EDITORIAL: Time for Copake to decide

THE TOWN OF COPAKE has to rank as one the worst possible choices when it comes to building an industrial scale solar farm.

Yes, there’s sunlight. The Hecate Energy company’s proposal will need a lot of that especially if the climate warms and we get wetter and darker. But that’s not the big mistake the company made with its proposal to mount 200,000 solar panels that will follow the sun during the day on the western side of the town.

It’s not even the silly name Hecate chose for the 360-acre site in the hamlet of Craryville: Shepherd’s Run. Did the company think it would would make this undisguisable army of automated panels sound like a warm and fuzzy farm critter?

Copake and other towns along the Roe Jan have seen an ebb and flow of industrial projects over the last century and a half. Most projects were good neighbors. They created jobs. But there was one exception. His name is Sal Cascino. He calls his business Copake Valley Farm. It was a farm before he bought the 300-acre property more than two decades ago. It’s just across state Route 22 from the Copake hamlet.

What Mr. Cascino did there was to haul construction and demolition debris from the New York City area and spread these materials all over the property. The town tried to stop him from dumping and from building industrial scale buildings without permits. Mr. Cascino mostly ignored them, even when he spent more than a year in jail for contempt of court.

Hecate Energy company is no Sal Cascino. There’s no connection between them. But it’s understandable why Copake residents might feel differently. The town has sought help from the legal system and the state bureaucracy, with little to show for it. Now they’re hearing more promises on a new project.

The town is suing the state to block sections of the law intended to speed up the approval process for renewable energy projects. Among other things, the town wants assurances that strict environmental standards will be observed.

A month or two ago, that might have been a promising legal strategy. First, it might have restored some of the town’s authority over new industrial projects. Second, it might persuade Hecate to drop Shepherd’s Run because it isn’t worth the delays.

This week, with perhaps 50 or more people in this state dead from flooding, and with a new governor and a one-party legislature, the first strategy seems unlikely at best. The second has become immoral.

Craryville and Copake didn’t deserve to have their town selected for such a big project. And there is no doubt that the value of some homes will go down. But this is not punishment aimed at any individual or group. It is the way capitalism and government cooperate to respond to emergencies. The players in the race to reduce carbon pollution—meaning businesses and politicians—require careful scrutiny. Maybe someday we’ll find a better way to achieve the same result. But for now we’re stuck with Covid vaccine development and distribution as our model.

We have to face the fact that what was called “climate change” doesn’t apply anymore. More accurately it is “climate changed.” What has changed is our air, land and water. Those resources have been so poisoned that soon they may not be unable to sustain us.

Copake’s leaders have acted correctly in defending their right to home rule, which is a bedrock principle of local government in New York state. But the terms of the struggle are different now. We are forced to confront the fact that “local” means everywhere and everybody.

Copake officials handling negotiations should settle as quickly as possible with as much local environmental control as the law and negotiations allow. The new goal is to accelerate the Hecate project, keeping in mind that if Hecate leaves, the company replacing it could be worse.

Solar is the only clean way we know of right now to produce large amounts of renewable energy here in Columbia County. To continue to fight the Hecate plan is no longer a good use of public resources.

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