Glenmont residents challenge environmental review of wind project again
Credit: Larry Rulison | Jan. 27, 2023 | timesunion.com ~~
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One of the most outspoken Glenmont residents challenging the town of Bethlehem’s approval of the Beacon Island wind turbine manufacturing project asserts that the town planning board didn’t properly follow state environmental review regulations.
But both the town planning board attorney and the Department of Environmental Conservation say that the claim is just flat wrong and relies on a misinterpretation of SEQR, otherwise known as the State Environmental Quality Act.
Sylvia Rowlands, one of about 30 Glenmont residents who have sued the town in an attempt to repeal the town’s approval of the $350 million Beacon Island facility, says she believes the town planning board didn’t follow a subsection of the SEQR law that pertains to written “findings” various governmental agencies must complete before certain approvals can be granted a major construction project.
The SEQR law says that agencies involved in a project must issue written findings that are subject to public review and comment. In the case of Beacon Island, the Bethlehem planning board was named the “lead” agency, while other agencies that have to issue permits such as the DEC, are known as “involved” agencies.
The Bethlehem planning board granted site plan approval in May 2022 to Beacon Island, which is being developed by the Port of Albany, after a yearslong review process that began in 2018.
Per SEQR regulations, the planning board issued written findings, essentially an analysis of the environmental, social, cultural and economic impact of the decision they were about to make.
On Nov. 10, DEC, as an involved agency, issued its own written findings statement on Beacon Island. The findings were issued in connection with DEC issuing some of the required permits.
But Rowlands claims that was too late, and that DEC and other involved agencies should gave issued their written findings before the planning board granted approval.
“It’s completely out of order,” Rowlands said. “There are no SEQR findings still for other involved agencies.”
DEC oversees the SEQR law, although it has no power to enforce it. People who challenge government agencies on SEQR must file what’s known as an Article 78 petition in state Supreme Court, like Rowlands and other residents have done. That lawsuit doesn’t include Rowland’s allegations at this time. The lawsuit is still pending.
Town officials told the Times Union that Rowlands is wrong and has misinterpreted SEQR and the order in which written findings are issued.
Town planning board attorney Mark Sweeney told the Times Union that involved agencies are not required to issue their written findings until they make their own decision – either to issue a permit or approve special funding. It doesn’t have to happen before then or before the decision by the lead agency.
“The process was properly followed,” Sweeney said.
DEC, which writes guidebooks and helps the public understand SEQR, also says Rowlands is wrong. DEC also said it filed its own written statement at the correct time.
“SEQR does not require the lead agency to possess all involved agencies’ findings statements before issuing its own,” a DEC spokesperson told the Times Union. “Each involved agency is responsible for preparing its own SEQR findings … DEC did not waive any SEQR requirements.”
The Beacon Island project is a landmark venture by the state of New York and the Port of Albany to create the first offshore wind turbine manufacturing facility in the United States. New York has been developing thousands of megawatts of offshore wind energy production through its renewable energy division, NYSERDA.
As part of the process, wind development companies that want to contract with NYSERDA are required to establish manufacturing operations in New York state, essentially creating a home-grown offshore wind supply chain in the state that has never existed. As states across the U.S. grapple with climate change and seek to increase their renewable energy options, the domestic offshore wind industry is expected to grow.
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