Recently, the Chautauqua County Planning Board met to discuss any updates to the Ball Hill Wind Farm project – one of three wind farm projects coming to the area.
Before the board could get the “Ball” rolling, Sinclairville resident Joanie Riggle, who has previously spoken out about her displeasure at the idea of a wind farm, had privilege of the floor. She spoke about how she, and many others she has spoken to, feels blindsided by the implementation of the wind farm plans.
“Nobody in our area, everybody I’ve contacted around the county randomly, no one seems to know about these projects except stakeholders, town board members and land leasers and I just think that’s so, so inappropriate and I’m really worried,” explained Riggle.
“I always thought, like most people, that wind is free, it’s relatively benign, it’s green and there might be a few bats and birds killed, but … when you find out it’s going to be in your backyard, against your will, you do your homework, and I just feel like this county has failed to do it’s homework, it’s failed to have public input. I feel a lot of this has gone on behind closed doors. I think there should’ve been a community vote.
“This is an injustice. It’s unforgivable what we’re doing to people, and I’m not anti-wind, but industrial-scale wind has no place in rural communities. It’s all for the profit of the big wind companies ’cause they don’t want to put in the transmission, the infrastructure. They don’t make the profit.
“I think we’re gonna look back at this as one of the most profound environmental disasters and civic injustices to people and communities all over the world,” Riggle concluded before she was cut off by the board with no additional comment.
Chuck Malcolm, representative of the towns of Villenova and Hanover, took a few minutes before the presentation to address Riggle’s concerns.
“All of the hearings and every step in the process the notice provisions were complied with, publication was made in the appropriate papers. This isn’t something that is just kind of coming to provision recently. This is a project that’s been in the works for … several years. There has been significant public input. As a matter of fact, both the towns of Villenova and Hanover have held public hearings and have received comments and there’s been good discussion both from the community standpoint and the applicant has responded to a lot of the questions and concerns that were raised.”
In regard to there being a public vote on the matter, Malcolm confirmed that that is, in fact, illegal under zoning and New York state laws, saying that the court of appeals has said that municipalities cannot zone based on referendum.
Also, “The impacts that have been raised have been evaluated and are being evaluated and the town of Villenova, which is the SEQR agency issued an environmental impact statement,” said Malcolm. “(But) this has been out there, there’s been notice to the community, there’s been a review ongoing and there’s been public hearings.”
Then, the presentation could begin, with Mark Lyons, senior manager for project development, just giving an update of information on the project, where it’s heading and its progress since 2008.
Some key facts include:
¯ The original project proposal included 60-plus windmills. That number has been almost halved to 36.
¯ The board is proposing a 3.45 megawatt-class windmill, which generates more electricity with fewer turbines.
¯ Access roads have been reduced by about two miles.
¯ Part of the application in Villenova requires a summary of all houses within 1,200 feet of a turbine. In 2008 there were 25 houses within 1,200 feet of a turbine. That went down to 17 houses in 2011, and the number of houses within 1,200 feet of a turbine today is zero.
¯ The noise level at any house is not above 50 dB, and at any house is no more than 30 dB. (The recommended threshold for low frequency noise is 31.5 hertz, or 73 dB).
“Particularly for Villenova, I think it represents a unique economic development opportunity,” said Lyons. “The project would generate between $1.3 million and $1.4 million a year for this community.”
A concern was brought up with the roads, any road work that may have to occur or any problems that may arise with the wind farm companies using the access roads and town roads in general. According to Lyons, any road repairs would be paid directly by the wind farm companies, roads would be upgraded, and any post-construction roads would be restored to at least as good as they were before.
The town will have an engineering representative to review permits and road improvements, and roads are identified in a draft environmental impact statement. The public will be also able to call the town and tell them if they see a road messed up, and the company will have to fix it.
“The host community agreement is for the life of the project, from the time construction is started to the time the turbines are taken down, whatever number of years in the future that may be,” said representative Mark Sweeney. “It covers the roads. It controls the inspections. It controls post-construction monitoring. It also controls insurance. It controls decommissioning and all of those other things that are going to define the relationship between the company and the towns.”
A community aspect was mentioned as well as representatives discussed keeping the wind farm work as local as possible to benefit municipalities as much as possible.
“To the extent possible, local vendors, local suppliers will be used for the project, local workers will be used,” said Sweeney. “It’s not like a pipeline crew that goes from location to location to location. There are some experts that will be utilized, but basically the rest will be labor that could be sourced local.”
Environmental concerns from individual landowners were also collectively addressed, and the municipalities were let off the hook for any spillage or accidents that may occur.
“The type of excavation that is done will not approach groundwater at all. Any work that is being done, any spills that might result in a contamination of a water source, we are required by the DEC to have spill prevention and countermeasure plans in place to contain and address any leak that may occur. Under New York law, we would be liable for any damage or problems that may occur.”
Board member John Frey spoke up, asking questions regarding Riggle’s statement, such as her researched facts about medical issues and noise complaints.
“The threshold is 73 dB, and ours threshold is about 62,” said Lyons. “I think it would be erroneous to say that Germany and Denmark as nations see wind energy as a problem. I think they see it as a solution,” he said in response to Riggle earlier stating that countries like Germany and Denmark, who have almost completely, if not totally, converted over to wind energy, are now regretting the decision but are stuck with the farms marring the landscape and their lives forever.
Regarding them being “too close,” “That’s why we have standards,” Lyons stressed. “We don’t have any wind turbines that are too close and we don’t have any noises that are too high. … Wind turbine syndrome has been comprehensively addressed and debunked.”
The next Chautauqua County Planning Board meeting is on Dec. 6 at 5 p.m. on the second floor of the BWB Building on 201 W. Third St. in Jamestown.
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