Consultant’s work in Litchfield raises questions about conflict; Noise expert’s employer may benefit from wind project
LITCHFIELD – In June, the Litchfield Town Board paid a Barrett Paving Materials geologist $500 to come to a meeting where he suggested the town make changes to a law that would govern wind farm development.
The geologist, Brian Milliman, spoke as a private consultant about noise limits for wind turbines and said the town should regulate noise based on decibel measurements rather than distance from homes.
The problem? Milliman works for a company that stands to benefit if a wind project comes to town.
NorthWind and Power of Albany has proposed an eight-to-12 turbine farm on Dry Hill where Barrett is located. Company representatives have said Barrett’s more than 100 acres of land wouldn’t be considered for the project, but the company could be chosen to supply materials.
Town Supervisor Wayne Casler, who also is employed by Barrett as a regional controller, was the one who suggested the town pay Milliman to weigh in on the issue. No other consultants were considered before the board informally agreed over e-mail that Milliman would get the job.
Casler did not return calls for this article, but as recently as the October board meeting, he acknowledged his employment at Barrett could be a conflict of interest. Still, he said he would continue to work on a proposed wind farm law.
“If there was a proposal in front of the town, I would recuse myself,” Casler said at the meeting. “In my opinion, the law is there for the whole town, not just Dry Hill.”
That’s true, but it’s the appearance of impropriety that’s on the minds of Litchfield residents such as Pat Christensen, who recently organized a citizens group, Litchfield United, which opposes the project.
The longer the issue is discussed, the more it seems Barrett Paving’s interests are entwined in the project, she said.
“The whole thing is making me wonder if they put him there on purpose,” Christensen said of Milliman. “Your home is where your heart is, and it’s hard to believe that care is being taken to make sure this is really being thoughtfully considered.”
What does Milliman have to say about the controversy? Nothing underhanded was going on, he said.
“What I recommended was consistent with the published government documents that are out there,” said Milliman, who does some part-time consulting in addition to his work at Barrett. “Still, what I suggested was stricter than just about every town that I looked at. If I had some ulterior motives, that would have been different.”
Fair enough, but these days it seems plenty of Litchfield residents are wary of just about anything they’re told about the project.
Christensen also has questioned Milliman’s qualifications to speak about noise regulations. In a May email to the Town Board, Casler told board members Milliman was qualified to speak about wind turbine noise because he has worked with the state Department of Environmental Conservation to develop noise level policies.
What wasn’t stated in the e-mail is that Milliman’s noise regulation background is primarily in the mining industry. Still, that doesn’t make him unqualified to talk about wind turbine noise, said state DEC spokesman Stephen Litwhiler, who confirmed that Milliman has consulted for the DEC.
“Measuring noise on mining versus wind is not that different,” Litwhiler said. “The same techniques apply.”
Town Councilman Jim Entwistle has been concerned about conflicts of interest involved in the project for months, and at times, has asked Casler to consider removing himself from all discussions about the project.
Entwistle said the board was aware that Milliman had done work for Barrett paving, though personally he was unaware that Milliman is a full-time employee of the company. Nevertheless, he said the board – which has butted heads over the proposed law for months – unanimously agreed Milliman should come to the meeting.
“He didn’t bring him in without the board’s approval,” Entwistle said of Casler. “Wayne said (Milliman) had done noise work for them. It was just one opinion, and we’ve gotten many.”
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