CLAYTON – The Clayton Town Council had to respond as concerns about the impacts of wind development and local authority came to the forefront of public discussion, and the board responded with a draft for the latest iteration of its local wind law: Local Law No. 5.
The purpose of Local Law No. 5 is to regulate the application, development and placement of wind energy facilities to protect public health and safety and to minimize the negative impacts of wind development. The proposed law was introduced at the recent town board meeting Aug. 24, but Town Supervisor David M. Storandt Jr. said that the town board and its attorney, Dennis C. Vacco from Lippes Mathias Wexler Friedman LLP, have worked on the draft since April.
“We need to make sure that we set our policies and make sure that our protection is there,” Mr. Storandt said.
Local Law No. 5 is a 22-page document with siting, application and post-construction requirements that wind energy facility developers must follow to meet the town board’s approval.
“If we do end up with an industrial wind farm, this law must be followed,” said Clayton Deputy Supervisor Christopher D. Matthews. “It has to protect the town against Article 10.”
Under the law, small turbines cannot be taller than 120 feet and large wind turbines cannot be taller than 500 feet. The Town Council also implemented setback regulations dictating that large turbines must be set back one mile from other properties and small turbines must maintain a setback of 2½ times their height.
“I hope that (this law) protects the property value in Clayton,” Mr. Matthews said. “I hope it protects our migratory birds.”
The proposed law also includes requirements for temporary meteorological towers, or “met towers.”
Meteorological towers can be no taller than 195 feet and must be set back 1½ times their height from other properties. Developers also must follow the regulations for meteorological tower lighting, safeguarding and parking.
“It’s a pretty common guideline,” Mr. Storandt said.
One of the more extensive sections of the substantive requirements involves noise regulation, with three pages of guidelines wind developers and the town must follow.
The law accounts for both noise picked up by the human ear at low level frequencies, or A-weighted decibels, and sounds across all frequencies at high pressure levels, or C-weighted decibels. According to the law, noise levels from wind energy facilities cannot exceed 40 A-weighted decibels or 58 C-Weighted Decibels from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. and 35 A-weighted decibels or 53 C-weighted decibels between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.
The draft also includes regulations regarding the number and placement of anemometers and measurement stations.
“(Our regulations) were largely borrowed from Cape Vincent,” Mr. Storandt said.
While Local Law No. 5 has numerous regulations for different aspects of wind energy facilities, some sections provide leniency toward developers.
Noise setbacks can be increased and physical setbacks can be shortened as long as the developers and a neighboring property owner near the facility create a mutually agreeable setback easement. No dimensional setback relief, however, will be allowed for structures near buildings or roads.
“It gives neighboring landowners the option to join a project,” Mr. Storandt said. “(They can) have some control on what setbacks need to be put in place.”
Local Law No. 5 is not the first proposal for the town’s new wind law this year.
Another option the town board discussed in previous meetings that received public support was a set of regulations and ideas compiled by Brantingham Lake physicist John Droz Jr. to create Local Law No. 3. While the town board rejected the draft for issues with structure and minor details, Mr. Storandt said the board and Mr. Vacco borrowed regulations from the draft.
“I would go as far as to say that we used it as a baseline and foundation,” Mr. Matthews said.
Mr. Droz said he created the proposal in March with multiple experts within and outside of the Clayton community, including Clayton resident Gunther A. Schaller, Coyote Moon owner Phillip J. Randazzo and Thousand Islands Land Trust Executive Director Jake R. Tibbles, using examples of other town wind laws and wind studies to create it.
“Mr. Droz has made valuable contributions to the process,” Mr. Schaller said.
Local Law No. 3 shares the premise and goal of Local Law No. 5: to regulate wind energy facility development in order to protect public health and minimize any possible damage from wind development.
Both drafts share predominantly the same findings, permit application requirements, physical setback minimums, expectations during installation and design, penalties and decommissioning regulations. Minimal differences between the two documents include allowing taller small turbines, making adjustments in permit fees, requiring permits for meteorological towers and increasing escrow funding from $50,000 to $75,000.
Mr. Droz said that 75 percent of the material of Local Law No. 5 was borrowed from the Local Law No. 3 draft.
“They did make a few changes,” Mr. Droz said.
While both drafts share the majority of their regulations, the new law draft included a few more requirements for developers to follow.
One new inclusion in Local Law No. 5 is its section on required agricultural assessments, which states that the town assessor must assess the value of any acreage where wind development takes place and any roll-back tax penalties, both of which will be relayed to the parcel owner. The new draft also included required well-water testing before, during and after construction is complete.
“A couple of things they did better, but there were very important things (they did) that made it worse,” Mr. Droz said.
Not all of the changes made between Local Law No. 3 and Local Law No. 5 were met with approval.
Mr. Droz said he sent an annotated copy of the town board’s proposed draft filled with concerns on the new material and the law as a whole. “They’ve gone backwards,” he said. “In my view, they undermined (Local Law No. 3).”
One of Mr. Droz’s major concerns was with the new noise regulations, which expanded the one paragraph from Local Law No. 3.
Mr. Droz said that the noise regulations were filled with confusing terminology and would allow for misinterpretation. In his comments, Mr. Droz said that the focus on C-weighted decibels was inconsequential, and that town board should focus on infrasound, which can cause the most health problems.
Mr. Droz also said the new proposal allows five times more audible noise from wind energy facilities than what was permitted in Local Law No. 3.
“It offers much less protection,” Mr. Droz said.
Ways to negotiate more lenient setbacks were new additions for Local Law No. 5, but Mr. Droz said that said these leniencies could allow developers to take advantage of landowners.
“It think it’s a high-risk item,” Mr. Droz said. “Should developers be allowed to bribe the owner?”
In his comments, Mr. Droz also said the town removed vital definitions from Local Law No. 3, including Article 10, Completed Application, State, Wind Energy, Wind Farm and Windmill and removed references to multiple scientific studies. Mr. Droz also addressed multiple typos and “cumbersome and confusing” wording in certain sections.
“It is totally inadequate,” Mr. Droz said.
Mr. Schaller said he thought the regulations in the law should be incorporated into the town’s zoning ordinance rather than stand as a separate law.
“I don’t like the term ‘wind law,’” he said. “That is my biggest beef with the proposed law.”
The Town Council will host a public hearing regarding Local Law No. 5 at 7 p.m. Wednesday on the first floor of the Clayton Opera House. If the draft proposal is passed into law, it will repeal both Local Law No. 1 and Local Law No. 2.
“This is an issue that is very serious,” Mr. Schaller said. “Getting it right is of the upmost importance.”
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