What may appear as a lull between the Chautauqua County Planning Board’s disapproval of the proposed amendments to the Ball Hill wind project on July 23 and the Villenova Town Board’s meeting and possible vote on the amendments tonight, is anything but. Members of the Concerned Citizens of Cassadaga Wind Project have been busy contacting local representatives at both the town and county level to express their concern over the consequences of the proposed higher turbine heights. Most recently, Mark Twichell, DDS, of Fredonia has reached out to Mark Geise, CEO of the Chautauqua County Industrial Development Agency, to ask him to repeal the approved PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) agreement for the Ball Hill wind project.
Speaking on behalf of the Concerned Citizens of Cassadaga Wind Project, Twichell expressed his concern that wind company RES’ proposal to use larger machines constitutes a different project than that which was originally negotiated. Furthermore, he says, the county legislature, by unanimous vote, resolved to prohibit the IDA from negotiating new PILOTs for wind energy developers. The approved PILOT agreement for the Ball Hill project is based on original turbine heights of 495 feet. In the letter, Twichell acknowledges RES’ rationale behind the increased turbine height – to increase the megawatt generating capacity of the project based on new technology – but argues that “the proposed changes represent either a new project or an addition to an existing project exceeding five megawatts of generating capacity.”
Whether the changes constitute a new project or addition, Twichell requests that the PILOT agreement “be declared null and void” by the IDA in accordance with the county legislature’s decision to prohibit them from negotiating new PILOT agreements. Twichell’s letter states that the proposed changes to local law to allow for larger turbines challenges the legislature and their restriction on PILOT agreements. However, he points out that a voided PILOT agreement would not necessarily leave the wind company or the towns high and dry. He cites multiple options for both parties: “Retain the current wind law and its attendant PILOT, amend the current wind law as intended but lose the PILOT and pay full tax value for the project, or abandon the project. Full tax assessment would provide millions of dollars of additional revenue for the county, townships and school districts.”
Although Twichell and other members of the Concerned Citizens of Cassadaga Wind Project are not all Villenova residents (though some are), he believes that everyone stands to lose if the proposed changes in height are approved. Of particular importance to Twichell are potential property value losses and public health, which he articulated to the IDA and in separate letters to Hanover Town Supervisor Todd Johnson, Villenova Town Supervisor Richard Ardillo, Jr. and all members of both town boards. He writes, “For non-participating township property owners, the proposed change will result in expanded ‘trespass zoning’ whereby portions of their land will be unavailable for future development.”
He cites turbine manufacturer’s recommended employee safety clearance in the event of machine malfunction or ice throw is 1,640 feet for turbines shorter than 599 feet. Twichell concludes that in allowing turbines of this height to be located 800 feet from a non-participating property line, the non-participant property owner is, in effect, granting an easement of 840 feet with no formal agreement or compensation. “The net result of this consideration is the owner’s continuing to pay taxes on property that they cannot fully utilize,” Twichell writes.
Twichell also listed the group’s concerns that annoyance associated with turbine noise may result in property value loss. He adds, “The world-wide scientific consensus among independent acoustic experts who actually measure turbine noise from 400 to 500 feet tall machines at the homes of neighbors is overwhelmingly in agreement that inaudible noise created by the air pressure pulses of turbine blades can lead to adverse health effects.”
He explains such health effects include sleep deprivation, headaches and nausea, due in large part to low frequency sounds. In his letter to Ardillo, Twichell writes, “Both the wind industry and the New York State Department of Health take the indefensible position that what we can’t hear can’t hurt us. Such an attitude would preclude the use of sunscreen for invisible ultraviolet rays or lead aprons for x-rays, or testing for radon in our basements. Acoustic energy is not unlike other forms of energy, which can be harmful to some without being perceptible or harmful to all.”
Other concerns include increased bat and bird mortality, which Twichell says could lead to financial losses associated with insect control and plant pollination. Twichell considered the larger concrete bases of the proposed larger turbines and warned that local agricultural products like hay and corn may be compromised due to restrictions on farmers’ fields and damage to drainage systems. Furthermore, Twichell argues that residents in neighboring townships will experience compromised viewsheds, in addition to negative visual and noise impacts “without the right of representational participation in the decision of increasing the turbine size.” He concludes by beseeching the IDA to protect the many county residents who will be affected by the increased turbines.
The Villenova Town Board will meet at the Villenova Town Hall tonight at 7 p.m. to discuss the proposed amendments and most likely vote, according to Ardillo.
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