A lawsuit attempting to derail a 100-megawatt wind farm accuses Guilford’s town supervisor of a conflict of interest, saying the long-time municipal official should have recused himself from discussions because his sister-in-law is in line to receive payments from the project sponsor.
The 41-page document seeks to nullify a town law that set the parameters for the 25-tower installation, known as High Bridge Wind. Further, the filing calls for the removal of George Seneck, the town supervisor, for a “clear violation of public trust, public welfare and general integrity of the planning process.”
Kennth Kovalchik, an Albany-area land use planner, filed the Article 78 petition in State Supreme Court in Chenango County on behalf of Donald and Barbara Kovalchik, of Unadilla; Ed Kershen, of Mount Upton; and Paulette Gural and Jessica Gombach, of Guilford.
“Town Supervisor George Seneck has an indirect financial interest in the High Bridge Wind Project based on the fact that his sister-in-law signed a lease with High Bridge Wind,” the suit said. “The Supervisor refused to recuse himself. The value of the lease has been redacted from public record, but one could easily surmise the financial value of the lease, over the lifetime of the lease, could be worth hundred’s of thousands of dollars.”
Though leases are claimed to be proprietary, early documents filed in a separate wind farm project by the same project sponsor, Calpine, indicates lease payments for land owners hosting the turbines will be between $2,500 and $30,000 annually.
In late September, the Town of Guilford cleared the way for the wind project as trustees unanimously approved a local law regulating construction and operation of the installation.
Approval came in spite of vigorous local opposition from some town residents who objected to potential visual and other impacts. An organized group lobbied the board to reject the proposal, claiming the project will impair property values and will have long-term health impacts on residents.
Now, the recently filed lawsuit contends Guilford bypassed accepted review procedures when it failed to confer with officials in the neighboring Town of Unadilla, saying several turbines will be installed just beyond the communities’ borders but it had no input into the town land use code governing setbacks and other elements that will guide construction.
“Any effects of sound from the turbines will most likely have a greater impact on Town of Unadilla residents than Town of Guilford residents,” the suit said. “(Unadilla) Supervisor (George) Denys stated ‘we have a vested interest in knowing what the proposed noise limits and low frequency/infrasound impacts will be in the Town of Unadilla. To date, I have received no data in regards to this.’”
The High Bridge application has yet to be deemed in compliance by the state Public Service Commission, and it may be at least another year before the project gets the green light from the state Electric Generation Siting Board.
Estimated annual payments-in-lieu-of-taxes to the Town of Guilford from project sponsors could be more than $400,000, representing a substantial boost for the Chenango County community with an annual budget of $900,000.
Rather than acting as an independent review board, the suit alleges the project developer “dictate(d) to the Town of Guilford Town Board what the setbacks should be in the Local (Land Use) Law.”
The turbines, which will rise up to 675 feet from the base to blade tip, will be installed along the peak of ridge lines in the town.
Renewable energy projects are being encouraged as New York tries to achieve its ambitious goal of 70% of the state’s electric generation from renewable sources by 2030, and 100% by 2040.
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