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Turbine foe's barn burns in Starkville

Just after midnight Friday, Oct. 19, Willow – one of Denise Como’s whippets – barked. Denise, one of the three-person team challenging Stark town board incumbents in the Nov. 6 election, heard an engine running. A truck door slammed, and the vehicle drove off down Ellwood Road toward Salt Springville.

“A few minutes later my dogs went crazy,” she recalled that Saturday afternoon, sitting on the long front porch of the family’s rambling farm house, guinea hens pecking at the chrome fender of a nearby truck. “When I got to the front porch, everything was aglow.”

She hurried across the road to the century-old barn, but it was engulfed. There was no wind. The flames shot straight up into the air.

“A perfect night for arson,” Denise called it. “I just came back here and watched it burn,” she said.

When the firemen arrived from Starkville a few minutes later, there was nothing they could do either.

“I never saw anything burn so fast in my life.”

Three fire trucks were at the scene, and firefighters executed a “controlled fall,” ensuring the structure didn’t collapse into the roadway.

The embers were still smoking amid the drizzle 36 hours later when a neighbor, Walter Bych, pulled over in his pick-up truck. The morning before, he had seen the glow from his bedroom window and had come to the scene.

The word that kept cropping up in the conversations of the firefighters and investigators was “suspicious, suspicious.”

“That’s the word I kept hearing,” he said.

The candidate – she and Steve Reichenbach, running for town council, and Sue Brander, for supervisor, are all Advocates for Stark, members of the anti-wind-turbine group – doesn’t know why her barn was targeted. The week before, she’d knocked down a hunter’s stand set up on her property without permission. Maybe it was the disgruntled hunter. However, the political signs she’d set up in front of her barn were gone.

“It’s hard to make a conclusion,” she said, adding, “I think it’s some kind of statement. Why would you burn down some little barn?”

Wednesday, Oct. 24, a state police investigator at the Herkimer barracks said the troopers were at the scene, but lacked sufficient evidence at that point “to open an arson case.”

Down the road in Van Hornesville, Sue Brander is fearful Como, who moved up from Lakehurst, N.J., just four years ago with her husband, Richard Whritenour, was being punished for her politics.

The Brander-Como-Reichenback team grew out of the Town of Stark’s support for Community Energy/Iberdrola’s Jordanville Wind Project, recently reduced from 68 turbines to 49. Landowners who stood to benefit from leases with the wind company have been irate about the opponents.

“I’m saddened this has happened,” said Brander. “It’s certainly sobering to have a barn burned in this community under these circumstances.”

Next to Como’s barn is a corrugated metal shed, where haying equipment is kept. (Denise and Richard train whippets, borzois and salukis, and keep the fields cut to run the dogs.) The door was open and two cans full of gasoline were missing. There was power to the barn, but Como said the troopers told her the fire started in a corner of the structure away from the electrical connections.

The Freeman’s Journal

26 October 2007