PROSPECT — After a lengthy fight against the Wind Prospect project, Save Prospect Corp. has racked up some hefty legal fees.
According to Save Prospect President Tim Reilly, the group’s legal fees have exceeded $125,000 and may be closer to $140,000. The fees include $58,000 in payments for lawyers and $54,000 for expert witnesses. The group is over $50,000 in debt, Reilly said.
Now, the group is asking the town to help pay those bills.
“While we gladly did the work to protect the health, safety, quality of life, and property values for the town’s people, we now fully expect the town to contribute to the cost of our defense,” Reilly wrote in a letter he submitted to Mayor Robert Chatfield and the Town Council during the council’s meeting Tuesday night.
Reilly contended in the letter that the town could have stopped the project before it started had the town not issued a permit for a meteorological tower to be built on the proposed turbine site to measure wind two years ago.
“Whether through oversight, lack of knowledge and commitment to research, or some other, more serious motivating factor, the town’s residents were left in a position where they were left on their own to defend their basic rights of property ownership and quality of life,” Reilly alleged in the letter.
The group lobbied hard over the past six months to oppose the construction of two 1.6 megawatt turbines by BNE Energy of West Hartford. The proposed turbines were defeated May 12 by the Connecticut Siting Council, which regulates large energy projects in the state.
“We believe the town should have fought this fight,” Reilly said, in a subsequent interview.
Reilly said he didn’t understand why the town government didn’t take a more active role in mounting a defense on behalf of the town.
The council opposed the turbines during Siting Council hearings and wrote a resolution asking the state legislature to impose a moratorium on commercial wind turbines until regulations are developed.
According to Reilly, the group still expects to incur more costs from legal bills through April and May. Even though the group won the fight, it is continuing to pursue allegations that BNE misrepresented its project when applying for state loans.
While the letter didn’t name a specific amount the group expected the town to pay, it requested a “fair portion.” Reilly said he wanted reimbursement for expert witnesses and legal fees, but not other expenses such as advertisements, mailings and signs.
Reilly said about 150 people have contributed to the group financially, with some individuals chipping in as much as $5,000.
“While we cannot repair what has transpired over the past six months, council members can relieve this incredible financial burden brought upon the town’s residents over the last six months,” Reilly wrote.
Reilly said the group had to spend the money to effectively fight BNE, which had a loan from the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund to present its case. If the group had not spent the money to get experts and instead relied on information from the internet, it might have lost, Reilly said.
“That cost us a tidy sum. … Here, we had to reach into our pocketbooks. It’s just not right,” Reilly said.
Reilly said he’s willing to sit down with the council and present every invoice.
If it came to a referendum, Reilly said he’s confident the people of Prospect would support it.
Galvin said this was the first time that he was aware of in which the town had been approached by any group asking for such a consideration.
“I was concerned with some of the language in the letter, but the council will review its content and consider their request,” Galvin said.
Galvin said he was discussing the matter with the town attorney, John Yarbrough of Carmody and Torrance of Waterbury. Yarbrough declined to comment on the issue at this time.
The Town Council also set up a subcommittee to look into the matter, Reilly said.
“I’m happy with the town council’s initial response,” Reilly said.
Attorney Jeffrey Tinley, who represents Save Prospect, said he was looking into whether there was any legal precedent for such a case.
“It’s a great group and they provided a great service to the town. They did a tremendous amount of work and the town’s people should be grateful because this is a terrible site for this project,” Tinley said.
Reilly said the group is still accepting donations at www.saveprospect.com.
“We’re reaching out to everybody so we don’t have to keep reaching out to the same people up here on the hill,” Reilly said.
The Town Council will discuss the letter at its next meeting on June 7.