By Matt Youngfrau
MONTICELLO August 9, 2002 On Wednesday, August 7, the Special Protection of the Environment for the County of Sullivan (SPECS) held their first informational public hearing at the Neighborhood Facility in Monticello. More than 80 people turned out to hear information on the potential dangers of the proposed Calpine power plant.
Among those in attendance were four members of the Village of Monticello Board, the Town of Thompson supervisor, three Sullivan County legislators, and the county manager.
"We ask that everyone keep an open mind to the facts," remarked SPECS Co-Chair Cynthia Niven. "This plant will affect everybody. This will create smog and pollution. You can't buy health. Money means nothing in this."
"We need to protect the clean air and environment of Sullivan County," agreed SPECS Co-Chair Janet Newberg. "This will not bring permanent jobs here. We need hundreds of voices. We can win this fight."
Various members of the committee went over several topics related to Calpines proposal to build the plant near the county landfill, including Calpine's history, the Article X approval process, environmental concerns, and Calpine's financial state.
It was announced that a member of the Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development (Gerry Skoda) sent an e-mail to the Town of Thompson (specifically, Supervisor Tony Cellini) calling the SPECS group "radicals" and stating they were giving out incorrect facts. Skoda encouraged Cellini not to listen to them and let the process move forward.
The large crowd did ask, however, for input from the elected officials.
"This is not a done deal not by a long shot," stated Sullivan County District 8 Legislator Bob Kunis, who represents a portion of Monticello (though not where Calpines plant would go). "I have seen this group grow. There are a lot of my friends and neighbors here. This is your town and county. I heard your message, and I will take it to the Legislature. I will not support this project."
"I came here to listen to you tonight," Sullivan County District 9 Legislator Jim Carnell Jr. said. (Carnells district includes the village and the portion where the plant would be situated.) "I will repeat Bob: this is not a done deal. We haven't been offered a dime on the property. There has been no serious negotiations.
"I have been here over 25 years," Carnell continued. "Every project that has come down in that time has had opposition. That includes the hospital, Wal-Mart, and Frontier. That is not good or bad. We have to listen to both sides. We have not voted on anything."
"I thank this group for the invitation to the meeting tonight. I came here to listen," remarked Sullivan County District 1 Legislator Chris Cunningham. "You are sending a clear message. There is no done deal. No one has made up their mind. We can tell the manager to stop negotiating. The level of concern is growing. We hear what you say. This will affect the whole county."
"The leadership of the county needs to have a clear idea where we want to go," noted Village of Monticello Trustee Mary Jo Oppenheim. "Monticello is becoming the armpit of the county. What is next? All nine legislators are up for election next year. Remember this next November."
One official had a suggestion that was received well by the crowd.
"Let's have a public referendum put on the ballot for November," suggested Cellini.
The legislators stated they would support a public vote, but it was unclear whether or not it could be put on the ballot for the November elections.
After the meeting, many in attendance signed petitions in opposition to the project, which were to be given to the legislators (organizers had people sign the petition for the legislator of their specific district), along with Thompson and Monticello officials. The group promised more meetings and to apply further pressure until the project is abandoned and Calpine leaves the area.