Turbine height increase rejected by Cattaraugus County Planning Board
Just six months after the Chautauqua County Planning Board voted to disapprove the proposed 100-feet height increase of Ball Hill Wind’s 29 planned turbines, the Cattaraugus County Planning Board voted to disapprove a 150-feet height increase for the town of Farmersville’s 23 planned turbines (part of the Alle-Catt Wind Farm) on Thursday. According to a Feb. 3 article in the Olean Times Herald, there are even more parallels between the two counties’ planning boards, their townships and proposed wind farms.
At the Jan. 31 Cattaraugus County planning board meeting, Paul Bishop, senior planner for Cattaraugus County, referenced the county’s comprehensive plan, which was revamped and enacted in March of 2016. “As we look through this, one thing kind of stood out to us and that was the 33 percent increase in height of the turbines from 450 feet to 600 feet,” he said. “We feel this would have a significant inter-community impact on neighboring municipalities and is inconsistent with the goals and objectives of our comprehensive plan.”
Similar concerns were expressed by the Chautauqua County Planning Board at their meeting on July 23, 2018 regarding the proposed change in height of 499 feet to 599 feet for Ball Hill Wind’s 23 turbines in Villenova and six turbines in Hanover. “Many were concerned about the potential for additional noise impacts, the changed view of the area and potential ice throw,” said Chautauqua County Planning Board Director Don McCord in a July 25 OBSERVER article. McCord also said that the Chautauqua County Planning Board considered the environmental impact study on ballhillwind.com, which indicates that another 550 acres would be in view of the taller turbines.
The Cattaraugus County Planning Board, too, considered the visual impact of Alle-Catt’s 117 turbines that will occupy 20,000 acres in the towns of Arcade, Centerville, Farmersville, Freedom and Rushford. Bishop explained that the first goal of the revamped comprehensive plan is “Cattaraugus County will retain its vital rural character.” Objectives of that goal include protecting the county’s natural beauty and recognizing its rural communities, farmland, scenic vistas and landscapes that contribute to the county’s rural character.
“We’re looking at it from an inter-community impact,” Bishop emphasized. “Not so much what happens in Farmersville, but what happens in the neighboring towns and communities. We feel that this increase in height of the turbines is significant and may have an impact beyond Farmersville. … Based on the things I mentioned here, the staff recommendation is disapproval.”
The Cattaraugus County Planning Board voted unanimously to disapprove the recommendation, whereas the Chautauqua County Planning Board voted 6-3 to disapprove the change in height. Following the vote, Bishop explained that the Farmersville town board may still approve the change in height; however, the decision requires a supermajority vote to overrule the county planning board’s decision. Four out of five Farmersville town board members must vote yes, but there may be conflicts with board members that preclude them from voting. One board member, Richard Westfall, is unlikely to take part in the vote, as he has signed a lease with Invenergy, the wind company behind Alle-Catt. This and other Farmersville town board members’ possible conflicts of interest were reported to the Cattaraugus County Planning Board in a letter from the Franklinville Town Board, according to the Olean Times Herald.
Similarly in Villenova, town councilwoman Sarah LoMonto has a lease agreement with RES, the wind company behind Ball Hill Wind. She recused herself from the Aug. 8 vote; however, the Villenova Town Board’s four remaining members, including newly-appointed member Yvonne Park, unanimously voted to approve the change in height, successfully overruling the Chautauqua County Planning Board’s recommendation.
According to a lawsuit that 18 Villenova residents filed against the town and RES in September, there is another town council member that was biased towards the project. The petition states that town board member Nathan Palmer’s mother and father-in-law have a contract with RES, as does his sister-in-law and husband, which the petition claims was never disclosed to the town board or to the public.
Will history repeat itself? It is certainly possible if the Farmersville Town Board successfully approves the increase in height.