PORTLAND – Differing opinions on the proposed wind energy facilities law caused tempers to flare at a public hearing Tuesday in the town hall.
Residents on both sides of the spectrum, for and against, spoke during the meeting and expressed their opinions, though most attendees were against some of the changes to the wind law, if not wind turbines in general.
Those in attendance against the proposed wind law had clear opposition toward certain parts of it, mostly including the setback minimum and the elevation minimum. In the law, it states that any wind towers coming into the town must be at least “1,600 feet from the nearest off-site residence existing at the time of application, measured from the exterior of such residence” and “lie 850 feet above sea level.”
Several residents complained about these parts of the law, explaining that the Chautauqua County Department of Health recommended the setbacks be at least a mile and a half, or 7,920 feet, and they claimed that the board seemed to ignore that completely.
“There are health concerns surrounding the noise generated by turbines that are sited too close to residential development. The low-frequency noise from the rotation of the blades can cause headaches, nausea, lost sleep and other health issues,” state Sen. George Borrello said in a statement, read by County Legislator Mark Odell. “The Chautauqua County Health Department has issued a recommendation. …This proposal falls grossly short of that recommendation.”
Facing similar complaints, the board stated there would be virtually no space for any turbines if the setback was based off the county Health Department’s recommendation. Some residents agreed that this would be OK, but the town said they did not want to totally ban them because New York state could come in the picture and overrule the local law.
“My response to anybody who is saying ‘You should’ve followed the mile and a half setback recommended by the health board’ is, in my opinion, that would be found automatically unreasonably burdensome,” town attorney Joel Seachrist said. “You literally cannot find a 3-mile circle in Chautauqua County that does not have some kind of structure or residence. It literally does not exist. So you can say that the mile and a half set back is good, but what you’re really saying is to have a complete ban on wind turbines.”
Other residents expressed concern over elevation minimum. This is because it may be good and work out for those on the plain, but those in the hilly portions of Portland now have to “suffer” with the turbines being near them. One woman who lives on a higher elevation in Portland explained why this portion of the law does not make sense to her.
“I kind of feel like, since I’m above 850 feet, like I don’t matter,” she said. “I’m going to be the sacrificial lamb so you can have your people happy down here?”
Echoing her thoughts was Tim Coughlin, also a resident of Portland. “It may benefit people down here but it sure doesn’t benefit people up there,” Coughlin said. “I don’t see why you could look at them separately. They’re not second-class citizens up the hill. Just because you don’t have to deal with it down here doesn’t mean somebody won’t have to deal with it.”
On the other side, there were some in attendance who did supported the law and wanted the restrictions to be even looser. For example, a woman – declining to offer her name – whose property would be used in the potential wind project with Emergya Wind Technologies (EWT) read a letter that explained why the town needed the investment.
“We did a lot of research and spent a lot of time with lawyers that we paid for to make certain that our interests and those of our neighbors were protected,” she said. “So we really did consider what was best for us and the community. We need some investment in our town. … This will be the first of its kind in the United States. This puts Portland on the map as having green energy and sustainable agriculture”
Eric Holton from EWT also spoke during the public hearing. He noted that those who opposed, that if they do not allow the smaller project in, he and his company will have to move in via the state, which means a much larger project.
“We have spent three years here, we’ve invested hundreds of thousands of dollars and by no means do we feel entitled to anything because of that, that was our decision and no one else’s,” Holton said. “But I ask the town board to understand that we are obligated to do everything we can to recover that. … So that means we either proceed with our original project or we’re forced to go through the state and convert our current sites to ones down here at a lower elevation.”
Portland is in the midst of a mortatorium on wind projects in the town that lasts through December.
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