By unanimous votes, the Philipstown Town Board Wednesday (Nov. 20) imposed a 6-month ban on new wind-turbine energy projects and ratified an agreement to launch planning for the hiking-biking Hudson Fjord Trail.
On a busy evening, the Town Board also approved next year’s budget. [See: Town Board Passes 2014 Budget, Nov. 22] The moratorium vote followed a brief public hearing. Impetus for it came from a year-long controversy over a Garrison resident’s bid to generate household energy with a 152-foot-tall wind turbine, a form of 21st-century backyard windmill. Opponents raised questions of aesthetics, as well as of noise pollution and dangers to wildlife. Eventually, the town Zoning Board of Appeals allowed the turbine to go ahead, but the debate prompted calls for an immediate moratorium to provide time to revise the zoning code to more adequately address wind turbines and other alternative energy devices.
“This shows how seriously we are taking this issue,” Supervisor Richard Shea commented, before the vote. “In my 12 years” in government “there’s never been a moratorium on anything.”
Councilor Nancy Montgomery said she senses “the region is wanting to embrace this clean energy. But we have to make sure we can deal with all the challenges we’re going to have to face.” The town must devise a policy and “this is a good way to do it, so we do it right,” she said.
“I think the open question is, ‘do we want to entertain this at all?” Shea added. “I think we need to set some parameters. But for now,” he said, the moratorium can allow time to proceed deliberately, with advice from others, such as the town Planning Board and experts like Joel Russell, the consultant who assisted with the 2011 rezoning. And “yes, absolutely, we will be looking for public input as to which direction we’re going,” he assured an audience member who asked about citizen involvement.
“I think we’ve got a lot to go on, based on what we’ve heard so far, and we welcome more,” Montgomery said.
Councilor Dave Merandy mentioned a need to “establish something as quickly as we can” to assist town government committees in their reviews of projects.
Hudson Highlands Land Trust Executive Director Andrew Chmar expressed hope that with sufficient time and thought, Philipstown can get “good, objective decisions made, as opposed to emotional decisions.”
By approving an agreement between Philipstown, the Town of Fishkill, and the RBA Group, a consulting firm, the board moved forward on the proposed Hudson Fjord Trail, to run parallel to Route 9D, the Hudson River, and the Metro-North railroad tracks and link Cold Spring and Beacon train station-to-train station. The agreement specifies paying RBA up to $165,790 to plan the path. Donations from environmental organizations will cover much of the cost.
“This is a big moment,” said Shea. “It’s a pretty limited commitment at this point but a major step forward.” He has been a leading advocate of the trail effort, being undertaken by a coalition of government officials at various levels, including Shea and Fishkill Town Supervisor Robert LaColla; environmental groups; volunteers, and other interested parties. He explained that “this is only for the planning phase. This is not for capital construction. Right now Philipstown is contributing $15,000, which can be in-kind services,” in part. The town also has a Greenway grant to help meet its obligations, Shea noted. He estimated that already “we have probably $20,000 in hours” on the project, much of it his own time.
Merandy asked him to “explain to the public our stake in this?” and wondered “why isn’t Beacon signing off on this now?” Neither Beacon nor Cold Spring is a signatory to the contract, drafted as a town-with-town document with RBA.
Shea said Beacon will be more heavily involved later and is meanwhile concentrating on a city trail to connect to the fjord path. In a follow-up conversation with Philipstown.info, he pointed out that Fishkill jurisdictionally covers all the land from approximately the Breakneck tunnel just north of Cold Spring to the Beacon city limit, a big stretch of the trail route, and has a park there. “That’s why they’re so heavily involved,” he said.
He also told Merandy that if the trail is built, “there will be all sorts of opportunities. The fact we can physically connect these communities that share this common riverfront will be just tremendous. Metro-North will benefit. Any number of businesses will benefit.” As for the present, “we have never worked so closely with our neighbors,” he said.
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