Altamont board OKs conflict waiver for village attorney

— From Young/Sommer

Allyson Phillips, attorney for the village of Altamont.

ALTAMONT — Altamont trustees signed off on a conflict-of-interest waiver for village attorney Allyson Phillips that allows her to continue with her village work while simultaneously representing Borrego Solar Systems, which is currently looking to install a large solar array on village-owned property in Knox.

In July, the board authorized Mayor Kerry Dineen to sign a 100-day exploratory lease with Borrego Solar Systems, allowing the company to assess the viability of installing a solar development at the Altamont Reservoir in Knox. 

Borrego then had 100 days to decide if the Knox project would be a viable one for the company. The letter signed by Dineen said a lease would last for 20 years with Borrego retaining the right to extend the lease by four additional five-year periods. Altamont would receive $5,500 per megawatt per year — with that number increasing by 2 percent each year.

The Altamont project would be under 25 megawatts.

“We have a potential agreement with Borrego Solar for our Knox property up on the reservoir,” Dineen said during the Oct. 5 meeting. 

Altamont no longer uses its reservoir in Knox, getting village water from wells instead.

During the board’s September meeting, Dineen and Phillips informed trustees that her law firm, Young/Sommer, was hired by Borrego to handle the permitting and environmental approval process on projects over 25 megawatts. 

The law firm requested to be able to continue to represent the village’s interests in the negotiation with Borrego — should it get to that point — while also being able to represent Borrego on solar projects over 25 megawatts, which the proposal for Altamont Reservoir would be under.

Trustees during last month’s meeting expressed concern with the conflict-of-interest waiver because Sept. 7 was the first time they’d heard anything about it. Board members then asked if there was anything in writing that dealt with the conflict being described to them. They were told there was not. 

And, after no one made a motion on Dineen’s request to accept Phillips’ conflict-of-interest waiver, the mayor then asked the trustees what it would like to do next. 

The board said it wanted to see something in writing.

 On Oct. 7, trustees’ concerns appeared to be allayed by a letter from Phillips, laying out her firm’s involvement with Borrego. The board voted unanimously to approve the conflict waiver. 

The letter provided to the board said that Young/Sommer, among other things:

— Would not represent Borrego or provide the developer with legal advice on future negotiations with the village;

— Would limit employee access to records the firm has on both the village and Borrego, to “ensure client confidences are protected and cannot be shared or used adversely against either client”; 

— Would not allow any of its attorneys who deal with permitting for Borrego to represent the village in negotiations with the developer; and  

— “Would not represent either party in any litigation, regulatory, or administrative matter in which the parties’ interests are in any way adverse or become adverse.”

There is no mention of project megawatt size in the letter. 

 

Other news

In other news, the Altamont Board of Trustees at its Oct. 5 meeting:

— Authorized Dineen to sign a contract with Richard A. Gardner doing business as R & R Logging to harvest timber at the 303-acre Altamont reservoir property, which it had done once before, in December 2020.

Dineen explained that, because of a short window in which the trees are allowed to be felled, the company has to go back to finish its work. Describing it as “part two” of the project, Dineen said of the new agreement she was seeking authorization to sign, “It’s all consistent with our original contract.”

That contract would yield a minimum of $40,000 to $50,000 for the village, the mayor said at the time. An unredacted copy of the agreement shows the village and  R & R each receiving half the proceeds of hardwood sales and a 30-70 split in favor of R & R on softwood sales.

The costs for trucking, done by an outside company, are split 50-50, the contract says, and R & R must carry its own insurance and is to protect new growth, cut stumps low, and use as much of marked trees as possible; 

— Changed the date of an upcoming budget workshop on the sewer-rate increases from Oct. 19 to Oct. 28, at 6 p.m.

The local law proposed in June would amend Altamont’s 2008 sewer-usage law by increasing the twice-a-year user fee from $45 to $100 per customer to help pay off a multi-million-dollar sewer-plant upgrade bond. 

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