GLENMONT — The Bethlehem Town Planning Board took an unusual step last Tuesday by tabling a vote to approve its meeting minutes from May.
The board has come under recent scrutiny, named in an Article 78 proceeding that stems from its site plan approval of the Marmen & Welcon Offshore Wind Tower Manufacturing Plant on Beacon Island. The vote to approve that plan fell on May 17, following nearly a dozen discussions that started with the first meeting in June 2021.
Attorney Christopher Dempf lead Glenmont residents who have said they knew nothing about the $350 million plan until after 80 acres of trees were clearcut from neighboring Beacon Island. Though the port argues it has obtained approvals to proceed, including a waiver from the state Department of Environmental Conservation to cut trees, neighboring residents contend the Town failed to notify them.
The board has planned to approve minutes from that May 17 meeting, detailing the last few comments shared before it approved the site plan. The agenda item, listed immediately before public participation, was tabled following a tense argument over Public Meeting Law between the Glenmont attorney and Board Chairperson Brian Gyory.
Dempf approached the board, asking it clarify on record if May 17 minutes covered the site plan approval. As it often does, the agenda only states the meeting date; however, the agenda packet is uploaded and linked to the Town website. Within the packet, the discussion on the plan is captured.
“I honestly have not had a chance to go over the meeting minutes, so I’m not sure,” Gyory said, before attempting to direct comments on a proposed 77,000-square-foot self-storage business for Chamberlain Street. “So we will not be able to take any public comments.”
Dempf interrupted the board chairperson, arguing that public comments on the port is allowed under state Public Meeting Law. Gyory said he disagreed. He later explained that with lawsuit filed against the board, he wasn’t able to speak about the port. Nonetheless, a half dozen residents approached the microphone one at a time to protest the plan in a public comment period that last less than 15 minutes.
The suit, filed on June 17, is specifically against the Town of Bethlehem, its planning and zoning boards, and the Albany Port District Commission. The 31 petitioners seek to reverse the Planning Board’s approval of the plan’s site requirements under state Environmental Quality Review. Known commonly as SEQR, site review requires public comment — which was provided — but neighboring residents said they never received proper notice.
The port’s expansion plan has been used as an example by Washington D.C. on how the country can move towards a greener economy. Millions of dollars in grants have been promised towards the project, heralded as the nation’s first offshore wind facility.
Petitioners acknowledge the town’s planning and zoning boards may have provided notice to entities within the mandated 200-foot radius of the project, but those are commercial properties, they state. But they say the scale of the project, including industrial noise, site view and potential increased traffic, should have called for broader attention.
“Not to provide such written notice to residential property owners within the impact area (1-2 miles) for the present 80-acre project, with near and distant views and impacts, is not within the spirit of the law and the duties that a lead agency supervising the Environmental Impact Statement Process is mandated to follow.”
On its agenda, the Planning Board defines public participation as “Public Participation / Comments on Regular Agenda Items.” It continues to request comments be submitted by no later than 3 p.m. on the day of the meeting. Approval of meeting minutes is listed as an agenda item.