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Prattsburgh residents updated on wind farm lawsuit

Prattsburgh – An informational meeting Tuesday night on the status of a lawsuit between a wind energy company and the town of Prattsburgh drew sharp lines between a divided town and a divided town board.

Ed Hourihan, the attorney defending the town in the lawsuit filed by wind farm developer Ecogen, told a crowd of 100 residents state Supreme Court Justice Ark has given the two groups time to reach an out-of-court agreement.

He said John Calloway, a representative from Ecogen’s largest shareholder, Pattern Energy, has agreed to talk to representatives from Prattsburgh and the neighboring town of Italy. Italy also is being sued by Ecogen on a related wind farm matter.

Ecogen maintains an agreement reached 3-2 by the outgoing pro-wind Prattsburgh town board in December is binding, despite the fact the new town board rescinded the agreement 4-1 the following January.

The majority of the new board believes the December agreement violates a number of laws, including the right to home rule.

Hourihan said the new board’s action prevented Ecogen from going ahead with its plans to build a 16-turbine wind farm in the town.

He said other court decisions support the new board’s action.

“It’s safe to say had the board not rescinded the settlement you could have turbines in your backyards right now,” Hourihan said.

Preventing the construction didn’t please some residents, who said they had wanted the project to go forward this year.

“You came in and stopped something (a lot of us) wanted,” one woman said.

But the cost of the lawsuit – pegged this year at $49,393 – was the chief concern of the meeting, with some angrily charging other legal costs had been hidden.

Hourihan also privately represented councilmen Chuck Shick and Steve Kula in the fall of 2009, and some residents charged those bills were hidden in the town costs.

However, Hourihan said his bill itemized every action taken on behalf of the town after Jan. 1. Any personal – or town – expenses in 2009 had not been charged to the town, he said.

Hourihan said current town Supervisor Al Wordingham told him the new board was not authorized to pay $35,000 for legal services last year.

“Now, would I like the money? Sure,” Hourihan said. “But I’m not getting it.”

When councilwoman Stacey Bottoni pointed out the town had apparently paid Kula’s and Shick’s final account, they said they would check out the $200 fee, and repay it if a mistake had occurred.

Bottoni, who supports Ecogen, also complained she had been “kept in the dark” about the bills. Hourihan said the information has always been available to here.

But Bottoni said she relied on frequent calls to Ecogen representatives for her information.

“Well, and that concerns me, Stacey,” Hourihan said, adding her contacts with Ecogen seemed to violation of client-attorney confidentiality.”

Other concerns were raised about the proposed talks with Calloway. Prattsburgh officials have suggested the developer use its original 100-site map to find other locations and reduce noise levels.

One resident asked if property owners in those other locations had been contacted to see if they wanted the 400-foot tall turbines on their land.

Kula questioned whether the town government could approach owners, but said it might be possible to form a citizens’ committee.

Bottoni angrily countered Ecogen already has spent millions on the project and doesn’t want to spend more money for new studies.

However, Shick pointed out the basic environmental studies for all the sites have been completed.

Some residents were worried because action on another ruling by Arkhas been put on hold while the parties try to work out a compromise.

Arksupported the town’s request for sworn statements from the previous town board and other officials on the events that led to the December agreement. The deadline for the statements was Nov. 24.

Hourihan said he notified Arkthe sworn statements would be delayed because of the proposed talks.

Hourihan said it would cost the town $25,000 to get the statements – and might be unnecessary if a compromise was reached.

Bottoni told the group the town was trying to prove the town illegally sided with the developer. She said there had been no illegal collusion.

“We wanted it,” she said. “We’ve wanted it for three years.”