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Ruling: Wind farm can proceed in Prattsburgh

A judge has ruled that an energy-development company may proceed with a wind farm in Prattsburgh, Steuben County, over the objections of the town board, though the company must complete a substantial amount of work in a short period of time or the deal’s off.

For nearly a decade, Ecogen Wind LLC has been seeking approval to erect about three dozen wind turbines in Prattsburgh and neighboring Italy, Yates County.

Shortly after several candidates who opposed the project were elected to the Prattsburgh board in November 2009, but before they took office, the Erie County company filed suit against the town. Lame-duck town board members who were not hostile to the project then agreed to settle the lawsuit and allow the project to go forward.

When the new board members were seated in January 2010, they attempted to rescind the lawsuit settlement, leading to a protracted legal fight.

State Supreme Court Judge John Ark, who presided over a five-day trial in January and February, said in a ruling released Thursday that the current town board could not void the settlement with Ecogen. The company’s lawyers had argued that the 2009 legal settlement had given them “vested” rights to undertake the project that could not legally be taken away.

Ark directed the town and company to negotiate an agreement for use of town roads, an item left open when the parties began their legal warfare. Once done, Ark said, the company then must complete a “substantial” amount of work on the project to fully “vest” their rights. He gave them 24 weeks to do that.

Edward Hourihan, a Pittsford lawyer who represented the town, said Thursday morning that he had not yet discussed the decision with his clients and did not know if they would appeal it.

He asserted, though, that Ecogen “is not in a position to vest any rights. They’re far from being able to do that.” He said they lack financing, turbines, necessary permits and approval for work in the town of Italy, and could not comply with Ark’s 24-week time limit.

A Rochester lawyer who represents the company, Robert Burgdorf, said Ecogen “is pleased the court recognized its right to proceed with this important project.” Burgdorf said the company “looks forward to developing this uniquely productive wind resource.”