Wind firm prevails in Prattsburgh

John Christensen
Lands leased in Prattsburgh by Ecogen and Global Wind

The Town of Prattsburgh has lost in an appeal to prevent Ecogen Wind from building a "wind farm" on its hills in Steuben County. During the time Ecogen was purchasing land and leases for the construction of wind turbines, much like those in neighboring Cohocton, to generate electricity, Prattsburgh had no laws or codes for regulating the installation of wind turbines. After the intent of the company was known, activist groups sought to prevent the wind farms from being built, and after a new Prattsburgh Town Board was elected, convinced the board to pass laws against them, and back away from an agreement with Ecogen that would have given the town certain compensating benefits for the wind farms' impact on the residents.

An order issued by the Appellate Division, Fourth Department Dec. 27, 2013, in Ecogen v. Town of Prattsburgh (CA. 12-02307), the court ruled Prattsburgh could not void the terms of the prior settlement with Ecogen Wind that had allowed the construction. The court ruled the "parties were bound by the terms of the settlement and the court was bound to enforce it."

According to the company, Ecogen "proposes to construct 34 (plus or minus) wind turbine units for the purpose of generating 79.5 megawatts, or less, of electricity in the Town of Prattsburgh, Steuben County and the Town of Italy,Yates County. An overall study area of approximately 24,000 acres was identified within which the individual sites for the turbine units will be selected."

Tom Hagner, owner of Hagner Real Estate in the Buffalo area, is the listed principal owner of Ecogen. Despite repeated calls, Hagner would not comment on his company's plans or intentions.

Prattsburgh Supervisor Lenny McConnell acknowledges that relations with Hagner and Ecogen's representatives have been difficult in the past. He says that the legal opposition to the wind farm was not brought about by his administration, and there is an entirely new board but for one member, including one engineer and one retired electric utility worker. Since his return to the supervisor's post and the ruling of the court, he says, "Ecogen has not reached out to me nor me to them."

McConnell states further that he is not totally opposed to the turbines, and draws hope from the technological advancements made in the years since Ecogen proposed the wind farms. "The projects will be very different than they were going to be. We have a knowledgable board, and we want to be part of the planning to get in on the ground floor and do what's right for the environment and everyone else," says McConnell.

In May 2013, the State Supreme Court issued a decision on the appeal of Ecogen vs. the Town of Italy that sought to overturn their moratorium passed in 2009. However, that ruling was written in such a way that even Edward Brockman, Italy's town attorney with 40 years experience in municipal law, says he cannot decipher its meaning. "The decision in Italy left more questions than answers," says Brockman. Italy's Town Supervisor Margaret Dunn did not return calls for comment. Gary Abraham, the attorney who represented the town in the lawsuit also did not respond to a request for comments.

The issue of wind farm development has added to political turmoil in the Town of Italy over the past three terms, with multiple changes in the Supervisor and Town Board member positions.

The case was originally settled in late 2009 but the new Prattsburgh town board was unsatisfied with the agreement, and passed a moratorium on wind farms with strong support from Advocates for Prattsburgh, the activist group which opposes the turbines. They state, "The noise, negative health effects, ice throws and overwhelming visual dominance of these huge industrial machines pose a severe threat to our town, the value of our property, our personal safety, and our freedom to live our lives in peace and quiet.

"Our position is not against wind power, but against the inappropriate siting (sic) of these industrial wind turbines. These massive, 400 ft. high factories should be placed in an industrial park to protect the personal health and safety of property owners, the value of their homes, and their desire not to be dominated by noise-making adjacent factories as tall as the pyramids of Egypt."

In 2009 Ecogen was one of the 16 companies that signed an ethics code under then Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. According to the Albany Business Review, that code "prohibits 'improper' relationships between wind power developers and local government officials. The wind industry ethics code was a product of Cuomo's ongoing investigations into accusations that wind power companies improperly sought land-use agreements with public officials and citizens, and whether the companies provided benefits to public officials to influence them. The code also created an oversight panel to monitor wind developers and receive complaints about their conduct, and:

"• Bans wind companies from hiring municipal employees or their relatives, or giving them gifts of more than $10 in a one-year period.

"• Prevents them from soliciting or using confidential information leaked by a municipal official.

"• Mandates that easements and leases be filed with the county clerk.

"• Requires companies to publish on the Internet the names of any municipal officers and their relatives who have financial stakes in wind farm development."