OMERSET – The Somerset Town Board last week passed resolutions it hopes will give residents more input into whether a collection of wind turbines is installed in town.
Supervisor Daniel M. Engert said state law has deprived Somerset of any power to block the project on its own. But he said the town intends “to defend our local law” before a state siting board that will make the determination on whether Apex Clean Energy, a Virginia company, will be allowed to install wind turbines as tall as 570 feet.
The town’s current law on wind turbines, passed in 2006, limits their height to 450 feet. But Engert said state law, adopted in 2011, allows the siting board to overrule town laws that it considers “unreasonably burdensome to the developer,” as Engert put it.
The project is expected to be built in the Route 18 corridor in Somerset and the neighboring Orleans County Town of Yates, although Apex has yet to file a scoping document that will include the exact locations.
Once that document is filed, the state law says, the town and residents are given a 21-day public comment period. That’s completely inadequate, in the board’s view, so it passed a resolution demanding that the Public Service Commission extend the comment period to 90 days.
Such an extension is only fair, Engert said, because of “the fact that our local permitting authority has been taken away.” The seven-member siting board will be dominated by state agencies, who supply five members. There are to be two local members, but the localities don’t control who they are.
“I’ve never heard of anything so ridiculous,” Engert griped. “This is an absolute trampling of home rule.”
According to Engert, the host town and the host county each nominate four potential members. Since the Apex project targets two towns and two counties, there would be 16 nominees. The two eventually chosen will be selected in Albany, one by the Assembly speaker and the other by the Senate majority leader. If they fail to nominate, the governor will do it. So far, seven Somerset residents have volunteered to be nominated to the siting board.
The project has been a hot topic at board meetings for the past several months, with opponents far outnumbering supporters at the public comment periods. But in order to ascertain what the town’s true breakdown of opinion is, the board voted Thursday to mail a survey to every property owner in Somerset, including those who own property but don’t live in town.
Town Clerk Tracy L. Carmer will have the job of compiling the survey results. Engert said about 1,000 surveys will be distributed, and they will be “numbered and watermarked for authenticity.”
The town will spend up to $2,500 on the surveys, which must be returned by June 16. Carmer is to open them June 17, and the results will be posted on the town website.
The Town Board also voted to appoint a committee to consider revisions of the local law on wind turbines and recommend if it should be made more or less stringent in the face of the PSC’s power. The 13-member committee will be headed by Town Planner Andrew C. Reilly and is to report by Feb. 29.
The Apex project first surfaced early last year, when it became known that the company was contacting local landowners about leases. The town Planning Board in October allowed Apex to erect a 60-meter tower on private land to gather meteorological data. The company spoke of installing about 67 turbines that could generate as much as 3.3 megawatts of electricity, enough to power about 59,000 homes.
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