LITCHFIELD – As town officials move toward possibly instituting a law banning large-scale wind projects, the town codes officer has signed an easement on his personal property with the potential wind developer.
Town Codes Officer Scott Davies at one time stood to earn as much as $20,000 for leasing his land for a wind project proposed there, but he said in 2010 his land no longer was being considered for a turbine.
Davies, however, is one of several Litchfield residents to recently sign easements with the developer, according to Herkimer County Clerk’s Office records.
The land owned by Davies would not be used for a turbine, and the easement is for a right of way, Davies and the developer said.
Davies said it is his understanding that the town would have engineers in place to handle zoning and codes issues for any wind project that might be established, so the easement wouldn’t be a conflict for him.
“I know how to separate my codes position from being a lifelong resident, landowner, taxpayer and voter,” Davies said.
Albany-based NorthWind and Power has been looking to build a 20-megawatt wind farm with eight to 12 turbines on Dry Hill in Litchfield.
The town is considering a local law that would ban large-scale wind projects, and a public hearing is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 18, at 804 Cedarville Road in Ilion.
NorthWind and Power, meanwhile, has merged into Seattle-based Ridgeline Energy and is in the process of changing its name to Ridgeline Energy, said Patrick Doyle, vice president of development for Ridgeline.
Ridgeline is part of Veolia Environnement, which is headquartered in France. The company also has establishing Dry Lots Wind LLC to run the potential Litchfield project. The easements signed by town residents are with Dry Lots Wind LLC.
There is potential for a wind project larger than 25 megawatts to be installed through state – instead of local – approval because of Article X of the Power NY Act of 2011.
Susan Lerner, executive director of the watchdog group Common Cause New York, said Davies signing the easement with the developer certainly raises “interesting questions.”
“On its face, there’s an appearance of some sort of conflict of interest that should be explored further,” Lerner said.
Davies, who noted that he makes about $90 per week from his codes officer position and pays about $400 per week in taxes, said too many variables remain with the project to know how much money he would make from the easement.
Davies, whose wife, Christine Davies, also signed the easement, said he has several other right-of-way agreements in place on his property with telephone, gas and electric companies.
Doyle said the easements with Davies and others potentially could be used for something such as transmission lines crossing the property.
“We are not planning to put turbines on his property,” Doyle said.
Doyle had no comment on whether the easement created a conflict of interest for Davies.
“It’s up to the town how it conducts its business,” Doyle said.
Litchfield Deputy Supervisor Kate Entwistle said the role of the codes officer primarily is to enforce town building codes.
If the town wind law is passed and/or a project is built, town officials still would have to decide who oversees the zoning issues, and that likely wouldn’t include Davies, Entwistle said.
“I don’t see any conflict,” Entwistle said. “I encourage Mr. Davies to pursue all opportunities that are presented to him.”
Litchfield Town Board member James Entwistle said the board was notified of the easement by the town attorney, who was notified by the wind developer.
If Davies is ever put in a position where his codes officer role requires him to act related to the wind project, then the issue would have to be further looked at, James Entwistle said.
“He’s done a fine job,” James Entwistle said. “As long as he continues to do his job, I don’t see a problem.”
Meanwhile, there also is some concern among town officials and residents about a recent letter sent to the town by the developer’s attorney explaining the developer’s position opposing the proposed wind law.
The Aug. 9 letter states that the developer believes the wind law would be illegal, and it also mentions the possibility of Article X coming into play with larger projects.
Some residents view the letter as a threat – basically saying do what we want or we’ll sue or use Article X.
James Entwistle said he worries that the letter is the first step of a possible lawsuit if the wind law passes.
“I think they’re setting the tone for a lawsuit down the road, but I could be wrong on that,” he said. “Time will tell.”
Kate Entwistle had no comment on the letter other than to say it was forwarded to attorneys.
Doyle said the letter was just submitted to the town as a way to express the company’s opinion on the draft law as part of the public comment period for the law.
“We’re participating in the process,” Doyle said.