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Farmersville Town Board passes new wind law to opponents’ dismay

FARMERSVILLE – The Farmersville Town Board voted 4-0 Monday to approve a new wind law allowing 600-foot wind turbines with smaller setbacks than the 2018 local law the Cattaraugus County Planning Board turned down.

Board member Richard Westfall, who has a wind lease with Alle-Catt Wind Farm developer Invenergy, recused himself from voting. That meant all four remaining board members had to vote yes to provide the “supermajority” to overcome opposition from the county Planning Board.

Supervisor Robert Karcher, Deputy Supervisor Richard Zink, Pamela Tilton and George Duncan all voted yes to the dismay of Alle-Catt opponents.

Attorneys for Farmersville United, which claims the town board hasn’t listened to residents’ health concerns from the 600-foot industrial turbines, notified board members prior to Monday’s meeting they could expect a lawsuit.

Karcher, whose in-laws have a wind lease with Invenergy, did not participate in the town board’s vote on a letters of intent for a combined community host agreement and payment in lieu of taxes (P.I.L.O.T.) of nearly $669,000 a year. Nor did Westfall.

Town Attorney David DiMatteo said he didn’t find any board members in conflict to vote on the new wind law, but that Westfall decided to do so voluntarily. He said neither Karcher or Zink, whose parents have a wind lease in another town, were in conflict on voting on the wind law.

Farmersville United members sought greater setbacks from the wind turbines to residences, a limit of 40 dBA instead of 50 dBA and no change in the 450-foot limit on the height of wind turbines. Members also asked for a guarantee on the value of their property and for a limit on shadow flicker.

Some people were barred from Monday’s meeting at the Farmersville Town Hall due to a 50-person limit on the number of people using the room. A constable kept a tight rein on the number of people in the room.

Several residents who made prior requests were each allowed to speak for 3 minutes at the meeting.

Ginger Schroder, a Farmersville resident and attorney representing Farmersville United, noted residents had “begged the board for greater protections” but the new law introduced last month included smaller setbacks of 1,500 feet from a residence and 1.1 times tip height to a property line, or 660 feet.

Schroder asked Karcher who paid for his professional campaign mail sent out prior to the June 25 primary election. She said he failed to file a disclosure. Karcher lost in the Republican primary to Peter Lounsbury and will not be on the ballot in November.

Farmersville United contend that Invenergy saw the pro-wind majority on the town board slipping away in 2020 and pushed board members to resurrect the wind law after the primary.

Schroder contended that neither DiMatteo nor any of the board members read the wind law she said was prepared by Invenergy. “You are doing this because Invenergy wants you to do this,” she said.

The town board’s role should be to protect its citizens, Schroder added, predicting months and years of litigation.

Mark Heberling, president of Farmersville United, said residents’ voices had been clearly heard at public hearings, but that the board has refused to listen. With the exception of the supervisor, other board members have setbacks ranging from 1.5 miles to 2.8 miles.

“You are considering a wind law that is worse than the one the county rejected,” Heberling said.

The Farmersville United president said Invenergy had made a major, unannounced change in the siting of the batch concrete plant from Freedom to Farmersville. It will take 53,000 gallons of water a day from the aquifer. Also, the larger turbine blades will increase both noise and flicker.

“I’m very disappointed in all of you,” said Kathleen Kellogg. “Shame on you. You are going to have to live with yourselves later. You are supposed to represent us.”

Before the board voted, DiMatteo reminded them of the threat of litigation and advised them not to discuss it further.

The 2019 wind law replaces a 10-year-old law that limited the height of wind turbines to 450 feet.

The county planning board had cited the 600-foot height of the turbines as one of its major objections because it did not fit in with the rural character of the county.

Karcher left the meeting when the discussion turned to a proposed letter of intent on the host community agreement and road agreement. Both passed on 3-1 votes. The board will discuss the issues further at a work session Thursday at 6 p.m.

In the letter of intent, Invenergy notes its plan to seek tax breaks from the Cattaraugus County Industrial Development Agency. The company is offering $5,000 per megawatt per year, payable one year after the wind farm comes online. The agreement is for 20 years.

The P.I.L.O.T would be about $119,280, while the community host agreement would be $549,540, or $668,820 a year.

Invenergy spokesman Eric Miller pledged $50,000 toward the town’s legal costs.

Karcher said after the meeting that the host agreement would go a long way toward paying for the town’s budget. “I wanted to make sure the town gets as much money as we can.”

The town lost a couple of turbines along the way and will have 21 if the wind farm is approved by the state siting board.

“It’s a good law,” said Invenergy’s Miller. “It’s going to ensure a safe project and we can comply with the setbacks. We’ll be producing made in America energy in Cattaraugus County.”

No so fast, Schoder said after the meeting. “We served them with a litigation notice, it will be a very large lawsuit” against both the town and the town board individually.