LITTLE VALLEY – The Cattaraugus County Planning Board on Thursday again sent back the Farmersville Town Board’s proposed wind law, another setback for the proposed Alle-Catt Wind Farm.
Planning board members sent back the proposed wind law changes in August because the Farmersville Town Board had failed to complete parts 2 and 3 of its Environmental Assessment Form (EAF).
On Thursday, during a meeting that became heated at times, planning board members said that the Farmersville Town Board has since submitted the missing parts, but with discrepancies and ambiguous information.
“It’s just unclear what they meant. They have both (yes and no) boxes checked some places … and it was confusing to us,” said Paul D. Mager, planning board vice chairman, noting the county Attorney’s Office advised them not to vote on the wind law and to instead refer it back to the Farmersville Town Board for a second time. “Obviously it’s a very sensitive issue so we want to make sure everything is done right.”
Among the town’s proposed changes to its local law include increasing the maximum height of a wind turbine from the tip of the blade to the ground from 450 feet to 600 feet.
Alle-Catt Wind Farm developer Invenergy, which is based in Chicago, is seeking to install 23 nearly 600-foot wind turbines in Farmersville, as well as 34 in another Cattaraugus County town, Freedom; a combined 39 in Allegany County’s Centerville and Rushford; and nine in Wyoming County’s Arcade.
Dan Spitzer, an attorney representing Invenergy, argued that the discrepancies on the EAF were irrelevant.
“This board has no authority to say whether it’s complete or incomplete, that’s simply not your job,” he told county planning board members. “You job is to act as a regional planning board, and there’s no reason that’s keeping you from acting tonight.”
County planning board member Andrea Mellon countered Spitzer, reiterating that the “conflicting information” meant the EAF was incomplete.
“There are yes boxes checked and no boxes checked. I’m not sure which one’s applicable. Is it a yes or is it a no?” she said.
Spitzer replied, “The question in front of you though isn’t whether this form is complete. The question is: Does it comply with the statute? The statute says they’re to turn over to you the forms that they used to make their decision.”
Spitzer, standing up before the county planning board, went on to say that the issue at hand was “about home rule and a community making its own decision.”
“This is about standing up and letting Farmersville make its own decision and not having people from outside the area telling them what to do,” he said, which caused some county planning board members, as well as numerous community members opposed to the Alle-Catt Wind Farm, to begin shouting over each other.
One man in attendance yelled out to Spitzer, who is with Buffalo law firm Hodgson and Russ, “You’re not from the area.”
Despite Spitzer’s arguments, the planning board still agreed to refer the wind law back to the Farmersville Town Board and give them another chance to re-submit.
Throughout the meeting, county planning board members questioned why neither Farmersville Town Board members or their attorney were in attendance. Spitzer offered up an answer: Town board members may be intimidated by the tactics of groups opposed to wind farms.
Spitzer noted that Chautauqua County residents opposed to the Ball Hill Wind Energy Project filed a lawsuit in September against the Villenova Town Board, alleging among other things that the Villenova town supervisor and a town board member were biased in favor of the project because they allegedly attended a Chautauqua County Planning Board meeting and argued in favor of a law change and special use permit.
“As long as that’s the action the opponents are taking, I doubt any board member will show up,” Spitzer said.
Members of Farmersville United, a group opposed to the Alle-Catt Wind Farm, and their attorney, Gary Abraham, were in attendance Thursday. Abraham has argued the proposed wind law changes are subject to a State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR).
“If you’re going to put in 600-foot turbines throughout your entire town, we’re not talking about a project. We’re talking about a local law that allows turbines to be built in the entire town,” Abrams said during the meeting. “Invenergy might be the first project, but there might be another project. So the town board is obligated to look at the potential adverse impacts.”
After the meeting, Abrams said he was glad the county planning board decided to hold off on its decision.
“I think there’s plenty of time here for the town of Farmersville to do it right,” he said, adding that the Alle-Catt Wind Farm will not have a hearing before the New York State Siting Board until the second half of 2019.
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