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Alabama residents offer input about wind farm proposal

ALABAMA – Several dozen residents turned out Thursday night for Horizon Wind Energy’s public hearing on the Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement.

Purpose of the hearing, according to Town Supervisor Dan Mangino, was for residents to ask questions and offer input on Horizon’s plans to build a 40-turbine wind farm in the town of Alabama. Residents also have until April 15 to send written comments to the town board or drop them off at the town hall in South Alabama.

Drew Reilly explained such a hearing is necessary whenever changes are made to a project which will have an impact on local residents and the town.

The revised project calls for building 40 wind turbines in the town, instead of the 52 originally planned, said Drew Reilly of Wendel Companies.

Gary Davidson, Horizon’s project engineer, said the downscaled version also calls for 14 miles of access roads, down from 16 miles; 18 collection lines to feed into the substation and, ultimately, the grid, down from 22; a reduction in overhead collection lines from just over one mile to .1 mile; moving the operations and maintenance building and the laydown building for construction to Buffalo Crushed Stone property; and the point of interconnectin with the grid to just south of Judge Road.

Other changes included updated avian studies, addition of an air emission study, an acoustic impact statement and visual simulation layouts done from various points in the town.

Cultural studies included architectural studies done to determine impact on historic sites in the area, but are not printed in the SDEIS at the request of the State Historic Preservation Office, who wishes that information be protected from public knowledge, Davidson said.

Residents were asked to offer comments and ask questions, which were not answered Thursday night, but will be addressed in the Final Impact Statement.

Sally Ross of Oakfield asked why Horizon had not done a study on the health impact on people and suggested they visit farms in the Southern Tier and ask those residents what effect the turbines have had on their health.

David Bencic of Batavia-Oakfield Townline Road was very verbal in stating he is not against wind turbines, but he is against putting them where people live. He expressed concerns on everything from turbines collapsing, interference with satellite and telephone reception, effect on water wells, shadow flicker, noise, loss of home value, danger to birds and potential accidents caused by drivers who gawk at the turbines.

He suggested the town board insist the project be terminated, but said the board is too busy planning how to spend its money.

He also criticized Horizon for accepting tax credits and incentives to build the project which, he said, were really the taxpayers’ money.

‘‘I suggest they just take the $9 million and give it to our school and fire company,’’ Bencic said. ‘‘Wind farms belong in the middle of nowhere, not near homes.’’

He said there more more than 200 homes within or near the project area.

Bruce Hall of Townline Road said he was scheduled to have a turbine if the project flies.

‘‘I know they are huge, but I’ve been to several wind farms and talked to people there and they have no problem with them,’’ Hall said. ‘‘One bright, sunny day I was driving home and I looked hard to find flicker. What little I saw was not distracting and I didn’t get in an accident lookign at them. It’s natural we’re all opposed to change. But look at nuclear plants. People are really in danger there.’’

He said nothing is fool proof, but before Governor George Pataki left office he said in the near future 25 percent of energy will come from renewable sources.

‘‘This is a good renewable source and needs to be looking in to,’’ Hall said.

Roger Thurber of Ledge Road added his approval, saying they are something from which the whole town would benefit.

‘‘I wish the town board would get down and deal with Horizon and maybe we could get our garbage picked up and the fire company paid for,’’ Thurber said. ‘‘In these economic times we can’t turn down anything that helps our town. It will be a great shame if we cast Horizon out of our town.’’

Reilly said he will be working with the town board to gather all the residents’ comments. After that, it will take the board several months to assimilate the information and give to the applicant, Alabama Ledge Wind Farm, to compile into the Final Environmental Impact Statement. After the board receives FEIS, it must wait 30 days to issue a finding.

If the finding is in favor, the project goes forward. If it is not favorable, then the project is dead, Reilly said.

Davidson said there is state funding and federal tax incentives available for the project, although there is a little uncertainty on the federal level beyond 2012.

It is conceivable the project could be ready to move forward by late summer, Reilly said.