Tempers flare at meeting in Cape; Opponent of wind claims board has acted illegally
Credit: By Nancy Madsen, Times Staff Writer, Watertown Daily Times, www.watertowndailytimes.com 11 November 2010 ~~
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CAPE VINCENT – A Planning Board meeting devolved into physical confrontation between an opponent of industrial wind power projects in the town and Chairman Richard J. Edsall.
At the beginning of the meeting Wednesday night, Mr. Edsall asked for approval of the board’s minutes from a previous meeting.
Hester M. Chase, a community wind project supporter but opponent of the two industrial-scale projects, stood and said the board was not acting legally. The board’s bylaws say public comments “shall be received prior to the conduct of the regular business agenda.”
“We have the right to make comment,” she said. “We’re going to start getting our rights straight.”
The board members turned toward each other and spoke, apparently approving the minutes from Oct. 13. It is unclear whether they also approved minutes from an Oct. 27 meeting with Acciona Wind Energy USA, developer of St. Lawrence Wind Farm. During the Oct. 27 meeting, the board accepted a list of what remained to be done for a complete site plan from the developer.
That meeting was stopped for an hour by wind power opponents protesting action by the board, which has three members who have conflicts of interest with Acciona or BP Alternative Energy, the other wind developer in the town.
Ms. Chase had a different version of the minutes that included the topic of the protest and said the board had proceeded with the meeting while the audience was unaware of its actions.
“They’re so fraudulent that I just felt they should be corrected,” she said after Wednesday’s meeting. “The bylaws permit the public to speak before regular business is conducted and I wanted to correct those minutes.”
Ms. Chase said frustration at having unanswered questions on setbacks on wind farms and what the board will allow the developers to do led to her actions. The Planning Board has decided on rules to govern the approval process that include allowing two public hearings with comments limited to people who live within one-half mile of the project, she said.
“I was just stunned at how cavalierly or arbitrarily they were making things up,” she said. “I had held onto the hope that they were truly going to do right by their community. I see that they seem to be fulfilling loyalty roles to BP and Acciona, I guess.”
On Wednesday night, Mr. Edsall opened a public hearing on a subdivision without addressing Ms. Chase’s concerns.
“Mr. Edsall, you are out of order,” Ms. Chase said.
The public hearing, he said, was for comments on the subdivision only.
“These people have the right to due process,” Mr. Edsall said.
“How can you make decision on anything if the board is corrupt?” asked Michael R. Bell, Cape Vincent.
Mr. Edsall responded, “These people have followed the rules.”
The board held public hearings and voted on two subdivisions. The three members, Mr. Edsall, Andrew R. Binsley and George A. Mingle, did not have maps available to act on a third subdivision.
Mr. Edsall then told wind opponents that if they wanted to talk about wind power development, the earliest the board would hold a meeting on it would be February.
He then asked to adjourn the meeting.
“You cannot do that,” Ms. Chase spoke up. “You are despicable. You approved the minutes, which are totally, totally false.”
She moved toward the dais and began passing papers to the board members.
Mr. Edsall said, “When we have a wind meeting, you can talk about wind.”
Mr. Bell said, “It’s about procedure – this is about procedure.”
Ms. Chase said, “You just lied to the whole community.”
As Mr. Edsall moved off the dais, she stood between the desk and a table. She appeared to bump into him. Mr. Edsall threatened to call the police if she touched him again.
She said he bumped into her.
“Will you get out of my way?” he asked.
She refused, but eventually let him pass. As the board members left, some members of the public berated them for passing the minutes. About a third of the audience consisted of wind power supporters. Some of them told the vocal opponents to back down.
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