Cohocton Wind Watch: Local elections influence two towns' wind futures
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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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Local elections influence two towns' wind futures

The prospect of wind energy development has divided north country communities from Cape Vincent to Clinton County. New York's new Article X law gives developers the option to seek state review of where to put their wind farms. But prior to Article X, accepting and siting the big turbines was up to each town. And companies can still choose local rather than state review.

More than once, the conflict over wind has spilled over into local politics. That has been the case in both Cape Vincent, on Lake Ontario, and Hammond, on a windy ridge overlooking the St. Lawrence River. In both towns, last fall's elections pitted incumbent supervisors who favor regulation of wind power against challengers who had already signed leases with energy companies to place wind turbines on their land. Joanna Richards reports on the likely impact of those elections.

Both incumbents won in November. In Hammond, the election seems to preserve a divided status quo, but in Cape Vincent, the board is poised to prepare a new law regulating wind development.

Both Urban Hirschey in Cape Vincent and Ronald Bertram in Hammond were labelled anti-wind during the campaigns. But they say they're not against wind development per se. They want local control – rules and regulations to protect the towns’ and their residents’ interests.

Ronald Bertram is supervisor of the town of Hammond.

It wasn't my intention to rule, you know, wind turbines out of our town. It's my intention to have them where it's safe.

Bertram defeated challenger Michele McQueer, who has filed a challenge against the law governing wind energy development in the town. That lawsuit is still in progress. Bertram says he took his victory as a sign that most town residents support the new wind law.

For now, Bertram says Iberdrola Renewables has withdrawn its application with the state electrical power authority for a wind farm in the town. No other company has approached the town about development so far.

As for the five-person town board, it will continue to have two members abstaining from any wind-related votes because of conflicts of interest.

James Pitcher, who has a wind lease, kept his seat. New councilman Howard Demick has said he will abstain from wind votes because his brother has a lease with Iberdrola.

He is basically in the same situation, so, um, basically the changing of our board doesn't really have any effect on it.

The remainder of the board passed the new law governing wind turbines, so unless McQueer's lawsuit is successful, Hammond's regulations on wind development are likely to stand.

That means the town will remain divided over the issue, although immediate prospects for a wind farm there seem to be stalled for now.

In Cape Vincent, there is no law governing wind turbines. Supervisor Urban Hirschey says that leaves the town vulnerable.

Right now, without a zoning law, the town becomes on the defensive. The town has been on the defensive. With a zoning law, you're basically saying, “Here's where the turbines can go, and these are the conditions in which they have to meet.” And then it's up to the developer to say, “Well, I don't really like this; let's talk about it.” So we really need a zoning law to guide the process. We haven't been able to do that for the last four years – ten years.

Hirschey says there's been a further complication. Until now, any group of landowners controlling at least 20 percent of the acreage in the town can overrule a simple majority vote of the Town Council and instead require a supermajority vote. With two members abstaining from any wind votes, the council couldn’t overrule landowners' objections to a wind law.

But that may change now, since the two members of the Town Council with conflicts of interest in the issue were defeated in November.

Ah, the election was very pivotal, and ah, in our opinion, very definitive. I think the public really is aware of – or the voters, those who voted – are really aware of the situation, and they voted with wind in mind.

Article X throws a new variable into the prospects for wind development in Hammond, Cape Vincent and throughout the state. It allows energy companies to choose state rather than local review of proposed projects. But Hirschey says Cape Vincent has to proceed as if Article X didn't exist. After all, he says, the projects proposed in the town are, for now at least, still under local control.

We're gonna do what we think is right. And, ah, and if it comes to Article X, we hope that we can convince the Article X board that what we've done is right.

With the changes on the board, Hirshey says he'd like to pass a moratorium on wind development for about six months in order to stave off any development activity until a wind law can be passed. He says the Town Council expects to pass the moratorium on wind development after a public hearing at its February meeting.

For North Country Public Radio, I'm Joanna Richards in Watertown


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