Last Sunday, I took a bus trip along with 37 other folks, destination Hardscrabble Wind Farm in Fairfield, a little over an hour’s ride northeast of Hamilton. In addition to the people on the bus, a caravan of private vehicles followed.
Madison Town Supervisor Ron Bono, Madison Planning Board Chair Roger Williams, Madison Town Council Members Jim Lundrigan and Brad Dixon, and Hamilton Town Council members Chris Rossi and Carolyn Todd rode with us on the bus. The trip was organized by Madison Matters, a citizens group formed in February to educate people about the proposed 36-turbine wind farm in the Town of Madison.
We arrived at the home of Jimmy Salamone and were joined by Carol Friesel and her husband, as well as Fairfield Town Supervisor Henry Crowfoot. Salamone’s house sits amidst rolling hills and is surrounded by towering wind turbines in every direction. We stood on his front lawn in silence, and listened to the repetitious sound of the turbine blades turning and the steady hum of the turbine motors.
Salamone told us in no uncertain terms that since the turbines became operational 14 months ago, life as he knew it in this idyllic, pastoral area of rural Upstate New York suddenly ceased. The turbine noise never stops, and it is perhaps its utter relentlessness that is its most annoying and inescapable feature. The red lights on the turbines, required by the FAA for safety reasons, disturb the serenity of the nights with flickering strobes every time the blades pass over their beam.
In the winter, the red light reflects off the white snow and can be seen for miles. Salamone has talked to a realtor about selling his property, and the realtor told him his asking price is about $90,000 too high now that the wind turbines have been installed. A neighbor has simply moved away, without even trying to sell his property, because he couldn’t stand living under the turbines.
Deer and other wildlife, once prominent throughout the beautiful hills surrounding his home where he has lived for decades, have almost disappeared. Neighbors who used to be friends have become estranged, pitted against each other because of the tactics of Iberdrola, the company that installed the wind turbines.
Salamone has filed a class action lawsuit against Iberdrola that claims the effects of the turbines constitute a nuisance.
Crowfoot spoke at length to the group about how difficult the permitting process is for town board members who have little or no experience with such massive industrial projects. This, of course, is precisely why certain areas are targeted by the energy companies, because they intentionally look for townships that have no zoning and weak land use regulations, hoping to entice strapped municipalities with the promise of jobs and PILOT payments (payments in lieu of taxes). These same companies lure ill-informed landowners and struggling farmers with lease payments, offering what amounts to significant amounts of money to people already living on the edge, knowing many cannot afford to turn down “free money.”
As people became more comfortable with one another, and started asking questions of the Fairfield residents, it was abundantly clear that everyone who lives near these turbines deeply regrets their presence and the fact that they did not know enough early on to stop the project. They spent their Sunday afternoon with a group of strangers from the Town of Madison to share their experiences and knowledge, painfully earned through the wisdom of hindsight, so perhaps another such travesty in Upstate New York could be prevented before it’s too late.
As we were preparing to leave, one Fairfield resident offered these parting words: Tell your Town Council members that they must choose between having an industrial energy facility as its focal point, or having a place where people live in order to raise families, start businesses, participate in the local economy, and pay taxes. Because you can’t have both. If you allow the wind farm to be built, you will lose residents, you will lose your properties, school populations will dwindle, and your tax base will erode. And once you issue a permit, there’s no turning back. You can’t undo it.
On the bus ride home, people were quiet and pensive for the most part, and I’m sure foremost in their thoughts was the prayer that the Town of Madison’s officials heard the message, and will make the right decision when it comes time to issue or deny a special use permit to the proposed Rolling Upland Hills Wind Farm.