Monday, November 3, 2008

Secretive Setback Committee Praised by Schoharie Valley Watch

At this October’s monthly Town Board meeting, Richmondville town councilman voted 3-2 to adopt the recommendations of the town’s wind turbine setback committee which suggested a minimum setback of 1500 feet for any wind turbines sited in the town.

Such a large setback requirement could potentially make Reunion Power’s proposed wind farm development in Richmondville unfeasible, which is why Bob Nied and Don Airey, co-directors of the anti-wind turbine group Schoharie Valley Watch are praising this decision by the Town Board.

Yet Nied and Airey’s own criticism of the town Setback Committee and its secretive methods casts doubt on the validity of the recommended 1500 foot setbacks. The groups’ own website contains posts which accuse the setback committee of meeting in private and conducting research and making decisions without public input, and perhaps most seriously, that they have done this in violation of New York State law. But apparently all that is okay now that SVW is happy with the committee’s final recommendation.

When it comes to using zoning powers to prevent a particular land use, the law is clear. There must be a compelling reason having do with the protection of the public’s health, safety and welfare. Concerns about potentially diminished views and decreasing property values, while perhaps compelling on a political level, are simply not applicable. Neither is a general atmosphere of vocal opposition to the development of wind power facilities, which many town officials would understandably want to placate.

This is why the setback committee’s secretive behavior creates a cloud of suspicion over their 1500 foot recommendation. Without an open and above-board process, the committee’s findings lack the evidentiary support and public input required to use local zoning powers to prevent the construction of wind turbines. Instead, it appears that the committee has chosen to knuckle under to a small but sufficiently irritating group of residents opposed to wind turbines.

It is important to bear in mind that while opponents of wind power development claimed that they only wanted to slow down the process, and do more research, and find out more information, their ultimate aim was to drop Reunion Power’s plans in a shallow grave, regardless of the facts involved. This is why wind power critics have held repeated public temper tantrums and stormed out of meetings. When these tactics did not satisfy, they resorted to issuing laughable legal threats. It is understandable that town officials wanted to a setback requirement that would make this issue go away. However, if anything, it is Reunion Power who now has a potentially actionable grievance in being denied their right to due process by a clandestine setback committee who thought they could make a tough issue go away by issuing an arbitrarily strict setback requirement.

Put simply, that there are a handful of angry and vocal residents living near the proposed wind turbines who don’t want their views diminished or their property values affected, does not justify an arbitrary and baseless misuse of the town’s zoning powers. Though I have disagreed with SVW on numerous points, I have always supported their calls for open and transparent government. I hope they will continue to hold town officials’ feet to the fire, regardless of the fact that they have found the setback committee’s final recommendations favorable to their agenda. If SVW continues to praise the recommendations of the setback committee, whose own methods they have criticized in the past, it puts the lie to every lofty claim that SVW has made regarding the necessity of upholding the law and respecting the democratic process.


Bob Nied said...

Sean, would you rather SVW refuse to acknowledge any positive finding just because the Setback Committee failed to act openly in their deliberations? If we did that you would accuse us of being "crape hangers” as well as NIMBYs? We continue to insist that the local government be conducted in the light of day and in a way that is consistent with the spirit and letter of the Open Meetings Law. Indeed, the Setback Committee failed to conduct itself in an open and inclusive way, indicative of the same systemic problem we see with the Town Board and the Zoning Rewrite Committees. But at least the SBC acknowledged the irrefutable evidence (provided to it by SVW and reluctantly accepted) that even the industrial turbine manufacturers recommend setbacks far in access of those being lobbied for by Reunion Power, Betsy Bernocco and Alicia Terry. If you took the time to understand how the SBC arrived at its decision and on what that decision was based you would understand that they managed to pull something positive out of a very flawed process. Just as you would drop the anti-intellectual, knee-jerk buzz word NIMBY if you applied the energy necessary to research and understand the incongruence of industrial wind technology in a moderate density rural community. Even the new media darling T. Boone Pickens knows enough to keep wind farms away from his ranch on the vast flat plains of Texas. You seem like a very bright guy Sean. I'm disappointed that you are taking the lazy route on the issue of industrial wind and failing to do sufficient research to be able to look beyond the shallow "green" label to what it is- a pyramid scheme that diverts critical resources and public support from the very important issue of climate change and effective alternative energy solutions.

LaZboy said...

Hey bob get a life. if your electricity went out for over an hour would you convulse at not being able to pontificate?

Bob Nied said...

Lazboy. Sorry to have exceeded your attention span. I will try and heed your advice. How's this: "Setback Committee meet in secret, BAD. Setback Committee actually makes OK recommendation, GOOD?

Don't forget to vote. (You may want to ignore the proposition. It has a lot of words.)

LaZZZZZboy said...

You may want to ignore the proposition. It has a lot of words.

Hey Bob
you might want to ignore this proposition . It has two words


Bob Nied said...

LZZZBOY...LOL, and I thought we had a shortage of eloquence and creative thinking in our fair community.

Anonymous said...

"...perhaps most seriously, that they have done this in violation of New York State law. But apparently all that is okay now that SVW is happy with the committee’s final recommendation."

Did you not know that New York State law stops at the county line?

Bob Nied said...

To clarify- SVW feels strongly that the letter and intent of the NY State Open Meetings Law should be respected. We have been fighting for compliance for almost two years. We have been supported in our efforts by several rulings issued by the NY State Committee on Open Government which has sanctioned the Town Board of Richmondville for holding private meetings that are in violation of the law. Unfortunately, the Chair of that Committee, Robert Freeman ruled that Richmondville's Setback Committee is not subject to the constraints of the Open Meetings Law because it does not directly enact changes to the law. We are seriously disappointed by that ruling but accept that it reflects a strict interpretation of the law by Mr. Freeman. That does not change the fact that conducting secret meetings is a blatant violation of the public trust. BUT, if we accept the opinion of Robert Freeman, it is not illegal, only shameful. SVW encouraged the Town Board to accept the setback findings of the Committee because they were at least a small positive step in a very flawed process. It is also important to remember that the Setback Committee was very close to recommending an absurd 600’ setback from residences (advocated by Reunion Power, Betsy Bernocco and Alicia Terry of the County Planning and Development Agency) until SVW provided them with technical manuals from the turbine manufacturer that called for a safe distance of 1400', even for employees of the wind companies.

John Barlowcorn said...

Actually, R'ville is at it again with secret Zoning Rewrite meetings chaired by Harold Loder of "Loder Properties" and "Country Boy" fame and a committee that includes David Huse the wind turbine guy from Warnerville and the Building Inspector Gene Demarco who's best pals with the wind turbine company. They actually told an old lady who found out where and when they were meeting that she couldn't stay and listen to them or they would shut down the meeting! Snakes in grass, the bunch of them. The same good ol' boys making a buck as they ignore the rules and screw over thier neighboors.

Anonymous said...

How many members does SVW have? Is there a membership list published somewhere?

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