HARTFORD – The Connecticut Siting Council’s chairman, facing accusations of improper communication, resigned from his seat just one day after public hearings on the proposed Colebrook wind turbines concluded.
Daniel Caruso resigned from the council Thursday, as noted in a press release from Governor Dannel Malloy’s office. The chairman also serves as a probate judge in Fairfield, and according to a letter from Save Prospect attorney Jeffrey Tinley to the Connecticut Siting Council’s executive director Linda Roberts, Mr. Caruso inappropriately discussed BNE Energy’s proposal for wind turbines in Prospect during this line of work.
“Judge Caruso said ‘They’re all nice people. But it’s a lot of b—‘,” Mr. Tinley wrote in the letter. “He then posed a rhetorical question, with words to the effect: The fact that some little town in Massachusetts decides to push these things back 3,000 feet, why should we care about that?”
“He said we are going to do what we have to do,” continued Mr. Tinley.
Save Prospect formed in reaction to a proposal by BNE Energy to build three wind turbines in town. The project would be similar to either half of a pair of proposals in Colebrook, and BNE Energy’s proposals have run into similar opposition. The ex parte communication lasted no more than three minutes, in Mr. Tinley’s estimation, and related to the proceedings at evidentiary hearings in Prospect, namely the line of questioning toward Save Prospect’s president. Save Prospect had invited, in Mr. Caruso’s words, “those people from Massachusetts” to speak at the March 15 evidentiary hearing.
“He said that we (the Siting Council) come up against objections all the time and we always try to listen to the concerns of opponents and take whatever steps can be taken within reason to mitigate adverse impacts,” Mr. Tinley wrote.
Mr. Tinley was present in Fairfield Probate Court on March 18 for an unrelated case, involving the Garofalo estate, along with his partner at his law firm and other attorneys. Mr. Caruso called Mr. Tinley into his chambers after the hearing concluded, “saying something to the effect of ‘Are we’ or ‘how are we’ going to get this done by March 31,” the last day of evidentiary hearings on the Prospect petition.
“I again tried to deflect the issue by stating that whenever a judge tells me that he is interested in hearing something, I take it seriously,” Mr. Tinley wrote. “Judge Caruso said that wasn’t the point; he said that it was important we understand in this context how the Siting Council operates.”
Mr. Tinley also stated Mr. Caruso accused Save Prospect’s noise expert of “pooh-poohing” a question regarding mitigating the noise of turbines, adding, “He said that it wasn’t very smart for a witness who is asked a question by the Chair to ‘pooh-pooh’ it.” The proposed turbines in Prospect and Colebrook would be the first of their kind in the state and have prompted several reactions; one proposed bill would direct the Connecticut Siting Council, along with other state agencies, to adopt regulations regarding wind turbines before any could be built.
“I knew that the Siting Council had publicly taken a position against wind specific regulations and that a Siting Council representative had listened to the testimony and had testified at the legislative hearings on this subject,” Mr. Tinley wrote in the letter. “Judge Caruso said that regulations were not necessary and brought the subject back to the hearings, reiterating that the process was not going to stop and would be finished before anything is finished in the legislature.”
“He said that if the Chair of the Energy Committee (Rep. Vicki Nardello) was upset about it, that’s ‘too bad’,” continued the letter.
Ms. Nardello, who represents Prospect, sponsored a bill originally establishing a moratorium on wind turbines until statewide regulations could be drafted. The bill, HB6249, has since been amended to emphasize the regulatory aspects and was read in the Connecticut General Assembly’s House of Representatives on March 7 after a favorable report from the Energy Committee.
Mr. Caruso answered the accusations in a letter, dated March 24 and addressed to all three petitions involving BNE Energy’s proposals, sent to the rest of the council. Mr. Caruso said the letter “requires some perspective,” stating the conversation was meant to help Save Prospect and its backers during a rigidly-scheduled process. March 31 would be the final day of evidentiary hearings, and as Mr. Caruso said, he spoke with Mr. Tinley “in hopes of avoiding any misconception that I had the ability to allow more time by extending deadlines, as I will often do when able.”
Mr. Caruso apologized for his choice of words in the discussion, emphasizing his respect for Ms. Nardello and reiterating that the discussion was not on the merits of the petitions or Save Prospect’s objections. However, although Mr. Caruso stated that “there was no improper communication,” he conceded that the accusations – and “appearance of impropriety” – would likely overshadow the actual events, recusing himself from all three petitions.
“Regrettably, no explanation is ever so well received as the original story it seeks to answer,” Mr. Caruso wrote. “I believe such will be the case here.”
Re-elected to a fifth term as Fairfield’s probate judge in January, Mr. Caruso was appointed to the Connecticut Siting Council in 2006. The now-former chair came under fire in August 2010 following his actions during hearings in Cornwall on a proposed cell phone tower. A brief, prepared by Cornwall town attorney Perley Grimes, described Mr. Caruso’s “condescending, sometimes flippant, attitude” and stated the hearing did not “meet the standard of Fundamental Fairness required by Connecticut law.”
Governor Malloy announced he had not only appointed longtime Stamford Land Use Bureau Chief Robert Stein to the Connecticut Siting Council in his press release, but also named him the council’s chairman – pending legislative approval. Mr. Stein worked for Stamford from 1974 until his retirement early this year, serving as Assistant Planning and Zoning Director and Land Use Bureau Chief. Mr. Stein also held positions as planner of Puerto Montt, Chile and Niagara Falls, New York
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