Wind project foes seek probe; Environmental group wants criminal investigation of developers, public officials
Steuben County’s district attorney refused to comment Wednesday on a demand from an environmental group for a criminal investigation of wind farm development in the county.
Cohocton Wind Watch, a group opposed to wind farms already under construction, has called for a grand jury investigation of suspected criminal conduct by wind developers and public officials.
In a May 5 letter to Steuben County District Attorney John C. Tunney, the group says “several residents and property owners of Steuben County have information of suspected criminal conduct.”
The list of alleged criminal activities includes:
•Making false claims and filing false statements.
•Bribery of public officials.
The only public officials named in the document are James P. Sherron, executive director of the Steuben County Industrial Development Agency, and J. Harold McConnell, supervisor of the town of Prattsburgh.
The document says “constructive fraud has occurred by Mr. Sherron, SCIDA and numerous town officials and town boards.”
It also alleges that “the recent passage of an eminent domain resolution by the Town Board of Prattsburgh provided additional proof of the unlawful conduct by Supervisor J. Harold McConnell.”
Sherron did not respond to a phone message seeking comment. McConnell said he could not respond because he had not seen the letter.
The letter, written by Cohocton Wind Watch spokesman James Hall, alleges that industrial wind developers have “knowingly provided and submitted false statements and false instruments.”
Hall added that there is a “clear and consistent pattern on the part of the developers to improperly influence public officials through a number of schemes, including cash bribes ….”
In a number of situations, Hall wrote, “Developers seeking to obtain leases for wind turbine sites or easements for access roads and transmission lines have relied on lies and deceptions to convince landowners to sign away their rights. These falsehoods are felonies under Penal Law Article 155 and other statutes.”
First Wind of Newton, Mass., formerly known as UPC Wind and the developer of the Prattsburgh Wind and Cohocton Wind projects, issued the following statement Wednesday:
“We have a policy of not commenting on allegations made against us by third parties, but we conduct ourselves in accordance with the law and hold ourselves to high standards of conduct when developing our projects,” said John Lamontagne, director of corporate communications for First Wind. “We’re excited about our wind energy projects in western New York and the promise it can bring to the development of the region and the growth of renewable power in New York.”
Hall’s letter to Tunney calls for both a criminal investigation and the impaneling of a grand jury to consider criminal charges. It also seeks a meeting with Tunney to discuss the charges and the evidence the group has compiled.
Tunney did not indicate whether he plans to meet with the group.
“Based upon the predominance of evidence from paper trails, video tape documentation, individual testimony and publicly filed documents, your office needs to convene a grand jury …,” Hall wrote.
Hall said there are active investigations of wind farm developments in Franklin County and Delaware County.
By Larry Wilson
8 May 2008
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