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Town accepts final impact statement; Cape Vincent approves study day after vote to suspend development fails

CAPE VINCENT – The town Planning Board unanimously accepted the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the St. Lawrence Wind Farm as being complete Wednesday night, a day after the Town Council here lacked the votes to suspend all wind power development.

During the roughly 20-minute meeting, board members asked for an explanation from the developer, Acciona Wind Energy USA, as to why the project was reduced from 53 turbines to 51 and whether that change affects the studies performed for the larger project.

“As long as the document remains accurate, which I believe it is, the description of 53 turbines doesn’t change the rendering of those reports or make them uncredible,” said the town’s attorney on wind power projects, Todd M. Mathes of Whiteman, Osterman & Hanna LLP, Albany. “What you had was a study that came to some conclusions, and the footprint of the project shrank in response to it.”

The board also agreed that the developer change all references of “drinking wells” to “domestic wells” in the statement.

The board, however, did not discuss discrepancies among consultants hired by the town and ones hired by the developer concerning the amount of noise created by the project.

The town’s consultants, Gregory C. Tocci and William J. Elliot of Cavanaugh Tocci Associates, Sudbury, Mass., found fault with the analysis in the statement, arguing ambient noise levels have been overstated in the impact statement, which could allow higher levels of noise from turbines without violating state Department of Environmental Conservation limits.

In response, Acciona’s consultant, David M. Hessler of Hessler Associates Inc., Haymarket, Va., proposed a complaint resolution procedure that involves both the developer and a town designee.

Wednesday night, all of the Planning Board’s members were present except for Karen Bourcy, who is abstaining from votes concerning St. Lawrence Wind Farm because she has relatives who signed leases with Acciona, Planning Board Chairman Richard J. Edsall said.

Tuesday night, a resolution presented by Supervisor C. Urban Hirschey to halt all wind power development in the town failed to gather enough votes to pass. The supervisor said the resolution would “give the community the breathing space it needs,” during the state Attorney General’s investigation into wind power development.

Following Wednesday’s meeting, Mr. Edsall referred all questions about the environmental impact statement to Mr. Mathes.

The attorney said copies of the statement will be sent to state and federal agencies. After 10 days, the board can complete its findings and end the environmental review. Involved agencies, but not the public, also will weigh in with findings.

Following the meeting, Cindy L. Grant, a member of Environmentally Concerned Citizens Organization, said the environmental impact statement’s validity is marred by ethics complaints being investigated by the attorney general.

“This is a place where people live their whole lives and want to retire here,” she said. “How can a board that is as compromised as this one make any decisions?”

Mrs. Grant said the statement fails to thoroughly study the impact the project will have on migratory patterns.

“I’ve seen what has happened on Wolfe Island,” she said. “We don’t want that to happen over here.”

Art D. Pundt, Cape Vincent, echoed her concerns.

“The study doesn’t matter if it was put together while there were conflicts of interest on the board,” he said. The whole SEQR (state environmental quality review) process is in question.”

Copies of the statement will be available at the libraries and town clerk’s offices in both Cape Vincent and Lyme. It will be available on Acciona’s website as well.