Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Notes from This Week's Westchester BOL Joint Committee Meeting

Westchester BOL Environment & Energy committee meeting notes - 02/22/10 - mg -

Well over 50 members of the public and a few local press attended this meeting, acking the conference room to well beyond capacity - overflowing into the hallway.

Con Ed spoke first. They had an entourage of 6 or 7 people at the meeting, but only three came up to the committee table to present - Milo Blaire (VP Elec. Transmission Systems), George Czernniewski (Con Ed Section Manager, Transmission Lines) and Mike Amato (Field Manager).

There were no big revelations by Con Ed. The basic message is they are doing what they do based upon PSC and federal requirements - so as to avoid heavy fines for non-compliance incidents. They do not mitigate or do replant restoration. And they are doing clear cut because it is cost effective. (Etc.)

They did say they are starting a program of improved communication and notification of municipalities and property owners - with an enhanced description of the scope of work printed on the notification cards, for example. Also, an update to info on the web site describing the working guidelines. They will plan to meet with local officials and will "walk the line" with them ahead of time.

A question was asked by the committee about how they will ensure that their contractors understand the actual scope of agreed work, as well as questioning if they are even properly trained or not.

Chris Crane (Committee co-ordinator) and Stewart Glass (Executive Director, Public Utility Service Agency) then presented background materials about the clear cutting - including a set of effective slides showing end results as well as locations of downed trees vis-a-vis distant transmission towers.

Anne Jaffe and Mark Gilliland presented the LORAX resolution in greater detail and explained the 2 basic goals of 1) immediate moratorium on current ROW work and 2) revisitation of PSC regulations through a process including scientific & public input.

John Tomlin from Andrea Stewart-Cousins office also spoke and described her recently introduced resolution in the state senate (S6825 - which calls for utilities to notify 60 days in advance and to hold a public meeting 30 days before clearing activities commence). This made Tom Abinati assert that the ASC resolution provided no solution at all... Imagine - if during a perscribed public meeting with Con Ed, the public or municipality did not agree to what Con Ed proposed. Then what was the recourse? Con Ed could simply say "tough" and go and do what they wanted to anyway. They had, after all, held a public meeting. Thus, the letter of the proposed law would be fulfilled. Tom's point was that there is no teeth to the resolution nor is there a 3rd party or means by which to arbitrate the hypothetical difference in opinions between Con Ed and public.

My own thoughts (after the fact of the meeting) on this review/arbitration process are posted in the previous blog entry (immediately below).

Other speakers included the Supervisor Susan Siegal of Yorktown and the Deputy Mayor Mindy Berard of Pleasantville. Also a professor from Pace Environmental Law (Jamie Van Nostrand). Supervisor Siegal indicated she was in favor of enhanced vegetation management standards, advanced public notification & meetings, more & better oversight of work crews, marking of trees to be removed, proper mitigation and cleanup, and addressing security issues such as ATV access to cleared ROWs.

The committee chairs indicated they would have another meeting very soon to review the actual CONTENT of the resolution in detail. They suggested they would also make time for public input - but no date was specified.

Tom Abinati complained strongly about how the legislature had danced around this matter, considering various pieces of legislation for a number of years - each time deferring to Con Ed when they suggested they "got it" and would change their ways. Tom said he was done waiting for Con Ed and was unsatisfied with what they had done over the years. He was ready to vote and pass the moratorium legislation NOW.

Besides Tom, 3 or 4 BOL members are also co-sponsors of this resolution.

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