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Wind farm can have far reaching effects

A controversial proposed site for the placement of a wind farm in Enfield is the focus of public concern and debate. The issue in Enfield is not “green local energy.” The primary issue is the responsible location and safe placement of commercial windmills (400 feet tall) and wind farms.

The location in question is on the border of Tompkins and Schuyler counties and at the crossroads of four townships: Enfield, Newfield, Catharine and Hector. Nestled in the southwestern corner of Enfield, the 100-acre parcel where developer John Rancich has erected a test tower also borders Robert Treman State Park and abuts Connecticut Hill Wildlife Management Area.

Wind maps show the presence of sufficient winds in the area, but there are other factors to consider. One is the close proximity of the site to neighboring municipalities and state recreational or wildlife management areas. The proposed site would negatively impact more than just Enfield.

A recent government publication by the National Research Council, titled “Environmental Impacts of Wind Energy Projects,” states that Manitowoc County in Wisconsin put a buffer zone around their state parks and forests of one-quarter-mile to protect and preserve them. Will Enfield do anything to protect state lands within their own borders? The answer is important to everyone in New York because Enfield’s Town Board will set a precedent for other local municipalities.

We all can appreciate the need for cleaner energy. However, we do not have to sacrifice our state parks and wildlife areas by abutting them to industrial wind farms and electrical power substations. Nor do we have the right to expose our neighboring municipalities and state recreational areas to the noise, shadow-flicker, drainage, runoff and threat to water tables that will accompany Enfield’s industrial wind farm. The Enfield board can and should include a setback of 1,250 feet from the state park and wildlife area and 1,500 feet from neighboring municipalities.

We have other options. Other Enfield sites are more suitable for wind farms because in addition to being windy they are larger farming tracts, less encumbered, less problematic for sufficient setbacks from neighboring homes, near enough to high power lines; and they would not encroach upon the state lands and neighboring municipalities. Wind maps provided by New York State Energy Research and Development Authority show that there is much more available windy acreage in the vicinity of Black Oak, Fish, Harvey Hill and Buck Hill roads (less than one mile away), and the wind is only one mph slower than on Connecticut Hill (speeds vary between 15.7 and 16.8 mph). Enfield could approach the owners of these larger farmlands, work to have an even greater wind farm with safer setbacks and not threaten the nature areas or neighbors.

The site currently under consideration is relatively small for a wind farm (Cohocton proposes 5,700 acres for 35 turbines). Problematically, it is also divided east to west by property, gas and power lines. The recent guest column in The Journal by Marguerite Wells (“Enfield wind farm a county-wide concern,” Sept. 24) illustrates the point: She advocates eliminating or lowering setbacks from property lines and roads simply because the proposed site is too small. Adjacent property lines potentially represent the borders of yards, the places where children play, families relax and hunters hunt. Setbacks from adjacent property lines are vital for the safety of landowners and homeowners and must be upheld.

Enfield’s current setback proposal is what seven out of eight municipalities studied by NYSERDA decided are the minimal allowable setbacks without a legal easement from affected neighbors and/or utility companies. Labella PC, an engineering and architecture firm that works with municipalities in New York state on wind farm laws, uses a formula that, when applied to Enfield’s proposed windmills, yields a “maximum ice throw distance” of 787 feet. This means that Enfield has already proposed a setback – 600 feet – that could be considered insufficient and unsafe for potential ice throw. Enfield has yet to propose a setback from neighboring homes, but this should be forthcoming. According to Labella PC a 1,500-foot setback from non-participating residences is a “typical” setback for noise-related issues. These windmills are massive and do require sufficient property to set them on. It is just not available at this proposed site, and it would be unsafe and irresponsible to try to make them fit. Enfield can and must do better.

Bruce Varner lives in Enfield.

The Ithaca Journal

28 September 2007