Draft legislation in Albany would make the state the chief reviewer of wind turbine projects throughout New York, wresting that control away from local communities, a preservation advocate said Wednesday in Albion.
“This represents a fundamental shift from home rule (where local communities decide),” said Daniel Mackay, public policy director for the Preservation League of New York State. “This will expedite windmill siting.”
Mackay urged about 40 people at a forum on wind turbines to contact their state legislators and urge them to kill the draft legislation before it is proposed in the Legislature.
He worries upstate New York will be asked to “sacrifice” for the entire state by hosting hundreds, maybe even thousands, of the wind turbines that top 400 feet high. He said upstate is loaded with historic landmarks and parks that should be protected from the turbines.
“We all want the goal of renewable energy in New York State,but we have to do it right.” Mackay told a group at the Pullman Memorial Universalist Church.
The Public Service Commission was the state’s central reviewer of wind turbine projects until 2003, when the role was returned to local communities. But before 2003, there were only a few wind turbine projects in the state, including a small wind farm in Wethersfield in Wyoming County.
Since 2003, wind energy development has been pushed in many rural communities throughout the state. Wind energy companies have complained to the state that local communities are not consistent with how they want to site the turbines, Mackay said.
He believes local leaders are within their rights to have differing approaches to siting the towers, including the setback distances from property lines and residences. He doesn’t think a state-wide policy is the best approach, given unique characteristics in communites.
He also worried the turbines could be declared public utilities, which would give wind energy companies eminent domain powers, under which they could claim private land for their projects.
Mackay urged the communities to document valuable viewsheds and historic resources in their communities. They could build a case that turbines and wind farms should not encroach on historic resources.
Andrea Rebeck, a Barre resident and historic preservation architect, doesn’t want turbines near the Erie Canal. She asked Mackay if there is an effort to have the canal corridor declared off limits to the turbines.
Thus far, Mackay said there isn’t a push to protect the canal corridor from the structures.
Rebeck said the “space-age” intrusions” (wind turbines) will destroy the ambiance along the canal and hurt efforts to promote “heritage tourism” at the historic waterway.
Airtricity is considering a wind farm in Gaines and Albion, with many of the turbines eyed just north of the canal.
Mackay urged the group to keep pressing for information from wind companies and municipal leaders.
“It’s about asking questions,” he said. “We don’t have all the answers yet.”
And those asking questions shouldn’t be treated with scorn, he said.
“People have a right to protect their community,” he said. “People’s backyards are important to them.”
By Tom Rivers
31 May 2007
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