FARMERSVILLE – The new majority on the Farmersville Town Board voted Monday to declare a 2019 town wind law void and introduced a more restrictive local law.
The proposed local law limits turbine blade ground-to-tip height to 455 feet and seeks a 42-45 dBA noise limit and 3,000-foot setback from turbines to property lines, said Supervisor Francis “Pete” Lounsbury.
Town board members voted 3-2 to void the 2019 local wind law enacted 4-0 last year by the previous board on the same day as Farmersville United filed a lawsuit against the town board to void the law, claiming it was improperly enacted. The town’s 2009 law remains in effect.
It’s unclear what the impact of the board’s action will have on the proposed Alle-Catt Wind Farm project, which is based on 600-foot turbines.
The 2018 town of Freedom wind law, which would have allowed the 600-foot turbines sought by Alle-Catt developer Invenergy, was overturned by a state Supreme Court judge in December. That town’s old wind law also has a 450-foot height limit.
Invenergy is proposing a 340-megawatt wind project with up to 117 turbines, about half of which would be in Freedom and Farmersville.
If adopted, the new setbacks would probably require Invenergy to revise its turbine sites in Farmersville. The old setbacks were 1,800 feet.
Pamela Tilton, one of two Farmersville Town Board members returning from 2019, pointed out the board hadn’t formally re-organized yet and they were being asked to vote on resolutions she and Richard Westfall had just seen.
Board members voted 4-1 to appoint Eric Firkel of Olean as town attorney. Tilton voted against the appointment, asking whether Firkel’s employment of Michael Brisky, now a Cattaraugus County legislator, was a conflict.
“There is no conflict under the New York State Code of Ethics,” Firkel assured Tilton.
Board members also voted to hire a Rochester environmental law firm to represent the town.
Lounsbury said the main reason for the emergency session of the town board was to hire the law firm to represent the town at an Article 10 hearing on Friday. At Firkel’s recommendation, the board voted 3-2 to hire The Zoghlin Group of Rochester. Tilton and Westfall voted no.
“Why were we not consulted?” asked Tilton. “We have no knowledge of what we are doing tonight. I disagree with this meeting.” She also raised the issue of transparency.
Tilton also asked whether the board action would leave the town open to a lawsuit by Invenergy. She also wondered whether the town wouldn’t end up with the windmills anyway and lose all the benefits the former board members had negotiated.
Town Clerk Bridget Holmes was also caught up the emotions of the first meeting with a majority of board members opposed to the Alle-Catt Wind Farm proposals.
“Slow down,” she urged the new majority. “I’m not condemning you. You have to respect the people that don’t agree with you.”
The board’s reorganization meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday at the Town Hall.
In addition, there will be public hearings on the proposed local laws – a new wind law and a proposed Drinking Water Protection Law.
Eric Miller, an Invenergy representative who attended the meeting, left without making any comment.
Firkel said he had not had time to thoroughly review the lawsuit filed by Farmersville United, which was filed earlier in the day by Gary Abraham.
The town held no hearing on the 2019 wind law, which passed in August, nor did it conduct environmental impact studies. The law was not referred to the Cattaraugus County Planning Board, which had turned down earlier versions.
Another resolution would recognize Amish homes and properties as containing churches, giving them a wider setback from wind turbines. Amish, who make up about 10% of the town’s population, worship at each other’s homes or sometimes in barns.
One woman attending the meeting asked if this would open the door to Amish seeking lower assessments and religious exemptions. Firkel said that would not be automatic.
The town board tabled a resolution authorizing the supervisor to recover town records from former supervisor Robert Karcher, whose term ended Dec. 31, 2019
Lounsbury declined to discuss the resolution after the meeting. The resolution states town officials found Karcher’s desk and town-owned computer “were devoid of any records, papers, files, equipment, material and/or supplies, including all electronic files, documents and/or emails that belonged to the Town of Farmersville.”
The resolution also states “the Town of Farmesville and each Town Board member including the former supervisor received a ‘litigation hold’ letter” on Aug. 19 from Abraham.
Karcher approached Lounsbury after the meeting and said the emails were his. He declined further comment.
Tilton urged the new members to “do your due diligence. There is so much stuff you need to know.”
After the meeting, Tilton said, “I wish they would consider us in making decisions.”