MADISON – A group named Madison Matters has been the driving force behind stopping the area’s largest wind farm to date and has succeeded in stalling its progress as Madison town officials consider a moratorium.
In a joint meeting May 2, the planning board recommended the adoption of a year-long moratorium, a suggestion the town board took action on at its meeting last Thursday with the introduction of a local law. A public hearing will need to be held, and is tentatively scheduled for June 7, to gather comments before the board votes on instating the moratorium.
If it’s passed, all pending or new applications for the installments of turbines in the Town of Madison will be stalled, giving the town time to review and amend its special permit regulations, create a land use plan and comprehensive plan.
Specifically, it would allow the town time to establish practical locations for wind turbines, set setback standards and acceptable turbine heights. The moratorium also calls for a seven-member committee of town residents to be formed to gather information and make recommendations to the planning board.
If the moratorium is passed, the currently proposed $110 million 36-turbine wind farm will be put on hold. Last year, EDP Renewables North America, the same company that now owns Madison’s first wind farm, proposed to build 36 492-feet-tall turbines in the southeast corner of Madison.
Since then the town has received largely negative feedback on the project. Madison Matters, a group made up of about 50 concerned residents, has been unequivocally against the project and collected nearly 400 signatures to petition town officials for a moratorium and stop a project that has “gone too far, too fast,” member Jane Welsh said.
The moratorium will address the town’s now-outdated regulations given the latest technical advances in the construction of wind turbines and allow time for officials to “tighten up” its ordinances, Welsh said.
While not against wind energy, although recognizing that there may be more efficient methods, Welsh said the size and scope of the proposed project shouldn’t be considered.
“We’re going to put up all of these huge machines where people live?” she asked. “That makes no sense. They’re machines, they’re huge machines. They don’t belong where people live. They should be put out in the middle of nowhere. That’s the real issue here.”
At more than 150 feet taller than the area’s existing turbines, 36 windmills is too many, she said.
With a moratorium as a likely choice for the town, Welsh said, “we feel that hopefully sanity will prevail.”
Madison Matters, now incorporated, has raised enough money from members of the community to retain an attorney, in case the moratorium didn’t prove to be a viable option for the town, she said.
The community was overwhelmingly supportive of that initiative, she said.
“Most of us don’t have a hell of a lot, other than our homes and property,” Welsh said. “It’s our only asset. If that’s devalued and taken away from us then we have nothing. That’s why people have reacted so strongly.”
But a new group has emerged from the heavy-handed disapproval of the project, to speak out against the majority that has deemed the project ill-fit for the Town of Madison.
Meetings on the proposed wind farm so far have been dictated by “who’s the biggest bully,” Morrisville resident Charlie Bostic said.
Bostic, who owns 140 acres of property on Pickett Road in the Town of Madison, is one of many breaking away from the vocal opposition to support the project. He and a dozen farmers with property investments in the wind farm’s proposed footprint have banded together to gather their own information.
“Big windmills are scary to people,” he said. “I don’t know why. This is about alternative energy more than just wind energy. I think it’s a spirited battle between real estate development and energy development.”
Bostic doesn’t support the moratorium and criticized its terms, saying its wording needs to refined, particularly the vague criteria for the formation of the committee. He argued that instead of “residents,” all property owners should be considered and more specific requirements should be put in place for individuals with such a “monumental responsibility” so that individuals with “special interests” are excluded.
He said the moratorium will likely “complicate things.” While most of the land involved in the proposed project is within a farm district, agricultural laws are vague when it comes to industrial commercial windmills.
“It’s really an area that has no rules,” he said. “We’re charting new territory.”
Recognizing that property owners have a right to dictate how their land is used, he said members of groups like Madison Matters seem to have one goal and that is to limit any further development of windmills and get rid of the ones that already exist.
“I don’t think compromise is in the air,” he said.
Questioning where the group’s funding is coming from, Bostic said they depict windmills as “the most demonic contraptions known to man” with claims that exposure to such machinery causes headaches and disease.
Bostic currently uses his property in Madison as a practice golf course. He’s developed 12 holes and hopes to expand to 16. While it’s not in use for the public, he has offered the facility for the use of benefits, and he expects to be approached to lease some of that land for a turbine as part of the latest wind farm.
He said he would be willing to offer his property as a windmill site and recognized the financial benefit of having a lease, income he said he could use to help pay off his daughter’s student loan debt from Colgate and Columbia universities.
While some may consider that greedy, he said, “I’m sorry, but that’s not what I’m about and I don’t think anyone else is.”
Windmills have already been erected within sight of his property. He called them beautiful.
There can be a balance to property use. A windmill can coexist in the same place as outdoor recreational opportunities, residential areas and wildlife, he said. People become so concerned about building their “dream home” that they are dulled to the realization that they’re a part of “one big boring suburbia” that’s “nothing but houses.”
“It’s pretty boring,” he said.
There should be some oversight to make sure wind farms are placed in appropriate spaces, but to the most vocal members of the discussion so far it seems like “no windmill is the only good kind of windmill,” Bostic said.
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