Developer contests biologist’s party status request for wind project review

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The developer for the Galloo Island Wind project and retired biologist Clifford P. Schneider are at odds about whether Mr. Schneider qualifies to have an authoritative voice in the state Article 10 review process for the project.

“There are certain standards to be met and he doesn’t appear to meet any of them,” said Neil T. Habig, senior director of project development for the developer, Apex Clean Energy.

Attorneys from Young/Sommer LLC representing the developer, Apex Clean Energy, Wednesday submitted a letter to the Public Service Commission saying Mr. Schneider, a former state Department of Environmental Conservation fishery biologist, doesn’t qualify for party status for the project review.

Receiving party status allows agencies, municipalities and individuals to apply for intervenor funding to retain counsel and experts to help conduct analyses, present testimonies and evidence to the Board on Electric Generation Siting and the Environment and to cross-examine testimonies and evidence from other parties, according to Article 10.

In their letter, the developer’s attorneys, Jessica A. Klami and James A. Muscato II, argued that Mr. Schneider doesn’t qualify for party status because he lives on Wellesley Island more than 30 miles from the project site in Hounsfield, meaning the project would have little to no environmental impact on Wellesley island or himself. The attorneys also said Mr. Schneider doesn’t have “any expertise or background” for assessing the potential risks to bird and bat populations.

“He’s a fishery biologist.” Mr. Habig said, adding that DEC already has avian experts reviewing the proposed project. “That’s well covered.”

The attorneys also said in their letter that the “siting board should be wary of establishing a precedent that any individual, simply by filing for party status, is granted the rights afforded by” party status, adding that Mr. Schneider can continue to submit comments as an individual.

In response, Mr. Schneider Thursday sent a letter to the commission defending his intent and qualifications.

The former fishery biologist said his field work at Stony Island and Little Galloo Island near the proposed project site, which included studying lake trout production and the effects double-crested cormorants have on smallmouth bass, respectively, warrants party status in addition to 35 years of work as a DEC biologist. Mr. Schneider also said a few of his independent studies on wind turbine noise affects were included in a 2013 report from the state Energy Research and Development Authority.

“I have the ability to move from one area of science to another,” he said.

While he doesn’t live in Hounsfield, Mr. Schneider said in his letter that he is a resident of an affected municipality because he is a Jefferson County resident, arguing being able to submit nominations for ad hoc members to the siting board makes the county an affected municipality. The biologist said he learned the argument from Paul Agresta, general counsel for the commission.

“As long as I’m a member of the county, I’m part of an affected community,” he said.

Mr. Schneider said should he receive party status, he intends to apply for intervenor funding to retain the services of attorney Douglas H. Zamelis, who he said “had a history of representing civil groups that are concerned about development,” and hire avian experts from the Bird Conservancy, Audubon and the Nature Conservancy to help review and provide testimonies for Apex’s application materials regarding birds and bats. Mr. Schneider also intends to continue providing studies and policy information.

When asked what he will do if administrative law judges don’t grant him party status, Mr. Schneider said he will continue to participate in the review process by himself.

“I’ll just have to wing it myself,” he said.

Apex Clean Energy plans to build 30 turbines on Galloo Island in the town of Hounsfield for its 108.9-megawatt project as well as a 32-mile underwater transmission cable that will interconnect with a substation in Oswego.

“We we are reviewing the requests of both parties,” the siting board said in a background statement.

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