HOPKINTON – About 100 people squeezed into the meeting room for a lively two-hour public hearing on Hopkinton’s wind law on Wednesday night.
“I thought it went pretty well,” said Town Supervisor Susan M. Wood after the meeting.
The new wind law would replace the current town law, passed in 2011. It would regulate the North Ridge Wind Energy Project, which the energy company Avangrid plans to establish in the town. A draft of the law was approved by the town board last month in a working session, and Ms. Wood said she hoped the board would vote on it at its April board meeting.
Many of the residents in attendance have been attending meetings about the law since the town first started writing it, over a year ago. As has often been the case, the testimony was heavily, although not exclusively, opposed to the North Ridge Wind Project.
Many residents expressed support for the proposed wind law, which would impose setbacks and sound limits that Avangrid says are unreasonable.
In the working session, the board decided to set the maximum allowable noise level at 40 decibels, measured at the nearest non-participating property line or residence, as well as setbacks of five times the maximum height of the turbines. As the turbine height is set at 500 feet in the proposed law, this means a maximum setback of 2,500 feet.
The draft law was worked on by council members Kelly Pullano, Steven Parker Jr. and Susan Lyon, as well as Ms. Wood. Another board member, Gilbert Sochia, recused himself from the discussion due to a conflict of interest, as his father has leased his land for a possible wind turbine.
Mr. Sochia has since said he had consulted another attorney, Eric J. Gustafson, who said he could vote on it.
“They had me roped into not voting, and one of the board members said I could,” Mr. Sochia told the Times. On the advice of that board member (Mr. Parker), Mr. Sochia sought out legal counsel. If he does vote, he plans to vote against the law.
“Setbacks are way too far,” he said. “There ain’t a town around that has (turbines) that doesn’t like them.”
The discussion of the law is ongoing, Ms. Wood said she is looking into the legality of Mr. Sochia voting.
“I have talked to three different attorneys and the Association of Towns, and they all said it was a conflict,” Ms. Wood said. She hopes to get further advice and find out whether or not it is a conflict before the April vote.
Regardless of who votes, residents and non-residents alike have strong feelings on the proposed law.
Scott McDonald, a representative of Avangrid, spoke for the company, saying that the new law was too restrictive.
“We have demonstrated before this board … that the project cannot meet the sound and setback limits imposed in the current law and the law that was passed in Parishville,” Mr. McDonald said. “They are unreasonable and provide no increase in public safety.”
Mr. McDonald went on to say that with such restrictions, other local wind projects would not exist.
“There would be no Chateaugay, no Clayton, no Ellenburg,” he said. As he listed off wind projects that would not exist given the proposed restrictions, the opponents of the wind project began cheering and applauding loudly.
“I always enjoy applause,” Mr. McDonald quipped, before finishing his testimony with a list of the financial benefits he said would accrue to the local community through the North Ridge project.
But many residents spoke in favor of the law, some even saying that the setbacks and sound limits did not go far enough.
“I just want to thank the wind advisory board and the (town) board that decided to support this law,” said Jeffery Snell, who has been a vocal opponent of the wind project. “You’re respectfully protecting your citizens, which is what you’ve been voted in for. Thank you.”
His testimony was echoed by a number of other roughly 40 speakers over the course of the evening, some of whom spoke twice, once the main comment section was done.
“I just wanted to remind you that Avangrid is not a person, we don’t owe anything to Avangrid,” said Janice Pease, another local resident and vocal wind project opponent. Saying she planned to leave the area if the wind project goes ahead and expressing exhaustion after all the meetings around the law, Ms. Pease encouraged the board to pass it in its current form.
“We don’t need to keep doing this, just pass the wind law,” she said.
Frank Potenzano, a leaseholder and chairman of the pro-wind North Country for a Brighter Future, spoke twice, casting doubt on some of the signatures on petitions to keep turbines north of State Route 72 and addressing Avangrid’s recent offer to pay up to 75 percent of electric bills for full-time residents over 30 years. This offer has been disparaged by some wind opponents as a bribe, a characterization Mr. Potenzano disputed.
“It’s not a bribe,” he said. “When you’re working for a company, and they give you benefits, do you consider that a bribe?”
A number of union wind workers from Laborer’s Local 1822 came out to support the project as well.
“Our laborers have been on every wind project in the north country,” Rich Daddario, the business manager, told the Times. He is confident they would find jobs on the North Ridge Wind Project as well.
“I’m here to support jobs,” he said.
Toward the end of the hearing, Ms. Wood read a letter from Parishville Town Supervisor Rodney Votra.
“This community belongs to the residents of Hopkinton,” he wrote. “If a wind farm is meant to be, it will happen within the scope of your law.”
While the hearing was reasonably well-mannered, the ongoing debate has been heated, with some pro-wind residents saying they feel bullied and at least one anti-wind resident saying her life was threatened.
One piece of testimony from Eric Scovil accused anti-wind advocates of knocking over an elderly man who lives in his house on Sunday.
“He is in Syracuse hospital right now undergoing surgery because the lady that pushed herself in the door pushed him over and ruptured his rectum,” Mr. Scovil said. “I didn’t care what the wind turbines did. Now, bring the damn wind.”
Luke Daily spoke after Mr. Scovil rapidly left the meeting, saying that she was the one who visited the house and had not knocked anyone over.
“I saw there were new people and I wanted to make sure they knew about the wind” turbines, Ms. Daily told the Times. “An older fellow in a wheelchair opened the door.”
Ms. Daily said she never went inside or even opened the door, just gave the man some literature.
The Town Board will meet next at 6:30 p.m. April 16.
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