Hopkinton’s abstaining board members could bind town’s ability to overide county recomendations on wind issues
Saturday, May 13, 2017 - 8:26 am

By MATT LINDSEY

HOPKINTON — The Hopkinton Town Council will be powerless to override the St. Lawrence County Planning Board should it make a recommendation on the proposal to not expand the wind overlay zone.

That’s because two members of the town board, Gilbert Sochia and Greg Crump, continue to abstain from all wind-related issues coming before the governing body.

The Hopkinton Wind Advisory Board voted April 26 to recommend not expanding the land where wind towers can be placed, which would keep 40 proposed 500-foot turbines away from the Adirondack Park.

The county Planning Board will be reviewing the advisory board’s decision and may make recommendations before the town board votes to approve the overlay zone.

Local boards can override county planning board recommendations, but only with a supermajority vote, or four out of five possible votes on the town board.

But that won’t be possible in this case if two town councilmen continue to abstain from voting on the issue because family members are leaseholders with Avangrid Renewables. Avangrid is planning to build the 40-turbine wind farm on land in Hopkinton and Parishville.

The Wind Advisory Board’s decision followed a request from Avangrid to expand the wind overlay zone closer to the Adirondack Park. Avangrid, a subsidiary of Iberdrola, is heading the North Ridge Wind Farm development, which calls for about 40 wind towers to be constructed.

Before town officials can take final action, the county planning board weighs in on development projects in the county, said the St. Lawrence County Planning Office’s Matilda Larson.

If the wind overlay zone receives a simple approval, no changes will be made, and the town can go ahead and vote without issue, she said.

However, should the planning board present a conditioned approval or denial, Larson says the town board would need a majority plus one vote, otherwise known as a supermajority vote.

Because two town councilmen are abstaining from the vote, a supermajority vote is impossible. Town council members Sochia and Crump are abstaining from voting on wind farm issues because their family members are leaseholders with Avangrid.

When asked previously if only having three members of the town council able to vote on wind power issues was an issue or conflict of interest, Hopkinton Town Supervisor Susan Wood said, “I can’t answer that – I don't believe it will as I have not had discussions with the board about it.”

There have been suggestions in the community for Sochia and Crump to step down.

Wood said the men could volunteer to step down or residents could submit a petition to Gov. Andrew Cuomo in an attempt to have them removed.

When asked if he feels like he should step down from the board, Crump said, “I don’t feel like I should have to – I have no financial gain (from the wind towers).”

Crump said no comment when asked about his thoughts on any wind related votes needing to be unanimous or a super majority.

He was asked if he thought being on the board was a conflict of interest. Crump said, “no comment.”

Crump and Sochia will have their town council seats up for re-election in November, Wood said.

“No comment,” was Crump’s response when asked if he planned to seek re-election this fall.

Attempts to contact Sochia to answer questions related to stepping down from the board were unsuccessful.

Fellow councilman Steve Parker, who is able to vote on wind issues, was asked about his thoughts on any wind related votes needing to be unanimous or a super majority as well. “This is the predicament we are in,” he said, refusing to elaborate.

Parker offered a “no comment” responses when asked if he felt that Crump and Sochia should step down.

The Hopkinton Town Board meets May 15. A public hearing date will be set prior to the town board voting on the overlay zone.