Complaints were the rule – not the exception – at a trio of public hearings in Howard Wednesday night.
The town board hosted three public hearings on Local Laws 1-3 – code of ethics, and amendments to the town’s planning board and wind energy laws – and nearly 100 people showed up to voice their opinions.
After dealing with public comments for around two hours, the board approved all three local laws unanimously.
The wind law amendments changed the way permits will be approved, taking the power from the town board and giving it to the planning board, which town Attorney Tom Reed said was done as a result of a lawsuit against the town that alleged conflict of interest by board members that had ties to a proposed wind farm in Howard.
Other amendments to the wind law, which was approved February 2006, also added agricultural districts, which had been omitted from the previous law, and allowed for a licensing fee to be charged for permits.
“If a wind project comes to the Town of Howard, it will change things for years to come,” said Supervisor Don Evia. “One of the things as a board we have to look at is it is a potential revenue source for the town.
“It can plug hundreds of thousands of dollars into the county,” he added. “We have an obligation to look at it and look at it objectively.”
Evia said the town would make around $160,000 annually if the proposed EverPower wind project came to the town, which would mean a reduction of about $4 per $1,000 of assessed value in taxes. He said the fire department also would receive $40,000, which he noted was about two-thirds of its annual budget.
People were not satisfied with the changes, however, saying setbacks should have been pushed back farther than 1,000 feet from residential structures, 500 feet from other structures, and 400 feet from road centerlines and from front, side and rear lots.
“What you’re saying is EverPower threw more money at you and you’re going to proceed,” said Howard resident Jim Lindsay. “Two times the people in this community have had to stand up real firmly to development projects brought forth by the members of this board, and I hope they do it a third time because you’re not getting the message.”
Arthur Giacalone, an attorney representing a group of town residents who brought a lawsuit against the town, said the problem is some board members would be making money from the potential project. He called the law weak.
“The bottom line is the this law is so weak the residents are being treated as second-class citizens,” Giacalone said, noting the setbacks in other places, such as the Town of Cohocton, are 1,500 feet. “There is nothing about maximum height, electromagnetic interference, microwave interference. Many other laws have something about a complaint resolution process – yours does not.
“There is nothing in here about shadow flicker and no provision to opt out of the state law that gives wind companies a tax exemption,” he added. “For whatever reason, your law has none of those things. If you’re tinkering with it, how can you not? If you’re changing the law, change it so it benefits the residents of the town.”
Another complaint a number of residents had was the inability to have a referendum vote. When Reed said there was no provision in New York for a referendum vote to take place for something like this, others suggested making it a straw vote. One of those, Howard resident Dave Hulett, said it would be easier for the board if something like that took place.
“Let’s let the people go to the polls,” he said. “It makes your job so much easier, then you can vote the way people want.”
Resident Clifford Kent spoke in favor of the board, saying he was tired of hearing people complain about a project that would bring down expenses.
“You’re not going to get something directly in your pocket,” he said. “Is it going to slow down school taxes? Is it going to slow down town taxes? These may not be in-your-pocket figures, but it will come out of your pocket.”
Howard resident Jerry Hedman said he’d prefer higher taxes to a wind farm coming to the town.
“I’d rather pay more in taxes than get a nickel for something I don’t want,” he said, “and I don’t want this.”
The first law the board took comments on was adoption of a code of ethics. The state had mandated municipalities do this years ago, Evia explained, but the town could find no record of Howard having done that.
Howard resident Eric Hosmer, an opponent of the proposed wind farm, took the first question, but deferred it to Giacalone. The attorney said the code was not specific enough, saying there was nothing pertaining to the disclosure of interests or punishment. Giacalone said the document would not help anyone, and does not let the residents know what the standards are.
“This code of ethics should be letting the town board members know what is right and what is not right,” he said. “Your code of ethics does not do that.
“What’s the purpose of this law?” he said. “If it’s just to check it off, then you’re doing the public a disservice.”
The planning board local law provided for the appointment of up to four alternates to the planning board, to be appointed by the town board. The alternates would serve if a regular member is “unable to participate in matters before the Town Planning Board because of a conflict of interest, illness or other absence.” Alternates would be appointed for one-year terms.
Hosmer questioned why the alternates would only get one-year appointments.
“What I’ve noticed by looking through the last couple years of planning board minutes, is the setbacks were opposed by the former planning board chairman,” he said. “Then I saw he’s out and Jack Bossard is in, and Jack Bossard is going to have three turbines on his property. Is it a case where if people are opposed they won’t be kept as an alternate?”
Giacalone also had issues with it, saying the planning board law would just help the town board avoid having to make difficult decisions. He said it was a “cozy way” for the town to remove the conflict impression of the decision-making process.
“You’re passing on a very important power,” Giacalone said. “It’s a very inadequate way to deal with it.”
The next part of the process is a public hearing on the Environmental Impact Statements related to EverPower’s application for a wind farm. The hearing, which will be run by James Sherron, Steuben County Industrial Development Agency executive director, will take place from 6-9 p.m. April 4 at the Howard Fire Hall.
What they said
“˜If a wind project comes to the Town of Howard, it will change things for years to come. One of the things as a board we have to look at is it is a potential revenue source for the town. It can plug hundreds of thousands of dollars into the county. We have an obligation to look at it and look at it objectively.’
Howard Supervisor Don Evia
“˜What you’re saying is EverPower threw more money at you and you’re going to proceed. Two times the people in this community have had to stand up real firmly to development projects brought forth by the members of this board, and I hope they do it a third time because you’re not getting the message.’
“˜You’re not going to get something directly in your pocket. Is it going to slow down school taxes? Is it going to slow down town taxes? These may not be in-your-pocket figures, but it will come out of your pocket.’
“˜This code of ethics should be letting the town board members know what is right and what is not right. Your code of ethics does not do that. What’s the purpose of this law? If it’s just to check it off, then you’re doing the public a disservice.’
“˜Let’s let the people go to the polls. It makes your job so much easier, then you can vote the way people want.’
By Rob Montana
15 March 2007
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