Supreme Court Justice Marianne Furfure has up to 60 days to decide the legality of a controversial town of Cohocton wind law.
Wind farm opponent Cohocton Wind Watch claims the town violated the state’s Environmental Quality Review Act when it changed its zoning laws to make way for wind farm development. The town said proper procedure was followed.
The town is the proposed site for a 36-turbine wind farm by UPC Wind. A draft environmental review on the project was accepted by town officials last December. The zoning changes were enacted in early 2006.
Tuesday, Cohocton Wind Watch attorney Richard Lippes told Furfure town officials did not take state environmental review laws into account before approving the zoning changes.
Also, the zoning changes don’t comply with the town’s comprehensive plan, which mandates preserving the rural, agricultural nature of Cohocton, Lippes said.
Town attorney John Henry said the town board changed the zoning laws to prevent unrestricted development and not to benefit UPC Wind. Officials followed the comprehensive plan, he said.
He said the law, by itself, was not a decision to approve a specific wind farm. Therefore, there was no reason to consider any negative effect by the projects on residents, he said.
“You may think this raises the question of significant impact,” Henry said. “The town board did not.”
He told Furfure town officials considered the project in keeping with the rural nature of Cohocton.
Furfure questioned whether there should be expert proof of potential harm, what standards are reasonable and practical, and whether the town “short-circuited” the process.
“It’s hard for me to say this isn’t any big deal,” she told Henry. “You’re setting the protocol, the standards, you’re setting the stage.”
Attorneys for UPC did not attend the hearing.
Tuesday’s hearing was the first time a legal challenge to wind power development has been heard in Steuben County, although several court hearings have taken place in Rochester.
Wind farm development in Steuben County has been controversial since the first wind farm site was proposed about five years ago in the town of Prattsburgh.
Opponents claim the 500-foot-high turbines would detract from the region’s rural character, be a source of noise pollution and be hazardous to the natural habitat.
Supporters say the turbines would provide much-needed renewable energy, be a source of income to property owners and boost local revenues.
Since then, a second Prattsburgh development, and projects in the areas near Hornby, Howard, Hartsville and Cohocton have generated opposition.
All other cases are pending or in the appeals process, including an appeal on an earlier version of the town of Cohocton wind law.
By Mary Perham
8 May 2007
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding