ENFIELD, NY – There has been relatively little movement on the controversial Black Oak Wind Farm project proposed in Enfield in recent months, but the project may be approaching the finish line of its a 10-plus-year long trek this week.
On Wednesday, at a special meeting of the Enfield town board, the board will consider granting final approvals for the project. These approvals were slated for discussion and a vote during the Sept. 14 meeting, but the board voted to delay any decisions as board member Mike Carpenter felt they did not have enough time to read and digest the most recent information on the project.
The most recent movement on the project has been the withdrawal of the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) by Black Oak.
The project’s original EIS was approved by the Enfield Town Board in January 2015, but Black Oak attempted to change the project by moving two turbines. Black Oak says this change was an attempt to accommodate two property owners who, after signing a contract with Black Oak, decided they did not want the turbines on their properties.
However, after months had passed, Black Oak felt that the Town Board was stalling in taking any action on the SEIS, so they withdrew it. This means that the process will revert back to the already-approved EIS from January and brings the State Environmental Quality Review to a close, according to President of the Board for Black Oak, Peter Bardaglio.
It also means that the two property owners who Black Oak was attempting to accommodate with the changes will end up with turbines on their land.
Bardaglio says he suspects that not all of the five planning documents will be approved during the Wednesday meeting, but hopes that at some will and the rest will follow during October’s regular meeting.
Once those approvals are done, the project will be in the home stretch. The construction was originally expected to begin Spring of 2016 and will take approximately nine months to complete, project manager Marguerite Wells told The Voice in December.
“Obviously we’d love to get in there and start getting the foundations down before the winter, but we’re just taking it one step at a time right now,” said Bardaglio.
Opposition still fighting
While the wind farm has enjoyed a great deal of support, including an endorsement from the Tompkins County Legislature, many Enfield residents oppose the project. Those who have spoken against the project believe it could negatively impact their safety, their quality of life and their property values, among other issues.
According to Jude Lemke, an Enfield resident and one of the most vocal critics of the project, there are still issues that may block the wind farm from moving forward.
“We have examined all the documentation and think that, based on project design changes since the original permit was applied for, Black Oak no longer qualifies to have a permit issued on the original project as configured,” Lemke wrote in an email. “Our lawyers are currently looking into it.”
Lemke also continues to call into question Black Oak’s motives, calling into question their status as a “community supported” wind farm. She argues that the withdrawal of the SEIS is part of a business deal rather than a response to delays in the approval process.
Lemke first brought this concern up in a letter published on The Ithaca Voice, where she said that Wall Street investment firm Onyx Renewable Partners LP was planning to invest more than six times what the community had invested in the project.
While Black Oak said that Onyx is not involved with the project, Lemke reports that representatives from BayWa Renewables, a German company, were at a recent town board meeting to do their due diligence.
“Black Oak keeps flip-flopping on their plans based on which buyer they are talking with,” Lemke said. “BayWa has told us they are only interested in buying the wind farm if Black Oak reverts to the original project. They also informed us that it was Onyx that was pushing Black Oak to submit the SEIS to avoid dealing with certain landowners.”
“We decided to withdraw the SEIS because it was moving forward so slowly and we wanted to keep the potential transaction with BayWa moving forward,” Bardaglio explained. “We’re disappointed that we will not be able to bring the project to completion ourselves but it is very common for wind projects to be purchased at this stage and brought to completion by a company with deeper pockets.
“We will still be the first community-owned wind farm development company in NYS to get a project this far and then have it picked up by another company and brought to completion. BayWa specializes in late-stage acquisition of projects at this scale and we feel very confident that the project will be in good hands if, in fact, they end up purchasing it,” he added.
The Enfield town board will hold a special session on Sept. 28 at 6:30 p.m. in the Enfield Community Building. Three of the documents submitted by Black Oak – plans for invasive species control, decommissioning and landscaping – are on the agenda.
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