Update: This story was update on Sept. 24 at 10:24 a.m. to include statements from Avangrid spokesperson Paul Copleman.
By MATT LINDSEY
PARISHVILLE – A Parishville man will get to stay on the New York Siting Board on Electronic Siting and the Environment following a motion by a wind developer to have him removed for what they say was a conflict of interest.
Hon. Kathleen H. Burgess mailed a letter to Gary Snell Sr. stating that the siting board had no authority to disqualify or remove Snell from the board.
“She said I can stay on the board unless I decide to recuse myself – which I will not be doing,” he said.
Burgess said Snell should consider the following when making his decision “whether he has personal bias or interest with respect to the matter involved.”
Avangrid, the wind tower company that wants to build 40 500-foot turbines in Parishville and Hopkinton, filed a motion Sept. 1 to Snell, the chairman the Concerned Citizens for Rural Preservation, a local group opposed to wind towers removed from the state siting board overseeing the proposed project.
In a letter addressed to Honorable Kathleen H. Burgess, Avangrid said Snell should not have been eligible to be a member of the siting board due to a “bias or interest.”
“We maintain that he can't act both as an objective judge of the wind farm and as an active advocate against it,” Avangrid spokesperson Paul Copleman said.
Snell has publicly stated that he is opposed to wind towers in Parishville and Hopkinton, but he says he will listen to testimony before making his decision.
“His actions are in direct conflict with the role a fair and unbiased board member must play, seeing that he's already a party to this proceeding as someone leading a group opposed to the wind farm,” Copleman said.
“I indicated to her (Burgess) that I can do a fair job,” Snell said. “My work has been to educate the people about the issue.”
In a letter to Hon. Burgess Snell states that “my interest in the project is as an educator seeking to learn all facets of this process, while ensuring the health, safety, and well-being of all residents, wildlife and the environment of Hopkinton and Parishville are protected.”
He goes on to say in his letter that: “Unfortunately, important information about this proposed project has not been readily available to date. It is my belief that uncovering, evaluating, and understanding all aspects of the project is essential to informed decision-making. Critical evaluation does not constitute bias.”
Testimony will be given from both sides of the wind issue, including experts and town officials.
Snell says he has never stated he will vote against wind towers.
“I’ll listen and make up my mind and vote to protect the health and safety of residents,” Snell said.
He will be one of seven votes.
The state siting board is tasked with overseeing the permitting process for power plants of 25 megawatts (MW) or greater. The board has five state-appointed members and two local members. Snell was nominated by the Town of Parishville Supervisor Rodney Votra and St. Lawrence County. He will represent Parishville and Ernest Parker was chosen to represent Hopkinton.
No timetable has been announced for when the siting board will meet, but Snell said the state is still waiting on Avangrid to file an application.
The earliest date for application for the North Ridge is likely during the second quarter of next year, Copleman said.
Snell was appointed to the siting board Aug. 2. He has no plans to step down from his role as chairman of the CCRP as well.