Schoharie official alleges he was defamed

A citizen advocacy group that’s been developing a legal fund to battle wind turbines and gas dril


A citizen advocacy group that’s been developing a legal fund to battle wind turbines and gas drilling may end up needing some of that fund for its own defense.

Schoharie Valley Watch, or SVW, and its directors Don Airey, Bob Nied and Renee Grabowski, are named in a defamation lawsuit filed Aug. 27 in state Supreme Court, Schoharie County.

Filed on behalf of Richmondville Planning Board Chairman Harold Loder, the lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.

It alleges SVW’s letters to officials and press releases to the media targeting Loder were “undertaken with an utter disregard of [Loder’s] professional and personal reputation and livelihood, and were otherwise malicious in nature.”

Loder declined to comment on the suit Thursday.

His attorney, Salvatore Ferlazzo, said public officials enjoy less protection in terms of defamation because they are public officials.

“Even with public officials, there is a limit on criticisms you can make; you have to have some basis for it,” Ferlazzo said.

“There is a point where even public officials need to stand up and say ‘enough is enough.’ And this is that point,” Ferlazzo said.

The suit points out letters to town officials starting in August 2009 in which SVW criticized Loder’s handling of development project reviews.

Some of the letters, announced at times in press releases, have accused Loder of colluding with relatives at real estate firms or not following the law as it relates to the state’s Environmental Quality Review process.

The group also alleged that Loder helped guide development projects through the planning process as chairman of the board and alleged he had some benefit to gain from doing so.

SVW co-director Bob Nied said in a press release that Loder’s lawsuit is an effort to silence the group that seeks to hold public officials accountable for protecting drinking water in the face of gas drilling or ensuring any industrial wind turbines are sited responsibly.

“Those who would rather concerned citizens go away and be silenced are going to be very disappointed,” Nied said in the release.

“We will persist in our efforts to safeguard the health, safety, property values and quality of life of area residents and will prevail in the face of efforts to suppress the rights of those residents.”

Ferlazzo said there’s no intention to silence the citizen advocacy group.

“SVW has every right to go to board meetings, exercise their First Amendment rights and perform functions. This is solely related to the excessive allegations against Mr. Loder and going over the top,” Ferlazzo said.

“The First Amendment does not protect all conduct and all discussion,” he said.

SVW started targeting Loder when assailing a proposed development for a dozen homes on Brooker Hollow Road in the village of Richmondville.

SVW alleged the project’s environmental review was undertaken at a time when the project called for septic systems and well water and contended it should be revisited since a sewer system and municipal water are being considered.

Construction for that project, first proposed in 2002, has not yet begun.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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