By GINA MUSCATO
ITALY – Local residents’ concerns – and possible litigation – have prompted town officials to include an industrial wind turbine ban in the zoning law they’re formulating.
It had already included regulations on setback and height but now calls for an all-out ban, as well.
Two companies, Global Winds Harvest and Ecogen, want to build more than 50 wind turbines combined in Italy and neighboring Prattsburg, Steuben County. For the Ecogen project, there would be 20-plus turbines in Italy, most near Emerson Road. Global’s project calls for several near Clute Road.
Both propose constructing a substation in Italy.
“I think the town board thought it was most expedient to ban them at this point,” said Councilman Malcolm MacKenzie, noting that there’s been a threat of litigation by Ecogen and town residents.
“We’re following the direction of our residents. We just decided we need to do what the majority wanted us to do,” said Supervisor Margaret Dunn.
But, Ecogen manager Tom Hagner doesn’t believe it’s the majority speaking; it’s just that the opponents are most vocal.
Residents have repeatedly voiced concerns, primarily about noise and the view, at meetings and in letters to town officials.
“We can only go by what we hear,” Dunn said.
Hagner encouraged those residents to visit communities with wind turbines, including Fenner, Madison County and Tug Hill, Lewis County.
“Go to the wind farms and take a look at the ones already there. A lot of myths are dispelled after going,” said Hagner.
MacKenzie recently visited the wind farm in Tug Hill with other board members and said it’s not as noisy as he expected.
View remains an issue because the wind turbines are more than 300-feet-tall.
But, Hagner said residents need to weigh the negatives against the need for renewable energy sources.
“It isn’t that they are a totally benign source of energy. There is a view impact. But what’s the alternative?” said Hagner, noting wind generated within the Finger Lakes’ ridge tops is a unique resource. “Ultimately, we need to move toward renewable energy.”
Dunn said “We have heard that people would rather have their taxes go up than the windmills in their town.”
A lawsuit would boost taxes; the town has already racked up nearly $80,000 in legal fees because of a complaint Ecogen filed in federal court in March, saying the town’s six-month extension on its wind turbine moratorium unlawfully prevents the firm from building the electricity substation it would need for its Steuben County generators.
The moratorium has been extended several times while officials developed their zoning law. The court has given the town 90 days to complete the law and remove its moratorium.
The town has since filed a countersuit to recoup its attorney’s fees.
“If we could have come up with a compromise, [without] the town [giving] up everything, then that’s the road we could have taken. But that’s not what happened, and now time is ticking down. I have been wanting to come to an adult compromise, but now our backs are to the wall,” said Dunn, noting that the 90-day deadline is up in October.
Hagner said time shouldn’t be an excuse.
“We’re ready to meet with them anytime, any place,” said Hagner, adding that all they are looking for are reasonable regulations. “I think that we qualify as a public utility “¦. We have the right to be on these locations with a relaxed and reasonable zoning. If we qualify, then what the town has done is inappropriate.”
Reasonable zoning, he added, doesn’t include restrictions on wind turbines in Italy’s proposed zoning laws. Even without the ban, he said, they wouldn’t be able to build the structures because the proposed setbacks are too restrictive.
The Yates County Planning Board is scheduled to review the proposed zoning law. A public hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. Sept. 9.
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