Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Packed house

Hartsville, N.Y.

Gusts of concern blew into the Hartsville Town Hall Monday night for a public hearing on a draft wind regulatory law that, if passed, the German-based company E.ON Climate and Renewables claims will prevent any large scale wind operations in the town and likely lead to a lawsuit.

Around 60 members of the public, including town residents, officials, E.ON representatives and members of the media packed into the town hall and listened to the latest details in what has become a four year debate with many legal loopholes on a proposed 51-megawatt industrial wind turbine project primarily in Hartsville.

A wind law from 2007 stands to be revised with a 2,460 foot residential setback distance from turbines, compared to the 1,200 foot that stands now.

“We are here tonight to make sure residents know there is no scientific validity to any medical problems with wind farms,” said John Reynolds, a consultant working for E.ON on the project. Reynolds also proposed the board use the existing wind law with a stricter noise clause.

E.ON brought Chicago doctor Mark Roberts, who works with a consulting firm looking at public health, to address the public.

“Reviewing this from a medical standpoint, there is not an indication in any peer-reviewed literature that there is increased risk of health affects associated with wind turbines,” said Roberts.

During the two and a half hour meeting, the board was presented with several informational handouts, a proposal to keep the existing law with stricter modifications on background noise, and contact information for people that have worked successfully with E.On on other wind projects.

Residents on both sides of the issue threatened to sue the town board if the law is passed.

George Prior blasted town attorney David Pullen and accused him of not protecting the town’s best interest and said officials are ignoring information that doesn’t support their opinions.

“Eating a lot of the time is more important than noise,” said Fran Clancy, who runs Francile Dairy Farm, and who’s family his been farming in the town for 160 years. He said a wind farm would ensure his farm continues to turn a profit and he urged the board to use “common sense” and not pass the law.

To the contrary, said Bill Galbraith of Webster, who recently purchased 30 acres in Hartsville for the “peace and quiet”. He supports the proposed law and said that irritating turbine noise will lower property values and disturb the environment.

Resident Alice Bosch presented the board with a petition signed by 110 land owners against the proposed law, a document she claims represents 29-percent of the land in the town. John Bowles, another Hartsville resident and former board member, said the petition legally prevents the board from passing the law because more than 20-percent of property owners signed the document.

Gary Abraham, the town’s attorney for wind issues, said previously that if 20-percent of the town residents that voted in the last election were to sign a petition asking for it, a referendum would be offered up for public vote.

Town Supervisor Steve Dombert said the meeting and proposal is the first indication that E.ON has acknowledged the town board’s authority.

He did not give a date when officials will vote on the new law, but said it could be as soon as the second week of December.

“I’m glad to see that E.ON is adapting its plan. This is something we haven’t seen until tonight, but I would still question the specifics of what this law intends to do,” said Dombert.

E.ON officials maintain the 2,460-foot setback distance in the new law will make it impossible to go forward with any type of project. Reynolds said the background noise restrictions are too strict for any type of industrial turbines as well.

“They are so severe that mother nature would violate them,” he said.

Reynolds also said the board is using Internet material that is unvalidated in its findings.

The board will meet at 7 p.m. Dec. 9 at the Hartsville Town Hall for its monthly meeting.

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