A conservation group is suing the state to force it to throw out a settlement between state officials and a wind-power company that clear-cut 2.5 acres of state forest.
The Berkshire-Litchfield Environmental Council is suing the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and officials within that agency for settling out of court with the offender.
According to BLEC’s complaint, the 111 largest trees that were cut down are worth more than $1.1 million.
BLEC claims DEEP should have referred the issue to Attorney General George Jepsen instead of settling the matter. Since the case wasn’t handled in open court, BLEC claims, the consent decree is “null and void.”
“As a result of DEEP’s failure to act in accordance with Connecticut law, which ensures the restoration of this valuable section of the state forest that was illegally destroyed, the state has now lost a unique habitat that DEEP and the attorney general are mandated by Connecticut law to protect,” BLEC wrote in its complaint.
BLEC asks the court to invalidate the agreement between DEEP and BNE and replace it with one that requires the company to restore the state forest to its “natural state.”
Jepsen, whose office is defending DEEP in court, said the agency “has broad statutory authority to resolve disputes about environmental matters through the use of consent decrees, as it did in this case.”
“I will, therefore, vigorously defend the lawsuit which is without merit,” Jepsen said.
According to BLEC’s complaint, BNE Energy, a politically-connected developer, contracted with a North Canaan property owner to test the feasibility of a wind project there. In May 2010, BNE or a contractor for the company crossed the town border into Canaan and clear-cut 2.5 acres.
An August 2010 survey for BNE discovered the error and BNE “self-reported” to DEEP in December, according to the consent decree.
BLEC claims in its complaint it was a Hartford Courant reporter, not BNE, who notified DEEP about the clear-cutting.
The agency settled the issue with BNE in November 2012.
As part of the settlement, BNE will survey the correct boundary for the property, monitor and control for invasive species and conduct an environmental research project on the property. The company also has the option to give DEEP $10,000 to fund a research project.
“Protection of open space has long been a priority for me and for my office. For that reason, I instructed my staff to initiate discussions with BLEC’s counsel to explain and discuss DEEP’s decision, set forth in the consent decree, about how best to remedy the clear cutting and restore the area. My staff is currently engaged in discussion with BLEC,” Jepsen said. “The state’s goal is to restore this site without further environmental damage, and I am hopeful that any difference BLEC has about methods to achieve the common goal will be resolved.”
BNE received state approval in 2011 to build a 9.6 megawatt wind project in Colebrook. Fairwind, an advocacy group allied with local property owners, is suing the state to block that development in a case headed for the Connecticut Supreme Court.
A legislative committee has rejected proposed regulations for future wind farms multiple times.
In September, Gov. Dannel Malloy announced the selection of two new renewable energy sources for Connecticut, one solar and one wind. The solar project will be built in along the border of Sprague and Lisbon here in Connecticut, but the wind project is destined for Aroostook County, Maine, more than 400 miles from the nearest Connecticut voter.