September 22, 2011
New York

Hopkinton wind law plan nearing completion

By MATTHEW BULTMAN, Daily Courier-Observer, 22 September 2011

HOPKINTON – Hopkinton is content with its wind plan, at least for the time being.

Town leaders have made several revisions to their local law, many of which were formatting and word changes required by the St. Lawrence County Planning Board earlier this month.

But the one sticking point between county officials and town leaders has been the distance wind turbines are placed from public roads, neighboring property lines and the edge of wind overlay districts.

The town has set the setback distance at 600 feet. County officials would like to see that moved back to one and a half times a tower’s height. With the largest towers standing 500 feet, that would mean turbines must be placed 750 from nearby roads or property.

“The concern is safety,” said Jason C. Pfotenhauer, deputy director of the county Planning Office. “If by chance a tower were to have mechanical problems and were to fall, we would like to see more of a buffer between the base and the fall zone.”

But for now, the town has said it is satisfied placing the turbines where it has them.

“I think because we figured towers can’t be higher than 500 feet and an extra 100 feet gives you enough room,” Councilwoman Susan M. Wood said.

While the county Planning Office only recommended the changes, the Planning Board unanimously approved them, turning those suggestions into requirements.

In order for Hopkinton to overrule county officials, it must pass the measure with a supermajority vote, needing four of the five board members to approve a setback of 600 feet.

But with a public meeting scheduled next month, Ms. Wood said, the town has not ruled out expanding the buffer zone.

“Right now we are content with 600 feet, but we want to research that a little more,” she said. “We’re going to call some other places that have wind laws and see why they went with more.”

In comparison, the town of Hammond set a buffer zone of 2,300 feet. While Hammond may be the extreme case in terms of buffer zones in the county, Mr. Pfotenhauer said he has yet to see a buffer zone as small as Hopkinton’s.

“The majority of laws we reviewed over the years have had a minimum of one and a half times the height of a tower,” he said. “I don’t remember seeing another law in the county that had less than one and a half times as a setback.”

But if Hopkinton is satisfied with 600 feet and votes to pass the measure, there will be nothing the county can do.

“Certainly the town has the right to enact setbacks as it sees fit,” Mr. Pfotenhauer said. “So if they choose to go with 600, that’s fine. It’s up to them at this point.”

Hopkinton residents will have a chance to express their views on the plan at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 17 in the Town Hall during the final public meeting before council members vote on the plan.

Ms. Wood said the council hopes to gather public opinion, review the law a final time and vote on the plan as soon as November’s board meeting.

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