The controversial Monticello Hills wind farm project proposed for the town of Richfield has hit a snag in the form of a court ruling annulling the special-use permit developers received from the town planning board in August.
It was the second significant setback for the project – which would bracket U.S. Route 20 with six large turbines – in the last 17 months. This time, state supreme court justice Donald Cerio found there was a lack of evidence to support the claim that the project, advanced by Ridgeline Energy of Albany, a subsidiary of Veolia of Paris, would not impact the parcels of adjacent landowners.
Richfield Town Supervisor Fran Enjem on Friday told The Daily Star he was pleased with Cerio’s decision.
“A lot of our residents didn’t think this project met our town laws,” said Enjem. “I think it was the right thing to do.”
Patrick Doyle, vice president of development for Ridgeline Energy, said the company would review its options. No decisions have been made as to whether the ruling will be appealed or whether new plans will be drawn up to reset the locations of the turbines, he said.
Opponents of the project have argued the machines would be noisy, produce potentially health-threatening shadow flicker and mar the rural landscape for miles.
Cerio found that the project was in conformance with six of the eight land-use law requirements, and out of conformance with two others. Because the project did not meet all of the standards, he found, he had to vacate the decision to grant a special-use permit to the developers.
Daniel Mezik, a local farmer whose land the judge ruled was “encroached” upon by one of the turbine locations, praised the decision in a statement released by Protect Richfield, a grassroots group fighting the project.
“We couldn’t understand how the town and the wind company could take our rights to develop our property without our consent – and the judge apparently couldn’t either,” said Mezik, whose land is within the 1,750-foot setback for the machines.
Carol Frigault, a local resident and the lead petitioner in the lawsuit aimed at stopping the project, said she and her group are “ecstatic.”
Douglas Zamelis, a Springfield lawyer who represents was the project opponents in the lawsuit, said the latest case was more challenging than the litigation decided in 2012 because this one was brought on “substantive” grounds rather than procedural ones.
“The court agreed with us that these 500-foot industrial monsters could not meet each and every one of the standards in the zoning law designed to protect agricultural and residential land uses,” Zamelis said.
The turbines, each featuring three 179-foot blades, would have the capability to generate 18.45 megawatts of power. The developer has estimated that the project would produce some $4 million in revenue to town, county and school budgets over its lifetime, according to the web site for Monticello Hills.
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