April 26, 2005

Wind farm discussion at April Town Board meeting

Now that I've finally finished what happened at the EMC meeting on the Cornell wind farm, I'd like to report what happened at the April Dryden Town Board meeting the next night.

During citizen's privilege, Bill Openshaw read a prepared statement:

At the last Town Board meeting, we presented a petition urging the Board to amend the zoning laws to prevent the construction of large windmills anywhere in the Town of Dryden. We also brought each of you an information pack pertaining to our wind turbine concerns. I hope you have found some time to review that material.

Since the March meeting, I and my neighbors have been going door-to-door, informing other folks what Cornell is planning. We have also made phone calls to different Cornell departments who have an interest in the Mount Pleasant area. What we have discovered is that practically no one, including the affected Cornell departments, had any knowledge of Cornell's wind turbine farm plans. After being informed, the overwhelming reaction to this news was that of surprise and dismay. People can't believe Cornell would even consider this defiling of one of the county's very special natural areas. But at the same time, the prevailing public sentiment is that Cornell has come to expect that it can do whatever it wants.

I've attended two information meetings in the last couple of weeks. The first was at my home, with Cornell and a small group of neighbors. The second meeting, which was well-attended, over a hundred people, was held a week ago at the Varna Community Center.

In both cases, Cornell did their best to minimize our concerns and fears. Cornell had large posters on display in which they incorporated what I consider trick photography, which gave the illusion that these 400-foot wind turbines weren't really that big. Cornell did acknowledge that these structures would have to be equipped with flashing strobe lights, that these lights were most visible only at night. And yes, Cornell said there is a flickering shadow effect, created by the sun and the propeller blades, but it really depends on where you are, how bad that effect would be.

If you're on the Cornell campus, it's not really a problem at all. On the issue of noise, Cornell said not to worry - the new improved turbines are not as loud as the old ones. Cornell assures us they are looking into the bird and bat mortality issue. They have contracted their own in-house Lab of Ornithology to make the determination. Coincidentally, in California, many wind turbine farms are shut down because of lawsuits involving bird and bat mortality.

Also, Cornell has told us not to worry about the wind turbines close proximity to the landing flight path of the airport. According to Cornell's interpretation of the FAA regulations, it's not a problem. Interestingly, though, the chief flying instructor from East Hill Flying Club stood up at the Varna meeting and stated, in his opinion, putting up eight 400-foot wind turbines on Mount Pleasant seriously jeopardizes the safety of the airport.

We are here again this evening to present you with the same petition, this time with what we hope you will a significant number of signatures: over 400. It is signed by many folks who love living on Mount Pleasant. The rest of the signatures are from people who love Mount Pleasant for a multitude of other reasons. We are counting on you to prevent Cornell from making this unethical self-service mistake in the Town of Dryden.

Town Board member Chris Michaels was the first to speak, saying that "my understanding of current town law is that our zoning does not allow that use." Zoning Officer Henry Slater concurred. The use isn't specified under the zoning law, and unspecified uses are prohibited by default.

Michaels continued by saying "They can't do it if they're complying with our zoning law.... obviously they've got something in mind, or are planning to come to us. If they act under the state college do they [need to conform to] our zones?"

Town Attorney Mahlon Perkins suggested that "it's an open question." Michaels noted that Cornell had submitted to the City of Ithaca's processes.

County Legislator Martha Robertson pointed out that Cornell was just doing a feasibility study now, and that Cornell would begin more formal processes once that was complete. "I don't think there's any contemplation of getting around the approval process," she said, "but I think we've all seen that they have a lot of firepower if they really want to get a variance for a particular zoning issue. But at this point they're not ready to come to you for approval or a variance, because they're just not sure it's worth it."

Supervisor Steve Trumbull reported that Cornell had said that "if Dryden denied them, they'd stop right there."

A speaker told of a moratorium on windfarm development after they'd been permitted because of a fall in property values of up to 27%. Legislator Robertson replied that

They did talk about, that in many cases, a project like this, the developer would make some payment to the municipalities: county, school district, town, whatever, in sort of compensation for essentially the use of the wind. That doesn't do anything particular for homeowners, except lower everybody's property taxes. But I think the point is that this is pretty preliminary, and they did, as you say, Steve, say at that meeting in Varna that the answer was "we'd stop if we didn't get a variance," which is significant because they've taken other projects through the courts, through lawsuits.

When asked if Cornell had come before the board, Supervisor Trumbull replied that all they'd had were letters. Resident Avery Park asked what power the town had over the project, and Trumbull reiterated that it would take "a use variance, if we agreed to it, but I don't see it happening." Park encouraged the board to imagine walking out their front doors and seeing 400-foot towers, and Trumbull replied that "I wouldn't like it."

