Rather than serving its mandatory role as a regulatory agency weighing the pros and cons of proposed wind projects in the north country, the state Department of Conservation collaborated with developers in promoting their value.
This is the conclusion of Clifford P. Schneider, a Jefferson County Planning Board member and former DEC biologist. In an Aug. 15 letter to Kathleen H. Burgess and Kevin Casutto of the state Department of Public Service, Mr. Schneider said the DEC has engaged in conflicts of interest when reviewing wind projects for Galloo Island and should be prohibited from participating in future Article 10 proceedings regarding similar proposals.
“My concern is NYSDEC’s past support and collaboration with the wind industry, in particular Upstate NY Power’s Hounsfield Wind Farm proposal on Galloo Island,” Mr. Schneider’s letter read. “There were a number of statements and comments from both Upstate NY Power and NYSDEC officials during the SEQRA process (2009-2010) that suggested a close, collaborative partnership rather than an arm’s length relationship. The public expects NYSDEC to be independent from wind developers to provide responsible oversight even though the two may have some similar, shared goals.
“My major concern, and the reason I am writing, is NYSDEC’s current relationship with the newest wind developers of Galloo Island. The second iteration of developing a wind farm on Galloo Island began with an Article 10 application by Hudson North Country Wind 1 LLC on June 16, 2015 (Case No. 15-F-0327),” he wrote. “Subsequent to initiating the Article 10 process, Hudson sold its interest in the Galloo Island Wind Farm to Apex Clean Energy on Dec. 18, 2015. Unfortunately, at the outset of this second project proposal, there is once again evidence of a close, collaborative relationship. I believe there is sufficient evidence to indicate NYSDEC’s advocacy role in protecting valuable land and wildlife resources was compromised in its fervor for promoting renewable energy, particularly wind.”
Former DEC Commissioner Alexander B. Grannis pursued lead agency status for the process because of the impact the project would have on 28 acres of land on Galloo Island owned by the agency set aside as a reserve for wildlife other than migratory birds, Mr. Schneider wrote. The land was offered to the DEC by the U.S Coast Guard, and it should revert back to the federal government if its use becomes incompatible with maintaining a wildlife reserve.
The DEC made only an initial reference to the facts pertaining to these 28 acres of land, Mr. Schneider said, adding that the town of Hounsfield should have been the lead agency in the process. The DEC never again mentioned the environmental significance of this property or the adverse effect that a wind project could have on the animals making use of the land.
“In the Hounsfield DEIS (Figure 1.2-1), where NYSDEC was the lead agent in the SEQR process, Upstate NY Power’s initial project layout specified WTG-1 placement and associated cable and access road development within NYSDEC’s wildlife reserve parcel at the southern tip of the island (yellow trianglular outline). How could Upstate take such license with NYSDEC lands, and how could NYSDEC tolerate the cooperative association?” Mr. Schneider wrote. “Not only was a turbine located on NYSDEC property in the project layout but it was also noted in the Hounsfield DEIS: ‘WTG-1 is proposed to be located on the state-owned parcel located at the south west end of the island.’ Both the map and description of department collaboration suggest developing NYSDEC’s parcel on Galloo was a mutual agreement by both Upstate and NYSDEC in early meetings and negotiations. This was a mistake in judgment, not a typo or placement error on a map. Later, Upstate NY Power and NYSDEC had the better judgment to remove all references to NYSDEC’s collaboration. Nevertheless, it sent a message the regulator and regulated had a close, unusual relationship.”
In March 2010, the DEC issued a 30-year license to Upstate NY Power allowing it to kill or harass birds, including bald eagles, and destroy nests on Galloo Island, Mr. Schneider said. Alarmingly, the company’s legal representatives drafted supplemental material attached to the permit by the DEC.
“I am left wondering, why is the regulated party (i.e., Upstate NY Power) writing anything as part of their take permit? This is questionable, being equivalent to someone writing conditions to their hunting or fishing license,” Mr. Schneider wrote. “But why did NYSDEC include this supplemental material as an attachment to their license? This just adds more questions pointing to a supporting relationship.”
These are but a few of the issues Mr. Schneider raised in his letter, and they paint a disturbing picture of how DEC officials have approached wind-related projects. Their concealment of relevant information throughout the Article 10 process betrays its shameful contempt for transparency.
State authorities have been evaluating the DEC’s conduct regarding this issue and appear to be taking these statements seriously. This is good news for people concerned about the legitimacy of the process. It demonstrates that their comments about these projects matter and that they should continue speaking out when given the opportunity.
The DEC must remain objective while assessing the merit of wind projects, not placing its fingers on the scale to give one side an unfair advantage. People deserve to have confidence that government agencies will do their jobs. The DEC’s conduct here is unacceptable.
[rest of article available at source]
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