At one point during the lengthy special meeting in the Town of Hamlin, a show of hands was requested, “Who wants wind towers, who doesn’t?” Of the close to 100 people in attendance (which included committee, support boards and town board members), only a handful raised their hands as being in favor of siting wind turbines in the town.
The special meeting on August 28 had a two-fold purpose, the first hour was to take questions and comments from residents. The second was discussion between town officials, support board representatives and Wind Tower Committee (WTC) members.
Art McFarlane, who served on the WTC when it was originally formed, spoke first on the concept of “defensible items.” He had a matrix of set backs from 19 municipalities from across New York state that had wind towers. The smallest setback was 400 feet, the longest was 1,500 feet. “From that information, 916 feet would be an average setback, if the decision to go with a 900 foot setback was made, that would be defensible (because a precedent has been set) because it’s closest to the average,” he said. “When talking about defensible decibel ranges, 50 decibels would be defensible as it could be justified by a precedent.”
McFarlane said the number of bird and bat deaths attributed to wind turbine blades cannot be truly substantiated. “According to the National Audubon Society, ‘given the relatively small number of birds that are killed, it’s difficult to presume that the towers had a significant impact on mortality…’ Unless the towers are constructed in a concentrated flyway – which Hamlin is not – the Society doesn’t have an issue with towers,” he said.
A resident asked who would ultimately make the decision on the siting of towers within Hamlin and Supervisor Dennis Roach told him the elected officials would. Town board member David Rose said town officials had researched whether a permissive referendum could be held but the state won’t allow one.
Matt MacDonald pointed out that a lot of the issues are economic. “What is the potential source of income for the town? The residents? Will it come from PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes)? If so, that is only a small amount of the money that could be available to the town and what happens when the PILOT money runs out?” he asked. “If programs have been put into place utilizing that money, how do those programs get funded once the money dries up?”
Rene Klipp wanted to know what benefits the town officials saw to the town for the siting of wind towers.
“The PILOT program, the local economy will benefit during construction, supporting the environment by using alternative energy sources,” Roach said.
Rose said he couldn’t answer the question because he hasn’t seen a specific proposal for the town. Town board member George Todd said benefit would come from lowering dependence on foreign oil sources and town board member Michael Marchetti said he is in favor of all forms of alternative energy. Town board member Paul Rath was not at the meeting, but he is one of the landowners who had been approached as a site for wind turbines.
“I certainly hope you don’t go with a 900 foot setback,” Kathy Habgood said. “I have been to two wind farm locations and that is way too close to the residents.”
When the hour was up for the question and answer session, WTC chairperson Linda DeRue read a letter from WTC member Jerry Borkholder, who couldn’t attend the meeting. “I am in favor of alternative energy but not in favor of it in the town of Hamlin,” he wrote in his letter. “…Elected officials need to provide protection to all the citizens. The phrase ‘the greatest good for the greatest number’ makes me cringe. It has no place here. It is my fervent hope that the board stands up against the special interest groups and does what’s best for all citizens … The rights of the many shouldn’t trample the rights of the few…”
At a previous meeting, town officials asked WTC members to address several concerns that had not been addressed in the report that was submitted by the WTC to the board. Some of the questions pertained to property values and if they would be impacted, rural character questions and others. The committee had completed some research but didn’t have time to completely research all the answers, committee member Dave Simpson said, but the committee did address some of them, one of which was, would there be a cost savings to residents if wind tower energy was made available, “We do know that the actual cost for towers – for the energy – from the grid will be more expensive than what people are paying now,” he said. “There have to be generators on hand in case the wind stops blowing and excess power needs to be supplied, those not on the grid have to pay to run those generators and it’s extremely expensive.”
As for property values dropping, DeRue said, “It’s naïve to think that putting towers in close proximity to houses won’t have an impact on the price of the house.”
Following the discussion, Roach called for a resolution to move forward with hiring an attorney to draft regulations for wind tower siting within the town. The resolution was passed unanimously.
“If you don’t have a proposal, what kind of regulations can you draft?” DeRue asked. “If you’ve accepted our report, will the regulations take the setbacks we’ve recommended?”
Roach said town officials couldn’t wait until a proposal was dropped on their desks to get started. “If you don’t have regulations in place, then how can you regulate anything?”
Audience members raised the question on whether the WTC was still a viable committee or whether the town was going to disband it. After much discussion, Roach called for a resolution disbanding the committee but asked them to hold workshop meetings. In July, Roach had asked the WTC for its recommendations and had moved up the deadline for the committee’s work from the originally stated December deadline. His reasoning for the move was the looming possibility of the passage of Article X which could have the potential to allow the state to come in and set regulations for municipalities for the siting of alternative energy projects. He wanted to have regulations in place before the state stepped in.
“By disbanding our committee, the town has taken away the voice of the people,” DeRue said. “Sure there will be public hearings but by the time those come up, the decisions are pretty much in place.”
DeRue said the supervisor accused the group of being involved with Hamlin Preservation Committee. “That group’s interest is strong as they will be affected by wind towers, but the only ‘special interest group’ we have ever been concerned with are the residents of Hamlin. We want them to be safe and that’s not an unreasonable goal,” she said. “The bottom line, is who is the town board’s loyalty to? A foreign company, or the people who live in this town?”
DeRue said she personally doesn’t feel like her work is done and because of that she is running for a seat on the town board. She is running as an Independent as is Jim Nesbitt, who is also seeking a board seat. Borkholder is running for town supervisor.
2 September 2007