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Richfield board delays wind farm vote

RICHFIELD SPRINGS – A proposed wind farm project suffered a double setback Monday night – the Richfield Town Board decided to delay a vote approving a host agreement with the developer and was hit by a lawsuit filed by 34 opponents.

Confronted by intense community opposition and the threat of expanded legal action, the town board voted, 3 to 1, to table a motion that would have allowed the six-turbine wind project to be built on both sides of U.S. Route 20.

The abrupt punt pleased project critics, who had said going into the meeting that they feared the board was poised to approve a draft host agreement with Ridgeline Energy of Albany, developer of the Monticello Hills wind generation project.

The move now puts the controversial project in the lap of a board that will be reconstituted Jan. 1.

The board members also learned that the town Planning Board was sued Monday by 34 residents contesting the special use permit the latter panel issued to Ridgeline Energy. The attorney for the opponents, Douglas Zamelis of Springfield, attacked the legality of the Planning Board’s actions. He argued the panel should have required the project to undergo rigorous scrutiny required by the state Environmental Quality Review Act.

Before the town board members voted, Zamelis told them that if they signed the community host agreement they would be “exposing yourselves to additional liability and will likely be made party” to the lawsuit.

An attorney for Ridgeline Energy, Douglas Ward, sought to assure the board that the planning board had acted properly in not requiring the more extensive environmental review. He later told The Daily Star, “Everything was done correctly” by the planning board.

Town board members who opted to delay the vote were: Langdon Ames, Laurie Bond and Bonnie Domion. Only board member Barbara Petersen indicated she wanted to give approval to the wind farm.

With two state troopers monitoring the meeting, several local residents accused the board members of being in collusion with Ridgeline. They also took them to task for conducting what they charged was, at best, a cursory review of the wind farm’s impact on the community.

Farmer David Yoder expressed concern for the safety of his seven children, noting they sometimes travel with him by horse-drawn buggy on Route 20, where he said the horses could be “spooked” by sounds emanating from the giant turbines.

Critics also chided the lawyer representing both the town board and the planning board, David Merzig, suggesting the host agreement fails to protect the town in the event the turbines have to be decommissioned.

“Fear not,” Marzig initially replied – although he later said he regretted his choice of words.

Ridgeline said it hopes to have all six 492-foot turbines put up and switched on by next year.

Larry Firgault of Richfield Springs praised the board for delaying a project he said some residents learned about only recently.

“They finally started listening to their townspeople.”