for the operational life of the project,” he wrote.

In response, Mr. Whelpley wrote last Monday that Galloo Island, though not on the mainland, is part of the town and any effects on the island are not “off shore” but part of the town.

He wrote that it is far from certain that constructing the project would take only one construction season and that the DEC letter does not offer alternatives to functioning water and sewer systems. And, with a proposed permanent staff of 25, water treatment, sewer and health facilities still would be necessary.

“That can be a lonely place,” Mr. Whelpley said Friday. “There are a lot of days you can’t get there.”

On the animal populations, Mr. Whelpley wrote that DEC owns 28 acres on the island and DEC staff has never been denied access to the rest of the island. Mr. Whelpley rejected Mr. Nasca’s assertion that barges and boats carrying equipment would disrupt fish spawning areas, saying the boats would go only in deep areas, not shoals where fish spawn.

“I agree that birds and bats are important,” Mr. Whelpley said. “But people come before them.”

The state Department of Transportation, Department of Health and Office of General Services all sent letters to the DEC commissioner supporting the town Planning Board as lead agency.

Mr. Whelpley based his arguments on a Jan. 1, 2006, decision by then-DEC Commissioner Denise M. Sheehan that gave the Steuben County Industrial Development Agency lead-agency status over DEC in a wind power project. This is the only previous wind power lead-agency dispute that the DEC commissioner decided.

“This decision is based on my finding that the SCIDA is the most appropriate lead agency given the primarily local potential impacts of the proposed project and, further, that SCIDA is the only agency with clear and certain jurisdiction over the proposed action,” Ms. Sheehan wrote.

In that case, DEC asserted that it had jurisdiction over the project based on wetlands in the area. However, as the project tried to avoid wetlands, DEC lost its basis for issuing permits to the project and its jurisdiction completely.

As with the Steuben County IDA, the town Planning Board’s jurisdiction is certain, Mr. Whelpley wrote.

“The first test for determining lead agency status is whether the impacts are of primarily local, regional or state significance,” he wrote. Based on the initial information, “one should conclude that in this instance the known impacts are primarily of local significance.

By Nancy Madsen
Times Staff Writer

Watertown Daily Times

24 March 2008

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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