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Cassadaga Wind project work continues

Critical construction?

Work has continued at the point of interconnection construction site located at Route 60 and Moon Road. According to wind company Innogy, this site is considered “critical work” and exempt from Governor Cuomo’s PAUSE Executive Order. Submitted Photo.

SOUTH DAYTON — For some area residents, the continued presence of out-of-state construction vehicles has been concerning, as Gov. Cuomo’s PAUSE Executive Order has put a temporary stop to all non-essential construction related to clean energy projects — including wind turbine construction — until May 15. Sue Baldwin who lives at the intersection of Route 83, Bard Road and South Hill Road, told the OBSERVER, “The dirt trucks, I’m still seeing. The tool trucks, I still see those. As recently as last week, I saw the red logging trucks.”

She and others have noticed that there are still out-of-state vehicles parked at the former Johnson Senior Home, where construction workers have apparently been living while working on the project. “We always find two Utah-plated pickups parked at the Innogy office in Cherry Creek,” noted Chautauqua County resident Karen Engstrom.

However, out-of-state license plates may not be telling the full story, according to Craig Sundstrom, director of government and regulatory affairs for Chicago-based Innogy Renewables US, LLC. In an email to the OBSERVER, Sundstrom said, “Please note that the workforce at Cassadaga Wind is overwhelmingly local to Chautauqua County. Construction vehicles on site may have license plates from other states because they are rental vehicles.”

Sundstrom also pointed out that “most work at Cassadaga Wind has begun to wind down in accordance with the most recent executive order.”

Engstrom told the OBSERVER that she has noticed locations where tree removal and gravel road construction appear to have stopped. “Lots of idle machinery, sites covered with hay,” she noted.

However, other sites seem busier than ever: “…the point of interconnection construction site on Route 60 and Moon road has lots of workers — more than in the past,” said Engstrom.

According to Randy Buntjer, site construction manager for Cassadaga Wind, the workforce that local residents have observed this month is significantly smaller than that established in the original plan. In an April 8 email to Charlotte and Cherry Creek town officials, Buntjer explained that Innogy would be working in compliance with Gov. Cuomo’s PAUSE order with the exception of certain critical work projects.

“Critical work includes construction of the point of interconnection, erection of meteorological towers, and stabilization of access roads, laydown and staging area,” he wrote. “…The original construction plan for April forecasts a workforce of 165 people. This has been reduced to approximately 20 people until further notice.”

Still, some residents are skeptical that the “critical work” is necessary and is actually putting local residents at risk for the spread of COVID-19. Charlotte resident Joni Riggle received a copy of Buntjer’s email from town of Charlotte Supervisor Allen Chase; this prompted her to email Patrick McCarthy, director of environmental affairs and permitting for Innogy on April 9.

“For the sake of building trust in our community and absolute transparency, we citizens are requesting to see the actual correspondence from Empire State Development and the governor’s office that allows ‘critical’ work to continue. … We have witnessed non-compliance with social distancing and note the activities listed to be critical are actually the very same everyday activities that have been in progress these last weeks.”

Riggle was still awaiting a response from McCarthy as of Tuesday.

Baldwin, too, is concerned that the ongoing critical construction flies in the face of the governor’s orders for social distancing. “From what I’ve seen, they’re not staying six feet apart from each other,” she told the OBSERVER. “How could they? They’re still coming and going at our stores and gas stations. We don’t know where they actually live or if they travel out of the area on the weekends.”

Tuesday morning was the first day that Baldwin noticed workers wearing masks on Boutwell Hill Road since Cuomo’s April 17 mandate that requires everyone in New York to wear them in public and situations where social distancing cannot be maintained.

According to Sundstrom, Innogy is committed to protecting public health and safety and “coordinating with state authorities as they proceed in the interest of protecting public health.”

He concluded his email to the OBSERVER by stating that Cassadaga Wind’s employees and contractors are not only implementing New York State Department of Health guidelines for preventing the spread of COVID-19, but also OSHA guidance and guidance from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. “We anticipate enacting these measures until the public health crisis subsides,” he stated.

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