PARISHVILLE – The appointment of one of two resident representatives to the New York State Board on Electric Generation Siting and the Environment has drawn a legal challenge from Avangrid Renewables, the company behind the North Ridge Wind Energy Project, which plans to build turbines in Parishville and Hopkinton.
Gary P. Snell Sr. was appointed Aug. 4 to the Siting Board by Carl E. Heastie, the speaker of the State Assembly. The Siting Board has five permanent members, mostly state commissioners, and two ad hoc members from the community where a proposed electrical generation facility will be located. Its purpose is to review one streamlined set of permits, rather than a mix of local and state permits for new projects.
After Mr. Snell’s appointment, Young/Sommer LLC, attorneys for Avangrid, filed a motion of “Ineligibility, Recusal, or Disqualification” for Mr. Snell, citing his position as chairman of Concerned Citizens for Rural Preservation, a local organization that opposes the North Ridge project.
Mr. Snell received a copy of the eight-page legal motion, which came with a 90-page affidavit of supporting evidence, on Tuesday.
“I’m a member of a citizen’s group,” said Mr. Snell. “There is absolutely no conflict of interest, whatsoever.”
Concerned Citizens for Rural Preservation applied for state funding for legal representation from the Curtin Law Firm, P.C. in order to appear before the Siting Board as an official Local Party during the time that Avangrid was applying for a certificate of environmental compatibility from the board.
Mr. Snell appears on the official list of Concerned Citizens, as do other members of his family, according to documents filed in the affidavit. Because of this, the motion claims Mr. Snell should be dismissed because of his “demonstrated bias, conflicts of interest, and the likelihood of improper ex parte communications,” that is, communication with members of the Concerned Citizens outside his role on the board.
“It would be unfair for a judge to oversee a case of a company he owns,” said Paul Copleman, communications manager for Avangrid. Likewise, he said, it would be unfair for Mr. Snell to rule on permits for the North Ridge project.
“He’s made it clear by his words and his actions that he doesn’t intend to judge this fairly,” said Mr. Copleman. For further questions, such as whether it would be fair to exclude someone from the Siting Board who claims to speak for the community, he said to refer to the legal motion.
Mr. Snell said he would be willing to resign his position as chairman of the Concerned Citizens if necessary, while reiterating that this was a volunteer position.
He also objected to the information filed in the affidavit, which, along with a number of legal documents, included screen shots of his personal Facebook page and photos of a sign saying “no wind turbines!” attached to his mailbox.
“I’m appalled that the wind company would sink to this level,” said Mr. Snell.
Rodney Votra, the town supervisor in Parishville, wrote a letter on Tuesday to the Siting Board in support of Mr. Snell, expressing his “sincere disappointment” with Avangrid’s motion.
“When tasked with selecting nominations for the ad hoc committee, I was very transparent about selecting individuals from both sides of this issue,” wrote Mr. Votra in the letter. “This appears to be nothing more than an attempt by Avangrid to silence the opposition.”
Mr. Snell said he could listen to both sides of the issue, saying “I would represent the community on the siting board.”
But Mr. Snell also said there were no conditions under which he would support an industrial wind turbine project.
“Not in a community like ours,” he said. “The geographic location is not big enough for proper setbacks.”
Mr. Snell has expressed particular concerns about turbine setbacks and noise levels, as well as payments in lieu of taxes.
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