Beekmantown officials debated wind-related laws at their most recent meeting.
The focus was this question: Why worry about regulating wind-power facilities in your community when you can keep them out until you’re sure about their impacts?
“Especially when we are so close to having a lot of towers put up,” said Beekmantown Town Supervisor Dennis Relation at a joint meeting with the Citizens Wind Advisory Committee.
“We’ll get immediate feedback.”
In February, the seven-member Advisory Committee drafted an extensive document listing recommendations to change the zoning ordinance and a possible law to regulate wind-harvesting developments.
Later, the town passed its second moratorium on such projects.
“The moratorium is actually your status quo,” attorney Carl J. Madonna said at the meeting. “You’ve already said that, by adopting a moratorium, you’re not going to allow any more unless they come to you for a variance.”
Madonna was hired by the town because of his experience in drafting zoning laws in local municipalities.
However, he suggested taking just one element from the committee’s recommendations, rather than dealing with a whole separate law.
The key is to change the “essential services” label that allowed Windhorse Power LLC to secure a conditional-use permit for its 13-turbine facility.
Being deemed an essential service – necessary to the people in Beekmantown the way power and telephone lines are – allows a facility in any zoned area of Beekmantown.
The committee explained what an essential service was as a step to block any future developments from areas zoned R-2, residential.
Madonna said it could be the stop-gap the town was looking for.
“We know that this, this and this, are an essential service,” he advised the committee to say.
Instead of drafting a secondary law to allow wind turbines in select zones, a direct declaration of what constituted an essential service would keep out new facilities.
“You’ve now accomplished your purpose,” Madonna said.
But, he cautioned, “if you use those examples, then that’s all you’ve got.”
It could be unfortunate if, down the road, a use came in that the town might want or need. By then, the law would restrict the project without a use variance from the town Zoning Board.
LOSS OF FLEXIBILITY
Michael Morales, secretary of the Advisory Committee, understood what Madonna was saying.
“The negative being you lose flexibility,” Morales said.
“Yes, but on the flip side, you’re saying if it’s not there, bang, it’s not allowed,” Madonna replied.
By writing such a declaration, notably that wind turbines are not essential services in Beekmantown, the town can come back later, when a little more is known about the local impacts. Then, it can be changed, if needed.
It was something a majority of the committee would like to see, especially in light of a new report to Congress from the National Research Council of the National Academies.
“ÂWe don’t know,'” Morales summarized the study’s take on possible impacts. “It does make sense to wait. We don’t need to be part of a pilot study.”
Fellow Advisory Committee member Glenn Monto disagreed with the discussion, saying the committee’s work with wind power “has been negative from the start.
“Before we do a law, we should be sure that we have a true consensus of the total community. If people are against these, pass any law you want, but if the majority of the people want these, then that’s what we should do.”
He pointed toward the Town Council, “That’s what you’re elected to do.”
“Just because the majority wants something doesn’t make it right,” Morales contested. “You look back at the civil-rights law and segregation. The majority of the South didn’t want blacks to have the type of opportunities as whites did.
“So, if it is found that there are significant adverse effects with these wind turbines and you are going to subject a certain part of your population to these effects, then it seems incumbent upon the Town Board; they’re elected to make good decisions and protect their citizens and not allow that use.”
By Lucas Blaise
16 May 2007
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