ALBION – A month after sidelining comments by opponents of a major wind energy project, members of the Orleans County Planning Board defended their decision as one based on the narrow scope of the body’s role in planning and the project before them.
Residents and groups concerned over Apex Clean Energy’s proposed Lighthouse Wind farm attended the board’s April meeting, the first to have a relation to the project.
A special use permit for a meteorological tower on Lakeshore Road was before the board, which offers recommendations, but not final decisions, on applications based on zoning and appropriateness issues.
For those who attended the meeting, the connection was between the met tower – used to research wind potential and other environmental data – and the larger turbines that would be constructed based in part on the tower’s findings.
According to the planning department’s minutes, an option to allow them to make the case with board approval was raised, but no members motioned to do so.
Gary Daum, a Planning Board member representing the Town of Yates – the location of the proposed tower and a portion of the Lighthouse Wind project – said Thursday he would have seconded a motion had another member made one.
None were made, although the intended message was understood by the board, said Paul Hendel, who made the motion for the application.
“I didn’t make a motion (to allow comments) because when there’s people standing with signs, it’s clear what they want to say,” Hendel said. “It was clear, I read quite well.”
Planners said they would’ve allowed the assembled residents to chose a spokesman to speak, but would not permit a wider discussion on the suitability, legality or conditions for large-scale wind turbines without an application for the towers before them.
“If they wanted to address a project, we couldn’t,” said Tibbs Ahlberg, the board’s vice chairman. “We didn’t have an application before us.”
The board’s discussions are open but not public hearing, members said.
“This was a met tower, we didn’t want to get into a debate about wind towers,” said Brian Napoli, the board’s chairman.
A comment regarding the impact the tower may have on a nearby airstrip’s operation was allowed because it had a direct connection to the application before them.
“I did endorse Mr. Williams to bring his direct concerns on the met tower,” Daum said.
Robert Williams, who owns the strip, told the Planning Board the metereological tower was in the runway’s path, a potential hazard. As a result, planners conditioned their recommendation for approval on compliance with FAA guidelines and any town-determined lighting requirements.
The decision, made based on the county Planning Department’s recommendation, left some attendees feeling the fix was in. Daum said that results from a misunderstanding of the board’s role.
“It shows the general population doesn’t understand how county planning operates,” Daum said. “They didn’t identify that we have a county planner that researches and provides information. I don’t think we held anything from them.”
Hendel could recall only two previous times when public comments were allowed.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding