CHERRY CREEK – Aside from the presidential election, nothing has stirred up Chautauqua County in recent history like the proposal of several wind farm projects in rural areas.
Both pro- and anti-wind farm activists have been vocal at public hearings and in town board meetings, but recently, several residents from Cherry Creek wished to relay some version of this: Something’s got to save us, and it might as well be wind energy.
Clyde Rodgers of Cherry Creek said the majority of folks he talks to are in favor of the projects.
“It’s going to create some jobs, we hope,” he said. “It will create revenue for the area. Some of the residents will see income from the (wind turbines), and so will the township and the school.”
Rodgers said he may have a wind turbine on his property, but even if not, he’ll be looking at about 25 of them. And he won’t mind one bit.
“I’ve been around these things; I’ve been right up to them in the northern tip of New York, and I’ve stood right next to them where I can touch them,” he said, and added that their so-called “noise pollution” is not a concern.
He also said he’s read the reports on how the turbines will affect the communities, and he’s sick of the “canned responses” that wind farm nay-sayers spout during public forums.
“Those ideas of noise pollution, of ‘shadow flicker,’ those are nonsense,” he said. “We need this. We need help. Lowering the tax rate is good for business.”
He mentioned that as a rural, farming community, Chautauqua County has been going through its own little depression for years – but it doesn’t feel little for the farmers who go out of business, or for the young people who are forced to leave their homes and families because they look around them and see no opportunities.
“The only things that have increased in this area are regulations, taxes, and the number of people living off the government,” he said. “We need private industry to come in here.”
Scott Campbell, of Villenova, agrees.
“From my property, I’ll be able to see nearly all of them from the back,” he said.
And when asked if he thought they would ruin the landscape’s vista, he thought for a moment and said no.
“The aesthetics are a matter of opinion and perspective. There are people who think they’re ugly, and I happen to think they’re graceful. If you’re going to have wind towers, you can’t make them invisible; that’s impossible,” he reasoned. “They’ve gone up in many areas of this country, and they’re widespread in Europe. They’re no less ugly than telephone poles or gas wells, which we tend to overlook now.”
Like Rodgers, Campbell disagrees with some of the anti-windmill rhetoric – especially the claim that the turbines will harm birds.
“Starlings flock in the fall,” he said. “When I mow my lawn in the fall, I see dead starlings. They sit on the telephone wires, die, and fall off. But with the turbines, birds can fly around them because they move very slowly. The people who speak against them consistently refer to the bird problem or the flicker problem. Opponents just don’t want to hear (that the companies have done their research and mitigated the issues).”
The noise is also not a problem, he said, and he knows from experience.
“I’ve stood under them and talked to my wife in a normal voice, and they’re not loud. The noise is really not a problem.”
He believes that people will get used to seeing the wind towers, and that residents’ negative opinions will be mitigated somewhat when they see the wind energy’s effects on their tax bills. But, he said, some people are very stubborn with their opinions. He just hopes they will acknowledge the good that wind farms can bring to the area.
“When you get down and look carefully at all the research and data, it supports building these wind towers. The financial benefit for these poor, rural areas is essential,” he concluded.
Campbell will not personally benefit from the windmills, apart from potential townwide tax breaks or improved infrastructure.
Ken Smith, Charlotte town councilman, talked to the OBSERVER “as a resident, not a councilman,” saying that his grandparents came to the area during the Great Depression. And, he’s thankful that his family is still here.
“My son lives a half-mile down the road. He has children. My daughter lives five miles away,” he said.
No wind turbines will be built on Smith’s property, but he acknowledged that everyone who lives in the town of Charlotte will see a financial advantage.
“I’ve spent a long time researching them,” he said. “In fact, I even went to the town of Howard, where there is another wind farm. I spent eight hours down there. When I left I was very comfortable. I stood with another fellow right at the base of one and the … noise was not a problem. No noise was obtrusive at all, no matter the distance from them.”
Smith said he also witnessed life going on as usual beneath them.
“The people who had them on their properties, I saw farmers farming beneath them, and wildlife beneath them,” he remembered. “There were deer and turkeys eating beneath them, birds flying around them. (The turbines were) no threat to them at all.”
And, he said, people will get used to them, along with the animals.
