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County demands answers from SCCC

By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO — February 23, 2010 — Legislators are awaiting a meeting with Sullivan County Community College officials about the stalled windmill project behind SCCC’s Loch Sheldrake campus.
But there may be no more windmill project as envisioned, according to documents e-mailed to the Legislature by SCCC President Dr. Mamie Howard Golladay.
On February 13, County Manager David Fanslau sent 18 questions to Golladay regarding the windmill and the company contracted to build it, Atlantic Energy Solutions (AES).
In the letter, Fanslau asked where the project currently stands, to which Golladay replied, “There are no other financial commitments to AES, and the college probably will not use AES in any turbine installation. It probably will not erect the traditional wind turbine, given the rapid changes in wind technology. It is considering roof-top models and other smaller, less intrusive types of turbine.”
This is not the experimental wind turbine under construction near the college’s entrance road. That company – ETC – is nearing completion of its turbine and is not involved in this litigation.
The college had planned to have a separate, 276-foot-high, propeller-type windmill already in operation behind the main campus, but SCCC has ended up in court with AES, suing the Saratoga Springs-based company for allegedly withholding the funds it was given to purchase the windmill.
College officials have testified to the Sullivan County Supreme Court that AES leaders have acknowledged withholding some of the disputed $1.5 million in order to shore up AES’ faltering finances. (See the February 12 edition of the Democrat for a more in-depth look at that litigation.)
It’s also since come to light that AES was not registered with the NYS Department of State to do business in New York until this past October, even though its headquarters are located upstate.
Though not illegal, the college entered into agreements with AES two years prior to that registration (and which were signed off on by the County Attorney’s Office). County officials speculated that AES undertook the registration so as to have the needed standing in court, but AES CEO Tim Brock has yet to return calls for comment.
In the meantime, legislators are now worried that the contested funds – which originated through the Bank of New York with a group of private investors known as the Rochester Fund – will have to be paid back with public funds other than the energy savings expected from the windmill.
Thus they asked Fanslau to send out the questionnaire to Golladay, in which the final question was, “If the pending litigation decision ... is unfavorable to the Sullivan County Community College, will the County of Sullivan or the taxpayers thereof be assured that they aren't going to be expected to cover this expense?”
Replied Golladay, “Unable to answer at this time.”
A meeting is being hammered out between the county and the college. Originally scheduled for this past Thursday, the county cancelled it due to a tour of the Sullivan Annex, a potential site of the proposed county jail.
When county officials attempted to reschedule, however, they were told the three people who were sitting on the board when the AES contract was signed would not be available until mid-March, due to a variety of vacations and commitments.
That prompted an angry reply from County Treasurer Ira Cohen.
“The college’s response that they are not available to meet with us again until the end of March is unfortunately indicative and consistent with the disdain that they hold for this Legislature’s efforts to demand explanations for the college’s fiscal irresponsibility,” he wrote to legislators. “... The public, this body and my office as chief fiscal officer of the county deserve a prompt and honest dialogue and explanation in this matter.”
As of yesterday, no specific meeting date has been scheduled – with Legislator Ron Hiatt even subtly threatening to subpoena Golladay if the delay lasts too long.
“We’re going to require and demand a thorough explanation,” promised Legislator Alan Sorensen, who chairs the Government Services Committee, which is overseeing the discussion. “... These funds should be accounted for.”

College president urges legislators to ‘calm down’

By Dan Hust
LOCH SHELDRAKE — Sullivan County Community College President Dr. Mamie Howard Golladay said yesterday that county officials upset over the Atlantic Energy Solutions (AES) debacle should tone down the rhetoric.
“I think they should just calm down and stop pointing fingers,” she remarked in an interview with the Democrat.
“For them to run around and act like this – it’s just unacceptable,” she continued. “... The bottom line is ... it could have happened with any company anywhere.”
Golladay pointed out several issues she hopes legislators take into account when discussing the matter at a yet-to-be-scheduled meeting:
• She did not know that AES was not registered to do business in New York State when the college began its association with the company.
“Everything checked out,” she explained, noting that AES had good references and an unblemished track record statewide.
• She pointed out that the County Attorney’s Office had taken a look at the agreements pertaining to the AES project, which included the windmill. The office then signed off on them, followed by college board approval.
“We followed the same process we always have,” she explained. “... I didn’t do this on my own.”
• She was unprepared to talk about the turbine at a February 11 legislative committee meeting where it turned into a tense debate, saying she had not been informed ahead of time that the windmill litigation would be a focal point.
“I felt ambushed,” she said.
Golladay contended that she had asked Legislature Chair Jonathan Rouis if he wanted it brought up at a January meeting, but she said he told her it was a “waste of time.”
Golladay said she found out later that Rouis had met privately with three SCCC board members.
“I was not included,” she remarked.
Nevertheless, she added, “I’m willing to go talk to them. I’m not hiding.”
• The college, she argued, did not arrange the financing for the AES project but had a financial services company shop it around, ultimately finding the best interest rate – less than six percent – from the Rochester Fund, a private group of investors working through the Bank of New York.
Golladay wasn’t surprised that the Rochester Fund won the bid, as it holds the bonds on the Lazarus I. Levine Residence Hall.
• In the end, Golladay said she doesn’t truly expect a financial problem, especially with the savings anticipated from AES’ other project – outfitting the fieldhouse for geothermal energy use – and the unrelated experimental wind turbine near the college’s entrance.
“We expect the county will not have to pay that debt back,” she affirmed.

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