Two recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions – including one ruling establishing Amish religious freedom – could figure in arguments before the Appellate Division’s Fourth Department of State Supreme Court next month involving the proposed Alle-Catt Wind Farm.
Great Valley environmental attorney Gary Abraham, representing the Coalition of Concerned Citizens fighting the 117-turbine wind farm, has challenged the New York State Board on Electric Generation Sites and the Environment’s approval of Alle-Catt’s Certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need on June 3, 2020.
Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Minnesota Amish community, the Swartzentruber Amish, who reject modern technology, and had challenged a county requirement that they install septic systems to handle grey water used for washing from homes. The Swartzentruber Amish use outhouses that do not rely on septic systems.
The Swartzentruber Amish also have a community in Farmersville, and are opposed to the wind turbines that could rise up to 600 feet if the developer, Invenergy, prevails.
Abraham argues that the wind turbines will displace 32 Amish families in Farmersville who have vowed to move from the area if they are installed near their homes.
The Amish, who worship in each other’s homes, have claimed their homes as churches with regard to the wind turbines, which would require a greater setback than from homes. Schools also are entitled to a greater setback under Farmersville’s local law.
Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in the majority opinion for the Supreme Court the state courts “should reconsider their ruling in light of the June 17 decision where a majority of the justices found that a Catholic foster care agency in Philadelphia may refuse to consider captions by same-sex couples.
“The Minnesota case strengthens my argument” regarding the religious freedom cited by the Amish, Abraham told the Olean Times Herald Friday. He plans to cite the Supreme Court decisions in his oral argument before members of the Fourth Department during the August-September term.
Abraham has another case before Acting Cattaraugus County Supreme Court Judge Terrence Parker from Allegany County.
In it, Abraham challenged the Siting Board’s decision to declare a 2019 Wind Law in Freedom valid even though it had never been referred to the Cattaraugus County Planning Board as required. He is seeking a declaratory judgement that the 2019 local law is illegal.
“The Siting Board decided wrong,” Abraham said.
If formally approved, the Alle-Catt Wind Farm, with 117 600-foot turbines capable of generating 340 megawatts of electricity, would stretch over 33,000 acres in Farmersville, Freedom and Machias in Cattaraugus County, Centerville and Rushford in Allegany County and Arcade in Wyoming County.
Alle-Catt’s parent company, Chicago-based Invenergy, is hoping to begin construction in the fourth quarter of this year and complete the project in 2023.
The industrial development agencies in Allegany and Wyoming counties have approved tax incentives for the project in their counties, but the Cattaraugus County IDA so far has refused to accept an application because many residents oppose it and the county legislature has asked them not to grant tax breaks for large wind projects.
A new state law, however, could take the tax breaks and host community benefits out of local control. As of June 1, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority will be allowed to assess the value of wind and solar projects and control payments to local governments.
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