Wind turbine debate a heated topic in Villenova

OBSERVER Photo by Mary Heyl Joni Riggle of Sinclairville, left, and Tina Graziano of South Dayton urged attendees to consider the negative impacts of the proposed changes to wind turbine heights and underground lines.

SOUTH DAYTON — It was standing room only at Tuesday night’s Public Hearing held by the Town Board of the town of Villenova at the Hamlet United Methodist Church.

What began as a thoughtful, diplomatic Q&A-style discussion regarding the Ball Hill Windpark’s application for proposed changes to the wind turbines ended in shouting, obscenities and tears when the forum ended more than two hours later.

Villenova Town Supervisor Richard Ardillo explained, “The board is not deciding or voting on anything tonight. The board will not be taking any questions. This is an opportunity for you to voice any questions or concerns you may have.”

Ardillo explained that each individual would be allotted three minutes to speak, and that individuals wishing to speak more than once must wait for everyone to speak at least once.

Ardillo continued, “That being said, please be respectful. Remember where we are. When someone is speaking, please let them speak. This is not an opportunity to heckle…Everyone’s opinion is important. This is a part of our process. This is a way of life around here and something we hold dear. Remember to be respectful of your neighbors.”

Ardillo then turned the discussion over to Dan Spitzer, the attorney representing the towns of Villenova and Hanover in their respective windparks projects. Spitzer provided an overview of the applicant’s, Ball Hill, proposed modifications to turbine construction, reminding all that the complete application is available on the Town of Villenova’s website and a printed copy is available to view at the Town Hall.

The proposed changes include increasing the height of the turbines from 568 feet to a maximum height of 599 feet, which will also result in increased setbacks, the removal of one of the substations (a significant source of noise) and 5.7 to 5.8 miles of overhead lines being buried at a depth of approximately four feet, which would require the addition of three parcels of land to the project.

Mark Lyons, project manager for RES, the construction company behind the Ball Hill windparks project, explained that in addition to the entire application, a full environmental assessment, including visual, noise and wetland impacts, is available on the Ball Hill website at ballhillwind.com. According to Lyons, the proposed changes would result in a “slight increase in the visual impact within a viewshed area of five miles.”

Of great concern to many members of the public was the economic impact of the project and who would benefit from it. Spitzer’s response was that “When a Town Board looks at a particular process, the Town Board doesn’t say, ‘Well who benefits from this change?’ The Town Board’s job is to look at the impact on the community, not who benefits economically.”

Lyons then weighed in on the topic of economic benefit: “We have about 80 landowners who are signed up to get payments from this project. The total of the payments to landowners and taxes and post communities will be about a $1 million a year. More than $300,000 of that will be taxes and post-community payments.”

Fred Bretl of Arkwright addressed the Town Board: “The Town Board should do another environmental review for the sake of all the citizens’ health and welfare. The developer says that higher is better, that underground is better. But what are the impacts on infrasound? What about the greater reaches of shadow flicker? What about the more massive cement foundations? What about the impact on agriculture? What about the impact on tourism, which is a highlight of Chautauqua County’s 20/20 Vision Comprehensive Plan? What about the valuation of our property? What about the possible adverse health effects? These amendments should not be taken out of context.”