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Snell refuses to recuse himself from North Ridge siting board, despite conflict of interest allegations

POTSDAM – Gary P. Snell, chairman of Concerned Citizens for Rural Preservation, has refused to recuse himself from his position as an ad-hoc member of the Board on Electric Generation Siting and the Environment for the North Ridge Wind Energy Project.

Avangrid, the company behind the project, filed a motion on Sept. 5 to dismiss Mr. Snell’s appointment to the Siting Board.

Because of Mr. Snell’s role as chairman of Concerned Citizens for Rural Preservation, an organization which opposes the construction of industrial wind turbines in Parishville and Hopkinton, Avangrid held that he had a conflict of interest, an allegation Mr. Snell denies.

“I can represent the residents of Parishville and Hopkinton in a fair way,” he said.

Concerned Citizens for Rural Preservation applied for state funding 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.

The siting board has five permanent members, most of them 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.

Mr. Snell said he was nominated to the board by both Rodney Votra, town supervisor for Parishville, and Ruth A. Doyle, St. Lawrence county administrator. After Avangrid filed its motion, Mr. Votra sent a letter in support of Mr. Snell that expressed his concern about Avangrid’s actions.

The legal requirements for ad hoc members include not holding another state or local office, or “any official relation to … an electric utility corporation operating in the state … or any other company, firm, partnership, corporation, association or joint-stock association that may appear before the Siting Board.”

In a letter to Mr. Snell following Avangrid’s motion, Kathleen H. Burgess, the secretary to the siting board, wrote “The Siting Board as a body has no authority to disqualify or remove an ad hoc member … the motion seeking your recusal is now pending before you individually, meaning that it is up to you to decide whether or not to recuse or disqualify yourself.”

Ms. Burgess asked Mr. Snell to consider his decision in light of Avangrid’s motion and the Public Service and Public Officers Law, which she attached to her letter.

Among the requirements listed in the Public Officers law is that no state employee or officer should “give reasonable basis for the impression that any person can improperly influence him or her or unduly enjoy his or her favor in the performance of his or her official duties, or that he or she is affected by the kinship, rank, position or influence of any party or person.”

In addition to his serving as chairman of the Concerned Citizens for Rural Preservation, several of Mr. Snell’s family members are members, according to the group’s records and the motion filed by Avangrid.

Despite this, Mr. Snell says that his chairmanship is a volunteer position and does not prevent him from representing his community.

“It is also my personal belief that I have no more conflicts of interest or bias regarding the proposed North Ridge Wind energy project than anyone else serving on the Siting Board,” he wrote in his response to Ms. Burgess, in which he declined to recuse himself.

For now, Mr. Snell will remain on the board, although he is unsure of what will come next.

“My sense is that (Avangrid) will not let this drop,” he said.

Avangrid did not respond to requests for further information about the motion.

Avangrid’s motion is the second time a party has filed for an ad hoc member of a siting board to recuse. The other was for a project from Lighthouse Wind LLC, in Barker.