WESTFIELD — A larger than usual crowd was in attendance to speak to the Town of Westfield Board on the topic of wind turbines.
During the public comment portion of the meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 5, multiple audience members took the opportunity to address the board regarding the proposed private wind project on the local ridge. While some members of the audience were looking for answers as to the status of the project, Town Supervisor Martha Bills reminded those in attendance that the public comment portion of the meeting was an opportunity for citizens to share their concerns with the board, not a question and answer period.
Residents brought up a number of issues which have occurred in other locations where turbines have been built. Janet Nass spoke about how turbines have not been around long enough for studies to be done on how they affect property value, but that a couple in Ontario are appealing their property tax assessment arguing that turbines erected around their home have driven down their property value 40 to 50 percent. Nass said several studies that are out now say wind turbines cause property values to decrease 11 to 30 percent.
A second person spoke about homeowners having difficulties with their mortgages due to leasing their land for turbines. She said title insurance companies are becoming hesitant to insure properties with turbine leases, making it hard to sell.
A third said this is not where he wants his tax dollars to go, noting that the Federal government and state subsidies each pay for a third of the project, so only one third is paid for by the private investors.
Fred Johnson said he wonders why it is a good financial deal to allow the company which wants to build these turbines to pay less than one sixth that other commercial companies in the area pay in property taxes.
Jennifer Johnson wanted to reminded people of the state park designation of the Lake Erie Concord Grape Belt as an agricultural heritage area and, while the proposed turbines are not in the heritage area, she worries about the visual impact if turbines go up on the ridge or that once they start, the turbines will begin to be built within the heritage area.
Mitch Fitzgibbons, who has been approached by three developers, has done some research and still cannot find the answer to his question, “How much power does a wind turbine actually use off of the grid?” He thinks it is impossible to determine if the turbines are worth it without knowing how much power they will produce because how much power they use is unknown.
Mary Quinn Fulmer said she is concerned by the seeming lack of transparency she sees in the board dealings regarding the project, a lack of communication by the board to the public and a lack of strait answers to the public’s questions.
Fitzgibbons agreed with Fulmer’s sentiments, saying he has felt a disconnect between what the board is thinking and talking about and what the public is experiencing. He recommended a community facilities committee that would have no power, but would be a liaison between the board and the public. He hoped the board would consider it.
Another audience member asked if this is not the right forum for a question and answer period, could a proper forum be set up, to which Bills responded affirmatively.
Bills did share some information with those in attendance regarding the proposed turbine project saying that the Westfield and Ripley Town Boards are acting as lead agencies in the environmental review of the project proposed by Pattern Energy. However, the company has not responded to the questions Westfield asked it after the initial draft environmental impact statement, which include some of the questions the audience had raised.
“I think that because this has taken so long, that some of the reasons we’re doing things the way we’re doing them have been lost,” Bills said. “Our duty as a lead agency has been drilled into us by our environmental attorney who has dealt with many of these cases and, as hard as it is for us, we have been told that we are to remain neutral. We’re to give a fair consideration of both sides of the issue.”
Bills said that when the town gets more information on the issue, it will share it with the public, but that although the company says it is interested, it has multiple business decisions and specifics to make before things can go any further. Bills did add that Chautauqua Ridge Wind, LLC has not been in contact with the town offices, but an audience member said the company has contacted the Town of Chautauqua.
A new twist to the issue is that the law has changed recently which would give Albany the review process, not the local governments, under Article 10. As far as Bills understands the new law, going forward in the future there would be a one year review process of energy projects in Albany with two local representatives involved chosen by the governor. Two counties have already voted in protest of Article 10.
What Article 10 means for this current project is that the company can continue to follow the process it has started, or, in a year when the details of the bill have been finalized, it can file under the new law and the decision will be made in Albany. In addition, the state can supersede local law.
“My personal opinion, I think if these companies start choosing Article 10, people who are now in the anti camp and the pro camp, regardless, are going to come together and say, ‘We really don’t like Albany imposing this on us and then taking the money away from us,’” town attorney Joel Seachrist said. “They’re going to be united in opposition to the process I suspect.”
“We’ll be faced with how we want to react as a community with the limited amount of influence we may have because this really take the local decision making to a very small level,” Bills said.
Nass addressed the board saying she sees the problem as the board being in the middle and because of this the public cannot meet with its representatives.
“I know you’ve met with Pattern Energy,” Nass said. “You can meet with them, why can’t you meet with us?”
“We had to meet with them to get the information we needed to proceed,” Bills said. “We haven’t participated in particular meetings pro or con.
“We’ve taken into consideration all the comments that were put into the scoping document,” Bills said. “I think that we have listened to you.”
An audience member said the public is not hearing anything about what is going on. Bills responded that the reason is because not a lot has been going on.
“As a town board member, I have not got a clue as far as whether I’m for it or against this project because we just don’t get the information from the company,” Deputy supervisor Ray Schuster. “We sit here and listen to you people and I can sympathize with you, but we don’t know much more.
“We’ve got to take it real easy and be careful what we’re doing,” Schuster said.
“As far as this, we have nothing else to report,” Bills said. “When there is, we’ll certainly fill you in.”
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