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.