Major conflicts of interest plague the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s review of the proposed Galloo Island wind project, and the department should be banned from participating further in Article 10 review, a former DEC employee has told the state.
Jefferson County Planning Board member Clifford P. Schneider claimed the state Department of Environmental Conservation should not participate in any wind-related issues because of its past collaborations with other wind development companies.
And he pointed out DEC has policies that should preclude wind development on the island.
Mr. Schneider, a biologist and former Lake Ontario unit leader for the department, said the DEC demonstrated support for wind development during developer Upstate NY Power’s State Environmental Quality Review process for its Hounsfield Wind Farm proposal in 2009, which was also planned to be on Galloo Island.
“You saw the department go out of their way to support wind,” he said.
During the company’s review process, Mr. Schneider said former Commissioner Alexander B. Grannis pursued lead agency status for the process because the 28 acres of DEC-owned land on Galloo Island that would be affected by the project were reserved for migratory birds.
But the department never returned to that point, withholding it in its subsequent review of the project.
“That was rather unusual,” Mr. Schneider said, adding that the town of Hounsfield should have been the lead agency in the process.
When the DEC originally obtained its 28 acres of land from the U.S. Coast Guard, property it still owns today, Mr. Schneider said the department’s intent, which was laid out in their deed, was to protect it as a wildlife preserve. The deed also stated that the ownership of the property would be returned to the federal government if the DEC were to use it for any other reason than wildlife preservation.
“That’s still in place,” Mr. Schneider said.
During the Upstate NY Energy’s review process, the company planned a point of road access for supply trucks placed in the parcel owned by the DEC, which could be found in the company’s project layout and Hounsfield’s environmental impact statement.
While allowing wind development on Galloo Island would conflict with the terms of the deed, Mr. Schneider said the department made no comments on it during the review.
Former DEC Assistant Commissioner J. Jared Snyder, who still works with the DEC, and Associate Counsel David S. Sampson showed their support for wind development through testimonies to the Public Service Commission asking that it permit the merger between Iberdrola S.A. and East Energy Corp.
In their statements, both representatives said the PSC should allow Iberdrola S.A. to obtain East Energy Corp. because it will encourage further wind power development and help combat climate change.
“They shouldn’t be lobbyists for the (wind) industry,” Mr. Schneider said. “(They are) too much involved with promoting wind energy.”
Mr. Snyder’s statement about the merger was then used by Upstate Energy’s attorney’s at Young Sommer LLC with a supplement they composed for a license issued by the DEC.
Mr. Schneider said that in 2010, the DEC issued a 30-year kill permit that allowed Upstate NY Power to kill or harass birds or destroy nests, even for bald eagles. Young/Sommer LLC then composed supplemental material, including Mr. Snyder’s statement, that the DEC included in the supplement to their license, Mr. Schneider said.
“(The DEC) should protect the resources,” Mr. Schneider said.
DEC as collaborator
A similar collaboration repeated itself when Hudson North Country Wind LLC worked through the Article 10 process for its Galloo Island Wind project before it was sold to Apex Clean Energy.
Mr. Schneider said DEC was identified as a host land owner and stakeholder in the company’s public involvement plan, saying that the company spoke with DEC before submitting the plan.
Even with their collaboration with wind developers, DEC put two policies in place years prior that would prevent development on Galloo Island: the 2002 Lake Ontario Islands Wildlife Management Area Management Plan and the 2014 state Open Space Plan, which began in 1990.
The Open Space Plan was devised to allow the DEC and the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation to make informed decisions during the acquisition of property, which included expressing climate change, but not at the expense of conservation.
Mr. Schneider said that the management plan prohibits activity that would disturb the waterbird populations of Little Galloo Island, which is a mile away from Galloo Island, and Gull Island.
“The real impact (would be) on Little Galloo Island,” Mr. Schneider said.
State Department of Public Service Spokesman James Denn said Mr. Schneider’s statement will be reviewed by department staff.
“This review will include examining potential environmental and health impacts resulting from the construction and operation of the proposed facility and measures proposed to minimize environmental impacts,” he said.
Cat C. Mosley, public affairs manager for Apex Clean Energy, said that company representatives were not able to respond at this time.
“Mr. Schneider’s letter is lengthy and will require more time to review; however, on our initial read, it appears to be a commentary on other entities,” she said. “Therefore, we do not think it is appropriate for us to respond at this time.”
Apex Clean Energy Representatives were not available for comment.
When he was the Lake Ontario Unit Leader, Mr. Schneider said that he would conduct studies on Galloo Island, particularly on bird populations. He also said that his previous work led him to make his file his comments.
“It was the area of my responsibility,” he said.