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Town sued over value of wind site

COLEBROOK – Spirited public opposition to the construction of two wind turbines on Flagg Hill delayed their implementation by eight years, but the inauguration of the wind farm in 2015 did not end litigation.

Wind Colebrook South, a subsidiary of BNE Energy of West Hartford, is suing the Town of Colebrook to seek redress from Assessor Michele Sloane’s assessment of the property. BNE and the town differ by some $4 million on the property’s evaluation.

At issue is whether the property is taxed as real or personal property, according to Sloane. The town has designated the property as real estate while BNE wants it taxed as personal property.

“Personal property has a much higher depreciation schedule,” Sloane said. “My argument is that the towers are affixed to the ground.

“But the bigger issue is we hired an expert energy appraiser to determine their value and there was a $4 million difference from the figure BNE gave us,” she added. “I went with our figure and they appealed to the Board of Assessment Appeals, which upheld the town.”

BNE declared a value of $9,496,005 for the turbines, while the town’s expert assessed them at $13,971,150 for real estate and personal property.

“They say it all should be personal,” Sloane said of BNE, “but they have provided us with no help to determine the value.”

In July, Wind Colebrook South filed suit in Litchfield Superior Court seeking relief from a “wrongful assessment.” It asserted the assessor “improperly valued and assessed the property” by overvaluing it; disregarding information about the cost and nature of the wind turbines reported in the firm’s 2015 declaration of personal property; improperly classified the wind turbines as real property; and subjected BNE to double assessment and double taxation.

Wind Colebrook South further asks a refund of the its overpayment of taxes in an amount greater than $15,000, exclusive of interest and costs; interest on the overpayment, costs and other relief “as in justice and equity appertains.”

It also has asked that the venue be changed from Litchfield to the Tax and Administrative Appeals Court in New Britain, arguing that the tax court has a demonstrated expertise in administering and adjudicating property tax appeals; and that the classification and valuation issues in the appeal would benefit from the tax court’s expertise.

The town has “strongly objected” to a change of venue, arguing that there is substantial public interest in the case and that travel to New Britain would be an “imposition on the valuable time of town officials.”

Attorney Patrick Powers, of Howd, Lavieri & Finch in Winsted, argued for the town that a site visit might be needed to help the court understand “the permanency of the erection of the wind turbines, the ease or difficulty with which they can be moved, and similar factors.”

He said a physical inspection of the site to view the “imposing physical presence” of the turbines likely would be helpful to the court, and that such an inspection would be easier for a judge sitting in Litchfield than in New Britain.

The change of venue request will be decided in Litchfield on Sept. 12.

BNE Energy was founded in 2006 for the purpose of developing wind generation in New England. A request for comment by company officials went unanswered Wednesday. BNE Energy is proposing to erect six wind turbines in Goshen similar to the two in Colebrook.