BARKER – Speaking to a crowd of a few hundred people inside the Barker Fire Hall, Jim Simon went from being a member of the audience to a leader addressing them.
Simon will become the town of Yates supervisor in January, putting him Tuesday on the same level as Somerset Supervisor Dan Engert; incoming Yates Councilman John Riggi; and former state attorney general Dennis Vacco.
Simon and Riggi hoped to show residents from both towns that they were ready to work together in opposition to Lighthouse Wind, a 201-megawatt wind farm proposed within both towns.
Simon said he’s focusing on the principles of subsidiary and solidarity, two lessons he learned from his father. The former calls for issues to be decided at the most local level possible, and the later for those issues that can’t to be pursued by working corroboratively.
“Yates and Somerset should have the final say,” Simon said. “There was a lot of solidarity (Tuesday) between myself and Dan Engert, and with Niagara County, state Sen. Rob Ortt. Both principles should be respected.”
Engert, re-elected this fall, said his town is moving forward with a revised wind energy local law after a thorough review by a town-appointed committee this year. He said the new law would be the one the Article X review would have to consider.
The intention is not veiled.
“We will defeat this project, there is no doubt in my mind,” Engert said. “This town does not want an industrial wind project. That remains clear.”
He pressed Vacco, a partner at Lippes Mathias Wexler Friedman LLC representing Somerset on wind issues, to give proof to that belief.
Vacco said his firm has been active in submitting Freedom of Information Act requests to state agencies. Despite resistance in securing information from Apex Clean Energy, the FOIA requests have unearthed documents about meetings between developers and state officials.
“We now have a truckload of documents,” Vacco said.
In one document – an internal communication within the state DEC – officials write they agreed with concerns raised by SOS and environmental and conservation groups over the impact turbines would have on migratory birds and raptors.
“You may have feeling the Article X process is against you,” Vacco said. “But I’m heartened by this document … we’re going through documents and holding state officials accountable for what they say internally. If they are not true … we have the ammunition to hold them accountable publicly.”
Riggi, who stepped down as the president of S.O.S. upon his election, was energized by the turnout and cooperative on display Tuesday.
“(The people) needed to understand the (preliminary scoping statement), Article X and that the town of Somerset and SOS are standing shoulder to shoulder. Very soon Yates and Orleans County will be standing shoulder to shoulder with them. Last night crystallized that whole concept for the people.”
Riggi sat on the Somerset wind energy local law revision committee. He said they enhanced the law’s focus on sound issues, visual impacts and fitting into existing comprehensive plans and environmental reviews.
While efforts like Vacco’s don’t need redundancy, Riggi feels the local law “has to be done,” as does a resolution in opposition from the town board and county legislature.
“I told (Engert) that we’re not going to reinvent the wheel, but we’re hoping to move forward and use the tools we have.”
Simon plans to put forward a sustainability task force in 2016 that would look at wind, solar and other potential energy sources in the town. A revision of the existing wind law would be a part of that process.
But first, he said, will be the task of bringing the town board together.
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