CAPE VINCENT – Advocates of industrial wind development and a former town supervisor demanded Cape Vincent Supervisor Urban C. Hirschey’s resignation Thursday night, accusing him of illegally leaking “privileged and confidential” information to an anti-wind group to assist it in a lawsuit it filed against the town Planning Board.
“Nothing short of dismissal from the office would be acceptable,” said Thomas K. Rienbeck, former supervisor and a member of the Planning Board, who argued that Mr. Hirschey was working against the town’s defense of the lawsuit by acting as an agent for the Wind Power Ethics Group, which Mr. Hirschey co-founded.
Mr. Rienbeck said Mr. Hirschey and Town Clerk Michelle A. Bouchard sent a series of 51 documents – which have been dubbed the “soundgate documents” by opponents of wind development – to WPEG’s attorney although the town attorney advised them that the “those documents were indeed privileged and confidential papers.”
In response to the accusations, the Town Council agreed, 3-1, with Mr. Hirschey abstaining, to ask the Jefferson County district attorney’s office to launch an investigation into the matter and make the state attorney general aware of the alleged conflict of interest.
The motion was made by Councilman Marty T. Mason and seconded by Donald J. Mason, with Mickey W. Orvis voting in favor of the resolution.
“I went through the paperwork also from the attorneys and from so on. And in my eyes you’ve done something very bad,” Donald Mason said.
Mr. Orvis said he also would like the Jefferson County Board of Ethics to give the town an opinion on whether Mr. Hirschey should abstain from voting on wind-related issues.
“I don’t think there’s a problem at all. I don’t think Urban has the slightest ethical reservation about doing what’s right for the people of Cape Vincent,” said Councilman Brooks J. Bragdon, who voted against the motion.
Mr. Hirschey said he would respond to the allegations once charges are pressed and declined further comment.
The “soundgate documents” include e-mail exchanges between members of the Planning Board, its attorney, Todd M. Mathes, town engineers from Bernier, Carr and Associates, Watertown, and the town’s acoustic engineering firm, Cavanaugh Tocci Associates, that WPEG is using to suggest that the study on ambient sound levels in Cape Vincent previously conducted by Hessler Associates Inc. – a Virginia-based consulting firm hired by the developers of two proposed wind projects in the town – was not conducted properly and should not be used as the foundation for a zoning law on wind development.
“Mr. Hirschey had no authority to breach or to direct to breach these attorney-client privileged materials,” Mr. Rienbeck said, citing state General Municipal Law.
Under Section 805A-b of the law, municipal officers or employees are prohibited from disclosing “confidential information acquired by him in the course of his official duties or use such information to further his personal interests.”
In a letter to the Town Council. Timothy Q. Conboy, project manager for Acciona Wind Energy USA – the developer of the proposed St. Lawrence Wind Farm in Cape Vincent – said that as the entity footing the town’s legal expenses in the WPEG lawsuit, Acciona would like to see the town board take necessary steps to “ensure that the Planning Board can conduct a satisfactory defense.”
WPEG filed the state Supreme Court lawsuit in October, accusing the Planning Board of violating the state Environmental Quality Review Act and conflict-of-interest laws.
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