John Semmler said that Cornell had come to their meetings and claimed that their property values would increase, but Semmler believed that was only possible because property values had already decreased because of the announcement of the project. Semmler told of his visit to the Fenner wind farm site:

It scared the hell out of me. It really did. It's noisy - I don't care what they say about not hearing it, well, I don't hear a thing right now when I walk out my door. I hear birds, and trees rustling, beautiful sounds, and you go up there, and you hear, when these things turn to face the wind, there's like a train on a railroad track. It's the only way I can describe it, metal on metal. The blades whirl around. You get what would be like a fluorescent light hum from the generator, this thing that's the size of a school bus that sits up on top of the tower. I would hate to see these in the Town of Dryden, anywhere. Call me a NIMBY, I don't want to agree, but I'd hate to see it in anybody's back yard.

The other thing I'd like to bring to your attention is the financial implications. It's not all that clear, and I don't think Cornell is making that that clear, I respect Martha's view on this, but I think there's a lot more than just feasibility stage right here. I think we're seeing Cornell digging in, doing some things. I think they were sincere about saying they would stop when it reached the Town Board, and they know you're not going to approve it - come on. Why are they going to all these meetings, and putting all this energy, and building an anemometer, you know - I don't think this is feasibility. I think they've got a plan. So I'm not as confident that that's not going to happen.

The financial part of it is, there are state grants available for the construction of these facilities, our state tax dollars. There are federal subsidies for what they call production credits, our federal tax money. To me, there's something inherently wrong with everybody in this room paying Cornell's utility bills. If it were nothing else than that, I don't care what kind of power it was, I would think that that's a travesty. What the hell are we doing that for?

The other thing is that they keep saying that there isn't going to be any effect, everything we read says no effect on health, and environment, and all of that. Well, they admitted at the [EMC] meeting last night... that they get all of their data from the wind energy coalition, and the turbine builders, General Electric being the big one. They're in bed together, believe me. There's no question. They need to be reading some other stuff and I would encourage you to look at some other stuff too.

I think if it weren't for the financial incentives they never would have gotten into this. I don't think this is about Kyoto Now, I really don't. I think it appeases the students, and you know, makes them look like good citizens, but I think there's a whole other scenario that's behind the scene there.

The other thing is there's a principle that New York State is adopting, called the Precautionary Principle, and it has to do with the development of projects, developers and the responsibility that developers have. It's sort like, if you don't know what the outcome is going to be, the burden of proof is on you to prove that it's not going to be harmful, that it's not going to be detrimental, or whatever. I think so much of what we're hearing right now is "Well, we understand this won't happen, we don't think it's going to be a problem, we're looking into that." You know, there's really a lot of unanswered questions.

I just hope whatever happens, we hold their feet to the fire, because there are a lot of people impacted, and I think one of the most beautiful areas in the Town, and I'd just hate to see it littered up. I said to somebody today, I pick up beer bottles out of the ditches alongside of my house there, and this is just another piece of trash, a big beer bottle.

Councilman Christofferson asked if Semmler had talked to anyone in Fenner, and he replied:

No, I didn't knock on any doors. We've got reports from a couple of people - I'm glad you brought that up - because a lot of these people that love the wind farms are getting $5000 a year lease payments, and they want more of them. They're not going to say to the power company or the town, or anybody, "this is horrible," because that's a nice sum of money, five thousand bucks. People that aren't getting paid and live near them - there's some material I think we gave you last time, which Bill handed out, and it paints a pretty sorry picture.

Legislator Robertson mentioned that "Cornell is taking a bus, or as many buses as needed, up to this wind farm on May 14th, that's a Saturday. I guess they're saying 9 to 3... if anybody's interested, get in touch with me and I'll get the names to the right people."

Semmler noted that:

it's not a bad drive about an hour. I would encourage you to go up... the Cornell thing is going to go to the sites, which, I think, are the least offensive, and all of that. I'm not trying to sound paranoid here, but I think they're taking orders from their energy consultant on this, AWS Wind Power... I would encourage you to go up there, it's maybe an hour fifteen or twenty... on your own. Drive right up to the base of some of these, stand there and listen to them, go over around various places, because the noise and the effect of these depends on the lay of the land. It's not always the same in all the places. You can be a quarter of a mile away, maybe, Dan mentioned that earlier, and not hear anything. But maybe you can be a mile away and hear it all the time.

There was another brief discussion at the very end of the meeting, when Town Councilman Steve Stelick warning that:

we need to be proactive with this possible wind turbine. I agree that Cornell's moving along. Why would you continue on with something when you know that, from what I can tell, we don't allow this kind of use. Why would you continue on with that unless there's this desire to complete this project? I just think that we need to be a little bit more proactive... we don't want to be waiting until the last second when they come forward with whatever the proposal is. I think they're spending a lot of money, to come up with all of this.

Legislator Robertson wanted Cornell to discuss alternatives to the approach they were currently taking, like buying alternative energy power from other locations. Environmental Planner Debbie Gross said that the Conservation Advisory Board was also discussing it. Resident Avery Park suggested not letting Cornell build its case, but Town Attorney Mahlon Perkins warned that "the safest course of action is proactive." Councilman Hattery especially wanted to get their comments on the record.

Posted by simon at April 26, 2005 4:40 PM in , ,
Note on photos