Richfield Springs, N.Y. – Most weeks, the Richfield Springs Town Hall, with its 60-person capacity, would be large enough to host the town’s Planning Board meetings.
But not Tuesday night. Not when a vote on a wind turbine project was scheduled.
Over 75 area residents filled the chairs, lined the walls and spilled outside into the rain until the meeting was moved to a larger venue, the basement of Trinity Church on Main Street.
Joe Zvirzdin, a 54-year-old Richfield Springs resident, was one of the most vocal protesters against the wind project at the meeting.
“Is it right to turn someone’s neighborhood into an industrial area without the consent of the people,” Zvirzdin asked. “And here are the voices of the people – and they don’t want them.”
Rich Barrett, a resident of Litchfield and a member of Litchfield Residents for Wind Energy, attended the meeting in a show of support for proponents of the project.
He called the protest “typical of the guerrilla and terrorist tactics they use.”
A vast majority of the protesters were quiet and polite, however, one man was escorted out by three police officers during the meeting.
After going over minor changes to the two resolutions – for example, two turbines were moved slightly and language was added to the document – the board passed the resolutions.
Janet Sylvester and Paul Szeflinski voted no to both.
The first said the turbine project would have no substantial effect to the health of the community.
The second was a land permit, to allow Ridgeline Energy to develop land in the town.
“It’s moving forward,” said board Chairman Donald Urtz. “I wouldn’t be surprised if there are some challenges to that because of the strong opposition.”
Ridgeline Vice President for Development Patrick Doyle said the $40 million project will show an immediate benefit to the community. Between $5 and $10 million will be reinvested into the community through the purchase of goods and services during construction, he said.
Over the long term, he said, payments to the town, school and landowners will total between $400,000 and $500,000 annually.
But for Lori Sawicki, whose home is about a mile from where the turbines will be erected, it’s more than an economic decision. “They are directly in our line of sight,” she said.
She’s also concerned about noise, health issues associated with nearness to the turbines, and decreasing property values.
After the vote, she said she was “very disappointed” because the town planning board did not take the feelings of the community into account. “This is not the right decision,” she added.
However, Rex Seamon, spokesperson for the Protect Richfield group wasn’t surprised at the result of Monday’s meeting. “I’m not surprised that it passed the way they were steamrolling this through,” he said. “Our next step is it’ll probably go to court.”