NEW BRITAIN – A potential conflict of interest on the eve of the vote on a proposed wind farm led to yet another recusal from the Connecticut Siting Council.
Colin Tait, who has filled in as the council’s chairman since Daniel Caruso’s resignation in March, filed his recusal from a pair of proposed projects in Colebrook Wednesday. Tait, the Connecticut Siting Council’s vice chairman, is a member of the Colebrook Land Conservancy, as is FairwindCT chair Joyce Hemingson. Tait’s recusal comes just one day before the Connecticut Siting Council is scheduled to issue their decision on the proposed project in Prospect.
“I believe that I have conducted myself impartially in my participation thus far,” Tait said in his letter to Connecticut Siting Council chairman Robin Stein, “but, to avoid even the appearance of impropriety, I am recusing myself effective immediately.”
According to Tait’s biography from the Connecticut Siting Council, the Norfolk resident is active in organizations not only in Norfolk, but also Colebrook. Tait serves as the President of the Norfolk Land Trust, is a former chairman of the Planning and Zoning Commissions of the towns of New Hartford and Colebrook and is also a past member of the Colebrook Inland Wetland Agency and the Norfolk Planning & Zoning Commission.
Norfolk has an interest in the Colebrook petitions. The two parcels of land are situated near the border between the two towns, and consequently, Colebrook would not only reap benefits, but also has its own concerns. The energy provided by the turbines would more than satisfy Colebrook’s demand, according to BNE Energy, and excess energy would go onto the grid, potentially supplying Winsted and Colebrook residents.
Considering FairwindCT’s involvement in all three proposals, BNE Energy filed a motion seeking Tait’s removal from the Prospect petition Wednesday. According to the motion, FairwindCT sought to have mistrials declared in all three petitions following the ex parte conversation that resulted in Caruso’s recusal and eventual resignation. The conversation involved Caruso and an attorney for Save Prospect, another group opposed to the wind turbines, and only concerned the Prospect proposal.
“Mr. Tait’s recusal letter omits the fact that Fairwind has also taken an active role in this proceeding (petition 980),” the motion states. “In its request for party status, dated January 25, 2011, Fairwind explained that ‘although FairwindCT was created to focus on Colebrook and the surrounding area, FairwindCT is concerned with the adverse effect that siting industrial wind turbine projects in proximity to residential areas will have on residents of all Connecticut towns, including Prospect’ and claimed that it would be ‘substantially and specifically affected’ by the Council’s decisions in this proceeding (petition 980).”
According to the motion, BNE Energy did not know of Tait’s position on the Colebrook Land Conservancy until his recusal on Wednesday. Hemingson is the conservancy’s secretary, and although the Colebrook Land Conservancy does not have any status in the petitions, the conservancy spoke out against the Colebrook proposals during public hearings in March.
“The fact that Mr. Tait has in the past and continues to serve as a member of the Colebrook Land Conservancy with Ms. Hemingson, Secretary of the Colebrook Land Conservancy,” the motion states, “and also the president of Fairwind, one of the largest and most active opposition groups to BNE’s petition in this proceeding, necessitates Mr. Tait’s recusal in this proceeding.”
Tait led the final evidentiary hearing on Colebrook North – the project on Rock Hall Road – on May 5, and his involvement in the hearings only aggravated BNE Energy’s objections to his involvement.
“The need for Mr. Tait’s immediate recusal is further underscored by the fact that Mr. Tait presided over proceedings in this Petition in the wake of Mr. Caruso’s recusal,” the motion reads. “For a member of the Council with a direct conflict of interest to lead evidentiary hearings concerning this petition is unconscionable.”
In addition, Tait also serves as the chairman of the Norfolk Inland Wetlands Commission, and his position was acknowledged early in the hearing process. A March 21 letter from then-chairman Caruso informed all parties involved in the petition of Tait’s role, and set an April 1 deadline for objections.
The Connecticut Siting Council will meet Thursday at 11 a.m. to decide the fate of the Prospect proposal, which has been considered a model for how the Colebrook petitions will be settled. However, BNE Energy has stated that even if Tait recuses himself from the Prospect proposal before the meeting, it will be too late.
“Fairwind and other opposition groups demanded Mr. Caruso’s recusal in this proceeding based on a 2-3 minute conversation with an attorney for an opposition group, and then moved for a mistrial in every BNE proceeding before the Council once Mr. Caruso’s recusal was secured,” the motion reads. “For Mr. Tait’s direct conflict of interest to be met with anything other than immediate recusal, especially in light of the dramatic events surrounding even a suggestion of conflict of interest by Mr. Caruso, would be entirely improper and would taint this proceeding and the Council’s decision.”
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