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State judges divide up money for fighting wind project

BARKER – A panel of three state administrative law judges allotted funding Thursday to the opponents of the Apex Clean Energy wind power project proposed for the towns of Somerset and Yates.

The company, whose project is called Lighthouse Wind, was required by law to provide $70,350, based on the size of its proposed 201-megawatt project. At a meeting in the Barker Fire Company hall, before a crowd of about 75, the judges decided to give $40,350 to the Town of Somerset, $20,500 to the Town of Yates and $9,500 to Save Ontario Shores, a citizen group.

Apex is seeking to construct as many as 70 wind turbines, each as high as 620 feet including their propeller blades, in the two towns along the shores of Lake Ontario. Both towns are officially opposed to the project, with about two-thirds of property owners declaring their opposition in surveys conducted by the town governments.

The funding allocations were well below the requests. Somerset sought the entire $70,350, while Yates asked for $26,381.25 and SOS wanted $19,430.

“Obviously the difficulty we’re dealing with is, there isn’t enough money to go around in this phase of the process,” said Judge David R. Van Ort of the Department of Public Service.

Judge Sean Mullany, also of the Department of Public Service, warned that all expenditures must be approved by the judges before reimbursement will be paid. Van Ort said only costs incurred since Nov. 23, when Apex filed its preliminary scoping statement, will be allowed.

SOS received its cut despite missing a Jan. 12 deadline to apply for the money. Its attorney, Gary A. Abraham, said the request was made in time, but in the wrong fashion, through a comment posted on the Public Service Commission website instead of an email to the PSC secretary.

“Lateness will not be tolerated in the future,” Van Ort warned.

He also urged the parties to work together “to get the best bang for your buck.”

Somerset Supervisor Daniel M. Engert said his town already has spent, or is committed to spend, $70,000 on the fight against the wind project, and has $135,000 budgeted for the purpose this year. Town Attorney Michael J. Norris said his law firm, Seaman Norris of Lockport, expects to bill for 50 hours of work on the preliminary scoping statement, at $195 an hour.

“We had to hire experts to make meaningful comment,” Engert said. Somerset also has hired, but has yet to be billed by, Buffalo’s Lippes Mathias law firm, including former State Attorney General Dennis C. Vacco.

Abraham said he has hired an ecologist and an acoustic engineer, while Somerset has hired a health expert and an expert on the impact of wind turbines on migratory birds.

Abraham said the SOS allocation “doesn’t cover our expenses. It covers half of our expenses or maybe less, but the purpose of the intervenor funding is to defray expenses, not pay them 100 percent.”

Apex has until Feb. 11 to complete responses to the hundreds of comments filed with the PSC. After that, the attorneys for the company and the opponents will work on stipulations to determine which issues don’t have to be litigated before the judges and the siting board that will make the eventual ruling on the project’s permit.