Cohocton Wind Watch: Italy wind farm debates blow
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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Italy wind farm debates blow

Italy, N.Y.

The arguments for and against Yates County’s first proposed wind farm are getting more vigorous as the application process moves forward. The next stage for the process is set for Thursday’s Yates County Planning Board meeting, set for 7 p.m. in the auditorium of the Yates County Office Building 417 Liberty St., Penn Yan.

There, the county planning board will review the application for a special use permit and variances to construct and operate a wind-powered electric generation project in the town of Italy.
The members of the Italy Town Board listened to 116 people comment at a public hearing about the application on Sept. 19.

The crowd filled the Italy highway barn to capacity, with some overflowing into the parking lot, where they listened through the open garage bay doors. And once the parking area at the barn and neighboring church were filled, dozens of vehicles were parked on both sides of the highway.

Organizations on both sides of the issue distributed t-shirts outside the barn, and hand-lettered protest signs were propped against the exterior of the building after Town Supervisor Margaret Dunn announced they would not be permitted inside the building.

During the first two hours of the session, at least, the majority of those who spoke said they opposed the project.

If the town board approves the application, Pattern Energy (formerly Ecogen LLC) will construct 19 wind turbines in an area the town has identified as a wind incentive zone

Opposition to the application ranged from concerns about technical and engineering issues to aesthetics and the turbine’s impact on public health.

Supporters said they want the project to be built so local property taxes will be reduced and the town won’t be embroiled in lawsuits filed by the energy company.

Still others encouraged the board to negotiate more favorable terms for the town. As it stands, the energy company is offering the town some amenities, including the purchase of equipment, new structures, improvements to existing structures, possible jobs and cash, all valued at more than $1.6 million, according to a July 6 letter to town residents.

Most speakers were from the area, but a few travelled from Wyoming County and Cohocton to describe problems they feel have been created by wind farms in their communities.

One Italy woman became tearful as she described her fear that her autistic son would be adversely affected by the turbines. She said her family moved to Italy from New Jersey to get away from lights and other disturbances that bother her son.

“The green in green energy is money,” said one woman in her brief statement against the project.

Jim Taylor, owner of Taylor Farm Bed & Breakfast, said he is in favor of the project, and has had guests say they want to return when the turbines are installed.

Encouraging the board to go forward with the project, Leo Tricky said, “On the whole, the project is better than the negatives, which are exaggerated.”

A property owner from the Prattsburgh portion of the farm said the engineers from the new company, Pattern Energy, have been more flexible when working with property owners, and he said Italy can and should get a better deal.

Valerie Sahrle of Perry, in Wyoming County, said she has organized a group called Citizens for a Healthy Rural Neighborhood which supports the Finger Lakes Preservation Association. That organization recently filed a lawsuit against Italy.

In the most confrontational portion of the meeting, Leonard Amato, wearing a white shirt with bold red letters spelling out the message: “Margaret gets a town hall,” demanded the town board’s resignation and that Dunn recuse herself. He drew a sharp response from the supervisor, who said, “You don’t even know me.”

After the exchange, Dunn asked for a break. Following a brief recess, she asked the audience to limit their comments to the application. “If anyone has any more attacks on me personally, save it for after the meeting,” she said.

Much of the zone lies along Emerson Road, where the company purchased property earlier this year, spending nearly $2 million on real estate, and where Yates County owns land the company has expressed a desire to purchase.

Town Attorney Ed Brockman says the town must make a decision about the application within 62 days of closing the public comment period. The period remains open for the time being, mainly because Pattern Energy (Ecogen) officials have not made all the up-to-date application information available as promised in the legal notifications about the public hearing.

That was something Dunn learned during the public comments on Saturday.
“This will be the second time they did not have the paperwork ready,” she said, adding, “If they can’t do something that simple, how can I trust them to do all the other things they claim to do?”

The company has created a website where the application information is available: www.ecogeneis.com.

In legal advertisements about the application, the company has said all the documents are also available at public libraries in Penn Yan, Branchport, Naples and Prattsburgh. But one of the speakers on Saturday informed Dunn and the board that not all the documents are available in the libraries. Many town residents internet access is limited to dial-up service, making it difficult to download large files for review.

The wind farm project is also in the development stages in the neighboring Steuben County town of Prattsburgh. Because most of the project is located in Steuben County, the Steuben County Industrial Development Agency (SCIDA) is the lead agency for the entire project, which will consist of around 34 turbines.

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