PARISHVILLE – Avangrid, the company behind the proposed North Ridge Wind Energy Project, has filed another legal motion against Gary P. Snell, one of the two ad hoc members of the Siting Board for the project.
Avangrid initially filed a motion on Sept. 5 to dismiss Mr. Snell’s appointment to the Siting Board, a body to review one streamlined set of permits, rather than a mix of local and state permits for new projects. The Siting Board has five permanent members, mostly state commissioners, and two ad hoc members from the community where the proposed electrical generation facility will be located.
Mr. Snell is the chairman of Concerned Citizens for Rural Preservation, an organization that opposes the construction of industrial wind turbines in Parishville and Hopkinton, where the North Ridge project is located. Because of this, Avangrid held that he had a conflict of interest, which Mr. Snell has repeatedly denied.
After Avangrid’s motion, Rodney Votra, town supervisor, and Ruth A. Doyle, county administrator – both of whom initially nominated Mr. Snell to the siting board – wrote letters in support of his remaining on the siting board. On Sept. 27, Susan M. Wood, town supervisor for Hopkinton, also wrote a letter in support of Mr. Snell.
Both Ms. Doyle and Ms. Wood quoted the necessary qualification for an ad-hoc member, which include not holding “any official relation to, or any securities of 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.” None of these apply to Mr. Snell’s position as chairman.
Following the initial motion from Avangrid, Kathleen H. Burgess, the secretary to the Siting Board, asked Mr. Snell to consider whether he should recuse himself or not, writing in a letter that “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.”
Mr. Snell declined to recuse himself in a letter dated Sept. 18, writing in letter to Ms. Burgess, “It is my personal belief that I am well-suited and qualified to represent the communities of Parishville and Hopkinton on the Siting Board. 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.”
On Sept. 26, a lawyer from Young/Sommer, LLC, the firm representing Avangrid, filed a motion asking the Department of Public Service, which oversees the siting board process, to review Mr. Snell’s decision not to recuse himself.
The motion sited the State Administrative Procedure Act, section 303, which says “Upon the filing in good faith by a party of a timely and sufficient affidavit of personal bias or disqualification of a presiding officer, the agency shall determine the matter as part of the record in the case.”
The motion goes on to state that members of the siting board are considered presiding officers, and citing other cases in which members of siting boards have been dismissed because of bias. But it is unclear in the motion how Mr. Snell would be removed, or who would make that decision.
Avangrid’s motion is addressed to Ms. Burgess, who already wrote the siting board had not authority to remove Mr. Snell, and Daniel O’Connel, associate examiner NYS Department of Environmental Conservation.
Paul Copleman, communications manager for Avangrid, wrote in an email to the Times that “At this point, because Mr. Snell has refused, the State Administrative Procedures Act requires that the Secretary or the Hearing Examiners make a determination with respect to the conflict.”
In response to requests for clarification on who would be reviewing and responding to Avangrid’s latest motion, James Denn, public information officer for the Department of Public Service, wrote in an email, “We are evaluating the company’s letter and will respond in due course.”
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