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Amid protests, Richfield board approves wind turbine permit

RICHFIELD SPRINGS – A narrowly divided Richfield Town Planning Board agreed Tuesday night to issue a special-use permit to a controversial wind farm project that would erect six 492-foot turbines off U.S. Route 20.

Disappointing about 80 wind farm opponents who crowded into the Trinity Christian Reformed Church, the planners voted, 3-2, to issue the permit. By the same margin, the panel also decided not to require the developers to complete an elaborate environmental impact review. In making the latter decision, the board determined the project would not have significant adverse environmental impacts.

Several local farmers who live near the wind farm said they are considering challenging the dual decisions in court.

Douglas Zamelis of Springfield, a lawyer who has been critical of both the project and the planning board’s review of it, said a lawsuit would be only one of several options.

He declined to elaborate on what other actions could be taken to try to derail the turbines, but did suggest it would be doomed if the Richfield Town Board can be persuaded to refuse to enter into a host community agreement with the development company, Ridgeline Energy of Albany.

“There is no law that I’m aware of that requires the town board to enter into that agreement,” Zamelis said.

Janet Sylvester and Paul Szefliski voted against issuing the permit.

The planners had advertised the place for the meeting at the town office. But when the meeting room there overflowed with turbine foes – some complaining it was filled beyond capacity – the board agreed to hold it at the nearby church. Several residents complained that the meeting should have been postponed instead of being transferred to a house of worship.

At the church, board Chairman Donald Urtz directed state troopers to escort one man out of the building after he refused to stop heckling the members while they were discussing the wind farm.

Following the meeting, Ridgeline Vice President Patrick Doyle said he was pleased that the planners saw the benefits of bringing the $40 million project to Richfield. “The planning board has clearly taken a hard look at this,” he said. “They have been looking at this for nine months.”

He said Ridgeline has to line up a utility company to buy the energy produced by the wind farm. The company’s goal is to turn on the turbines by late 2012.

Ridgeline representatives assured the planners that the company will take “mitigation measures” to reduce the potential for bats to be killed by the turbine blades. The representatives also said they are moving two turbines from their original sites to accommodate a local couple who have indicated they plan to build a house on an adjacent parcel.

Opponents of the project said they fear the wind farm will drive down property values in the area, create health and noise problems and kill many bats which help to keep populations of crop-ravaging insects from exploding.