RICHMONDVILLE – Town Zoning Board of Appeals Chairman Bruce Loveys said Tuesday the board will review arguments on whether to extend a permit for Reunion Power’s wind testing tower before issuing a written decision.
As debate continues over the desirability of commercial wind power projects in the region, a Reunion Power representative confirmed that a second meteorological testing tower has been erected in neighboring Fulton, about two miles southeast of the Richmondville tower.
The new 197-foot-high tower was put up about two weeks ago and is now operating on former farmland owned by Marian Walker along Fulton Hill Road, Reunion’s local representative Sandy Gordon said after Monday’s ZBA session.
The Fulton tower threw a new wrinkle into several months of debate over whether the similar tower on David Huse’s farm on Warnerville Hill in Richmondville should be permitted.
Monday’s ZBA session concerned Reunion’s application to extend its one-year tower permit, which expired May 1.
Schoharie Valley Watch co-director Don Airey argued that the new tower weakens Reunion’s argument the Vermont-based company would suffer “hardship” without the Warnerville tower.
The Fulton tower is located about 2,120 feet above sea level, while the Richmondville tower is at 1,920 feet so it reaches differing wind patterns, according to Gordon.
Proving hardship is a requirement for extending a temporary building permit beyond one year. Reunion officials have argued recently that they need more than the 12 months of wind data that they said last year would be sufficient.
“They have erected a second tower less than two miles away,” said Airey, an opponent of large industrial windpower projects on the local hills.
Saying Fulton has no zoning regulations, Airey and SVW co-director Bob Nied appealed to the Richmondville ZBA to adhere to the letter of the town’s zoning law which they argued does not allow a temporary tower not directly tied to an actively planned residential building project.
Complicating the issue further, Airey and Nied offered a compromise alternative to either approving or denying a new permit for the Warnerville Hill tower.
“Schoharie Valley Watch would not push to have the tower dismantled,” Airey said, “if the board finds in writing that it does not comply with Richmondville zoning law.”
Gordon called that offer “a threat to the zoning board in giving you a charge on how to administer the law.”
Besides working for Reunion Power and advocating windpower, Gordon is an Albany County legislator from Berne.
Claiming that neither the tower nor the argument that insufficient data proved hardship meets Richmondville’s zoning definitions, Nied appealed to the ZBA “to preserve the integrity of that zoning.”
Noting that town and Reunion officials have repeatedly said there is no active plan to build wind turbines locally but only to gather wind data, Nied argued that “we have an application that is incident to a project that everyone denies exists.”
Whether or not the original May 1, 2007, permit from Code Enforcement Officer Gene DiMarco was proper is not an issue for the ZBA because that was not protested within 30 days of issuance, Loveys said.
“The tower is there, the question is should it stay there,” he said.
With only three members of the five-member board present for most of Monday’s meeting, Loveys said he wanted to review the issues and arguments with the full board before deciding on an extension.
Loveys said he expected a decision within 15 days. It was unclear Monday if a vote on the permit would be during a public meeting.
By R. J. Kelly
2 July 2008
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