GHENT–The Town Board turned its attention last week to the state Public Service Commission’s plan to authorize new, higher voltage power lines that would run through parts of the county. The resolution adopted by the board calls on the PSC to “carefully scrutinize all of the environmental issues and review impact on the environment by this project to the maximum extent possible.”
Part of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Energy Highway initiative calls for upgrading the lines that connect power providers west of Albany to Pleasant Valley in Dutchess County. The plan is to increase the power carried by new lines by 1,000 megawatts (MW), a proposal that is supposed to relieve anticipated electrical supply “bottlenecks” as the energy is routed through this region to the densely populated downstate area.
The PSC’s plan for higher voltage power lines here led to competing proposals from four private companies to run lines through several towns in Columbia and northern Dutchess counties. But citizen groups, local governments and property owners have challenged the need for the project, and called for the consideration of alternative solutions. Opponents argue that the project would harm property values, farms and historic viewsheds, and would compromise human health and the environment.
A leading voice challenging this project has been the Hudson Valley Smart Energy Coalition (HVSEC), an alliance of various community groups working together. Several HVSEC members are from Columbia County, including groups from Claverack and Livingston. More is at www.hvsec.org.
Based on the public reaction and questions raised by critics about the need for the power, the PSC announced last December it would reexamine the project. At the same time the PSC has launched a broader effort called Reforming the Energy Vision (REV), which questions whether the existing state energy grid of large fossil fuel generating plants is the most effective and efficient way to provide power statewide.
In Ghent, the board’s resolution calling for the PSC to look carefully at the environmental impact of the plan was adopted unanimously, but only after a small squabble over the wording.
Town Supervisor Mike Benvenuto said the board had two resolutions to choose from. Town attorney Ted Guterman wrote the one ultimately chosen. Ian Solomon, head of Farmers and Families for Claverack, a member of the HVSEC, submitted the other.
Board member Mallory Mort said that while he agreed with Mr. Guterman’s resolution, he thought the wording by Mr. Solomon would have been “more impactful.”
“I just thought Ted made it soft. He took some of the language out of Ian’s proposed resolution that I thought was pretty good wording,” Mr. Mort said.
“In my opinion, I think I see why Ted omitted some of this language,” replied board member Richard Sardo. “I’m not comfortable with it.”
Mr. Sardo said his issues with Mr. Solomon’s wording could have been resolved by replacing “would” with “could.” He said examples of wording that made him uncomfortable were phrases that stated the project “would decrease forest cover” and “would negligibly impact property value.”
“I don’t think that’s been established,” he said. “We’re setting a dangerous precedent here. I have equal protection concerns.”
After the brief discussion, Mr. Sardo motioned for a vote on Mr. Guterman’s resolution. All board members voted in favor.
Also at the March 19 meeting:
- The board approved a resolution that allows the town Highway Department to enter into an inter-municipal agreement with the county. The agreement authorizes towns and the county to work together and share resources in times of need. Town Highway Superintendent Ben Perry said the agreement puts on paper informal cooperation that has been happening for years. It also allows the county to apply for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funding for the work that gets done for other municipalities
- The board heard from Mr. Perry of the benefits of his decision to switch the town’s supplier of winter sand last year. When Mr. Perry first took over as highway superintendent over a year ago, he discontinued ordering the sand from four different suppliers throughout the year as previously done and instead chose one provider and had the material preordered, saving an estimated $17,000 a year. Mr. Perry was happy to report last week that the town still had about 1,500 tons of sand left in the shed, after a winter when many local municipalities experienced shortages. He said he already called to preorder for next year.
“I was told by the company that we bought it from that we were the only town that never called once asking for material,” said Mr. Perry. “By preordering it, it paid off”
- The board reappointed Thomas Messina to the Board of Assessment Review for a five-year term
- The Northern Columbia Little League was granted permission to use the baseball field in West Ghent from April through July.