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Farmersville, Freedom take steps toward more protective wind turbine laws

The Farmersville and Freedom town boards both met Monday to take the first steps toward more protective wind turbine laws.

On identical 3-2 votes, both town boards introduced 2020 Wind Energy Facilities Laws and set public hearings for next Monday night.

With Freedom’s 2019 wind law overturned in state Supreme Court and the Farmersville Town Board voting 3-2 Monday to void the town’s 2019 wind law, existing 2007 and 2009 laws are in effect in both towns.

Those laws limit the height of wind turbines (ground to blade tip) to 450 feet. The proposed 340-megawatt Alle-Catt Wind Farm is based on 600-foot turbines at up to 117 sites in Farmersville, Freedom, Centerville, Rushford and Arcade. Alle-Catt is a $550 million project.

Are wind farm opponents rushing things, as some Alle-Catt and pro-wind supporters claimed at both town board meetings on Monday?

“We are doing what we were elected to do,” said Farmersville Supervisor Francis “Pete” Lounsbury, who was elected in November “to do what a majority of the residents want.”

Lounsbury said the board voted to void the 2019 town wind law to settle a lawsuit filed on Monday by Farmersville United President William Snyder. The 2019 law was not lawfully adopted, he said.

“I expect litigation” from Invenergy, the Chicago-based Alle-Catt developer, Lounsbury added.

The new supervisor said the 3,000-foot setback from property lines is based on a recommendation by the World Health Organization.

The new law calls for noise levels to be limited to 42-45 dBA (down from 50 dBA in the 2019 law). The height limit of 455 feet is 5 feet above the town’s 2009 law, but one-third shorter than the proposed 600-foot turbines.

Freedom Councilman John Hill, a 2018 wind law opponent, was in the minority when that law was adopted. Not anymore.

“We did OK last night,” Hill told the Olean Times Herald on Tuesday.

The 3,000-foot setback is “a whole lot better” than 660 feet in the old law. “I don’t understand why people with (leases) would want something that big so close to their house.” The new law calls for a 1,000-foot buffer between a turbine and a house.

Hill said those who were opposed to the 2018 wind law pushed through at the urging of Invenergy won by a 2-1 margin in the November election.

The new wind law will be the topic of a public hearing Monday at 7 p.m. in the Freedom Town Hall.

Freedom Supervisor Randy Lester said his biggest fear now is that under Article 10 the windmills may still come into the town over the objections of the town board and without any of the host-community fees negotiated by the old board.

“The state could still come in and say we’re putting them up here,” Lester said. “And the town would get no money.”

The new board fired Town Attorney James McAuley, who was representing the town on the appeal of the ruling by state Supreme Court Judge Terrence Parker overturning the 2018 wind law. McAuley continues to represent Lester, however, the supervisor said.

In addition, Invenergy has petitioned to intervene in the case with the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court, Fourth Department.

At one point in the sometimes boisterous town board meeting Monday night, Lester pushed a panic button set up by the town court to summon state police despite a town constable being present, two people in attendance confirmed.

No one breathed a deeper sigh of relief at the Freedom Town Board’s proposed new wind law than Freedom United president Stephanie Milks.

“It was a long time coming,” Milks said in an interview on Tuesday. “We’ve been speaking out about this for two years. This should have been passed by the previous board.”

There was applause from those in the audience when the board submitted the new proposed wind law and set a public hearing for next Monday night.

Is this the end of the fight?

“We’re really working on it,” Milks said. “It will be tough with the state, though. This is a more reasonable, protective law. We want to do everything by the book.”

Milks denied that her position as president of Freedom United represented a conflict of interest for her husband, Jeff Milks, who was just elected to the town board.

“It’s not a conflict,” she said.

Environmental attorney Gary Abraham of Humphrey, who is representing Farmersville United in the state Supreme Court lawsuit seeking to void the town’s 2019 wind law, said, “If the Freedom law is illegal, the Farmersville law is clearly illegal.”

The Freedom law was rejected by the Cattaraugus County Planning Board and the Farmersville Town Board never referred the 2019 law at all, Abraham said, adding, “It’s void.”

Abraham said that Farmersville had asked for and received a one-week extension to prepare remarks for an Article 10 briefing that had been scheduled for Friday.

The former town attorney, David DiMatteo, had not been directed by the board to make a presentation at the briefing, Abraham said.

An Invenergy spokesman did not reply to a request seeking comment before deadline Tuesday.