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LIC power plant dispute nearing final resolution

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With a state Assembly hearing scheduled for Thursday and two lawsuits awaiting resolution, the fate of 10 power generators slated for sites in Queens and across the city is likely to be determined within the coming week.

The battle waged by community groups and public officials to prevent the New York Power Authority from placing two generators on Vernon Boulevard in Long Island City as well as eight others in every other borough but Manhattan has played out for over a month at State Supreme Court in Queens and Brooklyn.

NYPA claims the generators must be installed by June 1 to avert a power crisis this summer. The power authority has been preparing the 10 sites in New York City and one site in Long Island for the generators since January, and NYPA spokesman Louis Rodriguez said the generators have already been placed at every site except for one in Brooklyn.

The Assembly joined the fray by forcing representatives of the three state agencies responsible for the proposal — the New York Power Authority, the state Department of Public Service, and the state Department of Environmental Conservation — to testify publicly about the plants at a Thursday hearing, Assemblyman Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) said.

“We look at [the hearing] as an opportunity to explain the entire plan and the benefit resulting from this plan to every New Yorker,” Rodriguez said.

But representatives of the agencies declined the initial invitation to testify, forcing the Assembly to issue subpoenas requiring their appearance at the hearing, which was originally scheduled for last week. When the agencies requested an additional week to prepare, the hearing was postponed until Thursday.

“The hearing seriously adversely impacts our ability to fully exercise our procedural and substantive rights to prepare, brief and argue the issues in those two court proceedings,” wrote NYPA Executive Vice President David E. Blabey in response to the original invitation.

Gianaris, who sits on the Environmental Conservation Committee, said the assertion that the hearing would affect litigation was “a bogus claim.”

“They were afraid I was going to ask them tough questions in the hearing which would restrict their ability to give different answers during litigation,” Gianaris said.

According to Gianaris, the Assembly will likely devise a legislative solution to the power plants following the hearings.

Meanwhile, a resolution is likely to come out of State Supreme Court in Queens or Brooklyn within the coming week.

At the end of January, Silvercup Studios and a coalition of community groups and public officials filed suit in State Supreme Court in Queens to prevent NYPA from placing generators on the Vernon Boulevard site, which borders Silvercup property. Justice Joseph Golia ordered a preliminary injunction Feb. 16, which would require NYPA to halt construction once Silvercup posts a bond, the amount of which must be determined by the court.

Golia has met weekly with both parties for the past three weeks in an attempt to hammer out a settlement, and will only set a bond if negotiations fail, said his law secretary, Mitchell Kaufman. The latest meeting was scheduled for Wednesday, March 21, at 2:30 p.m.

According to Silvercup attorney Michael Zarin, any potential settlement hinges on NYPA agreeing to eventually remove the power plants within a specified period of time.

Arguments were held March 13 for the Brooklyn Supreme Court case, in which New York Lawyers for the Public Interest filed suit on behalf of a coalition of community groups to fight 10 of the 11 generators. Justice Lawrence Knipel was expected to rule by the end of the month.

“What we’re asking is for them to tear down the facilities that have already been built and to not operate them at all and to not do it in the future,” said Gail Horwitz, a lawyer for the community groups.

The suit could force NYPA to halt construction at 10 sites on the basis of two claims: that NYPA did not conduct an adequate environmental assessment and that it defied zoning laws when it chose the sites for the plants.

NYPA responded to both arguments by asserting the urgency of averting a power shortage forced them to act as quickly as possible.

As California experienced rolling blackouts to prevent the state’s electrical system from overloading, President Bush declared this week the nation was facing a domestic energy crisis.

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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