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‘Surprise’ Farmersville wind law introduced to negative reception at meeting

FARMERSVILLE – A new wind law was unexpectedly introduced Monday at the Farmersville Town Board meeting.

Town board attorney David DiMatteo said the board had asked him to prepare a wind law as a template to have something to discuss. He called it “a clarifying law” and “a tool to work with to make revisions.”

Asked by residents attending the town board meeting for a brief summary, DiMatteo said it called for a setback of 1.3 times the top height, 1,500 feet from the nearest home and a height limit of 450 feet, unchanged from the 2009 wind law that remains in effect.

Asked by the same residents why the decibel level was 50 dB, instead of 39 or 40 which residents had been asking for, DiMatteo replied, “That’s what I was directed to do.”

Ginger Schroder, a Farmersville resident and an attorney representing residents concerned over what they feel is a lack of restrictions – particularly on sound – told the board they continue to ignore the protections residents are seeking.

“Why won’t you look at the noise?” asked Donna Vickman, the Cattaraugus County Legislature majority leader who is running for a vacancy on the town board in November.

Supervisor Robert Karcher said 50 dB is in the town’s 2009 wind law.

One woman asked, “What if it does affect people? What are you going to do?”

Karcher said that while he hasn’t seen proof that that level of noise is harmful, the board would be able to stop a turbine that was not functioning properly.

The town board appeared ready to approve a new wind law last year at the request of Invenergy, the developer of the Alle-Catt Wind Farm, a 117-turbine, 240 megawatt system spread out over 30,000 acres in five towns and three counties.

That wind law would have permitted turbines up to 600 feet tall.

The Cattaraugus County Planning Board disallowed the law, saying 600-foot turbines were not in keeping with the rural character of the town or the county.

To override the county planning board’s vote, the town board would need a super majority of 4 votes.

One board member, Richard Westfall, who has a wind lease with Invenergy, was told he could not vote on the wind law due to a conflict. He had participated in the drafting of the law.

Former board member Andrew Warner had opposed the wind law changes. Without his vote, there were only three votes in favor of the wind law sought by Invenergy. After Warner’s resignation, the board appointed George Duncan, who wind opponents had counted as a vote for the wind farm.

Duncan told the audience not to be so fast to count his vote as pro-wind.

“I think for myself,” he said. “I speak for myself. I am more than willing to talk to people.”

Schroder invited him to spend some time at night at the Arkwright home of a Chautauqua County woman affected by a new wind farm near here home.

Schroder said the results of the June primary should be an indication of how voters feel. Karcher, who is widely seen as pro-wind, was defeated in the Republican primary by the former vice president of Farmersville United and will not appear in the November ballot.

Schroder said the town board is not seeking the same protections sought by residents.

The town would receive a host community fee and a payment in lieu of taxes (P.I.L.O.T.) if the Cattaraugus County Industrial Development Agency (IDA) approved the part of the Alle-Catt project in Farmersville and Freedom. County lawmakers have asked the IDA not to approve such a large wind project.

Another Farmersville resident, Doug Thompson, asked by the supervisor and board member Richard Zink didn’t have conflicts of interest with relatives standing to benefit from Alle-Catt wind leases.

DiMatteo said neither Karcher nor Zink had a conflict that could keep them from voting on a wind law. A lawyer for Invenergy said he agreed with DiMatteo.

“It was a huge surprise to me,” said Farmersville United president Mark Heberling said of the draft of the new wind law presented by DiMatteo.

“At the last meeting Rob (Karcher) said there would be no vote on a wind law this year. It’s shocking to me,” Heberling said.

The discussion came after William Snyder, who owns property in the town and is opposed to the wind project, said, “It’s not a done deal.” If it was a done deal, why would Invenergy be sending an attorney to each meeting, he asked.

He said voters “sent a strong message” in the recent primary. The message was one of bigger setbacks, smaller turbines, a 40 dB noise limit, property value guarantees and a reserve to cover removal after their turbines useful life of 20-25 years.

“I do not believe this (wind farm) is in the best interest of the town,” Snyder said. “It does matter what the town board does.”

Invenergy has filed an application for the $570 million wind farm with the state Public Service Commission.