Hamlin’s proposed Wind Energy Facilities Law could draw a feisty crowd this Thursday when the Hamlin Town Board opens the floor to public comment.
Wind energy facilities – tall, windmill-like towers designed to turn wind into electricity – have generated controversy since they appeared on Hamlin’s horizon in 2006. Now the voltage is rising.
There was a lot of tension at a Jan. 22 Town Board workshop on the proposed law. Though the workshop didn’t include time for public comment, tempers flared in the crowded boardroom as those seeking tougher restrictions on the siting of the towers accused the board of not doing its job.
“You’re irresponsible,” said Jerry Borkholder, rising to his feet and pointing at the board. “You’re not protecting the people.”
Borkholder, who ran against Hamlin Supervisor Dennis Roach in November on a platform of wind-tower issues, sat down only after Roach repeatedly told him to do so.
Hamlin’s proposed law fills both sides of 13 pages. In order to accommodate what could be a large crowd, the board will hold Thursday’s meeting in a local gymnasium.
Hamlin’s path to controversy started back in 2006, when the Maryland energy company Competitive Power Ventures began examining the feasibility of using wind towers to generate power in Hamlin. The company was subsequently bought by international energy-giant Iberdrola.
If the winds are right in Hamlin, Iberdrola may seek the town’s permission to build turbines – each as much as 400 feet tall to the top of the blades. Some landowners have leased their properties for use as wind tower sites provided the Town Board gives the go-ahead.
Early in 2007, Hamlin’s board appointed a nine-member Wind Tower Committee to examine the issues surrounding wind towers. The now-defunct committee split on the issues. The majority, citing research into the noise and light flicker of turbines, called for separating towers from homes on adjacent properties by at least 2,640 feet, a half mile. The Hamlin Preservation Group, a local citizens organization, supported the majority’s setback proposal. Citing other research, the minority called for a minimum distance of 1,700 feet between towers and adjacent homes.
The Town Board turned the committee’s findings over to Buffalo attorney Daniel Spitzer, who was hired to help draft the regulations. Spitzer’s office subsequently returned with a setback it considered appropriate in legal terms – 1,000 feet.
After further discussion at the January workshop, the Town Board settled on a 1,500-foot setback though some members still seemed inclined to set the minimum distance at 1,000 feet.
Hamlin’s wind-tower regulations call for a plan to protect the value of the properties adjacent to wind tower sites, though the details would have to be worked out by the town and whatever developer wants to build on a given site.
Roach said the Town Board would have to discuss what it learns from residents Feb. 7 before considering changes to the Wind Energy Facilities Law, and probably won’t be ready to vote on the law at its Feb. 11 meeting.
Another town’s experience with wind towers
To see some of the real effects of wind-tower placement, head 90 miles south to Cohocton, Steuben County, where the appearance of wind tower developers stirred up strong feelings on the pro-and anti-tower sides.
Cohocton’s Town Board eventually passed setbacks of 1,500 feet from neighboring residences and 500 feet from property lines where no residence is present. Subsequently, UPC Wind’s subsidiaries, Canandaigua Power Partners LLC I and II, began building 50 wind towers in the town. The first seven are going up on the Drum family’s farm.
Gene Drum and his father keep 250 head of cattle and farm nearly 600 acres, including parts of Dutch Hill.
You can see parts of Livingston and Ontario counties from the hilltop and the wind can be strong there.
“We’ve always talked about doing something to harness the wind,” Drum said.
Farming is a tough life that’s grown more costly through the years. As other farmers sold their land, the Drums began to look for ways to increase their revenue without selling. When a wind-power developer approached the family about 10 years ago, weighed the possibility of using wind to generate cash for the farm.
“I’m just trying to figure out what we could do to maintain our farming,” Drum said. “We felt as though this would give us a little revenue to pay our taxes.”
Before signing with the wind-tower developers, he and his father visited wind farms in Fenner, Madison County, and Warsaw, Wyoming County, and researched the claims that wind towers could hurt his family’s health.
“There’s no proven fact that any of that is going to be detrimental to our health,” Drum said. “If there was ever anything that was going to harm anybody, we sure wouldn’t have done it, because we have families, also.”
The closest tower will rise 1,800 feet from Drum’s home. He expects the towers on his land to go online before the end of August.
Cohocton resident Robert Strasburg sees nothing good in the high-tech windmills.
“There’s a lot of negative issues,” he said.
Strasburg, a member of Cohocton Wind Watch, a local group that has sued to stop the local wind project, said the towers are threats to the health of the community and its property values.
“This is about raping American taxpayers,” said Strasburg, who ran unsuccessfully for Cohocton supervisor in November on an anti-wind tower platform.
Strasburg makes his living in the timber industry and through buying and selling land, said he lost money on 10 acres in town when plans to build three wind towers near his property emerged.
“I’ve had no less than seven interested in the property,” Strasburg said. “The minute they find out about the turbines, they just walk away.”
The meeting is Thursday, Feb. 7 at 6 p.m. at St. John Lutheran Church, 1107 Lake Road West Fork, Hamlin.
Highlights of Hamlin’s proposed Wind Energy Facilities Law
Wind towers would have to:
• Stand no more than 400 feet tall, from base to blade tip.
• Produce noise no louder than 50 decibels, as measured at the closest exterior wall of any nearby residence. If the ambient sound at that point exceeds 50 decibels, the sound of the tower would have to be no more than 5 decibels louder than the ambient, or surrounding, sound level.
• Stand no less than 1,500 feet from the closest residence not part of the wind farm, 600 feet from the nearest public road and from the nearest boundary line of private property not part of the wind farm.
To erect a wind tower, the developer has to submit to Hamlin’s Town Board:
• Applications for the creation of a wind overlay zone and for a special use permit. A wind overlay zone sets the boundaries within which the tower or towers would have to be built and the wind tower regulations would be in effect.
• Wind overlay zones would be limited to those parts of Hamlin zoned as residential-very low. Those areas are the least populated in the town.
• Studies indicating the effect the noise of the machine, the flickering shadows caused by its whirling blades and the sight of the structure could have on nearby residences or the surrounding area.
• Studies of the tower’s potential effects on local bird and bat populations, threatened or endangered species, water wells and radio, television, cell phone and other wireless communications.
• A plan to protect the values of neighboring properties, including means of selecting eligible properties and of determining whether they’ve lost value as a result of tower placement and the maximum length of time the owners would be eligible to be paid the difference.
• The construction job’s schedule, routes to be taken to the site and the sizes and weights of the road-worthy equipment to be used on it. Except with Hamlin’s agreement, construction would only take place between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
• A decommissioning plan, stating the expected life of the tower and the estimated cost of removing it and of returning the site to its previous condition and a guaranteed source of cash for the job.
• A process for resolving complaints about the towers, including a minimum time by which the developer would respond to emergencies.
For more information, or to view a copy of the proposed regulations: visit http://hamlinny.org/wind-tower6.html.
By Mike Costanza, correspondent
6 February 2008
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