CHURCHTOWN – Snowfall and slippery roads didn’t stop more than 300 concerned residents and officials from attending a power line informational meeting Saturday morning at the Churchtown Firehouse.
The meeting was organized by Ian Solomon, leader of Farmers and Families for Claverack, with help from Pam Kline, leader of Farmers and Families for Livingston. The purpose of the meeting was to disseminate information regarding the proposed power line upgrades, which are part of Gov. Cuomo’s state Energy Highway.
State Sen. Kathleen Marchione, R,C-Half Moon, Assemblywoman Didi Barrett, D,WF-Hudson, Livingston Councilman Will Yandik, Claverack Supervisor Clifford Weigelt, Milan Councilwoman Marion Mathison, Scenic Hudson attorney Hayley Carlock and Solomon were the guest speakers. Anne Muller also read a letter of support from Rep. Chris Gibson, R,C,I-Kinderhook.
Brian Kelly, a representative of Sen. Terry Gipson, D-Rhinebeck, Hudson Common Council President Don Moore, Taghkanic Councilwoman Joyce Thompson, Greenport Supervisor John Porreca, Claverack’s Town Board members Katy Cashen, Bill Gerlach, Stephen Hook and Brian Keeler, and Livingston Supervisor James Guzzi were all in the audience to show their support.
One issue the meeting had to face early on was that the Public Service Commission’s website was down for maintenance, which meant no one could post comments to their public comment section about the proposed expansions project.
Kline and Solomon had six volunteers with laptops ready to help input comments from the throng of attendees. Their goal was to have as many residents as possible post comments to the PSC’s site concurrently while the meeting was held.
Cashen helped facilitate a solution. They passed out index cards to all in attendance and will have volunteers enter the comments onto the site when the maintenance is done.
Pamela Carter, a representative of the PSC, came to the meeting with Barrett. Carter left the meeting as it ended, opting not to stay and hear comments from residents.
Cashen said Carter told her that today’s website maintenance was routine and apologized for the site being down.
Carter could not be reached for comment.
Weigelt’s speech thanked Farmers and Families for all they have done and thanked residents for coming out during the snow to show support.
In regard to vying power companies taking land via eminent domain, Weigelt said: “We may be fighting a Goliath, but I see many Davids in the room.”
Marchione said should would continue to push the government for answers to residents’ concerns. She posited the question of what is really in the proposed upgrade that benefits Columbia County.
“I’m on your side. I’ve been elected to be on your side, and I will keep voicing the strong local opposition to this plan,” Marchione said.
Barrett said that the county has flourished in recent years and is one of the great success stories to come out of the recession. Her goal, she said, is to continually educate the PSC and the governor on how the proposed expansion will affect the community. She said government is supposed to be about representing the people, and that is exactly what she will do.
She recently released a letter to the PSC and many other state officials in opposition to eminent domain, asking legislators to heed the voices of their constituents in this regard.
“Power to the people,” she said.
Mathison has been researching the upgrade plans for nearly six months.
“I’ve done the research,” she said, “and there is not one clear piece of evidence that suggests we even need the upgrades.”
She said economic development has already been impacted by the proposed upgrades: Sandy Williams, who owns Williams Lumber, has already halted one of his development plans for Dutchess County due to the uncertainty of the power line expansion and the fluctuating property values it has caused.
“In Dutchess County, I have counted at least ten businesses that will be wiped out by the expansion,” she said.
She said another major factor to consider here is that businesses, farmers and individuals who want to build on land along upgrade lines now have four to five years of limbo ahead of them before they can develop their properties, sell them or acquire loans for expansion.
After the meeting Yandik said his own farm had ceased expanding.
“We planned to put in a new peach orchard, but I won’t expand our farmlands when I have no idea if I will lose land or not,” he said.
Yandik went on to say that he’d have to wait that five years of limbo to see if his property values dropped or if eminent domain was enforced and took part of his land. He said peaches take three to four years before they turn a profit so now any plans to plant peaches would take about nine years before he saw any value from them.
Yandik said the Omega Institute has dropped a development plan which would have increased job opportunities in the Hudson Valley.
Mathison also criticized the four vying companies’ proposals that require expanding towers by using outdated technology.
“I know Dutchess and Columbia are very fond of antiques – but we don’t like them that much,” she said.
Carlock spoke about applying for intervenor funding and the newly formed coalition’s goals. She confirmed the plans to use intervenor funds to hire a transmission expert.
many of the local transmission experts have already been placed on retainer by the bidding companies, Carlock said, so they had to seek one as far away as Europe or California.
Yandik’s speech garnered the most applause. He said the very first goal of the PSC should be removing eminent domain from the table of options. He said once that’s gone everyone can move forward and find a solution that works for everyone.
He mentioned that three of the four bidding companies have said burying the lines instead of upgrading them would cost too much.
“It is a fact that the utility rate payers, which is all of us, will be absorbing the cost of the upgrades that the utilities will then make profit on,” he said. “If we are footing the bill, I am sure we would all spend a few more pennies on the dollar to have a modern transmission system that doesn’t take away anyone’s land.”
After the speeches there was a question-and-answer panel that featured Yandik, Mathison, Carlock and Greg Quinn, who is the leader of Clinton Concerned Citizens.
One audience member, Steve Corson, a farmer from Ghent, asked why upstate has to provide energy for downstate.
“They have tons of roofs for solar,” he said, “they have tall skyscrapers for windmills and they have an ocean for water power, why can’t we use them?”
Quinn agreed alternative energy solutions need to be looked at.
Porreca announced that Greenport would be passing a resolution in opposition to the expansion on Feb. 5. He suggested burying the lines under the Hudson River as to not impact any resident.
Kline thought the turnout was better than expected and the energy of the concerned residents was fabulous.
“We all received lots of new information to work through,” she said.
As residents and officials alike voiced their concerns, the snow continued to fall covering the cars outside. One central sentiment from all the speakers was gratitude to everyone braving the snowy conditions to show their support.
After the meeting, Livingston Barracks Troop K State Trooper Andrew Behrens said at least three accidents occurred on Route 27 in Claverack owing to the snow. All three were concerned residents traveling home from the informational meeting.
“It must have been really important to have so many drive in these conditions for it,” he said.
State Trooper Sgt. Robin Reed confirmed that there were multiple accidents after the meeting.
Solomon was amazed at the turnout, thankful for the support and remorseful for the conditions after the meeting.
Yandik and Carlock said that even though the proposed plans are now in hiatus as the PSC’s polling process was extended indefinitely, everyone must make their voice heard now, more than ever, to show passion for refusal of eminent domain will not die.
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