Cohocton Wind Watch: Prattsburgh to draft wind farm moratorium
Cohocton Wind Watch is a community citizen organization dedicated to preserve the public safety, property values, economic viability, environmental integrity and quality of life in Cohocton, NY and in surrounding townships. Neighbors committed to public service in order to achieve a reasonable vision for a Finger Lakes region worthy of future generations.


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Monday, March 23, 2009

Prattsburgh to draft wind farm moratorium

Prattsburgh, N.Y.

Prattsburgh town officials are set to draft a moratorium on wind project construction at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, and face a number of pros and cons associated with the action.

Officials say the moratorium will allow them to determine how to best protect the interests of the town’s residents. Wind developer EcoGen, which plans to erect 16 turbines in the town, says it needs to move forward quickly to secure the project’s financing.

Matters reached a head March 3 when EcoGen notified town officials it would sue the board if its decision on granting permits for the proposed wind farm was delayed.

The board declined to act, citing the need to study health and safety concerns associated with turbines.

However, on March 10, Prattsburgh Town Attorney John Leyden directed the town’s code enforcement officer to send EcoGen a letter indicating no permits were required.

Then, last Tuesday, board members hired environmental lawyer Gary Abraham as their special wind counsel and agreed to draft a six-month moratorium. Following Tuesday’s action, EcoGen representatives arranged to meet with some members of the town board.

An EcoGen spokesman has not returned repeated calls from The Leader asking for comment.

A neighboring town official with experience with moratoriums and EcoGen said enacting the temporary ban is scary.

“It borders between courage and insanity,” said Italy Town Supervisor Margaret Dunn. “But you need to protect the town.”

Italy, which borders Prattsburgh, is the site of 18 EcoGen turbines.

Dunn said EcoGen threatened her town with lawsuits almost from the beginning of the proposed development. Italy responded by initiating the first of several moratoriums, during which town officials enacted wind development regulations.

Italy officials are now reviewing EcoGen’s applications and will then negotiate an incentive package reported to be significantly larger than the $3 million Prattsburgh is set to receive.

“We would not be in the position we are now, without the moratoriums,” Dunn said. “We definitely gained.”

EcoGen representatives have told Italy town officials that the project could begin soon, and early work would probably range from drilling soil samples to building access roads.

But any significant construction in Prattsburgh is a long way off, according to Prattsburgh Town Supervisor Harold McConnell.

So far, EcoGen has submitted no applications or environmental data to Finger Lakes Economic Development Center - Yates County’s economic development agency - and there have been no discussions on tax relief, according to Steve Griffin, FLEDC’s CEO.

EcoGen submitted its application for the Prattsburgh sites to the state Department of Environmental Conservation on Jan. 21, setting in motion potentially lengthy reviews by the Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

In addition, the EcoGen project has not been approved by the Public Service Commission or met other state requirements.

Abraham, the wind attorney, told the Prattsburgh Town Board on Tuesday that EcoGen stands to take in $130 million in federal funding if it starts the project now. That funding includes as much as $30 million from the federal economic incentive package for “shovel-ready” projects.

The project will also earn EcoGen roughly $1 million annually from the electricity the turbines generate, as well as lucrative state aid, Abraham told the board.

“Their interests are not your interests,” he said.

The town board, which has been divided over the issue, is in unanimous agreement a responsible wind project will boost their economy. But they agree the safety of its residents is the highest priority.

They also believe they should take EcoGen’s threat to sue seriously, however.

But Kula said the cost of defending the lawsuit can be paid out of incentive revenues the town will receive from EcoGen in the unlikely event it loses.

“And either way, we’re looking at getting sued,” he told the board last Tuesday. “If we don’t do something, you know (property owners) will sue us.”

Wind farms have come under closer scrutiny recently, with reports of excessive turbine noise and the recent collapse of a turbine in the Adirondacks region.

Abraham told the board sound studies used by the wind farm industry are flawed and do not take into account surrounding noises.

To draw a comparison, that means a pneumatic drill is less disturbing at a construction site than at the beach, or a normal conversation will be more irritating in a library than in a restaurant.

Another potential concern for property owners with wind farm leases is their personal liability.

According to a recent story in the Malone Telegram, several property owners in the state’s North Country with easement agreements for wind developer Noble Chateaugay Windpark have been served with liens because the company failed to pay an electric bill.

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