County Health Board backs 1.5-mile setback for turbines

MAYVILLE — After two years of listening to concerns on wind turbine installation, the Chautauqua County Board of Health said it plans to submit letters to all local municipalities detailing its recommendation.

The announcement came during a board meeting Thursday in Mayville.

In the letter, health officials will recommend that all cities, towns and villages within the county pass a proper wind law that restricts industrial wind towers, or IWTs, from being constructed within a mile and a half of any residence and generate 35 or fewer decibels in sound frequency. The board also recommends that municipalities contact the state Public Service Commission to request that a full State Environmental Quality Review take place ahead of IWT construction, which is not currently required by state law.

“The Board of Health is not coming out to say ‘There are or there aren’t health concerns’ because really we don’t have enough science to say that,” said Christine Schuyler, county Health and Human Services director. “What we do know, because there is not a full SEQRA review, there never is a full-impact study done so we don’t know. So the state needs to change legislation so at least that’s done.”

According to the state Department of Environmental Conservation, SEQRA requires all state and local government agencies to consider environmental impacts equally with social and economic factors during discretionary decision-making.

At Thursday’s meeting, public comments regarding the handling of local turbines were again heard by individuals discussing construction or potential construction in the towns of Arkwright and Portland.

“These projects are happening in communities where we, under New York state Public Health Law, are charged with protecting resident’s health,” the letter to be sent to municipalities reads. “During the past two years, Chautauqua County residents have attended Board of Health meetings and voiced their concerns regarding potential human health effects related to IWTs constructed in close proximity to their homes.”

According to the board and its letter, wind turbine projects that produce 25 megawatts of power are able to waive any requirement of conducting a SEQRA review. Health board members believe an environmental review, such as SEQRA, should be carried out ahead of a project that could potentially impact the health of county residents. Such projects are considered Article 10, Type II actions, which allows for the waiving of SEQRA reviews.

“Under such Article 10 legislation, the home rule authority of our local boards of health to take steps to safeguard the health and wellness of our residents and protect the environment within our counties has been put at risk,” the letter continues.

Board president Tom Erlandson recapped a September meeting in which several options the county could take were discussed:

¯ consider amending the county sanitary code that requires New York State Department of Health approval;

¯ approach the County Legislature about the possibility of introducing a local law calling for a moratorium on IWT construction;

¯ requiring a permit from the local health department for IWT construction.

A fourth option was to submit a letter with board recommendations to local municipalities, which is now likely to be done early next week.

Erlandson also referenced the town of Ellicott after the town board adopted two local laws regarding wind turbines. The first local law established a yearlong moratorium on the construction of wind energy and commercial solar collection facilities within the town. The second opts the town out of tax exemptions granted by the state for wind and solar energy projects.

Additionally, the Portland Town Board in June passed a six-month moratorium on applications and permits for windmills. The board discussed extending the suspension in October.

During Thursday’s meeting, Schuyler added, “I think what the board (of health) has come through with this letter is really focusing on the needs of the state to change the way reviews are done.”


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