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Foes cite wind power firm’s failure to agree to state-mandated code of conduct for Somerset project

SOMERSET – Opponents of Apex Clean Energy’s wind power project in Somerset and Yates have fastened on the company’s failure to agree to a state-mandated code of conduct as another reason to object to the plan.

Apex, of Charlottesville, Va., is proposing to erect as many as 70 wind turbines in the two towns on the Lake Ontario shore, under the name of Lighthouse Wind. Surveys of property owners in both towns have shown that about two-thirds oppose the project, but there have been enough exceptions for Apex to put more than 5,000 acres under lease.

That’s where the code of conduct comes in. Its stated purpose is to require the company to disclose whether any local public officials or their family members have signed leases of land for turbines.

Somerset Supervisor Daniel M. Engert said Friday that he is known since last year that three town officials have had to recuse themselves from any role in the wind power process because they have signed leases.

When the Town Board passed a law Feb. 24 that sought to confine the turbines to areas away from the lakeshore, Councilman Gary R. Alt abstained on all the votes. Alt said the reason was that his mother has signed a lease with Apex, which is offering to pay landowners $15,000 a year for every turbine on their property.

Engert said Christopher Czelusta, a member of the town Planning Board, and Stephen Lee, the town code-enforcement officer, also have signed leases with Apex.

Engert said another code-enforcement officer, Mark D. Remington, will be in charge of checking out the condition of the meteorological tower Apex has built to gather data on wind and weather conditions in Somerset. The company wants to build another one, but a Planning Board public hearing Thursday was left open until a wide range of questions posed during the session can be answered.

Apex said that it has been corresponding with the state Attorney General’s Office about the exact terms of the code of conduct, which was revised this year.

Development manager Taylor Quarles said, “Lighthouse Wind and the attorney general are currently discussing corrections and clarifications to the new code, and following these revisions, we anticipate executing the new code.”

The company’s website says the code was put in place when local governments, not the state, decided on wind projects. Now, Article 10 of the state Public Service Law gives a state siting board, not localities, control over whether and where a project is built, so the code should be revised, Apex said.

“I think these assertions are completely false,” Engert countered. “Reasonable local laws are not nullified under Article 10.” He also objected to the town having been left out of the talks over the code’s provisions.

Meanwhile, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo appointed Russell Martino, a former Yates supervisor, as a local member of the siting board. Cuomo acted at the request of State Sen. Robert G. Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, and Assemblyman Stephen M. Hawley, R-Batavia, after Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie, D-Bronx, failed to appoint a local member, as required.

Senate Majority Leader John J. Flanagan Jr., R-Huntington, previously appointed a Somerset resident, Randall B. Atwater, whose wife, Pamela R. Atwater, is president of Save Ontario Shores, a citizen group opposing the project. Five of the seven board members are officials of state agencies.