An overflow crowd of about 50 people, including some from neighboring towns, made it clear Monday they have a lot of questions about whether or not a commercial wind power project would be good for their rural community.
Although Vermont-based Reunion Power last month erected a 197-foot wind testing tower on Fulton Hill, “there is no project set [and] no drawings that I’m aware of,” said town Supervisor Philip R. Skowfoe Jr.
“I’m in no hurry to do anything,” Skowfoe said.
If a commercial wind farm were proposed, the Town Board could enact a moratorium of six months to a year to allow time to enact a local law imposing various restrictions on construction, said town attorney Raynor Duncombe.
No permit was needed for the test tower, Skowfoe said. The tower measures wind and weather data automatically, according to Reunion officials.
Skowfoe said the town last year delayed forming a committee to draft an industrial wind project law.
“A wind law protects the people, but it created so much opposition that we didn’t do it,” he said.
For nearly 90 minutes, the Town Board fielded questions partly based on a recent townwide questionnaire sent to about 900 landowners seeking views on wind farms.
About a third responded to the spring survey that also included questions about roads, taxes and assessments, and trash collection and recycling, according to Town Clerk Elizabeth Coons.
Of 264 people who responded concerning wind energy, 121 indicated they favored a windpower farm, but a total of 143 either wanted more information, or opposed it. Sixty of that number answered no.
In addition to its test tower on Fulton Hill, Skowfoe said, Reunion has expressed interest in leasing county land, possibly along a high ridge off Patria Road, near the Richmondville line. Several speakers Monday raised concerns about negative impacts from a wind farm with towers and turbines potentially about 400 feet high. Several others wanted to know how the town might benefit.
West Fulton resident Jerry Cajko expressed wonder that people would oppose alternative ways to generate electricity.
“I’ve traveled around the world,” Cajko said, citing solar-powered projects in Europe and Saudi Arabia. “We’re not doing anything,” he said.
“A developer is here to make money, but this should benefit the town of Fulton,” said Greenbush Hill Road resident Vincent Sapione.
Worried that windmills might have life spans of only 20 years or so, Sapione argued that any government incentives should be tied to creating permanent local jobs, as well as tax income.
“The bottom line is money. How much, I don’t know,” said Skowfoe. “We haven’t even been approached to do a project,” he said.
Skowfoe said the town might negotiate with a company for payments in lieu of taxes, commonly called a PILOT, instead of putting it directly on the tax rolls.
Former town supervisor Timothy Hardendorf said he didn’t like the idea of a wind farm.
“I feel very strongly that I live in the most beautiful place in the world. The last thing I want to see is 50 blades turning,” Hardendorf said.
“For me, when I drive up the valley, I love what I see, and that’s going to change forever,” he said.
Skowfoe and other board members vowed that town residents would be notified and any potential project would undergo extensive review hearings,
Town attorney Duncombe noted, however, “it’s not subject to a [public] referendum vote.”
“We have to have a valid reason for not wanting something,” Councilman Helmet R. Hoehner said.
“You can’t say ‘I don’t want this, unless there is a health issue or an environmental issue,” he added.
Asked about the board’s philosophy of governing by Richmondville code enforcement officer and Fulton resident, Gene DiMarco, Skowfoe said, “I feel that I would legislate the will of the people.”