HAMMOND – Just over a year after the confrontational end of the last public hearing on its local wind energy law, the Hammond Town Council will hear public sentiment once again at today’s hearing, scheduled for 7 p.m. in the gymnasium at Hammond Central School, 51 South Main St.
“Local residents can speak on the law,” said town Supervisor Ronald W. Bertram of the evening’s format, “but I don’t think the hearing is the place to rehash several years of opinion.” Mr. Bertram said that citizens may speak aloud or provide written comments to the town council. “Depending on the volume,” of letters, he added, written submissions may or may not be read aloud. Comments can also be made on the town’s website, www.townofhammondny.com, according to the supervisor.
The most recent public hearing, which was held on June 29, 2010, for the purpose of setting the current one-year moratorium, came to a climactic finale when Robert G. and Kent Hollister, husband and son, respectively, of Janie G. Hollister, supervisor before Mr. Bertram, exited the gymnasium while shouting obscenities and making threatening gestures towards other members of the community.
Robert Hollister was one of only three speakers, out of approximately 25, who commented in opposition of the moratorium at the 2010 hearing. Nearly 100 locals attended.
The saga has been ongoing in the small, St. Lawrence River-bordering town for years, with membership of two different town boards, two separate wind committees, and members of the public drawing clear and personal lines in the sand as the issues have been researched and debated. Iberdrola
Renewables had submitted and later rescinded an application to the town which proposed 50 to 75 turbines across Hammond, Morristown and the town of Oswegatchie.
Hammond’s Wind Energy Facilities Law of 2009 has been adopted on two occasions, fought over in court, and is currently under moratorium until the end of July.
To add to the fray, new rules giving committees in Albany decision-making power on siting power projects at or above 25 megawatts – as the Stone Church Wind Farm originally was – the American Energy Act of 2011 (formerly Article X), was passed June 23 by the state Senate and Assembly.
The law enables a streamlined, one-year permitting process for building power plants. Those with an interest in the project would have access to a pot of money from the developer, called the intervenor fund. Each project would be considered by a siting board that would include locally appointed community representatives. State agencies would be responsible to check for environmental harm and benefits.
It also includes a grandfather provision for those projects already in consideration at a local level to avoid the process.
Paul C. Copleman, Iberdrola communications manager, responding to questions requested via email, said his company “does not currently have an application with the Town of Hammond for a project.” He was reserved when it came to questions regarding the American Energy Act.
“Once (Article X) rules have been established,” Mr. Copleman wrote, “we will evaluate the project and (Article X’s) impacts at that time. We will also consider the local zoning rules once those are passed. It makes sense for us to explore all of our project development options, but any push forward will involve working closely with the community.”
The current hiatus in activity, he said, though delaying some aspects of development, has allowed Iberdrola to “collect wind data and complete some environmental studies.”
Mr. Bertram, meanwhile, said its business as usual, despite the state’s recent decision.
“I don’t think its affecting us right now,” he said of the legislation. “We are certainly not ignoring the law, but based on advice from our attorney (Joseph W. Russell, of Menter, Rudin & Trivelpiece), we are proceeding as we would have without it.”
Mr. Bertram, however, said that while he is a “strong proponent of Home Rule,” he agreed with some of the language within the American Energy Act of 2011.
“We’re not talking about building a supermarket here,” the supervisor said. “There isn’t a whole lot of local expertise,” when it comes to wind farms, he said, adding, “I’ve found the entire process to be mind boggling. We had a committee of ten studying the issues for nearly a year and we’re still learning something new every day.”