The Wind Power Ethics Group is deciding this week if it will appeal a state Supreme Court judge’s decision that effectively allows wind farms close to Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River.
Judge Hugh A. Gilbert handed down a decision Friday that upholds the town Zoning Board of Appeals’ February decision that classifies turbines as utilities under the town’s existing zoning law.
Ethics Group Chairman Urban C. Hirschey said Tuesday afternoon that the group had not yet discussed the ruling with attorney Scott F. Chatfield. Mr. Chatfield said his clients have a strong case and the right to appeal, and he believes they will do so.
Classifying turbines as utilities means they can be placed in the town’s river and lakefront districts.
The ethics group, a citizen’s organization that opposes wind power, asked the ZBA in December to identify where turbines fall under existing zoning codes. When the ZBA issued an interpretation that classified turbines as utilities in February, the Ethics Group challenged the decision, in the form of an Article 78 lawsuit that was filed in April. The case was argued in court.
The Town Council has discussed, but has not passed, a zoning law dealing specifically with wind turbines.
Mr. Hirschey said Judge Gilbert’s decision did not come as a surprise.
“Most people thought that he would not make waves or upset the town,” Mr. Hirschey said.
In his ruling Judge Gilbert wrote that the Town Council had sufficient information to come to its decision.
“The board followed the proper proceedings,” he wrote. “It is not the role of this court to decide if the majority vote was a correct one.”
The Ethics Group argued that the board’s meeting minutes were insufficient, and left someone viewing them wondering how the decision was reached. The group also argued that Jefferson County should have had the opportunity to comment on the ZBA’s opinion. Mr. Gilbert wrote that state municipal law does not require county input for interpretations.
Town Attorney Mark G. Gebo said the judge’s decision means the town will not have to make any changes to its existing zoning law.
The ZBA’s decision classifying turbines as utilities came in a 3-2 vote. Chairman Edward P. Bender voted that wind turbines should be considered utilities, as did board members John Wiley and Paul Robbins. R. Dennis Faulknham and Faye E. Ingerson voted that turbines should not be allowed under the town’s existing zoning law.
Mr. Bender said he spent two to three weeks researching the issue before casting his vote.
“From all the briefs I read, we came to the right decision and the judge affirmed it,” Mr. Bender said.
Mrs. Ingerson was disappointed the judge upheld the ZBA’s decision. The best thing for the community, she said, would be to pass a zoning law specifically for turbines.
“The companies can come in and put them anywhere they want,” Mrs. Ingerson said.
There are currently two wind farms proposed in Cape Vincent. The St. Lawrence Wind Farm, proposed by AES Acciona Wind Power NY and Cape Vincent Wind Farm, proposed by BP Alternative Energy. Project managers from both companies say they have no plans to develop in the lakefront and riverfront districts.
By Kelly Vadney
Knight Ridder Tribune Business News
29 August 2007
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