Prattsburgh, NY – With a legal showdown over two wind farm lawsuits set for Monday, the ability of the involved towns to pay their lawyers has come into question.
Supreme Court Justice John Ark recently allowed the town of Italy ’s law firm, Harter Secrest and Emery to step down because the town reportedly owes them more than $175,000. Ark ’s decision came despite assurances by Italy officials the town could pay the legal fees over time.
Italy and its neighbor, Prattsburgh, have been defending separate, but related, lawsuits filed by wind developer Ecogen for nearly a year.
Prattsburgh will pay its current wind farm-related legal bills by the end of the year and expects to continue its battle as long as needed, town Supervisor Al Wordingham said.
The Prattsburgh town board agreed Monday to pay attorneys from Bond Schoeneck and King $55,000 this year, in return for a reduction of the current legal costs pegged around $70,000, according to Wordingham.
The higher cost would have extended payments into 2011, he said.
Ark is expected to meet Monday with representatives from Italy , Prattsburgh and Ecogen to discuss their answers to a series of questions he posed recently. A decision is expected some time after the meeting.
Italy and Prattsburgh have been defending lawsuits brought by Ecogen, since November 2009 and January 2010, respectively.
Ecogen claims it should be allowed to proceed immediately with plans to set up 16 turbines in Prattsburgh, with a substation and 17 turbines planned for Italy .
While Ecogen alleges the town of Italy has no legal right to deny them building permits last fall, the situation in Prattsburgh is more complicated.
After two pro-wind Prattsburgh board members were defeated in their bid for re-election in November, Ecogen threatened it would sue the town if issues were not resolved before the new board was seated.
The lame-duck Prattsburgh board hurriedly approved a 3-2 agreement with Ecogen in December, giving the developer the ability to determine hauling routes and road use agreements without town approval.
When the new town board rescinded the agreement in January, Ecogen went to court.
Wordingham said he believes Ecogen’s main strategy always has been to outspend the towns, but added Prattsburgh’s budget will absorb the legal costs and could pay for an appeal, if needed.
“But I don’t know why we’re talking about an appeal,” Wordingham said. “I’m not planning on losing.”
Ark apparently believes any ruling will simply touch off an appeal by the losing side.
According to The Chronicle-Express , in Penn Yan, Ark told Italy officials “The likelihood is that this litigation is going to go on for a long time… We’re in uncharted territory.”
Wordingham said the majority of the town board is committed to fighting the developer since a larger issue is at stake.
“What would be irresponsible is giving in,” he said. “This is about home rule. The agreement in December basically gave the keys to the town to Ecogen. They could do whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted for the next 20 years. This would set precedent throughout the state.”
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