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Officials raise concerns over proposed wind farm

COLEBROOK – The Connecticut Siting Council has scheduled three hearings in March to listen to residents about a proposed wind farm.

BNE Energy Inc. is proposing the construction of six 328-foot wind turbines on two pieces of land in town.

The project must be approved by the Siting Council before it goes forward.

The Siting Council will hold hearings Tuesday, March 22, at 6:30 p.m. and Wednesday, March 23, at 2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.

However, a location for the hearings has not yet been determined.

The Siting Council has scheduled Saturday, June 4, as the deadline for a decision on whether or not the project will be approved.

If approved, the wind farm would likely be the first in the state.

The project has drawn concerns from four state legislators who have co-signed a letter to the Siting Council: Rep. John Rigby (R-63), Sen. Kevin Witkos (R-8) Rep. Vickie Nardello (D-89) and Sen. Joan Hartley (D-15).

In the letter, the legislators ask the Siting Council to reconsider its decision to hold public hearings on the proposed project.

Instead, the legislators request that the council hold regulation-making proceedings to determine laws and rules before any wind turbine farm is constructed in the state.

“These proceedings would allow for the collection of data to insure that all public safety and environmental issues that must be considered are clear to both the developer and the host towns,” the letter states. “When the General Assembly passed legislation to promote the development of wind projects, the prevailing thought and intent was that wind projects would be sited on ridgelines or offshore. It was believed that there would be minimal impact on residential neighborhoods. The fact that the first wind project proposed in Connecticut is in close proximity to residential neighborhoods has raised a number of public safety issues that need to be addressed.”

In response, attorney Carrie Larson with the law firm of Pullman and Comley in Hartford, who is representing BNE Energy, filed a letter to the Siting Council objecting to the request of the representatives.

“Such a request appears to be a refutation of the [state’s] commitment to the projects proposed in BNE’s pending petitions since those projects have been developed with significant investments made by the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund,” Larson wrote in her letter. “Reversing course at this point in time is tantamount to the imposition of ex-post facto law and essentially seeks to impose a moratorium on BNE’s already pending petitions. Particularly troubling is the suggestion that wind generation projects require special regulations when other renewable energy facilities or other facilities within the Siting Council’s jurisdiction do not.”

Larson goes on to accuse the state legislators of attempting to selectively prohibit the development of the wind farm in the state “based on the localized concerns raised by a handful of residents.”

The Siting Council has also received letters from Colebrook Planing and Zoning Commission Chairman John Garrels and Conservation Commission Chairman Jerome Rathbun.

In his letter, Garrels objects to the proposed projects due to what he cites as several potential violations of the town’s zoning regulations.

“The project also contradicts both the spirit and intent of the state-mandated Town Plan of Conservation and Development, as approved in 2006,” Garrels wrote in his letter. “Further, given the significant precedents and massive impacts, for both the small rural town of Colebrook and the state at large, we urge that the Siting Council impose a moratorium until appropriate standards and regulations have been established by yourselves and at the state and local level.”

In Rathburn’s letter, he sites that, under current town planning and zoning regulations, commercial ventures are not allowed in residential zones.

“These wind turbine farms are certainly a commercial venture,” Rathburn wrote in his letter. “Please understand we, both as a commission and as residents of Colebrook, are approaching these [projects] with an open mind as they relate to conservation and power generation technology. However, with respect to this technology, for us this is a relatively new concept in [the state] and brings with it many questions and concerns within our community, both historically and environmentally that have not been addressed or answered satisfactorily.”