A state appeals court is allowing 600-foot-tall windmills to be built in the town of Villenova.
The Fourth Department Appellate Division unanimously ruled on Thursday that state Supreme Court Judge James Dillon’s 2019 decision halting the 29 wind mills was incorrect. Dillon’s decision has been reversed and the residents’ petition dismissed in its entirety.
In July 2018, the Chautauqua County Planning Board voted against recommending the increase in height based in part on the complaints of town residents opposed to the special use permit. On Aug. 8, 2018, the Villenova Town Board voted unanimously to approve an increase in height from 495 feet to an unprecedented maximum height of 599 feet. The decision required a supermajority approval, as the Chautauqua County Planning Board did not support the height increase. Three weeks later, the town board of Hanover voted unanimously against the increase, which kept their six planned turbines at the 495-feet maximum height.
Eighteen Villenova residents responded to the Villenova Town Board’s approval of Ball Hill’s special use permit by filing an Article 78 proceeding alleging Villenova violated the state Environmental Quality Review Act, violated the General Municipal Law and violated existing Villenova ordinances. In Dillon’s ruling, he stated that the town, as lead agency for Ball Hill Wind, “is required to identify the relevant areas of environmental concern, take a hard look at them and make a reasoned elaboration of the basis of its determination.” Dillon went on to cite multiple court decisions that state the lead agency must consider the environmental issues and make an independent judgment that they would not create significant environment impact. He concluded by stating that the procedures involved in SEQRA require strict compliance, and “anything less will result in annulment of the lead agency’s determination of significance.”
The Appellate Division ruled that the town did take a hard look at the effect the increase in turbine height could have on bald eagle populations and the environmental impact of the placement of the electrical lines underground. Appellate justices said prior submissions concerning the impact of the taller towers on bald eagles as well as updated materials were enough to show that collisions between raptors and wind turbines are rare, and that the 599-foot tall turbines lie below the normal flight altitude of bald eagles. Burying the electrical transmission lines was shown by the materials to have a positive environmental impact to the surrounding wetlands.
“We conclude that the Town Board ‘took a hard look at the areas of environmental concern and made a reasoned elaboration of the basis for its conclusion that a second SEIS was not necessary,’” the justices wrote. “The Town Board’s discretionary determination was not arbitrary, capricious or unsupported by the evidence.”
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