VILLENOVA – Town officials are again reviewing plans for a proposed wind tower farm.
On Wednesday, members of the Villenova Town Board agreed to reinstate the state environmental quality review process for Ball Hill Wind, unless the court decision is reversed on appeal.
On June 24, the Hon. James H. Dillon of the Chautauqua County Supreme Court put construction of Villenova’s 29 planned turbines on hold due to an inadequate environmental review of the turbine height increase (495 feet to 599 feet) that the town board approved on Aug. 8. The Article 78 lawsuit was filed by 18 Villenova residents in September, who also cited multiple violations of Villenova town ordinances, including a planning board of two members, when town and state law requires either five or seven. The lawsuit points out that the responsibility of the planning board is to make recommendations to the town board – a duty that cannot be fulfilled, either ethically or legally, by only two members. While Dillon’s ruling did not address these violations, multiple Villenova residents called attention to them at Wednesday’s board meeting.
Board member Sarah LoManto excused herself before the lawsuit discussion, as she is under contract with RES, the wind company behind the project. Town of Villenova attorney Don Michalak addressed the ruling: “The court did issue a decision and the decision finds that there are further SEQR reviews needed,” he explained. “There’s before the board a proposed resolution, prepared by special counsel, that includes that the town board disagrees with the decision and authorizes that it should be appealed.”
Michalak continued reading the resolution, which states that the town board, as lead agency for Ball Hill Wind, would agree to reinstate the SEQR process and require a draft supplemental environmental impact statement in accordance with the court’s decision. However, “The proposed resolution further provides that in the event the Chautauqua County Court decision is reversed on appeal, that this action taken tonight will automatically be rescinded and the negative declaration previously issued by the town board will remain in full force and effect,” Michalak concluded.
Town Board member Yvonne Park made a motion to adopt the resolution and make a positive declaration, which was seconded by Nathan Palmer. In a roll call vote, Supervisor Richard Ardillo and board member Keith Butcher also voted to adopt the motion. “And that is all we have about that,” Ardillo said, and LoManto returned to the meeting.
Ardillo then opened the floor to public comment. Villenova resident Tina Graziano commented on the inadequate planning board and cited the New York state law that requires five or seven members, which must be appointed by the town board. She then read a letter on behalf of Alan Crowell, who volunteered to serve as a member of the planning board. Crowell, a U.S. Navy veteran, said that he worked for Buffalo Press for 20 years and a graphic design company in Colorado until his retirement nine years ago. Since then, he has been living on a farm in Villenova, which has been in his family for over 170 years, and hopes to serve his community as a planning board member.
Graziano also shared a text message that she received from Mike Raag, another Villenova resident interested in serving on the planning board. Ardillo thanked her and asked for the letter and contact information for both men.
Villenova resident Nancy Huber addressed the board and read aloud her letter expressing interest in serving on the planning board. A registered nurse and veteran of the U.S. Army Reserves, Huber said, “My goal as a member of the planning board would be to consider all proposals with the highest consideration of the health and welfare of all residents of the town of Villenova…” She then explained her family’s roots in the town, as well as her devotion to its future. “We want to ensure that the town of Villenova and its projects are well-guided and researched before being approved,” she said.
Diana Ermer, a town resident for the past 20 years, also read a letter expressing her interest in serving on the planning board. She cited many years of managerial experience, as well as extensive involvement in the planning and development of the Chautauqua County Equestrian Trail System. “I would like to be involved in the future plans of the town of Villenova and feel that I would be an asset to the town planning board,” she stated.
Betty Ebling, a Villenova resident for the past 50 years, addressed the board and stated that she is available now to start serving her community on the planning board. “Being a part of this board, we will encounter a variety of situations, people and problems,” she acknowledged. “With new members aboard, we come with enthusiasm, new ideas and hopefully keep Villenova moving in the right direction. I would appreciate your consideration for this position so that I may be a part of whatever activities may occur in this town.”
Ardillo thanked all who expressed an interest in serving on the planning board and collected their letters and contact information for consideration. The OBSERVER reached out to Ardillo by phone, but as of Friday evening, Ardillo was unavailable for comment. The next meeting of the Villenova Town Board is scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 14 at 7 p.m. in the town hall.