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Wind tower permit OK’d

RICHMONDVILLE – The five-member town Zoning Board of Appeals voted unanimously Tuesday to extend the permit for Reunion Power’s wind-measuring tower on the David Huse farm on Warnerville Hill, allowing the company to continue collecting data until May 1, 2009.

“It’s disappointing,” said Bob Nied, co-director of Schoharie Valley Watch, a citizens group which had argued that the original one-year permit, which expired on May 1, should never have been granted because it did not comply with current zoning law.

“We think they were influenced by factors other than zoning,” Nied said.

He and SVW co-director Don Airey said the citizens group, which opposes industrial windfarms in the region, will now consider suing the town in state Supreme Court.

Reunion’s regional representative, Sandy Gordon, was pleased with the decision. “The board decided in an open-handed and reasonable manner and came to a reasonable conclusion,” Gordon said.

The original permit was issued by town Code Enforcement Officer Gene DiMarco to allow Reunion to erect its 197-foot-high testing tower as a temporary structure.

Tuesday’s roll call vote was taken without comment after the board watched a 30-minute videotape of a presentation by Schoharie Valley Watch officials at the July 1 ZBA meeting that argued neither Reunion nor Huse, the property owner, would meet the definition of required “hardship” if the tower permit extension was denied.

ZBA Chairman Bruce Loveys played the tape made by SVW to allow the two members of the board not present at the earlier meeting to hear SVW’s arguments.

In addition to Loveys, the board is made up of Kathy Danielson, Elizabeth Meigel, Lisa Crapser and Alison Coons.

“We don’t feel the zoning law has been compromised,” Loveys explained after the vote. “The zoning law was written in 2001 … and wind turbines were science fiction to some people,” he said.

The board’s ruling “is only on a meteorological tower. It’s not a wind turbine … that’s a whole other decision,” Loveys stressed.

“The [test tower] structure’s standing on its own merits,” Airey said after the meeting. “[The board] tied it to wind, we didn’t,” he added.

“They’re saying the zoning’s outdated, so we’re not going to follow it,” Nied said.

In his public explanation after the vote, Loveys said, “wind turbines are here,” referring to the issue rather than an actual windfarm project. “The tower is there … and the concern of whether it should be there or not is moot,” he said.

Concerning debate over whether it would be a hardship for Reunion Power if the Vermont company were forced to take the tower down and stop collecting wind data, Loveys said the board accepted letters of support presented by Reunion indicating they needed more data to decide if a erecting commercial wind turbines in the region was feasible.

“There won’t be a project if there is not enough wind,” Loveys said.

Airey and Nied had argued that zoning regulations did not allow a temporary test structure, unless it was actively connected to a construction project.

“There is no project,” Nied said during the SVW presentation.

Asked after Tuesday’s meeting what sort of wind data Reunion was getting from the Warnerville tower, Gordon would say only that “it’s encouraging.”

Reunion Power last month erected a second 197-foot testing tower about two miles southeast in the town of Fulton.

That tower did not require a permit, according to Fulton Supervisor Philip Skowfoe Jr. Fulton does not have zoning regulations.

The Fulton tower is located about 2,120 feet above sea level, while the Richmondville tower is at 1,920 feet, according to Gordon.

Reunion has also measured wind from former towers in Jefferson in Schoharie County, as well as in the Cherry Valley in Otsego County. The company is also exploring wind turbine potential in other towns in the Capital Region.

By R. J. Kelly
Gazette Reporter

The Daily Gazette

23 July 2008