Advocacy group FOILs town over energy project - Columbia-Greene Media: News

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Advocacy group FOILs town over energy project

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Posted: Thursday, January 30, 2014 12:00 am

ATHENS - The Athens Citizens Development Committee, a grassroots organization formed to represent residents’ interests when it comes to the proposed energy projects in Athens – especially the underground transmission project for West Point Partners – has filed a FOIL request with the town in an attempt to gather information available about the proposal.

FOIL – or the Freedom of Information Law – ensures that everyone has access to records of governmental agencies. Once filed, the municipality has five days in which to respond to the request, either releasing the records or denying the request.

Ralph Favicchio, a member of the Athens Citizens Development Committee, submitted the request to the Athens Town Council at its January meeting last week, asking for records pertaining to the work performed by the attorney jointly hired by the town and village.

“We are looking for information from the attorney regarding the West Point Partners project,” Favicchio said after the meeting. “They hired an attorney to represent the town and village. They did this jointly, to intervene and provide input. We want whatever the attorney has that may be pertinent to our concerns.”

The law firm representing the town and village is Young/Sommer LLC.

Town Supervisor Joseph Iraci said the town was willing to share information with the group and promised transparency. Iraci took over the town’s helm earlier this month, campaigning on just that issue. He said the town was willing to share whatever information it has.

“I have encouraged your group from the beginning,” Iraci said. “There are no secrets here.”

Favicchio said they are most concerned with the route proposed by West Point Partners for the massive energy project. The company’s preferred route would install underground transmission cables from a converter station in the town, running through the village – including along heavily populated Vernon Street – down to the Hudson River and ultimately, to Buchanan, New York to provide additional power to New York City.

“We oppose the West Point Partners project’s preferred route,” Favicchio said. “We have made our opposition public.”

They are not alone. Public meetings about the proposal have attracted substantial opposition, especially to the proposed Vernon Street route.

Favicchio told the Athens Town Council that they are not alone in their opposition – other communities have also voiced concerns, and said comments posted to the Public Service Commission, or PSC, which is currently reviewing the project, have indicated as much.

“Most of the comments are on the negative side, both here and on the other end, in Buchanan,” Favicchio said.

Members of the Athens Citizens Development Committee have also challenged the maps submitted by West Point Partners to the PSC as part of their review process, saying key local structures – including the elementary school and historic buildings – were left out.

Both Favicchio and Iraci have urged local residents to make their concerns known by submitting comments to the PSC. The case number for the project is 13-T0292.

“One of the most important things for this town are the comments to the Public Service Commission,” Iraci said. “That is probably the best thing you can do for this town in regard to this proposal.”

Favicchio also said his organization is urging the Town Council to adopt a resolution similar to the one passed by the village several weeks ago officially opposing the project’s preferred route. A couple of months ago the group presented the Council with a possible resolution of their own – prior to the three new Town Council members taking office – but no action has been taken since.

Iraci said the new Town Council was just holding its second meeting, and needed time to review the wording of a resolution.

Deputy Town Supervisor Robert Butler said any resolution adopted by the town would have to differ from the resolution passed by the Village Board.

“I am not opposed to a resolution, but I don’t think us passing the same resolution [as the village] is appropriate,” Butler said. “We can’t put together a formal resolution opposing something that would be done in the village. That would be overstepping our bounds… The village is part of the town, but it has its own government.”

He indicated the town would do something along the lines of a resolution, but needed time to work out the precise wording.

Favicchio said that while the route issue – particularly Vernon Street – is more village oriented, there are concerns for the town, as well.

“The town does have something to do with this – the location of the converter station,” Favicchio said, adding that putting a station in that location is at odds with the comprehensive plan adopted by the town several years ago.

Iraci, who had been heavily involved in crafting the comprehensive plan at that time, agreed there were issues.

“It very much goes against the intent of the comprehensive plan, and the vision we had for the town,” he said.

In other town news, Iraci explained that an announcement has been made about U.S. Generating Company, which runs the Athens Generating plant, and he didn’t want misunderstandings to occur.

“U.S. Gen is going through a process where some of the people who had loaned them money will exchange those debts for stock in the company,” Iraci said.

He said the legal term used is “bankruptcy”, but he didn’t want residents to hear that and wonder if the plant was shutting down.

“They have assured us that no employees have been let go, and for all intents and purposes there will be no impact on the plant,” Iraci said.

He added that there are no plans to shut down the Athens Generating plant, and the term “bankruptcy” only referred to the exchange of debt for stock in the company.

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