An angry crowd hurled a range of criticism at a plan to build a 123-megawatt wind turbine project in eastern Broome County, leading the Town of Sanford Board to enact a moratorium while the town’s planning board reviews the project’s impact.
In an often contentious confrontation between pro and con forces Tuesday night, the five-member board heard nearly 90 minutes of comments from more than a dozen speakers, with each side making often emotional appeals to sway the board.
At the end, the opposition won, with the town board voting 4-0, with one abstention, to enact a stay on wind turbine development pending a town study to measure the potential impacts on “public health, safety and welfare, as well as other resources of the Town of Sanford.” The moratorium lasts at least 90 days for the planning board-initiated review. The moratorium also prohibits erecting new meteorological towers by the sponsor to measure wind speed.
Calpine wants to install 27 turbines – four in the Town of Windsor, and 23 in the Town of Sanford – capable of producing 124 megawatts of electricity, enough to supply about 90,000 homes. The turbines will measure, at maximum, nearly 670 feet from the base of the tower to the uppermost tip of the blade. A typical cellphone tower stands 100 to 200 feet high.
The project, known as Bluestone, is now undergoing an extensive review process by the state Public Service Commission. A decision on whether the installation will get the go-ahead is expected by the end of the year.
A town split
Sanford, with a population of about 2,500, is clearly a town divided. The controversy is not unique to Sanford. Similar debates are being heard in Chenango and Steuben counties, where wind turbines have also been proposed.
On one side are the landowners leasing the hilltops to Calpine for 23 wind turbines planned for the town. The landowners stand to be paid annual stipends for use of their land. Neither Calpine nor the state Public Service Commission, which is overseeing the project review, will divulge the lease payments. However, an early disclosure document indicates that lease payments for landowners hosting the turbines will be between $2,500 and $30,000 annually.
Supporters contend the project will bring much-needed economic development and tax revenue to the community that skirts Route 17. They scoff at claims that the project will spoil what opponents say is the community’s treasured wooded setting. They also note the community’s general acceptance of hydrofracking for natural gas before it was banned in the state five years ago. Supporters say the payments will provide sustenance to the landowners, some of whom are trying to scrape by.
On the other side are other residents in this rural town that lies just west of the West Branch of the Delaware River, about 30 miles east of Binghamton, who contend the wind turbine installation will cause a raft of health maladies, disturb a critical golden eagle habitat and migration path, and depress land values.
“You’ve had plenty of time to consider these issues,” said Chris Stanton, of Calpine.
Yet, many of the 70 people attending the meeting were clearly in favor of stalling the project for further study.
“There’s so much to learn that you haven’t even looked at,” said Angela Olson. “We need the moratorium to protect out community.”
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