ENFIELD, NY – While the end may be in sight for the long-debated Black Oak Wind Farm, it’s future remains uncertain. After another contentious meeting, the Enfield Town Board voted to delay any further action until Black Oak pays its debts to the town.
Dozens of people crowded into the Enfield town court for the Tuesday meeting. While the location was different, many of the people, the arguments and the undercurrent of tensions between neighbors were familiar.
We’ve covered many of the arguments for and against the wind farm in detail in our previous coverage.
New concerns included the fact that Black Oak was changing its plan again – or rather reverting to the original version approved in Jan. 2015, and questions about how much money Black Oak owes the town.
Black Oak seems to have concerns of its own, however. According to an email from Black Oak Project Manager Marguerite Wells to the town board:
“Black Oak is in a tight spot time-wise. If we don’t get our Wind Energy Permit in by mid-October, the project will likely be dead because other factors run out of time. The Wind Energy Permit (not the building permit, which comes later) is what we need to close on the financing for this project, which is what gets the town paid back promptly and allows us to eventually build the project.”
Wells’ letter goes on to discuss potential lawsuits against the town depending on the final fate of the wind farm – both from Enfield residents and from Black Oak itself. It also lays out Black Oak’s suggested path forward for the project. You can read the full email below:
“I hope we do better”
About 20 people spoke during the public comment portion, most of them speaking against the wind farm project.
Breaking the usual back and forth between town residents concerned about safety and “bullying” tactics by Black Oak other impacts and proponents pushing the virtues of renewable energy, Ray Stiefel from Ithaca used his time to offer an apology.
“We have to have a different process. Renewables are the future, that’s true – but we can’t be compromising people and their homes and their lives in the process,” Stiefel said. “So what do we do? I could say that we all have to sacrifice, but it’s easy for me to say as it’s not my home’s value being compromised by this project. All I can say is my heart is with all of you, and I hope we do better in the future.”
The middle road
The town board’s deliberations were mostly between Town Supervisor Ann Rider and Councilperson Mike Carpenter. Rider’s position was that the board had enough information to grant Black Oak the approvals needed. She said that Black Oak would still need to submit more detailed plans before they could secure the actual building permits and begin construction.
Carpenter detailed a number of concerns with this approach, but the core of his argument came down to doing due diligence and protecting the people who would live near the turbines. He challenged the idea that there was any conclusive scientific evidence way or the other about the safety of turbines.
“There are so many different people doing surveys and studies and all you need to do is come up with a pot of money and say, ‘This is the result I want,’ and you’ll get that result.’ There’s no way for us to tell which is true at this point,” Carpenter said. “We have to take the middle road and say, it might be true. It’s possible it’s true. So how can we protect the people living close to these wind farms that will actually give them some assurance that they’re going to be protected?”
Rider attempted to call votes to approve three of the documents that would move Black Oak toward getting its wind energy permit, but none of them were seconded.
Instead, the board ended up voting 4-1 to defer any further action until Black Oak paid off $19,000 its debt to the town. Rider was the dissenting vote.
It’s not clear the impact this decision will have on Black Oak, but this decision puts at least one more roadblock in the project’s path: the requirement to pay back its debt to the town. However, even the amount owed may be in contention, as there was disagreement over whether or not Black Oak or the town should have to pay the costs associated with Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests on the project. FOIL costs for the wind farm have added up to around $20,000 so far.
Once that’s resolved, the wind farm needs get several more documents approved before it can get its Wind Energy Permit. This would allow them to start pursuing final building permits – but as some board members had concerns about the specifics of that procedure, there could be even further delays.
The next Enfield Town Board meeting is on Oct. 12. at 6:30 at 182 Enfield Main Road.