Prattsburgh town board members sent a strong message to wind developer Ecogen Monday night.
Board members told their attorney Ed Hourihan there is no settlement of their long-standing legal battle with Ecogen.
Instead, the board said they would meet in open session with the developer and negotiate the end result of their dispute.
What that negotiation entails depends on board members. For some, like Town Supervisor Lenny McConnell, Ecogen will have to pay the town the financial incentives it withdrew from the table more than two years ago.
For others, such as town Councilman Chuck Shick, the board’s liaison with Ecogen, negotiations also will include new setbacks – something the developer has steadfastly refused to consider.
And looming in the background is a new state regulation, Article X, which calls for new wind farm projects to be reviewed by a panel of state and local officials under Department of Environmental Conservation guidelines.
If Ecogen settles with the town board, the 10-year-old project would be able to go forward unhindered by the state review. If it fails, Ecogen could apply under Article X – and go back to the drawing board with its plans.
Shick said the possibility Ecogen could be forced to start over again puts the town in the drivers seat.
That – and a recently signed order from state Supreme Court Justice John Ark drafted by Ecogen.
Critics of the order say it simply turns the clock back to December 2009, when a former board approved a resolution essentially giving the developer the ability to do what it wanted. The resolution provided no incentives to the town and set out a road use agreement with changes made by Ecogen.
Ark’s order also gives Ecogen 168 days to establish vested rights to the project, which includes “substantial construction” according to Hourihan.
The question remains – when did the deadline to establish vested rights begin, Shick said.
Shick maintains the deadline started last year when Ark made his decision and the town agreed.
“But if it starts now or a year and 168 days, I don’t think they can do it,” he told the board.
Board members said Ecogen does not have the financial backing, the leases, or the required permits to begin work, as ordered by Ark.
In a proposed road use agreement, drawn up by Ecogen – and now disputed by Ecogen.
In addition, Ecogen now plans to add six more turbines to the project, which would be reviewed by the Steuben County Industrial Development Agency, according to SCIDA Executive Director Jamie Johnson.
However, Johnson said, SCIDA can not revoke the existing environment study, or payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement which provides significantly less money for Prattsburgh than its neighbor Italy in Yates County.
Italy – also the site of proposed Ecogen turbines and substation – has been locked in a legal dispute with Ecogen for years.
The difference in payments to the towns is a key issue for McConnell.
“(Ecogen) said the (Italy) payout is more due to the distance to the substation,” McConnell said. “That’s garbage.”
McConnell also has said he is concerned about the cost of a second lawsuit with Ecogen. The current town budget includes $50,000 for legal fees, although the amount can be returned to the general fund if it’s not used.
Shick said later he sees no reason for the town to appeal Ark’s order.