YATES – Picking an Orleans County representative for the ad-hoc Lighthouse Wind siting board shouldn’t have been difficult.
Yet it remains unsettled, the decision now sitting with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, after Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie didn’t make a selection during a 30-day window to weigh in.
“He failed to fulfill his responsibility,” State Sen. Rob Ortt said, by not selecting from a list of candidates furnished by the town of Yates in December.
As a community within the proposed area where Apex Clean Energy intends to erect a series of linked wind turbines, the town Yates could nominate four candidates for the siting board’s two local-representative spots selected by the leaders of the State Senate and State Assembly. In a Dec. 1 letter, then-Supervisor John Belson submitted Cynthia Hellert, Glenn Maid, Russ Martino and Jeff Oakes – local residents with good reputations and knowledge of both the wind project and local opinions of it.
The town of Somerset, Orleans County and Niagara County had the same power. There could have potentially been 16 names to pick from, but the municipalities kept it simple. Niagara backed Somerset’s quartet and Orleans and Yates agreed on Hellert, Maid, Martino and Oakes.
From there, a plan backed by Ortt and Assemblyman Steve Hawley intended limit the choices even further.
Ortt and Hawley would recommended only the Somerset nominees to Senate President John Flanagan and only the Yates nominees to Heastie.
“We were making sure there would be a person from each (town),” Ortt said. “I took Niagara, Steve took Orleans, we’d send letters and conversations … I told (Senate President) Flanagan, pick one of these four.”
Flanagan did, appointing Barker School Board President Randall Atwater, a Somerset nominee. Hawley said he tried to make the same point to Heastie, making several calls to his office and his staff. As the 30-day window for a legislative appointment rolled on, he felt it had been received.
Neither the towns nor Ortt and Hawley offered a preference for any one nominee.
“The Speaker had asked if I had anyone specific in mind.” Hawley said. “I told him it was his choice, but I could furnish information.”
On the final day that Heastie could make a pick, Hawley spoke with Heastie’s chief of staff. The message had changed. Heastie, citing an “unfamiliarity with the area, the proposal or any of the people” according to Hawley, was deferring his appointment to the Governor.
“It was a complete shock,” Hawley said, “because both Rob and I had made our thoughts known.”
The decision is now within a 45-day window for Cuomo to make a pick. Ortt said there would be nothing stopping him from picking someone from Somerset.
“It would leave (Yates) completely out of the process,” Ortt said.
According to the Article X regulations used for review and approval of significant energy-production projects, the final siting board has seven members and forms only when a final application is made. Lighthouse Wind will not be at that point for months, if not years, as environmental studies are performed and land leases are secured.
Five of the members would be heavy-hitters in state government – the chairs of the Public Service Commission, the Energy Research and Development Authority; and the commissioners of Empire State Development, the Department of Health and the Department of Environmental Conservation.
Atwater makes six.
Hawley said he and Ortt have hand delivered letters to the governor’s office. They have four names on them.
Hellert. Maid. Martino. Oakes.
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