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Villenova town board under pressure to respond to Ball Hill application

OBSERVER Photo by Mary Heyl Aldrich Hill Road resident Kristy Lokietek expresses concern over the Ball Hill project’s impact on bird habitats near her home.

Members of the Villenova Town Board have their work cut out for them before their next meeting on July 11. At Tuesday night’s public hearing, board members heard from vocal Villenova residents and others regarding the Ball Hill Wind Energy Project’s amended application for a special use permit. While many strongly opposed the proposed changes, there were some who spoke out in favor of the turbines, and emotions ran high.

The application requests a special use permit to allow for increased turbine height (from 568 feet to a maximum of 599 feet), expanded setbacks, the conversion of several miles of overhead lines to underground lines and the addition of three parcels of land to the project. Dan Spitzer, the attorney representing the town of Villenova, said the amended application is available for public review at the Villenova town offices and online at ballhillwind.com.

Angelo Graziano of Forestville, served on the board in 2016 when the Ball Hill project was initially approved and spoke out against the proposed changes. Graziano feared that a board decision in favor of the application would set a precedent that may allow even higher turbines in the future.

“They do not belong near people’s houses,” he said. “Talk to people with houses in Arkwright. Anyone who says, ‘These things are beautiful,’ are out of their mind.”

According to Tina Graziano of Forestville, there are already 15 properties for sale in Arkwright. “We will never be able to sell our property here. Ever.”

Joni Riggle of Sinclairville pointed out that devalued properties could result in decreased tax revenue and questioned Mark Lyons, project manager for RES, as to how landowners and the town would be compensated for these potential financial losses, especially if obsolete turbines need to be decommissioned. Riggle, a registered nurse, discussed the potential for the unseen effects attributed to infrasound including headaches, nausea, panic, anxiety and more.

On the opposite side, Lou Zollinger of South Dayton pointed out that there were similar concerns about the environment and public health when the automobile was invented.

“Some of these poor farmers have owned this hardscrabble land up in these townships for a long time,” he said. “They’ve worked hard and they’ve sacrificed and they’ve paid their taxes. And now they get a chance to benefit. Why hold that against them? I am not going to get a windmill, and I don’t begrudge anyone who has a windmill. Why don’t we knock off the ‘b.s.’ and admit that the vast part of this debate is people who are not getting a windmill are sore about it, and you’re one of them!” Zollinger shouted, pointing to another member of the public.

Larry Ball, town of Arkwright councilperson, said that he is a strong supporter of the project. Ball has toured eight different wind projects throughout the region and interviewed many property owners, even five years later.

“You know what their biggest problem with the project is?” asked Ball. “How to spend all that money!”

Ball added that “nature has a way of healing itself” and that the worst negative comment he ever received from a property owner was that the company “didn’t build enough of these windmills.”

Theresa Bretl of Arkwright spoke of the potential day-to-day impact of the windparks, based on her own experience living near one.

“These projects are diminishing our quality of life and the landscapes around us,” she said. In recent weeks, Bretl noted increased cellphone call drops, internet disruptions and satellite television disruptions; she questioned whether or not these were coincidences or the effects of the windpark.

Kristy Lokietek spoke up about the landscape’s importance to her and her family, saying, “The windmills will be on the property right above us … We have a lot of soaring birds up on top of that hill — I saw a beautiful bald eagle out there yesterday — and I’m just really worried about what’s going to happen to them.”

Several mourned the negative effect the windpark project has already had on relationships within the community. John Conway of Sinclairville said, “This is all about money and it’s divided our area. Our beautiful area.”

However, William Eaton was hopeful about the future.

“All of us can benefit from this … If the people do the right thing with the money that comes in, it can bring the people together.”

Spitzer said that all questions for Lyons and RES would be answered and available to view, along with the full transcript of the public hearing, on the town’s website at www.villenovany.org.

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