Officials pinpointed areas of concern that developers proposing a wind turbine in the town of Florida, a rural community just outside of the city of Amsterdam in Montgomery County, must try to address during the ongoing project review.
Aesthetic impacts from the 650-foot-tall turbine that would be in “sharp” contrast to the surrounding landscape seemingly loomed largest as the Planning Board worked through a section of state environmental quality review (SEQR) on Monday.
Town engineering consultant Brad Grant led the board through a required full environmental assessment identifying potentially significant impacts from the 4.3 megawatt community wind project proposed at 153 YMCA Road by New Leaf Energy.
The developer will be tasked with describing extenuating circumstances or mitigation measures to address the issues for the board to consider next month.
While admitting the aesthetic impacts specifically contemplated in the analysis are subjective, Grant noted the wind turbine would be highly visible from some public areas that residents travel through day-to-day.
“Unlike solar panels low to the ground, these things are way up in the air. There is no way of screening it,” Grant said. “The most effective screening it is at the source of the problem of people observing this.”
Tackling a portion of the assessment gauging the project’s potential to “cause a diminishment of the public enjoyment and appreciation” of local resources or “result in the introduction of visual elements which are out of character with the site or property” officials concluded there could be significant impacts.
“There is nothing up there now,” Grant said. “This will be the only project like this for quite a ways.”
The project could also conflict substantially with local farmland protection plans, the “predominant architectural scale” of the area and character of the existing landscape despite existing town regulations allowing wind projects.
“Is it consistent with any farmland protection plan, I highly doubt it. I don’t see how it could be, but it’s a permitted use,” Grant said.
Construction could temporarily cause noise, air quality and transportation issues that the developers will need to plan for. The delivery route for the massive turbine blades would need to be mapped in advance in coordination with local officials and the company may need to make improvements to roads or cover the cost of damages if any occur.
The turbine could further impact travel by drones, small planes and helicopters. The board and public pointed out the site proposed for the device is near the ballpark at Town Hall, which is the designated local landing place for medevac helicopters.
A red beacon light will be installed at the top of the device as required by the Federal Aviation Administration, which could create “sky-glow brighter than existing area conditions.”
Another light disturbance the developers will need to discuss is the potential for the turning blades to cast shadow flicker that can intermittently blot out daylight inside homes within several thousand feet of the turbine. The phenomenon varies based on the position of windows in relation to the device, distance from the turbine, weather and time of day or year.
The installation of the device and related infrastructure on what is now open land could have some effect on stormwater levels. Grant dispelled potential impacts to surface or groundwater from herbicides or pesticides by stating unequivocally they should not be used at the site.
“You don’t need them,” Grant said. “Weeds won’t grow to 600-feet.”
New Leaf will need to provide details on potential measures to protect certain birds in the area of the turbine. The state Department of Environmental Conservation observed a bald eagle and northern harrier at the site, both of which are threatened species. The agency noted there were no signs of nests or breeding activities in the area.
The threat posed by a single turbine under those circumstances is low based on extrapolations by DEC, according to David Strong, senior project developer for New Leaf. The state agency therefore would only require an application for an Endangered/Threatened Species Incidental Take Permit for the project in the event a bird was killed by the turbine. The permit would require mitigation steps to subsequently be taken to prevent further incidents, which Strong suggested could include measures to protect habitats. The DEC could potentially shut down the turbine if additional birds were killed.
Town Attorney Deborah Slezak suggested potential impacts to satellite television and internet from generated radio frequencies should also be studied given the absence of alternate options in some remote areas of the town near the project site without access to cable or broadband.
New Leaf is expected to prepare responses to the concerns as the next step in the full environmental assessment to continue the ongoing SEQR process for the Planning Board to review at its next meeting on Nov. 7.
The board in the future could require the developer conduct more rigorous assessments if the issues are not addressed to their satisfaction by preparing an environmental impact study (EIS).
Standardized evaluations of the effects to land, water, air, noise, wildlife, aesthetics, historic features, community character and more are normally required under SEQR. New Leaf has submitted various studies on the impacts to the board during the project review. An EIS involves more in depth studies related to each impact and any concerns raised by residents.
The developer must subsequently propose further methods to address or mitigate those elements.
New Leaf, formerly Borrego Solar, in May withdrew its application seeking to install a 4.3 megawatt turbine at 411 Reynolds Road in Glen after learning the Planning Board would require the developer to complete the more rigorous impact assessments that are time consuming and often costly.
Florida Planning Board member Stephen Viele has already raised the prospect of requiring that step during a workshop last month based on concerns raised by officials and residents. There was no mention of taking that action at this week’s meeting. That decision could come after the next part of the SEQR process.
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