Town lawyer asks if firm did more than permit allowed
GHENT–For the second month in a row this month’s meeting of the town Planning Board had to be moved to a larger room where, once again there were heated exchanges between town officials and representatives of TCI of New York. This time the issue was whether the company will need special use permits before it can resume operations in the town.
TCI facility off Route 9H in West Ghent was destroyed by a huge fire and accompanying explosion early last August. The company has since applied to the Planning Board for a permit to rebuild the plant, where it drains oil contaminated with PCBs from old electrical transformers and prepares the transformers for recycling.
If the town does require TCI to obtain special permits, the review process would take longer than a regular permit review and the town could add new conditions meant to prevent future mishaps.
The Planning Board’s March 6 meeting at Town Hall drew a crowd of 40 people, more than a quarter of whom wore TCI of NY shirts saying: “Good for the Community, Good for Columbia County, Good for Ghent.”
At that meeting the Planning Board was joined Joseph Castiglione, an attorney specializing in environmental law retained by the Planning Board to assist in the town’s review of TCI’s application to rebuild. Mr. Castiglione said that after reviewing all of the documents he believes the use TCI was approved for in 1987 is “substantially different than the use that is presumed to be proposed going forward.” In 1987 TCI, then under different ownership, said it qualified as a non-nuisance use, just as TCI of NY is now doing. But Mr. Castiglione said TCI operations include three uses–outdoor storage, storage of oil in tanks and truck terminal transfer station–that are not permitted without special use permit in the Commercial Industrial Zone that includes TCI’s West Ghent site.
He recommended that the board authorize him to write a letter to the town’s Zoning Enforcement Officer (ZEO), Gil Raab, to ask whether Mr. Raab believes “these proposed uses going forward require special use permits.”
Mr. Castiglione also said that a state permit showed 18 storage tanks with the capacity of approximately 250,000 gallons of mineral oil were installed by the company from 2010 to 2012. He says another permit from the state Department of Environmental Conservation showed 17 trucks permitted onsite. Both the tanks and the trucks may require special use permits, he said.
TCI President Brian Hemlock said that there are not 17 trucks, but “two trucks and numerous trailers.”
As for the need to consult the town zoning enforcement officer, TCI attorney Bill Better said that ZEO Raab was supposed to have made those determinations when the application to rebuild was submitted last November. He said Mr. Raab had told the company that only a site plan was needed.
“He did not say that special use permits were needed,” said Mr. Better. “That decision was made in November. It’s been over 30 days and nobody has appealed that decision.”
Mr. Castiglione responded by saying that the original application did not adequately describe TCI’s proposed operations. He said the only description was “light-industrial.”
“He didn’t have all the information then as we have now in front of us,” added Board member Larry Machiz.
“Then it’s incumbent upon the ZEO to say that the description in the application of what it is we want to do is inadequate, incorrect or insufficient,” said Mr. Better “It’s not incumbent upon this board, six months later, to say that you did your own examination.”
Mr. Better added that two site plans were approved for TCI in 2012, and these issues never came up.
Mr. Machiz told Mr. Better that the board is trying to be cautious with the potential for lawsuits. “It’s very important to this board to make every determination we can make and to make it correctly,” he said.
“If Gil had these concerns, he should have raised them,” said Mr. Better. “If he doesn’t have those concerns, I think it’s inappropriate for the Planning Board to put them in his head.”
Mr. Castiglione said that the ZEO made his best judgment based on the information available, but that “information trickled in over time.”
In a phone call after the meeting, Mr. Better said that the plans submitted to Mr. Raab in November included a detailed description showing the storage tanks. “You go to a ZEO because he’s the guy that tells you what you need,” said Mr. Better. “There’s no statutory authority for a Planning Board to ask a ZEO to reconsider his own decision. That’s like changing the rules in the middle of the game.”
He added that Ghent’s zoning ordinance states that an appeal of the ZEO’s decision must be made to the Zoning Board of Appeals within 30 days.
At last week’s Planning Board meeting, Mr. Better suggested that Mr. Castiglione might have a conflict because his firm, Young Sommer, had met with Brian Hemlock at TCI in 2010 to discuss TCI’s interest in processing equipment containing higher concentrations of PCB waste. Mr. Hemlcok said the meeting was to discuss what permits may be needed.
“We were never hired by your client. We were never paid by your client. We never received any information from your client,” Mr. Castiglione said to Mr. Better.
“Are you saying he has confidential information about TCI? You’re making a very serious allegation,” said Mr. Machiz.
Mr. Better said he believed it was information that should have been disclosed to the public.
“It sounds like after hearing what I have to say, you’d rather pursue a conflict issue,” said Mr. Castiglione. “I’ve never worked with you. I don’t know anything about you.”
Planning Board Co-Chair Aaron Groom tried to return discussions to the original subject. “You both arguing back and forth does not further the purpose of our meeting tonight,” he said. “I want to move forward. This is brutal.”
Board member Geoffrey French agreed. “You two can get back to your issue some other time,” he said.
The board voted to authorize Mr. Castiglione to draft the letter to Mr. Raab and to work with town engineer Ray Jurkowski to compile a list of information needed from TCI for the application to be deemed complete. Board members agreed to provide the list to TCI in time for TCI to respond before the next Planning Board meeting April 4 at 7 p.m.