Press-Republican

March 16, 2009

Lawsuits, Altona accident end wind power in Beekmantown

By LUCAS BLAISE

BEEKMANTOWN — It's over.

Windhorse Power LLC proposed a 13-turbine wind-power facility in the Town of Beekmantown three years ago, and the Town Council shot it down at their regular meeting Monday night.

Windhorse's project was approved Feb. 1, 2007, by the Beekmantown Zoning Board of Appeals.

Beekmantown residents have spent more than $70,000 in lawsuits against the town Zoning Board and Windhorse.

As a late item on the agenda, Town Councilwoman Sydney Sue Garrant proposed that the conditional-use permit be revoked and the company be subject to the new Wind Facilities Law, passed by the town in September 2008.

Her resolution won three to two, ending the issue with a heated conversation.

"So you have a prepared statement," asked Town Supervisor Dennis Relation in front of a crowd of about 20 people. "I was just unaware."

"I frequently use these late items to bring up things," Garrant said.

Relation asserted that she tried to catch the council unprepared.

"I don't work that way," said Garrant, even toned.

"It sure looks like it," he said.

"You told me once, Dennis, that this was all about dollars and cents," Councilman Samuel Dyer chimed in.

He added that he checked the math with Town Accountant William VanStockum.

"We've spent a hell of a lot more money than we're ever going to receive. I was in favor of the windmills, but the way this was done, I'm not happy," Dyer said, referring to Windhorse Power not acting on their permit for more than two years. Two other companies were looking to cash in on the conditional-use permit March 25 under the names of Duer's Patent LLC and Penn Energy Trust LLC at a Zoning Board meeting.

The Noble Environmental Power accident last week was also a concern.

"Excuse my language, but that thing in Altona scared the s—- out of me," Dyer said, adding that it had changed his mind.

"We all blessed 'em (Windhorse), and we all sent them to Rand Hill," he said.

Relation disagreed, saying he just followed the policy of subjecting it to the Zoning Board for approval or disapproval.

"I think I told you it was a Zoning Board issue," Relation said.

VanStockum tried coming into the conversation, when Garrant cut him off.

"This is a board discussion," she said.

Relation harked back to the lawyers recommendations.

"I just think that we are wasting taxpayer's money," he said. "We scrimp and save here every week, and it's going to come back to the Zoning Board anyway."

Just one hour before, the public had asked for this very thing.

"I respectfully ask that someone stand up and say something," said Gary Peacock. "It may be a legal battle. Fight that battle."

Members of the West Beekmantown Neighborhood Association, the group that has fought Windhorse and the Zoning Board in court unsuccessfully two times, issued many written statements.

Bill Klock submitted a letter with 128 signatures that questioned why the town hadn't already revoked the permit, especially when there was a law banning industrial wind turbines.

He said there had been a prevailing belief by the Town Council that since Windhorse had been approved before the law was enacted, it wasn't subject to the measure.

"If a developer is not under the law now, it is unclear when they will be," Klock read. "It erodes public confidence in the local government."

Russ Hartung continued his presentation of case law supporting his belief that the council could oust Windhorse.

"Windhorse doesn't have a building permit, and they haven't completed substantial construction," he said, refuting a claim of vested interest.

"In fact, they have not completed any construction at all."

Cindy Root Baker said, "There is a time for everything, and this is the time to stop this project."

Each presenter commented on the Altona wind-turbine collapse.

Beekmantown resident Dan Jerry said he'd thought the Neighborhood Association members were too emotional when they fought the facility.

"Recently I was watching TV, and I thought that my neighbor's house exploded. I'm not kidding," he said, alluding to the Altona accident.

"This has become emotional. So I can understand."

At the close, Relation said he wasn't expecting the arguments, and he would rather think about the submitted information and case law.

When questioned, he relied on his expert council.

"(Attorneys C. J. Madonna and Matthew Fuller) specialized in the law," he said.

"The permit has to go before the Zoning Board. If they feel that the time has expired, that they have not made (progress), it will be their decision."

He added that under the attorneys' suggestion, revoking the permit would mean a lawsuit they couldn't win.

"This town has invested a lot of money in this. I know it's an emotional issue," Relation said. "This has not been easy for you. It hasn't been easy for me either."

At the end of meeting, when councilors Dyer, Garrant and Sharron Garden had voted to accept the resolution, Relation panned the audience with a quick gaze.

He and Councilman Rufus "Joe" Deyo alone refused it.

"Well orchestrated," he said, looking at the audience. "Well orchestrated."