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Cape Vincent wind project left in limbo after hearing

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CAPE VINCENT — More than 100 town residents who packed Cape Vincent Elementary School on Monday night learned that BP Wind Energy will not sell its Cape Vincent Wind Farm project by the end of the year — as had been the plan — leaving the 124-turbine project still in limbo.

But during the public hearing hosted by the state Public Service Commission, the judge presiding over the Article X siting process needed to approve the project said that BP won’t be allowed to linger much longer without a sale. PSC administrative law judge and case examiner Paul Agresta established a deadline of March 17 for BP to sell the wind farm. Failing that announcement, Mr. Agresta said, the PSC will reconvene to determine whether BP’s application for the project should be dismissed.

In September, BP announced its plan to sell its entire wind development portfolio, including the Cape Vincent project, by the end of the year. But John S. Harris, an attorney representing BP Wind Energy, said the company won’t meet that deadline.

“All that I can tell you is they’re going to want to sell the property as soon as possible,” he said, declining to provide any specifics. Though BP has completed engineering work on the project to fulfill commitments it made during the summer, he said, all future planning will be on hold until Cape Vincent Wind Power LLC, a BP subsidiary, is bought out by another wind developer.

Mr. Agresta, in response, said the PSC is willing to wait roughly three months for the developer to take action.

“We want to move things forward if there’s a way, but if there’s not any action, we could decide to close the application down,” he said. “If there’s a sale (by March), then we’ll have to schedule a conference to find out where we are and what we should do about it. A lot of people have put their lives on hold, not knowing whether a turbine is going to affect them one way or another.”

In May, the PSC awarded $93,600 in intervenor funding from the $99,750 it acquired from BP Wind Energy to help municipalities cover planning costs. That funding went to the town of Cape Vincent, Wind Power Ethics Group and the town of Lyme.

Roughly 40 percent of that intervenor was paid out to municipalities in May, Mr. Agresta said. Though that funding won’t be reclaimed by the PSC if the project is dismissed, he said, “parties who received funding should probably hold off and husband that money to handle any additional processes that could go on.”

Town Councilman John L. Byrne advised Mr. Agresta that the project shouldn’t be allowed to sit on hold for much longer, because it is curtailing economic growth in the community.

“I think you’ve learned that there’s a sensitivity to the time frame of this project with the people who feel that the project is up in the air,” Mr. Byrne said. The Galloo Island wind project planned in the town of Hounsfield “was planned from 2009 to 2011, and people couldn’t develop their agriculture property until they knew what was going to happen. And now we’ve been dealing with this project for eight to 10 years. There’s some people here who want the chance to make money from this project, but you have others who feel this is going to be a negative impact in the community.”

Paul J. Curtin, an attorney representing Cape Vincent, also said that the controversial project has divided the community and put future development in the town on hold.

“We’re trying to at least get some answer, because the entire community has to move forward,” Mr. Curtin said. “I think right now that having this project in limbo isn’t good for the people who have their assets and resources here.”

Resident Elisabeth P. Brennan, who spoke during public comment, wanted to know about how a visualization study of the turbines, each of which would be about 500 feet tall, would be performed.

“My understanding was that (BP) was going to come up here and look at the aesthetics of the community, and I’d like to know when they decide to do this,” she said.

But Mr. Agresta said that if that particular study is performed it will need to be led by the developer that buys the project from BP, which has stopped planning the project.

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