YATES – Scarred by what they described as months of unacceptable silence over a proposed wind energy project, townspeople said they deserve an explanation, if not more, from their town board.
They wanted to know what the town has been promised as a host community for Lighthouse Wind; if they had reviewed land lease agreements, if they were evening listening.
After an hour of begging, demanding and exasperatingly asking, Supervisor John Belson and the town’s three councilmen bared their own emotional struggles and how they view their community after a divisive half-year.
“We do take you seriously,” Belson said, offering that they are researching the issue thoroughly. “It’s been a hell of a six months for me and the board, we’re trying to do the best we can.”
They weren’t in lockstep in their opinions about wind energy or the project, but promised to conduct a community-wide survey after laying out what they know.
“At this point, there is no preliminary scoping statement, there is no state siting board, no host community agreement before us,” Councilman Wes Bradley said. “None of these things are in place.”
Bradley said the wind issue has overwhelmed his days, and he’s formulating a letter that he’d file if the PSS is filed. Councilman Jim Whipple said he believes the project won’t move forward, stopping short of declaring that he is opposed to it without a survey being done.
“It needs to be done,” Whipple said,” and vetted by Save Ontario Shores and pro-wind people … it’s important to provide professional people to do the survey and that it can be backed up and not doubted.”
Councilman Brad Bentley said he looked into a land lease for the farmland he co-owns with his son.
His house would be in the middle of the wind farm if it went forward, but Bentley said he didn’t fear the project as much as he does the loss of a potential business.
“I gave him a say in what happened, he decided he did not want to participate,” Bentley said. “Personally I’m for it, but we’re not going to do it.”
Frustrated residents said they doubted the town’s honesty in putting their interests ahead of the project.
“A lot of us feel you are in with Apex,” said Judy Esposito, a charge Belson denied. “I have a hard time believing you.”
Katie Kramer held up Somerset, the Niagara County town where most of the area targeted for wind turbine development is located, for being forceful in saying it would make sure residents are heard after conducting a community survey.
“We request some action from our board, if you don’t feel (meeting attendees) represent the voice of the town, go out in a manner to get the response you need,” Kramer said.
“(The feeling is) that you do not value information and opinion submitted by the people,” Richard Pucher said to the board. “We provided you with information, gave presentations, offered to meet with you and work with you. The response? Nothing.”
The town council took steps toward addressing the frayed relationship, with Belson offering a timeline of the town’s involvement.
He had been aware of the project in Somerset, but said there was no communication from Apex about the project stretching into Yates until an informal meeting last July.
“We’re sharing everything we know,” Belson said. “We’re not lying.”
They acknowledged the hiring of Dan Spitzer of Hodgson Russ, who led many Orleans County towns’ in drafting their initial wind energy regulations, as an attorney for issues related to the project.
Not every town action was greeted warmly.
Town Attorney Andrew Meier said would have “very limited” activity with the case, and that the town is looking into portions of the wind law that would allow Apex to contribute to a fund offsetting the town’s legal costs.
“It’s nothing to do with wanting (the project) or not,” Meier said. “It’s to make sure the local community is not burdened by expenses.”
Krista Barth, a lakeshore resident and attorney, said she was still concerned over conflicts of interest from the set-up.
“I find it troubling that there is not a concern about a conflict of interest about your legal fees being paid by the company trying to come into this town,” Barth said.
“All the people are asking is for you to listen … for a lot of these people, we’re talking about their entire lives,” she added.
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