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Hearing slated for Richfield wind farm

RICHFIELD SPRINGS – Stalled by legal action initiated by opponents, a proposed six-turbine wind farm is moving forward again, and the Richfield Town Planning Board has slated a public hearing on the controversial project for next Monday night.

The public hearing on the Monticello Hills wind turbines will be held at 7 p.mm. Monday at the Richfield Springs Central School off U.S. Route 20 in the village of Richfield Springs.

Monticello Hills is the name given to the project by Ridgeline Energy of Albany. The company’s chief project developer, Patrick Doyle, told The Daily Star on Monday: “We’re hopeful they (the planning board members) will reissue the permit” at a board meeting that has not yet been scheduled.

The Planning Board last week authorized the public hearing as well as documents related to the project to be forwarded to the Otsego County Planning Department for a full review. The Planning Department is expected to determine what impacts the wind farm could have on the county, officials said.

A lawsuit filed by 34 residents opposed to the wind farm resulted in the special-use permit, which had been granted by the Planning Board in November 2011, being voided on procedural grounds.

A state appeals court ruled recently that the board violated the town law, because it did not refer the project to the county Planning Department until after a public hearing had been held.

Larry Frigault, one of the organizers of the anti-wind farm group Protect Richfield, said if the Planning Board adheres to the town zoning law, it will spike the project.

“Our zoning doesn’t allow this as a permitted use,” said Frigault, contending the 492-foot-tall turbines would emit loud noise and vibrations and have disturbing flashing lights.

Richfield Town Supervisor Fran Enjem said at a town board meeting night that the planning board never reached out to him after it had authorized the public hearing for next Monday.

“I had to call Don (Urtz, the chairman of the planning board) to find out,” Enjem told town residents attending the board meeting.

Urtz was one of the three planning board members who voted to issue the special use permit to Ridgeline Energy in Novemember 2011. Two others voted against the permit issuance, one of whom, Paul Szeflinski, was killed two weeks ago in an accident while herding cows on his all-terrain vehicle.

Wind farm opponents accused those backing the project of trying to take advantage of Szeflinski’s death by teeing up the application for the permit for reconsideration.

“The same day of his funeral, they came marching right back in for the permit,” said Carol Frigault, the wife of Larry Frigault.

Town of Richfield resident Leslie Weaver, noting she lives very close to the site of one of the six turbines that would bracket Route 20, said she hopes the Planning Board will study the potential impact that constructing the towering machines will have on groundwater in the area.

At a time when the use of fossil fuels have been implicated by some scientists in climate change and extensive weather-related disasters, greater reliance on a clean and renewable source of power such as wind makes sense, Doyle said.

“There is a choice to be made,” he said.