FREEDOM, N.Y. – During a Jan. 13 public hearing on a proposed local law governing wind energy facilities in the Town of Freedom, the majority of comments from the public supported the 56-page draft. In spite of the controversy over the proposal by Invenergy LLC to install 33 industrial wind turbines in the town, the hearing remained orderly with those who wanted to speak limited to three minutes each.
If enacted, Local Law 1 of 2020 will replace the town’s wind law of 2007. Although the previous board passed revisions of the local law in 2018 and again in 2019, a Supreme Court judge declared the legislation null and void after the citizen’s group Freedom United filed a lawsuit against the town board. The judge agreed that the proper SEQR (State Environmental Quality Review) process had not been completed, and the board failed to provide the Cattaraugus County Planning Board with a complete assessment of the law as required.
The town appealed the decision, however, Freedom United president Stephanie Milks announced during her comments that the Fourth Department Appellate Division had dismissed the appeal earlier that day. A request by Invenergy to intervene in the appeal was also dismissed. (The decision has not yet been posted on the Division’s website.)
The 2020 law was submitted during the board’s Jan. 6 reorganizational meeting and contains more restrictions (see sidebar). Following last November’s election, the board has two new members, Geoff Milks and Dustin Bliss. Milks, spouse of Stephanie Milks, has been vocal regarding his opposition to the wind farm. Bliss is one of several Freedom residents who have signed lease agreements with Invenergy, and thus must abstain from voting on matters directly related to the wind farm. Supervisor Randy Lester supports the project because of the potential economic benefits to the town and its residents. Remaining council members John Hill (who was reelected to another term in November) and Jolene Esposito, have both voiced opposition to the project.
Stephanie Milks praised the board for “putting forth a much more protective wind law.” She said although she supports renewable energy, she is opposed to what she sees as “corruption and exploitation surrounding the Alle-Catt Project and the unethical misconduct of Invenergy and conflicted town officials.”
Mentioning that health, welfare, safety and property rights of town residents seem to be taken more seriously by the new town board, Milks praised the inclusion of property value guarantees in the new law, a request many residents have made in the past for both the wind law and a Host Community Agreement signed by the former town board. She also said the 3,000-foot setbacks in the 2020 law “are a simple solution to a multitude of adverse impacts.”
Milks added, “There are 63 Freedom leaseholders, 14 of those leaseholders did not end up with project components. Thirty of the Freedom leaseholders do not even live in the project area.”
Others who spoke in favor of the law mentioned its property value protections, and their concerns with possible water well contamination caused by tower construction, interference with cell phone and television reception, and safety and aesthetic concerns.
Bruce Acquard, who has a leaseholder agreement with Invenergy, praised the decommissioning regulations in the law. During past town board meetings he said Invenergy is not adhering to the terms of his agreement with them.
Barbara George, a past town supervisor and longtime dairy farmer, said that she opposed the new wind law and a second law proposed that evening designed to lend further protection to the town’s water sources (see separate article).
“I see them as anti-business,” she said. “Protections are good but these are extreme. I oppose the laws.”
Another man who spoke against the wind law said he supported the “good paying construction jobs” that would come from the Alle-Catt Wind Farm.
Charles Malcomb, Esq., an attorney for Invenergy, warned the board against making “a rush to judgment” in enacting the law. He said the board should have consulted further with experts on wind development, engineering, etc. He also questioned the board on who had drafted the new law and whether or not Ginger Schroeder Esq., an attorney who lives in Farmersville and opposes the project there, was involved.
Malcomb said he believes the town violated the Open Meetings Law by failing to deliberate the law’s terms in public.
“There may be unintended consequences,” he told the board. “In your rush to stop the wind project, you will harm the town.”
When asked his thoughts, Councilman John Hill said the wind law was drafted to “protect the residents of Freedom.”
Councilman Geoff Milks thanked residents for their comments and agreed with Hill on the intent.
Councilman Bliss said, “This is not a wind law, it’s a moratorium.” He mentioned that the former board had taken a year to enact the previous law, and one month was allotted for the new law.
“I ran [for the council] to bring civility back to the board,” Bliss said. “I will vote no on both laws.”
No formal vote was taken on either the wind law or the water protection legislation.
Freedom Local Law 1-2020
Supporters of a proposed 2020 local law regulating industrial wind turbine development in the Town of Freedom say it is designed to ensure long-overdue protections for town residents and property. Those who oppose the legislation believe it represents a moratorium, and will prevent wind development in the town altogether.
The following are some of the provisions included in the proposed law:
- A detailed application and review process that includes establishing an escrow account of $500,000, plus $225,000 for each wind turbine sited in the town;
- A 445-foot height limit for turbines;
- A Property Value Guarantee Agreement for properties within two miles of a turbine that may be exercised within 10 years;
- 3,000-foot setbacks from property lines;
- 2,000-foot setbacks from roads;
- One-mile (5,280-foot) setbacks from any school, cemetery or church (this includes all buildings on Amish-owned land capable of holding district gatherings for religious services);
- One-mile setbacks from any conservation areas;
- 3,000 feet from any private or public well;
- 1,000 feet from a FEMA 100-year flood plain;
- 2.0 x the tip height or 1,000 feet, whichever is greater, from buried gas lines;
- 1.5 miles from bat roosts, maternity roosts or hibernacula;
- World Health Organization standards for noise (42-45 decibels) with measurements to be conducted by a third-party acoustical consultant;
- Shadow flicker limits of not more than eight hours per year;
- A protective complaint resolution plan for residents;
- A protective decommissioning plan;
- A required road use and property damage agreement;
- Standards regulating small windmills; and
- A violation and enforcement section with fines for non-compliance.
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