“When I first got (to Howard), I couldn’t take my eyes off them. But after being around them, walking by them, underneath them, talking with people, I forgot they were even there. It was no big deal after a few hours. You get used to them. They’re just going to become a part of the landscape,” he said.
Smith sees the wind farms as a life line.
“What else is going on in the town of Charlotte?” he asked. “My grandparents, parents, lived here and died here. I’ve lived here for 64 years. There isn’t much going on here. The farms, because of low prices and high taxes, are (dying out). It’s a very, very poor area, Western New York. People have a hard time paying their taxes. Anything that will help is going to be a wonderful thing, in my opinion. Everyone has a right to express their opinion, but we have a right, too. This is the only option we’ve had in the 64 years that I’ve lived here.”
Some people are pro-wind farm because the energy they create is “green,” but Smith said his primary concern is their economic benefit.
“Would I feel different if it was going to be an engine company coming in, employing 5,000 people?” he wondered. “No, there’s room for both, and these windmills are not going to take up much space. Their bases are only 25-foot circles, and you can farm right up to the base. You can put buildings underneath them, the blades are so high. I don’t see them as detrimental in any way. One will be within 1,500 to 1,600 feet of me.”
These wind farms, he said, may be the difference between staying and going for some residents.
“If a farmer is lucky enough to get one of these, it may make the difference between him being able to keep his land or not,” said Smith. “It’s called roots. (These farmers) are proud of what they do.”
Smith also noted that the wind farm companies would be improving roads all around the community, leaving them in better shape than they were before.
John Swanson, also of Charlotte, said he is not getting a windmill. He thought he was, but plans changed.
“I was leased with them, but I’m off the beaten path,” he said. “I was in the mix for a while. It’s all north of me now, though. But most of my friends who have lived here for a long time, especially the farmers, would like to see it go through.”
Swanson is semi-retired, and leases most of his land now to other farmers. He’s also sold most of his cows, and now only keeps Hostein heiffers.
“I’ve been a dairy farmer for 60 years. This would really help our tax base. Dairy farmers are hurting now and we can use any breaks we can get; maybe the windmills will give us some of that,” he said.
Then he shared a succinct bit of wisdom:
“It’s hard to see the benefits if you’re so set against it; that’s my take on it.”
Chris Ivett is a fourth-generation dairy farmer in Villenova. He said he may get a wind turbine on his property, but that it’s not “set in stone yet.”
“These projects change all the time,” he said. “I would still support the project if that changes. It comes down to simple dollars and cents, simple economics. The whole project will pay the community back in tax discounts and revenues. It’s a far bigger positive than any negative.”
Ivett has those roots that Smith mentioned; he grew up in Villenova, and doesn’t want to be forced to close the farm.
“Our little town has lost a lot of business over the years. I grew into (dairy farming); I farmed with my dad. We used to milk the cows and could name all the dairy farms in the area. Now, there are only five of us left. And the tax bill is getting to be a big burden.”
Ivett has a piece of advice that he has followed, too: Go see them.
“The noise argument is one of the biggest ones I’ve heard (from those against windmills). But I’ve stood under them. They’re not that noisy. Those unfactual, hearsay comments bother me. I think people need to go see them,” he said.
Ivett realizes that the town and its residents would be putting all of their milk into one pail, so to speak, and he hopes his trust is founded.
“I hope that we can trust what the windmill companies have promoted to us. I do recognize that there are a lot of myths out there. I hope it all turns out as good as it sounds,” he said. “The company can’t say how much money will be produced by each tower. I’ve put a lot of trust and faith in what I’ve been told (and it seems like the company) has been open and honest with us, as far as I can tell.”
Ivett doesn’t expect anyone to get rich, but says any economic boost will help.
“From the community, we need understanding,” he said of himself and his fellow farmers. “A lot of people take their food supply for granted. We have a very capital-intense business. There’s an expectation that we provide the public with a solid product inexpensively, but that’s a very, very tough task. We’re in a down milk cycle, and it’s very bad. I keep wondering, is it worth it to try to live out the cycles? But maybe the wind mills will help.”
These men, their families and their friends are pinning a lot of hope to the spinning blades that are set to come into their communities. They are all unified in what they are asking the anti-wind farm activists to do.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding