Fifteen residents of a scenic area of Herkimer County have gone to court in Syracuse to try to block construction of a large wind farm they said would ruin their community’s character.
The plaintiffs farmers, landowners and a Russian Orthodox monastery claim officials in the rural towns of Warren and Stark failed to take a “hard look” at the environmental impacts before they approved the Jordanville Wind project.
The opponents, all neighbors of the project, are suing in state Supreme Court in Syracuse to nullify permits that were issued by the towns earlier this year.
“This project needs to go back to square one” to reassess the environmental impacts, attorney Douglas Zamelis, of Manlius, said Tuesday in court.
The fight over Jordanville Wind illustrates the conflicts that often arise when rural town governments try to weigh the pros and cons of adding giant wind turbines to pastoral landscapes.
Bernard Melewski, a Saratoga Springs attorney hired by the towns as a special counsel for their review of the project, said the Warren and Stark town boards conducted a thorough review. The towns hired professional legal and engineering consultants to provide needed expertise, he said.
The process included three public hearings and two periods during which local residents could comment, he said.
The towns did “a very scrupulous job,” Melewski said.
Supreme Court Justice Donald Greenwood listened to both sides Tuesday, saying he would render a decision in the future.
Two months ago, state utility regulators modified the Jordanville project, saying the towns had failed to adequately assess the impact of the project on the historic character of the area.
The state Public Service Commission in August ordered the developers of the project to scale it back from 68 wind turbines to 49.
Iberdrola, the Spanish energy company developing Jordanville, is appealing the PSC’s order, said Skip Brennan, New York development director for the company.
The Jordanville Wind project is planned for a 30-square-mile area in the towns of Warren and Stark, just north of Route 20 and Otsego Lake.
Some of the 400-foot-high wind turbines would be visible from the lake and from the Glimmerglass Historic District, a 15,000-acre scenic area that is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The PSC said the towns’ “visual impact analysis was inadequate in addressing certain areas.” The commission ordered Iberdrola to remove from its plans the 19 turbines closest to the Glimmerglass district.
The neighbors who have sued to nullify the towns’ approval of the project argued that their review was insufficient and that the public was denied adequate participation.
Zamelis, their attorney, said local residents were denied a chance to comment on “scoping” documents detailing what impacts would be examined, a violation of State Environmental Quality Review Act regulations. Zamelis also accused the boards of conducting much of their deliberations in executive session.
Melewski said the executive sessions were proper.
The courtroom session drew both supporters and opponents of the project.
Ed Mower, a farmer who has leased some of his 500 acres to Iberdrola, said the project will help him keep the farm afloat.
“I need all of these other alternatives to keep my farm green and to pay the taxes,” he said.
Iberdrola will pay 36 leaseholders an estimated $450,000 a year if all 68 turbines are built, according to court papers. Under proposed agreements with local governments, the company would pay $1.2 million a year in lieu of taxes.
“It could eliminate town taxes,” said Richard Bronner, supervisor of the town of Stark, who attended Tuesday’s hearing.
Brennan, the Iberdrola developer, said his company works hard to find communities that are receptive to wind farms, to avoid the sort of delays that come from lawsuits.
“With follow-on appeals, this can go on for years,” he said.
Critics said many small towns are severely challenged when it comes to weighing the pros and cons of wind farms.
Martha Frey, executive director of Otsego 2000, a group that has fought the Jordanville project, said a statewide siting practice might help streamline the process.
“We think that statewide siting guidelines might help, because a lot of these small communities are totally unequipped to deal with these projects,” Frey said.
By Tim Knauss
10 October 2007
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