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Somerset amends wind energy zoning law

SOMERSET – The Somerset Town Board approved a local law Wednesday amending the zoning code regarding commercial and industrial wind energy conversion systems, like the one being proposed in Apex’s Lighthouse Wind project.

Under the revised law, no commercial or industrial wind conversion system can be placed within 1,500 feet of any residential district boundary line or the town’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Program.

Setback requirements now mandate that any wind turbines constructed in the town would have to be at least twice their height in distance from any property line or building. That excludes adjacent property lines of project participants. The law also requires any turbines be set back 1,500 feet or two times the turbine’s height from any public road or highway, and 2,000 feet from any residence or other commercial or industrial turbines. Turbines may not be within a half-mile of the boundary of the village of Barker.

The law has an amendment which requires a turbine’s owner to reimburse residents within two miles of each turbine if they see their property values decline as a result of proximity to the turbine.

It also contains revised noise standards which state that noise generated by a wind energy conversion system can’t exceed an A-weighted level of 45 decibels from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. and 35 decibels from 8 p.m. to 7 p.m. The amendment also includes an extensive application process for interested wind developers which would require them to provide studies of their project’s impact, including an assessment on property values. It also requires environmental protection for bats and birds.

The Niagara County Planning Board approved the changes to the local law in late January.

The local law works along with Article 10, a New York state law which creates a board, consisting of five members from the governor’s administration and two local representatives, that is charged with streamlining the permitting process for power projects. The committee worked for six months to review Somerset’s current zoning code, and presented the town board with a 100-page document following the process.

Board members approved the amendments to the local law, except for trustee Gary Alt, who has abstained from all votes related to wind conversion projects.

The adoption of the law was met with applause from most of the audience Wednesday, but not from all attendees.

A public hearing on the proposed local law held Feb. 1 drew so many people that it had to be moved from town hall to Barker Jr./Sr. High School down the street. Of the 40 people who spoke, many were residents who were in support of the local ordinance. Others felt that the law was essentially a ban on wind conversion systems.

Taylor Quarles, a development manager for Apex Clean Energy, had said at the Feb. 1 public hearing that the law was essentially a ban on wind projects, adding that with the restrictions that the amendment imposes, there are only 10 or fewer potential locations in Somerset to build.