By Samme Chittum
HOBART – The Hobart Town Hall normally seats about 50 for town meetings, but officials expect an overflow crowd Sept. 20 when the topic is wind turbines and whether they should be incorporated into the regional energy picture and the local landscape.
“It’s going to be quite heated,” said Pat Ryan, Hobart town supervisor and chair of the Hobart Town Board. It’s likely that the Hobart Town Hall won’t accommodate the expected crowd. Ryan said the board is considering moving the meeting to the fire hall, which has twice that number of seats.
The issue is bigger than just the village, which is part of the Town of Stamford. Several other communities in Delaware County and the western Catskills are debating the complex issue.
Various wind turbine projects have been proposed for development by more than one entity, including Invenergy of Chicago, and Airtricity of Dublin, Ireland, and the Rural Electric Association of Delhi.
The controversial issue embraces matters that range from real estate values to the national need for alternative energy sources and the impact on the Catskill vista. Also at stake: property rights of nearby homeowners and those landowners, including many farmers, who want to lease their land.
The potential impact on wildlife, the economic benefit generated by taxes and lease agreements and wear and tear on local roads from construction are being considered, as well as who will be responsible for long-term custodial maintenance of the industrial turbines, which consist of steel towers that stand about 270 feet tall and are crowned by 140-to-260-foot-long rotating fiberglass blades.
Eventually, “wind farms” could be sited near Cherry Valley to the north, outside Walton to the southwest and near Roxbury in the southeast Catskills. In the New York-Pennsylvania region, wind farms exist in Fenner – in Madison County east of Syracuse – and Waymart, Pa., northeast of Scranton.
In New York, the rural communities of Hobart, Stamford, Bovina, Hancock, Andes and Tompkins have passed moratoriums ranging from 60 days to a year to allow time to study the matter and examine the advantages and disadvantages for villages and homeowners.
Stamford and Bovina, as well as Meredith, Walton and Cherry Valley, have heard from citizens who either support or oppose the introduction of wind farms, which would consist of industrial turbines on ridges, mostly on private land that would be leased by the companies that operate the turbines and sell the electricity.
“You hear a lot of pros and cons,” Ryan said. “There could be some nice tax advantages for the town, but there are some eyesore complaints. I haven’t made up my mind yet if it’s a good idea or not.”
The moratoriums mean villages can take time to consider whether to allow wind farms, but also what measures should be in place to protect neighbors and wildlife, especially birds whose migration and flight paths could be disturbed. Those include raptors such as the golden eagle and redtail hawk, which soar in the updrafts along mountain ridges.
Others are concerned about who will be responsible for decommissioning the turbines if they become derelict.
“I agreed with the moratorium, not to stop wind power but to investigate and draw up local laws that provide some regulation,” Stamford Councilman Floyd Many said. “If there’s going to be wind power, we don’t want it to be a fly-by-night thing.”
While many locals remain undecided, others have made up their minds.
“We’ve got the wind, why not use it?” said Mary Brockway of Hobart, who, with her husband, Dennis Brockway, own and farm 300 acres outside of Hobart. The Brockways want to lease their land to site turbines.
Mary Brockway supports the introduction of wind farms for personal and political reasons. “I for one am sick of being oil-dependent,” she said. “Right now, milk prices are down 60 percent and energy prices are up 60 percent.”
If dairy farmers go out of business, she said, “instead of seeing windmills, you’re going to see houses and subdivisions.”
Some residents have formed alliances to lobby as groups.
Steve McCarthy of Delhi, a member of the Delaware Wind Alliance, said his group is “not for or against wind power. We’re pro Delaware County. If wind power is coming to the Catskills, we want residents and towns to get the best deal possible … (but) let’s do it in a way that benefits the entire community, not just the landowners who are leasing their land.”
The Hobart meeting will include a presentation by a spokesperson for Invenergy, said Eric Miller, senior development manager for the firm, which has wind farms in Tennessee, Montana, Colorado and Idaho.
“We’re going to provide an overview of wind energy and our company and what we think is a great project for the Town of Stamford.”
Miller described the project as “medium-sized,” but said the firm is not ready to say how many turbines could be involved. The Invenergy presentation will go into more detail, he said, including possible sites for turbines. “Our goal is to be very open and upfront,” he said.
Residents such as Nancy Haycock said many homeowners are apprehensive in part because the early stages of the planning process were between developers and landowners who were negotiating leases.
“Yes, everybody has a right to use their property how they choose, but not if it affects somebody else,” she said. “At least talk to your neighbor and see what the issues are for them. It shouldn’t be people signing papers with energy companies in private and dramatically changing the landscape. At first, it was a tough job to get someone to admit that something was happening.”
Now that the process has become public, she said, she hopes the town board will be able to “ask a lot of serious questions and write an ordinance that will protect homeowners and the town from getting into something that they can’t get out of.”
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