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DEC to head turbine study  

Possible precedent: Agency, in ruling, names itself as lead on Galloo Island SEQR

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has declared itself the lead agency for a state environmental quality review of the proposed Galloo Island Wind Project – a ruling that may set a precedent of state review of future turbine projects.

The ruling by DEC Commissioner Alexander B. “Pete” Grannis on Friday afternoon is the first time the state has stepped in to perform a SEQR for a wind project. In the only other case where the commissioner made the lead agency determination, the Steuben County Industrial Development Agency was awarded lead agency status.

Upstate NY Power Corp. has proposed to construct 77 turbines on the island. The company has submitted plans for temporary residential, food service and health care structures to support about 250 workers during the project’s construction.

Town officials were upset by the decision.

“This just adds to the overall turmoil of the whole project,” Hounsfield Supervisor Jean H. Derouin said. “I anticipated this. It just shows the outside pressure being put on local people.”

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

DEC spokesman Stephen W. Litwhiler said the regional office, in Watertown, will be the “folks on the ground giving feedback,” despite the commissioner’s decision to perform the review from the department’s Albany office.

Mr. Litwhiler said he spoke with Judy Drabicki, DEC Region 6 director.

“She did say she was happy with the decision,” he said.

The commissioner listed three primary criteria for this decision: The turbines, transmission line and infrastructure all will affect the largely undeveloped island, he wrote.

Also noted is the potential archaeological significance on the island from Native America and European settlers.

“I conclude that potential impacts associated with this project are primarily of regional and even statewide significance and, thus, that DEC would be most appropriately designated as lead agency under this criterion,” the commissioner’s decision read.

Mr. Grannis noted that the sewage and water infrastructure built for the island’s temporary workers during construction will need DEC approval.

“DEC will have jurisdiction … for all work under the water, including docking slip construction,” the ruling states. “Likely impacts to the numerous and extensive wetlands on the island, from construction of the various components of the project including turbine sites, water and wastewater systems, housing, and all roadways, would require approvals from DEC.”

DEC has more in-house staff and experts to serve as the lead agency, according to the commissioner.

Hounsfield officials take issue with that argument.

“This decision shows the DEC thinks we’re not smart enough or we don’t have backbone to do it right,” Mr. Derouin said. “This just gives the DEC staff in Albany the chance to walk around in the different agencies to say, ‘Look at what we’ve accomplished.'”

This does not set a precedent for DEC to declare itself lead agency for future wind turbine projects, Mr. Litwhiler said.

That may not be true, said Dennis G. Whelpley, the town’s attorney.

“If you follow the law and their reasoning, the DEC can be lead agency on every project,” he said. “They are basing their jurisdictional analysis on speculation, and they’re not supposed to do that.”

The attorney said that filing an Article 78 lawsuit to try to have the decision reversed is an option, but he had not talked with town officials Friday night to determine whether they want to pursue legal action.

“It’s always about bats and birds, but what about the people?” Mr. Derouin said.

The Hounsfield Town Council has said that emergency services will be provided by the town, making the project a town issue. The DEC ruling flipped the argument, saying Hounsfield will need mutual aid to respond, making it a regional concern.

With that argument, DEC could become the lead agency for any project that needs mutual aid, Mr. Whelpley said.

“If the Salmon Run Mall wants to build an addition, that would be DEC,” he said.

Mr. Litwhiler said DEC now will determine whether the project has a significant environmental impact.

“We’re anticipating a positive declaration,” he said.

Times staff writer Nancy Madsen contributed to this report.

By Robert Brauchle
Times Staff Writer

Watertown Daily Times

26 April 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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