PROSPECT — The Connecticut Siting Council’s chairman resigned Thursday after an attorney for a group opposed to a commercial wind project in Prospect reported that he had discussed the proposal in a private conversation last week.
Attorney Jeffrey J. Tinley, who represents Save Prospect Corp., filed a letter Tuesday with the council, reporting an “ex parte communication” on March 18 by Chairman Daniel F. Caruso, who is a judge of probate in Fairfield.
The conversation centered on a pending petition by BNE Energy Inc. of West Hartford to build two wind turbines at 178 New Haven Road.
According to Tinley’s letter, Caruso asked Tinley to remain in his chambers after a probate hearing. After each of Caruso’s comments, Tinley said he tried to deflect the questions in a “nonsubstantive way,” the letter reads.
Caruso started with asking Tinley how “we” will get this done by March 31, which is the last evidentiary hearing scheduled for the Prospect project, Tinley wrote.
According to Tinley, Caruso said he had questioned Tim Reilly, the Save Prospect president, at an evidentiary hearing, about how to mitigate the impacts if the turbines were sited in Prospect. Caruso told Tinley he wanted to help Reilly understand how the council works.
Caruso also told Tinley that the only reason he allowed several witnesses from Massachusetts to speak at a hearing is because “he saw the ‘pained expression’ on my face when he initially said they would not be given an opportunity to speak,” according to the letter.
Caruso said, “They’re all nice people. But it’s a lot of bull——,” the letter states.
Caruso also told Tinley that when he asked Save Prospect’s noise expert at a hearing what could be done about the noise, the witness “pooh-poohed” the question, the letter reads.
Tinley also wrote that Caruso said wind-specific regulations aren’t necessary and that the council’s review of the Prospect project would be finished before anything is done at the legislature.
The letter states: “(Caruso) said that if the chair of the energy committee (Rep. Vickie Nardello, D-Prospect) was upset about it, that’s ‘too bad.'”
Tinley said as he left, Caruso said he wanted to help Tinley understand how the council operates and that it will try to do what it can to reduce the impact of the turbine project.
Caruso filed a three-page response to Tinley’s letter Thursday, saying that he would recuse himself from the proceedings. He also submitted a letter to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, notifying him of his resignation.
According to his response letter, Caruso said the brief conversation with Tinley was procedural, and did not address the merits of the project. The communication was not “improper,” he said.
However, Caruso said it seems the conversation had been misunderstood and misused.
His response letter does not mention his resignation. However, in a letter addressed to Malloy, Caruso resigned from the post, saying that is in the council’s best interest.
In his response to Tinley’s letter, Caruso said he wanted to help Tinley and Save Prospect understand the council’s procedures. He also defended his handling of the out-of-state residents who came to Connecticut to testify at a council hearing on the Prospect project.
He said that after hours of cross-examination, attorneys for witnesses acted surprised, and stated they would be unable to bring the witnesses back, especially those from outside Connecticut.
“I was deeply troubled by the disappointment, frustration and sense of disbelief evident in the faces, sounds and statements of these neighbors,” Caruso said in the letter.
He said he allowed for more time, which the council did not have, to allow an attorney and council members to question some of the witnesses.
He said he also wanted to make it clear that questions by council members about possible ways to mitigate adverse impacts should be taken seriously. If the council lacks this information, and the petition were to be approved, it may lose opportunities to address those impacts, he said in the letter.
“My sole purpose was to be of assistance, my goal was to help,” Caruso said.
In the letter Caruso also explained the context in which he spoke on state regulations governing the council.
“When the issue of the council’s lack of regulation in this field was put to me, my answer was pointed (and I apologize for the salty language),” Caruso said.
Caruso also stated in the letter that he has complete respect for Nardello, who is chairwoman of the legislature’s energy and technology committee.
Linda Roberts, the council’s executive director, said the council received Tinley’s letter via email at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday. She directed any further questions to Caruso’s response on the council’s website. She would not comment further.
Nicholas J. Harding, an attorney representing FairWindCT, said, “Based on what is in Tinley’s letter, the only appropriate thing for Judge Caruso was for him to step down.”
Harding said he was surprised to learn Caruso had made the error of having that conversation with any party to a proceeding.
Reilly, the Save Prospect president, said he respects Caruso’s decision to resign.
Reilly said due to the ongoing proceedings, Tinley did not want to comment publicly.
The siting council has held two public hearings on the Prospect project, and its last scheduled evidentiary hearing is March 31. BNE also wants to build six wind turbines in Colebrook. Hearings were held Tuesday and Wednesday on that project.
Malloy on Thursday appointed Robert “Robin” Stein of Stamford to replace Caruso.
Stein, who most recently served as Stamford’s land use bureau chief for 15 years, was appointed to be a council member and nominated to be its chairman, according to a release from the governor’s office. The chairman nomination requires legislative approval.
Patty McQueen, a spokeswoman for BNE Energy, said the company welcomes the new chairman. “It is also important to note that this is a thorough and detailed process, no matter who is chairing the siting council, and we are committed to completing that process in the coming weeks,” she said.