SOUTH DAYTON – Tonight the Villenova Town Board will hold a special meeting at the town hall at 7 p.m. to discuss the proposed amendments to the Ball Hill Wind Energy Project, which is erecting 23 turbines in the town and six in the town of Hanover. The amendments request multiple changes including an unprecedented maximum turbine height of 599 feet, increased setbacks and the conversion of portions of overhead lines to underground lines.
The proposed changes were not approved at last week’s Chautauqua County Planning Board meeting, so in order to pass the amendments without this approval, Villenova needs a supermajority approval (four out of five members voting ‘yes’). Although a vote is not necessarily planned for tonight’s meeting, some community members fear that a future vote is complicated by the fact that one council member has family members who have lease agreements with RES.
Councilwoman Sarah LoMonto currently has a lease agreement with RES, and has recused herself from the voting process. Recently, multiple individuals came to Villenova resident Tina Graziano, whose husband, Angelo, is a former Villenova councilman. They expressed to Graziano their concern that Councilman Nathan Palmer has a conflict of interest, as his wife’s parents and her sister have lease agreements with RES.
According to Dan Spitzer, the attorney representing both the towns of Hanover and Villenova in the wind project, an in-law relationship does not constitute a legal conflict of interest. “Under New York state law, there is no financial interest in a person where the in-laws hold the contract. There is absolutely no problem with his (Palmer’s) voting,” he stated. “There are people who recognize this is a very important decision because of the impact the vote will have on the town. There are also people spreading unbelievable amounts of untruth to get their way. … The board is still completing their review before they make their decision.”
Graziano acknowledged this, saying “It might be legal, but it is not ethical. The public needs to know because he (Palmer) has in-laws that will profit from the project.”
Another community member, Joni Riggle of the town of Charlotte, has been concerned about the outcome of Villenova’s vote, as she is already experiencing the effects of the windparks project in her town. Speaking of Palmer’s interest in the windparks project, Riggle said, “Ethically speaking, this is problematic. You can’t ignore the fact that there is an inherent bias here.”
Riggle went on to explain that there is a lot at stake when it comes to Villenova’s discussion tonight. The proposed maximum turbine heights of 599 feet would be the tallest land-based turbines in North America. “There have been no human impact studies on turbines of this size. Larger turbines result in lower sound frequencies, which walls do not block,” Riggle stated. She cited multiple adverse health and environmental effects from these low frequency sounds including headaches, sleep deprivation, satellite and radio interference and bird and bat mortality.
Although only four members of the Villenova Town Board can participate in the vote, a supermajority still requires that all four must vote “yes” to pass a resolution. Don McCord, county planning director, explained that a supermajority vote takes into account the entire size of the board, regardless of whether or not members are absent or abstaining, which is also how supermajority votes are conducted at the county level.
Villenova town Supervisor Richard Ardillo and Councilman Palmer attended last week’s county planning board meeting, where they expressed their desire for the county to allow the town to move forward with their decision on the windpark amendments. The OBSERVER reached out to Ardillo and Palmer for comment but did not receive calls back as of Tuesday afternoon.
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