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Upheaval in the hills: Blasting takes toll on nature, residents

Submitted Photo Construction crews work around concrete on Round Top Road in the town of Villenova.

VILLENOVA — In the hills of this town and portions of neighboring Hanover, a major green-energy project has taken on the look of an enviromental disaster. Concrete litters parts of the landscape while nearby residents worry streams and creeks are becoming contaminated as blasting activities have created a scar for homeowners and wildlife.

What was once a quiet and serene natural setting has become an assembly line operation due to faulty concrete foundations that were poured and are now needed to be removed as part of the Ball Hill Wind Farm. The process involves blasting with dynamite and a calvalcade of large trucks hauling dumpsters moving the concrete out with the likely destination the Chautauqua County landfill.

In announcing the development, officials at Northlands Power Inc., have not been forthcoming to those affected or the community at-large. Through its Facebook page on April 19, the company disclosed it had agreements with both the towns of Hanover and Villenova to do the blasting. However, none of these permits are documented in town of Villenova minutes from January to April of this year and it has not come to light in any of the Hanover meetings the OBSERVER has attended.

“Blasting will begin on Thursday, April 21 and will be performed between the hours of 7 a.m. and 6 p.m.,” the Facebook post from mid April noted. “We will send daily construction updates via email to the community during that period of time that these blasting activities occur.

“If you are interested in receiving the daily emails, please email Melissa Scozzafava at melissa.scozzafava@northlandpower.com or call her at (518) 281-7084.”

Unfortunately, calls and emails to this address and Northlands Power by the OBSERVER and Post-Journal were either ignored or discarded. Based on the Facebook page alone, the company’s engagement with those in the community seems to be almost nonexistent. Only 12 people “like” the page while another 14 “follow” it.

Additionally, the company’s post of offering updates is contradicted by some who note they have emailed and received no response while another complains of not receiving daily updates despite a request.

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Since 2006, the Ball Wind Farm has been in the works when it was being overseen by former developer, Renewable Energy Systems. The 100-megawatt wind energy project was to consist of 25 turbines and a special-use permit from the towns of Hanover and Villenova led to construction commencing last June. At that point, work was on schedule for completion in late 2022, according to current site manager Northlands Power, which is based in Toronto.

Like other renewable efforts that have taken hold in Chautauqua County, this one had its share of advocates and opponents. The controversy that filled board rooms — and the Hamlet United Methodist Church in South Dayton for one hearing — also was tied to the resignation of one Town Board member.

Another Villenova board member, Nathan Palmer, is named in the Disclosure List for Ball Hill Energy, LLC, as having a financial interest in the project through a sales contract for welding supplies. His range of compensation is forecast at $5,000 to under $20,000.

These renewable efforts, which have taken place throughout the towns and villages, are all similar in appearance. To get a project pushed through, officials with the renewable companies are engaged and involved with the elected decision-makers with gusto. They attend nearly every meeting armed with a set of facts and figures that benefit their argument. As is the case in Villenova and Hanover, once approved the representatives are no longer visible. In this case, it has great benefits to a company that is lackluster in returning queries.

It also brings frustration from those closest to rumbles.

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For some who live nearby the ruckus from the construction and blasting, the information from Northland has been minimal to none. While there is peace at times, recent blasting often comes with little warning. In one instance, residents say they heard blasts on a weekend after 9 p.m.

One nearby resident, who heard from a company representative, was told 18 turbine bases were to be blasted with 166 sticks of dynamite per each base. Due to proximity to gas lines, the remaining bases were to be hammered apart. Once the demolition began, it was hoped four turbine bases could be done in a week.

In all, the estimated cost of the major reconstruction was expected to be $15 million.

“They did a concentrated blasting (May 16) and I felt like I was in a war zone or going through an earthquake,” said one Hanover resident who declined to be named. “There have been days there are a lot of dump trucks coming.”

Photos emailed show an atmosphere that is far from natural as boulders surround near large construction equipment to clean up the remnants of the concrete. Despite the delay, once the project is completed, the towers in Villenova could stand as high as 599 feet. For a comparison, the Seneca One tower in Buffalo that is 39 stories high stands 529 feet.

Northland notes on its website that it has grown from a Canadian developer to a global organization with facilities generating electricity from renewable resources such as wind, solar and efficient natural gas in its 34 years of operation. With more than 2,200 megawatts of net operating capacity, an additional 130 MW under construction and another 1,645 MW in advanced development, Northland — even though it has not responded to requests for comment — also claims to be “an experienced, capable and responsible power producer.”

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