County lawmakers set to vote on CPV statement (updated)

Matt Turnbull

Back in 2012, Orange County lawmakers passed without dissent or a word of discussion a statement in support of a $900 million power plant then being planned in Wawayanda, a recitation of economic and environmental benefits so lavish that the company executives themselves could have written it.

Five years later, the hulking Competitive Power Ventures plant on Route 6 is nearing completion, and the politics around it have noticeably shifted – thanks to a couple bribery arrests and opposition by a band of determined activists. At Thursday’s Legislature meeting, the main event will be a debate over a different non-binding resolution about the CPV project, this time urging state officials to “take whatever legal options are appropriate and necessary to protect the public health and environment” in a dispute with federal regulators over the plant’s gas supply.

The citizens who have fought the plant and raised its political profile rallied across the street from it on Monday with Democrats who have embraced their cause, including Patrick Davis, the Democrat running for Orange County executive, and county legislators Matt Turnbull, Roseanne Sullivan and Jeff Berkman. They also were joined by Michael Sussman, the attorney who has waged the legal fight against CPV, and Ken Pinkela, the Democrat running for the Legislature seat in which the power plant is located.

At Thursday’s meeting, the legislators hope to revive a more strongly worded CPV resolution by Berkman that failed to pass in committee last month – or suggest a hybrid version. The Berkman resolution suggested state officials withhold final permits for the plant until they more fully examine its health and environmental effects and see if the permitting process was corrupted. But Democrats, outnumbered 12-8 by Republicans on the Legislature, conceded they may not have the votes to bring that statement to a vote, and said they would support the resolution by Republican Mike Anagnostakis that is set for a floor vote.

Opponents have urged like-minded citizens to contact their lawmakers, and are certain to make their cases in person during public comments at the start of Thursday’s meeting.

The outcome is uncertain. Legislature Chairman Steve Brescia, a Republican, said this week that the Anagnostakis resolution probably was the better of the two taken up in committee last month, but he didn’t know yet how he would vote on it. “Everybody’s concerned about the environment,” he said, “but the project is built.” He couldn’t predict how the full Legislature vote would turn out.

Berkman, who is from Middletown, had co-sponsored the 2012 resolution in support of CPV, saying in committee then that he liked that the plant would use Middletown’s wastewater, but that he needed to see a full review of the project’s environmental impact.

Turnbull, who is from Hamptonburgh and leads the Democratic caucus, apologized to activists during the rally on Monday for his voting in support of the 2012 resolution. He said that he and other legislators were focused then on two huge controversies – the fate of the Government Center and the county nursing home – and that he knew too little about the CPV project.

(Update: Protect Orange County, the citizens group led by Pramilla Malick that has opposed the power plant, says it will ask lawmakers on Thursday to either blend the two resolutions and adopted the combined language, or else approve them both.)

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