Although the state’s first seven windmills were built in the town of Madison in 2000, the proposed $110 million Rolling Upland Wind Farm has sparked controversy among neighbors in the rural township that straddles Route 20 in eastern Madison County.
More than 150 residents attended a public hearing Wednesday night on the developer’s draft environmental impact statement — an 881-page document outlining plans for the construction of 36 new turbines that will create 300 construction jobs and generate enough electricity to power 14,400 to 18,000 homes.
In recent months, growing opposition to the project has spawned a website — madisonmatters.org — which refers to the project as an “industrial turbine complex.” The group set up a legal fund and, within three weeks, raised enough money to retain a lawyer and traveled to a wind farm in Herkimer County last weekend to observe similar turbines that were recently built.
At Wednesday night’s meeting, some opponents held signs that read “Madison Matters! No Industrial Wind Turbines Here” — which have also began to pop up in front yards and roadsides. Those who have lived among the town’s existing wind turbines tried to reassure residents about noise pollution, impacts on wildlife and health concerns.
“I can hear my neighbor’s milking pumps start up,” said Bonnie Stone, whose farm is home to five of the seven existing turbines. “I can hear my neighbor’s dog barking. I can hear the motorcycles from the center of town.
“Rarely do I hear the windmills,” she said. “If I do, it’s a gentle ‘swish.’ ”
Opponents said that the scope of the proposed project will dwarf the existing wind turbines and are planned for an area that is more residential than the original farm’s site.
The existing windmills stand 328 feet tall. Turbines in the proposed project would be 492 feet tall, according to the developer’s environmental report.
“They are smaller and have a proven track record,” said Tim Overton, of Bonney Hill Road, of the original windmills. “They are being compared to something that has not been used here before.”
“The difference is huge, like apples and oranges,” said Robert Deming, of East Lake Road. “It makes me wonder if this project is just too large for our community.”
Others expressed concerns about property values.
“With the possibility of a large wind farm in the town of Madison, the values of properties are currently under a cloud,” said Bill Todd, a village of Hamilton resident.
Stone Road resident Doug Waterman said he worried about similar concerns when the original turbines were installed.
“I can honestly say that I have never experienced any of that,” Waterman said. “Change is tough, but we have to look at the total picture.”
Proponents of the project pointed out the benefits of first project: local companies used for construction, revenue for county, town and school coffers through payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreements, and help for farmers who have struggled to preserve the town’s open spaces in difficult economic times.
“Have we forgotten all of this?” said Kenneth Stone. “High land (values) and school taxes are what bring down property values — not windmills.”
Town officials said written comments on the environmental impact statement will be accepted until May 18.