SOUTH DAYTON – On Wednesday night, the Villenova town board welcomed a familiar face after Councilman Wesley Tessey unexpectedly resigned. Yvonne Park, who served on the town board as a councilwoman and then as town supervisor for four terms, was appointed to fill the vacancy for the interim period before fall elections.
Before the start of Wednesday night’s meeting, Villenova Town Supervisor Richard Ardillo Jr. spoke with the town clerk and the town attorney. “There was no private meeting of the board beforehand,” he clarified. “The three of us were talking when Wes provided the town clerk with his resignation.”
Ardillo expressed his gratitude for Tessey’s service on the board on Wednesday night. “I’ve known Wes for 25 years,” said Ardillo. “He is a veteran, a purple heart recipient and a pilot. After his service, he went to work and supported his family. Then, he went on to serve his community even more as a board member. As many people know, Wes went into the ministry and became a pastor, but he is also a counselor to returning war vets. Now he’s been asked to take on another church, which he’s accepted. He has so many things going on in his life now, and he’s decided to devote himself to his true calling, which is the ministry. We all understand and respect his resignation. Simply put, Wes is someone I am proud to know. He’s just a great human being, and I couldn’t be more grateful for his time on the board.”
Ardillo explained the decision to appoint Park: “Over the past two years, Yvonne has contacted me at least four or five times that if there was ever a vacancy on the board, she’d be interested in being a council member.”
He added, “We wanted to find someone who had experience because we’re entering the busiest and most complicated part of the year, not just with the wind project, but also the budget and end of year financials. Honestly, there is no one in our community with more experience with budgets than Yvonne.”
Ardillo said another factor that the board considered was Park’s political affiliation. Tessey is a republican, and the board thought it would be best to appoint another republican to the seat, as there are already two democrats and a republican on the board.
Speaking of former Councilman Angelo Graziano, who volunteered to fill the seat, Ardillo said, “He was on the council for a few years, but he is also a very vocal member of the anti-winds group, so the board was very concerned about his ability to be unbiased.” Ardillo said another factor was that Graziano did not attend the final board meeting of his term after the wind project was approved.
Ardillo is confident that Park will approach the vote objectively: “I believe she takes on what’s in the best interest of the community – not just what’s in her best interest.” Although Park was supportive of the initiation of wind energy in Villenova, Ardillo emphasized, “I don’t know where she stands when it comes to the proposed modifications. What people need to realize is that the project itself isn’t up for a vote. It’s already been approved. It’s these modifications that we’re voting on.”
The modifications include a maximum height increase of 599 feet. Mark Lyons, project manager for wind company RES, emphasizes that the proposed turbines are not unprecedented nor are they the threat that some members of the public perceive them to be.
“Of the V-136 turbines that we’ve proposed between 550 and 600 feet in height, there are 87 of them operating globally. Approximately 30 turbines that stand about 574 feet tall have been operating in Maine for many years. This is quite simply the latest upgrade of wind energy technology. The town of Freedom recently passed a law allowing for a maximum 600 feet height with setbacks in line with our project. If Villenova were to approve this, they wouldn’t be the first town. This is also happening in Centerville. It’ new, but it’s not scary. It’s not unproven. Every turbine that’s proposed has to go through a certification process with different tests by independent labs. No one would invest in a turbine that isn’t type certified…As long as they’re properly sited and certified, there is nothing inherently dangerous about commercially scaled wind energy projects.”
Lyons encourages those with concerns to visit www.ballhillwind.com, where RES posted a 37-page independent study in response to the concerns raised by the county planning board last month. Among those concerns were the setbacks from properties and the cumulative impacts of the higher turbines. “Of all the areas where impacts are addressed, there is only one area with a slight increase to the visual impact, which one would certainly expect. However, the study actually shows fewer impacts, including quieter turbines and overhead lines converted underground. Unfortunately, the planning board didn’t acknowledge any of this before making their decision,” Lyons explained.
Christopher Ollson, PhD, the independent senior environmental health scientist who conducted the recent study, addressed the setbacks of the turbines from residences. He concluded, “The proposed 2x total turbine height (1,200 feet) to residences will ensure that infrasound and low frequency noise are within background levels and certainly will not impact the health of the residents of the county.” Additionally. the study predicted an “extremely low probability that anyone would be struck by ice from a turbine in a field.”
Despite what Lyons considers to be a thorough response to the county planning board, the proposed amendments were not approved by the county planning board last month. Now, the Villenova town board must have a supermajority approval to pass them. Councilwoman Sarah LoMonto has recused herself from the vote, as she has a lease agreement with RES. All four remaining board members must vote “yes” in order to pass the amendments with a supermajority approval.
The Villenova town board will meet for its regularly scheduled meeting on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Villenova Town Hall. Ardillo said, “There is a very good chance that we could vote at that time, if everyone is ready. We want to make sure Yvonne has been brought up to speed and that she gets a chance to read through all the documents and letters regarding the project.”