At yet another crowded Livingston County Board meeting Thursday night, the topic of the proposed Pleasant Ridge Wind Farm once again took center stage as dozens of wind energy opponents filled the seats of the room, many voicing their concerns to the board.
Two of the biggest issues on the docket for the board involved the approval of both an engineering firm and an attorney. Both came under fire from some board members, as well as members of the public as the night wore on.
However, according to Board Chairman Marty Fannin, the job of both the firm, Patrick Engineering, and the attorney, James R. Griffin, are only there to ensure all procedures and ordinances are being adhered to.
“He’s here for procedural questions to make sure everything stays where it’s supposed to stay,” he said. “He’s not going to be giving us advice on pro or against – he’s just there for legal issues.”
Several residents appeared outraged that Griffin was selected, despite his previous work with the county, due to the fact that he is a member of the American Wind Energy Association. Their frustrations were exacerbated by the fact that Griffin was recommended to the board by local attorney Tom Blakeman, who regularly works with the county, without undergoing a search effort for possible alternative options.
“He’s representing the state’s attorney’s office. The reason we went to this firm is because we were looking for somebody with expertise in this area,” said Fannin after the meeting. “Tom Blakeman, who normally handles things through the state’s attorney’s office, freely admits he doesn’t have the expertise in this area. So, as we’ve done before, we’ve gone to an outside attorney.”
Fannin also was quick to clarify that a search effort for an attorney had occurred at the initial onset of the wind farm projects in the area, but he also admitted no search took place recently before Griffin was selected.
“What was missed in the discussion earlier is that when we initially did the wind farm, they did interview law firms. The decision was made to go with this one. He did a fine job so we retained him,” said Fannin. “Initially, yes, there were interviews for attorneys. Were there this time? No. We’ve had a good background (with him). Why go anywhere else?”
The aforementioned firm’s role, according to the Livingston County State’s Attorney’s Office, would be to compile a report that would include noise tests and other measurements, and then submit the report to the Zoning Board of Appeals. If issues are found with the report, the board can then seek additional assistance from other firms at a later date.
At several points during the meeting, it was reiterated that the firm would not attempt to sway the board toward a decision, in the same way that Griffin would be expected to remain neutral, as well.
The vote to retain Griffin passed by a 17-to-5 vote, while the vote to approve the agreement with Patrick Engineering passed by a 19-to-3 mark.
After a lengthy public comment session and several heated exchanges and tense moments between members of the public and board members, Fannin voiced his concerns over what appeared, at times, to be a misunderstanding between the members of the public and their elected officials.
“What the people don’t understand is we have procedures to follow. Just because we have procedures does not mean we’re an advocate for or against what is happening,” he said. “There’s been plenty of accusations flying that we’re trying to push things through or we’re doing this in favor of the wind farms. No, we’re looking at our procedures and following them. It’s going to lead us where it will lead us.”
In other action Thursday night, funds for a bridge project in the Sunbury Road District were approved, with a projected cost to the county of approximately $15,000.
In a personnel-related matter, public defender William Bertram received a one-year contract extension with the same terms and conditions of his current agreement.
Thomson Reuters, a media and financial data company, was hired to help the county digitalize old books of tax records that have been damaged over the years. The company is expected to bring in another partner, U.S. Imaging, to complete the project, which is estimated to cost $29,000.
The Livingston County Community Healthcare program was also approved, allowing the health department to continue to serve those who have no other means of receiving in-home healthcare services. The cost to the county is expected to be at $335,000 with revenues of $13,000 being used to offset a minor portion of the said costs.
In other action stemming from the Public Property Committee, the Livingston County Cash Farm Lease was brought up after the current tenant declined to renew his lease on existing terms, which were approximately $376 per acre. Don Siegel signed a two-year lease, which was approved by the board, at $301.50 per acre.
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