The terms of a lawsuit calling for the annulment of the town of Guilford’s renewable energy law and the removal of the town supervisor are without merit, according to the attorney representing the town board in the suit.
In a Tuesday statement to The Daily Star, Nicholas S. Cortese, from the Binghamton office of Coughlin & Gerhart, said the town enacted the law, which governs the local development of renewable energy facilities, “after several months of study and deliberation.”
“In that time, Town Board members listened to the concerns of residents, the comments of technical consultants, and examined hundreds upon hundreds of pages of studies, guidance documents, similar local laws in other towns and relevant administrative precedent,” Cortese said. “Because of this intensive information-gathering process, the Town Board is confident that the law it developed and enacted will withstand judicial scrutiny, as it appropriately balances the need to improve energy sustainability with concerns for the preservation of public health, welfare, safety, and environmental quality.”
The lawsuit was filed Jan. 24 in New York State Supreme Court by Unadilla residents Donald and Barbara Kovalchik, Ed Kershen of Mount Upton, and Paulette Gural and Jessica Gombach of Guilford, according to court documents.
The petition calls for the annulment of Local Law No. 3, passed by the town board Sept. 25, as “arbitrary and capricious, affected by an error of law, made in violation of lawful procedure, and unsupported by evidence in the record.”
The petitioners argue that the town board engaged in a conflict of interest by allowing the project developer to dictate the terms of the law.
In drafting and approving the law, “the Town Board appears to have based their decision on what Calpine wanted and not what Town residents or scientific studies recommended,” the filing read.
High Bridge Wind, LLC, a subsidiary of Calpine Corp., filed a preliminary scoping statement with the state Public Service Commission in January 2019, proposing a wind turbine facility on a collective 28,000 acres of private, rural lands leased to the company that would generate up to 100.8 megawatts of energy.
The petition further contended that the Guilford town supervisor, George Seneck, had “an indirect financial interest” in the project because his sister-in-law signed a lease with High Bridge Wind.
“This was an issue that was brought to the Supervisor’s attention throughout the process to adopt the Local Law,” the filing read. “The Supervisor refused to recuse himself.”
Seneck is also a member of the Chenango County Planning Board and failed to recuse himself from the review process of the local law, according to court documents. Meeting minutes note that Seneck discussed the law or the project at planning board meetings from February to August but abstained from the Aug. 13 vote to approve the law.
“Considering the severity of the actions by the Town Supervisor and number of the Town Code of Ethics that have been violated the petitioners argue this rises to the level warranting the Supervisor be removed from office,” the filing read.
Seneck on Monday declined to comment on the lawsuit, referring inquiries to Cortese, who called the allegations “misguided and patently false.”
“Supervisor Seneck does not have a personal interest in the proposed High Bridge Wind project, financial or otherwise, and has never received a direct or indirect financial benefit of any kind from any person or entity involved in the project,” Cortese said.
The petitioners also declined to comment or reveal the name of the party representing them.
The application will be heard before the Hon. Joseph McBride at the Chenango County Supreme Court on Friday, Feb, 21 at 9 a.m.
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