BP's Tatics in Cape Vincent Ny

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

BP's Cape Vincent Wind development & Community Outreach

Monday, BP submitted a Public Involvement Plan (PIP) to the Public Service Commission (PSC).  This preliminary document contained information concerning  public involvement with their proposed Industrial Wind Development. I have put together a little history concerning BP’s project that you will not find amongst the documents submitted to the PSC by BP.   

By the time the first public informational meeting concerning wind development in Cape Vincent was held, wind developers had already encumbered a significant portion of the land in our community by signing landowners to wind leases with loyalty clauses.  Among those signed up to wind leases were a large portion of land owners that held positions our local government.  Over the years these municipal officers have been involved in the approval process of both Acciona’s and BP’s wind projects.  Planning Board Chair and wind lease holder, Richard Edsall held a prominent role in the approval process of both projects.

During the fall of 2005, continuing through March 2006, a series of non - publicized, special meetings took place in the office of the town supervisor.  The purpose of those meetings was to craft a wind law. Among those in attendance were Planning Board Chair Edsall, conflicted Town Board (TB), and Planning Board (PB) members, lease holding citizens and a representative from Jefferson County Planning Department, Michael Bourcy.

Mr. Bourcy sent a letter via fax to Supervisor Reinbeck that characterizes the direction these meetings were taking, “I have not heard anyone on the Committee talk
specifically that these impacts are mitigated by the proposed setbacks. The discussion has always been who will or will not benefit depending on which setback is used.” Bourcy made recommendations to Edsall that there be a minimum setback in the law, pointing out that if a requirement is not stated in the Zoning Law, the Planning Board must have a good basis for requiring it.

As public knowledge of the Wind developments increased, setbacks became a sticking point.  Citizens in the community wanted a protective setback of 2 miles.  Planning Board Chair Edsall responded to the community’s concerns by openly stating, "Two miles would wipe out both projects."

 At the April 12, 2006, PB meeting Edsall petitioned to be included on the PB agenda.  Edsall got up from his chairman’s seat and moved into the audience in order to make the recommendation to permit turbine development in the town's AR zone, with no setback stipulation, and to ban development in the riverfront and lakefront district.  Edsall said that he was not making this recommendation as the PB chairman but as a private citizen and representative of a community group that met monthly to discuss wind turbine issues.  Edsall also said that he saw no conflict of interest in his participation at the monthly stakeholder meetings (i.e., the fall of 2005 through spring 2006),  because the sessions were not planning board meetings. Community pressure continued to mount over conflicts of interest and town attorney Mark Gebo advised both boards to request an opinion from the Jefferson County ethics board.  Marty Mason and Joe Wood were the only officials to petition the county and received notice of that opinion by May 12, 2006.  The Jefferson County Board of Ethics advised Marty Mason and Joe Wood to recuse themselves from any votes or discussions

of wind development issues.  Edsall did not petition for a formal opinion, but at the April 12, 2006, PB meeting he promised to recuse himself from votes that related to his property.

May 11, 2006, brought a compromise when Joe Wood and Marty Mason recused themselves while the remaining board members, Reinbeck,  Schneider, and Orvis proposed a boundary that would restrict the first turbine from being any closer than 2,600 feet from Rte 12E.

 On June 14, 2006, PB Chairman Edsall wrote a letter to the Town Board informing them that the PB had passed a resolution declaring that current zoning is sufficient to regulate wind development in Cape Vincent and that the TB should abandon its efforts to amend current zoning law. This action is not within the scope of the PB’s authority.  The very next day, June 15, 2006, Darrel Aubertine also wrote a letter to the TB urging the lease holding conflicted board members to vote on wind issues by telling them that it is their duty to vote even though they are conflicted and he also stated that governing by referendum (popular vote) is unwise.

The same day of the Aubertine letter, the TB was scheduled to vote on a proposed zoning law that would eliminate 12 turbines from Darrel Aubertine’s neighborhood.  Supervisor Reinbeck and TB member Orvis reversed their positions on setback
requirements of the commercial wind towers causing a deadlock that was resolved by stripping any such regulations from the proposed zoning law amendment.

Aug. 10, 2006, the TB moved forward with the adoption of zoning regulations for wind power development and issued a positive declaration which requires  an environmental impact study (EIS) to determine the impacts from the new law.  It was discovered that the environmental reviews required would cost $40,000+.  This cost became an issue at the TB meeting of Aug. 28, 2006.  Subsequently, the Board passed a resolution to “Discontinue the process of amending the Town of Cape Vincent Zoning Law to regulate wind towers.” This left them with the option of declaring that turbines were utilities under the choice of approved uses in the town’s guidelines.

This opened the door for the Planning Board to have complete control over the process through site plan review.

Acciona submitted an application for a wind power project in Cape Vincent at the PB meeting of Nov. 8, 2006.  According to a story in the Watertown Daily Times (WDT), despite protests from some residents, the Planning Board voted unanimously to be the lead agency in the State Environmental Quality Review process.  This action gave The PB complete control over the environmental review process for both of the projects in the Towns of Cape Vincent and Lyme.

Nov. 2006 Donny Mason was elected to TB without disclosing that his wind lease with Acciona made him conflicted, which was at odds with the Town of Cape Vincent’s code of ethics. Furthermore, Donny Mason did not petition the Jefferson County board of ethics for an opinion about conflicts, as suggested by the Town’s attorney, in an April of 2006, letter to Supervisor Reinbeck.

