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Christie sends Cumberland, Salem wind turbine bill back to legislature

Gov. Chris Christie has conditionally vetoed a bill passed by the legislature last month that would pave the way for the construction of wind towers in Cumberland and Salem counties without local regulatory review other than minor site plan approval.

The governor’s objections to the bill include provisions that would make wind turbines a “primary use” on preserved farmland.

The legislature will have the opportunity to vote on Christie’s recommended changes, after which the governor may choose to sign the bill.

“It’s some good news,” said Matt Blake, of the American Littoral Society in Bridgeton. “If the change is made, then the bill will only apply to unpreserved farmland.”

However, Blake still characterized the whole bill as a problem, stating it will cause a “feeding frenzy” among developers to begin building turbines in Cumberland and Salem counties.

The bill – approved by the assembly on Dec. 5, with the Senate passing the Assembly’s version of the legislation on Dec. 15 – only applies to Cumberland and Salem counties, and allows for one wind turbine per 75 acres of land.

According to supporters, the legislation is meant to “streamline” wind energy projects by creating a new category of farmland-based wind energy projects.

The legislation’s primary sponsor was Assembly Deputy Speaker Upendra Chivukula, who represents parts of Middlesex and Somerset counties.

According to the bill, any person who owns a 75-acre farm in Cumberland or Salem counties would be allowed to construct and operate a wind turbine on that property without limitation or review from county or municipal governments, outside of site plan approval, which would have to be granted by the local planning board.

The version of the bill approved by both houses includes nine requirements that projects must fulfill in order bypass local review:

• No more than one turbine installed on a 75-contiguous-acre area of land.

• No wind turbine, turbine facility or structure can be placed within 750 feet of an occupied residential building or the property boundary line of an adjoining property.

• The wind generation facilities, structures or equipment are installed to provide energy or revenue by lease or contract directly to the landowner, and are installed according to contracts or other agreements that permit or require continued use of the property for agricultural or horticultural use.

• Noise from the wind energy generation facilities, structures and equipment cannot exceed 65 decibels between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m., and 42 decibels between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m., at the property boundary line.

• Projects must satisfy electrical and structural design criteria of the State Uniform Construction Code;

• Projects must satisfy electrical standards established by the Board of Public Utilities.

• The height of the wind energy generation facilities, structures and equipment cannot exceed 500 feet.

• The wind energy generation facilities, structures and equipment cannot be operated during times that would result in “flicker” at any occupied residential dwelling.

• Wind energy projects must secure all required permits under the Freshwater Wetlands Protection Act and the Flood Hazard Area Control Act.

According to the bill, any site plan approval must limit its review to these nine requirements.

The bill passed the Assembly by a vote of 45-25, with five abstaining.

First District assemblymen Nelson Albano and Matt Milam, along with Third District Assemblyman John Buzichelli, all supported the legislation. Third District Assemblywoman Celeste Riley abstained.

It passed the Senate by a vote of 23-15.

Both First District Sen. Jeff Van Drew and Senate President Steve Sweeney, who represents the Third District, voted “yes.”