 In 2007 British Petroleum hired Marion Trieste to do "outreach work" part of Marion Trieste's work involved helping to launch the "grassroots" organization Voters For Wind (VFW),designed to quell community opposition to their project. Marion Trieste community organizer and wind facilitator continues to market her strategy to

On Jan. 10, 2007, the PB received Acciona’s DEIS but did not allow the public access to the document until Feb 1, 2007.  At the same time, to resolve the issue over the decision to call turbines utilities, CV Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) decided that turbines could be designated as utilities under CV current zoning law. ZBA member John Wiley voted in favor of this measure without disclosing his brother had a wind contract thereby creating a conflict of interest.  Wind Power Ethics Group filed suit challenging the ZBA decision to classify turbines as utilities.

Dec.19, 2007, BP’s DEIS was accepted by the PB (Chairman Edsall did abstain from voting to accept).

Feb 2, 2008, the Thousand Islands Sun quoted Reinbeck's response to citizen’s questions about Board members voting with conflicts of interest. Reinbeck stated that while he didn’t have anything legal to back up his assumption, he thought that once someone accused of having a conflict of interest was re-elected to the same position, the conflict of interest was void. “Mind you I’m not one hundred percent about that, but I speak for the board when I say that if we had not folded under the threats of lawsuits, we’d have zoning laws right now.” 

 March 13, 2008, at the Town Board meeting, Edsall announced that he hired an Albany law firm, Whiteman , Osterman & Hanna, who specialize in litigation especially when you get to the site plan review process and pilot programs.  May 15, 2008, on the advice of the newly hired legal counsel, Edsall wrote a letter disclosing his contracts with British Petroleum and conflicts of interest.

Aug. 14, 2008, Reinbeck announced that a committee would be formed to revise a draft wind law developed by the Town’s new the wind lawyers. The committee met frequently throughout the fall and winter completing a draft law in January 2009.

March 25, 2009, the PB accepted Acciona's supplemental environmental impact statement and this marked the first recusal for conflicted board member Karen Bourcy.

 At the April 2009, TB a citizen asked “Do you see any value in Attorney General Cuomo’s code of Conduct for Wind Development.”  The TB agreed that there is no value in the AG’s wind code of conduct. Reinbeck replied that if we haven’t been investigated I guess we are all right.  Marty Mason said that the code is a “waste of time” and Donny Mason agreed with the other board members and added it does not

apply to small towns.  Conflicted Councilman Joe Wood said, “Basically you say we should adopt a wind law, but on the other hand you are saying three of us have conflicts of interest and you are going to call us on it.”  “How can I adopt a wind law if in your second breath there is a conflict of interest and you are going to nail us?”

In 2008, a citizen began videotaping the Town meetings on a regular basis
documenting for the public the events of these meetings. At the Aug.12, 2009, planning Board meeting board member Andy Binsley told the videographer “take your camera and shove it right where it belongs… And you can’t bring that thing to a meeting.” The next day at the TB meeting of Aug.13, 2009, Supervisor Reinbeck had

the police called to stop the videotaping, which was unsuccessful since it was a legal activity.  Additionally at this same meeting a petition, asking for a wind development moratorium with over 650 signatures on it, was submitted. 

The TB was in support of a partial moratorium protecting the River and Lake District, two areas never intended for wind power development. The Jefferson county planning board said that a partial moratorium did not make sense and recommended a full moratorium.  Supervisor Reinbeck and TB member Donny Mason’s position on a town wide moratorium was quoted in the WDT.  "Currently we have two projects under review in the Ag district and we're not going to suspend those," Mr. Reinbeck said. "One is almost complete." Councilman Donald J. Mason agreed saying, "Those projects are too far along and it's not fair to the wind companies, to begin with, to suspend them now."

Previously Reinbeck had made other statements to the WDT about his position on turbine setbacks "I think we're over regulating on these setbacks," Mr. Reinbeck said. "I'm always on the lookout for being sued for something, Supervisor Thomas K. Reinbeck said. “I can only see this being a very controversial issue if we eliminate turbines that are planned as part of an ongoing project."

Nov. 12, 2009, the now lame-duck Tom Reinbeck proposed the adoption of a draft wind law prepared by Reinbeck’s wind committee earlier in the year.  This version of the law, however, was missing the detailed noise section developed under the guidance of the town’s engineering consultants, Bernier Carr Associates and Cavanaugh Tocci Associates. Reinbeck explained that the noise portion was taken out because it was too

restrictive and would have prohibited development rather than regulate it.  Councilmen Donald Mason, Acciona leaseholder, Marty Mason, Acciona and BP leaseholder, and Joe Wood, Acciona leaseholder all vote AYE for Resolution #17 to enact a wind law.  Additionally, resolution #17 was not included in the minutes.  However; Resolution #17 is on file in the clerk's office.


RWiley said...

It is important to understand that British Petroleum has not made an actual application to the PSC for Article X siting.

What they submitted to the PSC was nothing more than their version of "engagement" with the community regarding their siting proposal along with a scrapbook of exhibits showing the history of their community engagement.

I believe that the PSC will respond to British Petroleum's efforts as they did when a similar action was recently taken by Dry Lots.

The PSC did not respond favorably to the Dry Lots "proof of public engagement".

There is another whole side of British Petroleum's wind siting history of engagement in Cape Vincent. The side presented by those citizens who have continued to rightfully questioned the practices of the industry and the impacts the British Petroleum project would have on the community and the political methods that have been employed during the "engagement".

An important part of the wind siting history is the development of the Town Industrial Wind Turbine Economic Impact Report that document's the potential loss in many resident home values as well as loss of lifestyle.

And, remember, the Town of Cape Vincent Planning Board is still the lead agent for the British Petroleum local industrial wind harvesting factory siting as well as for any proposed power line project through Lyme.

Excellent report and thank you for your service to the community.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Rick.

The PB should pass on exactly what you have to say in this post and then comment that this is only a start to the public objection to their engagement.